Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Community > Trip Reports
Reload this Page >

A little bit of a lot of Europe: Nov 2013 Family TR w pics

A little bit of a lot of Europe: Nov 2013 Family TR w pics

Old Dec 22, 13, 8:27 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
A little bit of a lot of Europe: Nov 2013 Family TR w pics

This is my first trip report - criticism and suggestions are welcome, but please be nice!

We are a family of 4 who travel whenever we can, which is not nearly enough with mine, Bonnie and our boys' school schedule. The boys are 10 and 12 and interested in everything. Our typical travel has always been road trips with the occasional trip to beautiful Barbados where my wife Bonnie is from. She lost her right leg to bone cancer as a teenager (this will come into play later) but is able to walk up to a couple of miles a day if needed on her prosthetic leg or on crutches.

- My stumble into the miles and points and credit cards world -

Our schedules coincide to allow long weekends here and there throughout the year, a week at Thanksgiving, and/or up to two weeks at Christmas/New Years. We like to travel to where people aren't - not fans of crowds or busy places. So last year at Thanksgiving we took advantage as usual of the fact that our schools have the entire week off, while most others only have Thursday and Friday. We loaded up the car and headed off 1500 miles to the Grand Canyon for a couple of days filled with spectacular scenery and then on to San Diego for Thanksgiving with some family out there. While enjoying some time relaxing and watching football, I clicked on some ads I had seen advertizing various trips to and around Europe, dreamed about being able to spend $7000-9000 on airfare and lodging plus day trips, meals and spending money. Never going to happen with all of the kids' other needs and my paycheck.

I don't recall exactly what I googled or clicked on, but I stumbled upon a miles and points blog which had links to another and then another, and I had reading material for the rest of the weekend. There were articles about millions of miles, points guys, two-browser methods, secrets, mommies, lots of running, shopping portals, business class, Vanilla, Office Depot and a gigantic mess of a website called flyertalk. I quickly gave up on ft as being just for the addicts who must have lost their minds and concentrated on how I could add to the AA miles we had earned on trips to Barbados and from an AA card I had gotten back in 2011. According to all the blogs, each of us could easily add 100,000 AA miles - good for a few free trips to Barbados!

At some point around the time we applied for Bonnie's two AA cards in December, I finally woke up to the fact that we could easily get enough AA miles to take the family to Europe on off-peak tickets. Over the next 3 months, I practically lived on various blogs, we opened 13 credit cards, figured out a few ways to manufacture spending, did thousands of dummy bookings at aa.com, signed up at ft and started asking stupid questions.

- Trip planning -

Initially, we planned for a March 2014 (spring break) trip. But in March Bonnie was way too busy with tax season work to leave, and it became clear that Thanksgiving week was our only window. So we planned out a route:

Me: We've got enough miles, we're going to go to Europe in November! Where do y'all want to go?
Bonnie: I've always wanted to go to Paris, can we?
Me: Yep, what about you, boys?
Kids with no hesitation: Spain. And an overnight train.
Me: Why Spain? I think we can make that work, but I'd kind of like to go somewhere in Italy or Switzerland. Go look up whatever you want and decide where you want to go.
Kids after a few minutes googling: Sicily, there's a volcano there.
Me: perfect, maybe we can stop in Switzerland or Germany along the way.

The best return routes from Catania were through Zurich on AB, perfect for my newly minted MR points transferred to BA, and the itinerary came together: drive 3 hours to Houston rather than have an extra connection and layover through DFW, fly IAH-JFK-CDG on AA, Thello overnight train to Florence, FLR-CTA on Alitalia, CTA-ZRH on AB, and ZRH-JFK-IAH on AA. Total cost for all 4 of us: 144K AA miles, 30K BA Avios, 37K Chase UR points, 18K MR points, and $250. Numbers I could afford. 9 days in Europe with only 2 school days missed.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:34 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 22, 13, 8:58 pm
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
SAT-CDG

After an uneventful early drive to the Ramada Houston airport which offered the cheapest parking with a shuttle, we used the lounge passes I had gotten to check into the UA lounge in terminal A near AA's IAH gates. It was small but nearly empty, and we were able to get something of a breakfast, some coffee and some work done.

I don't know why this club even exists, as United barely uses terminal A if at all. Anyways...

