Germany, Switzerland and Italy
(August 14th – August 30th 2015)
This trip is a sequel to our Europe trip in the summer of 2013. As the title suggests, I decided to keep it the same and just change the year to 2015. It was sometime around June/July where we started discussion with our close friends Dhananjay and Charu and as always the idea of a trip to Europe was always inviting and special. This time round it was also special to be the first guests at our friends new home in Bickenbach, Germany – a special little town 45 km south of Frankfurt.
This time the itinerary included Italy and also a couple of days in Switzerland with a goal of visiting Jungfrau (top of Europe), something we couldn’t accomplish during our trip in 2013.
We managed to get the visa’s and tickets done in July and as always the long wait for the trip was quickly over and it was time to lock doors and head out for our 15 day trip to Europe.There was a small hurdle with the German consulate requiring all our hotel bookings and I had to email them all confirmations before they could grant us the visa. This time round, we were lucky to get a simplified itinerary on United with just one layover in Dulles airport in Washington DC. The plan was to land in Frankfurt and then pretty much drive to Italy with a few days of stopover in Switzerland.
Like our previous trip in 2013, there wasn’t much super planning and all we did was booked our apartment / hotels in advance. Nina and I put a small itinerary on the must visit places in Italy and with our friends having visited these places in the past, it was not that stressful planning the trip. We decided to rent a 7 seater Volkswagen Touran this time as the boys had grown taller and it wasn’t going to be possible to travel in my friends 5 seater car. Dhananjay managed to get an excellent deal with Caro (car rentals).
DAY-1 New Jersey / Germany (Thursday 08/13 – Friday, 08/14)
We headed out of Newark airport on Thursday afternoon and the flight was pretty much on time. The 3 hour layover in Washington DC felt just right and in no time we boarded for our final destination to Frankfurt. Nina, Arjun and I were all super excited. We were all charged up and very much looking forward to yet another fun-filled, action packed trip with our close friends for next 2 weeks.
The flight landed close to 40 minutes before scheduled arrival. We landed around 7:30 am local time in Frankfurt. The immigration was smooth and there was no customs to our surprise. We weren’t carrying anything specific but just a few sweets and ready to eat food packets for the trip. We waited at the airport for Dhananjay who greeted us after a short wait in the arrival lounge. It all felt pretty much like 2013 and pretty familiar.
We headed out to the parking lot which was a short walk and in no time on the German Autobahn heading home in Bickenbach. It was a much shorter ride then our friends earlier home in Vierheim. We were there in roughly 35 minutes to a warm welcome from Charu and Dhruv. The morning was spent taking a tour of the lovely house and endless chit chat over few rounds of tea and variety of biscuits.
After a small afternoon nap, we headed to the town center for an evening stroll. Bickenbach is a small town with all the great European charm. It was pretty much shutdown with most shops closed by around 6 pm. We headed back to what followed a long evening of drinks, dance and re-living old memories in the basement cellar. Dhananjay had an awesome bar in his brand new cellar all lit up with disco lights and great music. The night ended far beyond midnight with plenty of drinks and endless dancing. The boys enjoyed their peace with endless gaming on ps4 in the living room upstairs.
DAY-2 Germany/Switzerland (Saturday, 08/15)
After a great nights sleep, it was time to head out today for our 10 day long trip of Switzerland and Italy. The plan was to leave around Noon after getting our car from the rental company. DJ and I headed out around 9:30 am. The rental company was around 40 km from our home. I was excited to get my hands on the wheel and have my first drive on the roads in Germany. We were able to complete the formalities and had the car in hand around 10:15 am. It was a pleasant ride following DJ in his car back home.It was nice to get the turbo feedback from the diesel engine (TDi). It didn’t feel any different driving on German roads as driving in the US.
We headed out as planned after the customary selphie! The car was all loaded with every corner filled with bags, jackets, food stuff and all. The road from Germany to Switzerland felt like yesterday. It surely brought back lovely memories from our previous trip in 2013. It was a pleasant ride with great music, jokes and chit chat. We had rain all throughout the drive, with the temperatures turning down with a need for a light jacket.
Our rental apartment booked on Airbnb was a little away from the main road and it took us a little while to find the place. The car GPS led us to a place not quite accurate and we were eventually able to find our way to the apartment using google maps. It was getting dark and making it much more difficult to find the place with the rains growing in strength. We managed to reach the place around 5:30 pm and after some help from the restaurant personnel in the complex, managed to eventually grab the keys from the mailbox and get to our 2nd floor apartment.
