FC: Diane & Scott's | European Vacations | 2010-2012
1: Scott and I decided to celebrate my 60th birthday traveling to two places we had always wanted to visit; Austria and Prague. Since our time in Austria was limited, I arranged for a driver to take us from the Prague airport to Vienna. Our three hour drive through the countryside was especially enjoyable as we witnessed the first signs of fall with a spattering of leaves transitioning to gold and red. We were surprised with the seamless border between the two countries;only an unused gate that use to separate the two countries when the Czech Republic was under communist control. As we drove in Austria we were amazed at the differences in the two countries. The countryside farms and roads of Austria were far superior and maintained than those in the Czech Republic. At noon we arrived at our destination; The Grand Hotel, the first luxury hotel in Vienna. The location was fabulous, on the Ringstrasse just across from the Musikverein. The recently refurbished interior was palatial. Our room had exquisite fabric paneled walls and crystal chandelier. The bathroom was marble with modern fixtures. The hotel reflected "Old Europe" at its best, with modern amenities. | Austria & Prague | 2010 | Grand Hotel
2: Vienna | Our first day of exploration began around the Medieval Heart of the 1st District; Innere Stradt (Inner City). Time seems to stand still in this part of Vienna, where hidden architectural treasures await discovery down narrow lanes and cobbled streets. Until 1857 an ancient wall surrounded this district and the entire city resided inside the ring. Although we had maps, we found navigating around the city very confusing and pronouncing the street names an almost impossible task. On our way to dinner, we walked down "Kamtnerstrasse" the major shopping street toward the Stephansdom and the restaurant "Figlmuller" Brad's friend had recommended. We ordered their signature dish "Wiener Schnitzel". It was delicious, but an enormous amount of food. Our driver suggested drinking the local wine, so we celebrated my 60th with both the food and drink of the region. Following dinner, we leisurely walked back to our hotel on the "Kamtnerstrasse" and were surprised with the transformation from day to night. In the dark evening sky, gaudy neon signs now brightly lit the beautiful classic buildings and crowds of locals and tourists inhabited the promenade.
5: On our second day in Vienna, our sightseeing expedition began at Stephansdom (St. Stephan's Cathedral). Dating from the 12th century, St. Stephan's is the grandest edifice in Austria. Scaffolding covered a portion of the Cathedral but we were still able to enjoy the unique and exquisite exterior combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The basilica was equally beautiful, filled with a wealth of decorative sculptures including the famed carved wooden Wiener Neustadt altarpiece and the tomb of Emperor Frederick III.
6: We strolled through medieval roads until we reached a historic neighborhood called Schonlaterngasse (Steet of the Beautiful Lantern). Once part of Vienna's Medieval Latin Quarter, the charming streets were lined with beautiful Baroque town houses. We then walked to "Grienchenbeisl" (The Greeks Tavern) an ivy-covered tavern than has been in business for over 500 years. We were disappointed it was too early in the day to enjoy the setting for lunch, although we enjoyed the quaint ambiance of the neighborhood. Our walk continued through many old churches as we weaved our way to the huge Am Hof Square. Am Hof is one of the city's oldest squares. In the Middle Ages the ruling Babenberg family built its castle on the site. Close to the square were several stylish palaces, the Palais Ferstel (now a shopping arcade) and the elegantly restored Palais Harrach. We were amazed at the beauty and the grandeur. For lunch Scott found a local restaurant where limited English was spoken but the meal and ambiance were enjoyable.
8: Following lunch we headed to "The Hofburg" (Imperial Palace). Until 1918 the Hofburg was the home of the Habsburgs, rulers of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. We easily could have spent the entire day experiencing the complex. We began our visit in the beautiful courtyards but were disappointed when our fist stop; the Imperial Chapel (home to the Vienna Boy's Choir) was closed. We thoroughly enjoyed both the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) and the National LIbrary. The Imperial Treasury was difficult to find but worth the hunt to view the abundance of jewels, robes, elegant displays of crowns, relics and vestments. The National Library, one of the grandest Baroque libraries in the world, was one of our favorite sites. Although the library contains more book treasures than any comparable collection outside the Vatican, it was the High Baroque architecture, with tromp-l'oeil ceiling frescoes that took our breath away.
10: We began our third day taking Frommer's South of the Ring walking tour to get a different perspective of Vienna. We enjoyed the walking tour that consisted of a broad assortment of late 19th century buildings and areas heavily damaged during World War II. Equally impressive was the the vast network of underground walkways and subways the city was able to build during the post war reconstruction. We finished the tour at Naschmarkt; Vienna's main outdoor produce market that also included many prepared foods and restaurants. We were amazed at the vast amount of fresh spices and the variety of cuisines. We sampled chocolates in addition to some snacks. As we walked through the market we also admired the unusual and ornate facades of buildings that flanked both sides of the market. We have visited many great outdoor markets in Europe, this one truly one of the best.