The IAH-JFK route is fairly new and being discontinued; apparently it is ridiculously expensive as a non-stop and only used for continuing traffic. In any case, the flight was a full 737, on time, all good. At JFK we used the rest of my lounge passes at the much larger AA lounge. We got a decent late lunch, a beer and a quick shower there before they announced our flight in the lounge - the dream that seemed impossible 6 months before was well under way! "Flight 44 to Paris is now boarding."

The group one boarding that comes with the AA cards definitely came in handy, as the flight was nearly full and many carry-on bags had to be gate checked. We had checked one small duffel bag with Bonnie's hiking boots and a coat or two; everything else was in our carryon bags. The 767 looked as tired as we would feel - much like the 767s I flew to Barbados on in the late 90s before we got married. Not that we cared - we wanted to go to Europe, not ride in a fancy flying bus. Dinner was chicken and rice that didn't look like much but was actually really good. Thing 1 got a good night's sleep. The other 3 of us tried with some success to get some rest, even a little sleep, but we arrived on time at 6:30 A.M. Paris time pretty tired. There were no lines anywhere at that time on Sunday morning and we were on the RER train headed into Paris by 8:00.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:34 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 23, 13, 7:07 pm
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
- Paris -

As soon as I had the tickets booked back in March, I turned back to the blogs and FT for points hotel ideas and quickly found that all the trip reports on the Park Hyatt Paris neglected to mention that award stays are for 2 adults only and that a 10 year old is an adult. I started a thread on family hotels http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/miles...el-europe.html and then added IHG and Barclay Arrival cards to Bonnie's next AOR. IHG appeared to have 4 person rooms available, but no such luck online or over the phone except at a couple suburban hotels only accessible by car. So we settled on Novotel Paris Les Halles, a decent looking hotel right next to a station served by both RER and Metro trains, where a 4 person room with internet, breakfast and a pair of boat tickets cost 27,500 Arrival points.

It looked so easy on Google maps - walk out of what appeared to be the main entrance to Châtelet – Les Halles and straight into the hotel. However, there is a gigantic underground mall above the train station that is designed to be a trap. You can check out, all right, but you can't leave. At least not until they finish the construction that is going on at the ground level. Eventually we found an open exit, a maze of construction barricades and finally our hotel. The front desk staff took our bags since we couldn't check in yet, and gave us our boat tickets and a Metro map. We made our way to the Eiffel tower, tried some delicious pastries and decided the boat would be the best place to stay warm.


The boys enjoyed the river level view of Paris with us while we half wished we could join them:


I don't think I'd have paid for the ride from Bateaux Parisiens, but it was a nice introduction to the city. We found a restaurant near the tower for a late lunch before heading back to the hotel to check in. In what will be a recurring theme, I didn't take enough pictures of our accommodations for a trip report. Anyway, our room was about the same size as a standard 4-person room in the U.S. and had a good view of the construction project at Les Halles - I'm sure it will be a great view at some point.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:35 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 23, 13, 7:24 pm
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
We fell asleep at some point, probably around 6:00. Somehow we all woke up around midnight thinking it was early morning, and while none of our clocks had reset automatically, we had tried to figure out and set some of them. So we had no idea what time it was until I went downstairs to check and see if breakfast was available yet... I did my best to order a light dinner from the hotel bar, and then we slept in just too late to get the breakfast that came with our room. Not to worry, they seated us near the bar and served us a full breakfast anyway at no charge.


We checked our bags back in and checked out, and headed off to the Louvre which is only a couple of Metro stops away. I should have realized that Bonnie was way over her limit of stairs climbed and descended on one leg, but as usual we were too busy taking things in to care. There were no lines or crowds anywhere in the Louvre except 20 or 30 people ignoring the far more interesting painting on the opposite side of the room in favor of the Mona Lisa. I don't get it. We grabbed a quick lunch in the food court area just outside the basement level of the Louvre before heading back in and just trying to take in the sheer volume of beauty there. While the Louvre was fantastic in every way, Bonnie was done with stairs around 3:00 so we got back on the Metro with no destination in mind. Thing 2 saw something called Le Grand Arch, so we decided to go check it out. A few minutes later we emerged in the gleaming modern glass and concrete buildings of La Defense. The whole area seemed strangely empty and quiet, and after a quick look around we headed back, I left Mrs. K in the station and got our bags, and we made our way to Gare de Lyon. Our train was scheduled to leave at 7:15 and I had read that there was a great restaurant near the station. Of course as soon as we got to Gare de Lyon I realized I would never find the correct exit and hadn't even recorded the name of the restaurant so we settled for sandwiches from a stand in the station before boarding the Thello night train.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:35 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 24, 13, 11:36 pm
  #5  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: IAH
Programs: UA Gold, Hyatt Globalist, Marriott PP, Hilton Gold
Posts: 1,056
Very nice start, KennyBSAT. Looking forward to the rest.
dat4life is offline  
Old Dec 25, 13, 11:56 am
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
The Thello night train should have been perfect. Affordable, a decent night's sleep, scheduled to arrive Bologna at 6:00 A.M. and then Florence at 7:12. I had booked hotels in both Florence (in case the weather was bad) and La Spezia (where I wanted to drop off our bags before spending the day in Cinque Terre). Weather forecasts consistently showed beautiful sunny days Tuesday and Wednesday, so I cancelled the Florence booking and went ahead and bought regional train tickets from Bologna to Parma and on to La Spezia. Stupid mistake.

