A Travellerspoint blog

Switzerland and Italy with Fighting Tweens & Teens

The joys of traveling teens

sunny 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.

Posted by Sheryl W 16:30 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Switzerland and Italy Here We Come! With 3 Teens Oh Boy

We are finally planning our next trip to Europe for this summer. With the Euro in our favor we decided to cash in our frequent flier miles and go for 16 days.
Our kids haven't been to Switzerland yet and I am looking forward to taking them on a more nature inspired trip this time around. My husband is worried that they might be bored since they are used to going to fast paced cities. We live in the heart of Los Angeles and they are pretty sofisticated.
We are starting out in Zurich and heading by train to the Interlaken to hike glaciers and take the scenic trains over the mountain passes, then headed to the Matterhorn in Zermatt and then going to either Lugarno or Tincinto on the Italian Swiss boarder. We are going to use the trains in Swizterland since they are much faster then the old days that my husband and I traveled on over 20 years ago. Except for the train that takes 6 hours of traveling on mountain passes, we want to see as much as possible before heading down to Italy. We will be renting a car in Italy since we want to visit northern Italy ie: Verona, Lombardy and Milan and then head down to our favorite spot: The Cinque Terre and spend a night in Monteroso. Our daughter is bringing her friend to join our family and my husband and I hope to get some nights out on our own with the help of our 18 year old daughter and her friend watching our 12 year old son. Hopefully they won't want to go to any discos or clubs???
Please tell me we are crazy to take them along???
We believe in family vacations and want to expose them to culture and deversity as much as possible. We travel on a tight budget and are putting them in a triple room while we have some privacy and peace. This is the first time we are getting 2 rooms!
I will add more information about our itenary as I plan the days and towns we actually decide to sleep at soon. We have to start booking rooms in the Interlaken soon, they fill up fast. It is the most popular spot to visit in the summertime in Switzerland.

Posted by Sheryl W 21:49 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Taking the Train verses Renting a Car in Europe

Before we left for our three week trip to Europe two summers ago. We planned all of the towns and cities that we wanted to visit before we left. The reason that we did this was to decide if we should buy a Eurail Pass purchase tickets separately or rent a car. When we went to the web site of the rail in France and Italy we decided that it would not be cost effective to purchase a Eurail pass. If you are going to spend several days in one city and travel to little towns nearby, it is much less expensive to purchase tickets separately. We bought some of the long destination tickets at home through RailEuropeand had them mailed to us. If you know exactly where you are going in advance it can save you time and help make sure that there is seat availability on popular trains during the summer months. The summer is the busiest time to travel in Europe and if you are going to wait until you get there to buy tickets, your time and date may not be available. Traveling between popular spots like Florence to Rome, Paris to Cannes or Nice or the Eurostar "The Chunnel" between London and Paris. You can book it advance. Sometimes this can save you money since you are not going to use your credit card overseas and they charge you a transaction fee for each time you use your card. If you want to buy the tickets for small trips to local destinations like Cannes to Monte Carlo, or Nice to the surrounding areas, you can go to the local train station and purchase your tickets at an automated machine or go to the counter and ask for help. Most places that we stopped at on our trip spoke some English. We purchased our train tickets for the Trip from Florence to Rome in advance too. This is a very popular destination to travel between.
While we were in Tuscany, We decided it would be necessary to rent a car to visit the small hill towns. We stayed in a very isolated area 5 miles north of Pisa in an Argracultral Turismo, a farm style house with an amazing restaurant and acres of land, swimming pool etc. We definately needed a car to get there. I contacted a few places in Italy and the cheapest price was a company called Maggiore which is connected to Avis. My husband got an international drivers license at the Automobile Club. It is important to get this before you leave the states. They gave us a great compact car and we had no problem driving on the roads in Italy.
The only important thing to be careful for is driving into Florence without a special permit given from the rental car agency. They need to notify the police that you will be driving into downtown Florence. It is very important to find out which areas that traffic isn't allowed. We personally received six traffic tickets which where mailed to us six months after our trip. It showed the photo of our rental driving on the restricted streets. We were trying to return our car to a local rental location which was in the heart of the city. Our rental agency never told us to beware. I am telling you!

Posted by Sheryl W 19:22 Archived in Italy Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Great Places in Paris to visit with kids

Take them To Chateau Versailles for a full day and evening of excitement.

My kids were 16 and 8 when we went to Paris with them for the first time. They love traveling to new places. We always try to keep in mind that what is interesting to adults may not be to them. My husband and I have seen all of the many museums in Paris on several past trips. We know that our kids are not that fond of going to them. So we managed to show them art and culture without stepping into a single museum! We only had 4 days in Paris and we wanted to show them the best of Paris. On our first full day in Paris we took the local train RER to Versailles instead of going with a tour. It was a great experience for all of us! We took the inexpensive metro train from Ecole Militaire which was a few blocks from our hotel. There is a special train that takes you into Versailles and then you get off and walk approx three quarters of a mile. Just follow the crowds. It is best to purchase your tickets for Versailles at the train station. This will save you so much time. The lines are incredibly long to purchase tickets. Our kids loved the palace and the Hall of Mirrors made for a great family photo! We spent hours wondering the rooms going to the gardens and the PetitTrianon the small cozy palace that Marie Antoinette stayed at. The grounds are so enormous that there is a cute little train that you can ride that takes to you to other parts of the property. You can rent small boats or just run around carefree. There are plenty of snacks to be bought from crepes to sandwiches.
If you come in the summer, there is a light show that is similar to the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, mega style. There are probably fifteen fountains that are light up to music and lights. You do have to pay extra for this show if you are coming in the later part of the day.
We spent the entire day visiting and it was worth it. My kids loved paintings and the grounds. Even they appreciated the art.
Back to Paris for more fun!
After our long day at the Palace, we went back to Paris and went to the Eiffel Tower and walked around the the park and bought annoying light up replicas of the tower. It was packed with kids tourists and locals. There is a great carousel across the street and it is a great place for kids to run around before you stand in line to go up the tower. There usually is a long line to go up but if you have never done it, your kids will love it!

