Epilogue – Switzerland

Now that we’ve been home and had a chance to digest our travels through Switzerland, I wanted to share a few thoughts and some helpful tips for others who might be thinking about a visit.

First and foremost – Go! Switzerland is absolutely beautiful. There are so many breathtaking views of nature everywhere you go. As you could probably tell from the trip posts and pictures, we tried to take in as much as we could. Land, lakes, mountains and cities were all incredible.

Another tip – Bring sunglasses!

The Swiss travel system is hands down the best we’ve seen, especially the rail system. We chose to travel by train and could go everywhere we wanted to go comfortably. They have an intricate train network that is very efficient, very clean and very user-friendly.

Tip: Be sure to check out a travel pass. Be it the Swiss Travel Pass, Jungfrau Pass, Oberland Pass – check it out. If you are using the trains to get around – you will save money over buying individual tickets. The passes also provide free or discounted admission to many museums and other attractions.

Tip: If you want to take one of the Panoramic trains such as the Golden Line, Glacier Express or Bernina Express, make sure you book a seat reservation. Check out the websites 3 months prior to going as they fill up fast during the high seasons.

Tip: Get the SBB Phone App! This app is awesome to check out train schedules, get platform information and get train configuration information. Where is the bar car?

Switzerland is not a cheap place to eat. We knew that going in, but there will inevitably be some sticker shock. You can offset that a little bit by grabbing lunch from a COOP store (Cross between a supermarket and a convenience store depending on the location.) or by eating a hearty breakfast, especially when it is included at your hotel.

If you’re passing through Zurich, the train station also has an underground level with a market and a couple of restaurants. There are usually places in and around the train stations to grab a bite to take with on the trains. Do everyone a favor, avoid the stinky stuff.

However, make sure to find a restaurant and indulge in a traditional Swiss meal. The food is delicious and goes perfect with a beer or Swiss wine. Rösti, schnitzel and a fondue are musts. Rumor has it they don’t even add calories if you eat them and enjoy them!

Tip: No need to constantly buy bottled water. Bring along a water bottle and you can refill it anywhere with clean, cold water from the numerous fountains located throughout most of the cities and towns.

Throughout Switzerland, there are accommodations of all types, from opulent hotels to family campgrounds and everything in between. We found that by staying near to the rail stations in cities and towns, we had the best flexibility. Besides the obvious access to the trains, there were usually buses and car rental places nearby.

Tip: Check with your hotel to see if they offer a discount card for local attractions and transportation. We were able to get them in a few of the towns we stayed in and they saved us a bunch. We were able to use the metro system in Lausanne, the cable cars and funiculars in St. Moritz and the buses in Lucerne for free.

There are four languages spoken in Switzerland, the three dominant languages are German, French and Italian. The fourth is Romansh, but if they were speaking it, we didn’t know it. You’ll find that many people who deal with the tourism industry also speak English. We had no problems with communication – especially when ordering in restaurants. However, we also found that using a little bit of the local language was like finding the gold ticket in Willy Wonka. Plus, it was a fun way to interact with folks.

We had a wonderful trip and would go again in an instant (after replenishing the travel bank account). The people there truly made us feel welcome and tried very hard to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. We have lots of memories, but one that stands out is the older couple thanking us for visiting their country. That was a memory of the Swiss people that we won’t forget.

So go, enjoy and be ready to be amazed!

Now, back to sorting through 2,400 pictures and enjoying every minute of it.

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Day 32 – Heading Home – Milan to Zurich to NYC to Buffalo

Home Sweet Home”

“The Thrill of Coming Home has Never Changed”

Traveling is so much better when you know you have a wonderful home to go back to”

Who writes that nonsense? Yes, we are back home safe and sound. It was a long day, just a little bit stressful, but ultimately everything worked out fine.

We started out with a quick shuttle ride from the hotel to Malpensa airport. Check-in was easy and since we had some time, we were able to enjoy the Lufthansa Lounge for an hour. It was much more comfortable than sitting at the gate. Sue was able to have a nice cup of tea and some yogurt, while I munched on a few cookies.

My phone popped up a text – Flight delayed by 15 minutes. Ruh-roh!

