Three days after the wedding, we left for our honeymoon. I managed to use miles to book the trip in business class, which proved to be fantastic. We flew from Denver to DC on United, which was nothing terribly exciting. I had arranged a long layover so that we could go through the Global Entry interview process there, since the wait time for an interview in Denver was ridiculous. Being run by the government, they were of course running late, so we had to wait around a bit. When we were finally called, we were brought in for the interview, which really consisted of repeating a few questions we had already answered online, and getting our fingerprints and pictures taken.
After the interview, we went back through security and headed for the Lufthansa lounge, where we hung out waiting for our flight to Vienna on Austrian Airways (owned by Lufthansa). Soon it was time to board; the lounge was directly connected to the gate, so we made our way to our seats without waiting in line. Austrian’s business class seats blew away anything I have been in before, with a nice large touchscreen, great lighting, a massage function, and lie-flat for sleeping, which is very, very useful on an overnight flight. The seat, though, was just the beginning; Austrian had the most amazing food service I’ve ever seen. For dinner, Nhu had a prawn curry dish, while I had an excellent chicken dish, which was recommended by the flight’s chef. That’s right, we had a dedicated chef onboard. After dinner, we were given the choice of a half dozen different Viennese-style coffees. I chose an espresso combined with ice cream, which proved to be delicious. After a few hours of sleep, we were awakened with the best breakfast I’ve ever had on an airplane. Everything was cooked to order, as we had placed our order before takeoff. I had freshly fried eggs, coffee, croissants, and more. Needless to say, when the flight landed in Vienna an hour later, we were well-fed.
Our first day in Vienna was quite rainy, but we explored anyway. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we made our way into the more interesting parts of town. We walked quite a distance, considering that we were fresh of an airplane. That night we had authentic Austrian food at a local restaurant; Nhu had schnitzel, and I had boiled beef. After that we turned in a bit early, and we slept soundly that night! Thankfully, the next day was considerably nicer, with plenty of sun and no rain at all. We doubled back to some of the places we had been the day before, but we spent a lot more time exploring. We found a beautiful rose garden, a few cathedrals, the opera, the national library and much more. That evening, we had booked a dinner and Mozart concert package, which proved to be very fun. The dinner was at Hotel Bristol, and it was scrumptious; I had veal, and Nhu had salmon. The concert was performed at the Musikverein, by musicians in period costumes, so it was anything but a standard orchestra concert. Overall the performance was very entertaining, and I did get some few excellent photos of the hall.
The next day, we rented a car and made our way to Hallstatt, a picturesque little lake town in the Alps that was to be our stop for the night. It rained on us all the way to where we turned off the highway, which was another lake town. When we got there, however, we found the town was flooded, with buildings on the lake under a few feet of water. We also met with a road block that prevented us from going any further. Thankfully, I had my tablet with me, and I had cached the area in Google Maps, so we were able to navigate. I attempted to go around the block, but I was only met with more roadblocks, and people manning them that did not speak English. I kept trying various routes that would get us to Hallstatt, but I only found more roadblocks, and in one instance, a river that had spilled onto a road and swallowed a few cars. While looking for a way through, we stumbled upon a small town that shares my namesake, Steinbach am Attersee! On my last attempt, I finally found somebody at the roadblock who spoke English, and after speaking with others there, she informed us that we wouldn’t be able to make it to Hallstatt. So, at that point we gave up and went in search of food. We found a pizza restaurant in a small town near the highway; the owners spoke no English, which made ordering an interesting process. After eating, we drove past Salzburg, through the mountains, and eventually found a rest stop that overlooked Hohenwerfen Castle. As we had nowhere else to go, we decided to spend the night there. At around three in the morning, we were awakened by a large semi pulling in behind us. I dozed off again, but awoke a few minutes later to find the truck on fire! The fire was maybe ten feet away from us, and I knew I needed to get us out of there. Meanwhile, the truck driver had an extinguisher out, and came to knock on my window to let me know we needed to leave. I tried to start the car, only to discover that I had to have my seatbelt on first. After struggling with that for a few seconds, I got the car started and left in a hurry. We found somewhere nearby to finish out the night. We were just over a ridge from the stop, though, and we could see the flickering light from the fire.
