Switzerland and Italy Itinerary

11 Days Switzerland and Italy Itinerary

I had always romanticized my first European tour to be a winter affair. A long tour in the wintertime with the Christmas and New Year fiesta in the air, requires a cautious planning. I wanted to create just an outline of the plan with a blend of randomness. I was hell-bent on not opting for vacation packages as they are restricted in so many ways and thus had to spend a good amount of time on online research. This vacation symbolized our first wedding anniversary celebration and hence giving it special attention was indispensable :)

We had to plan our eleven nights eleven day itinerary for our first Euro trip such that we make the most of it. In order to avoid a rush-hush trip we intended to visit not more than three cities. We zeroed in those three places which are geographically congruous but extremely diverse otherwise. A combination of a scenic bliss, a floating city and a historical paradise befitted our idea. This is how our initial plan looked like:

Five days five nights in Switzerland with Lucerne as the base
Three days three nights in Venice
Three days three nights in Rome

The VISA Episode

Since the arrival and departure was from Zurich airport and the Swiss consulate was closer to our city (and also they are supposedly one of the easiest to deal with). Nevertheless, the nearest Italian consulate from San Jose is only in Los Angeles which is a good five hours drive from here. Thus, Swiss consulate was our preferred choice for visa appointment.

For those who do not know, Schengen visa gives you entry permissions to a group of European countries (almost all of them being the favored tourist destinations). Most of us know about this and so did I but what I did not know was that in deciding which consulate to take visa appointment from, we should not take into consideration the port of entry but country where the duration of stay is the longest. So we were denied the Schengen Visa on the grounds of longer stay in Italy. Just to mention, the consulate lady did check all the bookings (flights, hotels, trains) meticulously!

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Venice 2 day itinerary – The Captivating Venecia

Venice 2 day itinerary

When it comes to this “city of bridges”, no GPS or google maps are completely reliable. So keep a clear physical map with you and indulge yourself in the process of self-navigation the old fashioned way! It is certainly more fun this way, at least in Venice.¬†Arrange for a proper map beforehand. We did not buy it in advance plus we confidently headed for our hotel from the train station with just a couple of google map print outs in our hand, which we had sorted out earlier. Excitement quotient weighed more than the worry for any setbacks you see ūüėČ At first you get startled by the seraphic beauty of Venice. Soon after you realize that the street names are not in sync with the directions you have on paper! Oh yes, we were absolutely puzzled. Considering this situation, travelling fashionably light saved us from the probable vexations.

*How to travel fashionably light in subzero destinations*

Day 1

Our hotel was supposedly 1.24 miles from the station. Initially we did not mind contemplating or guessing routes by linking the street names we see with the prints we had with us. When it was over half an hour, we anticipated that we probably are way off the mark. We thought we would easily make it before sunset, but it grew darker and the temperature dropped severely and guess what we still couldn’t sense the likelihood of us being close to the hotel. We then started asking people for directions only to find the expected case that only one out of every ten people here is perhaps a local!

We ultimately found our savior. This Old gentlemen checked our hotel address and assuredly commanded “Follow me”. Trust me, the last two unnoticeable turns which he took to enter this ulterior lane leading to the hotel, there is no way we could have figured it out on our own. We couldn‚Äôt thank him enough .There we were, standing at a high rustic building with an antiquated gate. We discovered as we moved in, how impressively delusive the appearance of the building was as opposed to the finely renovated interiors which retained some of the classicist features.
[This is precisely because the government rules does not allow any modification of the outer side of the buildings for the obvious reasons of safe guarding something which is an integral part of tourism in Venice.]

The staff of this hotel “Ca’ Bragadin Carabba” were really good. That very evening as we left the hotel for dinner , we captured couple of street names which could easily trace us back to the hotel ūüėČ

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Soon enough we figured out the area around and the right directions. The location of the hotel was actually very convenient, Rialto Bridge and couple of very nice restaurants being so close!

