Day 23/24 – The Journey Home

Today was bitter sweet when we woke up. It was a beautiful sunrise with a great view of Rome. Instead of going down to have breakfast without the kids, Tavis and I decided to go find a geocache close by the hotel. It was a nice short walk and the temperature was perfect. It was also a quick find. By 7:45 we were waking up the kids and getting ready for our last breakfast buffet. From the buffet we went straight to the pool and enjoyed our last 90 minutes relaxing in the sun, swimming in the refreshing water. It’s funny, the pool did not have the slightest hint of chlorine on the skin. As a matter of fact, it made my skin and hair feel clean. The birds were even drinking and bathing in the pool! At 9:30, we handed in our towels for the last time and went back tot he room to shower and pack our final items.

At 10:00 we checked out and caught a taxi to the airport. It was a quick and our smoothest ride in Italy with only 40 minutes. I am really going to miss the chaos of Italy. Not so much the traffic (although a little scary) but the parking! Cars just park anywhere and everywhere…it was not uncommon to see cars double parked blocking in other cars and motorbikes at the same time!!! I would never want to drive in Rome, that is for certain!

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to go through security. There was literally a 2 minute wait (as posted on the screen), though I don’t even think it was that long! The only bag that got pulled out was Tavis’ because of the cork screw that the Concierge gave him. We then went to the British Airways Lounge to wait to for our gate to be posted. I also discovered that we have trained our kids a little too well to seek out and take advantage of free food. Everyone filled up on snacks and beverages before getting on the plane.

When we were seated on the plane Ari managed to sit next to a pretty girl. I feel really bad for her because Ari had turned on the charm and was talking to her the entire time. By the end of the flight I think the poor girl learned more about airplanes than she ever thought she would. I heard a lot of laughter though and the flight attendant made a point of telling us how wonderful and polite our children were. It makes me happy to hear those compliments. I enjoyed my window seat as it was a beautiful view of the islands and coastline as we flew toward London. The water is absolutely gorgeous even from the plane.

We arrived in Heathrow around 2:45 and had to get through security again before making our connecting flight which was scheduled to board at 3:15. We had to dump out the water from our water bottles that we had just filled on the plane. It was a bit frustrating as we just went through security before we boarded and haven’t left the airport. The line up for security was long and slow. At 3:20 we were still waiting for 2 backpacks to get manually checked. They told us we had too many bags of gels and liquids (Even though there were only 3 bags for the 5 of us). In the end those were the only things that held up our bags which we took out and had separate to begin with. It didn’t help that we thought we were going to miss our connecting flight to Chicago.

By the time we received all of our bags we went straight to a screen and learned that our flight to Chicago was delayed. It was rescheduled for 5:20 so we had time to visit the British Airways lounge. Atleast we got to enjoy the snacks and beverages while sitting in nice seats as we waited for our flight. Ari enjoyed the kids gaming area!

We were delayed a long time but we finally boarded an Airbus A380 just before 5:00. I think we left closer to 6:00. Our seats were upstairs and when we walked onboard we were all very impressed! I’ve never seen such a big plane. The seats were incredibly comfortable and the care packages were really nice. My favourite was the actual duvet (not a blanket). The flight was 8 hrs and 11 minutes. Ari charmed all of the flight attendants in his usual fashion. He even went on his own tour of the plane and introduced himself. One of the flight attendants took his personal information and said she would pass it along to the captain. During the flight we were able to go into the galley and help ourselves to snacks. They had the best salt and malted vinegar kettle chips ever!

At the end of the flight we were all invited into the cockpit. Ari got to sit in the captain’s chair and wear his hat! He even gave Ari the flight plan and a personalized card! We have a very happy little boy and the whole flight crew helped make the journey home a memorable experience. We were in with the captain and co-pilot too long everyone had departed the plane. The cleaners and flight crew were waiting for us before they could proceed but everyone was very kind. We ended up leaving with the flight crew but had to say goodbye at the parking lot.

We had to wait 20 minutes before catching our shuttle to the Hilton hotel. It was nice but nothing compared to our last one. Unfortunately by the time we arrived it was too late to go for a swim. John, the hotel attendant was awesome though! He joked around with the kids, gave everyone a water and a snack. He even offered to have breakfast to-go packages made up for us since we are leaving before the buffet opens. When we got to our room we organized the bed situation. Ayva slept on the pull out couch, Ari and Addison shared a Queen bed and tavis and I took the other queen bed. I think everyone was sleeping by 11:00pm.

Our alarm went off at 3:30am and we were all up and ready to go at 3:55. As we were leaving the hotel at 4:00 we were each given a to-go breakfast package which included a muffin, apple, granola bar, and an orange juice. We arrived at the airport around 4:20 and made our way through security. It was so nice to be TSA approved and everything went smoothly. We arrived at our gate about 45 minutes before boarding.

At 5:15 the boarding process began. We found our seats and the flight was not too full. Tavis and I had an empty seat between us which gave our family the entire row. As we were on the plane we realized it was raining. Our weather luck this trip has been amazing! The plane departed at 6:00am CST and the 4.5 hour flight went quite quickly and uneventful. Our economy seats weren’t nearly as impressive as the crazy beds in our last flight but the seats were still large and comfortable. Before we knew it we were landing in sunny Seattle just before 8:30am PST. We made our way to the area where we caught our shuttle to the Park N Jet lot and our vehicle was waiting for us. We then made the 3 hour drive home and arrived at the house just before noon.

When we got home we quickly unloaded the car. Tavis and Addison had a bit of a cough and we didn’t have much in the house so I made soup for lunch and put in the laundry. Then the kids each went to school by 1:00. While the kids went to school, Tavis and I went to Costco and bought groceries. We got back the same time as Ayva and Ari and I picked up Addison from school at 3:30. Then I mowed the lawn while Addison went to a friend’s house. At 6:30 we had KD and hot dogs for dinner and after that I laid down for a short nap. I woke up at 11:0, got ready for bed, and fell back asleep until 4:30.

What a crazy 24 days. I think it will take a bit of time to get caught up on our sleep and for our internal clocks to adjust. Although it was an amazing vacation, it is nice to be back at home.

Day 22 – Last Day in Rome

This morning was a beautiful sunrise. Tavis got up early and tried to capture it in a photo. Then he went back to bed and I got up and had a wonderful bath. At 8:00 we went downstairs to enjoy breakfast. Just before 9:00 we woke up the kids and took them downstairs to eat. Since everyone finished eating just after 9:30 we went back tot he rooms to relax and get ready for our day.

Packed with our water bottles we caught the 10:30 shuttle downtown which got us there right at 11:00. Tavis had quite the walking tour planned. We started by visiting the Spanish Steps. After taking some photos we walked down the stairs and tried to find the Aquaduct Ruins which turned out to be a museum so we skipped that but saw a McDonalds across the street. I used the free washrooms. Then we saw the Spanish Embassy. Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain which was much more busy this time fo day. After getting a quick photo we squeezed through the crowd and made our way to the Pantheon. We took some photos outside before going in. There was a window in the top which cast a neat circle on the wall. This was another amazing structure with a high ceiling and lot of detailed art. Next we filled our water bottles and slipped into a door that took us to Piazza Navona. We then went to the Alter of the Fatherland. Here we took a 30 minute rest while Tavis checked us into our flight home.

Next we began our long hike home because the bus service did not run between 1-4 and we wanted to see a few sights along the way. We walked over St. Angelo Bridge toward Castel Sant’Angelo. There were a lot of street vendors on the bridge who were relentless. We decided not to go into the castle because we had already toured a few in Switzerland and we wanted to get back for a swim. We walked past Vatican City and up the hill to the hotel.