12: The Schonbrunn Palace, the baroque summer palace of the Habsburgs, is immersed in Imperial elegance and grandeur. We purchased full tour tickets with timed entry to the palace, and as we discovered, true to the precision and regiment of the Viennese people, they adhered to the timed admission to the minute. The palace was grand and crowded. We were dazzled by the beauty of the architecture, the ornate embellished furnishings and the picturesque views. We struggled timing our audio tour visits in each room of the palace with the massive tour groups and the tour guides various languages but still enjoyed the tour.
13: Once we finished the interior of the palace, we walked to the Imperial Gardens. We began our visit to the massive formal gardens with a twenty minute walk up the grass covered hill to the marvelous Gloriette, a Baroque palatial pavilion at the hill's crest. Our walk included formal garden promenades, a zoo, a rock-mounted obelisk, a false Roman ruin and a sculpted marble fountain. Although the climb to the top was somewhat tiring, the views and the building were both spectacular. | Schorbrunn Palace
15: For our final night in Vienna, I had purchased tickets for the Vienna Mozart Orchestra in Historical Costumes. The Concert was to be preformed in Golden Hall at the Musikverein. I had seen pictures of the Golden Hall but still was not prepared for its beauty. Opulent and elegant undervalue the majesty of this incredible Hall. Sparkling crystal chandeliers and wall sconces lit the room; gold leaf carved wood and gold Greek goddess pillars surrounded the hall and painted murals adorned the ceiling. The hall was smaller than I had visualized; very intimate. Our box was at the front of the hall with an unobstructed view of the orchestra. It almost seemed like the orchestra was performing exclusively for us. The thirty musicians were dressed in wigs and costumes of the Mozart Era, and their performances devoted exclusively to Mozart. Scott especially enjoyed the range of notes of the solo clarinetist and the swift fingering of the piccolo player. It was an incredible experience; elegance at its finest. After the concert we walked one block to to our hotel as rain began to fall. | Musikverein's Golden Hall
16: Salzburg | We spent our one night in the Sacher Salzburg, a charming old hotel situated on the right bank of the river with beautiful views of the old city. An elegant grand staircase led to the guest rooms that circle the center core atrium pavilion with marble columns and marble floors. The sun was bright and warm as we crossed the bridge over the Salzach River and headed for The Alstadt (Old City). We found an excellent restaurant, Carpe Diem, and ordered several appetizers and enjoyed the beautiful weather on the patio. Since it was Sunday, many of the stores and restaurants were closed, but we enjoyed our leisurely walk around the small town as we headed to our first destination; the highly rated Salzburg Museum. We could not leave the museum quick enough. However, after our disappointing first destination, the sites did nothing but improve. Our favorites were The Dom Cathedral, one of the finest Italian-style Baroque structures in Austria and Stifkerched St. Peter (Collegiate Church of St. Peter) a Romanesque-turned Rococo church where Mozart's famed Great Mass in C Minor premiered in 1783. Next, we took the funicular to the Fortress Hohensalzburg. The Hohensalzburg is Salzburg's acropolis and the largest preserved medieval fortress in Central Europe. We spent several hours viewing the staterooms and the medieval artifacts. We climbed up the 100 tiny steps to the Reckturm, a grand lookout post. The sky was unusually clear and the sweeping views of Salzburg and the mountains were incredible. Then we crossed the river to Mirabell Gardens and the Pegasus Fountain famous for one of the Sound of Music scenes where Julie and kids sing "Do-Re-Me". If is one of Europe's most beautiful parks That night we had an authentic Austrian dinner at Herzi. I had Wiener Schnitzel and for dessert; apple strudel. Then to my delight, awaiting us in our room was an incredible selection of Sacher Chocolates. Heavenly!
18: We had three hours before our driver was arriving to take us to Prague. Our first stop was Cafe Tomaselli for breakfast, an 1850's cafe known for their excellent coffee and pastries. The cafe was large but cozy. Locals filled most of the chairs as they busily read their morning newspaper. The wood paneled walls with 18th century art and marble floors were almost as delightful as the double dose of morning chocolate I ordered; hot chocolate with whipped cream accompanied with a Sacher chocolate tart with whipped cream for the main course. Of course Scott was much more sensible ordering eggs, ham and coffee. After breakfast, we walked across the Alter Market to shop Furst of Salzburg, famous for their hand-made Mozartkugein. (aluminum wrapped Mozart chocolate balls) Satisfied with the chocolate presents we purchased, we then checked out the open air market with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Our driver picked us up at noon to take us to Prague via Cesky Krumlov. Our views of the countryside outside Salzburg were beautiful. The border between Prague and Austria was more pronounced on this major road. A large and empty border station divided the two countries, evidence of the isolation that prevented the Czechs from visiting non-Communist countries during the Communist regime pot World War II. But even without the border station, no sign was needed to advise you were leaving one country and entering another one. The differences between the well-developed Austria and newly-emerged Czech were obvious.
