Well folks, we’ve reached the end of my travels. While I still have a week left in Florence, this blog post marks my last trip abroad. I still have a few Florence blog posts up my sleeve, but as for my weekend galavants and visits to other European countries, this is the finale. For my last trip, I headed north to visit Lake Como, Italy and St. Moritz, Switzerland. As with my trip to the French Riviera, this trip was through my school and was included with my abroad program. Despite the trip only being Saturday to Sunday, we were able to have a relaxing weekend while hitting up some beautiful locations along the way.
Our Saturday started with a bus ride to Como, Italy. Como is better known for the lake that surrounds it, appropriately named Lake Como. The town was our first stop and it was less than thrilling. Since the lake is the main attraction of the area, the town didn’t really live up. It was subpar in comparison to many of the other Italian cities and towns I had seen throughout the semester. We were only there for about an hour, which was just enough time to walk around the main roads and take a few pictures. Even though the city lies on the lake, the view was better from our next stop, so we boarded the buses to head to Bellagio.
As we drove along the lakeside to catch the ferry, the professors in charge of the trip pointed out the area where George Clooney’s house is. Even though we, sadly, didn’t see George or Amal, his house was in quite a modest area of the lake. The area reminded me of the French Riviera, as it was very clean, there were colorful flowers everywhere, and most everyone has an uninterrupted view of the water. Where George’s house was, was obviously still very nice, but there were many houses in the area, so it’s not like his house was secluded, or better than any other the other ones. We hit some traffic on the way to the dock so we had to run off the buses in order to make the ferry, but from the dock it was only a 5 minute ride to Bellagio.
Lake Como is shaped like an upside down Y. The point at which the two stems merge into one is known as Bellagio, and offers the best view of the lake. Unlike Como, Bellagio was completely open to the water and was not modest about allowing visitors to soak up the view. Restaurants lined the shore, but did not obstruct the view. Melissa, our friend Anna, and I decided to grab sandwiches at one of the restaurants along the pier. We were all craving sandwiches so we picked a restaurant that looked like they had good paninis and sat in the sun while we ate our sammies. After lunch, we walked down to the exact point where the two parts of the lake meet.
The view was awesome and varied depending on where you were looking. On the left were the green mountains of Italy and in front of you were the snow-capped Swiss Alps, peaking out between the greenery. The lake itself wasn’t anything extraordinary, but the view was. It was almost like a little teaser for what was to come for the rest of the trip. We took some pictures before heading back up to the town.
We took the backroads to walk to the pier and did some window shopping along the way. We also stopped to pick up some postcards. As I’ve said, I buy a few postcards from every place I visit, and at this point my collection is getting pretty hefty. We waited for the ferry back to the main part of Como and drove to Switzerland where we would spend the remainder of the trip.
On our way to Switzerland, it slowly got more and more snowy. It wasn’t actually snowing out, but you could tell that the skies were becoming gloomier and it was less green and lush. We drove up the mountains in huge coach buses that had to make narrow turns all the way up. At points I thought we were going to drive off the cliff , reminiscent of the feeling I had driving up the hill to Santorini, and it definitely didn’t help that the professor in charge told us it was our bus driver’s first time driving to St. Moritz. Once we reached the top though, it was like we had reached a new world. The views and weather were so different from what we had been surrounded by just a few hours earlier. Instead of 70 and sunny, it was 50 and cloudy. We were no longer surrounded by lush greenery, and the trees had been replaced by the Alps. We drove past one area with a lake and the Alps flanking the sides of it, so the buses stopped and let us get out to take a few pictures. We only stayed a few minutes, but I enjoyed laughing at those who dressed in shorts and tank tops for Como, not realizing how cold it would be in Switzerland.
When we arrived in St. Moritz we checked into our hotel before heading to dinner. There were two buildings and we were in the one that wasn’t attached to reception. The entire building was basically under construction and we had to walk up stairs that were completely wrapped in cellophane and taped down to the floor. We were wondering if our room would actually be a functioning, livable place, but no worries, it was and after dinner I curled up in the world’s fluffiest down comforter to rest up for the next day.
The next morning we had a three hour walking tour of St. Moritz. Our guide’s name was Rudy and he was such a fun and knowledgeable guide. He had lived in the town next to St. Moritz his entire life so he was able to tell us about the culture and lifestyle of the area. St. Moritz is a resort town where many rich Europeans come to vacation in the winter. Rooms at the most famous hotel in the town, the Palace Hotel, start at $500 dollars a night during peak season. Originally though, St. Moritz was a summer destination. The man who built the Palace Hotel saw how beautiful the area was in the winter and told the people who came to stay at the hotel in the summer that he would pay for them to come and stay at the hotel as long as they wanted in the winter. The families ended up loving it so much that some of them did not leave until Easter. While we were there, the town was pretty dead since it was not tourist season and many of the stores close down during the off season. Still, the town was great to see.