The next morning, after eating pastries for breakfast, we went back to the rest stop to see what had happened. When we got there, the rest stop was closed off, and the truck was still there, completely burned out. Not much was left besides the frame. Unfortunately, Austria had more bad news in store for us. The road to our next stop, Zell am See, was also blocked off, as was the route I had planned to take afterward, so we made our way back to the highway to go around. Going around did prove very scenic at least, and we stayed off of the highway for most of it so we could enjoy the sights. The next stop of the day, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, was also closed, but the scenery up to the closure was fantastic. Thankfully, though, that was the last time that weather would put a wrench into our plans. From there we made our way to Lienz, the Italian border, and eventually Cortina d’Ampezzo, our stop for the night.
Cortina is an amazingly beautiful mountain town and ski resort. During the summer, it is very, very green, with amazing rolling grassy hills. It is surrounded by tall, sharp mountains on every side. We had two nights there, but if I did it again, I would spend more time in Cortina. The next day, we left Cortina to see nearby sights in the Italian Alps. We started by driving up Falzarego Pass, at the top of which we took a cable car to the top of Mount Lagazuoi. We then made our way up and over a very narrow, winding mountain pass road to visit the small community of Saint Magdalena, to see a very small but very cute chapel nestled against the dolomites. Next we went to Lake Braies, a picturesque mountain lake in South Tyrol. We then made our way back to Cortina, where we had probably the best dinner of our entire trip: a fantastic pizza with ham and mushrooms, excellent gnocchi, and a wonderful house Chianti, followed by panna cotta and tiramisu for dessert.
The next day, we finished the driving portion of our trip by returning the car to the Venice airport. We then took a vaporetto to the islands, and ultimately our hotel, the beautiful Hilton Molino Stucky. We spent the remainder of that day and all of the following two exploring Venice. We had gelato every day while in Venice, and nearly every day for the rest of our stay in Italy. During our time in Venice, we managed to cover a good deal of the city, including parts I had not been to before, such as the parks in the east, and also Giudecca, where our hotel was. We also made it out to Morano for a tour of a glass factory, only to be blown away by the prices of their work. Later that night, we took a water taxi to the train station, where we boarded our overnight train to Rome.
Once we got to Rome, we took the metro to a stop that appeared to be near to our hotel, the Rome Cavalieri. Unfortunately, the hotel was up a very, very high hill, and walking up it proved to be exceptionally difficult, especially after an overnight train. In retrospect, we certainly should have taken a cab! Once we got to the hotel, though, the receptionist bent over backward for us, and we were able to check in very early in the morning. We then took a shuttle into town, and managed to explore most of Rome’s notable sights in one day: the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. The second day, we visited Saint John Lateran's Basilica and Saint Peter’s Basillica, and spent the remainder of the day at the Borghese gardens. Needless to say, our feet were a bit tired after all of that. Also, while we were on the metro, we witnessed an older woman get her purse snatched. I noticed two kids get on and back off at the same stop, which I knew was out of place, and then I turned around to find two people telling the woman that they had taken her purse. The third day was spent mostly lounging around the hotel, and eventually we got on an afternoon train for Naples.
We arrived in Naples, took a cab to the dockyard, and got on the next ferry to Capri with only minutes to spare. The boat ride to Capri was relaxing, though, and when we arrived on the island, it was just a short cab ride to our hotel. At the suggestion of the receptionist, we walked down to the Marina Piccola beach, but walking back up the very steep hill was much, much more difficult! We walked around the town for a bit longer, had dinner at a fantastic local restaurant called Verginiello, and went to bed early. The next morning, we went for a walk on the east side of the island. The walk started out beautiful, with gorgeous views of the rocks below. Unfortunately, we were soon thereafter met with many, many lizards. Needless to say, Nhu did NOT have a good time. To make things worse, the climb up the many stairs at the end was miserable, especially in the heat, and for Nhu at least, especially with the lizards. Next we took a bus over to Anacapri, which was an experience in itself. The roads on Capri are barely wide enough for a single car, much less two small busses side by side. Still, the ride was fun, and we had a fantastic view. I was even able to lower the window so I could take a few pictures unobstructed. Anacapri was much quieter than Capri, and cheaper as well. We also took a chair lift up to the top of Mount Solaro, the highest point on the island, which had a spectacular view. The following morning, we walked down Via Krupp, a very windy path with a large elevation change. After getting to Marina Piccola, we took the bus back up instead of doing the climb again. For our final adventure on the island, we had a private boat take us around the island to see its various grottos. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough to see the famous Blue Grotto, but we saw just about everything else. The boat tour was two hours long, the captain was great, and we had the boat all to ourselves; it was a highlight of entire vacation.
