Sixty days and everything is A-OK!

We have hit the 60 days to go mark and everything is scheduled and looking good. We received the last of our train reservations, so now we just have to exchange some dollars for Swiss Francs the week before we leave and pack our bags.

The trip should be an interesting mix of cities, lakes, mountains, waterfalls, small towns, glaciers, more lakes and more mountains. We’ll visit all those places by train, bus, cable car, boats and our own two feet. You read that last one correctly, there may be a couple little hikes thrown into the mix – Seriously!

So here’s the final itinerary:

Zurich – day trips to Rapperswil & Rheinfall

Lucerne – day trip to Mount Pilatus

Interlaken – day trips to Thun, Bern & Jungfraujoch

Lauterbrunnen – day trip to Schilthorn

Lausanne – day trip to the vineyards of Lavaux

Zermatt – day trip to Gornergrat and the Matterhorn

St. Moritz

Lugano

Milan, Italy

We’re hoping to mosey our way through the trip to really soak it all in. I knew that there would be plenty to see and do along the way, but in doing my research, I was surprised by just how much I didn’t know about Switzerland. I can’t wait to get there.

The next update will be when we begin our adventure. I hope you’ll follow along and enjoy the photos.

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Piedmont – Wine, truffles and scenery to die for!

At least that’s what we’ve been told. Later this year, we’ll be able to see for ourselves. While we were thinking about visiting some wine regions in France, the “Gilet Jaune” or “Yellow Vest” protesters have changed our minds. The risk of violence is not something we want to deal with. So, with friends Jan & David, we will be heading to the Piedmont region of Italy.

Details are developing, but it looks like we’ll be basing ourselves in Alba, Italy, which is half way between Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo vineyards as far as the eye can see, rolling hills, beautiful architecture and awesome food – that’s what we’re looking forward to experiencing.

I get excited for more views like this one from Umbria.

We’ll be visiting in the fall, so we’ll be able to breath in the fragrance of the wine making process and also participate in white truffle hunting season. Since my nose isn’t what it used to be, I’m suggesting that we just find good restaurants and enjoy them after they’ve been found.

Planning has begun and my desk is a mess, but it’s a wonderful mess. I’ve found that a nice glass of Barolo is a good way to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.

Lodging is booked and flights are next on tap. Looks like plenty of train rides to book, tours to discover and tastings to arrange. Wow, this year is going to fly by.


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Swiss Rail System – Wow!

As we move into the cold of January, it’s less than five months until we go to Switzerland.  It seems like we were just talking about going and we’re already moving into train ticket buying time.

Switzerland has an awesome rail system.  You can practically travel  anywhere in the country via rail.  For a vacationing foreigner, they make it very easy to get around by selling a Swiss Rail Pass.  I’ll try to attach some information on the passes for anyone interested.  

Basically, once you have the pass, you can just go to the train station and hop on a train.  There are a few really scenic areas that have special trains with panoramic viewing carriages. For those, you need to make a reservation ahead of time. Your pass also covers transportation on boats, trams and buses, plus it provides free admission to 100’s of museums throughout the country.

We have chosen to get a 15 day flex pass. That will allow us to travel any fifteen days during a 30 day period. Based on our plans, it fits us perfectly. If we decide that we want to travel an extra day or go someplace we haven’t planned for, we can always buy a single ticket for that day. Comparing prices to buying our tickets as we need them, there is a tremendous savings by buying the pass.

Our next task will be to make the reservations for the panoramic trains, but that won’t be until 90 days before the trip. In the meantime, I might try my hand at yodeling! You just never know when it could come in handy in the mountains.

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Another step forward

So it happened – Swiss Air dropped the price of the flights we were looking at by $1,300.  Seeing that, in my mind, it was a no brainer to book our flights.

 

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While some may say that it is too early to book the flights, I say – nay, nay.  We got the flights that we wanted at a price that I think is fair.  I suppose there is a chance that the price will drop a little bit more, but I’m content with the price we paid, especially getting the flights at times that we like too!  In picking out our seats, we weren’t the first ones booking either.

The next step in the process is to look at the various day trips that we are interested in.  I want to make sure that we will be doing more than just going up to mountain tops.  Rest assured, we have plenty of other things that we are looking at doing.