Our kids love to shop as do most American kids these days. So we took them to see one of the most famous streets in Paris, the Champs de Elysees. It has changed over the years since our last visit to Paris. The side walk cafes are still there, but the tables no longer face the street to watch all of the people passing by.They have every major store that they have in large cities in America. Nike Town was a big hit for my kids. They loved buying the Nike shirts from Paris and many of the shoes are different than at home. The prices were just about the same comparing the dollar to the euro. Mono Prix is a great budget store similar to K-Mart or Target. They carry discount clothes, cosmetics and great hair care products that cost a lot more back in the States. They have a market down stairs and the staff is friendly and helpful. Another great store is Petit Bataux. They sell quality cotton basic clothes like t shirts and sweaters for women and kids. They items last forever and are a great buy. If you are a fan or not, you have to stop in the Mac Donalds on the Champs de Elysees! We went upstairs and bought a coke just to rest our feet and people watch. It is funny to order the items you normally see at home. My kids would not eat there but having a coke and using the bathrooms are worth the stop. It is a pretty posh location as far as Mac Donald's go. They have two floors and if you sit upstairs, you can see the action down below.
We walked with the kids up the boulevard to the Arc de Triomphe. This famous arc has four main arteries of traffic flowing through it. You can cross the street and pay to take an elevator to the top. Just standing across the street from it at the end of Avenue Champs de Elysees and watching all of the cars navigating through it is amazing. At the opposite end of the fashionable Avenue is Jardins deTuileries. This long strip of park has a great calming effect on cranky kids. There are many shade trees and they have plenty of places to sit and relax and have a snack. It is a great place to bring a Nerf ball and find some kids to hang with.
One great area to take kids in Paris is Boulevard St. Michele. If you live in a college town, you will feel right at home. There are movie theatres, pizza and fast food places for a budget lunch on the go. It is fun here at night too. Sorbonne University is near by. There are the famous crepe stands where you order a fresh made crepe with Nutula or melted cheese or Grand Marnier (6euros) and powdered sugar. My kids fought over these daily. Every neighborhood has great boulangeries to purchase a baguette of bread or a pastry. You are better off buying water and soda if your kids really need them from the local markets or tiny stores. Buying them in the parks and snack shops will add up to $5 a soda! You can actually buy a bottle of wine for less than a coke in a restaurant. We went to the little market down the street from our hotel everyday. We bought healthy snacks and water and brought a fold up insulated tote bag with us and filled it when we went on long day trips away from our hotel. It will save you tons of money. When you are walking every where and running around with kids, they get thirsty and hungry often.

Posted by Sheryl W 13:25 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Make Sure to Check Your Train Tickets before You Leave Home!

Paris Eurostar Tickets purchases online... Check the dates before you purchase!

After a wonderful five days in London with my family and our friend Todd, we were so excited to go to our next destination: PARIS!
We left our hotel in West London by taxi to the train station to catch the Eurostar aka the Chunnel to Paris leaving at 3 P.M. The five of us handed over our tickets to the girl to board the train to Paris when she handed them back to me and shook her head and handed them back to me. "I am sorry madam but these tickets are not for today's departure."
I almost passed out right on the spot! "What do you mean they are not for today's departure?" I asked in a panic.
She showed me the date on the tickets which was for three days from now. I said so what do we need to do to change them? Go to the ticket office and you will have to purchase new tickets for today. Of course, it was too late to get on the 3 o'clock train, so we would not get out until 5:30. When I explained this to my husband and our friend they couldn't believe it. I was so careful to double check all of the train tickets for our three week trip through three countries and I missed the most important one. This was a huge mistake on my part! After waiting patiently for my turn, the French Eurostar employee informed me that since my tickets were purchased three months ago and they were non refundable, I would not be reimbursed for any of the three hundred dollars I spent on them. The worst was yet to come.... The new tickets which like airline tickets that are purchased without any advance purchase were going to cost us $900 u.s. dollars!!!! I almost cried right there. She told me to bring them to the train station in Paris and see if they could stamp them and mark them unused, perhaps someone there could help us.
My husband didn't talk to me for the rest of the day. I felt horrible. So the moral of the story is triple check your tickets when you purchase them yourself on the Eurostar web site. They are non refundable and it will cost you a king's ransom if you walk up to the station and try to buy one at the last minute like we did.

When we arrived in Paris, we all piled into a cab, yes, five of us! We arrived at 9 and the sun had just gone down. All of the Paris lights came on and we hurried to our hotel by the Eiffel Tower on the left bank of Paris. Hotel de la Paix 19 rue du Gros Caillou down the block from many great bistros and restaurants. The hotel was in a street that looked like a little alleyway. It had a friendly staff mostly French speaking. The rooms were small but clean and comfortable. We paid 150 euros for four people in one room. It had a nice private bath, air conditioning and a T.V. The most important thing about the hotel was it's location! Two blocks from the Metro, and Five blocks from the Eiffel Tower, Rue de Cler which is a great place for food, wine, cheese and snacks. Great for saving money and making picnics in the park and snacks for our hungry kids. Buy a Metro Card for daily use or one for a few days depending on how much time you will be spending in Paris. Kids are free on the Metro. It is a great way to see everything. It is so easy to use and very safe. We went at midnight from the Les Halles area (Pigale) and the subway was packed with teens and old people. Everyone was helpful and gave us directions. I speak French but the rest of the group didn't. They managed just fine.

Posted by Sheryl W 16:43 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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