Italy and Germany Week 3: Milan thru Frankfurt, Germany

The tour ended the morning of the 26th but Ginni and I had decided to extend our trip with two nights in Milan; Allan and Jeannette were meeting us there and I was traveling with them to their home in Freiburg, Germany after touring of Milan. Tauck provided us with a water taxi which took us to the local train station. Their representative got us on a train to Milan where we grabbed a taxi, checked into our hotel called Best Western Hotel Galles Plus, and got another taxi to the Duomo area where we met up with Jeannette and Allan for our 5-hour city walking tour. We saw the inside of the La Scala Opera House, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Monastery of S. Maria de Grazie, explored the roofs and inside of the Duomo. After the tour, we found a delightful place to drinks and snacks.

Looking at stage of Opera House

The Last Supper

Farrari’s Life of Jesus Wall

Duomo of Milan

Looking down from roof of Duomo

Jeannette and I on the roof

When we went to leave, I discovered my purse had been stolen; after checking the places we had been previously without finding it, we walked to the closest police station to report the theft but they were closed so we ventured to Questura di Milano station which was open. After two hours of waiting, Allan and I talked to a very nice policeman who filed the necessary reports and gave me copies. My purse had a wallet which contained passport, credit card, debit card, drivers license, and some euros; my camera was also in the purse. The major concern was the loss of the passport for identification purposes for traveling thru Switzerland, Germany, and getting home the next Saturday; luckily, I had brought another credit card with me “just in case” which was back at the hotel along with more euros. After reporting the theft, we found a place for dinner. Returned to the hotel and, as Allan and I was contacting the credit and debit card companies via Skype, a woman called our room to inform us her husband had recovered my purse on the metro and she would bring it by in the morning. We were hoping my passport would be in there but, if not, we would change plans and stay another day in Milan in order to apply for a temporary passport at the US Consulate which was closed on Monday due to Memorial Day. The hotel had made a copy of my passport when I checked in so that would help enormously if I did not get the passport back.

On Sunday, Ginni and I took a day tour to Lake Como while the kids stayed in Milan. We departed from Milan onboard an English speaking bus, reaching the charming village of Como; Como. We explored the historical center, with stops at the most important monuments like the ancient Basilica of Sant’Abbondio.  After the tour, we wandered thru some shops and stopped at a seaside restaurant for coffee and pastry. Then we boarded a boat to enjoy a nice cruise on the lake which is the third largest in Italy; Lake Como.  As we cruised, we ate lunch of fresh perch while listening to a negative on the all the villages and homes we passed. The last stop we made was the village of Bellagio where we wandered thru the shops, had gelato, and sat on a bench located on the waterfront promenade.

View from the coach

The boat of our cruise

One of the villages from our boat

George Clooney’s Villa

We returned to Milan; my purse was at the hotel but it did not have my passport; my wallet and memory card within the camera that had the last two weeks of touring were taken but all other items in the purse were intact. For some reason, the card was removed but the batteries and extra memory card were not which seemed strange. We found a place not too far from the hotel for a very pleasant evening meal; after eating, we went back to the hotel where the kids and I made arrangements for next night’s lodging since we had to stay an additional day in Milan.

Ginni was leaving for home on Monday so we were up early in order for her to prepare for her one hour ride to the airport at 7:00 a.m. Went down to the lobby with Ginni where her driver was waiting; we said our good byes and she was on her way to the airport and home in St. Louis.  It was raining but that did not stop Allan from walking over to help me transfer my luggage to another hotel for that evening; because we needed to extend another night, both places where we had been staying wanted to charge an exorbitant rate so we found another Best Western hotel that had availability for all of us at not such an exorbitant rate. The rain stopped and we had a very pleasant day exploring Milan on foot.  Found some beautiful gardens and a contemporary sculpture which is unusual in Milan where everything is quite ancient.

Porta Sempione,  a city gate

Allan and Jeannette

Turtles in pond of the city gardens

Sforgesco Castle

Castle within the courtyard

Contemporary Sculpture

Remaining medieval wall and gate of the city

Po River flowing through channel in Milan

We also located the US Consulate (US Consulate) so we would know where to walk early the next morning.

On the 29th, we had breakfast and walked to the consulate where we arrived at 8:10. The kids could not enter the building with me and, after 1.5 hours, I walked out with a 1-year temporary passport.

