Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland

Ten things I learned in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein…

Now that my latest travel series has been completed and up for a few days, it’s time for my usual “ten things I learned” post. I like to do these posts after most trips, if only to offer a quick recap of our travels and make myself feel better for all the money we spent. 🙂 I also think these top ten posts are a bit easier for the casual reader to get through than the heavily detailed, blow by blow accounts. So, here goes…

10. Italy was actually stricter about COVID rules than Germany was!

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Italy was strict about masks and “green passes”, since Italy was one of the first countries hard hit by COVID-19. However, Italy is typically “slacker” about a lot of things than Germany is, so it was a bit strange to be allowed to visit a rest stop maskless in Germany, but not in Italy. By the time our trip was over, the mask rules and green pass rules were dropped, anyway, in most places.

9. But Switzerland and Liechtenstein were both pretty “slack” about the COVID rules.

I wasn’t that surprised that Switzerland and Liechtenstein were liberal about masks. In 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started, we visited Italy, Austria, and Switzerland, and were very surprised that of the three countries, Switzerland’s rules were the least strict. Since Liechtenstein is basically a tiny country akin to Austria and Switzerland, it’s not too surprising that their rules were more like those in Switzerland.

The drive was breathtaking!

8. Modena and Parma are refreshingly non-touristy.

I was especially surprised by Modena, which really felt like an authentic Italian town. I didn’t hear any other American accents during our visit there. Parma was maybe a touch more touristy than Modena, but we didn’t get the sense that a lot of Americans were there during our trip.

7. Cortona is a super cute town, perfect for Tuscan getaways and fans of the film, Under the Tuscan Sun.

The 2003 film, Under the Tuscan Sun was partially filmed in this very lovely town, which also boasts at least one excellent winery.

6. Liechtenstein is a fine place to be if you want peace and quiet… and if you have money.

Like neighboring Switzerland, Liechtenstein is very sedate and civilized. It’s also expensive! But it was nice to be there for a couple of nights, if only to decompress a bit and gaze at the Alps. You can also find some nice wines there, with grapes from Austria, Switzerland, or even locally.

5. Andermatt may be halfway between Wiesbaden and Florence, but it’s not easy to get there!

We had to climb a mountainside with our Volvo to get to the ski town. I saw so many bikers who looked like they were in the seventh ring of Hell, trying to get up the steep incline. I alternately felt sorry for them, and felt glad I no longer have to ride a bike to get from point A to point B. It’s a pretty place, but not what I would call super beautiful. I probably wouldn’t make an effort to go back, although we did like the hotel we stayed in.

In Liechtenstein, you might see cows from your office.

4. If you need to pee in Switzerland, you can use euros at the rest stops.

I probably already knew that, but we so seldom go through there, I might have forgotten.

3. It’s possible to have a bad meal in Italy.

Avoid fast food joints called Old Wild West at all costs! Or, maybe just avoid fast food joints altogether.

2. But if you need to buy groceries or gifts, the rest stops in Italy have you covered.

And you will have to run the gauntlet when you leave the rest stops, too. There’s no other way to exit without walking past all the wines, olive oils, vinegars, and whatever else.

Italy is always beautiful!

…and .1 Bo and Luke Duke are still famous in Italy.

Actually, we saw a lot of 80s era TV shows in Italy, but were especially surprised by The Dukes of Hazzard. No wonder we’ve seen the rebel battle flag in Italy so many times! It obviously doesn’t mean the same to Italians as it does to us Americans. Back in the 80s, it was everywhere in the US, too. Maybe Italy is still kind of stuck in a previous era.

Sure, there were other things we learned while we were on our trip. But, this particular journey involved drinking a lot of wine, and my memory is probably a little fuzzy due to that. We had a wonderful time during our travels. I’m already looking forward to our next trip, which will probably be next month when I– gasp– turn 50.

It still snows in late April in Switzerland.

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Italy, Liechtenstein, restaurant reviews, road trips, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part fifteen

Landing in Liechtenstein…

As I prepare to write the last two parts of this series, it does occur to me that I need to work on my titles. At least no one can accuse me of writing “click bait” titles, right? What you see is what you get. Ah well, I’ll work on it.

On Monday, May 2, Bill and I made our way to our final stop on our spring tour– Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Originally, we had planned to go to Lugano, Switzerland, for the last two nights. I have been wanting to go to Lugano forever. But I realized that Lugano was too close to Florence and not far enough away from Germany. Staying there would potentially mean arriving too early for check in on May 2, and having to drive all day on May 4, when we made our way back to Germany. Also, I couldn’t decide on a hotel in Lugano. There was one that really attracted me, but was quite pricey. Another one was less expensive and got very high ratings, but didn’t lure me like the other one did. I finally got frustrated and decided to change plans.

I decided on Vaduz because of something that happened in 2009, when Bill and I lived in Germany the first time. It was June, and Bill’s mom had come from Texas to visit us. We were going to be PCSing (permanently changing stations– moving) in September of that year, so we were trying to cram in some last minute travel. At the time, Bill’s mom had never been to Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, or really, anywhere in Europe except for Germany and Ireland. I got the bright idea to book us a long weekend at an apartment in extreme southern Bavaria. On the second day, we went exploring, and eventually found ourselves in Italy, where we literally got stuck for hours, due to a sudden rainstorm that flooded the roads.

On our way to our joyride mishap in Italy, we stopped in Vaduz, Liechtenstein for a look. It was novel to be visiting the tiny country bordered by Austria and Switzerland. Parker got her passport stamped. I remember thinking that Vaduz was a pretty town. I took a few photos, since we were fortunate enough to have, at least at that point, beautiful weather. Hours later, I wished we’d turned around after we visited Liechtenstein… or even Chur, Switzerland, where we had lunch.

Remembering how pretty I thought Vaduz was in 2009, I went looking to see if there were any nice hotels there. I kind of wanted a splurge, since I knew we’d be tired after a week in Italy. I love Italy very much, but being there has a tendency to wear me out. But that might be because we often stay in somewhat busy areas.

I was also looking for peace and quiet, and very comfortable accommodations. That’s when I found the beautiful 29 room Park Hotel Sonnenhof, which also has a well-regarded restaurant called Maree. I noticed all of the enthusiastic reviews of the hotel, and found myself lured by the idyllic photos of the snow capped mountains and green lawns around the hotel. Then I noted that it was about a six hour drive from Florence, and maybe five hours or so from Wiesbaden. Perfect! That would split up our drive home nicely, and give us the chance to experience something novel– a tiny German speaking principality (62 square miles) with Swiss currency and ties to Austria. As small as Liechtenstein is, there are three other countries in Europe that are even smaller! Liechtenstein is also one of only two double landlocked countries in the entire world, the other being Uzbekistan. That means that it’s surrounded by countries that are also landlocked, and reaching a coastline requires crossing at least two national borders.

Below are some photos from our drive out of Italy… It was a very beautiful journey, although there are even prettier routes through Switzerland. We crossed over some majestic mountains to get to Vaduz.

When we arrived at the hotel on May 2, I was immediately struck by how beautiful and peaceful the surroundings were. The parking lot was mostly empty, and it was very quiet and calm as we approached the front door. A Tesla charging station was located at the front of the parking lot. I would later see many very expensive cars at this hotel. It’s clearly the “best” hotel in Vaduz.

An efficient receptionist who spoke flawless English checked us in, reminding us that Maree is currently closed on Mondays, but a small snack menu is available for hotel guests. I was glad of that, since it was mid afternoon when we arrived, and we were both tired of being in the car. It is possible to walk to the city center of Vaduz from the hotel, but it would have been a stout stroll, as the hotel is in an residential part of town.

We were assigned a junior suite– room 33– which has an African theme. The rooms are individually decorated. The room was very nice. The bed was especially comfortable, which was great after our week in Italy. We had a small terrace that overlooked a serene “park”, and offered majestic views of the Alps. I could have sat there all day, watching the mountains change with the sun and clouds. I had picked up a sandwich just before we arrived at the hotel, but Bill was hungry, so we ordered from the snack menu. It was just enough to satisfy us for the first night. Bill turned on the water cooler (air conditioners are illegal in Liechtenstein), and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep.

On Tuesday morning, we slept in a bit, then had a nice breakfast at Maree, which is where we also had dinner reservations. After breakfast, we walked around Vaduz, took pictures, and talked about everything. When it was time for lunch, we made our way to the Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Hofkerllerei, which is a winery and restaurant. We hadn’t planned to visit this place in advance, but decided to go there because it looked like the menu was promising. Besides, we had spent our entire vacation drinking Italian wines. What better place to cap off the vacation? Below are some photos from our day in Vaduz.

And more pictures from Vaduz, lunch, and our wine tasting…

I think the next post will be the last in this series. Time to wrap up this trip and move on to other things.

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booze tourism, hotels, Italy, road trips, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part fourteen

Back in Florence for one last night…

We arrived in Florence in the early evening. Tom pulled his van into the parking area where he had originally advised Bill to park. He wasn’t able to park there, though, because it was full when we arrived. Consequently, Bill had to go get the Volvo from the garage. While he was doing that, I said goodbye to the other group members, who all headed off in different directions. Tom, very kindly, stayed with me while I waited for Bill. He asked what I thought of the tour.

I’m afraid I might have been more blunt than necessary, but that was mainly because I really needed to pee, and we didn’t stop on the way back to Florence. I know I should have said something… I’m sure the others might have even been grateful. I know Bill would have. He always needs to go, because he takes blood pressure medicine that makes him have to urinate a lot. I told Tom that, if I was honest, I hadn’t really wanted to do a tour. That’s certainly not because of his services, though. It’s because, like I said, I’m just not very good at “the group thing”. I know some people find me annoying, and I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m annoying people, simply for being myself. I was also concerned about COVID-19 policies, but thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be a problem. My lifestyle probably makes me less appreciative of strict schedules, even though I know they’re necessary. But, that’s just me. Some people are great in a group situation. I fully own that I’m less so, especially since I’m out of practice since we’ve been dealing with COVID life since 2020. I don’t hang around people much, and it probably shows.

In spite of my comments in the previous paragraph, I genuinely enjoyed this wine tour. I’m really glad I did it. 😉 I would not hesitate to book another tour with Tom. I thought the price, especially for what we got, was very reasonable. It was 875 euros per person. We owed him more than the 1750 euros, since he booked two extra nights for us at the Hotel Firenze Capitale. But, for the base price, considering that it included two nights in hotels, four meals in restaurants, tours at four different wineries in several different towns, and Tom’s professional services, I think it was a pretty good deal. I really liked the places where he took us, and I was impressed by his language skills and business connections. He’s also very knowledgeable about the wines in Tuscany, and the region itself. The payment was easily handled by bank transfer after the tour.

Bill and I talked about it, and we were a little reminded of our very first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship in 2009. It was a four night Baltics cruise that went from Oslo to Stockholm on a ship that carried 1500 passengers. We had a very good time, but by the end of the cruise, Bill said “I would happily take another cruise, but I think I’d rather do an all inclusive luxury cruise.” Those words were, of course, music to my ears. Since then, we’ve cruised three times on SeaDream I and five times on Hebridean Princess. Both ships are small, luxury vessels. I know… I know… high maintenance!

In spite of my years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am definitely not a “no frills” traveler. At least not anymore. Maybe roughing it for two years in a developing country does that to a person. 🙂 I’m also getting older, so I would probably prefer a tour that happens at a somewhat slower pace. Bill said he would really like to do a private tour with Tom, which I know can be arranged. We would consider doing another regular tour, too, although I think it might be better to do it with people we know. That way, people are forewarned about my unorthodox sense of humor and many personality quirks. Again, that’s easily arranged, since the tours are pretty small. I appreciated that Tom made the logistics relatively easy, which I know can be a real feat. He was very professional and, again, it was nice of him to wait with me. I didn’t expect him to do that.