The 2 bedroom apartment was nice and cozy. After settling in and having our evening tea, DJ and I headed out in search of the closest train station for buying kid passes for Jungfrau. We hadn’t booked kids tickets and wanted to make sure we dont run into any surprises next morning. We landed up driving to Spiez after some visiting some train stations close by. We couldn’t get there in time and the ticket center had closed before we managed to reach there.
We managed to grab a few photographs of the wonderful town and headed back after picking up some snacks, wine and whiskey bottle at the store inside the station. We managed to get back to the apartment around 8:00 pm. It had started to rain heavily again and the roads had turned very misty with lot of fog and low visibility. It was time again for drinks and some music. The view from the balcony was pitch dark with background filled of cow bells as a never ending rhythm. We wondered how the cows fed 24/7 even in pitch darkness. By the time we realized, it was around 1:30 am and time to hit the bed and get up early for the most anticipated day trip to Jungfrau (top of Europe).
DAY-3 Jungfrau, Switzerland (Sunday, 08/16)
We got up a little late than expected and had to hurry getting ourselves ready and out of the door after a short and sweet breakfast. We drove to Grindelwald which was close to an hours drive to catch our train to Jungfrau. We managed to find the parking close to the Grindelwald grund station and collected our train “passport” tickets at the train station – a nice souvenir with each ticket. We had just missed a train and the next one was in an hours time. We decided to have our lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the station. It was pizza’s, pasta’s and sandwiches on the menu. After a lovely lunch, it was time to board the train for a round trip travel to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe from Grindelwald grund station. It was a rainy day and the mountains had dense fog.
The next 4-5 hours were wonderful and very scenic, watching the train pass through steep curves and winding tracks. The journey started by taking a unique, moderncogwheel railway to Kleine Scheidegg, 6762 feet up. From there, the Jungfrau railway climbed to the Eiger Glacier station, well known for its mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. Then continuing through the Eiger tunnel, only stopping to enjoy spectacular vistas on the way to the highest railway station in Europe – The Jungfraujoch, over 11,000 feet up, and called the Top of Europe.
We spent a couple of hours sightseeing at the Great Aletsch Glacier, Ice Palace, Ice Gateway, Sphinx observation terrace and high alpine research exhibitions. It’s a site to visit and a true marvel witnessing the construction at such a high altitude. Some of the views were breadth taking and would remember in our memories a lifetime. We clicked loads of photos and selphies. After the customary souvenir shopping, it was time to head down and get the last train back at 5:00 pm. We thoroughly enjoyed the day at 11,000 ft above sea level and would love to return some day in a lifetime.
It was daily routine of drinks and some home cooked food to end the day. Everyone was pretty tired and were in bed and fast asleep before anyone could realize.
DAY-4 Interlaken, Switzerland (Monday, 08/17)
Today was a day again to finish unfinished business from our last trip. The plan was to be spend a day in Interlaken and take a cruise on the scenic Aare River, between lakes Thun and Brienz in central Switzerland, and gateway to the Bernese Oberland. We planned to reach Interlaken in the afternoon. Everyone got up around 8 am and finished our breakfast well in time.
We got ready and spent sometime exploring the property we were staying and click few photos against the wonderful backdrop of the lush green mountains. The town was pretty much at the base of a ski lift station. Boys spent time playing in the park below and enjoying some fresh air. It had stopped raining after literally non-stop rain for the last 2 days. It was the first time we could see the surrounding mountains after the fog had cleared a bit.
We had our lunch at the McDonalds in Spiez. We reached Interlaken around 2 pm and managed to get an 1-1.5 hour cruise with a stop and short visit to the charming little village of Brienz. The boat ride was extremely scenic. We clicked loads of photographs and enjoyed a nice hot chocolate at the indoor cafe. All in all a wonderful and scenic view of the entire region between lakes Thun and Brienz.
The rest of the evening was spent window shopping and roaming the streets in Interlaken. We spent much of our time in the famous market street of the town. Nina managed to buy a very beautiful swiss watch at one of the watch galleries. Everyone was longing to have Indian food after few days of pasta and burgers. We managed to find a nice Indian restaurant named Taj Mahal after recommendation from salesman at a local Swatch store. The food was delicious though very expensive. We spent 200 swiss franc on a group of 4 adults and 2 kids. We returned back to the apartment around 11 pm.
DAY-5 Switzerland / Venice (Tuesday, 08/18)
It was time to say goodbye to Switzerland and start our journey to Venice, Italy. We cleaned up the apartment and checked out at 10:30 am sharp. The housekeeping lady was right on time and it was time to handover the key and hit the road for a long 550 km journey to Venice, Italy.