We arrived back to the hotel just before 2:30. Our room was getting cleaned so we quickly got our bathing suits and and spent an our relaxing at the pool. At 3:30 Ayva and Ari wanted to go to the Kids IT Club so I took them upstairs to get dressed before dropping them off. Addison decided to stay in his room and have some quiet time and Tavis had a nap aswell. I went to the pool and enjoyed relaxing in the sun for 2.5 hours!

At 6:30 Tavis and I decided to walk down to the store to buy him a 5 euro bottle of wine and some cheese. We also bought some carbonated juice for the rest of us and Tavis and I aimlessly walked the streets looking for a good restaurant to bring the kids to when they finished with the Kids IT Club. The one we were hoping to go to was no longer there but we did find another pizzeria. We made a reservation for 8:00 and came back tot he hotel.

When the kids arrived back at the room they were completely wired from all the Nutella and cotton candy they ate. Ari also brought back 5 packages of cookies for the flight home tomorrow. They met lots of new friends, played lots of video games, and enjoyed yoga and gymnastics. There was a 4 yr old girl who Ayva enjoyed entertaining the entire time. She took some photos of her new friends and was sad that we have to leave tomorrow. We gave them a few minutes to relax before walking back to Ristorante Al 384 which specialized in Gourmet Pizza for dinner.

Dinner was amazing! One of the waitresses spoke English which was nice. We purchased 3 pizzas. The crust was delicious and even the margarita pizza was good. We also got one with meat and another spicy one that really was spicy! The staff was super nice, food was quick and the price was quite affordable. There were a lot of locals that arrived after us so we chose our last meal well! I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone staying at Rome Cavalieri who would like a good meal without the huge prices.

Now we are all sad to be packing our bags in preparation for our departure tomorrow. We had an amazing vacation and none of us are ready to go home. All good things come to an end though. In a bit we will sit outside and enjoy our Italian grapes and juice to the sound of live music on the patio. Tomorrow we go home and begin the 2 day journey of traveling. We will be leaving our hotel around 10:00 AM and spending the night in Chicago.

Day 21 – Vatican City

This morning we slept in until 7:30. Tavis and I went to eat breakfast on our own. When they seated us they asked if they could bring us drinks so we ordered our usual… 1 cappuccino and 1 hot chocolate. When our drinks finally arrived we figured there was a breakdown in translation because my hot chocolate was actual hot chocolate! A cup of liquid chocolate. I went and got a glass of milk to add but it was still too sweet for me… and that is a first. When we finished, we woke up the kids and brought them down to the buffet (I told them to skip the hot chocolate). While they were checking out the pastries one of the women in the kitchen came out with cotton candy for each of the children. The kids were in their glory!

Everyone finished breakfast around 9:00 and we went down to the pool until 11:30. The kids found their friend from London at the pool and spent the entire time conversing with her. As it turns out she is staying 4 rooms down. It was a perfect morning and we were cooled off and ready for our walk down to Vatican in the hot sun.

Vatican City

We walked down the hill toward Vatican City. We only got a little bit lost and arrived right at 12:30. It was not as crowded as I expected. One thing that stood out is that the area was definitely organized for tours. Those of us who chose not to do a tour were left lost wandering the walls will very little signage or explanations of what we were looking at. It was very interesting and the buildings and artifacts were impressive but there was just so much.

We first went to a courtyard and wandered outside. Then we went down into a huge cellar area filled with old carriages and cars that were gifts for the various Pope. This was one of my favourite rooms. Then we made our way to a room filled with art from the 1200s. From what I could see, nobody wore clothing back then so they either only did art in the summer or the climate was warm all year long. We walked for 2 hours through various museums. There were hundred of rooms all dedicated to different things. I think we walked through 6 rooms dedicated to urns alone! There were several rooms with coffins, statues, coins, stamps… and of course art. The tapestry was incredible! There were pieces that must have spanned 20ft x 40ft! The detail was insane!

When we finished going through the Vatican Museum we were excited to follow the secret tip we read about to get us into the Sistine Chapel. There is a secret hall that is used by tour groups to go straight through instead of doing the 30 minute walk all the way around to line up again. We did exactly as we read and we sat around admiring the art work. When the next group came through we did our best to blend in and we mingled in with them. I think many many people do this though because we didn’t get stopped despite our terrible efforts of blending. It was just our luck that the tour group that came through was an Asian tour!

The Sistine Chapel was much smaller than I expected. We were herded in like cattle and there were strict rules to follow:

  • your clothing must cover your shoulders and knees
  • you must not take any photos
  • you must not not stop anywhere other than the middle of the room

It was incredible to see the detail in the artwork. Along the sides there were curtains painted. Above the curtains all around the room were various paintings. The ones on the ceiling were so impressive because they had so much colour and detail from muscle definition to body proportions. They looked like they were jumping out at you. There was definitely a difference between the ceiling and the murals below them.

After leaving the Sistine Chapel we filled our water bottles and went to St. Peter’s Basilica. Wow! This was incredible! I understand why it is called the greatest church on earth. The statues are humongous. Even the lettering around the top are huge. We were trying to figure out how large until we saw people on the top floor that looked like ants compared the letters below them! Everywhere we looked there was an impressive statue or painting. I sadly admit that I don’t appreciate the artwork as much as I should but it was very interesting and I was glad to have experienced all that we saw today.

We left through St. Peters Square and they had the chairs set up for their services. I have never seen so many chairs and large screens in such a big area. I can’t imagine what this square looks like when it is full! The photos just don’t capture the size of the square.

We started our way up the hill to the hotel. By this time it was almost 4:00 and we thought it would be better to eat before going to the hotel as the $28 burgers were a little out of our price range. We stopped at a few places but couldn’t agree on anything so we ended up at McDonalds. We then walked the rest of the way to the hotel in the hot sun and went for a well deserved swim in the huge freshwater pools.

The main pool at the hotel is 11.5ft deep in the deepest end. The kids have also learned that the pool has goggles and flippers if you ask for them. We all enjoyed a swim and Tavis and I relaxed for an hour while the kids stayed in the water. At 6:00 we decided to get the kids out so we could check out the kids area so we could leave Ayva and Ari while we took Addison back into town to see the city at night.

When we walked into the kids area the kids were all in heaven. I don’t even think Ari hung around to see if it was ok to play. He was already playing. I signed the kids in and gave permission for them to leave when they wanted. Technically we were supposed to be on the premises so Tavis informed them that he was planning on being by the pool or in his room and that the kids were to return to the room when the club ended at 7:30. We then made a quick dash to the shuttle pick up area and caught the 6:30 shuttle.

We walked down to the Trevi Fountain which was very crowded. We then made our way to the Alter of the Father Land (aka the big white building). Then we walked around the Colosseum to see it in the evening. It was stunning as we walked toward it during sunset and the pink sky behind. By the time we got close enough for photos the sun was down though. We took some photos and continued on to the Circus Maximus which was a large oval that once served as a chariot racing oval. It was pretty much just an open field with a bunch of ruins on one side. On the other side there were people taking down a huge stage that was apparently set up for concerts earlier in the day. It was getting late so we quickly started making our way back to the bus stop. We walked fast enough that we had time to stop for Addison and I to enjoy a gelato and Tavis picked up some wine and snacks. We made it to the shuttle stop 5 minutes before the last shuttle of the day took us back tot he hotel at 9:00.

While we were out, Ayva and Ari had a blast in kids club. They played with the other 3 kids who also spoke English. Ari made up a game where he wore a ridiculous wig and went out to greet poor guests as they walked by. The leaders decided to dress up all the kids and walked them through the hotel. Ari greeted everyone he saw and in the end he was given a bunch of candy and other prizes for being such a good participant. They also started watching Star Wars and they can’t wait to go back tomorrow.