Got It!

We then spent over an hour getting out of Milan because of heavy traffic; Jeannette was driving and had the patience of a saint! It was close to lunch time so we stopped at Burmet Bistro at Lomazzo, Italy for a sandwich and beer.

Lunch stop

Drove into Switzerland; what a beautiful country! Allan switched places with me so I could have a front seat view of the awesome, beautiful countryside we were driving through. Around 2:30, we arrived at Lucerne, a compact city in Switzerland known for its preserved medieval architecture, where we spent time exploring and shopping. It sits amid mountains on Lake Lucerne; its Old Town is bordered on the north by Musegg Wall (a 14-century rampart) and the covered Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River’s right bank. Absolutely beautiful!

Scene from the car

The three of us on the waterfront Lucerne

Lake with mountains in background

Lots of places to eat and drink

Chapel Bridge

City scene

Left Lucerne, drove into Germany, and arrived in Freiburg.   I checked into the Mercure Hotel Panorama, we ate at a Thai place called Rose Restaurant for dinner, and returned to the hotel in time to watch the sunset from my balcony.

Sunset from my balcony

Hotel from path below

The hotel is very nice and has trails into the Black Forest right behind it; however, there was a problem with water pressure and lack of hot water in the bathroom.

Wednesday, the 30th, I walked from the hotel to the kids home which is about 1 mile away. Got a tour of their home; very nice and airy with a wonderful balcony for sunset viewing. And then we walked and walked and walked; through Freiburg’s botanical gardens, by Jeannette’s work place at the University, thru the farmers market and shops, and various points of interest. This included Freiburg Minster Cathedral, Martinstor which is a medieval city gate, Merchants Hall, splash pool where the Old Synagoge stood, and the little waterways called Bachle. We also went to the train station and found out what platform/area I would leave from on Friday for Frankfurt. We had lunch at the Hausbrauerei Feierling which is a beer garden with large outdoor seating area within their courtyard.

City gardens

Allan and Jeannette ready to go

Top of Minster Cathedral

Merchant Hall

Inside the cathedral

Martinstor, medieval city gate

Lunch break

Splash pad where Old Synagoge was

Little waterways called Bachle in Old Town

In the evening, we had dinner at Das Vorderhaus, a German restaurant not far from the kids; very good food but the spaetzle was not as good as what Jeannette’s father makes. It started to rain so the kids drove me back to the hotel where I discovered we had walked close to 17,000 steps. No wonder I was tired!

Thursday was my last full day in Freiburg so we journeyed out of town to the Burgruine Staufen Castle which is about 30 minutes away. We parked in a lot and walked up hill to the castle. Allan and I climbed the tower and was treated to a wonderful view of the countryside. Walked into the town of Staufen; because it was a German holiday called Corpus Christi, no shops were open but eating places and live music in the square were. We decided to eat lunch at Kornhaus, one of the restaurants, and take the food we had brought for a picnic back to the kids for our evening meal.

Entering castle ruins

Looking out and over the countryside

View from upper tower

Walls still standing

Countryside view

Main street of Staufen with castle in background

Waiting for lunch

Neumagen River flowing thru part of town

Got back to Freiburg mid-afternoon and, after driving by Allan’s place of employment, we went to the kids home. After spending a few hours talking and reading, I decided to walk back my hotel before the projected rain started. The walk was uphill the whole way but I made it without incident. Spent the evening in my room reading, finalizing packing, and relaxing while rain fell down outside.

The kids came to my hotel for a tasty, leisurely breakfast buffet on Friday. We gathered my luggage, checked out, and returned to their place for conversation and reading before leaving for the train station early afternoon. Got to the station, and waited for my train that would take me to the Frankfurt airport and an overnight at the Sheridan within Terminal 1. Got on the train with Allan’s assistance and finally located my seat once the train was underway. I was in a first class compartment which seated four; I was alone until the second stop when a woman originally from Hungary but living in Germany came on board and we had a very interesting conversation. Arrived at the train station located beside Terminal 1 of the airport, retrieved my luggage, and walked to the Sheridan. Frankfurt Airport is quite huge so anywhere you walk seems like you have gone for miles. After settling into my room, walked into the terminal so I could discover where I needed to check in the next day for my flight home. After a glass of wine in my room, I called room service for my evening meal. My vacation was great but, after being gone for 3 weeks, I was feeling quite strongly about wanting to be home to my own bed and the cats.  Was very tired so lights were out for the night by 9:30. Got up Saturday, took a shower, had some coffee, checked out, and walked to check in for my flight home. Flight left Frankfurt on time so the day was spent traveling. Arrival and processing through Customs in Chicago was completed with minimal disruption; after 2-hour layover, I was on my way to Cedar Rapids where Mary and Joe picked me up.  After a brief stop to pick up some food for my bare refrigerator, we were driving west; heading toward home and my cats.

