Rome >>> Florence >>> Cinque Terre >>> (Switzerland) Zermatt >>>
Lauterbrunnen >>> Swiss National Park
10/15 – Explore Rome: The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and The Pantheon!
10/16 – Pick up Campervan and travel north to Florence and Tuscany area
10/17 – Wine Tasting in the Chianti Region of Tuscany and The Leaning Tower of Pisa
10/18 – Exploring Cinque Terre and drive North to Switzerland
10/19 – Train up to Zermatt and Hiking around The Matterhorn!
10/20 – The Rhone Glacier, Furkapass, Interlaken, and Lauterbrunnen
10/21 – Admiring Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfrau region, Dinner in Lucerne, Drive to Swiss National Park
Explore Rome: The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and The Pantheon!
+ Since this was our last day to explore Rome, we were going to try to get to the rest of the stuff on our list. Liz had already bought tickets to some of the places online so it would hopefully save us some time from the long queues that we’d heard all about.
+ Our first stop for lunch was at a pasta place we had noticed a few days ago. It was a small place advertising their homemade pastas. Liz decided on a lemon ricotta and spinach ravioli. It was served in an interesting cream of potato sauce with just a hint of anchovies but not too strong. Corey had a more traditional pasta in tomato sauce.
+Liz’s food was delicious and unique while Corey found his food to be was less impressive. Unfortunately both dishes were smaller portions than we would have liked so we both left a bit hungry.
+ We stopped at a little fast food restaurant further down the road. They happened to have some really fresh, tasty and cheap options! We got a big piece of pizza to share and when they weighed it to determine how much we owed, it popped up as 13 euros! We were shocked and not going to get it but the clerk said it was an error and it was only 3 euros. Much better! Liz was eyeing this whole case of homemade Tiramisu but we had to get going so we vowed to find this place again later tonight.
+ Our first destination was The Colosseum! It was as grand and magnificent as we’d always heard and we were excited to go inside and explore.
+ To help pass the time in line, we listened to our new favorite travel tool, the Rick Steves audio guide! He offered free audio tours that usually lasted about 40-60 minutes and were very informative. Plus they were even a little funny!
+ Once we were inside, we continued to walk around attached at the ears with our shared earbuds. As we listened to the tour, we explored The Colosseum’s upper and lower levels. Even though part of the Colosseum had crumbled or eroded away, it was still enormous and you could look at all the passageways that were below where the arena floor once was. It was from here that they’d release the slaves, gladiators, and various exotic animals they battled to the death!
+ The Colosseum also offered impressive views of the surrounding areas in Rome, including our next destinations: The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
+ Palatine Hill was first and like the Roman Forum, it was a huge area of ruins and garden landscape that had been largely unaltered for hundreds of years!
+ The Roman Forum was an even larger area of excavated Ruins consisting of Temples, government buildings, squares, and huge columns that used to support even larger buildings that no longer exist. Many of these were from around 2000 years ago and it was very impressive to see the ancient architecture and imagine life back when Julius Caesar was running the place.
+ We even saw the spot in the Forum where Ceasar was cremated and his funeral was held after he was stabbed to death. The remains of the temple still stand as the spot where the city gathered for his funeral and Marc Anthony gave his famous speech. We were in that very spot! It’s so crazy to think those moments in history we learned about actually happened and they happened right here! Although most people were happy that he was gone back then, people still place fresh flowers at the back of the altar to this day!
+ From there, we “roamed” (lol!) through the city heading north until we reached the Pantheon. This gigantic dome was the first of it’s kind and the model used for places like the Sistine Chapel and even our Capitol in D.C.!
+ While the building was by far the best preserved of any from the ancient Roman Era, we didn’t find it to be that impressive on the inside. However it was nice to sit and admire the elegance from the inside while we listened to yet another Rick Steves guide.
+ It was interesting the see the actual tomb of Raphael here in the Pantheon. (One of the past popes dug up the body to confirm it was indeed the famous painter!)