It was yet another rainy day and our GPS landed up taking us through a very hilly route. It was a little scary in the beginning as there were not many cars on the route and felt like going uphill in a completely different direction. To our surprise, the route landed up being very scenic. We stopped towards the top of the mountain and had a wonderful view of the waterfalls and a quick hot chocolate. The route eventually landed up saving time and bringing us right before the Gotthard tunnel.
The Gotthard tunnel is an engineering marvel. A tunnel 16.9 km long opened in the 1980’s is a year-round road link between central Switzerland and Milan. I landed up shooting a video of the drive through the tunnel. We were very lucky to not get stuck as the traffic flow through the tunnel is regulated and it is common to expect long delays. I drove for a couple of hours once we entered Italy and it was a nice badge to add to my driving career. The journey was pretty comfortable though rains followed us all along. We landed up stopping for lunch at the Autogrill – a highway food chain across Italy.
We reached Venice around 6:45 pm and checked into Hotel Centrale in Mestre. Mestre and its neighboring district of Marghera are regarded as mainland suburbs of Venice, although they’re part of the Comune di Venezia. Mestre is located at the foot of the causeway and railroad bridge that lead from the Italian mainland to Venice’s historic center.
After settling in and freshening up, we headed out to see Venice by night. We parked our car at a garage near the station and decided to take the bus into Venice. We didn’t need the car for the next 2 days and were able to find a nice and safe garage to park for the next 2 days. From Mestre, it’s easy to reach Venice’s historic center: Regional trains run often and take only 10 to 12 minutes to reach Venice. Public ACTV buses and the new Mestre-Venice Tram are also convenient.
We spent the evening roaming around the grand canal. We had the first taste of Italian pizza in the Bylanes of grand canal at a nice road-side restaurant. The kids managed to find a burger king and decided to eat a burger instead. There was a big thunderstorm as we waited for our bus back into Mestre. We reached back around 11:30 pm after opting for a cab ride from Mestre station to our hotel. We all crashed into our beds and were fast asleep after a long and tiring day.
DAY-6 Venice (Wednesday, 08/19)
After a long and tiring day, we all got up early and excited to spend a complete day in the lovely and charming city of Venice. We opted for buffet breakfast in the hotel which was descent and reasonably priced for €7. As we returned up to our rooms, there was a small incident with the fire alarm going off on our floor. Some guest on our floor had smoked in his room and we all had to vacate the floor until the fire personnel could come and disable the alarm.
After the short delay, we all left for Venice. We walked to Mestre station which was around a 15 minutes walk. Today we decided to take the train as we had already experienced the bus ride the previous night.
It was yet another rainy day. We just hadn’t been lucky with a 24 hour clear day on the trip so far. The train station in Venice was right on the grand canal street. We spent the entire day on the canal and visiting the by-lanes of Venice. The kids were pretty hungry in a short time and we landed up having our lunch in a very nice Italian restaurant. I opted for Pesto Pasta which was a delight. We also tried local Italian beer and wine. The highlight of the day was by far the Gondola ride. It had luckily stopped raining and we decided to have the ride before it turned too dark. The ride costed us €80 for 40 minutes and sounded reasonable by european standards. The guide was very knowledgeable and provided a great tour of the canals. The rest of the time was spent shopping for famous venetian masks and a nice leather handbag. Before we realized it was 8 pm and all of us were pretty tired. We took the train back and had dinner at a local Shawarma place outside Mestre station.
All in all a great day spent in one of the worlds most beautiful city.
DAY-7 Venice / Rome (Thursday, 08/20)
It was time to head out to the most awaited destination of our trip – historic city of Rome. We decided to stick to the breakfast in the hotel and checked out around 9;30 am. We enjoyed our stay at the no frills Centrale hotel. We picked up the car from the garage and headed out for yet another long trip of 540 km to Rome. Rains had vanished and it was the first clear day of the trip with wonderful weather and clear blue skies.
We halted just for lunch at Autogrill and once for coffee break. I managed to get a hours behind the wheel and enjoyed driving on the Italian highways keeping up in the range of 130-140 km/hr. We reached Rome around 4:30 pm and did not have much trouble reaching our hotel Trastevere. The Hotel Trastevere overlooks Piazza S. Cosimato and is located a few meters from Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, the real heart of Trastevere area in Rome. DJ and I headed out after checking in to find a garage to park our car. After few searching, we found a place in walking distance. It was an interesting fat guy who only spoke Italian. We were eventually able to find someone who could translate for us. The parking was reasonable and parked €60 for 2 and half days.
We spent rest of the evening at the near by Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was a wonderful square with a Church and lot of activities. We had dinner at a charming restaurant in the by-lanes and returned home for a good nights sleep.