Italy and Germany Week 2: Orvieto thru Venice, Italy

On Friday, the 18th, we departed Rome about 8:30 heading for Orvieto. At Orvieto, we visited the Duomo of Orvieto, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral built over a span of 300 years. We explored the town and met for lunch at Trattoria La Grotto. After lunch, we departed for Perugia driving through wine-producing regions of Umbria.

Duomo of Orvieto

Inside of duomo

Pipe organ in Duomo

Beautiful countryside

Arrived at our hotel around 4:30; the hotel is called Alla Posta Dei Donini and is two renovated villas dating back to the 17th century. We attended a private recital in the music room; it was a trio who played piano, violin, and sang. Excellent performance! Dinner was in the hotel dining room with Rich, Susan, Armanda, Scott, Ginni, and myself.

Saturday we toured the well-preserved medieval hillside town of Assisi. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant art and architecture. We was given a guided tour of the Basilica of St. Francis and the historic center of Assisi.

Country village

Basilica of St. Francis

Gate into walled city of Assisi

Ginni, Linda, and I found a place where we ordered pizza and wine for our lunch. We took a leisurely stroll toward our meeting point, stopping and browsing in various stores. Upon return to our hotel, we got ready for a private wine tasting featuring locally produced Umbrian wine. Dinner was in the dining room with Gary, Cathy, Armanda, Scott, and ourselves.

The day of the 20th started with our checking out of our hotel and traveling through the rolling Tuscan landscapes, stopping in the country village of San Gimignano. We had about 2 hours of free time so we wandered through various shops, stopping to purchase our favorite Italian pastime of gelato. Lunch at at a restaurant that had a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside. Time get away from us so we only had time to eat part of our lunch, asking for take out for the rest. Drove for a few more hours and arrived in Viareggio and our hotel for the night, Hotel Principe di Piedmonte.   After arriving to our room, we took a walk along the promenade in the seaside resort town with the Mediterranean providing miles of beach front. In the evening, we met up with Nancy, Jeff, Pam, Bob, Lynn, and David for dinner in the hotel dining room at 7:30.

Monday, the 21st, started with our checking out and on the bus by 8:30. We arrived in La Spezia which has a port for our start off point for Cinque Terre. It was a beautiful morning and, fortunately, the weather permitted us to cruise along the Italian Rivera for great views of the coast en route to the village of Vernazza for free time. Cinque Terre was only accessible by sea for hundreds of years; there are five fishing villages nestled between the Mediterranean blue water and rugged coastline. Upon arrival at Vernazza, we wandered some of the side streets with our guide and then broke off for some shopping and lunch at a restaurant where Anna had made us reservations.

Leaning Tower of Pisa in distance

Church on top of cliff within Cinque Terre

One of villages of Cinque Terre

Village of Vernazza

View of Vernazza harbor from upper hillside


We took the train back to La Spezia and boarded our coach for the journey to Florence. Arrived in Florence shortly before 5:00, checked into the Hotel Brunelleschi for a three-night stay. Anna walked us to nearly Ristorante II Caminetto where Nancy, Jeff, Amanda Scott, Gary, Kathy, and ourselves had 7:00 reservations. Walked back to the hotel after dinner and retired for the evening.

We rose around 7:00 on Tuesday morning so we could have coffee and breakfast before attending an art lecture within our hotel; the guest presenter gave an excellent briefing about Florence’s Renaissance period. We were joined by local guides who walked us through central Florence, with rain pouring down, on our way to Accademia where there are collections of works by many great artists of the 14th and 15th century along with Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. The sculpture of David is amazing; 17 feet tall and weight of 9 tons because it is all marble. Our guide directed out of the museum and pointed out other points of interest in the area.


