Our trip to Europe has started out quite nicely. As we were walking along the international flight concourse at O’Hare airport on our way to the Swiss Air business class lounge, I spotted Larry Fisher. Larry was the restaurant manager at the Waukegan Yacht Club for several years. Now he is the executive chef for Swiss Air first class dining. He invited us to enjoy the Swiss Air first class lounge. Champagne to start.
We have been planning our riverboat cruise on the Rhine River from Milan to Amsterdam for sixteen months. Our friends Roy and Janice Cartlsten went on a Tauck riverboat cruise two years ago and recommended it highly. The Tauck Cruise is all inclusive including gratuities, excursions and beverages. When Priscilla was diagnosed with cancer in September, 2017 we were not certain we would be able to go on this trip. One year later, after two major surgeries and 12 rounds of chemotherapy, we are using this trip to celebrate her complete recovery as a cancer survivor.
We were able to bypass the maddening crowds at O’Hare airport international terminal 5 by flying business class. The coach class TSA lines were endless. We are flying to Zurich with a connection to Milan. We will stay at the Principe di Savoi hotel in Milan for a few days and then take a train through the Swiss Alps to our riverboat in Basael, Switzerland. While in Milan we will go on a city tour and enjoy a private viewing of the Last Supper by Leonardo di Vinci. We will also take a boat cruise on Lake Como.
Here is a view of the Swiss Alps from our airplane.
Flying to Europe results in strange time changes. With only an 8 hour flight it is difficult to get any sleep. The main reason that it is hard to sleep is my body clock knows it is still early in Chicago. We departed Chicago at 3:00 pm and arrived in Milan at 9:00 am. The time in Chicago was 2:00 am. Now I have to stay wake for 13 hours to assimilate into the European time zone. Fortunately we cannot check into our hotel room until after 3:00 pm. As a result we are not be able to sneak a nap unless we do so on a park bench.
A miracle happened and we were assigned a room when we arrived at the Principe di Savoi hotel. That must have had something to do with our Tauck tour group’s influence. There were numerous other travelers waiting for rooms prior to our arrival.
Our room at the Principe di Savoi hotel
We have a city map of Milan with key tourists spots highlighted by the concierge. We decided to explore the area around our hotel before the hotel shuttle takes us to the main tourist area. We immediately identify an issue with our attempts at navigating Milan. There are no signs with street names. Intersection after intersection have no identifier. If you walk further and look on the building facades you can find the street name as part of the address. Not easy to figure out where you are and where you are going. The best we could determine was that we were at the corner of “walk and don’t walk.”
We took the hotel shuttle to the Piazza del Duomo which has a huge cathedral and did some sightseeing on our own. The piazza is very crowded with both people and pigeons. Several people held birdseed in their hands and were instantly covered with pigeons sitting on them trying to eat the birdseed.
Piazza del Duomo, Milan
Priscilla is attracting the local pidgeons
For dinner, our concierge recommended Solferino. The service and cuisine were a delight. The owner was very hands on in the operation of restaurant and we had an attentive waiter as well. Most Italians do not tip the waitstaff and it is a modest amount if they tip at all. Westerners are expected to tip the full amount 15 – 20% and our waiter left no doubt about his expectation. The exchange rate is USD 1.25 / 1 euro.
On Saturday morning we went to breakfast at the hotel. While standing in line for seating the couple behind us asked if we were going on the Tauck cruise. We introduced ourselves as John and Priscilla from Chicago and they are Peggy and Dale from Seattle.
The cruise line advised us of a slight change in plans. Due to low water levels in the Rhine River, there is a shallow spot ( thin water ) near Rudesheim that will require us to change riverboats. We start our cruise on the ms Grace and transfer to the ms Inspire at Rudesheim. The cruise line advises they intend to include 100% of all activities and sightseeing despite this minor inconvenience. We overhead a couple at the Zurich airport mention their cruise was partially cancelled and half of the travel will be by bus and not by riverboat. There is no rain in the forecast which is both good and bad.
Saturday was spent riding the On / Off bus around Milan.
Statue of Leaonardo da Vinci – his famous painting The Last Supper is in Milan, Italy.
Tomorrow the official Tauck tour begins.