20: Cesky Krumlovv, the second most popular town in the Czech Republic, is a picturesque, charming, medieval fairy-tale town with well preserved buildings and the immense 16th century Renaissance Krumlov Castle capped on a hill overlooking the city. The Vlltava River that bends through Cesky Krumlov was surrounded by hills of foliage dressed in the traditional fall colors of gold and red. We ate in a "cave-like" restaurant that cooked with an inside open wood burning grill; very authentic from years past. We ordered traditional Czech food; Scott especially enjoyed his mixed pork skewer. After dinner we walked the cobbled cityscape and explored the small town including the Old Hotel that boasted photos of Hitler and other old relics. As we left we had a traditional Czech dessert; pancakes with jam and creme fraiche topping. It was not as good as chocolate, but tasty. We were disappointed we could not tour the interior of the Krumlov Castle as it was closed on Monday but we were able to enjoy the exterior as we left the medieval town for our drive to Prague. | Cesky Krumlov
21: Prague's most celebrated structure, The Charles Bridge dates back to the 14th century. When we approached the bridge it was not only crowded with people, but also a diverse venue of vendors and entertainment. As we navigated through the crowds that had assembled on the 500 plus yard-bridge we passed peddlers, artists sketching caricatures, and a jazz band. Crossing the bridge, we stopped at each statue familiarizing ourselves with the history behind each one. A few statues were in the process of being restored, but it did not distract from the unique qualities of the site. The view from the bridge was special; the first signs of autumn were apparent in the distant hills. | Prague
22: The Prague Castle dates to the second half of the 9th century and was home to Czech rulers for more than a thousand years. There are four major sites within the Castle; St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, Basilica of St. George, and the Golden Lane. Guards dressed in vintage attire resembling the First Republic were positioned at the courtyard entrance of the Castle. Our first stop was St. Vitus Cathedral; the most impressive building within the Prague Castle and the Czech Republic's most important church. Built in many stages beginning in 1344 the striking stained glass windows and Gothic architecture were beautiful. Next we went to the Old Royall Palace; the seat of the Bohemian princes where we especially enjoyed the large Gothic hall. Then, we went to The Basilica and Convent of St. George, Prague's best preserved Romanesque church. Our last stop was Golden Lane a street of old buildings that today are tourist shops. We enjoyed our 3-hour visit of the Castle; remarking how different it was from anything we had seen. Instead of remaining at the Castle for lunch with all the tourists, we took the tram to Lesser town in search of Cafe Pari.
23: Prague Castle
24: Prague's architectural diversity and preservation was captivating. Throughout Europe, we have seen various representations of the architecture, but nowhere have we seen the variety and quantity of old buildings: Medieval, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and Art Nouveau. The Czechs have excellently preserved the integrity of their buildings and to our delight; there were no neon signs or modern buildings in the historic area. In addition to the incredible architecture, one of the things I was most intrigued by were the sidewalks. The sidewalks in Prague are all set in small 1-2 inch stones with various patterns throughout each street; the craftsmanship somewhat resembling tile floors in homes.
25: On our second day, we returned to the Old Town; first stopping in Old Town Square for the hourly striking of the 15th century Astronomical Clock. The four statues flanking the clock represent the 15th century outlook on time and prejudices. A Turk with a mandolin symbolizes hedonism, a Jewish moneylender is greed, and the figure staring into a mirror stands for vanity. All these worldly goals are vain in the face of Death, whose hourglass reminds us that our time is unavoidably running out. At the top of the hour we quickly watched as Death tipped his hourglass and pulled the cord, ringing the bell; then the windows opened and the 12 apostles paraded by; followed by the rooster crowing and the hour being rung. It was a pleasure viewing the routine at 9am with only a few other tourists.