Facial view of David

Interesting angle of facial expression and eyes

After our guide departed, Anna walked those of us who choose to another square where there are many leather, jewelry, and souvenir shops along with restaurants. Ginni and I choose a restaurant within the square and had an enjoyable lunch. We wandered our way back to the hotel and prepared for a wine-tasting reception hosted by Salvatore Ferragamo at 4:45. The wife of Salvatore Ferragamo, Jr. greeted us at the door of their boutique; she gave us a description of the Ferragamo family success and explained various shoes that were displayed. We walked to a close by hotel owned by the family and had a delightful reception filled with nibbles and wine.

Wednesday, the 23rd, we were greeted in the lobby by a local guide who walked us to the Uffizi Gallery. Originally a suite of offices, it was first used to display the Medici family’s private art treasurers in 1581 which makes it the oldest art gallery in the world. We sawed works of the Italian Renaissance which included Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michangelo’s The Holy Family, Bellini’s Allegory and Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch.

Birth of Venus

Madonna of Goldfinch

Michangelo’s The Holy Family


The afternoon was spent exploring; Ginni and I headed across one of the walking bridges on our way to explore their botanical gardens. After lunch, we continued on our journey but turned back because it started to rain. That evening we had dinner at the Ristorante Paoli.

Bridge we crossed on way to botanical gardens

We were leaving Florence on Thursday heading to Venice. After luggage was picked up and we had breakfast, we went by minivan to the train station for a two hour train ride to Venice. Arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia train station around 12:20. We took water taxis to our hotel for the next two nights called Bauer Hotel. After storing our hand carries, we had lunch on the hotel’s open terrace. A local guide met us for a guided tour of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. Another overwhelming experience with lots of people.

St. Mark’s Square

Ceiling in room of Doge’s Palace

Statues on wall

Where wall and ceiling meet in room of Doge’s Palace

Back at the hotel, we were given a key to our room where we relaxed and changed for the evening’s farewell dinner at Antico Martini. Our dinner companions were Amanda, Scott, and Anna.

Friday, the 25th, was a lazy morning of getting ready for the day. We had breakfast around 8:30 and met up with the rest of the group at 9:45 for a walk with Anna to a glass blowing factory where we were given a demonstration of this amazing art. We browsed through the various showrooms and both of us did purchase an item. We wandered back to the central square but there were so many people that we decided to take the hotel shuttle to another island across from Venice where we found a delightful, quiet place for lunch. Back in Venice, we got ready for the evening gondola ride, farewell reception at the hotel, and visit to Basilica of St. Mark.

On the gondola

Door view of place from the gondola

Outdoor patio and statue as seen from gondola

Ginni and I on gondola

Basilica of St. Mark

Marble entrance to basilica

Small part of ceiling

Part of wall within the basilica

Beautiful sanctuary wall

The tour will end tomorrow morning and we will be departing to Milan.  NOTE: My thanks to Jeff for supplying his pictures of the tour; as you will find out in my week 3 post, my pictures would become unavailable.

Italy and Germany Week 1: Naples thru Rome

Ginni, my friend from St. Louis, and I were so impressed with the tour provided by Tauck to Cuba that we decided to sign up for a tour of Italy.

Map of places going to on tour

The tour did not start until the evening of May 13th but we like to have an additional day calculated into the itinerary due to potential transportation problems so we left on Friday, May 11th, and arrived in Naples, Italy around 11:30 a.m. on the 12th. After retrieving our luggage and going through Customs, which did not have any personnel checking, we were met by a Tauck representative. She called our driver and took us to the pick up point; we were headed to Sorrento where we had reservations at Grand Hotel La Favorita. Sorrento is approximately an hour’s drive from Naples.

Our hotel was quite nice with beautiful furnishings and lovely gardens. After checking in, we settled into our room and went to the Bellavista Terrace within the hotel for lunch. It is a restaurant located on the top floor on a panoramic terrace. After lunch, we got directions to the nearest wine store where we each purchased a bottle of wine. Went back to the hotel and took a couple hour nap. After having a glass of wine on our balcony, we headed to Trattonia Del Moni for our 8:00 dinner reservation made by a hotel representative who highly recommended the establishment. Very small and clean, we had a delicious meal outside in a very relaxing atmosphere. Had a nightcap on our balcony before retiring for the night.