Day 2

One gets enthralled as you ramble along with the other zealous wanderers all day long but do not forget to revel in the deserted streets of Venice. And yes, for this you need to doze out of sleep in the early morning hours. Neither the frosty winter morning nor the comfort of our cozy hotel deterred us from missing out on this. It was totally worth it.

One wrong turn and you wander astray. Another wrong turn, Oh well, forget about the destination and allow yourself to be captivated by the streets, canals and cute little bridges of Venecia. Eventually, you will get to see most of things you wanted to. Let’s say you missed a few, so what!¬† the overall experience will still be spellbinding.

 

One can go for a water taxi( known as “Vaporetto” ) to commute within Venice or it can be best used to get to the nearby Islands of Venice. The schedules and timings can be checked at any of the ticketing booths(it can be easily spotted by a series of decks at the main stops such as Rialto, Ferrovia, Piazzale Roma, San Marco etc.). In case you plan to stay in Venice for long or you need to cover too many places in less time, then buying a pass for the Vaporetto is a good option. Else there are single journey tickets too. If at any point you do not want to bury your head into the map or you are running short of time then better confirm from the closest ticketing booth that which stop/ticket is apt for your destination with respect to your current location.

We boarded a Vaporetto from Rialto Bridge(via p.Roma) to get to the island of¬† “Murano”¬† which is famous for glass making. This small island has very few channels so it is quite easy to navigate around. You can just go around exploring the displayed showpieces and jewelries . That‚Äôs what everybody does because in order to indulge in¬† some serious shopping¬† here, you need to be ready to splurge in those extravagant pieces! The artistically crafted colored showpieces made of glass are strikingly beautiful and the exceptional finish imparted to these pieces gives them a very plush look. The houses here are painted in myriad of colors which makes this island very appealing. Those of you interested in Murano’s glass making process can visit the factory as well.

I read a great deal about gondola ride in Venice and it is mostly rendered as a tourist trap. But this never really made me give a second thought to shell out euros on this seemingly pricey ride. Our gondolier, an affable man,  made us feel special and royal throughout the ride. He kept us absorbed with the historical facts and anecdotes of Venice while he rowed us through the canals and underneath the tiny bridges. Treating yourself to the views around, from the gondola, gives you an immense pleasure and  a real feel of the floating city.

If you happen to check the online forums, you will see they are full of complaints. For example,  gondoliers stay busy on phone throughout the ride, remain distracted talking to other gondoliers, overcharge tourists and finish up the ride too soon. Surprisingly, we did not have to go through any of these annoyances. We were charged eighty euros for forty minutes of absolute entrancement. The gondolier also clicked us some beautiful shots which will always make us relive this experience. I cannot admit enough how worth it was :)

Yes, there are traffic jams in the canals too! Every time before the gondolier prepares to take a¬† turn into a lane, he alerts the oncoming traffic by announcing gently “Olaaaa”. It kind of sounds really cute.

From bright sunshine on the first day to drizzles the next day noon followed by mild snowfall in the late evening, we had seen it all in Venice :) I wish I could time travel to this delightful evening when we were in this restaurant named “Ristorante Quadri“,¬†gorging on an authentic Italian Pizza and a luscious shrimp spaghetti. It was snowing mildly outside and those white pearls gleaming in the street lights of Venice induced a matchless ambiance.

‚ô¶Another restaurant that I would recommend is “Antica Trattoria Poste Vecie“.

All I would say is that kissing goodbye to Venice was not easy!

 

Lucerne -The center of Switzerland

LUCERNE as a base

Lucerne is easily accessible via a train from the Zurich Flughafen airport. We checked in at the tourist information center at the airport and quickly looked around the displayed brochures  to pick the ones we might need. For the sake of saving time, I would suggest that it’s a good idea to speak to any one of the employees at the counters and give them an overview of your stay and your interests. They will guide you through the related must know things without consuming much of your time.

