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. ūüôā 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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road trips, skiing, 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 G√∂schenen, Switzerland, which is a cute ski village. For some reason, I didn’t find any suitable hotels in G√∂schenen. 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. ūüėČ 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.