Today Gus and I struck out on a self-guided Luzern walking tour–the wooden bridges, the Jesuit and Hofkirche, and along the medieval walls surrounding the city. We didn’t make it to Wagner’s house before it started to thunderstorm and pour, so much so that our socks and shoes were soaked. So, we spent the afternoon in a cafe having tea and back at the hotel doing a little work/napping while they dried out. Ok, the napping was me. We had a lovely dinner of Swiss specialties– fondue and bratwurst for me and raclette for Gus (which was melted cheese with various items in it–potatoes, pickles, onions). The restaurant had been around since 1602 and had a great atmosphere, although it was primarily tourists tonight. Our waitress didn’t actually speak German. I think she was hired to speak to the Asian clients. She had to speak English. Eventually, she traded out with the manager after she admitted it was her 2nd day, and she hadn’t understood anything I had asked for in German. Once we got on track, the meal was great. Of course, we had the molten chocolate cake. A goal for tomorrow is to do some chocolate shopping and hopefully make it to Wagner’s house before we head off to Frankfurt for our flight home on Thursday. This whole 5+ weeks of adventure has been amazing, and I’m thankful that I have a family, job, and support system that has allowed the whole family to be a part of it in some fashion. I can’t believe school starts for me next week. I guess I’ll have to think about that on Friday.
First, we must address yesterday (which I was too tired to do last night). Yesterday was a full travel day. I started on a 7:45 train to Bologna to pick up Gus. He started on a 6:30 bus from Piobicco. Once we got to Bologna, we had a high-speed train to Milan and no tickets beyond that. Plus we had a hotel reservation in Luzern, Switzerland. I had tried to buy the tickets from Bologna to Luzern, but the Swiss site was returning an error. I called customer service, and they said I could buy the tickets in Milan. I asked if I could buy them in the ticket office at the train station, and she said yes. Oh, those wily Swiss. We got to Milan, and I tried to buy the tickets from the ticket office, which you have to wait in a long line for, and we only had an hour before the train that we wanted. With 10 minutes to spare, I got to the front of the line, and the ticket agent says I cannot buy them there. They can’t sell tickets crossing the border (come on Switzerland and get in the EU, it would make my life so much easier), which would not have been a problem if the Swiss site had worked. I would already have them and wouldn’t have a train leaving from one of the largest train stations in Europe in 10 minutes. Well, where can I buy them? At the tobacconist, as in a shop that sells cigarettes and gum. Umm, excuse me? They are authorized to judge your fitness to cross the border? I bought the tickets, which had no details–not the train company, not the time, not the track. Nothing. And the tobacconist certainly didn’t know where said train might depart. Gus and I ran for the only train we knew was heading to Switzerland and got on it. I don’t know if we had valid tickets for that train or not. It would take us as far as Lugano. (Train #3 for me). In Lugano, we could buy tickets for Luzern. When we got off, I went to the machine to buy the tickets. My only option was a train with a change in Gotthard (Train #4). Except there was no such train listed on the timetable. And of course, I had to find an ATM to get Swiss Francs, which was surprisingly hard to find in a country known for its banking. Again, Gus and I got on a train headed toward Luzern. I do not think we had tickets for that particular train, but we had tickets for a train. I kept an eye on Google maps and judged the closest place to get off and get on one headed to Luzern (Train #5). I never thought I’d compliment the efficiency of Italian trains, but in 5 weeks and all of the trains/busses I had taken, not one was late, and they all had nice screens listing the stops and the times of each with connections in each stop. No such luck on Swiss trains. Luckily, I speak German and could understand the announcements and have a reasonable conversation with the train personnel. I think it’s all an elaborate ploy to keep people from coming to Switzerland. And there are plenty of tourists here. I just hope they don’t discover the mountains a few hours south in Italy. We finally made it to our hotel, had a wonderful fondue dinner, and explored the charming town of Luzern.
Okay, on to today. Since today was going to be our nicest weather-wise, we decided to go to the top of Mt. Pilatus and then take a cruise on Lake Luzern. The top of the mountain was breathtaking, and I pushed past some issues I have with heights and climbed a stairway on the outside of a sheer cliff for the ultimate views. The cruise around the lake was particularly relaxing. The water is so clear, and the guide said it was safe to drink–it is so clean. We opted not to. Tonight we walked outside of the city center into a residential neighborhood for local Swiss food. We had the classics–schnitzel and Grossi’s (grandmother’s) meatloaf. Both were outstanding. Tomorrow we are going to tackle some other sites in town–Wagner had a house here, the medieval walls, and some churches. It was great to share the mountain experience with Gus, who had missed out on all of the Italian excursions to the top.
