After our September 2022 Europe trip, Renee and I started planning our return, based very loosely on the need to come back and run our deferred half marathon.
We decided to squeeze in 4 countries in 10 days. I know that sounds very ambitious for many people, but we feel pretty comfortable with that cadence.
Renee & I met up in Atlanta and we took a direct flight to Milan. At the airport, I let Renee in on a little secret. Read on to find out more about that. Our flight was delayed about 1.5 hours. I know that doesn't seem like a lot, but we had a very tight timeline on our first day (rookie mistake probably) so it was a bit stressful. Trains seemed easier to figure out here, thank goodness! We took the train from the airport to the Milan central station, and our hotel was just a block or two away. Even the train station was like an art museum. Lots of cool sculptures.
Day 1 - Lake Como
After a quick freshening up, we set our sights on Lake Como. We had a cooking class in Como scheduled for 5pm, so we wanted to see the lake a bit first. We took a train to Como San Giovanni station, less than 30 minutes away. As I stepped off the train, the views were taking my breath away. The station was set up high on a bluff, and the scenery around it was dramatic. Very lush. It was about a 10-15 minute walk to the lake from there. We wanted a peek at the lake before our class. The narrow streets twisted and turned and were full of art exhibits and people eating lunch out on the piazza. I would have loved to stayed and check this are out! However, we were on a mission.
We strolled around the lake area for a few, taking in the scenery. Then I contacted our host, Damiano, regarding his exact location for the pasta and tiramisu cooking class. He offered to pick us up at the train station. We were like "seriously?, that is so nice of you!". So he ended up picking up 2 other ladies who were taking the class, and then picked us up and took us to his home in Lomazzo for the class. When we got there, another couple was already there on the patio enjoying welcome cocktails, along with the host's partner, Frederico.
We were greeted with the best Aperol Spritz I've ever had, and plenty of snacks to nosh on. We all got along so well, it was crazy. We had Olivia and Ohad from Tel Aviv, plus 2 girls from Minneapolis.
This was proving to be an AMAZING way to kick off this vacation. We felt so at home, so welcomed, so spoiled by our hosts and already like friends and family with everyone. We got put to "work" making the pasta. You have to have a lot of patience to make homemade pasta and tiramisu. We learned some things along the way. Finally it was time to eat! We had an absolute feast - we made tagliatelle pasta and pesto fresh from his garden. And stuffed ravioli with spinach and ricotta. And holy cow was the tiramisu rich and creamy. He did not use any coffee liquour in it which I thought was unusual. We had a tasty chianti to wash it all down. Splendid. If you're ever in the Milan area looking for a cooking class, I can highly recommend Caesarina cooking classes with Damiano. Get more info here.
When class was over, our hosts paid for our train ticket back to the city center, and then Frederico accompanied us almost all the way back, just to make sure we got home safely. They seemed concerned that us 2 ladies were walking around Milan by ourselves at night. We were SO SO tired since we did not sleep on the airplane on the way over, and were just running on fumes.
Day 2 Cinque Terre
The next day was equally amazing. No sleep for us - we only had one more full day in Italy so we had to make the most of it. We took the 3 hour train to Monterosso to explore Cinque Terre. Once again, we stepped out of the train station and basically on to a movie set.
We settled in for lunch and Aperol Spritz, which had become the go-to refreshment of choice. The beach was so captivating. Then Renee really wanted to do this hike along the "path" through Cinque Terre. We had seen a few very tame pictures and were under the impression that this was an easy stroll between towns. Not.
I forgot to mention that basically all of Europe was having a heatwave. Sunny and mid-80's every damn day. So here we are mid afternoon setting on a hike. Smart, right? It is a very, very narrow hiking trail up and around the cliffs. Full of steps. PS - I'm afraid of heights. This was not enjoyable for me. We could go a little ways before we had to pay a small fee to use the path. The goal was to make it all the way to Vernazza, which was less than 2 miles. HOWEVER, between the direct sun, heat, constant steps, and my fear of heights, it just became too much. There were sections with no railing that were very exposed with steep drop offs. I finally decided I had to turn around. Renee was very disappointed; I was not. I was grateful to live another day!
We continued by train to Vernazza for some gelato and shopping, then on to Rhiomaggiore for dinner before we needed to catch the 3 hour train back. These 2 days in Italy were the highlight of the trip for me. So worth it to see these incredibly vivid sights.
Day 3 - on to Switzerland
When we arrived at the train station for our 8am train to Interlaken, we learned it had been cancelled. It was kind of an informal process. We stood in cust svc line and he basically hand wrote some notes on my ticket and said that my original ticket would still work. We had to go a different route, which was very scenic.
We arrived in Interlaken and had some lunch. Switzerland to me feels like nature living out loud. The colors are so vivid, it is a feast for the senses. Just pure. Mountains, lakes, rivers, flowers everywhere. Our hotel here was very authentic - old and rustic. Some old guy working the front desk was rather gruff with us. There of course was no elevator or air conditioning. Renee asked for a fan and he started basically yelling at her "what for? - just open a window" . It was a great location though, and daily breakfast was actually quite nice. We learned a lot about the layout of Interlaken with the Ost and West train stations just a mile or so apart, and a free bus in between.
We went for rooftop drinks to watch the sunset while we made plans for the next day.
Day 4 - Lauterbrunen and Grindelwald Switzerland
We took a short train ride to Lauterbrunen, which is the home to 72 waterfalls. You're basically walking on a alpine road with waterfalls on one side of you and a river snaking through on the other side of you. We hiked up behind the first waterfall which wasn't too scary. I was very inspired by the number of extremely athletic people (mostly older and retired presumably) who were there doing all the nature things. They had their hiking poles and bikes and were camping and enjoying nature. Now that's how I'd like to spend some of my retirement. Amazing!