We only have 55 minutes between connections, so that’s not what I wanted to see. Once up in the air, the head steward said they’ll pass along connection info before we land. They usually stop boarding about 20 minutes prior to take-off, so I was getting a little worried. Maybe we’ll be at the next gate.

Our plane will be landing at gate A66, our connection is at E19. They tell us there is a tram we take to get to the gate, that should help. There is the tram, we’re off and making good time. Passport Control – what ?!?

We practically sprint through the line and they stamp us out quickly. Whew! E19… of course it’s one of the last gates. We see another line ahead, but there’s a business class aisle that’s short. As we go through, Sue gets pulled over for a random security check. Five minutes feels like an hour, but out she comes. We run down to the gate and they are waiting for us. Swiss Air held up the flight because there were a few others that must have been on our flight.

We get on and we get into our seats for the flight to JFK. The Swiss Air business class is nice. The seats are comfortable and they fold down flat for sleeping. The food was really good and the portions were plentiful. The flights attendants were all very professional, but also very friendly. We would definitely fly with them again.

The flight to JFK is uneventful and the pilot was able to make up the delayed time and then some, as we arrived about fifteen minutes early. We make the trek to Passsport and Customs and whip out our Global Entry cards. It only takes us about five minutes to get through passport control. Global entry is money well spent.

Next stop is baggage claim, once we’re through here we’re good…

One hour later, we’re still in baggage claim. Good old JFK. Seems that our flight’s baggage is on the same carousel as the bags from an Emirates A380 flight. Think BIG plane with lots of people and lots of bags.

Once we finally got our bags, we had to scramble to get to the Air Train to get to Terminal 5. Once there, we check our bags, head through security and find our gate – all is calm again!

The good news is our flight is on-time, again uneventful and soon we landed in sunny Buffalo.

It only took about five minutes before we slid into a taxi for the ride home. Twenty minutes later – Home Sweet Home!

Auf Wiedersehen! Au Revoir! Arrivederci! Goodbye!

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Thanks for following along. It was fun sharing our journey and pictures with you.

I’m going to post one more entry once we get settled in to provide some tips for others who may be venturing to Switzerland.

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Day 31 – Milan to the suburbs

Our semi-whirlwind stay in Milan ended with one last visit to the Milano Centrale train station. Upon checking out of the hotel, they arranged a taxi for us and off we went. We decided to stay close to the airport for the night to make tomorrow’s travel a little easier. Our destination of choice is the town of Casorate Sempione.

Casorate Sempione is a small town just a stone’s throw away from Malpensa airport. It may be a small town, but it was cute, had a nice hotel with an awesome restaurant and very friendly people.

Anyways, our train was a regional one with many stops along the way. The good news was the regional trains come into the Milan station on tracks off to the side, so it was much less congested and frantic. In fact, between trains, it was downright quiet.

Quiet station in between regional trains arriving.

When the train arrived, we waited for most of the people to board before we hopped on. Our first stop is just 10 minutes away in Rho-Fiere, so we opted to stand with our luggage.

Our second train from Rho-Fiere to Casorate Sempione arrived right on time and we had about a 30 minute ride from there. When we arrived, a call to the hotel had the hotel shuttle on the way to pick us up. While we were looking for the phone number, a very nice young woman asked if she could help us with anything before her ride arrived. We didn’t need her help, but we thanked her for the offer.

The shuttle arrived at the hotel and we were thankful that we hadn’t walked. While it was only a few minutes, walking on the road dragging a suitcase was not included in our last day’s itinerary.

The hotel is called Osteria Della Pista and it has been around since 1875. They’ve modernized it, so we were quite happy. It is family owned and was just what we were looking for.

When we checked-in, we made reservations for dinner in the evening and for the airport shuttle in the morning.

Our room was not as big as some of the others along the way, but it was clean, comfortable, had a nice shower and air conditioning. On top of that, there was a nice bar and a wonderful restaurant.

After cleaning up and changing clothes we headed down to dinner. On this Friday evening, it seemed like everyone in town was joining us. It was great to see couples and families filling the restaurant along with some obvious hotel guests. We enjoyed being seated right among the village folks, not put off to the side in the guest corner.

