Our Bernina Express Swiss Adventure

We have visited some pretty amazing destinations over the past two years, but none have met with as much interest as our recent trip aboard the Bernina Express. A lady–a complete stranger–stopped me at the Post Office the other day and wanted details. (Hey, it’s a small community and people talk!) Truth be told, this was not the easiest trip to book, which is why I wanted to get some information up on the blog sooner rather than later. Rather than wax on, I’m just going to get right to the details and fill you in as we go.

Booking Bernina Express Tickets

Unless you want to go through a booking or tour company, Rhaetian Bahn’s www.rhb.ch is the site you’ll want when booking tickets. From there, you can book the Bernina Express, the Glacier Express, a car transporter train, and special tour packages. It’s worth spending some time on the site, just reading and researching the timetables and stops along the way.

Despite using 4 browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and even IE) and both a Mac and a Windows computer, I found RHB’s site to be rather glitchy. I never actually made it to the final screen to book tickets. I finally rang up RHB customer service and spoke to a very helpful lady who was fluent in English. As it turns out, you can’t actually buy the reduced-fare child ticket online, so I would’ve had to call anyway. Booking required a credit card to hold it all, but we paid at the station the day we left.

Ticket Prices and Seating

Compared to the price of regular European train travel, the Bernina Express is expensive. Adult tickets can run as low as CHF 49 one-way (the CHF, Swiss Franc, is roughly equivalent to the US Dollar) and as high as CHF 169. Small children can ride free if they sit on a parent’s lap; older children ride for half the price of the adult fare. All tickets are charged a CHF 29 booking fee. In total, we paid CHF 376 round trip for two adults and two children in second-class seating.

Although the train is divided into first- and second-class cars, there’s very little difference between the two. First-class cars are configured to have one pair of seats per panoramic window facing each other. Second-class cars, on the other hand, are configured to have two pairs of seats (four seats, in other words) per panoramic window. For a family of four, especially one with little kids, the second-class option was much better. The small table in between the seats gave us somewhere to color, play Minecraft (Zoey’s biggest concern), and eat.  Seats in both first-class and second-class are assigned. That’s not to say you can’t get up and move around. Our trains were not even close to maximum capacity. You often saw first-class passengers milling around second-class and vice versa. On our return trip, we wound up moving across the aisle for a better view. (More on this after the picture.)


The best side (ie: most scenic) is the left. Because the cars are moved around so much, RHB cannot guarantee sides when you book. You can’t even heavily suggest which side you want…I tried. We sat on the “wrong” side each time but didn’t have any problems moving across the aisle to take pictures. Even the wrong side isn’t so bad, you just aren’t situated to catch the major attractions like the Brusio Spiral, the ice floes, and some of the major gulches.

Refreshments Aboard the Train

The Bernina Express isn’t set up to serve full meals (although you may find a few special dinner passages at times throughout the year). They do offer an acceptable refreshment service, including beers, wines, cocoa, and a few snacks (cookies, olives, and chips). They also allow passengers to bring on food and drinks. Our girls eat…and eat and eat and still get pretty “hangry.” We packed a huge assortment of snacks for them. Eddie brought a couple of beers, too. We did buy cocoa for Zoey and Harper on the way to Switzerland and Eddie bought a Swiss beer. Pricing is astronomical, so I recommend packing a nice picnic basket for yourself unless you just feel like splurging.

Eddie's Swiss beer splurge

Eddie’s Swiss beer splurge

Stops, Stations, and Destinations

Travelers originating from Italy have two options when riding the Bernina Express. All RHB trains leave from Tirano, a tiny Italian town located just a hair’s breadth from the Swiss border. If you don’t have a vehicle (or hate driving on mountain roads), RHB does offer a motorcoach from Milan to Tirano. We made the 3-hour drive from our home to Tirano and parked for free at the bus station. Be aware, however, that parking is not plentiful. We actually nabbed the last long-term parking spot and returned to a dinged car door. If you drive, pad yourself with extra time in the event you have to look hard for parking. Incidentally, if you get to Tirano and need a casual spot for pizza and a beer, give La Pecora Nera (The Black Sheep) a try!