+ The next stop for us were the famous Spanish Steps. Once we made our way there, we indulged with a Gelato and sat on the steps to people watch. However after only a minute or so, guards approached us and informed us we couldn’t eat on the steps. So we moved to the bottom and finished our treat before moving on.
+ After a metro ride back to the Termini station near our house and a quick stop at the grocery store for some drinks, we went back to the hostel.
+ For dinner, we’d been invited to go eat some pizza with some of our hostel mates. They were from Northern Italy near Turin but spoke great English. We went with them and their friend to a restaurant about 20 minutes away and enjoyed some tasty pizza and good conversation. Even though Liz was a little pizza’d out, Corey was still content to eat pizza for every meal.
+ When we’d all had our fill, we parted ways as they went out to drink and we had to go back and get ready for our departure tomorrow.
+ At the guest house, we showered and packed bags and Corey watched the FSU game vs Wake Forest before going to sleep.
Pick up Campervan and travel north to Florence and Tuscany area!
+ Today we are leaving Rome and getting our Campervan to travel North! We got another sweet relocation deal from Spaceships again, this time for only £1/day and with a free tank of fuel! We’ll be traveling along the Italian coast up into northern Italy, then exploring Switzerland before traveling across France and eventually returning it to London. We were also hoping to pop into Luxembourg and Liechtenstein if we could to add to our county count!
+ So after checking out of our hostel, we grabbed our free breakfast from the cafe downstairs that belonged to the same owner and then we headed towards the metro.
+ One metro ride and one train ride later and we were in the upper north part of Rome where we waited to catch the free shuttle bus to Tiber campground, where the Spaceships pickup location was. Their satellite offices always seem to be located in kind of odd and out of the way places.
+ Once we arrived at the campground, we were shown the vehicle and then spent about an hour arranging all of our bags/items and familiarizing ourselves to live out of this van for the next 9 days.
+ Eventually we got on the road and drove north towards Florence. Along the way we saw a lot of the Italian countryside and stopped at a large mall to get some lunch and do some shopping for food and drinks.
+ When we arrived in Florence, we actually went shopping at another grocery store since the first didn’t have all the supplies we wanted. This store was a budget chain that only carried specific brands (sort of like Aldi in the U.S.) and we got some really good deals!
+ For dinner we ate at an Italian restaurant in Florence. Corey had a weird meat calzone and Liz had one of her favorite meals so far in Italy. It was tragielle pasta with Octopus, special tomatoes from the south of Italy, and some greens. And then we had some lovely homemade Tiramisu that was delicious!
+ That night we stayed in a parking lot outside of Florence (had to drive around and around and around to get to it). Not the prettiest or most private of sleeping spots, but it was convenient, free, and safe!
Wine Tasting in the Chianti Region of Tuscany and The Leaning Tower of Pisa!
+ We were excited to be visiting the Tuscany Wine Region of Italy today! After an hour of driving through pretty vineyards and hilly villages we arrived in a town called Panzano.
+ It was here that we were going to be doing wine tasting with a guy named Stefano. He owned a shop called Accademia del Buon Gusto that was rated as the best spot for wine tasting in all of Tuscany! We’d actually first heard about him because our friends Josh and Kristina (who had completed their own 1 year RTW journey back in 2013) told us this was their favorite experience in all of Italy! So we were very excited to finally get the chance to visit ourselves.
+ In his shop, Stefano greeted us (with his red floppy hat and all) and we joined up with 2 other girls who were at various stages into the extravagant wine tasting experience. Over the next 2 hours, we got to sample 20 wines, a dessert wine, a “love potion” (fermented grape syrup), a chocolate and truffle oil, organic and nonorganic olive oil, and a small bit of limoncello! So many tastes! Throughout the experience, Stefano would tell us many funny stories about past visitors or explain some of the funny paintings on his wall that all portrayed funny stick figures and wine. He was very friendly and at the end we bought a bottle of our favorite wine to take along with us. It was a great experience and Stefano was as memorable a character as we had heard!