It took Bill awhile to get back to the parking area, so we moved my bags to the other side of the road to make it easy to load the bags and get on our way. Bill picked me up, and we headed for Hotel David, which at this writing, is Florence’s #1 ranked hotel on Trip Advisor. After our one night there, I can see why it’s so popular. I booked Hotel David because I was looking for a hotel with parking. Hotel David’s rates include free parking. However, besides parking, the hotel offers a free social hour with wine, beer, and other beverages in the hotel’s yard. Breakfast is included in the rate, as is the minibar. And our room was beautiful and very comfortable, and beautifully appointed. I would say that now, after having stayed in four Florence hotels, Hotel David is easily my favorite, even though the somewhat stern message they sent ahead of our arrival put me off a little bit.

I’m glad I didn’t cancel. This warning message turned out to be a non-issue.

We arrived on May 1, though, and that was the happy day when the mask mandates in Italy were lessened somewhat. We only had to wear a mask when we were at the buffet at breakfast. I really enjoyed the aperitif hour in the garden. We met two other American couples who were very friendly and nice to talk to. It reminded me that people outside of the American military community can be very refreshing company. One lady we talked to was from Boston. I found her utterly charming. I could tell she was a good friend and loving family member. She was so excited to be in Italy, and it was really nice to talk to someone who was so happy to be in Europe and not jaded. Below are some photos from our stay at beautiful Hotel David. I would not hesitate to stay there again, although again, the elevator is TINY. I always cracked up when I saw signs advising only four people were allowed in the elevator at a time. I don’t know how four people could possibly fit!

Total cost for a night in the superior room we booked was about $270. Cheaper and different sized rooms are available, and if you book on their site, you get 15% off your rate. I booked on Expedia, so I didn’t get the discount. If we book there again, I’ll know better. They even have a quad room, and singles. We had a very restful night, and it was so easy to load up the next morning and get on our way to the next destination, Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where we would be relaxing and decompressing a bit before coming back to Germany. More on that in part fifteen.

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Armenia, booze tourism, Georgia, Italy, road trips, tours, wine

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part thirteen

Family vineyards and Montepulciano…

After we checked out of Hotel San Luca, we loaded up in Tom’s van and headed to our next destination, a beautiful family run vineyard outside of Cortona called Fabrizio Dionisio. The home is owned by a couple from Rome who work as lawyers. The beautiful young woman who took us on our tour explained that a lot of people in Rome own second homes out in the country– Tuscany, in particular. The estate where the winery is located is called “Il Castagno”, and it was originally purchased by Sergio Dionisio, Fabrizio’s father, in the early 1970s. The wines produced at this lovely winery are mostly reds made with 100% Syrah Cortona DOC grapes. The lone exception is the Rosa del Castagno, which is a rose produced with Syrah grapes. I love Syrahs, so I think this winery produced my favorite of the wines we tried… but to tell you the truth, we had so many wines, that it’s hard to keep them all straight! I should have taken notes.

I got excited during the tour, when our guide mentioned Georgia and Armenia, which are well known for using an ancient method to make wines. Wines made in the Caucasus region are often made with large earthenware vessels called Qveris (or Kvevris). I am a BIG fan of Georgian wines– and only slightly less so of Armenian wines, even though I spent two years living there. I go to Armenia for brandy, and Georgia for really nice red wines with leathery, spicy, bold flavors. Anyway, this winery in Cortona had qveris, which I thought was really interesting. Also noticeable in the winery are pieces of artwork obviously done by children. The artwork was used for the the wine labels! We got to hear the whole story about that, too. Below are some photos from our stop at Fabrizio Dionisio.