10 July 2015

Italy and Switzerland Tour 2015

Italy and Switzerland Tour 2015

This year we had another very successful tour! This tour marked my 8th tour and it was one of the most successful yet!  On this customized tour, we visited Lugano and Bellinzona in Switzerland and then we were off to Italy to visit Milan, Parma, Florence, Sarteano and Rome.  

I chose Lugano and Bellinzona because in this canton of Switzerland, they speak Italian and so it was completely relevant for my students.  Crossing the border from Italy into Switzerland was as easy as going through a toll booth in America! Once across, we were so excited to explore.  Our hotel, the Hotel Walter Au Lac could not have been more inviting!  It was right on Lake Lugano and had stunning views.  Almost all of us had balconies overlooking the lake!
The location was about as central as you could get and made it easy for us to explore the area right away.  There was a park nearby and the students even got to go on the lake in paddle boats!  Nearby, we found a funicular that would take you to the top of Monte Bre but we were not able to go to the top because of time constraints.  However, the initial ride (part of the way) was free and even gave a beautiful view! 
The next day, we were off to visit the three castles of Bellinzona.  They were incredible and offered some breathtaking views!  If you are going to be in Northern Italy, near Milan, I highly suggest you cross the border into Switzerland and enjoy!
Leaving Switzerland, we headed back into Italy towards Milan. In Milan, we visited the Duomo and even went to the top!  Make sure you wear good shoes and are ready to climb a lot of stairs!  The views from the top are worth it.  Plus, it lets you get an even better view of the Madonnina statue on the top of the church.  We visited the famed Teatro La Scala Opera house and the Castello Sforza, where the kids even had time to take a break from sightseeing and play soccer, right on the lawn behind the castle! 
On our way out of Milan, heading towards the Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence, we made a pit stop in Parma.  Parma is the home of prosciutto and of course, parmigiano reggiano cheese! I asked our tour director, Paolo, if he could arrange for us to see how the cheese was made and we were able to stop and get a tour (and buy a ton of cheese!) 

After we sampled the cheese and bought it, we headed into town to check out a local market and eat pizza.  I couldn't help but get my pizza with prosciutto di Parma
After eating, we were on the road again towards Florence.  I hadn't been to Florence in years and was excited to be able to show my students everything that Florence has to offer and to make them walk all the way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and then up even more stairs to San Miniato al Monte.  Although they were exhausted, everyone agreed that it was well worth it!  The next day, we took a walking tour with a local guide and while she was very good and informative, my students couldn't help but comment that I practically did the same tour for them the day before, why did we even need her! Maybe next time, we'll skip the local guide and I can step in!  

We said Ciao to Florence and headed south to Rome.  On our way, we made a stop in a town called Sarteano. I had read about this town a while ago, remembering that they had found some very interesting finds dating back to the Etruscans.  The Archaeological Museum of Sarteano is closed on Mondays, but somehow, we were able to get a private visit!  The museum had many Etruscan artifacts, including  many items related to their burial rituals. After we toured the museum, our guide took us out into the fields to visit the actual tombs of the Etruscans! We were lucky to be able to visit one where they had found some original artwork in the tomb.  This particular tomb is known as the Tomb of the Infernal Chariot or Tomba della Quadriga Infernale.  This was an amazing opportunity for us. 

 After our visit, we ate in a local restaurant, La locanda dei tintori.  We had a special tasting menu that included two different types of pasta (one was their homemade pici - you must try these!) , a few different types of grilled meats and salad. It was arguably one of the best meals we had the whole trip!

This was one of the best stops along our route! Then we were headed for the Eternal City, Rome.  While we only had a few days in Rome, we were able to take in many of the sights. We ventured to the top of St. Peters Basilica where we had sweeping views of the city and a great workout climbing all those steps!

We toured the Colosseum, the Pantheon and more.  And then it was time to head back to New York.  We had a great time and shared some awesome memories. Memories I hope will inspire my students to return to Italy and to keep traveling.

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