+ When we left Stefano’s, we explored the little town of Panzano and it’s funny wine-themed statues and decor before continuing on in our campervan through the Chianti wine region towards Pisa!
+ We made it to Pisa just as it was getting dark and found a place to park near all the restaurants. Then we walked through town to the main attraction we’d come to see: The Leaning Tower of Pisa! While it was a little shorter than we’d imagined, the structure itself, along with the other buildings and catherdral located nearby, were still very impressive and inspired us to take lots of pictures. The perfectly manicured bright green grass with such immacuately preserved buildings situated on this large flat piece of open space with the clear night sky above was really quite a sight to behold. Unfortunately it was already dark and the tower was closed so we couldn’t go inside, but we enjoyed having the tower mostly to ourselves without the huge crowds of tourists there would’ve been earlier in the day.
+ Most of the restaurants were closed for dinner and we wanted a restaurant with wifi and some outlets to charge our phones so we ended up stopping at McDonalds. This was probably the first non-Italian food we’d had in Italy but we were able to take care of a few things we needed to do with the wifi so it was a productive stop.
+ That night we ended up sleeping at a rest stop near La Spezia which was about an hour north of Pisa so that we were close to our destination for the next day.
Exploring Cinque Terre and drive North to Switzerland
+ Cinque Terre was our destination for today and we were excited to have another chance to see the beautiful Italian coast since our time at Amalfi had been so rushed.
+ The area of Cinque Terre is actually 5 small towns located along the cliffs in northeastern Italy. You could not access any of them with your own vehicle so you had to park at a town nearby called La Spezia and take the train to the first town. From here, you could take the train, ferry, or even hike between the different towns. Of course most of the time was spent admiring the beauty of the picturesque little towns and wandering through the steep alleyways while eating Gelato and snapping pictures from up on the hill and down at the coast.
+ After exploring the first town of Riomaggiore, we hopped onto the ferry to take us up to the northernmost town of Monterosso. This way we could get the pictureque views of the other towns (Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza) from the water! Once we arrived in Monterosso, we grabbed some lunch of Pizza (for Corey) and a Panini (for Liz) and sat admiring the views. Some people were swimming in the clear blue waters which were still surprisingly warm. It looked very tempting and if we’d had our bathing suits with us, we probably would’ve gone in for a dip ourselves!
+ Eventually it was time to move on so we rode the train back down south and started our journey north in the campervan towards Switzerland!
+ On the highways of northern Italy (which were almost all toll roads), we drove through soooooo many tunnels! Some of them well over a mile long! Seriously, for about a 150 mile stretch, at least half of that distance was passing through tunnels. We felt bad for the poor souls who had to make all these tunnels so long ago!
+ We made it into Switzerland and the major highway turned into a small windy road as we made our way up and up while watching the temperature continue to drop.
+ Around midnight we pulled over in a rest stop area near Simplon. When we got out of the car, we were greeted by an amazing view of the moonlight reflecting off the glacier topped mountains! And the minute we opened the car door, we could hear cows with bells somewhere nearby! We were definitely in Switzerland! It was a magical feeling standing there together admiring the snowy mountains lit up by moonlight but the freezing temperatures forced us back into the warm car after only a couple of minutes. Then we snuggled up under our blanket to stay warm and went to sleep.
Train up to Zermatt and Hiking around The Matterhorn!
+ One of the reasons we had stopped driving last night when we did was that we didn’t want to miss any of the beautiful scenery. We were glad we made that decision as our hour long drive in the morning was absolutely gorgeous! Seemingly every turn provided a new amazing view of trees with all the colors of the fall foliage and snowy peaks towering above them. Plus we were passing tons of Swiss cows with bells around their necks which were Liz’s favorites!
+ We reached our destination of a town called Tasch and got onto a train that would take us up to the fancy resort town of Zermatt. Like Cinque Terre, this place was only accessible by public transportation as cars were forbidden.