DAY-8 Rome (Friday, 08/21)
This was BIG DAY of our trip. We had breakfast in the hotel which was part of the package. It was a gorgeous day with clear sky. It was in the 30’s and felt pretty hot in comparison to the other days in Venice and Switzerland. After some guidance at the hotel, we took the bus to Termini which we were told is the hub for all tourist hop-on buses. We landed up getting down in the middle after seeing the famous Victor Emmanuel monument in center of the city.
We spent the next hour visiting the victor emmanuel monument. It is a bombastic monument built with sparkling white marble from Botticino in the province of Brescia. It is decorated with numerous allegorical statues, reliefs and murals, created by artists from all corners of the country. We also visited Museum of the Risorgimento housed inside the monument and spent some time atop enjoying great views of the city.
We booked our tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus and decided to visit Trevi fountain and Spanish steps as our next stop. The kids were feeling hungry and the area around Trevi fountain offered great restaurants. The highlight was a BIG BEER mug which was eventually too big for my tummy. We spent sometime at the Trevi fountain which was under construction and then headed to Piazza di Spagna – the famous Spanish steps. We clicked a lot of wonderful pictures and had a great time enjoying the monuments.
From here, we headed to the Grand Colosseum. We hadn’t booked our tickets in advance and landed up spending around 30-40 minutes in the line. It was around 5:30 pm when we entered the Colosseum and were pretty much left with close to an hour to witness the marvel. We had a great time walking through the great structure. We managed to take a lot of pictures and selphies at the historic site. This place is truly a marvel and must visit for any one visiting Rome and Italy.
It was time to head back. We decided to hop on the bus and see the remaining city from the bus. The bus took us around Vatican City and other great monuments around the city. The bus tour ended at Termini. We took a cab back to our hotel in Trastevere. The night was spent having dinner at an Indian restaurant – Jaipur. The food was delicious and we all enjoyed hot and tasty Indian cuisine. It was great speaking to the owner of the restaurant who shared his experiences hosting some of bollywood’s greatest stars at the restaurant. It was a nice 10 minute walk back to our hotel. We all crashed in bed after a thoroughly enjoyable day in Rome.
We would surely love to be back and spend at least three to four days visiting all the monuments in the city.
DAY-9 Vatican City / Florence (Saturday, 08/22)
It was DAY-8 on the road and time to visit Vatican City. It was another gorgeous day with clear skies and temperature in the late 20’s. We checked out of the hotel around 10:00 am. We picked up the car from the Garage and parked it in front of the hotel with a plan to return from Vatican City and head out to Florence in the afternoon. We called a cab in the hotel that dropped us to Vatican City. We managed to book an apartment in Florence on booking.com as we waited for our cab to arrive.
The plan was to visit the most popular attractions, including the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, home to the Sistine Chapel. We decided to take a tour (What a life tour) that included the 3 attractions and helped us beat the long lines for getting into these places. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and provided great insight during the visit to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. The guide dropped us off before we entered the Basilica.
It is difficult to describe the beauty and grandness of the Museum and Chapel. The famous wall and ceiling art is a lifetime experience and must visit for any art enthusiast. Before we could realize, we had spent close to 4 hours in Vatican City. After clicking 100’s of photographs, it was time to take leave from Vatican City.
We took a cab back to our hotel and were on the road in no time. Due to traffic delays, the roughly 275 km drive to Florence took more than what we had planned. This meant the possibility of spending an evening around Florence had to be dropped. The views on the drive towards Florence were very scenic. We surely got a flavor of Tuscan style homes and castles on hill tops as we approached Florence. The apartment was in the middle of really narrow by-lanes of Florence. It took us a while to find the place and before the owner could find us and handover the keys – it was close to 8:00 pm. The apartment was a big surprise. It was a really chic apartment with a loft. The kids loved it a lot though all we had was a one night stay. We headed out for a nice dinner followed by Gelato ice-cream at a restaurant that was walking distance from our apartment.
It was yet another tiring day and everyone was off to sleep as the plan for next day was a trip to Pisa and a drive back to Germany.
