Is It Safe To Travel To Europe?


Is it safe to travel right now – especially to #Europe?

That is the question on many travelers’ minds after the horrific violence that ensued in Paris..& unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. It becomes a personal choice, after weighing one’s comfort level with the level of risk.

But here is what you need to know in weighing your decision: Times are different. In the past year, terrorists have been striking “soft targets” more frequently – undefended or vulnerable locations where ordinary people gather. The Russian plane, the Tunisian resort, a train between Paris & Amsterdam, & outside a train station in Ankara, Turkey, are just a few incidents in 2015. Back in July, the state department issued worldwide caution warnings that extremists might elect to attack these venues, & target foreigners because of the West’s attempts to bring down ISIS. But it is impossible to protect against attacks everywhere.

The old advice to avoid high rise hotels, American chain hotels or restaurants still holds true, but these last Paris attacks were much more random. So what can you do?A few simple, concrete things:

If you have plans in the future to travel to Europe, or want to make plans, consider travel insurance that has a terrorism policy -that way if transportation shuts down, or popular destinations close, you can change your trip and not lose money.
Also – pay attention to governments’ travel advisories – not just from the US, but also check the UK’s, & Australia’s for a varied perspective. (…/alertswarnings/worldwide-caution.html)

So should you go? I would encourage everyone to still travel – otherwise the enemy wins. That is what they want – to create fear, and change our lifestyle. Right now, security is beefed up more than ever. France’s president Francois Hollands is asking for a three month state of emergency that would extend police power to search & arrest, and limit public gatherings in that country. We can support the French people in solidarity by continuing our travel plans.

Having said that, I understand it might be a bigger leap today: The mood may not be as celebratory, & fear provokes irrational thoughts – especially if you are bringing children. You have to weigh your own fear – the odds are not high you will be a victim of terrorism abroad, but psychologically, we all feel safer at home. If you feel you won’t be able to relax and enjoy – wait it out & explore our own great country. (The National Parks are turning 100 in 2016! ) Based on history, things will die down – we will hopefully defeat the extremist organization & it may “feel” safer to you.

In the meantime, remember – this was an attack on all humanity, & nothing brings us closer to people in other countries, nothing bridges the gap more, than travel. We must continue to live our lives…& defend freedom.
Below is an article that presents thoughts & latest updates on the subject…Wishing safe travels to all, especially with the holidays approaching. ‪#‎prayersforparis‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎travelsafety‬ ‪#‎travelsafely‬ ‪#‎paris‬ ‪#‎europe‬ ‪#‎traveltoeurope‬

  Too Good to be True? Flights to Europe for $69…The Low Cost Story

A price like that seems far-fetched right? Well recently low cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle announced that $69 one way flights to Europe from the US are coming as soon as 2017. (Average round trip is expected to be more like  $300,but still!) How does Norwegian Air plan to do this? They already have a low-cost model, but charge for extra services (which make airlines billions of dollars!) But to offer this price the airline plans to save costs by flying into smaller airports that don’t levy such high fees.

From Norwegian Air Shuttle

From Norwegian Air Shuttle

What is Norwegian Air? I’ve written about them before – Europe’s third largest low cost carrier that broke into the Trans-Atlantic flights from US  to Europe in 2013. They currently fly from Los Angeles, Oakalnd, NY, Boston, Washington DC, and Las Vegas to Europe. I flew them this past summer, along with other low cost carriers – yes I was the Queen of Low Cost last summer…  I would much rather sit on a cramped plane for a cheap ticket, and take more trips, than not go anywhere at all. Especially with kids because it adds up. Low cost carriers are great for families if you don’t need upper class. I flew RT to London on Norwegian Air for $800 per person. I flew EasyJet one way from London to Zurich for $25 per person. I flew Allegiant Air RT from LA to Oahu for $400 per person. Some other well-known low-cost carriers are RyanAir, Spirit, Frontier, WOW, and of course, Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America. Here is what you can expect from low cost carriers, because with prices like $69 round trip to Europe, you are going to want to fly the low cost skies.

Norwegian Air Shuttle

Norwegian Air Shuttle

My experience on Norwegian: PROS: New planes – it’s long haul fleet is entirely new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. IMG_8633It has a fantastic entertainment system that makes the whole experience go smoother – especially with kids. Tons of movies, tv shows, etc. Norwegian also has a new filtered air system that the airline claims reduces jet lag – don’t know about that, but I certainly felt less dehydrated. CONS: Not great food to buy on board.. Ran into a few rude employees on the phone… Ticket price changed online AS I was booking my ticket. Also – they get you – once you are ready to pay for your ticket online, they then tell you there is a 3% charge for using a credit card. Not aligned with any other frequent flier program. My experience on Allegiant: PROS: Relatively cheap to Hawaii at the very last minute – less than one week away. CONS: Allegiant is notorious for cancelling flights at the last minute – even while you are at the airport gate. One guy I met had his flight cancelled one hour before, and it wasn’t rescheduled until two days later. Fine if you don’t want to come back from Hawaii, but would be a bummer missing two days of your vacation :) Not aligned with another frequent flier program. My experience on EasyJet: PROS: SUPER cheap! Cheaper than the trains. The prices make it easy to jump from one European city to another. CONS: They really expect you to do everything with very little help from them. Dont expect top notch service at the airport. And get to the airport on time if you have to check bags- again, the desks were understaffed. Planes felt old.  Not aligned with another frequent flier program. Overall: 1) Because many of the low cost airlines fly into the secondary or smaller airports, check the price of transportation from that airport to your destination. For instance, if you are going to London and land at Gatwick, it is more expensive to get to central London from Gatwick than from Heathrow. Make sure you calculate in that cost of your ticket to make sure it’s worth it. 2) If you are traveling with someone with special needs, or young children – get to the airport with plenty of time. In my experience, there aren’t as many people staffed, so the wait could be longer. 3) If you are traveling with bags, and need to check them, check your bags online when you buy your ticket.  The price can gradually sneak up, and it will definitely be more if you decide to check them upon arrival at the gate. 4) A flight attendant secretly told me that always check the upper class prices on Norwegian as well – sometimes they are cheaper than the back of the plane if those start to creep up. 5) Use websites that track low cost carriers –,, 6) Along that same advice, after checking the price of a ticket on the airlines’ website, double check another travel booking webiste like those mentioned. On Norwegian air, the price literally increased right while I was about to book, so I jumped over to Cheapoair, and got the tickets for the lower price I had initially seen…AND they didn’t charge me a 3% credit card charge, and meals were included in the price. 7) Tickets on many low cost airlines tend to be non-refundable and non-changeable without paying a hefty fee. In conclusion – I consider options a good thing… as long as safety and good service are part of the package. These low cost carriers are also causing competition so most airfares are ticking downward. Please share any of your experiences flying the low cost skies…

  San Francisco: What’s New, & What’s Old but Still “Has It”


Resonate:  to have particular meaning or importance for someone : to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way

I know I’m not the only one on which San Francisco has that effect, many travelers visit for a reason. But after living there for ten years another lifetime ago, each time I visit, the darn city by the bay carves a deeper niche into my soul.
This past weekend, I was there, and was so happy to see that no matter how things change: tech boom after boom, neighborhoods that I wouldn’t have stepped foot in after dark are now hip and happening, and many new restaurants – things also stay the same: the breeze off the bay, clear crisp autumn days, cable cars, ethnic neighborhoods.
So here’s a round up of what’s new… and what’s sentimentally constant:

New: FANTASTIC restaurant Cotogna in Jackson Square. SF has always been a foodie town, and this place fits right in as one of the most delicious new Italian restaurants. May be one of my best meals I’ve ever had in SF, but then again I was with great company which could have influenced my experience – dont miss the Raviolo di Ricotta w/farm egg. OMG. Warning: Super hard to get a reservation. Book way in advance.

Old but still has it: Bix. Down a dark, hidden alley, stands one of the all time classics. Also in Jackson Square, this supper club with a piano bar is housed in an old bank vault. Many thanks to the bartender who let us stay after hours so my friends and I could take a long, sentimental walk down memory lane at our old hang out. The environment is still classy, & my favorite painting still hangs on the wall – the butler examining the lipstick stain on a champagne glass. Even though there are newer places with younger crowds, this old stand by is unique and doesn’t disappoint if you want a cozy pre or post-dinner drink at the bar. #Sohappyit’sstillthere

New: Belga Restaurant : Really fun, buzzy European bistro-type environment, right in my old neighborhood, on Union St. just walking distance to all the Cow Hollow/Pacific Heights nightlife.

Old: Found great hotel rates at some of the older hotels… trying to stay relevant & compete with some of the newer, more contemporary places. Check the classic hotels – rooms aren’t as fresh, but usually great locations & decent rates.

New: I call it the “Uber” effect – my observation after one weekend is that it seems easier to find a parking spot in the city – WHAT? Sounds crazy I know – but with many people Ubering it, the parking spaces were easier to find. BUT  – because more people are using Uber (it is a SF company and SF is a busy town with many visitors) I had to pay double rates every time I used the service due to high usage. It was always “peak hours.” so budget accordingly. Keep in mind it’s not easy to drive all those hills in San Francisco, and hotel parking is expensive, so these are things to weigh if you consider renting a car vs Uber.

Old: Fall is still the best time to visit, in my opinion. Summer in SF is notoriously cold, autumn can’t be beat.


  Fall Trips: Why Leaf Peeping is Changing & Tips For Your Trip

fall foliage biker_0001

Fall:  As we usher in the new season, there are recurring themes, events, traditions we look forward to – leaf peeping being one of them.

Travelers seeking vibrant fall foliage bring in millions of dollars to local economies – Leaf peeping is quite popular!

The above photo is from a fall foliage trip my husband & I took to Vermont & other ares of New England.  If you are thinking about a trip to see the multi-shades of autumn, either this year or in the future, here are some things you may not know:

1) Climate change is pushing the leaf changing time back – the warmer the fall, the later the color. There are many good sources to check the timing of your peeping, one reliable good ol’ stand by is the farmer’s Almanac:

2) New England is NOT the only place to see leaves change color – although those quintessential church steeples look pretty darn  cute in the photos with vibrant orange leaves – there are many other spectacular and less crowded places to watch Mother Nature’s miracle unfold. Sonoma, Ca… Taos, NM..and the Smoky Mountains are just to name a few.

3) While this season does book up in terms of hotels, and they book up way in advance -  look for unorthodox alternatives. Most people want a cozy, romantic trip to a B &B or quaint hotel – so why not look into a business hotel over the weekend, when it is less crowded with business travelers? Or here’s your chance to try Air BnB…

4) Think about biking around to see the leaves. That way you get closer to the spectacle, can take more engaging photos, & won’t cause a traffic jam by driving really slow so you can observe. Plus – the fresh air is crisp this time of year – all good!

5) Look into harvest festivals, or apple stands, corn mazes – there are so many seasonal festivities around the leaves changing that may not be part of your big city life, if you do live in a big city ;)

Enjoy the season -




  Can’t See The Pope During His U.S. Tour? Here are 6 Worship-Worthy Tips If You Visit His Home Instead

Excitement is building for next week’s special visitor to the United States: Pope Francis will come to our country for the very first time, visiting Washington DC, New York, and Philadelphia.

If you are missing him here in the US – as I am sure most of us are! – there are other ways to get your papal fix…but it does involve travel to Rome, unless you are satisfied following him on Twitter. (@Pontifex. Just in case.)

At the Vatican

At the Vatican

I visited his home at the Vatican last summer, & have some valuable tips every smart traveler should know… especially if you are traveling with children, like I do!DSC05169

First, a little background: Vatican City State is walled within the city of Rome, made up of about 110 acres, & a population of about 840. It is the smallest independent state in the world by both area & population. But that doesn’t count the  5 million people who visit a year!


What you will want to visit are the cultural sites within the Vatican such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel…

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& the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures, & even if you aren’t religious, it is an artistically spiritual experience. No hyperbole there. (Not buying it? Think Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on his back)

Here’s what you need to know before you go:


1)Wanna avoid the buzzkill of pulling up  & seeing a line like this? Get a guide -you automatically go to the front entrance, bypassing the line. Not only that, with a guide, during the tour you can walk directly from Sistine Chapel to St Peter’s Basilica through a special entrance, saving time and energy.


The guide doesn’t show you the entire museum, most only have about three hours, so do your research before. If there is a gallery in the museum you really want to see, compare with the guide’s itinerary, & make a special request in advance.

2) Make sure the guide speaks good English!! Especially if you are with children – this is a long long day for them, & you want to keep them engaged. Demand it from the tour guide organization you use.


3) If you are taking a cab, don’t tell the driver that you are going to “the Vatican.” It is a big place. If you are meeting a guide somewhere, give the specific address. Our guide met us at a nearby cafe. Try to get as close as possible to where you need to be – Cabs have been known to drop off anywhere near St Peter’s Square because travelers think they are close. With kids it can be a long walk.

vatican tomb

4) If you want to see the underground tombs of former popes and St. Peter’s tomb called the “necropolis” you must book long in advance since there is a limit to the number of visitors. It is considered an archaeological site, but OK for kids. You can book tickets through the Vatican.

5) If you really want to do something different, and go when it is less crowded, try a Friday night Vatican tour. They only run during certain months, & you MUST book online – that is mandatory.

It sounds like a fun & much cooler experience, there is even a happy hour, but St Peter’s Basilica because is not open in the evenings. You would have to come back to see that separately… definitely don’t skip it – it is the star of the whole Vatican experience, in my opinion. Price for night time entry is about 20 euros.Kids between 5 and 12 are five euros. Book here:


6)Lastly – REMEMBER: There is a dress code, so even when it is is scorching outside, everyone must abide by the no sleeveless shirts or short shorts rule – even young kids. I wore a sweater over my dress because it was hot outside and we planned on walking around afterward so I could remove my sweater.

This can be an extremely overwhelming day for families, so be prepared to take a number of breaks if you are with young children. Strollers are allowed, but there are staircases inside for which you will need to break down the stroller and carry it up.

Castle Gandolfo, The Papal Summer Home from

Castle Gandolfo, The Papal Summer Home from

And a bit of good news regarding the pope’s other home: The Vatican’s train line, previously only used by popes, can now be ridden by regular folks to see the papal summer palace.

Each Saturday, the public can climb aboard for an express trip to Castel Gandolfo, a lavish estate Pope Francis himself  has never used but wanted to share with the public in a gesture which will also make money for the church. It looks like a beautiful train ride, and there is more to see at the summer home.






  Hotel of the Week: In an Italian Coastal Town it’s Time you Knew About

I was all set for my trip to the Italian coast this past summer – just needed to book that final hotel room in Cinque Terre and I’d be set.

But something didn’t feel right – I spoke with a few hotels, & even though Cinque Terre had been on my bucket list for years, the hilltop towns just weren’t gelling for me for a family vacation. I have two teens and one active 10 year old, & thought perhaps it might be too quiet for them. I also thought they wouldn’t like the rock beaches with no waves…so I slept on it – and then researched. And I’m so glad I did.

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi, Italy

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi, Italy

At the last minute, I was booking at the California Park Hotel in Forte dei Marmi. My impetus?

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, a resort town right on the Tuscan coast in the province of Lucca, boasts nice, clean, sandy beaches …

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

Forte dei Marmi, Italy

with waves for my kids to body surf all day. Some Italian beaches like those in Cinque Terre had smaller waves, which might be better for younger children.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Forte dei Marmi’s location in Northern Tuscany still enabled us to take a day trip to Cinque Terre – and Pisa and Florence for that matter.

(And I loved the fact Forte dei Marmi is not in any of the major guide books I checked, but it is a town worth noting for so many reasons. )

Let me warn you however, since Forte dei Marmi is a definite resort town, most of the hotels seemed sleek, and somewhat cold – not places where kids could roam freely…& the prices were not that kid-friendly either! Forte dei Marmi is not a cheap escape, but if you research, it doesn’t have to break the bank.



I felt like “Golidlocks” discovering the California Park Hotel- “this one is just right”… elegant simplicity and unpretentious.

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi

California Park Hotel, Forte dei Marmi

Not to mention, the hotel is surrounded by park-like grounds…tons of grass and trees and space for my kids to run around or kick a soccer ball.

It is located in an upscale residential area, that very much reminded me of Montecito, CA..rugged but pretty surrounded by villas.The room prices are still about two times more than other areas of Italy, even with the strong dollar, but lower than others in Forte dei Marmi.

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Another reason I liked the hotel is that, unlike many other hotels, it has rooms to accommodate families larger than four people. Woot woot! We had villa #506 – a simple, but clean & stylish two bedroom suite. Not the largest space, as there is no common area – just two rooms with a connecting hallway and bathroom…..but the bonus to this room is that there is an outdoor terrace that becomes the living room – late night card games, pre-dinner drinks and appetizers…


with a great view of the large, pretty pool. The kids enjoyed the pool – not stuffy, and there were other children around.


The hotel certainly has charm – it is rooted in tradition, and it still uses old fashioned keys – which, although cute, made for a longer time trying to get into the room LOL. And the super small bedside tables were for another era – one that didn’t require charging phones and e-readers bedside so one could read and check emails.

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But the old fashioned elegance certainly put me in a good mood every morning when I got to drink my latte al fresco in this gorgeous china. Who does their best china every morning?!?!? What a great idea. :)

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The outdoor dining area was so pleasant, and the breakfast buffet was filled with lovely pastries, meats, etc.


There’s also a little bar area that I loved – refreshments and cocktails all day, and late night snacks if you need.


The hotel offers bike rentals right on the property – another charming, family friendly thing about Forte dei Marmi is that you ride bikes E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E!! The hotel is close enough to the beach, and the center of town, so we rode to each meal off the property.


Forte dei Marmi has a number of beach clubs right on the sand, but the hotel has a relationship with one that will give you a discount – it will cost $50 a day for two chairs and an umbrella to sit on that beach – it may seem like a lot, but that is typical for that area. Yes, I have spent a lot less in other Italian beach towns for a beach club, but Forte dei Marmi is an upscale resort town, so you pay for it. TIP: Here’s one way to save… that we discovered just because we were getting late starts each day due to jet lag – show up after 2PM, and some clubs give you a discount.

There is no hotel gym, but a tiny outdoor gazebo overlooking the pool with two treadmills…


The staff was very nice, and the hotel was especially clean. I would love to return for a longer time! You could stay a week, and take multiple day trips, and still enjoy the nightlife and beaches of Forte dei Marmi.


I’m so glad I listened to my gut and changed my plans from staying a few nights in Cinque Terre, to Forte dei Marmi.

  Train Travel in Europe – Will it Ever be Secure?

We’ve all heard the story by now, but the names are worth repeating: ‪#‎AlekSkarlatos‬, ‪#‎SpencerStone‬, & ‪#‎AnthonySadler‬, the three young Americans who put their own lives in grave danger and stopped what could have been carnage on a train to Paris. Let’s also not forget Mark Moogalian and British grandfather Chris Norman who said “I would rather die trying to get him down than simply sit in the corner and be shot.”

For any of you who have taken the European trains, I’m sure you pictured yourself in a car,witnessing the frantic scene, thinking “What if that happened to me?”


I was just riding the trains this summer with my children. I cringe and shudder at the thought of children being in danger like that.

But really, what can be done in the future? The passengers on that train got very lucky having such honorable and brave men aboard. EU officials are reportedly meeting in October to discuss train security, and the latest reports say security is beefed up at train stations now.

But you train travelers know – the train stations are crowded, chaotic, & a security nightmare. Some 15,000 trains cross France alone in a day, with some 3,000 stations. How effective can security be? Officials even knew about the man arrested for the train incident, but can they prevent him from boarding a train? Some say metal detectors would be almost impossible to effectively implement because so many people transfer trains with seconds to spare.

Europe prides itself on the ease of which people can move between borders – enhanced by the “Schengen agreement” eliminating border checks. Not many people want to see the freedom change.

According to French President Francois Hollande, to be more secure in the future, we will all need to hope for the courage of average citizens to dig deep and stand up – as displayed by the heroics of Skarlatos, Stone, and Sadler.

Here’s a great article on train security via Time magazine: ‪#‎traintravel‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎traveltuesday‬

  Attacks in Thailand and Turkey in One Week: Resources to Research How Safe a Foreign Country is.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

I was just in Istanbul last summer… so the last week’s attacks there hit close to home. That news, along with Bangkok, Thailand bombings in the past 24 hours – a popular tourist destination – should make travelers realize that the climate in foreign countries can change… and one needs to be informed before planning a trip overseas.

So how can we do that? Well – governments issue travel advisories through their state websites. These warnings and reports are designed to let their citizens know about any safety concerns.

In the US, advisories are issued by the state department and can be found at

However, I recommend checking with other government websites as well, like from that of the UK and Australia: and . Why? Well, for example, I find them to be more detailed.

Just checking today, both the UK and Australia have updated, current information about the bombing in Thailand this morning on the front page of their site. On the US site, you have to dig back a few pages… and even then, there is not as much information about regions of concern, or that western travelers are targets in certain areas. On the foreign sites, there are maps highlighting areas not recommended to visit.

And did you know that being caught with any slight bit of drugs on you in Thailand could warrant the death penalty? Not that you are planning on bringing any into the country – but local laws are often posted on government websites as well – I found this information on the UK and Australian sites. Information like local laws that are good reasons to cross reference government websites.

Be sure to read each warning carefully – don’t be discouraged from traveling to a country if one small part of the country is considered dangerous… Tourism is a vital part of many economies, so before you cancel travel plans to one city because there is violence 300 miles away, do your research – is not always necessary.

Also, take certain warnings very seriously- for instance, if there is known intelligence that western travelers are targets, that is significant.

Once you decide to go – make sure to register with your country’s embassy or consulate. In the U.S., we have the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Go here to sign up, and you will receive important travel advisories and info regarding your destination…and it will help the U.S. Embassy contact you in case of an emergency.

Safe travels!

  Car-less, Cow Bells, & Cable Cars all in one Swiss Adventure
Switzerland, Lauterbrunnen Valley

Switzerland, Lauterbrunnen Valley

I am so NOT neutral about my recent summer visit to Switzerland. The stunning natural beauty.. & cookie-cutter perfect villages with flower-box windows that we’ve all come to expect did not disappoint. But – what was really exciting was staying in a small village that wasn’t in many of the major guide books. I have some crazy addiction to the thrill of experiencing the road less traveled!

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

We stayed in the Bernese Oberland… a region south of the Swiss capital Bern with an incredibly diverse landscape – deep valleys with waterfalls…snow capped mountains…

DSC04581… and green pastures where you only hear a symphony of cowbells. NO joke.

Hiking trails in Bernese Oberland

Hiking trails in Bernese Oberland

All of this is best witnessed by hiking around the area, free to explore whatever path you wish. From our base in the precious Bernese Oberland village of Wengen, we hiked all over the region. We stayed at Hotel Baren, & loved it. It must have the best food in the village.

Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen may seem touristy at first glance – there is a big map of the quaint village once you get off the train at arrival, and a few t-shirt and souvenir shops – but it didn’t feel that way at all… maybe because no cars are allowed in so its very quiet.

DSC04463It has only about 1,000 year round residents, but during summer season & then winter season it swells by a few thousand.



I don’t want to sound cliche, but it is absolutely charming – perfect village for kids. Everything is walking distance… there is mini golf, life-sized chess, and volleyball courts that we “tested” after our outing of the day.


We appreciated all that even though we spent most of our time exploring – We hiked from village to village and down to the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Wengen train station

Wengen train station

The train stops is right in Wengen – and the train system is fantastic – again, the Swiss stereotype of clean and efficient holds true for the transportation around the Alps here.


You can take a train to another village, (or hike there,) then take cable cars to your next destination, etc… My kids absolutely loved it.

DSC04321The network of public transport was an adventure itself…and the views from the trains & cablecars offer a wider scope of beauty.


One day we hiked to the village of Murren… which some people in the Swiss tourism office, and other seasoned travelers recommended as a place to stay- but with kids (and perhaps even without kids) I preferred Wengen. Wengen captured me – and seems like a happier place.

DSC04586The hiking trails to Murren were so clean and well paved… with views all around. They are not difficult, evidenced by the number of older women we saw out hiking by themselves.


From Murren we caught a cable car down to the spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley – often called the “Valley of 72 Waterfalls.”

IMG_9133From what I’ve read, it’s the deepest valley in the world… with bluffs rising some 3000 feet around you, only to be punctuated by dozens of picturesque waterfalls.

DSC04601Fresh air.. lush surroundings.. high peaks surrounding you. It is breathtaking.


You must stop & see Trummelbach Falls in the Lauterbrunnen… a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is glacier fed waterfalls inside a mountain, that is accessible through elevator, platforms and stairs. Nature’s forces at work – the falls carry 5200 gallons of water per SECOND. Special note – it is wet, and perhaps a hard climb for anyone with mobility concerns.

You could spend a few days here exploring the region… There are so many hiking trails. ..and trains to highlights like Jungfrau, said to be “the top of Europe. ” And although I don’t recommend staying in Interlaken after having stayed in Wengen (I stayed inInterlaken years ago – it is a popular base for hostelers, but certainly feels more like a city situated between two lakes, more touristy, and not as authentic) you could also go down to Interlaken to spend some time on the lakes.

To get to Wengen, we took a train from the Zurich airport… If you have a choice of airports, even though Bern is closer, the train station is conveniently located downstairs in the Zurich airport. It’s not super easy to get to Wengen – but worth it. You have to change trains a few times – but the Swiss are so punctual it is like clock work that you arrive at the time they say, and the next train leaves on time as well. You can tell you are at your stop just by looking at your watch and comparing the train schedules.

This is one of my kids’ favorite places I’ve taken them. Understandably, it is popular in winter also. Although the Swizz franc is not cheap, if you can get here, I’d definitely recommend it. We made wishes to return soon…





  It’s the little things that make a difference at the Roman Colosseum…

DSC05341The Roman Colosseum is the most famous and awe-inspiring monument to have survived ancient Rome. Can you believe it is some 2000 years old?

So of course you are going to fight the crowds, sizzle in the Mediterranean heat, and drag your kids to this ancient amphitheatre when you go to the Eternal City!

You just don’t want to end up like some of the gladiators when you do- beat and conquered. If you are traveling with family, then you know you need to be even more prepared because keeping children happy can be more challenging. This can be one of their favorite experiences if you do it right. I promise, I’ve lived it. Teens who have studied this at school will especially appreciate it.

By the way -a ticket to the Colosseum also gets you to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – all must sees. They are fascinating.

Here are some things to remember to make the trip a victory… sometimes the most obvious practices vanish in the jet lag haze….

1) My top recommendation to make it an enriching, memorable experience is to bite the bullet and hire a tour guide. There are all kinds of tours you can find online, but try to get a personal recommendation from someone who has done it. If you have kids, book one that specifically states it is child-friendly – they do exist.


We had a phenomenal guide… we got SO lucky – she was an archaeologist, with advanced degrees, who has literally dug up parts of Rome. There wasn’t one question of ours she couldn’t answer in great detail, and she also made it interesting. I don’t usually recommend just one company, but she was so good, this might be valuable for you. This company says they only use licensed tour guides: Ask for Valentina Amato.

BONUS: Amato speaks fantastic English – not a trace of an accent. We used the same company the day before at the Vatican tour, and sadly, the accent was so thick, it was not easy to understand the other guide.

2) Did I forget to say that one of the logistical perks to taking a tour is YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAND IN THOSE LOOONG LINES. Whew. Glad I remembered. If you do decide to stand in line and not pay for a tour, then definitely don’t stand in line at the Colosseum – go to the Palatine Hill or the Forum entrances for the same entry ticket, but lines over at those two attractions can be shorter because people don’t realize you can buy Colosseum tickets there.

3) Bring your own water. If you have a water bottle, or bring a collapsable one from home, you can fill up almost anywhere in Rome at public fountains. However, at the Colosseum, even the former emperors would have a hard time finding H2O there today..unless you want to be at the mercy of the peddlers trying to sell water bottles for $5. Trust me, you will get thirsty.


4) Bring an umbrella if you really want to stay out of the sun – the Forum and Colosseum are almost all in the sun. You will catch a patch of shade here and there in the Colosseum depending on the time of day. Sunscreen, hats, misters – all good too.

5) That being said – try to visit early or late in the day to avoid peak heat, and get better photo-taking light.

6) If you take the subway there – it is really easy – there is food in the station – but it is pretty gross. Sadly, many travelers overpay and give in to the food right there because it is easy – but if you can walk a couple blocks to the end of the Colosseum opposite the Forum, you will find a few cafes and take away places. They aren’t visible from the Colosseum, so ask a local if you need to. That’s my MO.

Have a great time. This is one destination I have visited perhaps four times, and I learn something new each visit.