Alps, Lakes, Pizza & Pasta

This summer we took a wonderful driving vacation in Switzerland and Italy. I hope this serves as a guide to your trip planning. I have added feedback of places we stayed and ate in.  Generally speaking we always have to reserve two rooms for our family of four in our European travel since so few rooms come with two queen or two double beds. Sometimes the rooms are interconnecting other times they are not. Sometimes family suites are available that can accommodate extra beds or have sofa-beds. We also try to research the restaurants we eat in since we love food so much.

Spaghetti Carbonara

We use sources like Yelp, Tripadvisor, Google restaurant reviews, and hotel recommendations. Word of caution, many restaurants in Italian cities we visited close at 2 pm and reopen for dinner so plan accordingly. We designed our own itinerary. My husband researched what special roads to take such as the Furka and Splugen mountain passes. We did have a travel agent help us narrow down our hotel choices. Right now the Swiss Franc is very strong and that makes everything in Switzerland especially in the large cities very expensive. The scenery of driving through the lush Alps both on the Swiss and Italian side in the summer is absolutely breathtaking. This was also a trip of mountain lakes, Lake Zürich, Lake Lucerne, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Como. And most importantly for our family, this was a trip of eating delicious food!

Our Itinerary:

  • Day1: London Heathrow to Zürich Airport / Zürich Airport to Zürich Center via Swiss Rail
  • Day 2: Zürich
  • Day 3: Zürich to Zürich Airport Car Rentals via Swiss Rail / Drive from Zürich Airport to Lucerne
  • Day 4: Lucerne to Rhône Glacier via the Furka Pass / Rhône Glacier to Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
  • Day 5: Stresa, Italy (Lake Maggiore)
  • Day 6: Stresa, Italy  to Tremezzo, Italy (Lake Como)
  • Day 7: Tremezzo, Italy / Day trip to Bellagio, Italy
  • Day 8: Tremezzo, Italy to Zizers, Switzerland (near Chur)
  • Day 9: Zizers and Chur
  • Day: 10: Zizers to Zürich Airport  / Return to London, UK

Total driving time: 9.5 hours – Total distance: 730 km or 453 miles

Day 1 – 2

Upon arriving in Zürich we took the Swiss rail from the airport station conveniently located below the airport making it a very easy and inexpensive way to get to downtown Zürich. Our hotel, The Hotel Opera, was conveniently located walking distance from a train stop. The hotel was very beautiful, comfortable, and contemporary in style. We stayed in Zürich for 2 nights.

St. Peterskirche
St. Peter’s Church
Zürich, Switzerland

Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland, is very easy to explore by foot and offers beautiful views of Lake Zürich. We spent time meandering through the Old Town. We tried traditional Swiss fondue at Le Dézaley and rosti, a potato and cheese dish, at the Weisser Wind. We enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch at Tre Cucine.

Day 3

We took the amazingly efficient Swiss rail back to the airport to the Hertz car rental desk. We had reserved a 4 wheel cross over vehicle ahead of time through the US AAA and got an amazing rate compared to what our travel agent was offering. We left the airport and drove to Lucerne. We arrived in Lucerne and checked into our beautiful hotel, The Montana, located in town but perched up on the mountain. The views of Lake Lucerne were spectacular from our rooms.

The View from our Room
Lucerne, Switzerland

The hotel boasted a modern Art Deco style. The Montana had its own funicular to bring its guests down to the lake level. From the lake we were able to reach all the sights by foot. The first order of business was finding lunch. We found a wonderful Italian restaurant name La Fenice.

The Dying Lion
Lucerne, Switzerland

After lunch we went to see the most amazing sculpture I have ever seen in my life, The Dying Lion of Lucerne Monument. The sculpture of a dying lion commemorates the Swiss Guard who was massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries attacked the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Another major site in Lucerne is the Kapellbrucke or Chapel Bridge. It is a wooden footbridge over the River Reuss built in 1333 to help defend the city. We spent the rest of the day walking through the Old Town. We had a surprisingly delicious Chinese dinner at Li Tai Pe.

By the Chapel Bridge
Lucerne, Switzerland

 Day 4

The next morning after eating delicious pastries from the famous Bachman bakery we left Lucerne and drove south to pick up the Furka Pass road. The Furka Pass is a mountain pass in the Alps that stands at 2429m/7969ft.