The next morning, we took an early boat back to Naples. After dropping stuff off at the hotel, we made our way to Pompeii on a dingy train called the Circumvesuviana. The ride seemed to last forever, but we eventually made it to the excavation site. We spent a few hours exploring the ruins of Pompeii, and then made our way back to Naples for the night. The next morning, we went to the airport to pick up a rental car to drive the Amalfi coast. The receptionist at the hotel told us we could get one closer, but I did NOT want to drive in Naples any more than necessary. Italian drivers, at least in town, don’t really seem to follow any rules to speak of, other than do your best not to hit something. Renting from the airport turned out to be pretty easy, but I did have difficulty with the car at first. At first I couldn’t get the top down (I splurged on a convertible), nor could I get the thing into reverse. After some instructions, though, everything went smoothly. We got on the highway and made for the turnoff for Amalfi. The coast was gorgeous, and there were many places to stop for pictures, though I would have liked a few more, of course. The town of Amalfi itself was also beautiful, but it was crazy with so many people. Initially we planned to stop, but we couldn’t even find a place to park, so we gave up and moved on. After passing Amalfi, the road became much quieter, but the view was still fantastic. We stopped at a stand on the side of the road to get fresh squeezed lemon juice, a specialty of the area (including Capri, where we enjoyed fresh lemon juice a few times as well). Finally, we made our way to Sorrento, where we had an early dinner at a pizzeria. We then made our way back to the Naples airport to drop off the car, and went to bed very early in order to catch our 6:20 AM flight to Frankfurt the next morning.
Getting from Naples to Frankfurt was not without issue. We planned on carrying on all of our luggage, just as we had up until that point. However, after sending my bags through the x-ray machine, I was informed that tripods are prohibited in carryon bags. Needless to say, I was a bit perplexed… what can one do with a tripod on an airplane? Still, my tripod was not cheap, so I had to go out and check it. The lady said that I could skip the line when I came back, so long as I went through the check points. So, I left Nhu there and went back to check the bag that had the tripod. Upon getting to the counter, the lady asked me for my passport. Oops, guess what, I left the passport with Nhu! Thankfully, after conversing with the lady next to her, she was (eventually) understanding, and took the bag with just my driver’s license, saving me another round trip. I then went back to security, but when I tried to skip the line, some nasty woman saw me, and insisted that I get back in line, despite my protesting and asking her to speak to the lady that I had spoken with earlier, which this nasty woman of course refused to do. Eventually though, I did make it through, with plenty of time to spare. We went to the (comparatively very crummy) shared lounge, only to find the coffee machine was broken. Once on the plane, though, things were much better. We were in business class again, but on such a short flight, it is more akin to domestic first class in the United States, but of course not quite that bad. Breakfast was tasty at least. When we landed, we were greeted by Nhu’s cousin Nam, who took us back to Nhu’s uncle’s house. Nam later took us into town and showed us around Frankfurt. It was great to have our own personal tour guide! He even got us bratwurst and beer for lunch, which was very tasty. Nhu’s uncle then met us, as Nam had to be somewhere. Nhu’s uncle continued showing us around, took us to a very old coffee shop, and eventually brought us back home on the train. We then walked around their hometown of Karben for a bit, before going back home to a scrumptious home-cooked meal. Nhu was ecstatic to have rice again!
After a good night’s sleep and a tasty breakfast, Nam brought us back to the airport, where we boarded our plane for Denver. We were in business class again, but on Lufthansa this time, which while not bad, was not nearly as impressive as Austrian. The nonstop flight was great though. In fact, it was the first time I’ve ever been on an international flight to Denver. We were greeted by my mom, who brought us back home. And it was very good to be home.