Trip report for Switzerland and Italy!

Jun 7th, 2013, 08:06 PM
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Trip report for Switzerland and Italy!

Our European Family Vacation began by flying Delta Air from Richmond, VA through Atlanta to Zurich Switzerland.
I bought the economy plus seats for the Atlanta Zurich leg both ways, and it was definitely worth having the extra leg room and a few free glasses of wine to relax on the plane. Of course, I can never sleep on the plane which is too bad.
We are two adults late forties and early fifties (i am of course the late forties one!), and two daughters ages 19 and 20.

We started our trip traveling by train from Zurich airport on to Lugano Switzerland. We stayed at the Hotel Parco Paradiso Hotel in Paradiso Lugano. It is a very nice small hotel high up on the hill overlooking Lake Lugano. We had the penthouse suite room which had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room with a large deck with full lake views. It was about the cost of two regular rooms so it was perfect for our family. Every morning we had nice breakfast which was part of our room rate. This hotel does not have a/c so it could get hot in the summer. There were no screens on the doors, so it was hard to leave them open while sleeping.

Lugano looks like something out of picture book and our photos definitely look like we were photoshopped onto a postcard. This was probably my favorite place we visited on our trip. We stayed three nights here and we visited Lake Maggiore and the town of Locarno for a day trip. It was easy to hop on a train for a day someplace else. The kids liked Locarno better because there was more affordable shopping there and a little more going on.

We then trained down to Florence Italy for our next three nights at the Hotel L Orologio, which funny enough means clock in Italian. There are pictures of clocks everywhere in the hotel, but no actual clocks in the rooms.
One tidbit, bring a small alarm clock. This drove us nuts as there were no clocks in the rooms for 12 of the 14 nights on our trip.
We bought one of our kids a cheap watch so they could know what time it was!
The Hotel Orologio was a very nice boutique type hotel. We had two rooms and they were both very nicely decorated and had comfortable beds. The main drawback was the fact that the sink tap water had a plastic taste. So, bottled water was the only water I drank while in the room.
I must also note that we had to buy water everywhere. Tap water was not something we could relay to any waiter anywhere. It just seemed odd that they only served bottled since the water is drinkable in all the places we went.
The Hotel Orologio served a nice breakfast and is very centrally located. We walked everywhere. The city of Florence is easy to get around and is very walkable. We got lost frequently, but always found our way back.
While in Florence, we took a cooking class at Florencetown cooking.
We loved it! David was our host chef and he really was very entertaining. He cooked along with Julio. We made homemade egg noodles for pasta Bolognese and also made homemade ravioli, and tiramisu. The whole class time runs about runs about 5 hours and ends with eating the food you all make together. Lots of fun and a variety of ages in our group.
We also took a train to Figline Valdaro to visit a friend of the family who lives in Tuscany during her summers. She took us to her home and then out for a meal. It was so nice to see some of Tuscany first hand and the kids really liked it there.