There are 9 train stations/terminals along the Bernina route. Where you stop really depends upon your taste in vacation spots. St. Moritz is a bit more cosmopolitan and expensive. Filisur is supposedly where the real train aficionados go because of the multiple tracks and lines. Davos and Chur are the hotspots for sports and leisure–skiing, hiking, etc. We chose Davos solely because we found an Airbnb we loved in that area. The ride to Davos was about 3-1/2 hours.

View from Ospizio Bernina, the highest elevation along the route

View from Ospizio Bernina, the highest elevation along the route

Oh, Switzerland. You’re just showing off with your crystal blue lakes.

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Staying and Dining

Hotels along the Bernina Express route were either wickedly expensive, had poor reviews, or were a combination of the two. We wound up using Airbnb this time and couldn’t be happier. For around $150 USD per night, we stayed in a rustic-but-lovely apartment attached to a working small animal farm in Davos Frauenkirch. The 2-1/2 bedroom apartment owned by Vreni and Peter was perfect for our girls. We heard the cows and sheep with their bells during the night, then awoke to a whole herd of curious sheep running down a hill to greet the girls.

One week later, I’m still in awe over #Switzerland and its beautiful countryside. #davos #travel

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Airbnb in Davos Frauenkirch

Airbnb in Davos Frauenkirch

Frauenkirch itself was tiny…one hotel/restaurant and a number of dairies. Thanks to some advanced information from the son of our Airbnb hosts, we picked up some groceries at CoOp right across from the Davos Platz train station. We chose to pay an extra CHF 10 per person per day for Vreni’s breakfast, which consisted of overnight oatmeal packed with wonderful fruit, local cheeses, bread, Nutella, coffee, and cocoa.

Landhaus Frauenkirch, just across from the Frauenkirch train station, was our go-to spot for dinner. Not knowing how busy they would be, we made reservations ahead of time. When we arrived, they had a lovely, large table reserved for us and had translated the menu. I certainly never expect English menus, so this was extremely kind. I truly got the impression that they don’t get American tourists often and took the time to make the translation for us. Dinner was a bit on the expensive side (about $140 for the family, which included two cocktails), but everything they served was amazing. Eddie had venison; I had a vegetarian dinner with candied chestnuts and winter vegetables.

In and Around Davos Platz

As anyone will tell you (and I’ve said a few times), Switzerland is expensive. We didn’t go with much of a plan to sightsee, choosing instead to feel our way around once we hit the ground. Our hosts provided us the Davos Klosters Card our first morning there. A pleasant surprise, the card allowed us to use the local trains and buses  (Filisur, Davos, and Klosters) free of charge during our stay. It also allowed us free passage and entry to and from Jakobshorn, which was an amazing experience. The package details are on the site (linked via the card’s name above). If you happen to be traveling to Davos and have more time, you can potentially turn an expensive vacation into a thrifty one.

We took the gondola from #Davos to #Jakobshorn. The view at 2700 meters was amazing.

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

As a whole, this trip turned out to be one of our favorites. We typically set a $1000 budget on 4-day holidays. Believe it or not, we stayed pretty close to the mark. It’s always nice to have fun and realize that you didn’t break the bank. If you have any questions on the Bernina Express, please contact me. I could go on another 2000 words easily, and I’ll be happy to fill you in on everything. And if you want to follow our adventures, just “like” me on Instagram @shoemuse. We have some amazing trips coming up–Malta, Sicily, Spain, France, Austria, and England.

