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.


Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein
 part two

Onward to Andermatt, Switzerland…

When Bill gave me the parameters of time he would have to take this trip, I started considering where we should stop, and for how long. I usually don’t like to do overnights, unless it’s a place we’ve already been. I like to have the chance to look around a place and get a feel for it… and decide if I want to go back sometime. Nevertheless, we had eleven nights, and I knew I wanted to visit Parma, Italy. Parma happens to be near Modena, where excellent balsamic vinegar comes from, and Bologna, which I’ve heard is just a lovely city with great hotels and food. Originally, I thought we’d stop somewhere in Switzerland for a couple of nights, but then I realized I’d prefer more time in Italy.

Then I consulted Google to find the best place to stop. I determined the halfway point between Wiesbaden/Frankfurt and Florence (Firenze). It turned out to be Göschenen, Switzerland, which is a cute ski village. For some reason, I didn’t find any suitable hotels in Göschenen. I see now that I could have also planned a stop in Innsbruck, Austria, which is at about the halfway point between Wiesbaden and Parma. But we’ve been to Innsbruck; in fact, we were just there two years ago. So I decided on Andermatt, a ski village in the Alps. There’s a super expensive hotel there called The Chedi, but even though I love expensive hotels, I decided to book us a room at the Radisson Blu, a brand new facility that is impossible to miss once you get to Andermatt. Getting to Andermatt isn’t all that simple, either.

Göschenen, Switzerland was on the way to Andermatt.

I was actually considering a different hotel in a nearby town, but Bill vetoed it because getting there would have required traveling on a super curvy road that would have added an hour to our travel time. Mountain switchbacks in Switzerland are no joke! We stopped at a rest stop that looked like a ski lodge. The pay toilets took Swiss francs and euros, and looked like little chalets. It was probably the nicest public toilet I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t know a thing about Andermatt before our visit. I looked at photos and could see that it’s a very beautiful place. I had no idea that we’d basically have to climb to the top of a mountain to get there. But it was actually kind of cool that we did that, since it snowed while we were visiting. As if the snow capped mountains weren’t striking enough on our arrival, they were stunning on Sunday morning, April 24th, as we were getting ready to continue our journey to Torrechiara, Italy. I was glad I brought sweaters!

Since we were only in Andermatt for a night, I didn’t get a chance to do much exploring, but we did have a somewhat mediocre dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Spun, which is the Romansch word for “spoon”. We also had a round of Swiss beer at the bar, which was very nice. The Radisson Blu in Andermatt has lots of nice facilities, including a pool and sauna, which we didn’t have time to try. Spun was so named because of the unique mixture of cultures in Switzerland, and the fact that Andermatt is near the French, Italian, and German regions of the country. I can’t say that I necessarily got the mixture of cultures in the dish I had, which was a rather ordinary Zander filet. Bill had beef cheeks with polenta, which he enjoyed. He did say it was more of a winter dish, but then it was snowing in Andermatt, so there you go.

Our drive to Andermatt was mostly uneventful, save for running into the homeless looking guy in Germany on a bike. He wore an orange safety vest and medical mask under his chin as he raided the trash cans. After a lunch of Schnitzel and warm beer, I watched in horror as he pulled several bottles out of the trash, looked in them, and drank out of them before he put the bottles in his bag to be traded for euro cents. The only other thing that was notable was the bottleneck to reach the road to Andermatt. There’s a tunnel where drivers are allowed two or three at a time. It took some time to get through it, then we drove up the steep mountainside, passing several furiously pumping bikers who appeared to be on a journey to Hell.

The staff at the Radisson Blu was very professional and… Swiss. 😉 Everybody spoke perfect English and was very polite. The hotel was immaculate, and there’s a very handy parking garage adjoining the hotel. All in all, it was a very convenient place to stop. Just be sure to bring your Swiss plug adapters! Switzerland uses type J. I did invest in a couple of them years ago.

The bed at the hotel wasn’t too bad. It was firmer than what we’re used to, but it was basically comfortable. I don’t usually like to stay in corporate hotels if I can help it, but in this situation, the Radisson Blu was the best option. Below are some photos of our basic room. It was about $250, which seems expensive, until you remember it’s Switzerland… and a brand new hotel.

Andermatt itself isn’t very convenient to get to or leave from, and I don’t ski. I don’t know that we’ll be back, but at least we got some pretty snow before we went on our way. Feast your eyes. I could watch the mountains all day from our French balcony. But we had to get going to Italy, so after breakfast, we checked out. Breakfast at the Radisson Blu is fine, though pricey. There’s definitely something for everyone.

