The joys of traveling teens
03.07.2010 - 20.07.2010 30 °F
Twenty two days, eleven hotels and one thousand miles by car was a daunhting trip to Switzerland and Italy that we planned with our teenage daughter and pre teen son. Many people feel that teens and tweens don't get anything out of the experience traveling abroad. Fortunately, we are enjoy spending time with them and try to give them a bigger picture of the world.
Armed with one Mac Pro, a Tom Tom GPS filled with maps of Italy and Switzerland we were prepared for everything except the heat wave that hit Europe!
There are basic rules that we have engrained in our head about overpacking. We tried to pair down to to basics but still managed to have four suitcases between us. Trying to heave them up the steps of trains is a great upper arm work out, even funnier is finding a rental car that will hold that many!
Our first stop for two nights was enchanting Zurich, Switzerland. My husband and I had been to other cities in Swizerland except for this tiny elegant city. We found it expensive but well worth the two days roaming around the narrow streets of shops and outdoor cafes that line the river Duc. The town looks like something out of Disneyland, very clean and cobblestone streets, flower boxes and swan gliding in the river and Lake Zurich. There are small water taxis that go up and down the river and give you a lazy view of the city. Great for kids and tired adults to take in the sights. There are large paddle wheel boats on Lake Zurich that give tourists a view of the city and the out lying neighborhoods. Our kids loved going to the market inside the main train station. This is one of the nicest train stations I have seen. A large market selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and of course, Swiss chocolates! This is the best place to buy food to have on the run and to take on picnics. There are also flowers and food stalls running on the outside of the station. They have many people to help you with Swiss Rail passes and giving the best tourist information in many languages. In order to save money, getting a Swiss Rail pass is an economical way for a family to traverse across the country. It can be used on busses, fairies, trains and the cable car finicular systems that take people up the beautiful mountains. We purchased a 9 day pass and used it everyday even if we didn't use it on the trains. There are hundreds of musuems and exhibitions that offer discounts with the pass too!
Our family loves Italian food. Our kids love good restaurants but trying to get them to eat Swiss cuisine wasn't going to happen. They hated the smell of kirsch in the melting cheese fondues that almost every Swiss restaurant offers. So in order to keep them happy and watch our wallets, we ate in two Italian restaurants while in Zurich. The prices compared to Los Angeles prices was comparable. The Swiss are not late eaters like in Italy or France. So make sure to get a table by 8 or 9pm. Our kids were exhusted from all of the walking, and sightseeing and this allowed my husband and I to go to the nearby hotel bar and have a beer outside and have adult time. We found a small old B&B called Hotel Arlette on Beim Hauptbahnhof and was a five minute walk from the main train station. It was old and shabby but, we were on a tight budget and getting two rooms in every place we stayed. The hospitality was wonderful and the breakfasts were delicious.
There are so many places to have a drink or a coffee and sit leisurely out on the cobblestone streets that line the river. The atmosphere is very relaxed and fun. We were surprised how many people in their early twenties and thirties reside there. Most people ride the trolly cars which is the main public transportation around the city. Of course, there are many luxury cars zipping around the narrow roads but people are very curtious to each other. There is a romantic old world charm mixed in with the modern luxury of banks, endless jewlery stores and well dressed inhabitants. Zurich was a favorite spot of our family and I am certain we will return there again.
One important note about train travel in the summertime in Switzerland is to make reservations in advance for the most popular destinations! We had a travel agent at home book our assigned seats from Zurich to Interlaken on the scenic train traveling on the Brunig Pass. It turns out Interlaken in the summertime is a popular destination for people in very warm countries to come and cool off. We traveled during a heat wave and the temperatures were in the upper 80's! This is an unusual occurance and we brought jackets, scarves and thermals checking the weather before we left twice and suddenly, we were unprepared for the heat! Needless to say we never unpacked the suitcase with the cold weather clothes and wore shorts, light skirts and short sleeved shirts the entire trip. Interlaken is a good base town to stay if you have kids and teens that like to walk around at night and window shop and hang out. Otherwise, staying in the small hamlets like Mirren and Greindwald are for you. I highly recommend staying in Interlaken if you don't plan on skiing or snowboarding but want to get up to the mountains for day hikes and enjoying nature in complete isolation. We found a small but friendly and well located bed and breakfast in the main part of Interlaken near a park, restaurants and shops. They are open in the evenings since all of the large hotels cater to a rich crowd. If you are on a budget, staying at the small b&b's work out great. The rooms are very small and getting two rooms is the only way you can travel with kids. Most places don't allow children to share a room unless they are under the age of 10 and of course there is just one of them. If you are familiar with the sizes of most budget hotels in Europe, you know that the rooms are sparten and don't offer much in comforts of American style budget hotel chains. The place we stayed was run by a man from Mexico of all places and he had an authentic Mexican restaurant downstairs with killer drinks and guacamole! It was called El Azteca on Jungfraustrasse 30. It is a ten minute bus ride from the train station.
We stayed in Interlaken for two nights and three days and managed to see all of the town and took the train to the beautiful nearby villages and not to be missed Trimelbach waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen. These waterfalls feed from seven glaciers and create one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. There is a bus that takes you from the local train station right to the parking lot. Using our Swiss pass, we entered the elevator that is carved into the mountain and takes you up five chutes and then you take stairs that wind around and into the mountain. Once you get to the top, the views of the Lauterbrunnen valley is breathtaking. This is a day trip that shouldn't be missed! After you decend to the parking lot, there is a small cafe that serves snacks and coffee and you can sit and relax in the grass. I would recommend taking a picnic lunch or waiting until you get back to Lauterbrunnen and have lunch at one of the small cafes.
Our kids were exhusted after the falls and wanted to go back on their own to the hotel in Interlaken. My husband and I let them go on a bus to the train station and then walk back to the hotel. We were a little worried about them losing their way but our 12 year old son has a good sense of direction. Many people in the smaller villages don't speak English so be prepared to speak a little German or French, it goes a long way.
Traveling by train is a great way to see the sights and relax. Sometimes traveling by train can take too long and boring. We were advised to take the Glacier Express to St. Moritz. This train is not express or do you ever see any glaciers! I certainly wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of 50! It literally takes 7 and a half hours and the scenery is the same almost the entire trip. The only way to get to St. Moritz all the way from Zermatt is by car or plane. I think we would have left this off the itenerary if we knew how excruiating it would be.
St. Moritz is great to go to if you ski or are into winter sports, pass on it for the summer. It is very expensive and not worth seeing with kids or teens. We continued on to Lugano by PostBus which was made by reservations at home. They are a popular way to travel across from the border between Switzerland and Italy. It was a highlight of the entire trip! Very comfortable and easy. We got on at the train station and it was full of people from Japan, China and a few locals. We drove down winding roads that pass through Lake Como and smaller beach front towns along the route to Italy. The three and a half hour ride was only 18 US dollars including the reservations for the seats.