Next, we trained down to Rome and stayed for 6 nights at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel which is a Waldorf Astoria Hilton brand. We were fortunate to use points for the two rooms for the 6 nights. Great way to save money and also stay in luxury! The hotel was beautiful. Some may say that staying in the suburbs of Rome is a pain, but it was a quiet sanctuary to come back to each day. The hotel offered a shuttle all day back and forth to Barbarini Piazza. I would only go back to Rome to just stay at this hotel. The breakfast buffet, which was complimentary for DH's gold status was unbelievable.
While in Rome, we walked, walked, and walked some more. We saw all the main highlights and took two official tours. The first one, Walks of Italy Coliseum tour. We had a great tour guide named Camille. She was very informative and funny. She kept us entertained through the Palatine hill, the Forum and the Coliseum. She was a good guide and we had 12 people in our group.
We also did the Vatican tour and booked it directly with the Vatican. It was a lot less expensive than the tour groups like Walks of Italy. We had 23 people in our group. The place was very crowded and so it didn't matter how many were in your tour because you really were like taking the tour with a thousand people. Our tour guide was Christina and she gave a good overview of the Vatican. I think Camille would have give a better tour because her English was excellent. But, the cost was considerably less and the tour we had was fine.
I must say I was a little disappointed in the Sistine chapel. Not the artwork, that was unbelievably beautiful, but the chapel itself. It didn't even look like a church to me. St Peter's Basicalla was a lot more of a church. I guess I pictured the Vatican to look different than it did. I thought St Peter's square looked like something out of a Charlton Heston movie! I could see him strutting up on a horse in his Moses outfit.
We spent our last full day in Rome at the hotel relaxing by their beautiful pool and enjoying our resort. It was our only really warm nice day so that was the perfect thing to do. We were toured out by then. Our weather on the entire trip was more overcast, sometimes sunny, very little rain, but always the threat of rain, and cooler than we had expected. Cooler was so much better. Who wants to tour in the heat anyway. We took a few small town trains that were unairconditioned and it got stifling hot even though it was cooler outside.
Our next stop was Milan for one night. We did this to break up the long ride back to Zurich for the flight home. We stayed at the Hilton in Milan on points again and this was probably our worst bed and was a big downgrade after coming from the Cavalieri in Rome. But it was right next to the train station, but still in the middle of nowhere really. Milan was my least favorite place on the trip, but to be fair, we were only there one night.
Since it was a Monday, all museums were closed.
We then trained onto Zurich. Up until this point, all of our trains were on time, but this last one was delayed and the Swiss blamed the Italians for being late. Since we were late, we had to change trains in some small town and they put our original train out of service and moved us all to another train onto Zurich. This made the ride extra long. Zurich was our final night, so I booked an airport hotel, of course, the Hilton. Hilton was changing their point structure, so we used all of our points on this trip and having 8 nights on points and only having to pay for 6, really saved us. When you have two rooms everywhere, the costs add up fast. The Hilton Zurich was a nice enough hotel, better than Milan, but still definitely a far cry from the Cavalieri.
We had to take a taxi from the main train station to the hotel and that was 50 francs. Wow. We then trained it back to the city, using Hiltons free shuttle to the airport and then onto the main station.
Zurich is a very nice little city and we really wish we had skipped Milan and went straight to Zurich and spent 2 nights there, which was my original plan.

The flight home was incredibly long and by the time we went to bed, we had all been up for over 24 hours. Exhausting!'

We overpacked big time. Just don't pack that much. I wore the same jeans I don't know how many times. The black sweater and rain jacket were used daily. Just bring lots of underwear, comfortable shoes and lots of tops. I could have brought a LOT LESS!

Some things about Europe we didn't like: The toilet paper was like sand paper! Our joke was we need to send over some Charmin. Some toilets didn't have seats. Many public toilets didn't have seats. There were very few public toilets which was tough when walking all over the cities.
No clocks in the rooms! Why no alarm clocks?
Water was never free and tap water in restaurants was non existent or they pretended to not understand. I think I was dehydrated for much of the trip.
The coin money for one dollars. I always felt like I had to carry so much heavy money. Tipping. I was so confused most of the time about whether to tip or not to tip or how much to tip. I probably short changed some very good people and overtipped others. There seemed to be no real set standard and I was never sure whether it was included or not and found some were not so honest about that.

Things I liked: Train system is very efficient and takes you everywhere and anywhere. We liked the trains and they were clean for the most part. If you are on a long haul, with luggage, definitely reserve specific seats. We were on some very crowded trains and I was always glad we had seats reserved. People had to move every time and one had the conductor come check our tickets. But, we were able to sit together and with our stuff so that was good.
People were very friendly for the most part. We found in Lugano, most thought we were Germans since we are fair and blond. Many spoke Italian or German to us. In Florence, we were spoken to in Italian also. In Rome, everyone knew we were Americans.

Our favorite parts: Lugano, Locarno, Florence and Tuscany. Rome was neat to see all the history, but it was not my favorite city and seemed so touristy. I felt like we had great meals until we went to Rome where we definitely experienced more of the tourist establishments and pricing.

All in all, it was a great trip and a nice way to go with the kids. It is expensive even with using points. Every meal was a lot, but hey, it is vacation. I just don't know how some people afford these trips with kids and they have to pay full freight. We had three free plane tickets with frequent flyer points and paid for one. Each fare was 1400 round trip. So, it can add up quickly for a family to take a trip.