+ After speaking with the representative at the Visitor Center, we learned the hike we had wanted to do was inaccessible because the cable car to take you to the start was closed. As we were beginning to discover, this was an odd time of year to be visiting Switzerland. Summer season was over and Winter had not gotten into full swing yet. So a lot of the cable cars we wanted to take were closed as they were switching the ropes used and although we weren’t planning to stay at any of the hotels/Chalets, a lot of those were closed too.
+ So we decided on a hike that was still accessible and we took the cable car up the mountain to the starting point. Then we hiked along the paths to get the best views of the world famous Matterhorn! It’s towering jagged peak stood above all the others and was the main destination for climbers in all of Europe! Many had died while either climbing or descending this gnarly beast and neither of us had even the slightest inclination to try and conquer the mountain ourselves.
+ We hiked all the way back to Zermatt and then wandered around town looking at the Swiss Chalets and fancy restaurants and resorts. We were feeling a little hungry so we looked at some of the menu prices and were shocked to see that even some of the simplest meals were extraordinarily expensive. Most had meals starting at $30/40 per person! Even the McDonalds in town was expensive with their value meals costing about $12/person! Needless to say, this didn’t fit into our backpacking budget so we munched on some of the snacks we’d brought along and when it got dark, we jumped aboard the train to travel back down the mountain to our car.
+ For dinner we stopped at a little restaurant outside of town called Charisma Kebap which had surprisingly tasty meals in litte to-go boxes. The Swiss people working there were very friendly and patient with us as we ordered from their Swiss-German menu and they even gave us a Cappuchino and Coffee afterwards, on the house!
+ That night, we started our drive to the mountain town of Lauterbrunnen and only a couple of minutes into the drive we were pulled over by Swiss police! Their cars did not have big flashing lights on the top but instead had words that scrolled across the top of their windshield that said “Stop! Police!” We were worried because we didn’t think we’d done anything wrong and it turns out that was exactly the case. They just wanted to see our passports and make sure we weren’t up to any trouble. They were friendly and gave us helpful advice about the route we’d be driving that night with road closures and things before letting us go on our way. Very different from the U.S. police who often try different intimidation methods while looking for any reason to write a ticket that they can.
+ While driving, we saw a big fox, some sort of anteater/badger mix, and a few deer! We drove as far as we could until the road was closed due to severe weather for the night. We were expecting this thanks to the advice from the police. We found a pull off nearby the little town of Obergoms and slept for the night to continue our drive tomorrow when he road would reopen.
The Rhone Glacier, Furkapass, Interlaken, and Lauterbrunnen
+ In the morning, we continued the drive now that the road was open but discovered that another road we needed to actually go over the mountain was still closed! We understood why later on when we could see the top of the mountain and we saw the huge white out snow storm that was blanketing the top. But still, that meant adding on another hour or so to drive around the mountain instead of over it.
+ This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we stumbled upon a little roadside attraction called The Rhone Glacier. We paid the small fee to the nice old woman who lived there and ran the attraction. We then walked around the bend to be greeted by a stunning view of the huge Rhone Glacier and the big frozen lake next to it!
+ We continued on down the path to the main attraction which was an Ice Grotto that you could walk through! It had been created a few years ago and they were still working on expanding it every day! There was a few hundred feet worth of tunnels available for us to walk through and it was a really cool experience to be walking through these ice tunnels surrounded by ice that had been created hundreds or thousands of years ago!
+ When we exited, Corey walked down to the shore of the frozen lake to get some pictures while Liz sat and admired the gorgeous 360 degree views.
+ From there, we finally made it over the snowy Furkapass and continued the scenic drive to a town called Interlaken. This was known as the Adventure Sports capital of Switzerland but like everything else in Switzerland, all of the good stuff to do was way outside of our price range. So after eating the most expensive Subway sandwiches we’d ever had, we visited the Tourism office to get advice on things to do and then we stopped in a Lindt chocolate shop to look at all the different chocolatey concoctions they had on display. Of all things to buy, the thing Liz was mesmerized by a swiss army multi-function nail clipper! Lol!