As for our dinner, what a nice way to finish off our holiday.

We started with our ever present glass of prosecco, made even better by the accompaniment of homemade potato chips. Honestly, I would have been happy with the remainder of the prosecco bottle and additional baskets of chips. But then I would have missed out on the rest.

We started with a small appetizer pizza with prosciutto, mushrooms and artichokes, then moved on to our entrees. Sue had tagliatelle with truffles and I had fusiolini with shrimp in a spicy arrabbiata sauce.

Everything was delicious and went well with a nice bottle of Dolcetto D’Alba.

Then came dessert, Sue had the tiramisu, while I chose a chocolate torte that was decadently good.

Needless to say, we really enjoyed the evening and the meal. We also loved all the ‘Buono Seras’ throughout the evening as people came and went.

It was easy to see why so many people had recommended the restaurant to me. The food was delicious, the price was more than reasonable and the atmosphere was outstanding.

We turned in early as we have an 8:00 am shuttle to catch in the morning.

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For those who have been following along, you’ve seen the word ‘delicious’ used quite frequently. It’s not because I left my thesaurus at home, it’s because…well… everything was delicious !

All along our travels, whether the meals were gourmet or more rustic, they were prepared using fresh regional products, homemade ingredients and were prepared exactly how we ordered or as they were described on the menu.

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Day 30 – Milan – DaVinci’s The Last Supper – Il Cenacola

We had to get up early today to get to the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. That’s where we picked up our tickets to view Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper or Il Cenacola. We had reservations for the 8:45 am viewing, but needed to be there by 8:20 am.

There were many people waiting for their entrance time or in line to buy tickets when we arrived at the piazza. Since we had purchased our reservation online, we were ushered right up to the counter to exchange the voucher for our tickets.

Queuing to see the Last Supper

There was one enterprising gentleman there selling many different souvenirs. You could buy items such as DaVinci T-Shirts, photos of the painting, charts with all the apostles named so you’d know who you were looking at, key chains and even umbrellas in case it started to rain while you were waiting. The only thing missing was the menu from the actual dinner!

The painting is not in a gallery or hanging in a church. The painting is a mural that was painted on a wall in the refectory of a convent. At one point the room was used as a dining hall for the monks after they took over the convent.

Santa Maria delle Grazie with convent to the left

It is thought that DaVinci painted it between 1495 and 1498. The method he used along with environmental factors like humidity and intentional damage through the years has left very little of the original painting. What you see is the result of many attempted restorations. That said, it’s still powerful.

When our time arrived, we entered the first of three rooms used to reduce the humidity before you are allowed into the refectory. After two or three minutes you move on to room two; then two or three minutes later it’s on to room three. We are now de-humidified and ready to go.

When the doors open, we had fifteen minutes to view the artwork. We were lucky enough to see it once before, but it didn’t takeaway from seeing it again.

The Last Supper – Il Cenacola – L’Ultima Cena

As most know, I am not a devotee of the arts. That said, this is another of the paintings that we have seen that I find mesmerizing. I’m not sure why, but there is something that just leaves me feeling inspired.

This time, they even allowed photos to be taken. I think with everyone having phones with cameras, they just gave up trying to monitor people, not to mention that there are already so many pictures of it available.

On the opposite wall of the refectory is a painting called ‘The Crucifixion’, which was painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano. It is another beautiful mural, but usually just glanced at by the people who come to see the Last Supper. However, you will be able to win trivia contest prizes with the info I provided.

The Crucifixion

When your time is up, you leave through one door, while the next group completes their dehumidifying process before entering. The passage out takes you through the cloister and along a garden path with a small exhibit related to the painting.

Since we were feeling spiritual, we walked over to the nearby Church of San Maurizio to see some additional artwork by Bernardino Luini, the artist whose work we had seen in Lugano.

Why are we bringing two mosquitoes?
Boat’s parked, let’s drink

Our next stop was at Milan’s Duomo. It is such a beautiful building and is a must- see when visiting Milan; however, the number of scammers and hucksters working the crowds is truly upsetting. It lost its reverence and its appeal from my standpoint. They really need to rethink how these people are allowed to ruin the experience before the tourism dollars dry up. Personally, I’m not sure I would go back.