Looking Down from Highest Point of Furka Pass
Near Hotel Belvedere

The pass is closed certain times of the year due to bad weather conditions. James Bond drove the Furka Pass in the movie Goldfinger. Driving the Furka Pass is not for the faint of heart, it requires skilled driving and no fear of heights. One of the highlights of driving the Furka Pass is that you visit the Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhône River. There is a rest stop conveniently located at the Rhône Glacier.

Inside Rhone Glacier
Canton of Valais, Switzerland

We paid an admission fee and were able to hike to the ice cave that was carved inside the glacier. The Rhône Glacier covered most of Switzerland during the last Ice Age (110,000 to 11,000 years ago). Although, the glacier has retreated significantly in the last 150 years due to Global Warming, it is still a very spectacular sight.

After the visiting the Rhône Glacier we continued our drive south southeast to reach the town of Stresa, Italy on Lake Maggiore in the northern region of Piedmont. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees right on the edge of the Lake. The views of Lake Maggiore and of the Borromean Islands on the lake were beautiful.

Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees
Stresa, Italy on Lake Maggiore

The hotel was a rococo extravaganza bordering on museum-like, somewhere where beautiful meets tacky but still pleasing to the soul. We were also very centrally located. The first night we dined at an excellent Italian restaurant, frequented by locals, Ristorante Pizzeria MammaMia.

Spaghetti Vongole

Day 5

We purchased an all day ferry ticket that allowed us to island hop the Borromean Islands located in Lake Maggiore. The islands are: Isola Bella with its grand palace and gardens, Isola Madre with a 20-acre park, and Isola dei Pescatori with its typical fishing village. The day included a good pizza lunch on the mainland in the neighboring village of Baveno at Ristorante La Trappola. Our favorite of the islands was Isola Bella with its amazing palace and gardens. The gardens looked like a wedding cake from the ferryboat.

The Gardens on Isola Bella, one of the islands in Lake Maggiore

After a long day exploring the islands we returned to the hotel swimming pool. A highlight for our children and my husband was diving off of the two diving boards in the separate diving pool. We enjoyed yet another wonderful Italian traditional meal at Taverna del Pappagallo in downtown Stresa.

Pizza with Carpaccio, Parmesan, and Arugula

 Day 6

After breakfast we drove from Lake Maggiore to Lake Como. By lunchtime, we arrived in Tremezzo located on the western shore of Lake Como across from Bellagio. We stayed in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo in a family suite.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Tremezzo, Italy Lake Como

The hotel was absolutely beautiful as were the grounds. The decoration of the hotel was very classical with a playful blend of contemporary.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Whimsical Sitting Rooms

The hotel had 3 swimming pools. Our family’s favorite pool was the floating pool on the lake.

The Grand Hotel Tremezzo Floating Pool

We spent hours jumping into the floating pool and diving into the lake. The first night we had a wonderful dinner at a small family restaurant called Trattoria del Prato.

Diving into Lake Como

Day 7 

After swimming in the morning we took the ferry across the lake to visit Bellagio for lunch. Bellagio is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. We ate an amazing lunch at Bilacus.

Pasta Bolognese

We then explored the town of Bellagio before returning to Tremezzo. We enjoyed our last delicious dinner in Italy at Ristorante Belle Isole.

Cute Yorkies Traveling in Style
Bellagio, Italy

 Day 8

After breakfast we continued north along the western shore of Lake Como and started ascending the mountains on the road SS36 also known as the Splugen pass. We stopped at a roadside restaurant still on the Italian side called Al Santuario for a yummy local lunch, where they spoke no Italian, so my pseudo Italian Spanish came in handy. Then we began the most hair-raising experience of our whole drive, crossing the Splugen pass. The Splugen pass at 2113m/6932ft connects the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps between Italy and Switzerland.