I think tomorrow we will go out with the kids after breakfast so we have time to get back and go for a swim before Kids Club starts at 2:30. Today was another perfect day. We are now sitting on our patio enjoying our snacks and listening to live music coming from the pool deck. What an amazing night! I can’t believe tomorrow is our last day! We’ve been away from home for 3 weeks. I miss Shadow and everyone at home but I am really not ready to go back yet. I guess that means it has been a successful vacation.

Day 20 – The Colosseum, The Palatino Hill, & Roman Forum

I can’t believe we have already finished day 20! We didn’t get to sleep last night until after midnight so we decided that the kids needed a good sleep in day. Tavis and I got up at 6:30 and ventured down for breakfast. We discovered that breakfast didn’t start until 7:00 so we walked around the property. It was a beautiful morning and there is a nice trail around the hotel property with stretching stations throughout. We also got good look at the pool area.

At 7:00 we ventured back to the breakfast area and chose to sit outside by the pool. They offered to bring us drinks as we checked out the buffet. I preferred the buffet in Munich better but this one was definitely bigger with much more variety. The fruit and pastries were amazing! I did not do a good job at pacing myself and left a bit overstuffed.

After breakfast we spoke to the Concierge about purchasing a Roman pass for the family so we could tour the city and see a few museums. She was great! She talked us out of it and gave us a map with a bunch of suggested sights to see. She also informed us that the hotel has a complimentary shuttle downtown. She even offered to help us purchase tickets online to any museums we would be interested in seeing. We went to our room and did some brainstorming to see what made sense to do with the kids. We decided that The Colosseum and Vatican City were our top 2 choices and we didn’t want to book too much. We also did a bit of searching online and expected that it would cost us about 150 euros for the family to do those 2 items alone.

Just before 9:00 we went back downstairs to purchase our tickets and and we were beyond impressed with the service we received from Anna. Vatican tickets weren’t available until Tuesday so we decided to do The Colosseum today. Anna got us “Skip the Line” tickets at 12:50 for 28 euros and she called to confirm that we did not need to purchase tickets for the kids! There is no charge for children under 18 accompanying their parents but this is not portrayed on their website. Next, Anna was able to get us “Skip the Line” tickets to Vatican on Tuesday for only 78 euros! With the amount of money we saved on the free breakfasts and not needing a bus pass we were quite happy with our selections.

At 9:30 we finally woke the kids up so they wouldn’t miss the breakfast buffet. Tavis and I also enjoyed a few more bites of food. Everyone enjoyed their breakfast and we even finished with enough time for the kids to go for a quick swim before the courtesy bus arrived. Addison passed but I took Ayva and Ari down to the main pool and they swam for the full 30 minutes. They didn’t want to leave but I assured them that we would be back.

At 11:30 we met the shuttle in front of the hotel and it was very prompt. We got downtown just before 12:00 and Tavis marked on his phone while I took a photo of the meeting point so we knew where to catch our ride home. We then ventured down the streets of Rome. One thing we noticed were how narrow the streets were and how there really didn’t seem to be any rules to driving beyond red light is a suggested stop and red walk sign is also just a suggestion. Cars were parked on street corners and bikes were just stacked all over the place. We assumed our regular formation as we walked with Tavis in front, the kids following in a line with me bringing up the rear. We were also quite concerned about pick pockets so we only brought 1 backpack which only had water (an essential item) and rain jackets (which we didn’t need).

There are a LOT of temples, basilicas and ruins in Rome! I think we saw something noteworthy on every street. We had 50 minutes to make the 20 minute walk to the Colosseum so we took a bit of a detour down to Trajan’s Forum. This was our first look at real ruins! They are still excavating the site but you can actually view what they have uncovered and walk around the area free of charge. It was amazing! I could have spent a bit more time here but we had to continue on.

The Colosseum

I am the first to admit that history is not one of my favourite subjects but all that came to mind when the building appears was “OMG”! It was so surreal to see the columns and the half built structure. We were able to walk right in past the hundreds of people lined up. I overheard someone saying it was already a 1 hour wait to purchase tickets. We had to go through what felt like an airport security before approaching the ticket booth. We handed our printed ticket (purchased online 3 hours earlier) over and the agent informed us that there would indeed be no fee for the kids. We were then provided the actual tickets. We walked up to the gate, someone scanned them and we were in!

The building is massive! We really didn’t know where to go so we just started reading everything we saw and made our way slowly around the bottom level. A part of the center was rebuilt to show what it would have looked like when it was built. Only people with a guided tour could go down there so we just took photos. Occasionally I overheard an English guide giving a speech. After seeing everything we could on the bottom we made our way up the extremely large steep stairs. We came to the conclusion that the ancient Romans were huge! I learned a lot more about the structure than I thought I would and I actually found it fascinating. We were there for 2 hours and I was not bored at all! For more information you can always visit wikipedia. The clouds began to roll in and lightening and thunder appeared in the distance. It was a nice relief to the heat.

After seeing the entire amphitheatre and being satisfied with our daily sightseeing we decided to see what else we could find in Rome. As we walked away we saw a bunch of people lined up and saw a sign that tickets were required. We were not interested in purchasing any more tickets for the day so we walked along the street next to it and peered in through the gates. We followed the street to the top of the hill until we reached a dead end. We were looking for something called The Roman Forum but the huge gated area was in the way! As we walked down the hill and passed the gate again I decided to ask what the tickets were for and how much they cost. The person at the gate informed us that it was the entrance to The Roman Forum and The Palatino Hill and if we purchased a ticket it would also get us into the Colosseum. DUH!!! We already had tickets!!!

The Palatino Hill

We began walking up the hill and were in awe of the columns and ruins scattered everywhere. It was so surreal to be walking amidst it all. We didn’t really know where we were going so we just walked along the path until we found something to read. It was quite fascinating. We walked all the way up the hill (again) and under the road we took before to a viewpoint overlooking the city and the Colosseum. We then made our way to an old open stadium and walked around. The path just kept going around corners to more ruins and buildings half fallen. You could see how grand it must have been at one point in history and amazing to think that they were able to build such massive structures so long ago. Another great thing was that drinking water fountains were found everywhere inside the gates. There were even a few restrooms. About half way through, the sun broke through the clouds and it got really hot. Just before 3:30 we made our way to the Palatino museum and discovered that although we were super, our tickets were not. They wouldn’t let us into the museum unless we purchased an additional “SUPER” ticket. We carried on.

We walked up what we thought was a hill which had another great view of what looked like a huge stage that was half fallen. We then made our way around a park and down a large set of stairs toward the stage. When we looked back we realized that we were actually standing on top of a huge building that was once either a large palace or sanctuary. I really don’t know. We were all very hot by now and our goal was to find the so called Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum

By 4:00, the kids were ready to swim and we knew the bus left every hour so our goal was to see what we could and get back to the bus stop in an hour. We walked through more huge columns, stone walls, and eventually stopped in front of a building that had 6 joined columns. Apparently that was it! The Roman Forum is 6 columns with a bunch of other bases where broken columns once stood. As we walked down the crowded street I have to admit I thought everyone there was a little nuts. All these people crowded around to see a bunch of huge rocks. I have to admit though, it must have been quite a site in its glory. The entire area had such a crazy feel with half excavated sites all around us, pieces of columns scattered on the ground. It really was amazing to see but we were hot, tired, and hungry. By 4:15 we began making our way back to the bus stop. We had a quick dinner at Burger King and arrived at the rendez-vous just as our shuttle pulled up! It was excellent timing.

