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Trip Report Trip Report: 4 days in Tuscany. 1 year late

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First off, this trip report is woefully late. We made this trip to Italy in May 2011 and here I am finally getting down to penning this down. I started this off as a Live trip report that I would update during our trip. Impossible.
So quick intro to us - We are a couple in our mid-30s from the coastal city of Chennai, India, making the first long haul trip to Europe. This was supposed to be a 2 week long trip to celebrate our 5 year anniversary but ended up being 4 days and a part of a larger itinerary that included Switzerland and Spain. And we were travelling with kids. DD1 at 2 and a half years old, and DD2 at 8 mo. We like some variety in our travels and prefer the do instead of see experiences. However, this trip was hampered a bit due to the kids. Nevertheless, we had ourselves quite an adventure as you will see.

Day 1: What we knew would be a long travel day. This was compounded by a horrible event that transpired the previous evening. I lost DW's and my Swiss rail pass. There are warnings everywhere in Switzerland and all rail officials tell you that if you lose your rail pass there is nothing they can do and you have to purchase tickets to your destination. I was numb trying to figure out where I had left it. The only place was the local sport store from where we had rented winter jackets the previous day for our trip to Jungfraujoch. They unfortunately shut at 6pm and I was unable to go that night. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. Christopher at Hotel Roessli had asked me to try early the next morning as it was possible that someone may open the store early. It was also a Sunday. Our train was at 9am. I took a chance at 7:15 and walked over to the store. It was locked but I noticed the same girl who had helped us the previous day with our jackets inside the store. I begged her to open and told her my story. She was wonderful. We walked down to the lower level and there by the jacket stands were 2 Swiss rail passes. I almost collapsed with relief. I gave her a big hug and said she had saved our vacation. Another example of how friendly and warm the Swiss are.

We needed to get from Interlaken to Florence and when I did the booking, it showed me 4 train changes. Now this was not convenient at all as we were travelling with our daughters. The route was Interlaken – Spiez – Brig – Milan – Florence. In order to reduce this, we decided to take a cab from our hotel to Spiez station. A E75 ride away. The drive is absolutely gorgeous and the road pretty much hugs Lake Spiez as it winds its way up towards the town. There was a lot of construction at the station and it took us a while to figure out how to get to our platform for the train to Brig. I was wheeling the trolley with 2 suitcases, 1 large holdall with 2 strollers, and my backpack. We finally found the ramp and waited by the designated location that marked 1st Class. I then made the second mistake of the day. I returned the luggage trolley thinking I would not need it anymore. Within a few minutes the train pulled in.

The 1st class car was right at the back of the train and it should have stopped right in front of us, as it did throughout our time in Switzerland; only Swiss inefficiency decided to rear its ugly head today of all days. It stopped a good 150 meters away. I knew it was a 2 minute halt at Spiez. I told DW to run ahead. So she was carrying DD2 and pulling DD1 along. I hauled the holdall onto my shoulders and wheeled both the suitcases and started on a quick trot – this was heavy stuff we were carrying. I looked ahead to see that DW had reached the car and she was standing at the steps. DD1 had already climbed up and gone in.

Suddenly she screamed and said the train was leaving now. There was a railway official standing right by her. I assumed that if the guard saw me running to make the train, they would wait for the last boarding passenger and then take off. Not so. She told DW that it will leave in 30 seconds no matter what. She panicked as she had no money on her and no mobile phone. Usually, while travelling we fix a plan of what should happen if we get separated. Either we meet back at the hotel or at the nearest central location. It had happened earlier during one of our trips to Singapore. This time we hadn’t really made a plan.

I have to thank the Asian traveller who was sitting at that platform. He jumped up, took the holdall from me, grabbed one suitcase and said run! My initial thought was that he was stealing my luggage when I realized he was rescuing this hapless tourist. We made the train with seconds to go. If it hadn’t been for him, I dread to think what might have happened. Thank you sir whoever you are and wherever you might be.

The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful. At Brig station, we transferred to the Trenitalia line that would take us to Milan. It reached speeds of upto 220 miles per hour I believe. It was absolutely packed with tourists. We transferred at Milan station, helped by a Bangladeshi porter, when I realized there were no luggage trolleys around. I am always a little nervous about people offering help while travelling abroad, but there are also really genuine people who want to help. He waited until our train to Florence was announced and helped put our luggage on board. All for E10. Awesome!

We took a cab from the station to the Maggiore rental office. Less than 5 minutes away. Due to some scheduling screw up, we were made to wait for about an hour. I had booked a compact hatch, but we got upgraded to a mid SUV which was nice. They also threw in the GPS and the baby seat for free. We rolled out of the office by 3pm with a set of basic instructions of how to get out of the city and head toward San Gimignano. Promptly of course within a matter of minutes I was lost. I had set Siena as my destination as this was on the turn off from the main Florence – Siena highway. I encountered one of many problems I would face with driving inside cities in Italy. Zones. After 10 minutes of getting nowhere, we pulled in to a parking lot, got our bearings, reset our GPS and were on the Siena highway within minutes. I was driving on the right after many years of driving in the US and Italian cities were probably the worst place to start again. But once on the highway, I felt more confident and by 5pm, we were pulling into the gates of Antico Borgo il Cardino. A quaint little property. We were promptly shown to our room by Thomas who runs the place.

Our room was a large double room that one enters from the back of the office but has a sit out that overlooks the pool and the towers of San Gim into the distance. That evening we merely relaxed, walked around the property, chatted with Thomas on our plans for the next few days and called it a night to rest our weary legs after a long travel day.
Day 2: We woke up leisurely. The owner of the Borgo, an Italian woman who speaks little to no English but amazingly we got by with sign language. She is an absolute delight and got us lots of goodies for the girls. The breakfast is a spread of corn flakes, bread assortments, jellies, fruits, some meat cuts, and juices. We had planned to drive to the town of San Gim today, a 20 minute drive through the lovely winding roads of Tuscany. We did not require the GPS at all throughout our Tuscany stay as the roads are all pretty straightforward. We reached San Gim around 11am and found parking easily enough. These are clearly marked and there are 2 large open air lots right by the city gates and another 2 lots a further 2 minutes drive away. In fact the only time I had to use either of those lots was when we returned a few days later to a nearby Laundromat.

San Gim was lovely. It resembles a medieval city with the architecture and high walls and fabulous views over the rolling Tuscan countryside. It is quite touristy as well with almost every shop selling curios, local art, ceramic, wine, oil and fruits. We spent a good couple of hours here. We had the strollers for the kids and even though the streets are cobbled, we didn’t have any problems wheeling the kids about. We ate lunch at a local pizzeria and returned back to the hotel around 3pm for our afternoon siesta.

Around 6pm we drove around toward Colle di Val d’Elsa, which is a much smaller typical Tuscan town. We parked and randomly walked around, resisting stopping at the various tourist traps. One usually finds a good restaurant and returns to that restaurant quite often and so it was for us. We found Il Monte about 5 minutes from our Borgo and I think we ate there about 3-4 times during our 4 day visit. We returned back to the Borgo around 10pm having had a wonderful day. The kids were really well behaved though DD1 was getting a bit bored as she was obviously not keen on doing these touristy things and visiting places. Their needs are very simple. Splash in the pool, play on the swing, slide or other such fun activities. So the next morning was devoted to this pursuit.

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