From there we hopped back on the train and went to Grindelwald. Any equally stunning alpine setting. We had bought some bread and wine at the grocery store the night before and sat outside admiring the views of the Jungfrau. The best part of being in these 2 towns was that it was 10-15 degrees cooler than back in Interlaken. It was like living in Phoenix and driving up to Flagstaff. So refreshing! After all of that walking around, we settled in for some fondue with a view! Awesome.
Day 5- Switzerland to Amsterdam
This morning we decided to take a cruise on Lake Brienz, which was literally across from the train station. It was so convenient. I love being out on water and really had wanted to cruise on lake como, but this would do! It was a great way to kill the time before our train to Amsterdam.
So we decided to try something new - a sleeper train! It was a long ride from Zurich to Amsterdam (10-11 hours). Ugh! As we were waiting to take this train, we were having a few drinks in the Zurich train station and met a lovely singer originally from the US but now living in Switzerland. She was a lot of fun to talk to felt like a "happy accident". Shoutout to Bonnie!
Our sleeper car was SOOO tiny. It had 3 tiny bunk beds, a table and a sink in there. We did not sleep well, as it wasn't a direct train, it still made stops and woke us up. Also it was hot in there so Renee wanted the window open, which was noisy with trains passing by. Ugh! They brought us champagne at take off, slippers, and then breakfast before arrival.
Day 6 - Amsterdam
We made our way from the main station to our hotel area. The subway there felt very similar to the London Underground. Easy to figure out and manage. Very, very metropolitan. The canals looked cool, but man that city is dirty. And bikes rule there. Pedestrians are stuck dodging them and it seemed like way more bikes than cars, at least in the city.
This was our nicest hotel of the trip. Our first activity was a canal tour. We got some of the history and lay of the land. All while sipping wine and eating cheese. Not a bad start to the trip!
Time for activity #2 - the Amsterdam Ice Bar!
This was a "cool" experience - pun intended. So we got 3 tokens. 1 was for the pre-ice bar experience and 2 were for our time in the ice bar. There was a lot of theatrical drama with "whisking us off on this expedition". Then we donned puffy jackets and gloves and got to go in. They limit your time in there to 20 minutes. Temperature was -9 degrees. It wasn't bad, just my fingers were frozen.
We met a nice couple from Milwaukee in there. The bar was made of ice, as were all the glasses. It was a good deal though - $26.50 and included 3 drinks.
Ok - time to let you in on that "secret". At the airport in Atlanta, I mentioned to Renee that I would be "open" to getting a tattoo in Amsterdam. I have none. She has 6. Her eyes lit up like a christmas tree and she said "oh yes, we are doing this!". I have thought it was inevitable I would get one at some point, but just didn't know what or when. We agreed on something travel themed.
When we had arrived in Amsterdam, we did scout out a few places for our special activity. We still had to narrow down what we wanted, but we managed to do that and select a place. As we were heading out for dinner, Renee made a beeline for that place and said lets do this first. That girl was on a mission! I've never done this before, but here's the proof. Matching tattoos that say "travel" with a heart and a plane.
Day 7 - Amsterdam
We were supposed to have a sunrise running tour today. However, our guide was injured and had to cancel on us the day before. Instead we went out for our own run. This turned into a bit of a pain due to dodging all the bikers.
After our run, we ventured out on a short train ride to Zaandam. When we were planning this trip, we saw pictures from this town and thought it looked really cool. So we went out and spent time shopping and seeing the cool buildings.
Our last activity of the day was a party bike. It was us, and a group of guys from the UK. We did not actually pedal, only our driver did. It felt like karaoke on wheels. Such a good time. Bottomless prosecco for us and beer for them. They were highly entertaining. The driver tried to engage us with silly games, but overall it was a good time!
Day 8 - on to London
This morning we took the Eurostar train to London. Easy peasy. We made our way back to Richmond - because oh yeah - we were meant to be running a dang half marathon tomorrow!!! You probably forgot that little detail since we had been doing so much partying on this trip! We stayed very low key today and just got settled in for the race. Renee was very concerned about the race because she hates the heat and they were predicting unseasonably hot weather. Add that to a ridiculously late start time - 9:15am =Recipe for disaster!
Day 9 - race day - Richmond
The race started in Royal Kew Gardens, and then went out on the path along the Thames River. It was humid and tough conditions. I had low expectations and just planned to take it easy. In the second half of the race, I started seeing more people laying on the ground getting medical attention. The water at the water stops was lukewarm/almost hot. Gross. There was a full marathon that started an hour before our half marathon. Those people were in real trouble.
Around mile 12 a very unofficial looking lady came by on a bike yelling "the race has been cancelled" and waving her arms at us. I was so close that I chose to just keep moving forward. Then about a half a mile later, actual officials said that too. Made it to the finish line where I just sat down and regrouped for a bit. Once Renee joined me, I said let's go get our finisher beer. So we go to the bar to get the official free one, and they said they couldn't serve us since the race was cancelled. Utterly ridiulous. We learned that it was cancelled because the town RAN OUT OF AMBULANCES! Can you believe it? It took me just under 3 hours and I was just relieved it was over.
We checked out of our hotel in Richmond and went back to the city to enjoy what was left of the trip. Ended up having drinks by Tower Bridge, our favorite place.
Final thoughts: We did an incredible job of planning this adventure and squeezing everything we could out of it. I started a new job in the spring, so my vacation time was a bit limited. I'm so grateful that I was able to experience all of this! I do think Italy was my favorite. I know that I've only scratched the surface of it. I started learning Italian on Duolingo, so I'll be ready for my next trip there!
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!