It was pretty cold inside the station at the groung level, so we were glad to get on board and out of our coats. We found our "room" on the train which was set up for either 4 or 6 persons. It would be very cramped for 6 but had plenty of room for the 4 of us and our luggage. Bonnie was able to take her leg off and give her stump (we don't use the PC term 'residual limb') a rest as some small sores had developed on it as they often do if she does a lot of walking, from the silicon and plastic rubbing against the skin a little at a time. I got a meat and cheese plate and some bread from the dining cart to go along with the wine I had bought from a little shop next to the hotel, and everything was wonderful. Except maybe just a little too warm. And getting warmer. And warmer. We go tent camping in 100-degree plus South Texas weather when the nights are as hot as our cabin, but it's nothing like being stuck in a room being artificially heated up into the 80s. Some how the boys had fallen asleep fully dressed on their top bunks, but we were trying to sleep in our underwear while taking turns trying to get the temperature control over the door to make any kind of difference, and to open the window which had a sign that seemed to say 'no throwing bottles out the window' on it, with equal futility. Eventually after asking the what they could do (nothing, if we turn the heat off it will get far too cold) we realized that we could avoid being baked by leaving our cabin door open and letting some much cooler air in from the hallway. So now we could live with the temperature but slept with one eye open as everything I had read recommend keeping the cabin locked while sleeping.

Around 5:30 our restless Italian family of neighbors decided it would be a great idea to move their baggage for 6 out into the hallway, blocking access to the front of the car, and generally make a lot of noise. The regional train we had tickets for from Bologna was scheduled for 6:28, and there I knew from looking up schedules that there was another on about an hour later, either of which would give us about 10 minutes to change trains in Parma to continue to La Spezia. After I bought the tickets from Bologna I had set aside the sheet I had made up with all the possible routings from both Bologna and Florence to La Spezia. Again, stupid mistake. At about 7:40 we finally rolled into Bologna, but the 7:30 to Parma was also delayed until 7:50. We hurried from one train to the other just in time and all was well. Almost.

The train from Parma to La Spezia was not delayed, and long gone by the time we got there. No problem, we'll grab some coffee and get the next one in an hour, I thought. Still plenty of time to get to Vernazza for the afternoon and do a little hiking. But as we made our way to the bar just outside the station, two things became clear: there were no more trains to La Spezia for 5 hours, and Bonnie was in some agony as her prosthetic leg rubbed against the sores on her stump. Making matters worse, in the interest of packing as light as possible, we had not brought crutches.

To make a boring story short, we spent most of the day enjoying a little of everything the bar sold and double-checking the schedule boards which didn't change. I did manage to get some bandages from a local farmacia which made walking a little better for Bonnie, and the barista was more than happy to let us camp out all day with our luggage. We finally got on the train for a very pleasant journey through Tuscanny and over the mountains to La Spezia, arriving just as the sun set. A couple of views from the ride:


Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:36 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 25, 13, 12:54 pm
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
Oh, and thing 2 left his new camera on the train. Fortunately it was not a very expensive camera, but Tuesday was basically a wash for everything we had hoped to and tried to do. Still, we were happy and thankful to get to La Spezia and back on track.

As usual, we stayed at the least expensive place I could find with decent reviews and as close to transport as possible. In La Spezia this was Hotel Mary, a nice enough little place on the main road just across the street from the station. It is tucked into a whole block of buildings that looked to be a hundred years old or so but well kept. The elevator had room for 2 people and a small suitcase or two, but the family (4-person) room was plenty big enough for us, with a queen bed and two single beds.