We checked out at about 9:30am and got on our way to our next stop… a castle in Italy. Check out the switchbacks! People were riding bikes up this! Ouch!


An uneventful evening in Switzerland…

Our latest travel adventure has now officially begun, as of yesterday. We set off for Switzerland yesterday morning, stopping to drop off a reluctant Arran and an excited Noyzi. Poor Arran would prefer to stay with us all the time, but Noyzi is all about hanging out with other dogs and being in the company of his beloved Natascha, who works at the Hunde Pension.

Arran wasn’t having any of Noyzi’s mess. I halfway expected him to take off his belt and give Noyzi a whoopin’.

We got to our hotel at about 5:00pm. Bill very kindly brought our portable GPS with us, instead of using the car’s built in GPS. I hate the car’s GPS, because it interrupts me when I’m talking and mutes my music. Also, the portable GPS can give live traffic updates, while the car’s built in GPS doesn’t, because Bill has yet to get a SIM card for the car. The Volvo is capable of providing Internet access, but we just haven’t gotten around to it. But God forbid we go anywhere without using the GPS… On the rare occasions when I drive, I don’t usually use the GPS.

It was cold and rainy when we arrived, so there wasn’t a lot of beautiful scenery to behold. My guess is that this town is kind of manufactured for skiing. I’m sure there’s a history here, but from where we sit, it just looks like a ritzy ski village for wealthy people. Still, there’s snow here, which is different.

We had a quiet evening, because actually getting to the town was an ordeal. There’s a tunnel that only allows a few cars to go at a time, which causes backups. Since the tunnel is just minutes away from the hotel, it was a bit of a pain. Once we got through it, we had to climb a mountain, which had lots of switchbacks. All the snow and rocky scenery reminded me of something out of a sci-fi movie. But as soon as we got to the top of the mountain, there was our hotel. Bill hadn’t been able to find it on the GPS, since it’s a new place, but honestly, if you drive into Andermatt, you can’t miss it. It’s plain as day.

After checking in, we had a beer at the bar, and then decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. If it hadn’t been rainy outside, I think we would have done better to look for a local restaurant, but I didn’t feel like getting a sweater. After dinner, we watched British TV and went to bed. Bill woke up at about 2:00am to pee, and somehow tripped one of the new fangled motion detector lights in the bathroom. The light came on, and flooded through the window by the shower, which lit up the room, and woke me up.

Why are so many newer hotels putting in windows in the shower? I mean, yes, you get the benefit of daylight in the bathroom, but if someone has to get up early, or needs the toilet in the night, the whole room is going to wake up. Ah well, this is a very nice hotel, and a less expensive option than the hotel I found for $900 a night. It IS Switzerland, you know… This place was only $250 a night. 😉

Anyway, we’re going to pack up after breakfast and head to Torrechiara, outside of Parma. That’s where I expect the real fun will begin. Or, at least the real eating… Good thing I brought fat pants. Not that I own any skinny pants. I don’t think we’ll see any snow in Torrechiara.

The one strange thing I did see yesterday, besides the Swiss rest stop that reminded me of a ski lodge and charged 1 euro to pee in (or the equivalent in Francs), was this… We were at a rest stop near Karlsruhe, having a schnitzel break. As we were getting ready to get back on the road, I noticed an older gent on a bike. He had a full beard and long hair, and he wore a bright orange safety vest, but no helmet. He stopped at the trash cans, and that was when I noticed the surgical face mask hanging under his chin.

He then started digging through the trash. Bill commented that he was probably scavenging for bottles. That’s not so strange. I used to do that when I was a very little kid in Northern Virginia. But then, this dude shocked me as I watched him hold the bottles up to eye level, look inside, and DRINK the contents! Then, he nonchalantly put the empties in a bag. I guess he’ll be turning them in for euros.

The whole thing struck me as kind of absurd, though. He was wearing an orange vest… maybe to make him look “official” and safety conscious, like so many Germans are. He also wore a mask, though under his chin. These were clearly “safety measures”. And then he DRANK strange liquids from someone else’s bottles. I was just grateful that at least he didn’t take a piss in front of me, which is what more commonly happens to me at German rest stops.

Well, we’ll see what strange happenings and funny things we’ll experience today. I won’t promise to write every day, but these short jots will help when I write up the whole trip when we get home!