Switzerland seems to be a dream as far as getting around.  There are regularly scheduled trains that seem to go everywhere.  As I mentioned previously, by buying a Swiss Travel Pass we’ll be able to literally hop on any train we want without having to pay anything extra.  For our various day trips, that will make life so much easier.  We can arrive and depart without having to pre-buy tickets to lock us in to a specific time.

I read an article online and two of the hotels we are staying in were mentioned as being top hotels chosen by travelers to stay in.  That gives me a little more confidence, since I’m not always convinced that the booking sites are always honest with their reviews.

It will take a little bit of research and planning, but hopefully by the next update I’ll know some of the places we’ll be visiting.

If anyone has visited and has any ideas, feel free to suggest them in the comments.

 

 

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Time to start planning for 2019

So September has rolled around and it’s time to start planning our next adventure.  A quick spin of the travel wheel and our next destination is going to be Switzerland.

We’ve been watching lots of You Tube videos, searching websites and plowing through Pinterest pins to determine what locations to visit.  Switzerland is not a huge country, so we think that we can see more than just the highlights.  Beautiful cities and towns, awe inspiring mountains and mountain views, clear glacier fed rivers and lakes and chocolate – lots and lots of chocolate!

Map - Switzerland

Pay no attention to the numbers on the map, that was a prior iteration of the plan.  However, many of the locations did make it to the final cut.

Here’s the route:

  • Zurich
  • Lucerne
  • Interlaken
  • Lauterbrunnen
  • Lausanne
  • Zermatt
  • St Moritz
  • Lugano
  • Milan

The plan is to go at an easy pace with day trips to round out the itinerary.  There are  quite a number of beautiful locations around Switzerland and with the places we’ve chosen to base ourselves, we will be able to enjoy many of them.

Switzerland has one of the world’s best railway systems, allowing you to travel just about anywhere without having to rent a car.  Where the trains don’t go, they have buses to supplement the routes.  They also have something called a “Swiss Travel Pass” that once you buy it, you don’t have to pay for transportation anywhere in the country.  It covers trains, boats, trams and buses, plus it gives you free entry to over 400 museums throughout the country.  The only exception for transportation costs will be the cable cars and private cog wheel trains that take you to the top of the mountains.

I have the hotels booked and have actually saved a few dollars by booking “far in advance”.  That said, the hotel reservation people have been great to work with on booking what we want.  Many of the websites didn’t allow booking this far ahead, but a quick email with maybe just a touch of “sweet talk” about how we really wanted to stay with them worked its magic – and even brought in a couple discounts and free breakfasts.

The search is now on for flights.  I have my eye on a Swiss Air flight from JFK to Zurich and then on the way back, from Milan to Zurich and then to JFK.  The times are exactly what we want – the price isn’t.  I’m just waiting for the price to drop a bit and then we’ll pounce on it.

So for now, we wait.  Lots of reading and creating the detailed plans for the day trips and excursions to the mountains.

Time for some relaxing cowbell music and maybe an Alphorn or two to set the mood until we go.

 

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Quick trip to the Big Apple

Just a little three day jaunt to NYC for a little fun.  We’re going to take in two Yankees games – Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon – against the Baltimore Orioles.  In addition, Sue and our friend Donna are going to the Downton Abbey exhibition. I’ll join the festivities afterwards and get a chance to visit with Donna during lunch.

Just so happens that it is Restaurant Week in NYC.  They must use a different calendar here as their “week” goes from July 23 – Aug 6.  The deal is $26 lunch specials and $42 dinner specials – too bad ‘Per Se’ doesn’t participate!

We flew on JetBlue to JFK.  I love when we can catch one of their fare specials; it makes flying to NYC much more cost efficient.  The flight was just an hour – I swear we travel farther taxiing around the airport than up in the air.  JFK was busy, but not over the top.  We were able to catch a cab without a wait and were on our way to the hotel.  The fare to  Manhattan is a flat rate of $52 plus tolls and tip, so figure about $70.

We are staying at the Hotel Belleclaire on W 77th St.  It’s a nice hotel located just two blocks from the W 79th St. subway station (see, I can still do math).  That will make it easy to get to the exhibition and to Yankee Stadium.  It was built in 1903 and even with numerous updates, has retained many of the old design features.