Crime. We called it being bamboozled. That also was used for being ripped off in stores and restaurants!
We fortunately did not experience any losses due to crime. I will say that my DD's purse was cut in Rome, but she happened to have her hand on it. She never even felt it. She just went to take a picture and the purse dropped to the ground. She didn't see anyone or feel anyone try to get her purse. Her purse had snacks in it which I think she would have punched someone if they tried to take them. Her food is very important to her. Other than that, we were okay, but we were very vigilant in the train stations and while walking around. I think being aware helps.

Anyway, I have many cards from the restaurants we ate at. I just am trying to remember what we had and where. I ate pizza and pasta for 14 days straight and need to go on a massive diet to get rid of my even larger muffin top.
DD, who was picky about food tried and loved Sea Bass and Guinea Fowl. She was my most experimental on the trip. Who would have thought?
14 days goes by fast, but we were all ready to come home by the end of the trip. We were tired from all of our moving around. Great trip.
Thanks to all who gave us advice. kybourbon, thanks for the advice on the trains. You saved me a lot of money!
It can be very confusing to figure out the booking of some of the stuff. I feel somewhat of a pro now, but until I go to book the next big trip and a whole new adventure, I will be back for advice because each place is so unique!
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 7th, 2013, 09:36 PM
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Thanks for posting your report. It sounds like you had a great trip. I feel bad for you that you didn't eat better in Rome though. It's my favorite food city I have ever visited, but you have to get away from the touristy places to find it. David Downie and Katie Parla are two very good sources that I would recommend to anyone that made my trip there unbelievable for the food.
Blaise22 is offline  
Jun 8th, 2013, 01:24 AM
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Did you see David while in Florence?
Mamaw is offline  
Jun 8th, 2013, 04:00 AM
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Momddtravel2 is offline  
Jun 8th, 2013, 05:16 AM
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THANK YOU for this report and for taking the time to write and post it.

I will be staying at the Orologio hotel in Florence next month so appreciate that section of your report.

I understand about alarm clocks which is why I always use my cellphone now instead.

Glad you had a great trip.
Dukey1 is offline  
Jun 8th, 2013, 07:14 AM
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Dukey, you will like the Hotel Orologio. I booked it based on the fact that nobody hated it on trip advisor. There were many reviews and the worst was an average review. The hotel was in a great location for getting around the city easily. You can walk from the train station if you are coming in by train.
Having a/c was nice too. It is not your typical hotel. We were right next door to our kids room, but they were down about 6 steps from us. They had a short room with very high ceilings. We had a longer room with still high ceilings, but not quite as high. Our view was a side street view and it was quiet with the windows closed. We heard very little noise at night. Bathrooms are very nice and modern.

mawmaw, I did not see the original David, only the replica. DH and DD1 waited on line and saw the David. They said the statue was magnificant in size. DD2 wasn't up to the long wait and so we strolled along and sat in a cafe by the Duomo and people watched. That is more interesting to us anyway.

Blaise, I am sure we missed some great food in Rome. We had such great food until we got to Rome. I think it is because we did so much touring and just plopped down into a restaurant near where we were, the tourist areas. We found the better places were on the side streets.
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 8th, 2013, 08:08 AM
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Was ranking some of the hotels on trip advisor and came across one of the good restaurants we dined in in Rome:
il giardino di albino
via zucchelli 29, 00187 Rome, Italy
It was tucked away on a side street and you could literally never know it was there. It seemed to be frequented by lots of locals. We loved the food and it was reasonably priced too.
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 17th, 2013, 08:02 AM
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thanks for your awesome trip report, girlonthego! sounds like a great itinerary. very similar to what i'd like to do with my boyfriend in august. may i ask how many days did this entire trip take?
ali_fafa is offline  
Jun 17th, 2013, 07:58 PM
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Hi ali,
14 nights
If I could do the trip again now, I would spend less time in Rome, skip Milan, add a night to Zurich, and maybe add a couple of nights on the Italian riviera or to Tuscany/Florence.
The Italian lakes in Switzerland and Italy are beautiful and romantic. This would be a great place to spend more time as a couple. As a family, this was quite beautiful and my kids loved it, but three nights was just right to relax, soak in the beauty and be ready for something more active. I think my family would have enjoyed the Italian Riviera, but I dropped it from my list due to the fact that it was not on the direct train route. I was looking for easy for our first trip to Italy. I think I can step outside the box more now, and I would enjoy that. We all really liked Florence and it is such a great walkable city. I was reading Dante's Inferno while on the trip and there were many places in Florence we would go to and I happened to be at that point in the book. It also helped us meet a cute college kid on the train as we were both reading the same book. My girls soon took over the conversation with the young italian studying engineering in germany..
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 25th, 2013, 05:52 AM
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Sounds lovely. The trains sound exceptional.
onetwothreefourfive is offline  
Jun 25th, 2013, 11:07 AM
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gtg - really enjoyed your report! Is that the first time you have all gone to Europe? One of our favorite cities was Florence as well... unlike the very popular Rome - Florence was my favorite. We did not have good food in Rome for some reason. We were there for 5 nights as well.