26: As we navigated through the old Town on our way to the Jewish Quarter, we were surprised to see the elegant streets and couture shops. Scott and I both enjoyed the Art Nouveau neighborhood and considered it among the best we had seen in Europe. Prague's Jewish Quarter neighborhood and its well-presented museum tells the story of this region's Jews. It is known to possess one of the most interesting collections of Jewish sites, and we were looking forward to our 3-hour tour. Our tour guide was Czech, her father a Galician Jew (like Bubie) who survived the Nazis. Our group consisted of 3 Jewish couples from the US. We learned the Jewish Quarter was walled in during the 12th century and the area became a ghetto. In the 16-17th centuries Prague had one of the biggest ghettos in Europe with 11,000 inhabitants. Our tour began in the Old-New Synagogue that dates from the 13th century and is one of the oldest preserved synagogues north of the Alps. 80,000 names of the Bohemian and Moravian Jewish victims murdered by the Nazis are written on the walls of the synagogue. Stone pews along with other items were preserved from the original medieval furnishings of the synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery dating to the 15th century is the largest and best preserved Jewish cemetery in Europe. Yamakas adorned the heads of many men and what appeared to be several groups of Jewish students passed through the area with awe and reverence. An unusual presence was with me as I stepped by the irregular shaped and slanted gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions that dated from 1439. It was only two days from the 15th anniversary of my dad's passing and I could not help but think of him, his mother who was born not far from here and the persecution her family had endured not that long before I was born. The Spanish Synagogue built in 1867 was our last stop on the tour and another architectural delight. Although not nearly as famous as the other synagogues; the Moorish decorative elements with oriental motifs were unique and exquisite. Outside the entrance, they were selling tickets for a concert that night in the Synagogue. The program was an interesting combination of music by Jewish composers and Jewish traditional songs. Following our tour we ate at a nearby restaurant Cafe Colonial. The food was excellent and beautifully presented. Tourist concerts; short recitals in historic beautiful buildings with small groups of members from professional symphonies are very popular in Prague and after attending our concert we understood the reason for the popularity. Our performance included songs from Gershwin, Berlin, Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber and a selection of Jewish traditional songs. Our musicians included 5 strings, a trumpet and a soloist; their performance was superb.
28: Having devoted our first two days to the older part of Prague, we decided to explore the New Town. We walked to Wenclass Square, the broad boulevard that ends with the National Museum. The square has been the site of many Czech celebrations and demonstrations over the years. It was the first area we visited where the architecture was disappointing. A combination of uninteresting 20th century buildings were mixed with Art Nouveau structures. The streets were not as clean and the stores less appealing than in the Old Town. Next we walked to the Museum of Communism interestingly nestled between a casino and McDonald's. The Museum traces the story of communism in Prague from the 1950's through 1989. Both Scott and I found the museum content very interesting, although not always attractively organized or presented. Communist leader statues, propaganda posters, photos from the communist era and items dating from the 1950;'s were randomly arranged. The most fascinating exhibit was a 20 minute video with English subtitles that showed actual footage of the Velvet Revolution and the protest and brutalities during the communist regime; it was hard to believe the last Czech protest that gave them their independence was only 20 years ago! Moser glass, the most prestigious of Czech glass makers was our next stop. Although there are several Moser stores throughout Prague, we went to the first Moser store opened in Prague in 1925 referred to as the "Black Rose" palace, to buy gifts. The building was exquisite; like a museum, the rooms were protected as historical monuments. Among the interesting architectural elements were the original wooden ceiling and wall facing, painted windows, Dutch stove and chandeliers. We purchased several gifts including a pair of votive holders for ourselves.
29: Black Rose Palace
30: We returned to the Square prior to the concert and were greeted by a large Scottish contingency of soccer players and fans dressed in their kilts and having a festive time. We casually talked to some of the other tourists and enjoyed the overall atmosphere. Following our drinks on the Square,we walked to the Municipal House for the evening concert of the Czech Symphony. The Municipal House is the "pearl of Czech Art Nouveau. Built in the early 1900's it features Prague's largest concert hall. We had superb fifth row seats in Smetana Hall were close enough to the stage for Scott to truly appreciate the fingering of the gifted 29 year old cellist; Gautier Capucon. Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed our concert and were surprised with the inexpensive cost.
31: Municipal House
32: Having seen all the important sites and areas of Prague, we decided to venture outside the city and visit the Konopiste Castle, a site recommended to us by Nancy and Tim Bond. We decided to be adventurous and take the train to the Castle. After exiting the train, we wandered through the woods with trail markers on the trees somewhat reassuring us that we were headed in the right direction to the Castle. The landscape along the trail was beautiful with trees full of bright golden leaves reflecting in a lovely lake. The trail led us to the back of the castle including a Russian bear pit and we were able to view one of the bears eating his lunch. The Konopiste Castle is a huge Neo-Gothic residence with a relatively plain exterior. The castle built by Archduke Ferdinand and nephew of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef was completed around 1900 and was one of the first castles in Europe to have an elevator and running water. Ferdinand was obsessed with hunting and killed over 300,000 animals around the world, many of whom stared morbidly at us as hunting trophies covered the walls of the castle. There were several tour options of the castle but based on the Bond's recommendation, we chose the one that included the extensive collections of medieval arms. We enjoyed our tour. The chapel was one of our favorite rooms, but by far the armor and weapons were the highlight. The hand carved handles of ivory and mother of pearl on the guns were works of art. Afterwards we visited the gift shop and bought beautiful hand-blown drinking glasses with the castle's insignia, a great reminder of our trip to the Castle and Prague.