We kept¬† the Zurich visit for the last day of our trip as our return flight was from there. After all, it is always safer to be in the city from where you need to catch an international flight at least a day before. Especially in the winter season when the probability of cancellation of domestic flights and trains is high. Initially we were skeptical about choosing between car rentals and train but the very thought of enjoying a hassle free journey made us choose the latter. We will probably choose the first option the next time we come here keeping an “adventurous” tour in mind but not this one since the whole¬† purpose of the trip was to relax ūüėÄ

Without wasting any time we caught a train for Lucerne as our  hotels were booked here for four nights. We decided to make Lucerne as the base for travelling because some of our must-go destinations were closely connected to it.

@Lucerne Station (or “Bahnhof” in Switzerland )¬† we again checked in at the tourist center to buy the travel passes. The lady at the counter was extremely helpful in guiding us about the pass most suited for our itinerary and also updated us with the current climatic conditions of the place we seemed interested in. This certainly helped us in reordering the plan. They open as early as 8:30 in the morning¬† and every day we used¬† to go there to get the update and¬† then head for the best possible option for that day. For instance, it is a waste going to Mt. Rigi Kulm on a foggy day as the low lying views will be completely blocked.

Note: all the passes are available to be bought online but I did not buy it beforehand as I found it’s description to be quite confusing. Also, since you might have to change plans last minute owing to the dramatic weather, I believe it is always better to get it after consulting them personally. Again, I would like to mention they are super quick with this!

LAKE LUCERNE CRUISE

Since we were just left with the second half of the day and the winter days are much shorter, a three hour cruise on lake Lucerne seemed to be a great fit. Given the alluring essence of Switzerland, jet-lag could not strain us much. Our hotel being right across the lake Lucerne and in a close proximity to the train station, we freshened up right away and savored a classic Swiss lunch at the Lapin. This restaurant is part of the hotel De La Paix, where we stayed. We then boarded the cruise to embrace the three hours of simulating expanse of the lake and multifarious peaks. The houses layered on the gradient and the birds in flight accompany you alongside, adding to the ecstasy.

Some of my favorite captures from lake Lucerne cruise

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A Penguin ride ! The Ice skating rink at Lucerne Culture and Congress Center.

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This bustling bridge connects the train station with the other side of the city and overlooks the famous “Chapel Bridge”.

 

Interlaken – Murren – Schilthorn

Interlaken – Murren – Schilthorn 1 day trip.

We got immersed  in the flowy motion of the train while we headed to Interlaken-OST amidst the pastoral terrain. The tints and shades of green spread all over, embellished with rustic European houses and narrow serpentine pathways, were a treat to the eyes. When the train entered the vicinity of Interlaken, it took an ideal route along the curve of lake Brienz. We got a dazzling view as the glossy streaks of sunlight reflected on the turquoise colored waters of this resplendent lake. The train was moving at an optimal pace, good enough to capture the thirst-quenching background as well as to live in the moment. Thus, to some extent it helped us assuage our regret for not being able to dedicate a separate itinerary for this place.

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                                     The Interlaken

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                 A neighborhood encountered on the way to Interlaken

 

It is a widely accepted opinion that the beauty of Switzerland rests in the countryside. This vox populi gains a strong sense of plausibility as one ambles through the cuddly village of Murren. Even though I was prepared from within for the much talked about Swiss countryside winsomeness, I could not refrain myself from being amazed by the striking semblance of this “car-free”¬† place in a frosty winter. The actual vista of this lilliputian village, embedded in the mountains, certainly surpasses¬† the pictorial images which we might have browsed earlier or the ones weaved in our mind.

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The snow laden small town of Muren

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We took a cable car from the village of Murren to get to the summit of Schilthorn. The incredible panoramic view of the valley of Lauterbrunnen can be thoroughly admired from the skywalk ramp. Although the icy winds of the winter were fierce, it did not stop us from spending enough time around the ramp to get mesmerized by the magnificent views.
At first I stood there clutching my cap real tight but the wind was so intense that I decided not to get distracted worrying about it and surrendered myself to the unparalleled beauty all around. Such is the charm of this place that it makes you let go the freezing sense and for this reason one can genuinely savor the aura of the surroundings even in subzero temperatures.