As soon as we got into our room, I headed down to the farmacia and bought crutches for Bonnie so she wouldn't have to keep hurting her leg. She tried to walk on them a few blocks without her prosthetic leg to the restaurant, but unlike typical American crutches that allow you to use your arms, hands and shoulders for support, European crutches force you to put all your weight on your hands. When we passed a little shop that sold food to go before reaching a restaurant, we decided to stop there and let her get back off her foot. We got a variety of pastries, pizza slices and sandwiches and thoroughly enjoyed them along with what was left of the wine.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:37 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 29, 13, 4:44 pm
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
Fortunately, Bonnie was able to figure out a way to walk before we went to bed Tuesday by using her prosthetic leg and the crutches. So maybe my total lack of planning (other than where we would spend each night) would work out after all. Hotel Mary was very comfortable. Breakfast Wednesday morning was nothing special but helped us wake up to catch the 7:00 train to Cinque Terre.

We only had about an hour to spend before catching the train back down to Pisa and wound up just getting off in Corniglia, riding the bus from the station into town and looking around. Early on what would turn out to be a beautiful autumn day in the 50s with clear skies, it was still quite cold.

View from just outside Corniglia, with Monterosso visible in the distance.


Corniglia main street

So having gotten just enough of a taste of Cinque Terre to know it is definitely on our 'must return' list, we took the train back to La Spezia, grabbed our bags from the hotel and continued on to Pisa.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:37 am
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Dec 29, 13, 5:33 pm
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
Fortunately, I had researched getting to the tower and we went straight out of the train station and on to the Yellow LAM bus. I never saw a place to buy tickets, and the front of the bus was full, so we got off a few minutes later at the Square of Miracles wondering if or how we were supposed to pay.

The rest of Pisa may not measure up to other Tuscan cities, but the duomo and tower were definitely worth spending our few minutes to see. We took the obligatory tourist pictures, one of which turned out ok:


Thing 1 doing his best to turn the Leaning Tower into just another cool old building...

We had all of our luggage with us, but had expanded one of our carry on bags and gotten rid of the small duffel bag. I'm sure a few locals thought to themselves some choice words about another stupid tourist family, but we enjoyed the beauty of the square, decided not to go up the tower, picked up some souvenirs and headed back to catch the bus.

Between us, our luggage, and what seemed like an endless stream of school kids, I don't know how as many people got on that bus. Oh yeah, I do. The only room for the school kids was to sit on each others' laps. Within a minute or two each boy had a girl in his lap, something the Italian teenage boys seemed to enjoy greatly.

Anyway, a few minutes later we were back on a train, this time to Florence. The intercity train's 2nd class seating was comfortable enough that I slept most of the way, and we got to Florence around 4:30.

Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jan 1, 14 at 6:41 pm
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Jan 1, 14, 5:53 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 42
I am thoroughly enjoying this! It reminds me so much of my only trip to Europe -- 20 years ago -- with two friends. Please keep going!
Bigruby is offline  
Old Jan 1, 14, 7:39 pm
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
- FLR-CTA -

We had just enough time to relax and enjoy dinner in Florence before heading off to the airport and Sicily, and found a restaurant just across the street from the station where we did just that: Trattoria dall'Oste



From there, it was just around the corner to the bus station where we caught the express bus to the airport. At €6 per person, I'm sure there was a less expensive option, but it was quick and convenient. I've never been to FLR airport before of course, but it seemed to me that it has been recently and clumsily remodeled to force you to walk through what feels like a cheap shopping mall to get to check-in and the terminal.

When I booked our Vueling flights, I had no idea how much luggage we might have so I opted for the more expensive fare which gave us assigned seats in the first few rows, one checked bag per person and Iberia Avios points which have yet to post over a month later. I had heard stories that VY was very strict on bag sizes, so we checked the bags that didn't quite fit into their sizer. Boarding was an inefficient mess of riding in a standing-room-only bus out to the plane, saved by the fact that there were plenty of extra seats. No bags were checked for size, and we could have easily carried all of ours on. We were in row 3 of the 737; the flight was on time for the 7:00 P.M. departure and not quite an hour and a half to Catania.