We got back to the hotel around 5:30, quickly changed into our bathing suits and were down by the pool by 5:45. Everyone enjoyed a refreshing swim in the main pool. By 6:30 the clouds rolled in again and it looked like rain was coming. We moved to the inside pool just before the rain came down. At 7:00 the pool closed and we went up to get changed. Tavis and I walked down to a super market and picket up some snacks. When we got back we all sat on the patio and enjoyed watching the lightening storm with our snacks. We even got to talk to Grandma & Grandpa Craik.

Now we get some sleep and tomorrow we explore Vatican City.

Day 19 – Cinque Terre (Part 2) and Rome

This morning we got up around 8:00 and packed our bags. We ate our breakfast and cleaned the apartment so it looked as it did when we arrived. Our host was kind enough to allow us to store our luggage in the apartment while we set out to explore the Cinque Terre.  We left the apartment at 8:45 and caught a bus to the train station. Our bus was 5 minutes late and we thought we had missed our connecting train but luckily it was also running late and the timing was perfect.

Based on our reading, our original plan was to hike from Manorola to Corniglia.  Many people said this was their favourite hike between cities. However, a fellow passenger overheard us and politely informed us that the trail we were planning to take was closed.  We had a slight change in plans since the only hike left for us to do was between Corniglia and Vernazza.  We decided to do the hike from Corniglia.

Hike from Corniglia to Vernazza

When we arrived at the train station we hiked all the way up the mountain to reach the town of Corniglia. We drnk our water and refilled our water bottles at the potable water station before continuing on our way. We started on the 1.3 mile trail at 10:15 and it was already very hot. This time we had the sun to our backs though so it wasn’t as bad. The trail was not as flat as Google let on. When we weren’t climbing steep stairs we were declining at the same rate. About 30 minutes into the hike Ayva began having trouble breathing. This time we clued in and figured she must be having allergies to something in the mountains. There was really nothing we could do though so we told her to suck it up and keep on going.  The view as we hiked along the water was spectacular. The water is a beautiful aqua marine and the sea looks like it goes on forever. The towns on the hills also had a picturesque look that the camera just couldn’t capture.

When we got about half way we came across a house with a café that had freshly squeezed lemonade. A few people we passed said it was the best lemonade they ever tasted… but their cups were quite small.  No prices were posted and we still had a decent supply of water so we decided to continue on and reward ourselves with gelato later.

As we rounded the corner to Vernazza, the view of the town was stunning. A couple offered to take our photo so we actually got a family portrait near the end of the trail.  We then followed it down the hill to the backside of the train station and saw a train was due to arrive any minute. It was about 11:30 so we decided to go to the next town and eat there.

Manarola (Village 2 of 5)

This turned out to be my favourite town in Cinque Terre.  When we arrived in Manarola there wasn’t much to be seen and I was a little disappointed.  I didn’t hink we would be here long but we followed the crowd through a dark tunnel that came out in the middle of a cute town.  We walked along the street that led up the hill to see if we could find any food that interested us.  There were a few options but nothing really stood out. We turned around and walked toward the beach. We found a cute little gelato shop that had decent prices and free seating so we decided to skip lunch and go straight to ice cream!  As usual, it was amazing. We are so spoiled and ice cream at home will never be the same again!

After we finished our ice cream we were all refreshed and we walked down toward the marina. We were all in awe of how beautiful it was with the large rocks and deep clear water. There were many people swimming in the water and we all wished we had our bathing suits. We continued to walk around the back of the mountain when we thought it couldn’t get more beautiful… it did!  The view of the town was spectacular. It was just like the photos show!  The water was an even brighter shade of aqua and there were lots of people sun bathing and diving off rocks around the bend.  This was definitely our kind of beach! I would love to come back to this town!

We tried to do a geocache here but unfortunately it was beyond the closed trail and we did not feel like climbing the fence and going beyond the safe zone we opted out of this one.  After seeing the entire city and enjoying the view for a few minutes we went back to the train station.

Riomaggiore (Village 1 of 5)

We arrived in Riomaggiore around 1:!5.  This is the first of the Cinque Terre and much like Manarola we had to walk through a long dark tunnel to get to the actual town.  Across from the train station was a huge stone wall that seemed to reach the sky.  Later we discovered why!  As we walked through the tunnel I was intrigued by the stone artwork along the entire length. There was stone art along the sides that was quite detailed.

When we came out of the tunnel the main street led straight up hill. It was lined with stores and restaurants along both sides. We began hiking up street and realized that there is no way a resident of this town could possibly be overweight!  About 5 minutes up we found a little shop that sold sea food. The kids shared a cup of fish and chips.  We then hiked all the way to the top where the road ended. When we walked back down we saw a path that seemed to go up some stairs. We followed that path the top of a mountain that overlooked the other towns of the Cinque Terre. It was a gorgeous view and we were all hot and tired so we sat down for a few minutes to relax.  We also refilled our water bottles at a fountain and began making our way back to the train station.

We followed a sign that pointed a different direction from where we came. We climbed endless stairs down narrow alleys that twisted between buildings. We came to a few dead ended and eventually had to backtrack up the hill before we were able to find the right path that led to the main road. It was better than the glass maze at Playland!  By 2:00 we were back at the train station and ready to go back to La Spezia.

When we got to La Spezia we walked the main strip. Apparently 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon is a quiet time in the city. The shops were closed and the streets were practically empty. We found a little grocery store where we bought some fruit, hotdogs, and buns. We then hopped on a bus at went to the apartment to cook our hotdogs and retrieve our bags.

The cleaners had already finished getting the apartment ready for the next guests so we were very careful not to mess anything up. We carefully used the microwave to heat the hotdogs and ate outside.  We all used the bathroom before leaving and I gave the bathroom and kitchen a quick clean before we left. The bus only runs every 30 minutes and I was paranoid about the kids messing up the place so we left at 3:45 even though our train wasn’t scheduled to depart until 6:15!

The bus got quite crowded and a we believe we were informed that we were taking up seats designated for the elderly. People didn’t look to happy about us sitting in seats with our bags. We moved closer to the back of the bus holding our suitcases as best we could. Poor Addison stood and had to move every time someone wanted on or off. We also missed our stop and had to walk a few blocks back to the train station.  By 4:30 we had arrived and I felt much better knowing we were where we needed to be. We found a bench and everyone pulled out their devices and guarded the bags. It wasn’t too busy though. I was amused by a train that had “tema Bert” on it. Dad, you have fans here!

At 6:00 we went over to our platform and waited for our train (which of course was about 5 minutes delayed. The kids were pleasantly surprised when our seat reservations were in first class. Actually, we completely forgot about that but when we booked it wasn’t too much more to upgrade. Apparently we paid less for the 5 of us in first class as it would have cost to buy a single ticket in 2nd class the day of. Yes, booking all your trains in advance does pay off!

On the train, we had a table of 4 and the 2 seats across. The seats were huge and comfortable.  The restroom was huge too!  There were only 3 or 4 people in the same car as us so it was a very relaxing trip.  We had a two hour game of rocket before we decided to take out our devices and relax the rest of the time.


When we arrived in Rome it was 10:15pm and not much was open.  As we got off the train the people trickled away and it felt like we were the only ones there. Then after walking what seemed like miles we arrived at exit gates and it people were buzzing around on the other side. This was definitely the biggest station I have ever seen!  We all stayed in a line and followed Tavis to the taxi line up which had about 50 people in front of us. When we got to the front of the line it took a few minutes for the attendant o find a taxi big enough for all of us but eventually we were on our way. 