I know what you mean about the cost and taking a family - we did opt for apartments along the way on the two trips we have taken. It made a difference.

We are planning a few weeks with our 16 year old next year and will be using points and our time share in Spain for part of the trip...

Did you fly in and out of Zurich because of your miles? I think we will be able to use points for two of our tickets but might need to buy one... It all depends on availability...
Momddtravel2 is offline  
Jun 25th, 2013, 08:07 PM
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This was our third family trip to Europe! We went for the first time to Austria and Paris and Munich with the kids and my mother in law, she is Austrian, in 2008. We then went to England and the girls played soccer, my husband was the coach in 2010. We traveled with a girls soccer team and some of their parents. Both were fun trips, amazingly enough the England trip was a ton of fun. The parents were great that went and the kids all got along for the two week trip, but this trip was just the four of us and the first time to Italy for all of us.
We flew in and out of Zurich because of frequent flyer points. We had 3 free ones, so definitely worth it. We used Hilton points and that was great too! Definitely helps.

Spain was the other country I was looking at besides Italy! It was between the two for the big family trip. I felt foodwise, Italy was a better choice for our fam, but still plan to go to Spain at some point. My mother in law loved Barcelona, and I have known many to love northern Spain as well as the coast.
My DH wants to go to Portugal at some point and the Greek Islands. So, lots of places to go in the future. Of course, I have many more places I want to go!
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 25th, 2013, 09:07 PM
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Great trip report. Our family is all very fond of Florence. What you said was exactly what we found--if you get lost, eventually you will find your way back. It was such a personal size yet there was so much to see.

I love Rome and have spent about a month there in total.
It is totally possible to find bad food in Rome; I think the worst has to be those places right outside St. Peter's Square. You are right that if you can get even a couple blocks off the main road you will have much better luck.

5alive is online now  
Jun 25th, 2013, 09:25 PM
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Thanks so much again for posting. Not sure how I cut that off....
5alive is online now  
Jun 26th, 2013, 03:11 AM
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Thanks again for the report and the information about the hotel in Florence which is very helpful.
Dukey1 is offline  
Jun 26th, 2013, 03:35 AM
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Now, I just hope we can find the place when we arrive at the train station!!!!! I keep reading it can be difficult to find the hotel due to lack of signage.
Dukey1 is offline  
Jun 26th, 2013, 03:53 AM
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Dukey, we walked past it at first and then I saw the clock! It is not a showy entrance and it was raining when we arrived in Florence. If you walk into the square behind the Santa Maria Novella church, the church will be on your right, walk straight with the square to your right, you will pass a couple of cafe restaurants on your left, and the hotel is on a corner to the left, with another hotel next to it on the right.
I found the streets are all in a fan direction all over the city. This is why we got lost so often, but always found our way back eventually. Enjoy your trip! When do you go?
girlonthego is offline  
Jun 26th, 2013, 05:03 AM
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Regarding overpacking, at least you realized you could have brought less. Many people don't even thought they recognize after trips that they did not touch half the things they brought. I am guessing that this is more of a "safety blanket" psychology -- a feeling of security in having more even if they have never used them on previous trips. I think this is the case of assured liability (more to carry, need for larger rental cars, injury to wrist/shoulder/back carrying luggage up/down stairs, etc) without benefits to show for it.
Most people look at us with amazement how little we carry, yet their reactions are simple "we don't" and not "how do you do that?"
greg is offline  
Jun 26th, 2013, 05:40 AM
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THANK YOU for those directions which I am printing out and taking with me!!!
Dukey1 is offline  
Jun 26th, 2013, 05:41 AM
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We leave on Sunday the 30th of June so will be in Florence by the afternoon of 1 July
Dukey1 is offline  

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