33: Konopiste Castle
34: Last year, Brad suggested a joint Europe vacation with both the Fox and Hileman families as a great way for the bride and groom's parents to get to know each other prior to their wedding. So, for the past year, Brad and I exchanged e-mails and phone calls as we finalized our plans for our joint family vacation. Scott I arrived at Charles de Gaulle at 6 a.m.(4 hours before the rest of the group) and boarded a train into Paris. Daylight appeared as we exited the train and headed to Hotel Sainte-Beuve. After registering we ventured to my favorite Paris breakfast spot; Duex Magots. Scott and I sat in the glass enclosed patio enjoying the people on the streets and I had my traditional Parisian breakfast of pane chocolate and hot chocolate. With my morning chocolate fix satisfied we walked back to the hotel and crashed for a short nap before everyone else arrived. Our rooms at the boutique Hotel Sainte-Beauve were charming. Our superior room was larger than the standard rooms and had a large bright window. The others had standard rooms which although small were lovely and very inexpensive for Paris standards (187 Euro per night). The staff spoke fluent English and was eager to assist with reservations and information. | Paris 2012 | Hotel Sainte Beuve
36: After a delightful lunch we began our island tour. We visited the traditional sites on Ile St. Louis and Ile de lat Cite, and everyone especially enjoyed the Gothic masterpiece Notre-Dame. The cathedral sparkled with its recent cleaning in preparation of its 850 years celebration in 2013. Fatigue began hitting all of us,so we walked back to our hotel via the nearby Luxembourg Gardens. | Brad and the Fox's arrived at the hotel hungry so we walked to Ilse de la Cite and Place Dauphine, a triangular square lined with charming 17th century houses, some of stone, others brick. The square was designed by Henri IV and named for the son (the future Louis XIII). Many of the building are now restaurants and we selected the restaurant La Rose de France.
37: Notre Dame
39: Jardin Luxembourg
41: Our first evening we took an hour river cruise on the Seine to view the City of Lights aglow. The weather was very cool but clear and the boat was sparse with patrons.The city was magical and the Eiffel Tower dazzled us during the hourly light show. After we completed the cruise we decided to eat a late supper. We stopped by a small pizzeria in the St. Germaine district and enjoyed an excellent pizza and wine as we recounted our first day in Paris. Brad impressed us with his French, asking for the check. It was midnight as we strolled down the small winding streets to our hotel.
42: After a neighborhood cafe' breakfast we began our second day of sightseeing. We started at the Palais Royale and the beautiful gardens of Jardin du Palais Royal. From the palace we walked to one of my favorite places, the mosaic floored and arching glass canopied Galleries Vivienne and the Passages Couverts a hidden network of interconnecting 19th century shopping arcades of fashionable shops. Then we strolled over to view the exterior of the Louvre and walk through the Tuileries to Place de la Concorde. | Jardin du Palais Royal
44: Musee du Louvre | The Louvre opened as a museum in 1793 and is the world's most visited museum .
45: Jardin Tuileries | Created by Catherine de Midicis as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564, the statue studded Tuiileries Garden is bordered by Place de la Concorde and the Musee du Louvre. The garden became a public park after the French Revolution.
46: In the afternoon we took the Metro to the Champs Elysees. As we emerged from the Metro we were surprised by the increased visibility of police with guns on the Champs Elysees. Slightly more than one week had passed since the US ambassador to Libya was killed in a terrorist attack and we could not help but wonder if there had been terrorist threats in Paris. During our visit to the Arc de Triomphe a French military service was conducted. Although we did not know the reason for the service it provided us all with a reminder of the military significance of the awe inspiring site we were visiting.
47: Arc de Triomphe | The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 but not completed until 1836. The most famous monument in Paris honors those who fought and died for France.
48: Tour Eiffel | The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World's Fair by Gustave Eiffel . For many years it was the world's tallest structure.
49: When we arrived at the Tower, the observation deck at the top was closed so we were only able to visit the mid-point viewing platform. The views were still incredible.