As we pulled up to the hotel I must admit that all of our jaws were on the floor. The name of the hotel is Rome Cavalieri and it looked like a palace from the front.  We went to get our bags but the door men wouldn’t let us. They took our bags and gave us a tag. We walked in to an enormous lobby of gold and chandeliers and paintings everywhere.  I captured Ari’s first impression and it really speaks volumes to how we all felt… Talk about feeling under dressed!  Ari’s first words were, “I wish I brought my tux”.  We found the reception desk, a personalized room with chairs by a desk. They spoke English well and welcomed us, informing us that we had been upgraded to two joining king suites. OMG!!!! They have 2 pools, hot tubs, sauna, kids club, and breakfast buffet all included.  I don’t think the kids are going to want to leave the hotel!  They offered to bring up a cot to the kids room.

By the time we got to our room, our luggage had already been delivered and the kids extra bed was already being made.  We checked out the rooms and they are amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room like this. It took some time but we finally got the kids to calm down and get into bed before midnight.  Tomorrow will be a sleep in day!

Day 18 – Cinque Terre (part 1)

This morning Tavis and I slept in until 7:30! We decided to sneak out and buy groceries so we could eat before beginning our hike. We walked up to the amazing pizza place that we ate at last night and Tavis had his coffee. Then we walked up to the local grocery store. It didn’t open until 8:00 so we had about 10 minutes to explore the area. We walked up the hill and found an enormous plant that looked like aloe vera but it was bigger than me! We decided to wait at the store for it to open and we ended up buying grapes, yogurt, milk, and a yummy cereal that looked like it had substance. When we got back to the apartment we woke up the kids and everyone ate. We then packed our bathing suits and began our hike down to the train station.

We got a little lost on our way but thanks to the locals we found our way. We were told to purchase our Cinque Terre cards at a tobacci store but when we arrived there was a note on the door saying we had to get them at the train station. We walked to the local train station and the train was pulling up so we decided to jump on and purchase the day pass online. Tavis had trouble with the checkout so we decided to purchase the tickets at the main train station. We met a guy from Boston who is on a tour and studying in Italy for 4 months. He was with his tour guide. When we reached La Spezia Centrale we found the ticket office and decided to buy 2 day passes so we wouldn’t have to worry about it tomorrow.

When we went to catch our train to the Cinque Terre it was packed! I don’t mean all of the seats were taken, I mean we had to squeeze just to fit in the door. I was surprised they didn’t have people pushers standing by. We happened to choose the same car that our Boston friend was on! He told us he could make room for us up top if we could squeeze through the crowd by the door. Of course Ari and Ayva managed to make their way through but Addison and I took a bit more time and Tavis was stuck by the door. By the time I reached Ari, he had already taken a seat from one of the girls in the group and was telling her and her friends all about his trip so far. That boy never has trouble making friends! They got off at the stop before us but we did manage to cross paths again.

The train ride was actually quite beautiful once we made it through the tunnels and wound our way along the coast. The water was the same colour as the lakes in Switzerland. As we stopped at each town, the crowd began to thin and eventually we all had seats together.

Monterosso (The furthest of the villages)

When we arrived in Monterosso almost everyone got off the train. We hung around a bit to let the masses clear. Then we made our way down to the village and toward the boardwalk. There was a huge beach that spanned the entire length of the bay. It was lined with lounge chairs and umbrellas. This is apparently the nicest beach but 90% of it requires a fee to use. We walked along the beach a bit then took a short detour through the village. We then decided to begin our hike to Vernazza. We didn’t really research this hike too much beyond the fact that we could walk the trail… Maybe we should have done a bit more research before this point. Although beautiful, it was basically straight up the mountain along the oceanside.

The views were stunning! However, I also took note of the very narrow path, uneven stairs, and nothing stopping a person from falling down the cliff. It was unlike anything you would find in Canada… and we even paid to walk this trail! The kids did an amazing job despite the insanely steep incline, treacherous heat, and apparent lack of water. We had 4 large water bottles, a huge tea (for me), and an extra 2 litres of water as backup. About an hour and a half into our hike we had to divvy up the extra water. Ayva was having difficulty breathing and everyone’s legs were shaking. But we powered through. We kept a steady pace and when we passed the Boston group going the other way (mostly downhill for them) they were impressed with our timing. We passed quite a few families along the way.

Vernazza (village 4 of 5)

When the village of Vernazza was in site we all felt a bit relieved. We slowly made our way down to the sea and the first thing we saw at the bottom was the most amazing water fountain ever! Actually it was a dumpy like faucet that looked quite sketchy but when a few people informed us it was drinking water (we needed a second opinion) we were beyond excited to see it. However, we didn’t have time to fill the water bottles yet because the sea was calling our name. Before we had a chance to find out if it was safe to swim, Ari and Ayva were already jumping off the dock swimming with a few others who had the same idea. We all took a turn swimming, being careful to get out every time a ferry pulled up. After 30 minutes we all felt rejuvenated… except Addison who did not want to get his bathing suit on behind a towel in the middle of a crowded boardwalk. We showered off with the free hose that was just off the beach. We then filled our water bottles and purchased some focaccia pizza slices that we ate on some stairs just off the main street.

With our bellies full, we made our way up the street and through some winding alleys to the train station where we decided to continue our voyage to the next village. While waiting for the train I decided to do a little more reading about the Cinque Terre. Apparently the hike we just did was of course the most difficult and we did it backwards! And we weren’t supposed to be jumping off the dock at the marina. Oops! However, I did read about a less busy beach in Corniglia that we could check out if we wanted.

Corniglia (Village 3 of 5)

It was a short train ride to Corniglia. But it didn’t take long to see why it was less populated. We looked straight up the hill to the village that sat at the peak. In order to get to the beach we had to hike al the way up, then walk through the village, and down the other side all the way to the water. The path was long and winding with lots of steps. We had to take a bit of a breather about 3/4 the way up. Just when you think you are at the top you have another few flights to go. Eventually we did make it to the top, across the street, and up another hill along a path that took us to the church. Just outside the church was another water fountain. We again took a break to guzzle our water and fill up the bottles. We then toured the church which was not as prominent as the past ones we’ve seen, but still more impressive than anything at home.

The streets of Corniglia and just narrow little alleys between old buildings and seemed not to have any symmetry at all. The rows of building wound up and down the hillside. We got a bit lost along our journey but eventually saw signs that pointed to the marina. We got our first glimpse of the beach from a wrong turn and it looked so beautiful we all agreed it was worth the trek down and back up. We eventually fumbled our way down past the caution sign and made our way along hot rocks and slippery areas where had to go through the water to get the shade for Tavis. Ari decided just to swim so the rest of us were stuck carrying the bags. It was such a beautiful spot that we stayed for several hours. Ari built his own rock towers next to ones that were already built. He and Ayva explored a few caves and found a few large crabs. Finally just before 5:00 we decided it was time to make our way home.

We carefully made our way through the shallow water along the slippery rocks, over the hot rocks, around the topless women, past the caution sign, and back to the marina where there was a shower for us to rinse our feet (We were almost dry at this point). We then hiked all the way up the mountain, made a few wrong turns through the village, and eventually made our way back down the other side to the train station. We took the train back to La Spezia and a bus to the apartment. We had a little trouble finding the right bus because some drivers are very rude.

We made it home before 6:00 and everyone had a shower. We then through in a load of laundry in the tiniest washing machine I’ve ever seen. We had to do 2 loads for our bathing suits and towels. Then we caught a bus down into La Spezia. The bus was actually a fancy 15 passenger van! When we got down town in was 8:00 and we discovered the busses stop running at 9:00. We walked along the water and down main street. We couldn’t find any restaurants under 20 euros/person so we got on a bus and went directly home just in time to order pizza at our favourite bakery down the street. For 12 euros we had a huge meat pizza, small margarita pizza, 8 buns, and a huge pie of something they called “La Spezia Special”. Tavis tipped her 2 euros and she refused so he had to just leave it on the counter. What a nice place!