We walked over to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and did a little window shopping. All the ritzy brands are represented and the fashions are interesting – some more than others.

Versace and Prada, but no Walmart

Making our way through the galleria, we found the restaurant we were hoping to go to in the evening. We were able to make a reservation and then off we went – it was time to get something to eat since we had missed breakfast. We found a small place that was more of a juice bar, but Sue grabbed a quick yogurt. While she was eating that, we noticed a place right nearby that had fresh made panini sandwiches waiting for the lunch crowds.

We made sure they were serving, grabbed a table and enjoyed our paninis. A glass of prosecco helped keep us hydrated and the best part, besides the delicious sandwiches, was that they were 5.50 Euros Now that was a bargain !

As we were finishing, the lunch crowds started to arrive, so our timing was perfect. After a quick stop at the Church of San Tommaso, we found the back way to our hotel, so we didn’t have to deal with the crowds and noise. I think the problem was we had just come from the relative peace and tranquillity of Switzerland and were now in the middle of a big, bustling city – I’m not just grouchy!

We decided to relax for a while, since we woke up so early. We both ended up dozing off – I guess we were tired.

We showered and dressed and then headed off to dinner. We took the route we had discovered earlier and arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early. For whatever reason, we were given a primo table in the center of the restaurant and loved it. Our waiter started out a little stiff, but soon we had him laughing along with us. According to him, Sue is lucky to find one like me.

La Locanda del Gatto Rosso

We enjoyed our meals and a bottle of Brunello. The food was delicious and the meat was so tender you barely needed a knife. It was a great way to finish up in Milan. We left on a high note!

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Day 29 – Off to Milan – Italy here we come!

Lugano has been delightful, but now it’s time to move on again. We took our time getting ready and packing this morning; there’s no rush since we don’t have to checkout until 11:00 and our train doesn’t leave until 1:00 pm.

When we did leave, the hotel arranged for our ride to the train station. Our driver was a petite, bubbly woman with a shiny new Mercedes. She was very nice and got us there without the usual Indy Car near-misses along the way. Ten minutes and $20 later, we arrived at the train station.

We had a few Swiss Francs left over, so we decided to grab a beverage and a sandwich while we were waiting.  I also spotted a Laderach chocolate shop.  The sandwiches took the edge off being a little hungry and soon our train arrived.

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Yes.. We stopped at the chocolate shop. No sense wasting $ CHF.

Our train today will take a route along Lake Lugano, then cut over to the Lake Como area before heading south to Milan. The scenery was beautiful along the way, especially along the lake. At the midway point between Lake Lugano and Lake Como is the border town of Chiasso.

When our train stopped in Chiasso, border control agents boarded the train. We had our passports out and ready, but they never checked us. They seemed to have specific passengers identified and checked their passports, went through their belongings and asked a few questions, before leaving the train. Oh, and they all were wearing side arms and bullet proof vests.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we eventually made our way to the Milan Central station. The station was a beehive of activity, with people everywhere – some waiting to find their train platform and seemingly just as many people just hanging around. Quite a difference from the Zurich station, which was very organized and not so hectic, even though it sees many more trains and passengers on a daily basis.

We made our way out and grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel. We’re staying at the Antica Locanda Dei Mercanti. It’s a smaller hotel located between the Castello and the Duomo on a little side street. The owners were very friendly and welcomed us heartily when we arrived.

Our room was quite large, with high ceilings, another comfy bed, a nice couch and a great shower. The windows were large and could be opened; however the day’s heat kept us using the air conditioning.

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We were both feeling lazy and didn’t want to get all cleaned up for dinner, so we went to a “fast food” pasta place called ‘Al Dente’. We had a simple, but delicious, meal of fresh pasta and homemade ravioli. Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and ordered a bottle of wine for the room and just relaxed.

We had our chocolate that we bought in Lugano and they brought us some chips to go along with the wine, so we had a hotel picnic.

We need to get up early tomorrow, so it was an early night once again. So far I think we’ve stayed up past midnight just two or three times.

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Day 28 – Lugano – Oggi non abbiamo fatto niente

Today we did nothing – and enjoyed it immensely. After traveling around and seeing so many incredible sights, we decided that today we would just soak up the beauty of Lugano.