50: S | Since our first trip to Paris in the early 1980's I have seen the most dramatic changes in Paris to the "Marais" area. Developed initially in the 17th century with beautiful mansions occupied by royalty and nobility, the "Marais" demised during the Revolution but in the past 40 years the area has undergone significant restoration and is now home to many young Parisian hipsters. In route to our dinner destination Ma Bourgogne , we walked through the well known Place des Vosges, Paris' oldest and best preserved square of arcaded red-bricked houses that overlook a center garden.Ma Bourgogne has been a long time favorite of Maurren, Joe, Scott and I. A trip to Paris was not complete without a Ma Bourgogne roasted chicken dinner and we have many memorable stories from our visits. On the way to our Metro stop back to the hotel we walked through several of the streets in "Marais" lined with fashionable shops and busy local cafes populated by animated Parisians. Jenni twisted he ankle on our walk, but she persevered as we viewed Hotel de Ville before jumping on the metro back to our hotel. It was our second straight night of enjoying Paris at midnight.
52: The weather in Paris had been clear and cool for our first two days; great for sightseeing. But today the forecast was for rain. We began our sightseeing at my favorite Paris museum; Musee d' Orsay. I never tire of visiting this museum that opened in 1986. The collection of French impressionist paintings with the incredible architecture of the converted train station is unparalleled. As we walked from Musee d' Orsay to the Musee Rodin we once again noticed several police on the streets with guns. As many times as I have been in Paris I have never seen so many police with guns! | Musee d' Orsay
54: After a quick visit to see Rodin's "Thinker" and a couple of other statues we walked to the Bon Marche department store for a quick lunch and then over to Angelina's to indulge in dessert. Next, the girls ventured over to Galleries Lafayette to shop. Everyone admired the 100 year old glass dome of the prestigious store. However, the store had a sale in progress, it was very crowded and we all left without a purchase!
55: Musee Rodin
56: Switzerland 2012 | Everyone met early in the hotel lobby for our taxis to the Gare de Lyon train station and our 8 a.m. departure to Geneva. Scott and I were both looking forward to visiting Switzerland for the first time. While we had visited the French Alps (Annecy) and the Italian Alps (Lake Como), we knew our eight nights in Switzerland would provide us with a much different experience. Scott and I had very limited train experience in Europe and had never taken a trip that was exclusively train travel. So Brad, who had traveled Europe extensively via train during college, took the lead in researching all the train options. Many online chat sessions suggested first class tickets (especially for older people with luggage) so without any arm twisting everyone agreed that first class was the way to go. Scott and I qualified for senior fares (over 60 years) and for once there was a positive to being older! The first class cabin to Geneva was very comfortable and included a light breakfast of juice, hot drink and croissant. The countryside between Paris and Geneva was dominated by small villages and open pastures. Scott was enjoying the scenery and listening with his headphones to his IPAD music when all of a sudden he blurted our in a VERY LOUD voice "Baby Fawn" and animated his words with arm gestures of a prancing deer. Thinking we had not heard his first newscast" in an even louder voice he repeated the same message. As I put my hand over his mouth to let him know he was shouting, the first class cabin began laughing and the gentleman behind us kiddingly remarked "We get it"! I don't know if Scott will ever forget that outburst (or if we will ever let him forget it).
58: After arriving in Montreux we rolled our luggage several blocks to our home for three days; The Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. One of Brad's friends had recommended the hotel and the hotel exceeded all of our expectations. The traditional and elegant Fairmont hotel was built in 1906 but updated with all the modern conveniences and furnishings you would expect in a 5 star hotel. When we checked-in, Brad inquired about a lake view room and we all had our rooms upgraded for free. Our rooms overlooked Lake Geneva with magnificent views of the Alps and the manicured hotel gardens. The indoor Jacuzzi and swimming pool area was relaxing with excellent views of the lake and Scott and Brad especially enjoyed the health and spa facilities. The outdoor pool was also lovely but the water too cold for us. The Fairmont was all the Hileman's choice as "Favorite Hotel" on our trip. | Fairmont Le Montreux Palace
60: Several of our friends had strongly endorsed Chateau de Chillon as one of Switzerland's top "must-sees" so we were all looking forward to the picturesque 12th century castle built on a small rocky island. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the castle authentically restored in the 19th century without crowds of tourists and our audio guide provided great historical information as we toured the castle's many rooms. We even climbed the castle's 76 stairs to the top of the "keep". Scott and I have seen many castles over our travels but I must say it was one of my favorites.