Shopping European Bazaars

Our first few weeks in Italy coincided with the beginning of spring military-sponsored European bazaars. Honestly, I trekked over to my first one in Vicenza simply because Harper was fussy and needed a walk. I went in thinking “crocheted toilet paper cozies and toll painted saws”  like I saw back at home but walked out with genuinely cool products–cheeses, wines, cashmere wraps, pottery–from Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Poland. Two weeks later, Aviano Air Force Base held their annual Primavera Bazaar. We made it a family trip and found an airplane hangar’s-worth of goods that can only be found (affordably) if you happen to have access to military installations in Europe. Plus, we found this gorgeous field of poppies…

poppy field

Tips for Shopping European Bazaars

Before I launch into the good stuff (ie: what you can buy), it’s worth offering a few tips. At least in Italy, most of the military installations hold two major bazaars each year–late spring and mid-atutumn. Air Force bases typically trump all overs, having the largest events with the greatest variety of products (all those hangars are okay for planes but absolutely great for shopping!). Logistically-speaking, parking is free, often plentiful, and quite friendly to larger American-spec vehicles. And, as I mentioned earlier, you must have access to the base/post. Money talks in the bazaar but the gate guards aren’t going to let you near it unless you can produce the proper documentation.

Granted each bazaar may be populated with different vendors from season to season, I wanted to at least feature a few of my favorites. From cookie molds to paintings and from wine to furniture, keep an eye out for these types of artists and artisans:

Wine/Beer Barrel Furniture and Wooden Housewares

Wine barrel furniture, cookie molds, wine racks…Holland Handicrafts is one of my favorite vendors. Their old-world cookie molds are made by hand (some are antique) and ring in between about $15 and $75. They make great gifts and come with a cookie recipe. My Wine Collectibles, the furniture and decor portion of their company, offers really cool products upcycled items from wine barrels, beer barrels, and crates.
cookie molds -- European bazaars

shopping european bazaars

Located in Vicenza, Bizzotto Silvano–affectionately called Chicken Man–is one of the places Americans go for high-quality furniture in Italy. Ermanno and his family are really nice people, often offering Prosecco as you poke around in their Rossano Veneto workshop. They also regularly attend both the Vicenza and Aviano bazaars. Prices are not cheap (a table alone run about €2000), but the products are completely handmade of hardwoods. Honestly, I haven’t found anything comparable to Ermanno’s quality in the U.S. If you’re looking for glass, Chicken Man often sells demijohns in every color imaginable. The prices are generally over-inflated (in my opinion), but they often have some of the less common (read: coveted) colors, sizes, and shapes.

Chicken Man

The Bizzottos also create wine racks and showcases made from wine barrels, as well as reclaimed architectural salvage. Since they are made to order, you can fully customize the furniture. Prices vary but typically run €2000-€4000.

barrel rack


From pen-and-ink drawings to watercolor paintings to acrylics, many local artists showcase their work at bazaars. You find a few stalls full of tacky velvet paintings (bulldogs playing poker and the like) but most of the art is truly beautiful and original.

What you see below is Cruciani. Honestly, his paintings were some of the most gorgeous I’ve seen at any bazaar ever. All depicted Tuscan scenes…poppies, sunflowers, ancient windows. It was truly stunning. Pricing was a bit staggering when you consider the level of impulse shopping that goes on at a bazaar. Pieces ranged between $300 and $1000 with framing. I have made it a mission to buy a piece (albeit small) of Cruciani before we leave Italy.

original art -- European Bazaars

Wine, Beer, and Cheeses

The most popular vendors at any bazaar would have to be the wine, beer, and cheese stalls, and trust me when I say that there a lot of them. Italian wineries from the Vicenza and Aviano areas truck cases upon cases to the venues, happily pouring samples for anyone old enough who asks for a taste. Beer vendors from Germany and Belgium are a bit more guarded, rarely offering tastings, but it generally works out since the wine loosens everyone up for a buying spree.

One of our favorites at the most recent Primavera Bazaar was the Projito…think Prosecco mojito. Most Italians would scoff at it but it’s really unconventional and tasty on a 99-degree Italian summer day.


If you happen to be shopping any of the European bazaars, make sure you seek out a vendor selling cheeses and pastries from Belgium. If you are a cheese fan, you’ll do well to just pony up and buy all the Italian and Belgian cheeses you can get your hands on.