Italy has its claws in us
Today was quite possibly a high note to end Phase III of the trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful–clear and a high of 70 degrees. We decided to take the bus to Ortisei, and on Alessandro’s recommendation, take the cable car up the mountain on the Dolomite side. I took the one up the Alps about a week ago. The panorama was like nothing I’ve ever seen: 360-degree views of mountains and green valleys. It was 50 degrees at the top, and we all agreed that next time we’d bring appropriate hiking boots to explore some of the paths leading off in all directions. We had a lovely lunch at one of the ski refuges and then headed back down the mountain to the town. They were having a festival of some sort today, so of course, an oompah band and lots of people in lederhosen serving beer and funnel cakes with berries. Nate has requested pizza for his last night in the Sud Tirol. My request will be strudel. There is no doubt, however, that we will come back to this magical place. It’s one of the best trips we have had–from Bologna to Bolzano and points in between. Staying 2 weeks in each, we have gotten beyond the mad rush of must-sees and allows you to really soak in the environment.
Tomorrow, I head south to meet Gus in Bologna and then north to (hopefully*) cross the Swiss border and up to Lucerne for a few days. Nate and Eric head back to Venice for their flight home on Monday. Gus reports that he played a recital yesterday, and it went “very well.” That’s the best review Gus has ever given himself. “Mildly competent” and “not a disaster” were as high as he’d go before. The past 6 months have been wonderful– for his technique, sound, and confidence. We are so proud of him, and I can’t wait to see him tomorrow and hear all about it.
*Train tickets are still iffy past Milan.
Last year, Alessandro had taken us to Bressanone, and there was an abbey where nuns had been making wine for 900 years. They had a wonderful restaurant, where they grew all of the fruits and vegetables and served a delicious assortment of meats and cheeses. We decided to take a 30-minute train ride to have lunch there and wander around the charming town. It was a bit cloudy when we arrived, but the monastery was as beautiful as I remembered, the lunch just as tasty, and the wine particularly good. We wandered around the convent for a while and then took the bus back down toward Bressanone where we found a Lego store. Nate has a long tradition of buying Legos wherever we go. Eric was worried about leaving Italy without having had gelato, so we split a pistachio and hazelnut caramel sundae. We headed back to Bolzano in time to try the all-bruschetta bar since we were not all that hungry. It was really delightful. There is something about the tomatoes here that makes them so much better than at home. It was so pleasant sitting outside, it was almost chilly. Tomorrow Nate wants to do one more cable car up the mountains, so I think I’ll take them to Ortisei and try the cable car on the other side of town that I haven’t done yet. Then it will be time to pack up. Eric and Nate head back on Sunday to Venice and then Dallas, and I go pick up Gus in Bologna. Gus had his recital today and reports that it went very well. He has gotten so much out of these 2 weeks. We certainly miss him, but it has been a worthwhile experience all the way around.
Today we spent hanging around Bolzano. I took Eric and Nate to see Ötzi, and Nate was interested in the forensics to see how they figured out who he was and how he died. We did a little shopping and enjoyed an extended afternoon in a biergarten. Part of the day was spent arranging train tickets for Gus and me to make our way through Switzerland to Frankfurt for our flight home in 1 week. I can’t believe a month has already gone by. As efficient as the Swiss might be, they need some work on their train websites. I had to call customer service only to find out their site had an error and that I’ll have to buy the ticket in Milan when I get there. That seems a little high risk to me, but there you have it. Tomorrow we are going to Bressanone/Brixen, a lovely town, which has been inhabited since the 8th millennium BC.
Fast & Furious
Today we met our guide and went for an 8-hour driving tour around all of the highlights of the Dolomites that really require a car and some insider information. We started out driving through the towns of the Val Gardena and ascending to the Sasso Lungo (long rock) in the western Dolomites. Again, the Dolomites are different from the Alps in that they are coral reefs that were once underwater, and their odd jutting shape is due to the coral reaching for sunlight. They are very soft, which makes climbing them extra challenging. We then descended and re-ascended in the Pordoi Pass, where we rode the near-vertical cable car to the top. Lots of scary hairpin turns later, we came to Cortina d’Ampezzo, which is one of Italy’s premier ski resorts. It hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956 and will host them again in 2026 with Milan. We had lunch there and walked around, but it started to rain a bit. Weather is definitely changeable in the mountains–from sunny to rainy in the span of 15 minutes. The second half of the day was visiting Italy’s most beautiful mountain lakes. By far the favorite was Lago di Braies. It was rainy and windy when we got there, but by the time we walked 1/4 around the lake, the sun was out and the wind was gone. Needless to say, we are exhausted. I culled the pictures down to some favorites. Alessandro is amazing–full of knowledge of the area (historical, geographic, cultural)–and once again, his guided tour was a highlight.
