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Germany - Switzerland - France - Italy - Austria
July, 1985

This was the trip with the infamous two Thomas Fortunato's, Tom 'M' and and Tom 'G'. I'm the M. My grandfather and I caused lots of unintentional headaches from our confusingly similar names for hotel clerks throughout this two week trek from Frankfurt to Vienna and back again.

After landing via a TWA flight from NYC, we were whisked away for two days in the middle of the Black (not really black, but lush) Forest at a wine center called Bad something-or-other. I can't quite remember its full name, even more confounding as I wasn't the one Fortunato doing all of the wine and beer drinking on the trip in that "lush" countryside! In retrospect, it was a good place to kick up one's heels and get over jet lag. A few hours away was the impressive Rhine's Falls, bordering Switzerland. This trip could have been captioned the " mountain" tour, for this one ran across every hill and valley in the Alps.

The stop in Geneva was only for 2 days, not nearly enough time to take in a truly international city. The ride to and from Geneva was spectacular along the edge of Lake Geneva, passing Montreux and Lausanne, Olympic Headquarters. A day side trip took us one morning across the French boarder to Mont Blanc, tallest mountain in the Alps. My French has never been very good, never having actually studied the language, and I remember buying a piece of cold pizza for lunch and desperately trying to remember the word for "hot" for them to heat it up. French students will recall the word was chaud, so I kept playing charades looking for the opposite of "froid" (cold)! We ended the day by hopping back to Switzerland and Gruyeres for a visit to one of its many cheese factories.

I think the best part of the trip was spent in Zermatt. Getting there was half the fun, as it's somewhat isolated and you must take a train to get there. We were all surprised to learn that there are no cars allowed in the town, only small electric vehicles to get people from place to place. In retrospect, the village is rather small, and traffic would only ruin the atmosphere. This is the place to view the Matterhorn from without being on that mountain itself. From the balcony of our hotel room it felt as though we just about touch its summit. While very commercial, there was still enough charm left to imagine the place before the tourist invasion, including hundred year old sheepherder shacks still standing after all those years. From Zermatt it was back to the lowland central part of the country, with lunch in Interlaken near the Jungfrau and its 13,500+ foot peak. The obligatory night's stay was at Lucerne, which visited just two years before. Not much had changed. An additional two days were spent in St. Moritz, passing by the exclusive Gastaad area. We also skirted in and out of the Italian boarder to see Bolzano and Merano.

Of all the places I've visited, I think I like Switzerland the best. It has great international cities and lovely scenic countryside. Nearly everyone speaks English (another surprise) as well as one or two of the country's other major languages- German, French and Italian, owing to its central location. To me, Switzerland has everything!

In nearby Austria we unpacked first in Innsbruck just for a night, heading for three nights in Salzburg. Salzburg Castle is the first place to visit if for no other reason than the view from its great height. The city's favorite son's effigy is everywhere and on everything. Mozart candy, Mozart wine, "Mozart slept here" signs, etc. Salzburg is very walkable, but make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes. It's pedestrians only in the city center, where all the main attractions are squeezed in centuries old narrow streets. True music lovers have their choice of several daily and evening performances of a myriad of works.

Be prepared for a very long haul from Salzburg to Vienna, but the jewel that awaits is worth the time on the bus. As they say, " location, location, location," and no place is better to stay than in the heart of the "Ringstrasse" encircling the historic section. St. Stephen's Cathedral towers over the old town square where many antique and exclusive shops are. There are plenty of museums to choose from. While nothing to sneeze at, the Austrian crown jewels are a meager comparison to their British counterparts. I regret not having had the opportunity to view the Royal Spanish Riding School's horse review or hear the Vienna Boy's Choir, but summer is their vacation, too.

Oh yes, as for crowds, the summer is the best time to visit Europe. Not only is the weather its best, but the natives themselves are on "holiday," nearly deserting the cities in July and August. I was in Vienna on the 4th of July, and happened by the American Embassy on the outskirts of the ring. Terrorist threats around the world at that time lead to heightened security around the large compound, and I was stopped by US Marines for just taking a picture of the place!

The last major city on the tour was Munich, another entire day's ride by bus. As with many other cities on this whirlwind two week tour, there was just enough time to sample what each city had to offer. We had a two hour introductory tour of the city, going past the major attractions, like the Olympic facilities, Our Lady's Church, the Technology Museum, and of course, the many breweries and beer halls! That evening we dined at the Hofbrau Haus. I've never been one to enjoy the wursts (or is that "worsts"-remember that mystery meat from Alitalia?) Germans are so famous for so I picked out what I thought I could identify from the boiled meat plate before me. My grandfather really got into the mood that night, downing many more beers than a man in his seventies probably should have. We all had a nice time that evening.

Don't let any of the travel brochures fool you, there is absolutely nothing romantic about the "Romantic Road" between Munich and Frankfurt. It's another all day grueling drive. The one bright spot is the diversion to Rothenburg, a well preserved medieval town. Where there are tourists, there are souvenir stands, and it was here that I bought a nice stein. But beyond the stands await many interesting museums and shops as they would have appeared centuries before. Further up "the road" is the college town of Heidelberg. Its castle is not to be missed.

From there it was back to Frankfurt for the night and an early plane back home, but not before a near strip search at the airport. I always thought I had an average look about me, but perhaps I was the lucky one in a hundred to get that honor. Oh well, another adventure over.