Glass and Wrought Iron

Marble and wrought iron in Italy are as common as Pergo flooring and aluminum back in the States. If you live here, you probably have a whole home full of Italian marble floors and countertops, and your modest abode still most likely has a huge iron gate out front. It is not wonder, then, that many of us dread going back to cheaper materials. Visiting some of the many wrought iron vendors is a great way to stock up on some pretty, classically-Italian decor. One of my favorites–Wrought Iron Luigi–always visits local bazaars with a wide array of baker’s racks, kitchen islands, small racks of all types (mugs, hats, etc), bookcases, as well as demijohns with traditional stands and toppers. Since many of the vendors regularly visit military installations, you can place a custom order at the bazaar, put down a deposit, and have your item delivered when they’re at your PX/BX next.

demijohns olive jars

wrought iron

Kitschy Decor and Gifts

Admittedly, my tolerance for kitschy knickknacks is low; however, you do run across some items that are purely frivolous and fun from time to time. The metal wine bottle figures below are by an artist named Giuseppe Scala. For someone with a specific hobby or interest, these would make a great gift.
giuseppe scala

Planning for Future Bazaar Visits

To my knowledge, the Fall 2016 bazaar dates for Vicenza have not gone public. According to the Bella Befana Bazaar site, Aviano’s autumn event will be September 30-October 2. If you happen to be traveling in Germany, it’s worth checking their bazaar schedule right now. Many of the larger bases/posts begin autumn bazaar season in early September.

Four Days in Santorini with Kids

Santorini with Kids

As we began researching a trip to the Cyclades, we continually read that the Greek islands were not especially kid-friendly. Without any other explanation, we assumed this word of caution meant that the Greek islanders and other vacationers were anti-children. I heeded the advice and started looking at trips elsewhere for a hot minute, then said “damn it! I want to go,” and we booked anyway. As it turns out, the Greek people adore kids. It’s the pesky cliff drop-offs that make the islands a little dicey for kids. Long story short: we had an absolutely fantastic time and the girls came home saying this was their favorite trip ever. If you’ve ever considered Santorini with kids, do it!

Getting to Santorini with Kids

It turns out that actually getting to the Cyclades in general can be tough. Prior to the busy travel season (June-early September), you usually have to fly to Athens, lay over several hours (if not a day), then take a ferry or a puddle-jumper to your island. None of that sounded good with little ones in tow. Traveling in late-May gave us the opportunity to take a direct flight from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Santorini on Volotea Airlines for about $700.


We chose to stay in Kamari Beach. While Oia and Fira–on the western side–are the most popular Santorini towns, Kamari–on the eastern side–boasts beautiful black pebbly beaches. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment at Blue Waves Hotel. At the risk of sounding elitist, we were a little worried since it was only a 2-Star; the Booking.com reviews rated it at 9/10 stars so we took a chance. Although the apartment was extremely bare bones (and the beds were terribly hard), the amenities, proximity to the beach (about a 2-minute walk), the awesome staff, and the price made up for it. We arrived hours before our room was ready due to an early flight. The staff allowed us to drop our bags and use all the facilities–pool, sundeck, bar, changing room/bathroom–before we were officially checked-in, which made the 5-hour wait comfortable. Everyone was shockingly good with kids, right down to the bartender. When Harper, the 2-year-old, got upset for any reason by the pool, he popped up a batch of popcorn for her and asked us all back to watch him make mojitos and Greek salads.

My girls are masters at posing for the camera.

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on


I think one of the highlights of the trip was dining out. I mean that’s kind of a “duh” statement because Greek food is so amazing, but we generally dread eating out with Zoey and Harper. They act like most kids in a restaurant but we have (probably unrealistic) high expectations. Most of the restaurateurs we visited either had their own kids on-site and carted out toys if my daughters got restless, or the waitstaff did something fun with their food…little plastic monkeys stuck into the gelato, cool food picks in the shape of flags or fireworks, surprise finger-foods delivered to the table. Captain’s Corner Taverna, which was maybe two meters from the hotel, was good enough to revisit throughout our trip. Tomato croquettes, Greek salads, fresh seafood, baklava…we loved everything that came out of the kitchen. If you happen to be traveling to Santorini with kids, no matter where you stay, I highly recommend a trip over to this taverna.  