Now everyone is in bed, our clothes are drying on a rack and I am going to bed too. A long day but what a great one. Tomorrow we we check out the other two villages and this time we are going to do the easy hike down from Manarola to Corniglia. Tomorrow night we go to Rome.

Day 17 – Pisa & La Spezia

This morning we woke up at 6:45 to finish packing and make sure the house was as clean as it was when we arrived. We ha pastries, yogurt, and Frosties for breakfast. We got the kids up at 7:00am and by 7:45 the house was clean, bags were packed, and everyone fed. We borrowed the Ford to get us and our luggage to the train station for the 8:15 train. Tavis dropped Addison and myself off with most of the luggage around 7:50. We purchased the tickets and validated them before Tavis arrived with Ayva and Ari.  Everything went smooth and by 8:15 we were on our way to Mestre.

We arrived at Mestre just before 8:30 which gave us about 15 minutes to find our platform for the connecting train. We walked directly to the platform and waited for the train to arrive. By 8:45 we were on our train and we found our assigned seating. We had an entire table row to ourselves!  This was by far the best train we’ve had this trip! It was spacious, clean, and had screens that showed the speed and location aswell as the next stop. At some points we reached speeds of 240km/hr! Apparently the top speed of that train was 400 km/hr!

We went through a tunnel and when we came out the other side we noticed that the smog from Venice was gone!  The scenery was actually quite nice.  The kids and I enjoyed a game of rocket but we still had a nice view out the window.  Around 10:30 we had to switch trains. Before departing the train, the screens displayed the connecting trains and their platforms. It was helpful o know where we needed to be and whether our train was on time before even arriving.  The terminal was a bit tricky to navigate but the help of a fellow passenger we found platform 1 and the train was already waiting for us. It wasn’t busy which was good because we didn’t have assigned seating on this train.  Before we knew it we were on our way to Pisa.


At 11:45 we arrived in Pisa.  Our first item on the agenda was to find a place to stow our luggage for the day. We checked out the baggage area at the train which charged 5 euros per bag. We decided to walk a few blocks to some large lockers. We saved a bit of money by renting 2 large lockers at where we stored 5 suitcases, 3 backpacks, and a large iced tea 😛  Now we were ready to explore all that Pisa had to offer.

We walked the streets following our self-guided tour from Rick Steves.  Pisa was much better than I imagined. We walked down main street and it had a very North American vibe. Apparently almost half of the population of Pisa is made up University students.  Once we crossed the bridge to the north side it had more of a tourist feel.  We found a nice restaurant with delicious photos of menu items. They also had English and Italian on the menu so we sat down and enjoyed our meal in the streets of Pisa.  There was a 2 euro cover charge per person but the food was excellent and the staff was nice. We also got to use the toilets which was a bonus.

Next we continued our tour through a square and eventually made our way to the leaning tower of Pisa.  We were surprised to see that it actually is leaning!  As a matter of fact, all of the buildings had a bit of a lean to them but none like the tower.  We found a spot in the shade and read about the history and architecture of the tower. Another thing we noticed was a water fountain!  We all filled our water bottles.  Then we walked all the way around and got some photos from all angles.  Yep, we were typical tourists. While there, Tavis got tickets to the Cathedral of Pisa. Our tickets weren’t good until 3:45 so we walked around the Field of Miracles and found a beautiful spot on the grass with a nice cool breeze. We had a light snack and relaxed for 45 minutes.  As we were waiting we read about the history and architecture of the Cathedral.  We also admired the massive walls that surrounded the field. The lock on the gate looked like a replica of a sliding lock today only 1000 times bigger!

Just before 3:00 we filled our water bottles again and made our way to the Cathedral entrance. This was like no other Cathedral we’ve seen. It had intricate details but what we really enjoyed was the art inside. The ceilings were impressive with a combination of murals and sculptured tiles. Another impressive structure was the massive columns that were hand carved by Galileo himself. Above it was a huge lantern that was apparently a replica of the one that inspired his sculpture.  We were all impressed my this massive cathedral and after we had seen the entire viewing area we ventured back into the heat.

This time we decided to wander down the road to a gate on the other side of the field. We walked the maze of streets and noticed that a lot of the stores were now closed. We slowly made our way back to the main street where we found a gelato shop that had decent prices and looked inviting.  We all enjoyed a cone with 2 scoops of gelato. I picked lemon and pink grapefruit which was a perfect combination and very refreshing.  We all decided that it hit the spot but none of us felt like eating dinner. We slowly walked the streets of Pisa and made our way back to the luggage storage.

We picked up our bags just after 5:00 and went to the train station. We discovered we had reservations on an express train so it arrived at the same time as the trains leaving 30 minutes sooner.  By the time we got to the train station we had a 50 minute wait for our train to arrive. We learned that Pisa can be done in 2-5 hours… 7 is too long 😛

At 7:03 we boarded our train and found our assigned seats. Our train originally departed from Rome and was going all the way to Monaco so it was fairly busy. Luckily we all had table seats with chargers so everyone brought out their devices and the train ride went quickly.

When we arrived in La Spezia, our host Andrea met us at the train station with his father in law. They needed 2 vehicles to transport all of us so they decided to take us on a tour of La Spezia on they way. They pointed out favourite restaurants, places to walk, grocery stores, and other tourist places they thought we might like to visit. They also pointed out bus stops and the closer train station. When we arrived at the apartment they gave us a tour of the beautiful home. It is a very stylish flat with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and even a washing machine, fridge, stove, and microwave. The patio has a bbq and 2 bikes. They also pointed out a great place to grab a bite to eat.

Shortly after the orientation we walked 2 blocks and bought a huge pizza, small pizza, and 3 cans of pop. The pizzas were hand made as we waited and cost a total of 12.50! We brought the food back to our home and enjoyed our meal. Now off to bed to get some rest. Tomorrow we will explore the Cinque Terre. 

Day 16 – Venizia (Venice)

Lastnight our host family printed a suggested itinerary for us based on only a single day in Venice without a travel pass. They also told us a bit about what to expect at Murano and Burano. They shared their favourite restaurant and ice cream shops and also the things that they enjoy most in Venice. We decided that we couldn’t come this far and not see all of it so we came to terms with the fact that we would need to spend 100 Euros on a day pass. However, we needed to get into Venice to buy our ticket.

We were up at 7:00 and had our Frosties for breakfast (thanks Sandra). Then we dressed into our coolest clothes because we knew it was going to be a hot day. Nadia (our host) drove us to the train station at 8:00. We purchased 5 tickets to Venizia Santa Lucia (9.50 Euros) and walked straight onto the train. We had to connect to a different train at Mestre but a fellow passenger was very kind to show us which platform to get to. We walked straight onto that train and by 8:45 we were in Venice!

We met a passenger on the train who spoke English and directed us toward a booth where we could purchase our day pass. When we spoke to the woman at the desk she asked about the age of the kids and then told us it would be 70 euros (much cheaper than the 100 we would have paid the day before). We were quite excited to have saved so much money and she was happy that we were excited. She said that she wished all of her customers were like us.

Next we set out on foot to explore the city using the guide that Nadia and her family provided. We were amazed at how the canals seemed to be an every day part of living in this city. The canals are an integral part of the transportation system in Venice. They also have several alleys, some much more narrow than others. While we were walking the streets it was still very quiet and not crowded at all. The shops were just opening and setting up their seating on the streets. The buildings in the city look very old and tired… and completely different from what we saw in Switzerland.