After breakfast, we checked out the lounge / bar area and then the small historical exhibit that they had in the hotel.

Our hotel is really nice and has been in the Schmid family for over 100 years. They have done a great job of maintaining the luster throughout that time. I had photos of our room and the breakfast room, so here are a few of the lounge.

The exhibit was of various documents and objects from the hotel’s history. Funny to see historical items that I remember as a kid. I must be old!

A little later in the afternoon, we took a walk along the lake and happened to find a Gelateria – lucky us! Two scoops of pistachio for Sue and one scoop of chocolate and one scoop of banana for me were perfect to mute the heat a bit.

Death defying – chocolate with a white shirt

Once we finished, we found a park bench and did some lake and people watching.

Junior sail club?

My new friend – bob!

Here come the clouds

It started to cloud up a bit and there were a few raindrops from a passing clouds, but the predicted storms never arrived. We have been so lucky with the weather over the course of the trip.

Later, we cleaned up for dinner and went back to the restaurant from the first night – Ristorante Galleria. I have to do just a little bit of bragging. From the time we arrived until we were leaving, ninety-five percent of the conversation was in Italian. Our waiters were extremely patient, extremely helpful and very respectful besides being great waiters. I tip my hat to them- they made us feel like we were regulars.

Spinach gnocchi

Branzino with roasted vegetables

We took a slow stroll back to the hotel enjoying the evening air on our last night in Lugano.

We checked with the front desk at the hotel about getting a cab in the morning before we retired for the evening.

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Day 27 – Lugano – Life around the piazzas

Woke up to bright sunshine streaming into the room; looks like another beautiful day ahead. Cleaned up and went down for breakfast in a room that looks like it would have previously been a restaurant or ballroom.

Many choices to select from on the buffet, including breads, pastries, meats, cheeses, cereals, yogurts, eggs, juices and much more. I have to say, they are not chintzy.

We enjoyed our breakfasts and then ran back up to the room to grab our camera and splash on some sunscreen. The maid had already made up our room, so we didn’t have to hurry and ended up checking emails and restaurants before heading out.

When we did go out, we walked right next door from our hotel to the church. Not just any church mind you – Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli (Church of St. Mary of the Angels) dates back to 1499 when it was part of the lakefront monastery.

Inside are Lugano’s best frescoes, including ‘The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ’ by Bernardino Luini, who was a disciple of Leonardo DaVinci. It is the finest Renaissance fresco in Switzerland – taking up most of the wall between the nave and the altar and stunningly depicting Biblical stories with over 150 faces and figures. Luini spent ten years working on this, applying paint over thin layers of wet plaster.

The other fresco, also painted by Luini, is his version of ‘The Last Supper’. It was originally painted on a wall of the monks’ dining hall and was then removed and put on canvas to be displayed here.

The frescoes are an interesting lead-in to seeing DaVinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ when we get to Milan. It will be fun to compare and contrast the two artworks.

After leaving the church, we took a walk along the Main Street by the lake. Lugano has such a laid back, chill attitude that we walked along without a thought of anything but the serenity of the lake.

It was warm and getting warmer as we walked, so we found a nice shady spot in a piazza and ordered a bottle of Rosé and a bottle of water. It was so nice to just watch the activity on the lake as well as to do some people-watching while relaxing.

Someone had mentioned about how clean things were and here is part of the reason. Messy tourists and falling leaves ? No problem !

We decided while sitting there to just do a light, early dinner at one of the restaurants in the Piazza della Reforma. We walked over and found a place that looked good – Ristorante Pizzeria Federale.

Some bruschetta, a Caprese salad and a Quattro Stagioni pizza made for a great meal. A bottle of Chianti and two tiramisu rounded out the meal. Our waiter was terrific. We ordered in Italian, got exactly what we thought we ordered and enjoyed a bit of banter with our waiter. In my book, that’s a perfect evening.

We walked back to the hotel, cleaned up a bit and then enjoyed a relaxing evening talking about the highlights of the trip while enjoying the Swiss Jazz radio station.

Hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day in Switzerland before heading to Milan.

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