Sunday we sleep late; got ready for the day and arrived at the breakfast buffet right before their closure time of 10:00 a.m. After eating, we ventured out of the hotel to explore. Surprising, many shops opened in the main center of town. Shops and restaurants opened along the narrow streets which was filled with people and seemed to stretch for miles. Returned to our hotel shortly after 1:00; read over literature given to us by our tour guide and corrected any errors on the required paperwork. Went to a liquor store to purchase a local liquor made of lemons which is a delicacy of the region. That evening, met our fellow tour members and guide at a reception put on by Tauck in the hotel’s lobby area. We walked to the L’Antica Trattoria restaurant for our welcome dinner. Wonderful food in a beautiful setting; all four courses were delicious.

Monday was an early start day; after getting a quick cup of coffee, we left the hotel lobby at 7:45 a.m. for a day drive along the Amalfi Coast. Our first stop was around 9:30 where a couple members of our tour recommended we purchase a piece of lemon cake at one of Tahoe establishments which we did and it was delicious. The region is known for their production of lemons so there is lots of lemon food made including the pasta we were served in a lemon shell the evening before. Also, we found a shop where I purchased something for Savanna that was made by the merchant. We had lunch at Cumpa Cosimo in Ravello. After lunch we went to Villa Rufolo where we explored architecture, gardens, and tower of this ancient villa.

Along the coast

Gardens at villa

View from terrace of villa

The group gathered at the meeting place at the correct time and we returned to Sorrento. Ginni and I went back to a store to purchase an item to give folks back home. We then packed as much as we could to have our luggage ready for pick up at 6:30 a.m.   We were on our own for dinner so went to a place called Parrucchiano where we split a lasagna and salad.

Tuesday, the 15th, we rose early to have luggage out for pick up at 6:30. After breakfast, we departed for Rome. On the way, we stopped at Pompei for a tour of the architectural ruins. Pompei   Great tour, even with rain coming down, and a fantastic guide. Lunch was in Pompei at Ristorante II Principe. Boarded the bus and rode for 3.5 hours to Rome, stopping in between for a restroom break. Got to our hotel, Grand Hotel de la Minerva, checked in and settled into our room. Met the group in the lobby for a walk to our dinner at Enoteca & Tavena Capranica; excellent food among wonderful eating companions, Jeff and Nancy/Amanda and Scott.

Wednesday was leisure time so we slept late, had breakfast, and joined our tour director, Anna, for an optional walk to the Trevi fountain and Spanish Steps.

Trevi Fountain

Beautiful morning and I walked up all the steps for a fantastic view of Rome.  Spanish Steps   Ginni and I grabbed a sandwich at a local shop that we shared in our room for lunch. Met up with the group in the lobby for a walk to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. We then board our coach for the ride to the Colosseum; we got in a private entrance so avoided the long lines of people wanting to purchase tickets for admittance.  Colosseum   Spent a couple hours touring the ruins and then we returned to the hotel. Met in the lobby for a walk to the Piazza Navona and dinner at Tre Scalini. Dinner companions were Bob and Pam, David and Lynn, Amanda and Scott, and Ginni.

We rose at 7:00 this morning; after dressing, I went up to the restaurant for breakfast. Ginni joined me later. We met in the lobby at 8:30 for our journey to St. Peter’s Basilica. What a beautiful place! There has been an addition added to the original Michelangelo church which is difficult to notice unless you are told. We spent the morning at the Basilica and returned to our hotel around noon.

Jeff and Nancy outside St. Peter’s Basilica

Entering the basilica

One of many statues within the basilica

Altar of basilica

Upon the recommendation of Anna, Ginni and I had lunch at a quaint restaurant called Ginger’s. The rest of the afternoon was spent in our room relaxing and packing for an early departure tomorrow. At 6:20 our group departed the lobby for a walk to our coach and transfer to the Vatican Museums. Because it was after hours, we journeyed through the Candelabra Gallery, Map Gallery, and the Tapestries at a leisurely pace. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming; the amazement of Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling was overwhelming from the standpoint of it being painted in the early 1500’s with no electricity and he not having painted before; it took him 4 years to finish.

Robes on display in museum


Statue in museum


Ceiling within chapel

Wall within chapel

Wall and ceiling joining

We gathered in the courtyard for appetizers and drink. Back to the hotel around 9:30; we were leaving Rome the next morning.