61: Chateau de Chillon
62: The timing of our visit to Montreux could not have been better. Not only did we have an unseasonal warm 83 degrees, but also the town was hosting a 50th birthday celebration. Our first full day day began with a lakeside promenade walk with Brad. The flower-lined promenade bordering the lake was picturesque. After our walk we ran into Rick and went to a delightful patisserie on Grand Rue and indulged in a breakfast of pane chocolates. The main street was closed for a parade and Swiss residents, many dressed in local costumes, filled the streets. For lunch we walked to the center of town where an array of local cooks had prepared food and drinks for purchase. The sausage and a potato / leek dish that I had was excellent and it was a real treat to enjoy a traditional Swiss meal made by the locals. Following lunch on our walk to the boat ride we were taking around Lake Geneva, we found a kiosk selling Swiss ice cream. The Swiss chocolate with chocolate shavings looked yummy ... and it was! Both Jerren and I rated it the best chocolate ice cream ever! The boat ride on Lake Geneva with views of the neighboring towns with the Alps in the background were fabulous. Restaurants in Montreux were very expensive, greatly restricting our choices. However, dinner our first night at La Rouvenaz was very good. Everyone shared various pizzas but the best was a spicy sausage combination pizza Scott and I ordered that was not on the menu. Our rocket salad was fresh and tasty and of course there are not enough superlatives for the profiteroles I had for dessert. Our second night dinner at Caveau des Vignerons was also repeatable. The cave style restaurant that opened in 1938 originally was a wine grower's cellar where wine was actually made. When the cellar was converted to a restaurant the old wine press in the cellar was converted into restaurant furniture. The six of us shared a combination of meat and cheese fondues. Both of which were good. For dessert our waiter suggested a traditional Swiss dessert of meringue that he promised would melt in our mouths and take a year off our lives! It was decadent.
65: Based on the information from the hotel concierge, we decided to start our day in Gruyeres with a cheese factory tour, followed by visit to the medieval town of Gruyeres and finish our day exploring the chocolate factory. It was raining when the train arrived into Gruyeres so we quickly crossed the street to the cheese factory where we were able to see the final stages of the cheese making process. The audio tour (narrated by Cherry the cow) was informative. We learned that the unique combination of plants and grass the cows graze on is what gives cheese its unique flavor. Following the tour we visited the old medieval village of Gruyeres. The car-free town featured a cobbled main street, stone fountain and well-preserved houses. Once again the rain began to fall so we decided on an early lunch at La Fleur de Lys. Since Gruyeres is all about cheese, the food choices were heavily weighted toward cheese. So although we all had fondue the previous night, we all decided cheese was the appropriate meal choice. Scott and I ordered Swiss raclette and the others ordered fondue. Following lunch we walked up the cobblestone road with our umbrellas sheltering us from the rain until we reached the Medieval Castle of Gruyeres. We enjoyed the castle but it paled in comparison to Chateau Chillon. Upon returning to the train station, we discovered that the train to the chocolate factory would only allow us 30 minutes for touring, so we decided to take the train back to Montreux where we enjoyed a casual dinner of pizza at Au Parc. The pizza was good but not as enjoyable as our first night. | Gruyeres
66: The | The weather forecast for our one day in Zermatt was for clouds around noon so we decided to catch an early train with hopes of seeing the Matterhorn before the clouds covered Switzerland's trademark. The train ride was beautiful especially the last portion on the cog railway between Visp and Zermatt. Although the clouds partially obstructed our views of the world's most recognizable peak the landscape was still incredible. For lunch Scott and I ate lunch in the charming village at Wallserkanne while the others opted for a street-side vendor selling bratz. That evening Jerren selected the Stockhorn Grill for dinner and she could not have made a better choice. The Stockhorn is a cozy restaurant with rustic decor and open fire grill with excellent quality meats. My lamb fillet with au gratin potatoes and the apple strudel for dessert couldn't have been more delightful. It was one of our best meals on the trip. | Zermatt
68: Matterhorn Focus | Matterhorn Focus | When we arrived our hotel's electric car picked us up at the train station and drove us through the town's small winding roads lined with flowers. As we approached the hotel perched on a hill, our driver entered the hotel via a cave entrance and we took a glass elevator to the reception area. One of Brad's friends had recommended The Matterhorn Focus Hotel and once again the hotel exceeded all of our expectations. The creative interior of the 30 room modern bed and breakfast was designed by Heinz Julen. The staff was very friendly and accommodating and the complimentary morning breakfast buffet was superb. Our rooms were primarily glass with awesome views of the resort town. Brad and Jerren's superior room was especially wonderful with views from the bathtub of the Matterhorn!
