OUR TOUR DIARY
by Cathy Harper
A very compatible group of 44 people & 2 interpreters representing California, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, & Washington met at the airport in Newark, NJ for an overnight flight to Zurich, Switzerland. MO, NJ & WA had 10, 8, & 7 people respectively! In addition, 6 couples celebrated wedding anniversaries, & one had a birthday at some point during this tour. We covered over 2,200 miles by bus thru 6 countries--Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Italy, & France. We drove over a total of 10 Alpine Mountain passes with millions of hairpin curves! 4 Passes were between Graz & Trento; 3 passes from Trento to Bivio; 2 passes from Bivio to Sierre and one Pass from Geneva to Lucerne. Wolfgang, our driver, had us agog with his driving skill—imagine squeezing by another bus or a big truck on a curve or road that is little more than one lane wide! With only inches to spare! Wheee!
Our tour director Nicholas, & driver, Wolfgang & our interpreters, Joy & Simon were instrumental in making this a memorable experience! The tour tried to cover too much ground in the time-frame we had, & we were on the road til 5 p.m. or so every day—one day was 12 hours!
Sunday, 6/6: Arriving in Zurich, we had a bus & walking tour of this financial capital of Switzerland before meeting for orientation over drinks & snacks at Movenpick Rogensdorf Hotel. Then we were on our own for dinner. Unfortunately, the shops were closed, this being Sunday!
Monday, 6/7: We had a delicious European Continential breakfast before driving along Lake Zurich to Liechtenstein. We briefly stopped at it’s capital, Vaduz & then followed the Arlberg route into the Austrian Tyrol & Innsbruck, seeing the Golden Roof & the Olympic ski-jump; going thru many tunnels & passing fortresses, chalets, castles & churches along the route. We lunched in charming Innsbruck & had a little time to walk around & browse a gift shop. The guys oogled topless sunbathers here! In Salzburg, we stayed in the Hotel Berghof-Gramal, which unfortunately was outside of Salzburg. We only had a quick orientation walk thru the town of Salzburg. Dinner at our hotel was disappointing.
Tuesday & Wednesday, 6/8-9: We were driven thru the Obersalzburg area to Hitler’s “Eagles Nest”--a teahouse at the top of Kehlstein Mt. It was a flourishing tourist trap but well worth the visit. A special bus took us up a narrow winding road to the parking lot & we walked thru a tunnel cut thru rock to the elevator. We were packed like sardines for the ride up to the teahouse. The views were stunning, but we were kind of rushed. I suspect we missed some key points in this area.
From here we traveled to Vienna, stopping for lunch along the way. It was a picturesque drive & Nicholas gave us a long-g-g but interesting history of Austria & the Hapsburgs. We rode the bus via Mondsee thru the Salzkammergut, an area of beautiful lakes, villages & mountains, & saw the baroque monastery of Melk. We traveled thru the Wachau region in the Danube Valley, passing Castle Durntein & well-tended vineyards along the way. We had a rest-stop in Durnstein & some of the group bought Schnapps or wine here. We arrived at the Hotel Bosei then had an orientation bus & walking tour which included Mozart’s birthplace & the Getreidegasse, a shopping area of artistic portals & picturesque arcaded courtyards.
Most of us took an optional Imperial Highlights tour of the Palace of Schonbrunn. (Schonbrunn means beautiful fountain or flower)—the summer palace of the Hapsburgs. Later, we were bused to the center of the city where we saw the State Opera House & the Hofburg Palace & Imperial Boulevard. Nic walked us to the Winter Palace—an area of Parliament buildings around the Square of the Heroes. He told more interesting historical facts about Imperial Vienna. We had lunch in this beautiful city & did some shopping & sightseeing. That night we traveled thru the Vienna Woods hoping to stop at a panoramic viewpoint on our way to dinner at a Hungarian Gypsy Restaurant, but got caught in a rainstorm with hail & it was clouded over. The optional gypsy dinner was a highlight of the trip! Cozy place with musicians—including a bass fiddle! We were given a shot of Schnapps (Hungarian Rocket Fuel according to Nic) & each table got a full liter of wine or another beverage of choice in addition to the wonderful, pre-ordered food.
Thursday, 6/10: From Vienna we traveled to Graz, the provincial capital of Styria. We passed the Arnold Schwarzenegger Soccer Stadium (He was born in Graz.) & had time to walk around this charming town & have lunch.
The shops were closed due to a much evident religious holiday (Corpus Cristi—sort of like Palm Sunday.) The Schlossberg Castle rises up over the town centre. Some of us walked thru an underground tunnel which led to the castle but there wasn’t much time after lunch for those of us who went on the optional tour to the Lipizzaner Stud Farm at Piber. The bus stopped at a beautiful church—St. Barbara’s, on the way. It was hot but the horse fanciers enjoyed this tour. Those who stayed behind got caught in a rainstorm. Our hotel Mercure Graz wasn’t far from town.
Their continental breakfast, which was the most varied, was the best of the trip in my opinion.