We had dinner at a restaurant called “Tessa” that is located just a short walk from the hotel on Amsterdam Ave.  Good thing it was close, as it started to rain just as we were arriving.  Their cuisine is considered modern mediterranean and I must say that our meals were delicious.  On top of great food, the prices were reasonable, especially in NYC.  Our one little complaint was that it was on the noisy side.  The wood and brick interior looked nice, but bounced the sound around.

The rain stopped by the time we were finished, so we were able to stroll back to the hotel with full tummies.

With thoughts of the fun day ahead, we headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.  The bed was comfortable, lots of pillows and just enough ambient light from Broadway to act as a night light.  It would have been perfect except for that one firetruck that decided to blast the siren as it was going by.  It startled us both awake, but we did fall back asleep.

We had a fun-filled first day planned.  Our first stop today would be the Downton Abbey Exhibit.  We caught the subway and headed down to Columbus Circle.  From there, it was just a short walk to 57th St, where we would meet up with our friend Donna.  Yes, she and Sue would be attending the exhibit while I took a little walk and relaxed in a nice shady courtyard.  They spent two hours wandering through “Highclere Castle”.

Meanwhile, I answered the age old question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”.

The answer, of course, is – right on Broadway, left on 57th St. – who needs practice?

We met back up and the girls were thrilled with their visit to “Highclere”.  If you’re a fan and it comes near you, they recommend it.

We stopped at a little diner for lunch and lots of chatting.  It’s always fun getting together with friends who otherwise become just a voice on the phone.  After a while it was hugs and kisses and then off we went.  Part two of the day was the Yankees game.

We changed into our baseball game clothes and then off we went to the stadium.  The subway was packed with other fans and the ride went by fairly quickly.  “161st Street / Yankee Stadium” came across the intercom and the mass exodus from the subway began.    I would guess it is similar to what a lemming feels like when running with all its friends. Luckily, there was no cliff – just the stadium gates.

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So, as a birthday treat for Sue, we have tickets in Section 121B.  They are between home plate and the visitors’ dugout and 11 rows from the field.  Truth be told, they were awesome seats!  The tickets include entry into the MVP lounge, so we were able to get free snacks and non-adult beverages to enjoy during the game.

It was a beautiful night for baseball and we got to see Tanaka pitch and Chapman come in for relief.  Unfortunately, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are out injured, but it was still a fun time and the Yankees won 6 – 3.

Back to the subway and then back to the hotel.  We cleaned up and watched the highlights on Sportscenter before hitting the sack.

Another good night’s rest ushered in day two.  Today we had our afternoon game.  We grabbed a quick breakfast and then headed off to the game.  While yesterday we got to see Donna, today we would get to catch up with George at the game.

The omens were all about and we just overlooked them.  First of all, it was hot and humid -the kind of day where you begin to sweat when you’re just standing still.  We arrived at the train station and my pass didn’t open the gate the first time, so a second swipe was needed to get in.  Then the train was halted before reaching our station, so we had to get a ticket from the counter and walk down to the next station.

We were directed to a train, but instead of being the local, it was the express that took us all the way down to Times Square.  So we had to switch and take another train back up to Columbus Circle and then switch to the Yankee stadium train.  When we finally arrived, already drenched in sweat, the clouds were looking ominous.

Once the game did start, Sonny Gray was also having an off day.  The fans were brutally letting him know they were not pleased with his pitching performance.  By the time the rains came pouring down, the Yanks were already losing 7 – 1.

And it didn’t rain, it poured – buckets.  The one bright light is we had the same tickets as yesterday, so we were able to head into the lounge and keep dry, well hydrated and well fed until the rain stopped.  I think everybody was hoping the rain wouldn’t stop so the nasty score would be washed away too!

When the rain did stop, the game did resume with the sun shining.  Though the Yankees held the Orioles scoreless the remainder of the game, they couldn’t catch up and lost the  game 7 – 5.  On the plus side, the trek back to the hotel was a little easier since so many people left the game early.

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Oh those clouds..

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Back to the game

We exited the subway at the Museum of Natural History on 81st St and Central Park West and walked back to the hotel from there.  It was a nice walk with beautiful houses and a small park / playground and not much traffic noise.

We couldn’t wait to get back to take a refreshing shower and relax a little before dinner.  We had to pass up a dinner invitation from George to the iconic F and J Pine Restaurant as we already had dinner reservations.  But we’re calling in a raincheck for next time!