Gruß Gott! (South Tirol greeting)
Today we ventured out of Italy and into Austria, though Bolzano and environs can feel much closer to Vienna than Rome. We made good use of our train passes and took the train to the Brenner pass and then changed to continue into Austria and on to Innsbruck. I remember the days when you had to show your passport on the train if you were crossing borders. We got tickets to the train/gondola/gondola up to the top of the mountain overlooking Innsbruck, and though it was a bit cloudy–wow. The views were incredible. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. After lunch and wandering around some of the trails at the top of the mountain, we came down and explored the town, which is very charming, soaking in the atmosphere and sampling some pastries. It is really the first time in several weeks we have heard English. There were small groups of tourists, but again, we are finding some hidden jewels off the beaten track that are as rewarding as the well-worn favorites. We were even rewarded with a double rainbow on the train ride home. Tomorrow we will reprise our driving tour from last year, which was one of the absolute highlights for me. Alessandro will take us into the mountains and show us the best the Dolomites have to offer. The weather should hold off on rain at least in the morning, but summer in the mountains usually means some storms to deal with as well.
Real People Stuff
Today was a day of firsts–I had to navigate a telephone call to a courier to see when my package would be delivered, and Eric had to go solo in search of goodies for breakfast and lunch. Turns out no one knows when a package will be delivered here. Apparently, they could learn something from Amazon. Anyway, see there were these Italian shoes that were on sale, and I really had to have them. They are one of my favorite brands, and I could have gotten them in the US for 5x the price, so I ordered them in my size from the Italian sale site. No problem. They tried to deliver them Friday and Saturday, just missing us both times. So, I stayed around the apartment while Eric went out for his coffee and a mission to bring back some strudel for breakfast. I sent him with some helpful phrases–“Sprechen Sie English,” “cafelatte,” and “mitnehmen (to-go).” If you order a “latte” in Italy, you will get milk because that’s what latte means. Americans just shorten it and drop the coffee part. Anyway, apparently, no one spoke English. However, Eric is an accomplished pointer and knows 1-10 in both Italian and German, so I had confidence in him. He came back with a cappuccino and 2 pieces of strudel. Well done. The strudel was well worth his effort, if I may say so. By lunch the shoes still hadn’t come, so out Eric and Nate went with the mission to bring back meats, bread, cheeses, and fruit for a picnic of sorts. Meanwhile, I did some laundry and admired the view with the doors open and the cool air coming in. Again, no one spoke English, but Eric pointed and used his best number and food vocabulary and came home with bread, strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, salami, and cheese. It was quite nice. The shoes arrived, and they were totally worth it. After lunch, we wandered around and found Nate an Italian soccer jersey he had wanted and the kind of sunglasses he wants. He wants the prescription put in them, but we know the style and brand now for when we get home. We had a great dinner in a Biergarten with an amazing molten flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Tomorrow we head to Innsbruck.
Gus got to go on a field trip to the tiny country of San Marino, which is totally surrounded by Italy, and he is keeping busy with lessons and classes. He is in a tiny town where no one speaks English, so he’s getting to use all of the Italian he self-studied.
Today was a bit drizzly, which brought a welcome respite from the heat. That didn’t stop us from making use of our mobile card pass. We took the 45-minute train ride to the lovely city of Trento, probably most famous for its role in the establishment of the counter-reformation and the revival of the Catholic church in the 16th century. Though it had been part of the land deal giving part of Austria to Italy at the close of WWI, it is distinctly Italian compared to towns farther north. We started at Tridentum, which is basically a Roman ruin discovered under one of the main piazzas of the town. The Roman town was discovered to have sophisticated sewage and drainage systems (complete with a hatch for inspection & the world’s first manhole cover) and heated floors. We then went to the Castel Buonconsiglio which has been home to Trento’s princes and host to important events from the 8th century. It’s a lovely compound of layering architectural styles. One of its most famous attractions is its cycle of months medieval frescoes in one of the towers. Tomorrow we are on the hunt for the best apfelstrudel in Bolzano and some shopping in the outdoor market. Weather permitting on Tuesday, we might head up to Innsbruck.
Gondolas, Buses, and Trains
Today I took Eric and Nate up to the same plateau I was on yesterday, except we went further up the mountain to the Corno del Renon, a scenic overlook. It involved 2 gondolas, a train, and a bus. It was a beautiful day, and though it was 90 degrees in Bolzano, it was easily 65 at the plateau. We enjoyed a nice lunch and a bit of light hiking and came back for a nice nap. Rain is in the forecast for the next few days, but it tends to be later in the evening or at night, so we’ll see what we feel like in the morning and plan accordingly. We did buy Sud Tirol Mobil cards, so we have access to all of the local trains, buses, and gondolas for the next 7 days, so there’s no telling where we might head to. The card basically paid for itself the first day. At the restaurant tonight Eric and Nate had Italian and I had German (spinach spätzle with Speck, which is kind of close to spinach gnocchi in a sauce with the regional specialty ham), but I ordered in Italian, and the waiter complimented me on my fine Italian skills. I guess nearly a month here helps out the old language skills.
Gus reports that he is getting a lot out of his private lessons and was complimented on his own skills. We’re glad he’s having a good experience, but we miss him!