DAY-10 Florence / Pisa (Sunday, 08/23)
We got up pretty early and headed out for a short sightseeing around Florence. We managed to visit The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which is a medieval bridge spanning the river Arno in Florence. It is one of the few remaining bridges with houses built upon. We clicked a few photographs before heading to Loggia dei Lanzi which is a beautiful arched gallery that was built in the 14th century at the Piazza della Signoria right in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
After spending a short while at the gallery, we left for our final destination in Italy – The leaning tower of Pisa. We reached Pisa around Noon and were able to get tickets for 3:15 pm to go up the Tower. We had couple of hours to look around the cathedral and small museum. We decided to spend sometime in the cathedral and the main square. We had lunch at the close by Indian cuisine restaurant named India. We timed it well and were at the entrance of the tower by 3 pm. It felt like quite a climb on our full stomach. There is a 297 step spiral staircase inside the tower leading to the top. There is nice view of the neighborhood from the top. We clicked selphies and enjoyed the short time spent at the leaning tower of Pisa. The plan was to leave by 3:00 pm so we could reach Germany by Midnight. We were a little late and landed up being on the road only by 4:45 pm. It was time for the long 900 km drive back to Bickenbach, Germany. DJ did all the driving and kept us on our feet with a couple of stops for Dinner and restroom break. We reached home around 2:00 am in the morning.
The awesome trip of Switzerland and Italy had come to an end. We now had few days to spend in Germany and spend sometime relaxing and taking it easy.
DAY-11 Germany (Monday, 08/24)
Everyone needed a day to unwind. DJ and I returned the rental car in the morning. There was no agenda for rest of the day. We pretty much stayed indoors watching a movie and taking an afternoon nap. The evening was spent grocery shopping at the local store with our friends. Night ended with a few beers and yummy home cooked food followed by a movie and lovely ice-cream for dessert.
DAY-12 Germany (Tuesday, 08/25)
We were still feeling tired and needed to rest some more. Morning was spent sipping into couple of rounds of tea and munching into sweets. In the afternoon we went to the local stadium and played some soccer. On the way back we visited his school. It was a nice 5 km walk and left a little satisfying as we hadn’t exercised for the last 10 days. The walk was through a nice road between fields and really good time to get some fresh air.
Evening was spent at home chit-chatting and watching music videos on YouTube and unfinished movie from the previous night.
DAY-13 Germany (Wednesday, 08/26)
The day was spent doing laundry and house clean up. Dj and Charu took us to the local Biergarten in the evening. It was in the adjacent town of Seeheim-Jugenheim. The place was called Seeheimer Waldgarten. We had a couple of rounds of beer in the outdoor open garden sitting. The boys had french fries and hot dogs. A wonderful evening spent have a nice relaxed time in the outdoors.
DAY-15 Bickenbach / DenHagg / Amsterdam (Thursday, 08/27)
Today was the day for a boys night out in Amsterdam. We left around 3:45 pm and were hit by severe rain through the journey. We had to meet one of DJ’s friend in DenHagg and spend the night in the city of canals. We reached only around 10:30 pm and after having a few beers, left for Amsterdam close to midnight. The next few hours were spent strolling around the red light district. Most places had closed and we eventually had Shawarma at a local restaurant and came back to DenHagg around 3 am.
DAY-16 DenHagg / Bickenbach (Friday, 08/28)
We had a good night sleep at DJ’s friends place. His apartment was right on the beach and the view was incredible. We left around 8:00 am in the morning and reached back to Germany around 2:00 pm.
It was the day of yummy lunch including the tasty Puran Polis made by Charu. We couldnt resist having a few rounds followed by a good afternoon nap. The day ended with yet another long party in the Cellar. Lots of drinking and dancing as our trip was coming to an end. Nina and Charu had their venetian masks on and everyone was pretty drunk by the time we returned back to our beds.
DAY-17 Frankfurt (Saturday, 08/29)
Our trip was coming to an end with only one day left, It was time for a day trip to Frankfurt. We spent the afternoon visiting Frankfurt downtown and had lunch at a Pakistani restaurant. We had nice mango flavor ice-cream in one the busy market streets and also visited a few sports shops in the city.
It brought back memories from our trip in 2004 when we visited my sisters place in Frankfurt. We returned back in the evening and spent rest of the evening watching photos from our trip and planning our next european vacation.
DAY-18 Frankfurt, Washington DC, New Jersey (Sunday, 8/30)
The day had finally arrived. The long trip was coming to an end. It was time to head back home and get back to reality. The last 2 weeks were incredible and wonderful with our close friends. Their new home is beautiful and it was great spending some awesome time together.
Learning from our experience, we decided to take the late afternoon flight so that it was easy and no early morning rush. We left the house around 1:00 pm. It was emotional as always and bid goodbye to our friends. DJ dropped us to the airport. The flight was on time and there were no surprises. We reached Washington DC 40 minutes before scheduled arrival. This gave us enough time to comfortably complete immigration and get to the gate for our final flight to Newark.
We landed around 11 pm and were back in home sweet home by Midnight. As we opened the door, it finally sinked in. The trip was truly over. I had to resume back at work next morning and there was no time left for feeling tired or having a jet lag.
Till the next trip – Adios for now! Danke Schön to DJ and Charu.