  Directly on the beach, Captain Hook Bar became our breakfast haunt for the holiday. Between the name and the kitschy life-size pirate statues, Zoey picked the place the first morning we were on the island. I was less enthusiastic about it based upon the decor but figured one bad meal wouldn’t kill me. Turns out the place was awesome. I think both girls ate chocolate chip crepes every morning with freshly-squeezed orange juice. Eddie and I wound up starting the day with a glass of wine and Greek coffee (think Turkish coffee but in Greece) in addition to all kinds of authentic Greek breakfast foods. Reviews on TripAdvisor are really mixed but I have to say that breakfast was pretty tasty.


Seeing and photographing the blue-roofed buildings in Oia was a lifetime bucket-list kind of thing for me. So we didn’t spend a lot of time looking around for the most beautiful, iconic spots, we decided to book a half-day private tour with Santorini Day Tours via Viator.com. Our guide picked us up outside the hotel in a van, listened to our list of must-sees, and helped us create a 5-hour itinerary to include Oia, the Profit Ilias Monastery, a quaint mom-and-pop tapas-style restaurant, and Venetsanos Winery overlooking the Caldera. Unfortunately Akrotiri had to be culled from the list due to time. The guide was patient with the girls, even helping us keep an eye on Zoey when Eddie was taking a picture and I was changing a potty training accident (ah, traveling with a potty training toddler). He also helped us time our tour so that we would be seated at a winery with glasses of wine in-hand for sunset over the Caldera. santorini with kids santorini with kids -- Caldera

I’m convinced Oia is magical. The colors! A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

On our third full day, we booked van service and traveled over to Fira on our own. Although the more popular way to travel from Fira town to Old Port is by donkey, we opted to ride the gondola. Honestly, unless you just love gondolas (or donkey rides), I would highly suggested saving your money and skipping Old Port. There’s really nothing down there; although, we did get a few knockout photos like the boats inside the alcove just below.

The old port of Fira

A photo posted by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Leather sandals were on my souvenir list, and despite them being a common Greek souvenir item, they were a little hard to find. It was Fira where I finally ran across the cobbler in the image below. He and his granddaughter were fabulous. She spoke fluent English and helped me find sizes, pick colors, and tie the laces up the right way. He called Zoey and Harper over to his workbench and made them custom gold leather bracelets all while grooving to James Brown on the radio. I left with a great pair of sandals for the equivalent of $35 and the cobbler gave us all bracelets completely gratis.

Day four was bittersweet. We were tired and ready for our soft beds at home, but none of us wanted to leave Santorini. In fact, I don’t think anyone on the island wanted to leave. Our flight over to the island was packed; our flight back to Italy was half-full, if even that. Zoey, who hates everything right now (I dread puberty and those hormones), proclaimed Santorini her favorite vacation spot so far and begged to come back. I joked that we left home with little girls and were returning with tiny goddesses. The Cyclades just seeped into our blood.

A Note on Getting Around

Santorini is a small island but is much too large and mountainous to travel on foot. Taxis are surprisingly few. I read that there are only 36 cabs to be found on the whole island. Buses are said to be hot and inconsistent. Cars, mopeds, and motorcycles can be rented cheaply in all parts of Santorini, with kids, however, you have to worry about safety (car seats, etc). Save yourself the headache and book van service. Service to and from the airport ran about $20 each way. Service from Kamari to Fira rang in at about $10, I believe. The vans were pleasantly cool, safe, and efficient. Our hotel did all the van booking for us, which was an excellent service.