I would much rather stay in a vacation rental than a hotel, and Catania was the one place where we would spend the 3 nights that are usually required. I had found this property http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p786602 and emailed back and forth with the owners who seemed friendly and responsive, and booked our stay there. The directions were pretty simple and easy to follow: take bus 457 to the station and walk three blocks to the apartment. Of course I chose the cross street that was not lighted to get over to Via d'Amico and there were a couple of guys smoking on what was probably their doorstep, but there were a couple of uncomfortable seconds as we, obviously tourists, each dragging a rollerboard, Mrs. on crutches, passed by in the dark. In fact, I'm sure they thought in was hilarious. Fortunately, Via d'Amico is well lighted and a few steps later we reached our apartment:


Please stay in a hotel. Leave places like this for me

The owner of the apartment met us and, just like the owner of every other vacation rental we have used, was nothing short of awesome. From a washing machine to a well-stocked kitchen to groceries for two meals that she thoughtfully provided (without us asking or them advertizing) to backpacks, maps and information on Sicily, everything we could have wanted was there. Oh, and it cost €50 per night and had a separate bedroom as well as two bathrooms.

I won't bore you with any more details of the apartment, but for an American planning a trip to somewhere totally new: find a vacation rental with good reviews and an English-speaking owner. You will not regret it. Climbs off soapbox.
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Jan 6, 14, 11:45 am
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
- Taormina -

We had no real plans on what to do with our time in Catania other than a trip to Mt. Etna if the sky was clear enough to have decent visibility. Unfortunately the forecast called for rain and overcast skies so, at the apartment owner’s recommendation; we decided to head off to Taormina after a lazy start to the day and breakfast in a bar near the station. We were a little too lazy to catch the 10:00 bus and we didn’t want to wait until noon, so we took the train which stops at the bottom of the hill far below Taormina. 15 Euros total for a 40 minute train ride for 2 adults and 2 kids. I love Italian transport.

However, when we got off the train there was no one around and no indication of what to do next, so we stood there looking stupid until a bus rolled past us and then stopped. As we got on, the driver chastised me (I think) in Italian and told me that he really shouldn’t have stopped, and that if I wanted to get picked up I had to wave down the bus. At least that’s what the old Sicilian man on the bus who seemed eager to practice his English said. The old man proceeded to give us a running commentary on Taormina, Sicilia and Yoo-rope as we climbed the hill and took in the beautiful views up and down the coastline with the mainland of Italy in the not-very-far distance. If he’s right and tectonic plates determine which continent you are on, we were in Africa for a couple of days. I still say I haven’t been to Africa yet.

Taormina is our kind of town, especially as quiet as it was on a Thursday well outside the tourist season. It is a perfect mix of ancient, old and new and small enough to easily walk everywhere, with coastline, mountain and ocean views every time you turn a corner. While 2 days in Paris was plenty for us, I would love to spend a week or two in Taormina which is saying a lot given my extreme case of destination deficit disorder. Views of and from Taormina:




It’s all Greek to me.


Kids acting out in the Teatro Antico




The clouds lifted off of Mt. Etna for just a few minutes. If I knew how to use a camera this shot would look really good…




Thanksgiving dinner part 1

Thursday was also the warmest day we would see – in the 60s all day in spite of being overcast. I would say it was my favorite Thanksgiving day. I definitely spent a few moments being thankful for all the helpful folks on Flyertalk and various blogs that made this experience possible! I didn’t get to see any of it, but just for good measure the Cowboys even won.

We got back to Catania just before dark, picked up some chicken at the grocery store on our way back to the apartment and made it, along with the pasta the owners had left us, Thanksgiving dinner part 2.
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Jan 6, 14, 7:47 pm
  #13  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Left
Programs: FT
Posts: 7,285
Great tr. the crutches threw me for a loop when I lived in Sweden and needed some.

I like that this is sort of like how I travel most of the time when I am not on my expense account...
mkjr is offline  
Old Jan 6, 14, 9:07 pm
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
We have one family travel / Christmas tradition. Wherever we travel, we pick up some sort of souvenir that can serve as a Christmas ornament on our tree. So instead of a nice uniform bunch of colored glass ornaments, our tree is a mosaic of memories. We had already added a cheap little metal Eiffel tower and tower of Pisa to that collection and found a really nice ‘real’ Christmas ornament on our way into Taormina, but when we tried to stop and buy it on our way out the store was closed for siesta. Somehow that just seemed to fit the day and the pace of Sicilian life. I hope that shopkeeper enjoyed his rest.
- Catania -
Friday morning found us with no plans, a mountain in the clouds and a little rain off and on, but it was still not cold at all. We picked up a few more shots of espresso and various pastries and headed to the main square to look for some souvenirs. A little lava replica of Catania’s elephant statue sufficed for our Sicilia Christmas ornament and then when we actually got to the statue, some sort of big shot or official or celebrity showed up.

