Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
The Ever Changing Trip Plan (with notes written in hindsight)
This trip never quite came together during the planning phase for several reasons: Steve and I were both too consumed with work to give much thought to the trip plan and at the last minute another couple decided to join us for two weeks in Italy. Here is our trip plan with my notes about what changes we made and how we should have booked it.
Wednesday, August 21: Leave Home
Fly Albuquerque to Zurich (first class upgrades!!). Sally Watkins booked our tickets for us.
When we were first booking, we were going to fly to Zurich, but take the train straight to Lucerne so we could stay in a new arrival city. But, the hotel that was recommended turned out to be not that great (our friend who had found it stayed there and said it was not good) and we decided that we did not want to mess around with trains on our first day in Europe, so we just did as we normally do and spent the first two nights in Zurich. But this time we tried a new hotel.
Thursday, August 22: Zurich - 2 nights
Hotel Claridge Tiefenau, Steinwiesstrasse 8-10, 4 stars
I wanted to try a new hotel in Zurich for this trip. I like the one we usually stay in (Hotel Glockenhof) but it is right downtown and noisy if you do not get a room at the back. I checked through the Karen Brown listings and she recommends this small hotel in a residential neighborhood - in the part of Zurich near the Art Gallery and the Opera. This is near the vegetarian restaurant we like and is still only 10 minutes on foot from the central part of town. It is a small hotel with 31 rooms. It has a restaurant that has Asian food and we could eat there if we are exhausted from the flight. We booked via email and fax.
>>This turned out to be a good hotel and a good location. Our flights got all changed around on the day we left (security breach in Dallas delayed our plane from Albuquerque) and when we finally got to Zurich, we were really happy to just take a cab to our hotel and not be taking a train to Lucerne. Also, our luggage was lost and it got to Zurich that evening.
Saturday, August 24: Rental Car - AutoEurope
We pick up our car in downtown Zurich and will have it with us for the rest of the trip. We pay a hefty fee for picking up in Switzerland and dropping off in Italy (over $400). We could have done without the car in Switzerland, but then would have had to take the train into Italy (to avoid the drop off fee). We debated back and forth but in the end wanted the convenience of the car even if we do not use it every day.
>>It costs more to have the car and you really don't need it in Switzerland, but it is very convenient and we decided it was worth the expense. No trains or train schedules. In Grindelwald, we stayed on the edge of town and drove the car into town and parked for the hikes. We had the car to load groceries into before heading back to the apartment.
Saturday, August 24: Week 1 - Engelberg, Switzerland
Apartment in Engelberg: Hotel Spannort Apartment. Booked via email and fax. They took a credit card for the deposit.
The week in Engelberg we will do the hikes from town, do a day trip to Altdorf and hike there and maybe to another place on the lake. Maybe an evening out in Lucerne.
When booking a vacation rental in Switzerland in the summer, you do not need to book as far ahead as you do for Italy. The accommodations are built for the ski season which gets more visitors than the summer season - so there usually will be something available to rent.
I had decided we would spend our first week in Engelberg, just 45 minutes drive from Lucerne and at the end of a long valley on the southern edge of Lake Lucerne. It looks like a modern mountain village (lots of hotels and restaurants) with some older parts and good hiking. Their map shows several different mountains rides and lots of trails.
I asked the tourist office to mail me their information. Then I sat down with the map of the city and the list of vacation rentals. I circled the ones with the amenities we wanted (phone, parking, 1 bedroom) and then located each one on the map. The map has a number for every vacation rental and hotel and the listing booklet gives a grid location on the map for each place, so it is easy to see where a place is.
I selected places right in the central area. In 1996 when we were booking in Davos, I thought we would want to be out of town where it would be quiet, but we were wrong. We had a nice apartment on the edge of town, but it was a 15 minute walk to the shops. The town itself was lovely and would have been quiet even if we were on the main street. So for Engelberg I select a place just a few blocks from the main street. The owners of the vacation rental also own a hotel in town. The apartment is the top floor of a chalet (probably where they live). The apartment is also described on the tourist office web site.
The apartment we selected is more expensive than others, but we could book via email and we paid our deposit with a credit card. Also it is a 4 star apartment (they rate their apartments with the same system as the hotels).
>>Engelberg turned out to be a great pick, but it would have been better to spend our first week in Grindelwald and the second week in Engelberg. The hikes in Grindelwald are shorter and you could "get into shape" that week for the longer Engelberg hikes. Also, we ended up driving from Grindelwald to the Gottard tunnel to Liguria and the drive would have been an hour shorter if we started in Engelberg.
Saturday, August 31: Week 2 - Grindelwald, Switzerland
We rented an apartment from this same family in 1997 and liked it. Since then they have built a new chalet next door and made several apartments in it. We rented one of these. I looked for an apartment right in Grindelwald, but did not find anything I liked, so we took the easy way out and just booked this apartment. It is a few minutes by car into the center of town - but the location of the apartment is wonderful - you look straight at the Eiger.
We had originally planned to spend the week in Meiringen but I was having a hard time deciding and we love Grindelwald, so we thought we would spend the week there and do a day trip to Meiringen to check it out for next time.
>>Grindelwald was an excellent choice - the hiking was great. Our apartment was great. We will stay here again soon.
Friday, September 6: One night - Levanto, Liguria
Villa Margherita by the Sea, Levanto
The drive from Grindelwald to Cetona is about 10 hours, so we decided to do it over two days. We will leave Grindelwald a day early and drive to Levanto and stay with Federico at Villa Margherita by the Sea. I just redid his web site for him and this is a chance to meet him and take some notes for the site. And have some pesto!!
>>The drive to Levanto took us all day - we would not have made it to Cetona in one day. We left Grindelwald at 10am (too tired from hiking the day before to pack that night) and arrived in Levanto at 7:30pm. The Gottard tunnel was fast, but we spent 45 minutes waiting at the Italy border and then another extra hour in slow traffic around Milan. We loved Levanto.
Saturday, September 7: Weeks 3 and 4 - Cetona (Tuscany), Italy
TuscanHouse: Torre San Domenico, house in Cetona (south of Chiusi)
I could not decide where to stay in Italy for our first week. Originally we booked our second week at Megan's Villa Rosa near Perugia, but had the first week open. We thought about spending a few extra days in Switzerland, then having a few nights on Lake Como and a few nights in Liguria. But we did not want to spend a whole week in hotels in Italy. Someone submitted a great review of the TuscanHouse listing near Lucca, so we decided to forget the hotels and book the smaller apartment in the villa. Then friends of ours from Santa Fe (Paula and Robert) decided to join us for this week and next in Italy. It is their first trip and we wanted them to see the area we love around Pienza, so we changed our booking to Torre San Domenico. Plus this is a larger place and in a town - which will be nice. We spent three weeks in this area last fall, and two weeks the year before that. It is becoming my favorite part of Italy.
>>In the end we cancelled the week in Villa Rosa and spent just under two weeks in the Cetona house (we had to double pay for this week- for both Villa Rosa and the Cetona house - the price you pay for changing plans on the fly). We realized that we were moving around too much and this was going to be too hard for our group of four. Also, Robert and Paula were flying home Friday, September 20 from Rome airport and we needed to drive them there, so we had already arranged to arrive in Mary Jane's Vetralla apartment early - on the Thursday night, so we would have a one hour drive to the airport Friday morning. That left us with only five nights in Villa Rosa - too little time to be worth all the moving about and our friends really wanted to see Tuscany things. Luckily the Cetona house was not booked for that week, so we extended our stay by five nights. This was a good decision because things are more hectic when traveling with a group of four and this gave us a base for longer. I really love this part of Tuscany and there is lots to see and do here.
Thursday, September 19: Weeks 4 and 5 - Vetralla (Lazio), Italy
Elegant Etruria: Historic Vetralla Apartments, apartment in Vetralla (south of Viterbo)
Mary Jane has an apartment in Vetralla that we saw on our last trip and we are staying there for the week. Slow Travelers lunch on Wednesday, September 25, 1pm.
>>We changed our original plan to arrive here two days early so we could spend the night, then drive our friend Paula to the airport in the morning. We spent Thursday in Vetralla, then drove Paula to the airport on Friday (Robert had already flown home - family emergency), then drove to Sperlonga on the coast for two nights. Back to Vetralla on Sunday. SlowTrav lunch on the Wednesday. On Thursday morning we drove to Rome airport, returned the car, and took a taxi into Rome for our last two nights there. We had planned to be in Vetralla up until we left, but there were things we wanted to do in Rome and some friends we were meeting, so we decided to treat ourselves to our last two nights there.
Saturday, September 28: Home
Fly Rome to Albuquerque (first class upgrades!!). Taxi from Rome hotel to airport.
That was just our itinerary - now you get to read the trip report. See the links in the top right of the page.
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