Another thing we noticed was how much the city caters to tourists. We couldn’t walk more that a few feet without seeing a souvenir shop or street vendor. They all seemed to have the same things too. We walked through several alleys and crossed a few bridges. Before we knew it we were half way through Venice. We decided to get onto a boat to get a different view of the city. The boat we caught was quite crowded and we couldn’t sit together. We did manage to get window seats and enjoy the view. It was crazy watching boats with huge bags and boxes of supplies, fishing boats, boats with cranes, dredging boats, and even car ferry boats. It was very smoggy down town and watching all the exhaust from the boats it wasn’t hard to see why.

When we arrived in Santa Marco we got off and decided to find a boat that took us out to Murano. We found a boat station that had a sign saying to go to the next dock. When we got there we realized it was only for a tour and were directed to the boat station a bit further down the road. We eventually found the correct place and after a short wait we were on our way. It was about a 30 minute ride around the island of Venizia to Murano. t is neat how there are poles that guide the boats. It almost looks like a highway on water… you just have to stay between the poles. We got off on the second stop at Murano and transferred directly onto the boat that took us out to Burano.

Burano is quite different from the busy streets of Venizia. It was very quiet and the houses were all brightly painted. Everything looked well taken care of. It seemed like we just walked through mostly residential areas with a few shops along the way. There was a main path that had several street vendors and stores along the side but for the most part it was very quiet. After wandering the island the temperature started getting very hot and humid. We decided to look for a geocache, then we started looking for a place to have lunch. We found an empty restaurant with decent prices so we walked in and sat down. When we looked at the menu I noticed there was a cover charge of 3 euros for each person. We asked if it was for all 5 of us and when they said “yes” we decided not to eat there. Instead we ordered traditional Italian pizzas at the outdoor restaurant just across from the boat station. It was only 7.50 – 9.00 for a pizza so we ordered 3 and enjoyed our meal in the shade with a nice cool breeze. There was also a water fountain across the street that had a line of people filling up water bottles. We finished our water and refilled our bottles before catching a boat back to Murano.

When we arrived in Murano we walked along the canal and popped into the glass blowing stores along the way (mostly for the air conditioning). A few placed had glass blowing demonstrations but since we already experienced that in Switzerland we decided not to pay the 20 euros. One of the stores had a video on a large screen that showed the process. The kids especially enjoyed sitting in the air conditioned shop watching the video. The glass blowing here is incredible. One of the shops had a sign out front that said no pieces made in China, all 100% Murano glass blowing. We got a chuckle out of that. We also made our way to a huge glass Christmas tree on display at a popular square. Next we decided to find another geocache before making our way back to the boat. This time though, the man running the flow of people at the boat station was terrible. The signs told us to catch boat 2.4 or 4 to go back to Venizia. We were there 2 minutes before the boat left but the man wouldn’t let anyone past the gate. By the time he opened the gate to let us through the boat had dropped off some passengers and left. We had to wait another 20 minutes for the next boat! He seemed very disorganized and the line up was very long. When the next boat approached he let us all go onto the platform before it unloaded. It was the most frustrating part of our day (which really wasn’t all that bad).

After arriving back at San Marco we walked along the promenade a bit. Then we visited the Basilica of San Marco. We could not all go in at the same time because we were not allowed to bring our backpacks. Instead, Tavis went in with the kids and did teh self-guided tour while I stood outside guarding the bags. When they finished, Ayva came through again with me. We could have gone up to the top of the building and viewed the streets but it was 5 euros, not very high, and we were too hot to go up. This chapel was amazing though. It was not like anything we have seen in Germany or Switzerland. The detail was immaculate and grand. There were gold statues and artwork and the enormous pillars all seemed to be made of different types of stone. many different types of stone. I admit that I don’t truly appreciate churches but this one wowed me!

Next we found a spot to view the Ponte Dei Sospiri which is one of the symbolic bridges of Venice. To be honest we didn’t really get the whole meaning of it so we just took a photo and continued on our way. I guess the walking tour would have been helpful here. The heat and humidity was really started to get to us so we walked through the alleys trying to find a smoothie shop which we found earlier in the day. We eventually found one and all of us enjoyed cold fruit beverages which helped cool us down and quench our thirst as we had run out of water. We then decided that we had seen enough of Venice so we walked through the winding alleys and over bridges all the way to the bus station.

This bus station was not as easy to navigate as we had hoped. We knew we had to catch bus 53E but didn’t see any signs for that bus. We asked 2 different people who kept pointing further down the street. We eventually saw our bus pulling up to the very end of the bus station. It was very crowded so instead of sitting we stood at one of the connecting parts that had air conditioning. It felt quite nice but the 30 minute bus ride on our feet wasn’t as relaxing as we had hoped. We met a nice woman who helped us find the right place to get off and told us where to go for groceries. We went to the local Coop and bought grapes, pasta, lasagna, 3 litres of water (50 cents), and 1.5 litres of iced tea (75 cents). We then walked the 10 minutes back to the house.

Once home we made dinner and also did a load of laundry (thanks again Sandra for the soap). We now have enough clean underwear to last the rest of the trip. We are now packing our bags and getting ready to move on to our next destination… Pisa, then La Spezia.

Day 15 – Switzerland to Italy

This morning Terris and Sandra left the house before I woke up to meet Uncle Terry at the airport. It would have been nice to see Uncle Terry but I’m sure he would have been tired and ready to sleep when he got back. We got up, Tavis made sandwiches, and we ate breakfast before saying goodbye to our home for the past 11 days. We have really appreciated the generosity of Terris and Sandra who opened their home to us. Switzerland is a beautiful country! Below outlines our commute to Italy.

  • 7:36 – 7:48 bus from Krattigen to Spiez
  • 8:05 – 9:12 train from Spiez to Domodossola
  • 10:17 – 2:28 train from Domodosolla to Mestre, Venice
  • 3:03 – 3:11 train from Mestre to Mira-Milano

When we left Krattigen, the weather was warm and dry. We stopped in Spiez to buy some soda that Sandra introduced us to yesterday. Then we made our way to the platform 3 to catch our train to Italy. Navigating the bus and trains in Switzerland with our luggage was easy because we knew exactly where to go and what to do with our luggage. When we arrived in Domodossola though, it was a different story.

As we arrived in Italy, it was pouring rain and the scenery was nothing like what we saw in Switzerland. It was more run down and dreary. In fairness, the weather may have had an impact on the setting. We collected our luggage and made our way to the train station. We tried to find a ticket agent who spoke English to see if we could buy a 24 hour bus pass for Venice ahead of time. It was not long before we discovered we could not purchase the pass until we arrived in Venice. We thought about wandering around Domodossola but the rain was coming down hard and we had all of our luggage. Instead we found a seat in the waiting area and waited 45 minutes before making our way back to platform 3 to catch our next train. As the train arrived we watched for car 4 and hopped on at the correct doors.

When we got onto the train we first discovered there was no room for our luggage as it was completely filled with everyone else’s luggage. Then we found that our reserved seats were not showing up as reserved and there were people sitting in the seas. We found a conductor who helped us find a place to put our luggage and moved some people (who had reserved seats in car 3) so we could all sit somewhat together. We didn’t have the nice table seats with 4 but atleast we were sitting 2×2. When the train arrived in Milan many people got off so Tavis was able to move our bags to the luggage rack and we grabbed a set of seats with a table. Unlike the trains in Switzerland, there really wasn’t much to see so we ended up playing on our devices and having a long game of rocket.

When we arrived in Mestre, the sun was shining and it was about 30 degrees out! We collected our bags and tried to find a ticket booth. We walked the wrong way initially but eventually made it into the station. It was so hot that we decided to go directly to our apartment so we could get rid of the bags and hopefully cool down. It took a while to figure out where to buy tickets because no one spoke English well. Thirty minutes (and 10 Euros) later we had tickets to the train station where Nadia (the person we rented our AirBNB from). It was literally an 8 minute ride to the next train station! The tickets were not nearly as easy to understand as in Switzerland. We didn’t know which train number or where the train was heading so we went to the platform at the correct time and asked someone after we got on.