I have no idea who or what, but all of a sudden everyone in the square was running toward some guy whose bodyguards allowed a few people to take selfies with him before pushing everyone away except whose ever hand he decided to shake. After a few minutes, they whisked him away and everything went back to normal. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture so I have no idea who it was.





We asked some random stranger where the best nearby pizzeria was and got directed to Fratelli La Bufala a few blocks away. For some reason it doesn’t have great tripadvisor reviews, but we had some very tasty pizza and calzones there. Maybe the fact that we manage to do everything at odd times helps – there were only a few others there for a 1:30 lunch. We wound up just slowly wandering around the city all afternoon before heading to the restaurant recommended by the apartment owner.
“They specialize in seafood”, she said. At Trattoria Don Turiddu they sure do, kind of like Antarctica specializes in cold. The food there was good, even excellent, but a 4-course meal consisting of nothing but various seafood choices was not exactly what we wanted. We enjoyed dinner but sadly a lot of it went to waste.



The apartment owner met us late Friday night to check out as we were leaving earlier than either of us wanted for us to bother them on Saturday morning. He took a quick look around from the doorway, asked us to leave the keys in the mailbox and wished us a great trip. I can’t say enough about the personal touch of a host who is genuinely glad you decided to visit their city and property as opposed to a busy hotel desk clerk, no matter how well they do their job.
KennyBSAT is offline  
Old Jan 6, 14, 11:06 pm
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Location: San Antonio
Programs: AS MVP
Posts: 2,276
- CTA-ZRH, Southern Germany, Basel -

Saturday morning was uneventful; we cleaned up and headed off to the airport for our 9:30 flight to Zurich with Etna again peeking out from the clouds.



I had booked AB 8097 with 7500 Avios per person plus $22 but never bothered to figure out or get seats. We wound up with seats on 4 different rows and a nearly full flight. There was just one little problem: the plane was late arriving Catania due to a delay departing Zurich caused by snow. I’m from South Texas. Snow exists here in cones, cups and raspas, not on the ground. And we were scheduled to pick up a car at ZRH and drive up into Germany. So I spent most of that nice two and a half hour flight in my exit row seat a little nervous and trying to come up with a backup plan.

Fortunately, whatever snow they had gotten was cleared away or dried up and and driving was just fine once we got out of a traffic jam near the airport. We made our way along the Rhine, past Lörrach and into the village of Steinen. Our hotel was in the country about 10 miles North of Steinen and no problem at all to find – I had even printed off directions from Google maps. The only problem is after about 5 tries all of which took us through beautiful little villages and back into Steinen, we had no idea how to actually find the place. I wandered into several stores, a restaurant and a gas station but it was not quite on any of their paper maps and no one seemed to be aware that it even existed. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of their guests are just lost and decide to spend the night. And then come back again and again.


Foggy Black Forest sunset. We got there just in time to avoid having to drive in the fog.


Zum fröhlichen Landmann Hotel & Restaurant

We had the ‘family room’ in this beautiful little hotel. If I counted correctly there are a total of 12 rooms, 4 floors and no elevator. The view looking out over the valley was easily worth the climb, though, and the room was easily the size of 3 or 4 small European city hotel rooms. While it didn’t have a separate bedroom, the two beds were on opposite sides of the entry with a desk and table in between. As soon as we got settled, we headed downstairs for dinner. I don’t recall exactly what we had and couldn’t understand most of the menu, but they proudly serve strictly local food. I don't think I’ve ever had a better dinner than the venison and boar I had along with homemade egg noodles. Everything about the place was personal and we felt like family. Family that couldn’t speak the language of the rest, but still family.



After our included breakfast, we went down into Steinen to attend church services with an American friend and her husband and then enjoyed some home cooking and company at their house. German countryside and villages along the way:




Sunday evening found us at the Basel Christmas market, where we of course bought an ornament, a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, and just enjoyed the beautiful buildings of Basel. Bonnie says hot chocolate tastes better from those mugs than any other.




Last edited by KennyBSAT; Jul 8, 14 at 8:40 am
KennyBSAT is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: