Europe Throwback Part 1: Monaco & Lake Como

Happy spring! This time last year I was obsessively planning for a trip to Europe with Les and my parents. And by obsessively, I mean hand-writing and drawing packing lists and outfit plans based on what the weather would be each day. As it turns out, weather can be unpredictable... who knew?! And this resulted in an unplanned stop to Primark in France to add a few layers. Nonetheless, we had an incredible 12 day trip that culminated in us meeting up with my sister and her fiancé (then boyfriend) in Austria at the wedding of two of her best friends from college, Claire and Phil. They were sweet enough to invite our whole family, so we made a European road-trip out of it. I took a zillion pictures, and since I wasn't blogging back then I thought it would be fun to recap the trip a year later! Our journey kicked off in France... here we go!

You better believe Les and my dad were somewhat mortified traveling through the airport with my bag and I. But at least it was easy to spot!

I want to start by saying I hate flying. Hate it. I'm not afraid of it per-say... I totally trust modern engineering. But a big part of my anxiety is claustrophobia and that doesn't mix well with flying, particularly when it's a long flight. Les is always a big help with this, and I will say that Norwegian Airlines was great. When we boarded the plane they had mood lighting and music which, as silly as this sounds, really helped calm me down. I didn't sleep at all though, which ended up working in my favor for our connecting flight from Gatwick Airport in London to Nice. That second leg of the trip was on Easy Jet... not nearly as nice as Norwegian, but I passed right out for the short two hour flight.

Finally, we landed in Nice! Our trip started here so that we could visit some good friends of my parents who used to live on our street in Connecticut. They live in a town called Le Rouret, right outside of Nice, so we picked up our rental car and headed out! For those of you who know our family, you know that we take great pride in our fleet of Toyota Priuses (is that the plural of Prius?): a grey one for my parents, red for my sister (that she very recently traded in after several loyal years), and a black one for me. So we were THRILLED when our rental turned out to be a Toyota Auris. After a small mishap at the toll-booth (and by mishap I mean we could not figure it out), we were well on our way.

Our friends' cheateau where we stayed in Le Rouret, France.

One of the reasons we opted to finish our trip with the wedding in Austria, rather than start with it, was to time our stay in Nice with the vintage Monaco Grand Prix. My parents had gone once already a few years before, but they couldn't wait to go again, and it was a huge selling point for Les! He and my dad are both more interested in older cars, so the vintage Grand Prix was perfect for them.

We watched most of the races from the grandstand, but we also took a walk up to the Prince's Palace and took in the view from above. The course is seriously incredible, considering how much it wanders and winds.
The sights in Monaco were spectacular, even on a cloudy and drizzly day!

The weather wasn't stellar, but we had a great day watching the races and walking around Monaco before taking the train back to Le Rouret for dinner, where four out of four Americans tried the escargot! The next day, we drove to St. Paul de Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns on the French riviera. This was by far one of the coolest places I've ever been. There are tons of little shops and restaurants tucked into the stone foundation of the hilltop city. It's amazing to think about what had been there hundreds (closer to 1,000) of years before and that, in addition to being a tourist destination, people live there today. We had lunch, bought souvenirs for family and friends, and enjoyed gelato while walking on the ramparts.

The following day was our last one in France before we made our way to Austria, with a few stops along the way. We decided to go back into Monaco on our way out because the weather was much better. This time, we walked around the Monte Carlo area and envied all of the luxury cars and boats.

After a bit more walking around, we hit the road! Lake Como here we come.

This was my first time in Europe, and Les's second time (although the first was for a rowing trip to London while we were in college, so he didn't get to do much sight-seeing). That being said, I'm really glad we decided to drive, starting in France and eventually ending on the border of Austria and Slovenia. Aside from the fact that I hate flying, it allowed us to see much more. On the four and a half hour drive from Monaco to Lake Como, for example, we stopped off for lunch in Sanremo. Our method for finding places to eat was largely based on the iPhone maps app, and Les's innate ability to work out translations.

We got into San Siro, Italy on Lake Como around 8 or 9pm and checked into the Hotel Sole. We hadn't stopped for dinner, and all of the restaurants in town were closed, but the hotel restaurant was kind of enough to stay open a few minutes late to provide us with something to eat. We had learned by now that meats and cheeses are a staple of many a European meal and, while we thought we were ordering a meat and cheese plate for four people, we ended up with one per person. When in San Siro, right?

The view from Hotel Sole on Lake Como.

We woke up the next morning to the perfect weather, and the views of the Lake were so, so stunning. Our initial plans were to spend time on the lake and take a ferry from the western side where we were staying over to Bellagio (and hopefully spot George Clooney in the process). But we decided that in order to maximize our time in Salzburg, our next stop, we would enjoy a quiet morning walking around and then hit the road again.

We had breakfast at the hotel and then took a nice walk down the street and ended up finding a little trail that led right down to the water, which was crystal clear. I'd love to come back here some day... it seems like one of the most relaxing places on the planet.

We walked back to our hotel, checked out, and once again loaded up in the Auris! This next part of our journey is really where this car, and it's HUGE moon-roof, made all the difference. We found ourselves driving through the Swiss Alps, with my mom and I in the back seat, and the views were unlike anything I have ever seen before. It was so bizarre, too, because we were there in the spring season so all of the ski towns, including St. Moritz, were abandoned. I just have to put this video here because words won't do it justice how unreal this drive was. This when we stopped for a quick bathroom break... be sure to watch with your sound on!

How surreal is that? We took in many more mountain views as we passed through Switzerland, eventually stopping in Germany for lunch.

I'll end Part 1 of our trip with this funny story... we were just about to cross the border from Switzerland into Germany, and in the meantime we were looking on our phones for somewhere to stop to eat. As you can tell, we were in what felt like a pretty remote area, or at least one that was shut down for the season. Just before the border, we saw a sign for pizza, but by the time we were able to agree on stopping we had driven through the border crossing. So, my dad casually started to pull a U-turn and make our way back toward the crossing. We were flagged down, and asked why we were coming into Switzerland, to which my dad responded, "Pizza." "You've come in to Switzerland for pizza...," we were asked, with a definite air of suspicion. We tried to explain where we were headed and that we were looking for a place for lunch, and the very kind government official became very animated and starting telling us about the best pizza in Switzerland a few miles back. We thanked him, but decided that we might as well continue making our way in to Germany, and that's how we found ourselves at an exclusively German-speaking restaurant ordering tomatensuppe. On to Salzburg in the next post...


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