Final Verdict

Santorini with kids…just do it! If price is a concern, go slightly off-season like we did. Accommodations and airfare set us back around $1000. Food, tours, wine, souvenirs, shuttles, and tips set us back another $1000, but you could significantly cut that amount down by cooking for yourself inside a hotel kitchenette and cutting out wine. In terms of time, four days was plenty to see what we wanted. With a week or two, you could easily navigate by ferry among the islands and experience several. If the Cyclades aren’t on your travel bucket-list, consider adding it, especially if you have small kids.

Five Days in Rome with Kids

Piazza Navona

The great thing about living in Italy is the fact that you get to see Italy every single day. That also probably explains why we always choose to visit other countries when we have time to travel. After we returned from Scotland back in February and realized we only have a year or so left here, we made up our minds to see more of Italy in the near future. The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Sicily…they’re all on our list but Rome topped it all.  Continue reading

Four Days in Edinburgh with Kids

Scotland 2016 160

If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be willingly traveling to Scotland in the middle of winter, I would’ve called you crazy. Cold and rain…no thank you. Then I happened to read BassetWrangler’s blog article discussing her January trip to Scotland. It didn’t sound so bad. So three days before our Presidents’ Day 4-day weekend, we booked a family trip to Edinburgh. We were so excited until we began researching specific restaurants, tours, and destinations and found that many prohibited kids under 5 from entering. We have a 2-year-old, so that automatically sent up some red flags. Still, we were about €1000 invested into the trip (airfare and 3 nights in a two-bedroom apartment), so of course we went. Long story short, Edinburgh with kids is not only doable, it’s a lot of fun.  Continue reading

French Drugstore Beauty Favorites

French Drugstore Beauty Favorites

As any beauty junkie will tell you, Europe–and France in particular–corners the market on great beauty products. In some cases, they use active ingredients that aren’t approved for use in the U.S. In other cases, they go much simpler (example: micellar water) and create really phenomenal products. For all these reasons, I was pretty excited to begin shopping beauty products when I moved over. Here in Italy, it’s been touch-and-go. I can get by with my broken Italian, but trying to read product labels in our local farmacia has been tough. France, on the other hand, has been much easier to shop. English often shows up on their packaging, making it much easier to understand what I’m buying.  Continue reading

Paris Cemeteries — Cimetiere de Passy

paris cemeteries

Some people are drawn to Paris for romance. Others come for the food. It was Paris cemeteries that initially drew me to the City of Lights. Paris was actually very far down my list of must-see places until a friend posted pictures of his trip to various Parisian cemeteries several years ago. We finally had a chance to fly over just before Christmas 2015. Given that I have kids–really small kids who are just grasping death and it kind of scares them–I wasn’t sure cemetery visits would be smart. Still, we chose to visit two and neither kid was traumatized. (We did have a lot of talks about where the people where located in the cemetery, and Zoey took the opportunity to spell out what we’d do if a zombie apocalypse went down while we were in there.)  Continue reading

Must-have shoes for Italy in the fall

Whether you’re the form over function type or vice versa, I’ve noticed a really awesome trend among Italians (and Europeans, really) lately. You’re going to see a few stilettos on cobblestones (eek!) but most people–especially the most chic–are opting for lower-heeled or flat shoes and boots. I’m not sure if it’s an extension of NORMCORE or if people are just tired of twisting their ankles but I’ll just say it’s a win for both comfort and style. I’m calling four major styles as your best bets when packing shoes for Italy, especially in fall and winter.  Continue reading

Our visit to Fragonard Parfumeur in Grasse France

One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.


Continue reading

Black Lace & Destructed Denim

I’m fairly confident in my fashion sense. I know what I like; I know what looks good on my figure; I know what’s in (and, more importantly, out) of style. I have to admit, however, that today’s agenda gave me a little wardrobe stress. Dressing for a fashion trade show in Italy on a commoner’s budget is not for the fainthearted. That’s squarely where I found myself this morning as I got ready for Origin: Passions and Beliefs in Vicenza. This trade show puts Italian suppliers together with artists, designers, buyers, and fashionphiles from around the world together in one convenient location.  Continue reading