We lazily got ourselves ready for dinner.  We had reservations at ‘Cesca on Amsterdam Ave.  Unfortunately, the hot sun and humidity from the day had left us both drained, so the highlight of the evening was getting back to the hotel and relaxing before falling asleep.  This “getting old” stuff is rough!

We both woke up feeling refreshed and ready to head back home.  The hotel arranged for a driver and for an all-inclusive $75 we had a nice relaxing ride to the airport.  Our driver was really awesome.  Besides being an excellent driver, he was very personable and also pointed out sights and provided background info on the neighborhoods and areas we passed through.

Now here is the fun part: we arrived at JFK feeling good after that very pleasant ride.  We walked in and it was fairly crowded. However, we had checked-in online, so we could go right to security and to the gate.  We noticed that the side for TSA pre-check was nearly empty, so we walked over expecting to be re-routed to the other line.

We stopped at the empty JetBlue kiosk and printed off boarding passes just to make things easier and then walked into the empty maze right up to the waiting TSA agent.  He reviewed our paperwork and pointed us to the empty security gate.  It took me longer to get the wallet and phone out of my pocket than it did to get through security.

Incredible!  We assumed we would need extra time since it was JFK and instead, we were in and through to our gate in less than fifteen minutes.

We were able to get a good sandwich for lunch and still had time to read before boarding time.  We were delayed by a few minutes before take-off due to the menacing weather moving in, but we were back home in Buffalo only ten minutes later than scheduled.  All in all, it was an easy travel home.

 

 

 

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From Amsterdam to Buffalo

“They say all good things must come to an end.  Whoever ‘they’ are should mind their own business.” – Tom Herkey

Woke up early to get ready and finish packing.  Our ride to the airport is arriving at 7:00 am, so no dilly-dallying this morning.

The canal looks beautiful, not a ripple to be seen.

Once we’re finished, we head down to the lobby.  This has been another wonderful hotel. We have been so impressed with the staff here.  Seriously, every single person has gone out of their way to be friendly and help you get the most out of your time at the hotel and Amsterdam.

Our taxi to the airport arrives a couple minutes early, but we’re ready.  We went with the electric option, so our taxi is a Tesla.

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Since they try to promote environmentally clean vehicles, the cost was the same as taking a regular taxi.  Great car – comfortable, great pick-up and a smooth ride.

We get to Schipol Airport and check-in couldn’t be easier.  Since we’re business class, they have a separate area to check-in and a separate security line.  Same rules, just a shorter line.

So we do the TSA dance – electronics out, bags open, step into the scanner and out you go.   Something showed up so I had to have the pat down. Arms up – coochie coo!  Open belt – comfy travel pants and voila – pants slide down.  I was pantsed!  Quick tug back up – and we’re done!  An international incident to add to my repertoire!

The wait wasn’t too long.  We could have used the Delta lounge, but logistically it would have been a long walk and long walks were not what I needed.

Boarding was easy and in no time, we were ready to go.  Our seats fold down flat, so after they filled us up with “delicious airline food” (yes, I really said that!) we were able to get comfortable and snooze for a little while.

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Arriving at JFK, the fun part starts: passport control and customs.  It took us 25 minutes to get in, get our luggage and re-check our luggage.  We have been in line for over an hour just to get our passports stamped in the past.

So here’s the secret:  If you intend to travel internationally, pay the $100 and get Global Entry.  In fact, your credit card might even cover it for you – check your card perks.  You scan in your passport, place your hand on the screen to match your fingerprints and they snap a quick picture.  You get a printed receipt and hand it to the agent – that’s all.  Then you look at the long lines and smile as you get your luggage.

Went up to the Delta lounge and had a couple beverages while watching the planes takeoff and land.  Saw online that there was bad weather moving towards the airport, so we crossed our fingers.

We boarded just about 10 minutes late, pulled back from the gate, started to taxi and then ATC put on a hold.  Darn – so close.  We sat on the tarmac for about an hour before we were cleared for takeoff.  Funny part is it never rained at the airport, but as we were ascending you could see the clouds.

Kudos to our flight crew for avoiding the weather and keeping the turbulence to a minimum.  An hour later we were landing in Buffalo.

We grabbed a taxi and twenty minutes later – Home Sweet Home!

 

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