There are two parts of St. Moritz, one is called St. Moritz Bad, which is by the lake and the other called St. Moritz Dorf, which is up the hill and overlooks the lake. Our hotel was in Bad, so we started with a walk around the lake before heading up to Dorf. This was my favorite part of the tour, since you had the view of the town on one side and the mountains surrounding it in every direction. It was a little foggy in the morning, but as the day went on it cleared up and we could see more and more of the mountains.
During the winter, St. Moritz is known for it’s horse races and ski races. When the lake freezes over, the horses race on the lake and it is one of the longest running traditions in the town during the winter. Another activity they do is race on skis while connected to a horse. Not only do the racers have to control themselves, but they must steer the horses as well. Rudy told us a story of his friend who once raced and in the middle of the race, lost his right ski. He had to spend the rest of the race balancing on the left ski and actually ended up coming in second place, although Rudy said his friend told him his leg was sore for weeks after the race. We continued around the lake and it was basically just me ooing and aweing at the mountains the entire time. Even though Switzerland is Italy’s northern neighbor, I couldn’t believe the difference in the two countries. Italy also has a chunk of the Alps, but I’m glad I was able to say that I saw the grander and more famous Swiss Alps.
We took an escalator up to the Dorf part of St. Moritz, and the entire inside of the corridor was filled with vintage travel posters. St. Moritz has been one of the European hot spots for winter travel for 150 years and has even hosted the Winter Olympics twice. They tried to put in another bid for one of the upcoming Olympics, but the people outside of the St. Moritz area voted against it since it costs them more money, and they don’t really benefit from it. The people in St. Moritz would like to host in again, considering they already have some of the infrastructure and would not have to build stadiums and tracks from scratch.
In St. Moritz Dorf we stopped in a chocolate store because how do you go to Switzerland and not buy chocolate. Switzerland is not a part of the EU and therefore uses the Swiss Franc instead of the Euro. The Franc is one of the most dependable currency’s in the world and is very strong. This means that everything in Switzerland is expensive and is why people in countries that are a part of the EU dislike vacationing in Switzerland. Whereas, the Swiss love to travel to Italy to shop since everything is so cheap to them. I spent basically all the Franc I converted on chocolate and then topped it off with a hot chocolate which was 6 franc. The conversion is more or less the same in the U.S. dollar. But yeah, I spent 6 dollars on hot chocolate. See, Switzerland is expensive.
After our quick detour for chocolate, we continued onward and saw the street where one of the most dangerous races in the world is held. It’s called the Cresta run and is one of the toughest skelton runs ever made. The curves are so sharp and so many people fly off their sleds that there is a club for people who fall during the run. At the end of the night, the racers who fell gather in the Kulm hotel across the street, the oldest hotel in St. Moritz, and watch the footage of their fall.
After our tour finished, we drove over to the train station to hop on the Bernina train, which is the highest train in Europe. The train is known for it’s incredible views as the tracks goes through the Swiss Alps and connect Switzerland to Italy. Unfortunately, we were so high in the mountains and the fog was so strong that the only view we had for the trip was complete whiteness. It was not until we were back to ground level that we had anything worthy of a picture.
Once we exited the Bernina train, we walked across the border between Italy and Switzerland, grabbed a slice of pizza before starting the extremely long bus ride home. Luckily, the professor on our bus brought a movie for us to watch. It was called Sideways and was a rather bad independent movie staring Paul Giamatti about the self discovery trip of two best friends during a weekend in the Napa Valley wine region. While I wouldn’t watch it again, it definitely helped to pass the time.
While it was bittersweet to make my last walk home from a trip, I knew my travel engine had just about burnt out. While I love traveling, and was one of the main highlights of study abroad, I’m ready to stay in Florence for the next weekend. I want to just enjoy my city and cross the last few items off of my Florence bucket list, rather than packing up to bus to another European location. Many of the places I visited this semester were beachy, city like, or quintessential European towns. I had not been somewhere of raw, natural beauty and Switzerland delivered that. I would not have traveled to Switzerland if not for this trip, but the individuality of the landscape made me glad I had the opportunity to visit.
Ciao for now,
All photography by Emily Houston.