70: Interlaken was our trip's most diversely rated destination. The scenery and Jungfrau experience was amazing, but the town lacked charm, hotels were comparatively overpriced for what they offered and our meals were disappointing. Our hotel selection, Hotel Royal-St. Georges, a 100 year-old grand Victorian hotel turned out to be satisfactory although my least favorite hotel of the trip. A highlight of our time in Interlaken was our visit to The Grand Cafe Restaurant Schuh for a chocolate tour and tasting. The tour included an educational portion on how chocolate is made, a demonstration on making and decorating chocolates as well as a tasting portion (my favorite) of a variety of chocolates. During the tour our very handsome chef made a chocolate molded cow and Jerren volunteered to assist with decorating the cow with dark chocolate. We all enjoyed the tour, and I especially enjoyed the pralines. | Interlaken
72: On our first day in Interlaken, we decided to see the small hilltop town of Murren. The train / cable car ride to Murren via the Lauterbrunnen Valley was beautiful. The grassy meadows were flanked by rocky mountains, spectacular cliffs and plummeting waterfalls. When we exited the cable car in Murren we found a charming town perched on a cliff face over the southern end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. We walked around the small town, stopped in a few shops and enjoyed the magnificent panoramic views. | Murren
75: Lauterbrunnen Valley
76: Jungfrau was closed on our first day in Interlaken due to high winds and the forecast was for clouds at noon, so we took an early train up the mountain to experience the best possible views. The two hour train-ride from Interlaken to the "top of Europe" involved three different trains and provided some of nature's most spectacular scenery. During our train-ride the train made several stops for us to get "sneak peaks" at what we were going to see when we reached the Jungfrau terminus at 11,400 feet. When we finally arrived we took the high-speed elevator up another 364 feet to the Sphinx Terrace at the top and emerged to see the mountains. The views of the Aletsch Glacier and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains were magnificent. | Jungfrau
80: Scott suggested we take the local train from Interlaken to Luzern versus via Bern so we could enjoy the lovely countryside and it was a great choice. The winding ride through the small villages was charming and provided great views of the lakes. We were amazed with the beautiful reflections of the landscape in the still watered lakes. | Luzern Countryside
82: Since we only had one day in Luzern, we quickly began our tour of the town. The Chapel Bridge, Europe's oldest wooden bridge, diagonally crossed the Reuss River and was especially beautiful with all its flowers. For lunch we stopped at a cafe with outdoor tables on the river where we enjoyed watching the swans and ducks. After lunch we walked to the Nine Towers, a part of the old rampart walls built in 1386. We climbed one of the bell towers which rewarded us with great views and sore legs! Although we did not have time for a boat cruise, the guys and Jerren rented a paddle boat in the lake while Jenni and I checked out the shops. Dinner was at Balances. The restaurant combined an elegant interior, shimmering river views and sophisticated menu. Our food and the presentation were superb although our service was poor. | Luzern
84: Luzern was my favorite city in Switzerland as it offered everything; a picturesque lake front surrounded by snow-capped Alps, a well-preserved medieval Old Town, beautiful hotels, good restaurants and a wide variety of boutiques. We stayed at the 5-star National Hotel. Founded in 1870, the luxury hotel stretched two city blocks along the lake. Our room was lavishly decorated but extremely comfortable.
85: National Hotel Luzern
89: Zurich | After visiting a Saturday morning outdoor food market in Luzern we took the short train ride to our final city of our vacation, Zurich. When we arrived in Zurich it was raining and we had some difficulty determining the best route to our hotel, but after several attempts we found the right bus and were on our way to our hotel. The four-star Hotel Ambassador was a good choice for our final night in Switzerland. It was nestled between the Opera House and the lake and conveniently situated to shops, Historic Old Town and the airport train stop. The staff was friendly and our room large and well decorated. With our umbrellas protecting us from the rain, we began our visit of Zurich at Bahnhofstrasse, the well known luxury shopping street and headed over to Sprungli for lunch and desserts. Unfortunately, the cafe was packed and a table for six was going to be impossible, so we purchased pre-made sandwiches in the confiserie. Following our quick snack we walked to the Historic Core of the city to view the sites. Afterwards the girls shopped while the guys stopped at a pub. That evening we headed back to the Old Town for dinner where we ate at a French Brasserie. My rack of lamb was good and we shared a couple of tasty desserts. Our trip had been great! Switzerland was beautiful, clean and easy to navigate by train. The Swiss people were friendly and English was widely spoken. The snow capped Alps, beautiful clear mountain lakes, green rolling hills, flowers and waterfalls were the stuff photographers love to take pictures of and Brad enjoyed breaking in his new camera by taking over 4,000 photos!
90: Vatican City | Provence | Positano | Capri | Jungfrau | Poppy Fields | Tuscany | Musee de Orsay | Giverny | Edinburgh | Monte Carlo | Luzern | Our Top 30 Favorites | Venice | Florence | Vienna | Lascaux & Grotte de Peche-Merle
91: Lauterbrunnen Valley | Normandy | Salzburg | Portofino | Eze | Perouges | Santorini | St. Jean de Luz | Paris | Prague | Ephesus | Loire Valley | Lake Como | Mont St. Michele | Luzern