Friday, 6/11: We left Vienna early for the long, lovely ride thru alpine hills & mountains to Villach. (We were supposed to stay there instead of Graz but due to a snafu by Trafalgar, we had further to go.) When we arrived at Iselsberg, we were delayed about a half hour due to a bicycle race. (The “Big 3” European races are “Tour De Swiss”, “Tour De France”, & “Tour De Italy” we were witness to one of them! Yellow banners & hats advertising the race were passed out & some of our group received them.) A Corvette Club Caravan (Austrian license plates) was also delayed—so we had an interesting wait! This was the longest bus ride of all—about 12 hours—poor Wolfgang! Over the border into Italy, we enjoyed the alpine scenery & went via Carbonin & Lake Misurina to the Tre Coci Pass. Once we encountered some “Billy goats” close enough to touch during a “WC” (water closet) stop. We also had some laughs on Simon, who pointed out some deer that turned out to be brown cows. We descended to Cortina d’Ampezzo, an Olympic ski resort in the Dolomite mountains & on to our hotel in Trento, which was supposedly an upgrade since Trafalgar was too late in booking the planned one. Hotel Adige was delightful—but we arrived after the porters had left, & had to lug our own bags up & down. To make up for it, we got free drinks at dinner.
Saturday, 6/12: We had to leave Trento early again to maintain our schedule.
Heading to Bivio (St. Moritz) via Merano & over the border into Switzerland, we encountered narrow, winding roads & lots of motorcycles & daring drivers. Some spots were so tight we had to back up & let drivers in the opposite lane pass. Nicolas was frustrated when Trafalgar informed him of yet another hotel change & then we took a wrong turn & encountered a 700 year old archway in the road that was too low & narrow for our bus. It was a beautiful drive nevertheless. We had a little time to explore St. Moritz, & then some of our group went on the optional Bernina Express train tour to La Prese to see one interesting glacier & some waterfalls. We went back to St. Moritz to pick up those who didn’t go on the tour & then went on to Hotel Post in Bivio. Charming hotel, wonderful dinner & continenal breakfast.
Sunday, 6/13: Continuing on our way to Sierre (Zermatt) & saw 3 imposing castles of Bellinzona & stopped at lakeside Locarno, then across into Italy & along the shores of Lake Maggiore. We explored Stressa, the 2nd largest & most famous tourist resort town on a lake, then traveled over Simplon Pass to Atlantic Manotel Hotel in Sierre.
Monday, 6/14: It was a short drive to Tasch, where we boarded electric mini-buses to the town of Zermatt & then transferred to electric taxi’s & then into 3 different cable cars for the ascent to the Klein Matterhorn mountain. Beautiful day & awesome sight, but the top was clouded over during the early part of our visit & during our group picture with the St. Bernard. What a thrill to have our picture taken with the famous Swiss dog, Josie! Most of us managed to explore a glacier grotto which had spectacular ice sculptures & exhibits inside.
The air was thin at 13,700 feet & some of the group experienced lightheadedness & breathing problems. After descending Matterhorn, we had lots of time to lunch & walk around & shop in Zermatt. Matterhorn was an awesome experience!
Tuesday, 6/15: We traveled along the valley of the River Rhone to Lake Geneva, where we saw the Chillon Castle (Inspired Lord Byron’s poem,“The Prisoner of Chillon”) before reaching elegant Montreaux & passing the town of Evian. (Home of the bottled water by that name.) Arriving in Yvoire, France, we browsed the charming town & shopped & had lunch & then some of the group took a paddle boat cruise to Geneva while others were bused there. In Geneva, we saw the Jet d’Eau fountain, the United Nations building, & the Red Cross building, among other things, & walked to see the Reformation Monument. On the way we saw people playing stand-up giant chess games in a park. We stayed at Hotel Chavannes De Bogis, which is between Geneva & Lausanne. That night, we had the optional Swiss Meat Fondue Dinner at a quaint little restaurant in Lausanne. Another highlight!
Wednesday, 6/16: We traveled thru beautiful farmlands to Bern, where we saw the bears in their pit & browsed thru the charming town. Great place to shop! The imposing Clock Tower is as much a symbol of Bern as the bears. Then we traveled on to Interlaken, where we saw the mighty Jungfrau Mountain in the Bernese Oberland. We saw Lake Brienz & toured a wood-carving shop in that town. A spiraling drive over Brunig Pass brought us to the lakeside resort of Lucerne, where we spent 2 nights at the Flora Hotel, right in the center of town.
Thursday, 6/17: We enjoyed riding in 4 horse-drawn carriages thru a beautiful Alpine countryside village in Gilwis to the home of the owner, Hans. All the homes are spread out in this idyllic Alpine meadow. Han’s wife Hermaine & their daughter & little grandson greeted us outside with delicious home-made cakes & fresh organic apple juice from their trees. (And wine & coffee.) Afterwards we traveled to the village of Stans where a vintage cable car took us up to the 1st platform of 6,300 ft Stanserhorn Mt. & a modern aerial cable car brought us to the peak. We enjoyed a short hike to the viewpoints & bought lunch or snacks from self-serve buffet cafeteria. Then it was back to Lucerne to sightsee & shop for our final day. Lucerne was packed with tourists! The highlights we enjoyed were the impressive Lion Monument in memory of Swiss heroes & a visit to one of Switzerland’s most beautiful baroque churches—the Jesuit church of St.
Franz Xaver, built in 1677. Also walking across the Chapel Bridge, with its gable paintings depicting the martyrdom & heroic deeds of the city’s “holy” men & women. It was built in 1333 & destroyed by fire in
1993 & rebuilt within just 8 mos.!
Later, about half of our group took a cruise around Lake Lucerne & viewed the spectacular homes & buildings along the shoreline, while the rest shopped. That evening, our final dinner was covered by Trafalgar to make up for last minute changes. We thanked Nicolas, Wolfgang, Joy & Simon individually & presented them with their “envelopes”.
Friday, 6/18: We were bused back to Zurich for our longgggg flight home.