At 3:11 we arrived in Mira-Mirano. Tavis called Nadia and her husband, Palo, arrived 5 minutes later with a VW minivan. I’m sure we looked tired and hot with seat dripping from our foreheads. We had to put the back seats down to fit all the luggage so I jumped into the back seat with the 3 kids and Tavis sat up front. It was a short 5 minute drive to the house. The house is large and the property is quite nice aswell. He pointed out his large garden and drove around behind the house. We walked in and tehre was a large stairway that led to an upstairs apartment. When we walked in to a wonderfully cool air-conditioned room we were pleasantly surprised. It was small but well decorated and had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It also had a washing machine, stove, fridge, and microwave. He asked if we wanted any tomatoes as they had plenty. When he left we started unpacking and Tavis hung our wet bathingsuits and towels from lastnight on the line outside. When he came in he had a large basket of fresh tomatoes picked right out of the garden!

A few minutes later Nadia arrived and introduced herself. She asked about our travel arrangements when we leave and offered to lend us her old car to drive ourselves to the train station since they will not be home! She also offered her car to us so we could go purchase bus passes and groceries. How cool is that!!! Tavis and I left the kids at home and found ourselves driving to Dolo. We went to the place to get bus passes and it was packed! We waited 30 minutes to find out it was going to cost 100 Euros to purchase a 24 hour bus pass for Venice!!! We politely declined and figured we would we would be better off paying the 19 euros for a return trip to venice by train and walking the streets instead of taking transit. We then went to a market a few blocks away and bought groceries for dinner, breakfast, and snacks for only 22 euros!

When we got back Nadia asked about the bus passes and we told her it was too expensive. She was disappointed that they would charge us full price for the kids but informed us that the bus pass also includes the boats out to the islands such as Murano and Burano. We decided to make dinner and later tonight Nadia is going to come up and we are going to make a plan for tomorrow. As it turns out, we can purchase our bus pass online.

We are very pleased with our accommodations here in Italy so far. Our hosts are very kind and we look forward to tomorrow’s adventure.

Day 14 – Oeschinensee & Bern

This morning we slept in until 7:45 and magically the Flippin’ Floppin’ Sandwich factory manufactured our lunches magically by the time we woke up 😛 We enjoyed our daily breakfast of Frosties before leaving the house at 7:30. It was a short itinerary:

  • 7:36 – 7:48 bus from Krattigen to Spiez
  • 8:12 – 8:40 train from Spiez to Kandersteg


When we arrived in Kandersteg we walked up to the gondola. It was a beautiful 15 minute walk on a small road with a few houses. As we walked down the street we all imagined what it would be like to live in this serene area with the mountains surrounding us. We came to the conclusion that it would be too secluded in the winter and we would rather just have a summer home.

As we arrived at the gondola we were happy to see one that was more like a ski lift at home that ran continuously and had room for 6-8 people. We all validated our passes and found a seat on our gondola. It was a beautiful and smooth short ride to the top. As we came up to the top of the gondola we passed over the bobsled track and the kids got quite excited.

Our first stop was to purchase tickets to ride the bobsled. There were a group of students in line so we decided to hike down to the lake and come back later. The hike to the lake was down hill along the road. When we approached the lake we were in awe of how green the lake was and how peaceful it was settled between the mountains. It was also quite warm. There were kids swimming on the other side of the lake. We walked down to the row boat rentals and sat at some benches to take in the moment. We also found a fire pit with benches around. It would have been a perfect spot to spend the day and have a bbq. We had about 20 minutes to enjoy our cookies and walk around the area before starting back to the bobsleds.

We decided to walk back a different route. We walked half way around the lake and took a switchback trail. It was narrow and steep… a real hiking trail. It was also beautiful as we ascended up the mountain. When we reached the top of the hill there was a restaurant and a heard of cattle hanging out in the field where the trail led. One cow had a bunch of flies on its nose. I tried to help but she didn’t appreciate my help and waved her horns at me. We carried on another 20 minutes down the trail and reached he bobsleds.

We purchased a 10 ride pass for the kids and a 5 ride pass for adults. A nice lady also gave us an additional 3 passes so the kids each got 3 rides! The first time we went up it wasn’t really clear how to use the bobsled and Ayva didn’t know how to make it go. There was a bit of a slow down at the top but as soon as Sandra told her how to go Ayva was gone like a rocket! It was so much fun that Terris bought 2 more tickets so all 4 of us adults could go twice. By the time we went for our last ride, the nice man running the bobsleds let the kids each take one more ride for free! It was the highlight of the day! For more information on Oeschinensee click here.

After our thrill was over we sat down beside the gondola in the shade and ate our sandwiches on a bench. Sandra bought us a Rivella (a Swiss drink) at the train station this morning and we shared it at lunch. It was so good! It tasted kind of like a Sprite, but nothing at all like it. We decided we need to import it to Canada! After lunch, we took the gondola back down the hill and and started back toward the train station in Kandersteg. We stopped at a playground infront of the gondola that had swings, a trampoline, and a cage of bunnies. There was also the most ingenious mini golf course… It consisted of a wooden wheel (kind of like a water wheel) that had 12 sections around numbered from 1-12. You turn the wheel for each hole and the middle section changes. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen! After leaving the playground we searched for 2 geocaches on the way to the train. Ari found both of them in the trees.


Next, we caught the 1:15 train from Kandersteg and arrived in Bern (the capital city of Switzerland) just before 2:30. Sandra was tired so she decided to get off in Spiez so she could buy some groceries and get some rest at home. When we got to Bern we walked through the enormous train station and walked down the street tot he parliament building. It was under construction so we weren’t able to get a tour. We continued on our way to “The Minister” which is Bern’s most impressive example of late Goth architecture. The detail was incredible both inside and out. It was extremely hot so we decided not to climb the tower. After going in and seeing the tall ceiling and detailed stained glass, we carried on down the street.

We came to a bridge and as we crossed I spotted a bear on the other side. It was an actual real live bear and it was living in “Bear Park“. The entire side of the river was fenced off and home to a bear. We got quite close as we walked along the far side. The bear seemed quite happy in its habitat. We continued down the riverside and walked down the stairs. We saw people jump in the river and float down. It was so hot that we were all jealous. As we continued walked along the riverside Ari became overheated so we stopped and let him sit on the rocks and dip his feet in the water. After 5 minutes of cooling off we continued up the hill to the road where we caught a city bus back to the parliament buildings.

Terris treated us all to gelato which was amazing! It was also exactly what we needed to cool down. After finishing our ice cream Terris went to a specialty store to buy peanut butter which is apparently a North American thing and not easy to find in Switzerland. We then carried on back to the train station and caught the 3:30 train back to Spiez. Terris, Ayva, Addison, and Ari played a lot of Rocket on the train today which passed the time very quickly. We arrived in Spiez a bit late but our bus waited for us and we were back home by 4:20.

We were still very warm so we quickly walked down the hill to our swimming hole and enjoyed a nice refreshing swim in the lake. We arrived after 5:00 and the kids would have stayed for hours but at 6:30 we got them out so we could get home and start dinner. We enjoyed a delectable dinner of marinated chicken breasts and pork chops, followed by the best chocolate ever!

Today was another perfect day. We are sad that we have to leave Terris and Sandra tomorrow. We were here for 11 days and we could have easily spent another week or 2. We are sad to leave Switzerland tomorrow but also excited to see Italy. Tomorrow will be a travelling day and a new adventure!

Thank you Terris and Sandra for the amazing hospitality! We love your country!