Confession: I might be back in the U.S. right now, but my heart is still in Switzerland and Italy.
After months of planning, it was time to leave for a family trip to Switzerland and Italy for the Christmas holiday. The itinerary was all planned out, reservations were confirmed, and everything was organized. To be sure, everyone knew that things would go wrong, as travel often throws curveballs, but we were all ready. I printed off Google maps for everyone to show our progression from Geneva to Zermatt, Zermatt to Venice, and Venice to Rome.
Leon and I flew to Geneva from D.C. and explored the city while my family headed over from Texas. It was a brisk day in Geneva, so we walked quickly. Lake Geneva was lovely, as were the swans that looked up to see if we had any bread or treats with us (we didn’t, so they did not grant us much of their attention). We walked by the World Trade Organization, a must-see for any international studies major, and shared a big pot of cheese fondue while struggling to stay awake on account of jetlag.
Then it was time to meet the family at Geneva Airport and liaise with the shuttle to drive the three hours to Zermatt, a village in the Swiss Alps at the base of the majestic Matterhorn. After an arduous drive in a blizzard and a train ride from the town of Tasch (Zermatt does not allow anything but electric cars within its vicinity), we made it to Hotel Schweizerhof and crashed.
Zermatt is a charming village, with a main street known as the Bahnofstrasse lined with little shops and vendors selling fresh bratwurst with hot mustard. Parents pull their children along on sleds instead of in strollers, dogs wear puffy coats like their human owners, and skis are the footwear of choice. My family isn’t big on skiing (I tried to ski in Colorado as a teenager and wiped out everyone unfortunate enough to be in my path), but we took the Glacier Paradise lift up one morning to see the Matterhorn up close and personal.
The Matterhorn is magnificent in person, and intimidating as well. It has claimed the lives of many who dared to climb it–an entire section of the cemetery in Zermatt is dedicated to those who “chose to climb,” and in St. Peter’s Church, where we attended a Christmas Eve service, there are plaques spanning the years naming those who perished on its sharp incline. When you’re close to the top, the air is thin and the sight is mesmerizing. I still get a chill looking at the pictures that we took up there.
After encountering the Matterhorn and enjoying the Swiss village life for a few days, as well as having one of the best meals of my life at Stockhorn Grill, it was time to take the train to Venice. I think that other travelers can vouch for my opinion that traveling by train in Europe is the way to go. From Switzerland to Italy the view of snow-topped mountains, villages, and rolling hills was a great way to spend Christmas Day.
I had never been to Venice at Christmastime before this trip, and I have to say that I now wholly recommend it. The city is much less crowded than during peak tourism times in the summer months, and the canals have a sort of foggy haze over them that captures the sparkle of Christmas lights just perfectly. The city had a completely different feel to it than the other times I had visited–it was quieter, almost sleepy even. There was still the bustle around Piazza di San Marco with shoppers searching for Christmas gifts and such, but overall the city was calmer.
We spent a few days enjoying Venice, namely having coffee at Caffe Florian, dining at Harry’s Bar, strolling through the winding streets, and perusing the many shops filled with colorful Venetian glass. The next thing I knew it was time to hop on the train to my favorite city in the world, Rome.
The train from Venice to Rome takes about four hours and was also a feast for the eyes. There is something about Italy that has drawn me back ever since I first visited back in 2000. I feel comfortable there. To be sure, there are dozens of incredible places to visit in the world, but Italy feels more like home than any other. Needless to say, it was good to be home–in Rome.
The time in Rome flew by, as it always does, and involved several days of what I like to call “Italian indulgence.” The family diet there pretty much consisted of pizza, pasta, coffee, and gelato. Although it was pretty chilly weatherwise, one cannot go to Rome without going to Giolitti for gelato. I made my usual pilgrimage to see my old apartment near Piazza di Spagna, where I had spent the summer in 2004, and had fun reminiscing about running around Italy in my early 20’s. My family did a tour of the Vatican, threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, took photos of the Pantheon, stopped by the Christmas Market at Piazza Navona, and went inside the Colosseum. Leon had never been to Rome before, so we went back to the Vatican to tour St. Peter’s Basilica, and were waiting in line only to hear trumpets blast and look up to see the Pope emerge to give a homily. Always full of surprises, my beloved Rome.
As most travelers can attest, months of planning yielded a vacation that went by way too quickly. As always, though, it was completely worth it.