Part of the Splugen Pass
Somewhere in Switzerland

On the navigation system and on a map all you see is a collection of hairpin turns or switch back roads that look like zig zig scribbles. Let’s just say that my husband was relieved when the Splugen pass ended and we picked up the E43/13 at the bottom of the valley in Splugen, Switzerland. We then took this road all the way past Chur and then on to nearby Zizers, Switzerland. The reason for our special stop in the village of Zizers, is that my husband had an AFS exchange student, Christoph, live with them many years ago. Christoph, now part of our family, is the town doctor in his village of Zizers where he lives with his family.

Day 9

After a week of a historical heat wave in Switzerland and Italy, the weather was now back to the 70’s and overcast. We spent the morning hiking the lush green local mountains. In the afternoon we visited the city of Chur.

Hiking in the Alps with Friends

Day 10

We said our goodbyes to Christoph and his family and once again took the E43/13 that took us straight to Zürich Airport.

Most Memorable Moments:

  • Fondue and Rosti in Zürich
  • The Dying Lion sculpture in Lucerne, Italy
  • Driving the Furka Pass
  • Walking inside the Rhone Glacier
  • Diving off of the diving board in Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees
  • The big Newfoundland dog allowed to eat with its owners inside the Ristorante MammaMia in Stresa.
  • Visiting Isola Bella, the castle and gardens
  • Swimming in the floating pool on Lake Como
  • Diving into Lake Como from the floating pool
  • The special driving club that pulled up with 15 SLS Mercedes-Benz sports cars to our Lake Como hotel.
  • Visiting Bellagio
  • The two Yorkshire terriers traveling in their owner’s special backpack.
  • Driving the Splugen Pass
  • Visiting friends in Zizers and hiking the Swiss mountains with them.
  • Eating delicious food both in Switzerland and Italy
  • And eating delicious Italian food the whole week.  Mamma Mia!

Moving Overseas

Yesterday, I walked my dog Maya in Regent’s park and we ran into a black labrador and its owner. The woman asked me about my dog and I noticed she was an American. Well, that was enough invitation for me to start a conversation. It turned out that she had just moved to London with her family. I was able to share a lot of good tips with her about living in London. We exchanged e:mail addresses and mobile numbers. I always like making new friends but I especially like lending a helping hand to a new expat family.

The experience of living overseas may be one of the most rewarding and yet one of the most challenging experiences you will have in your life. After the initial bewilderment stage comes an opportunity to enjoy and learn. I am writing hoping to reach many of you who just moved to London with your families or even by yourselves. Perhaps you just moved to Brussels, Paris, or Tokyo. Some of my words may apply to you as well. I am here to tell you that it does get easier with each passing day and that before you know it, the strange new land you moved to, becomes your home.

When we were preparing to move to London from the US in 2011 we were very excited about the opportunity. The reason being that we had already been expats in Brussels, Belgium from 1997 – 2001. We were now seasoned expats like so many people you meet. Some families have spent their whole lives moving around the world and can only say positive things about their lifestyle. Our overall experience in Brussels was amazing. We loved it so much that we yearned to someday go abroad again. But I will admit moving to Brussels in July of 1997 was initially a very shocking experience and I can sympathize with some of you who are completely overwhelmed as you read this.

Let me share a story. When we moved to Brussels many life events converged into what seemed like a personal nuclear explosion at the time.  The first one was that I left my career. For someone who had been so career-driven this was a very difficult decision. However, I had been very willing to go on a “sabbatical” because, I was pregnant with our first child and I was presented with the opportunity to travel all over Europe, something I was passionate about.  Had I been in the states I probably would have taken a standard leave of absence and then returned to work. The advent of losing my salary and cutting our income in half was frightening. I also had to redefine who I was as a person since so much of my self-confidence and self-esteem was linked to my profession. But we were open to the life adventure ahead of us. However, during my 17thweek of pregnancy, while the movers were back at the house packing us, our lives were rattled when we received bad news about the pregnancy and baby. News that seemed so insurmountable that I questioned why were we were even moving overseas.  The baby would require surgeries after birth. At the time, I was still narrow-minded in thinking that I would only be able to receive excellent medical care for our baby in the US.  On top of that I was leaving my family and friends at a time when I needed them the most. But there was no turning back with the moving plans. Sometimes destiny does lead you in mysterious ways and Brussels was to be our next destination.