+ One cool side note is that the drive down the mountain was so long that Corey was able to coast in neutral for 16 whole miles without touching the gas once! He is very proud of this new record!
+ From Interlaken, we drove another half an hour into Lauterbrunnen to the campground we would be staying at called Camping Jungfrau. Even though we could still only afford to sleep in our car (as opposed to renting a fancy cabin), this place had a kitchen, hang out room with heating, and a nice big bathroom with hot showers so we could wash away our campervan grime.
+ For dinner we made pasta we’d bought from Italy (so it was cheaper) and then we did a bunch of work and research in the warm common room until the wee hours of the morning. We also managed to confirm a housesit for back in the UK after this trip and book our flights to Croatia for after that.
+ Then we took nice long hot showers and cuddled up in bed to stay warm.
Admiring Lauterbrunnen and the Jungfrau region, Dinner in Lucerne, Drive to Swiss National Park
+ In the morning we woke up to better views of the valley than we”d had the night before. The beautiful valley was surrounded by towering cliffs and mountains on 3 of the sides, some of which contained numerous waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down to the bottom! Although the waterfalls weren’t as powerful as they normally were in the summer, they were still impressive and very pretty.
+ We drove down the road just a bit from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg where we took a cable car up to a town called Mürren. It was mostly deserted but still very pretty as we walked through admiring the old buildings. Normally we would have had great views of the Eiger mountain (among others), but it was very, very foggy so we couldn’t see much. We started our walk down to the next town of Gimmelwald and on the way it started snowing! We also stopped and fed some ponies- One big one who turned out to be a bully and one miniature cute one. The mini pony was born in 1989! From Gimmelwald we took the cable car back down to Stechelberg.
+ Drove back through Lauterbrunnen on to Grindelwald which was another popular town nearby but chose not to stop because it was so touristy! We were happy we had stayed in the more authentic town of Lauterbrunnen.
+ From there we started our drive towards Swiss National Park. It was 4 hours east but we were able to break up the drive by stopping in Lucerne which was one of the top cities in Switzerland to explore. We walked through town and found a nice looking Vietnamese restaurant that seemed to be very popular with the locals. Although prices were still impressively high, we needed something nice and warm and the asian dishes hit the spot!
+ After dinner we walked through town and hit up all the popular spots including the historic old bridges that crossed the Reuss river. These bridges were very pretty and filled with old paintings depicting various scenes from the olden days, many of them about the plague that was so devastating to the area. We also saw the big Lion Statue carved into the side of a big rock which had inspired poets and artists for centuries!
+ Continuing on our drive to Swiss National Park, we again climbed back up high into the mountains. While driving we saw a fox or weasel animal and a few other critters.
+ We were again stopped by the Swiss police. This time we were told it was because of our English car, as they’d had some criminals in the area who had all driven English cars. Again though the police were very nice and let us go without any troubles.
+ Slept at the top of the mountain pass that night surrounded by glaciers, snow, and frozen lakes! The temperature was down to at least -5 Celsius when we stopped! Snow and ice were everywhere and even walking around the car was challenging! We felt very happy and lucky to be in such a beautiful setting and have the opportunity to explore Switzerland in this manner.
Places we slept in the Campervan:
16th: Outside of Florence, Italy
17th: Outside La Spezia, Italy
18th: Simplon, Switzerland
19th: Near Obergoms, Switzerland
20th: Camping Jungfrau in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
21st: Top of a mountain pass outside of Swiss National Park
22nd: On Highway 4 north of Zurich, Switzerland. South of Dachsen
23rd: 20 min outside of Calais, France
Be sure to check out our Travel Map here to see the exact route we took! (http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?user=elizu05#/tripid/868698)