Perfectly positioned in Schilthorn is a revolving restaurant named Piz Gloria. The gigantic alpine beauty completely encircles this restaurant which offers a natural outdoor ambiance to die for. It was a Christmas luncheon and there we sat gazing out of the window, treating ourselves to a dainty meal and a splendiferous view as we revolved around.

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 Piz Gloria Restaurant, Schilthorn

 

 This is how it looks when the Alps and the clouds coalesce :)

Go Rest High on Mt. Rigi

How to visit Mt. Rigi

Once again we boarded the same cruise (Day 1), the journey this time lasted only for forty minutes though. Unlike yesterday noon, when the cold was bearable, this morning we did not have the pleasure of being outside on the deck as the gust of wind was piercing. Vitznau is the stop from where you get the amusing cogwheel train to get to the summit of Rigi Kulm. The Vitznau-Rigi-Bahn was the first mountain railway in Europe. The views you see from the cogwheel as you steep up is completely stunning. Try to get the seats on the left side of train because that’s the side from where you can get an up-close look. People get so wowed by the views that all you can hear is a series of exclamatory remarks.

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                           On the way back from Kadbad to Weggis

One should spend enough time at the peak to explore the dissimilitude of the views on all the sides. The chunk of clouds covering partially the stretch beneath looks deific. There are few wooden chaises which are well stationed for you to lay back and bask in the mother nature. The peak of Mt. Rigi does not have an abundance of snow and the scant patches of snow are constantly melting which makes the surface very slippery. Thus it is advisable to wear an appropriate pair of footwear.

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                                       Relaxation at the peak of Mt. Rigi

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                              The view from the summit of Mt. Rigi

Weggis

In order to get back to the pier via Weggis, you need to come down to Kadbad first, either via cogwheel or follow the foot path trail (Only if you are in a proper footgear as the surface might be slippery). And then a cable car will transport you to this charming town of Weggis. There are couple of street ways which takes you till the pier. I would suggest that dissociate from the herd¬†to explore the streets by yourself and enjoy the charm of the town. When you are contended enough, just follow the direction boards and you will reach the pier without a hitch.¬†The astounding sweep your eyes get treated to from the strip and the strip of the pier itself is what gives this town a nonpareil appeal! Do not shy away from deliberately missing the parked cruise which is waiting for you. You can catch the next one but cannot afford to miss savoring the feel of this place. You will fall in love with the absolute quiescence all around. If I had been a painter, I would have definitely composed a canvas here. But sadly I know nothing about it ūüėõ

Say goodbye to Weggis only when you are ready to ūüėÄ

 

How to travel fashionably light in subzero destinations

Packing List: the must haves-

How to keep the luggage light enough to make the travel experience convenient yet stocked up enough so as to not end up having a dull and a redundant wardrobe that sucks the fun out of your trip? This becomes especially taxing when you need to gear up for subzero destinations. In order to avoid this annoyance, I wish to share the extensive packing list that worked out for my Europe trip.

Clothing :

  • Two peacoat or overcoat (at least 50 % wool)
  • One Thermal insulated jacket appropriate for subzero temperatures
  • One Thermal inner wear set ( top and bottom ) which should be preferably a merino wool set. You can go for brands like minus 33.
  • One neutral or a very light colored cashmere sweater for layering
  • A pair of gloves -preferably a cashmere one and which has a touch screen enabled capabilities because it gets really annoying when you have to take out your gloves every time the phone is supposed to be used ! Also these types of gloves are less bulky.
  • One pure leather jacket
  • Bottoms : comfortable jeans/ pants/ skirts paired with woolen leggings

 

Accessories:

  • Men : muffler ; women : cashmere scarf
  • Two pairs of footwear : one which is appropriate for snow and another one can be a regular boots
  • Merino wool socks : regular ones as well as boot socks
  • One cap/ beanie – wool or merino wool
  • Moisturizer +sunscreen +lip balms(Pick up the effective ones from a good brand)

 

Layering : Inner wear + cashmere + any of the above mentioned clothing wear.Get everything in different colors, a mix of light and dark shades so that it adds variety to your travel wardrobe!