The Early Belgium Years 1998

Our  beautiful son was born on Christmas Eve 1997 in Brussels, Belgium. I would have at my disposal an amazing team of doctors who were so gifted and wonderful that even demigods would not compare. I still believe that it’s as if though we had to move to Brussels to have these incredible doctors take care of our son. What had started out as a tempest, with no calm in sight, had evolved into a clear horizon allowing my husband and I to successfully navigate our new lives in Brussels.

OK, I won’t kid you. Living in a country where they speak foreign languages, in our case French and Flemish, was difficult at times. Many Belgians spoke English which definitely helped but there were times that you had to be creative, like when the phone guy came over and we had to communicate with hand signals. Sometimes I would spend hours reading food labels in the supermarket trying to figure out if I was buying the correct item. A big help for me was joining The American Women’s Club of Brussels. They were an amazing resource of support and friendship. In August of 1999 our beautiful daughter was also born in Brussels. Our son was 19 months at that time. And now with two babies in tow we continued to explore Belgium and Europe. Our children learned to sleep in planes, trains, and automobiles.

By Chenonceaux Castle in the Loire Valley, France

We got lucky because they were good babies/toddlers who allowed us to bring them everywhere, from châteaux in France to Champagne houses, from crystal shops in Prague to Michelin star restaurants.  After an amazing 4 years in Brussels we returned to the US in 2001.

Developing a Discriminating Taste for Champagne in Champagne, France

Fast forward to 2011 as we prepared to return overseas…

We were now moving overseas with 13 and 12-year old children. The key was in selling them on the idea of moving very early on. It’s all in the marketing, isn’t it? What helped was that we had already moved within the US. When we returned from Brussels, we had first lived in Westport, CT for 5 years and then we had moved to West Chester, PA. The children were in 2nd and 3rd grade when we did this move, and yes it had been hard for them to leave friends, but they instantly made new ones. So when we announced we were moving to London they were absolutely fine with the idea. They were excited about living overseas and had the confidence that they would be able to make new friends. Before the move, they would ask us questions like:

“Do they have Wawa’s hoagies in London?” (For those of you not from PA/NJ area, Wawa’s is a Gasoline/Food/Convenience chain that makes delicious hoagies (heros/grinders/sandwiches))

Our answer would be, “No they don’t have Wawa’s hoagies in London but they will have different things that may be better ”.

Sure enough the children discovered that you can get some very amazing baguettes in London and the sandwiches made with these are delicious. We have opened ourselves up to new experiences with the thought that the outcomes will be positive. We keep saying to the children:

 “Things will be different, but different does not mean bad, different may mean better”.

My husband and the children exploring the streets of Bologna, Italy
July 2001

Exploring the streets of Bellagio, Italy
August 2012

I am not here to say that change is completely easy and without challenges. Change can be very difficult at times. It’s how we manage the process of change that allows us to move forward in a productive and healthy fashion. It is important to know how to manage the stresses that get thrown our way. How we behave is also critical. Our children are watching us every step of the way. Children are very intuitive and they can sense your attitudes and feelings immediately.  Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves and at the difficult situations. Like the time my friend in Brussels went to put her Thanksgiving turkey in her oven and it did not fit. She had to carve it up and roast it in pieces. Then there’s the time I tried to use my “French” language skills, and asked the waiter for a spoon,“ une cuillère”, and instead they brought out cheese, “le gruyere”.  That’s o.k., I’ll take some of that too. You may have already faced or are in the middle of facing daunting tasks like opening bank accounts, buying cell phones, getting a phone line connected, getting internet and cable, dealing with home repairs, figuring out how to get around, grocery shopping, unpacking, baby sitters, dog sitters, or where to buy something. We waited for 3 weeks for our Sky Internet modem to arrive and we were supposedly one of the lucky ones. Just know that with each passing day it will get easier and you’ll laugh at some of the missteps over a glass of wine or pint of beer.

Walking Over the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland

Know that this overseas experience will profoundly change you and your family members in so many positive ways. How you perceive the world and react to it will be different and better. This experience will test your and your family’s resolve, flexibility, and even relationships. For many it will bring you closer as a family. Open yourselves up to this new adventure with a positive attitude. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to organizations and support groups. Try new foods, make new friends, explore new places and hopefully you’ll look back at the expat years as some of the most amazing years of your life.