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There and Back Again!

Written by Jeff Drake
10 · 29 · 17

Post-trip Reflections and Lessons Learned

Wow, time is flying! We’ve been home two weeks already!

Lisa and I managed to pick up head colds prior to the end of our trip, which, when combined with some rather tedious and tiring jet lag, made our travel recovery a bit longer than usual. I think it’s safe to say we are both back on track at this point.

I don’t know about your experience with travel, but Lisa and I always seem to appreciate a trip abroad more after the trip is completed than when we are actually doing the trip itself. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy ourselves while traveling, because we most certainly do; rather, it’s more that post-trip reflection seems to always deepen and enrich the experience – and reviewing the hundreds of photos taken certainly helps.

I suppose some might point to this and say we should slow down, we’re trying to do too much, see too much; and at one time (when we were younger) we were no doubt guilty of this charge, but these days we have indeed slowed down and try not to do too much in any one trip. For example, in this recent trip we only visited two countries over a 3 week period (Switzerland and Italy), whereas in the past we often would do 3 countries in 2 weeks! I get tired thinking about it now.

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The map above shows the route we traveled while in Wengen, Switzerland (via cable car and hiking)

Lisa and I are not folks that would enjoy the kind of vacations we learned about during earlier trips to the UK, where couples told us that they take their vacations every year in the same place. Maybe that is a larger European practice? I can’t say for sure. Personally, this approach to vacations seems to be somewhat lacking in imagination, or curiosity.

Don’t get me wrong, Lisa and I are all for re-visiting places around the world that we love and even this trip brought us back to Italy for a second time, and we are totally in favor of even another visit in the future. When we travel, we tend to approach a trip to each new country as a scouting mission, not sure what we will discover, but totally open to falling in love with the place and returning sometime in the future. Admittedly though, even when we return to a place, we don’t necessarily revisit the same locale within that country. Why would we? There’s so much else to see! The trip to Tuscany is a good example of our approach. We went back to an area we visited first in 2009 and even visited a few familiar places, like San Gimignano and Volterra, but we explored Tuscany much more during this trip than in 2009. That’s in part, because we knew what we wanted to revisit and what we wanted to see and experience that was new.

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Standing atop the so-called, “Top of Europe” (11,500 feet)!

I guess you could say our approach to foreign travel is itself a “lesson learned” over many years. Each journey we take exposes us to learning new things, even when going to a place like Europe, where it is so easy to get around from one place to another. We hadn’t been to Europe since 2009, our last trip to Italy, which included a car accident in Tuscany when we got rear-ended by a teenager on a motorcycle. Thus, we were somewhat apprehensive about getting from city-to-city and from country-to-country, especially since our trip included some time behind the wheel of a car, once again driving through the narrow, winding roads of Tuscany. And then there’s the trains. Time had caused us to forget just how easy it is to travel within Italy by train, and the train system in Switzerland ran like well-adjusted timepiece (of course).

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Hiking around the Wengen area was so picturesque, it was almost unbelievable!

Once we realized (again) that the trains were so easy to use, we were off to the races! Wengen introduced us to the “funicular”, a cable car method of traveling from low-to-high places, which we rather enjoyed, although it would have been damned expensive if we hadn’t had a 50% coupon we purchased before entering the country (good lesson learned!).

The hardest part of traveling by train in both Switzerland and Italy (albeit worse in Italy) was simply doing due diligence and learning how to read both the train ticket and train schedules and local ticket foibles (in Italy you MUST validate the ticket before boarding the train, although we only had them check our tickets once or twice). Seems like a no-brainer, for sure, still, some things come hard. LOL!

As for car travel in Italy, one thing I learned is that my Garmin GPS with the European SD card (a $100 purchase), was absolutely indispensable! We had to drive from San Gimignano to Venice via the autostrade (super highway). Of course, as soon as we left San Gimignano, highway construction cut off our route not once, but twice! I’m pretty sure that given the twists, turns, nooks and crannies of the small Italian towns, if my Garmin hadn’t effortlessly led us back to our route and allowed us to breeze through every confusing round-about, we’d probably still be trying to get to Venice! Seriously, the Garmin performance was amazing!

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Our B&B, “Chalet Arven” in Wengen. The church behind it offered great views of the valley.

Not surprisingly, to me at least, we managed to travel for 3 weeks with our good friends, Mike and Denise without altercation and with our friendship not only intact, but made all the stronger, I think.

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Just one of a hundred homes and B&B’s in Wengen bursting with flowers.

I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that the Swiss Louderbrunnen Valley felt like a place “out of time”, insulated from the rest of the world. Looking at our photos now, just reinforces that feeling for me. If someone felt the need to “hide” from the world and its troubles, Wengen would be the place to go. It’s almost monastic, but with great views!

One big lesson Lisa and I learned some years ago while traveling was super-reinforced this trip – the absolute necessity of being prepared! I have to say quite honestly, that this trip to Switzerland and Italy went off virtually with few, if any, real glitches. Like a well-oiled machine! My hat is off to my wife who poured her heart (and many hours of effort) into planning this trip. Great job, honey!

The only reason things went so well, other than blind luck, is that Lisa (with support from me) thought about each day we would be in country, answering important questions like, “Where do we need to be and by what time?” “How are we going to get there and how are we going to get back?” “What are the best hotels and B&B’s within our budget?” “What types of activities and sights are possible for every day of our trip?” “Once we arrive in a town, how do we get to our hotel?” “How far is the hotel from the nearest train station?” “What types of things do we need to purchase in the States before entering the country?” “Which restaurants might we want to try?” “How much do things cost?” Of course, it’s not enough to simply ask and answer these questions, you have to write them down.

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A snippet from our Swiss-Italy itinerary. This was our guide every day of the trip.

When it comes to traveling safely, securely and with the fewest problems, a well-planned itinerary is a must!

One other important lesson I learned on this trip has to do with travel-blogging. I failed again at this, rather miserably. Apologies for that! I ran into two problems with blogging during the trip: one was that I hadn’t properly tested posting pictures on my blog. I was therefore caught unaware that there is a file size limit to WordPress, forcing me to have to actually edit every photo I wanted to post and make them smaller. This, it turned out, was time-consuming! The other problem is related – there just wasn’t enough free time to write/post anything too meaningful, given that we were all out and about everyday into the evening hours. Thus, I just didn’t spend the time required to do it. When I thought about it, it occurred to me that most every travel blogger I’ve looked into previously, was traveling by themselves or maybe with one other person, so time management would be easier, for sure. In the future, I will need to think about my approach to blogging during my trip and might decide to just wait till I get home and talk about it then.

This post is already too long, so I’ll stop here and write about Italy soon, together with photos. BTW, between Lisa and I, we took over 3,253 photos! A good video of our trip is somewhere in the future. Our Swiss trip ended on 9/28/17, when we said goodbye to Switzerland and took the train to Italy (via Milano). Who knew that we would finish the day of travel by enjoying a sunset drink on a rooftop bar in Cinque Terre? Well, we did, of course!

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Let us know what you think…

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael B Connolly

    “I get tired thinking about it now.”…and it makes me tired just thinking about you thinking about it! LOL!!!

    Reply
  2. Michael B Connolly

    This is the second time reading this and it just keeps getting better!

    Reply

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Author

Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.