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Emily Jablon: Daraius and I went to Europe in September to celebrate our 2nd anniversary for ~2 weeks. It was my first time in Italy so I was very excited! In Italy, we visited Varenna on Lake Como, Milan, Venice, and Rome.
Since we were in Europe, we visited a friend in Strasbourg, France and also spent a night in Zurich. We started our trip with a one day layover in Chicago to see friends!
Our Anniversary to Italy – Trip Report Index:
- Part 1 – Planning & Introduction
- Part 2 – Park Hyatt, Chicago
- Part 3 – One Day in Chicago
- Part 4 – Virgin Atlantic Upper Class
- Part 5 – Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge, London
- Part 6 – Under the Channel to Strasbourg
- Part 7 – Hotel Cathedrale, Strasbourg
- Part 8 – What did we do in Strasbourg
- Part 9 – Eating in Strasbourg
- Part 10 – Park Hyatt, Zurich
- Part 11 – 10 Hours in Zurich
- Part 12 – Hotel Eremo Gaudio in Varenna, Italy
- Part 13 – What to do in Varenna, Italy
- Part 14 – Eating in Varenna, Italy
- Part 15 – Park Hyatt, Milan
- Part 16 – What Did We Do in Milan
- Part 17 – Eating in Milan
- Part 18 – Hilton Molino Stucky, Venice
- Part 19 – Around the Hilton Molino Stucky & Free Shuttle Boat Details
- Part 20 – What we did in Venice
- Part 21 – Eating in Venice
- Part 22 – Waldorf-Astoria, Rome Cavalieri
- Part 23 – Eating in Rome, Part 1
- Part 24 – Emily’s Best Meal Was in Italy!
- Part 25 – Rome Cavalieri Imperial Floor
- Part 26 – Activities in Rome
- Part 27 – Activities in Rome – Where to Go, What to See, How to Save Time
- Part 28 – Virgin Atlantic Flight from Europe to US
- Part 29 – Conclusion & Blog Giveaway
We got a lot of wonderful tips from the Rick Steve’s books on Europe. In particular, we used (our Amazon links):
- Rick Steves’ Italy
- Rick Steves’ France
- Rick Steves’ Switzerland
- Rick Steves’ Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler
Keep in mind that the chart below covers only the cost for trains (these were expensive!), hotels and airfare, and not for dining, activities and other travel expenses. The table also includes a very expensive last minute train ticket from London to Strasbourg, France to visit Emily’s pen-pal.
And at the Hilton in Venice, we got upgraded to the Tower Suite which sells for ~$3,466 a night! Again, I’m sure our top-tier Hilton Diamond status helped!
|Retail Cost||Our Cash Cost||Miles And Points Used||Sources of Miles & Points|
|Two one-way tickets from Austin to Chicago||~$175 a person ($350 total)||$2.50 per person ($5 total)||9,000 Avios (18,000 Avios Total)|| - Transfer from American Express Membership Rewards Points
- British Airways Credit Card
|1 Night in the Park Hyatt in Chicago (Lake View Room)||~$540 a night ($540 total)||None||22,000 Hyatt Points Total||- Transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards Points|
|Two round-trip tickets from Chicago to London in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic||~$4,000 a person ($8,000 total)||~$298 per person ($596 total)||100,000 Hawaiian Air Miles (200,000 Miles Total)|| - Hawaiian Air Credit Cards
- Transfers from American Express Membership Rewards Points
|Two train tickets from London to Strasbourg||~$300 a person ($600 in total)||~$300 a person ($600 in total)||None||None|
|3 nights at the Hotel Cathedral in Strasbourg||~125 a night ($375 total)||~$250||None||- 1 Night Credit From Hotels.com|
|1 night at the Park Hyatt in Zurich (Park Delux Room)||~$1,051 a night ($1,051)||None||22,000 Hyatt Points||- Transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards Points|
|2 nights at Hotel Eremo Gaudio||$300 a night ($600 total)||$300 a night ($600 total)||None||None|
|2 nights at the Park Hyatt in Milan||~$880 a night ($1,760 total)||None||22,000 Hyatt Points (44,000 Hyatt Points Total)||- Transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards Points|
|2 nights in a Tower Suite at the Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice||~$3,466 a night ($6,932)||None|| - 1 Weekend Night Certificate|
- 50,000 Hilton Points
| - 1 Free Weekend Night from the Citi Hilton Reserve
- Hilton Credit Cards
|4 nights in at the Rome Cavalieri (Rome View)||~$516 a night ($1,032)||None||- 145,000 Hilton Points|| - Hilton Credit Cards
- Hawaiian Air Credit Cards
- Virgin Atlantic Credit Cards
|Two train tickets from Strasbourg to Zurich||~$68 per person ($136 total)||~$68 per person ($136 total)||None||None|
|Two train tickets from Zurich to Varenna||~$110 per person ($220 total)||~$110 per person ($220 total)||None||None|
|Two train tickets from Varenna to Milan||~$14 per person ($28)||~$14 per person ($28)||None||None|
|Two train tickets from Milan to Venice||~$55 per person ($110 total)||~$55 per person ($110 total)||None||None|
|Two train tickets from Venice to Rome||~$55 per person ($110 total)||~$55 per person ($110 total)||None|
|Total||$21,944||$2,505||18,000 Avios Points, 88,000 Hyatt Points, 200,000 Hawaiian Air Miles, 195,000 Hilton Points, 1 Hilton Weekend Night Certificate|
You’ll see that we could have saved ~$850 if we hadn’t visited our friends in Strasbourg. But we had a great time visiting Emily’s pen-pal and his brother in France!
Austin to Chicago
We spent 9,000 British Airways Avios points per person for a one-way award from Austin to Chicago on American Airlines. Our Virgin Atlantic flight was leaving from Chicago, so we decided to stay in Chicago at the Park Hyatt and visit friends!
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in Chicago for 22,000 Hyatt points for the night. We got upgraded to a Lake View room!
We flew on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class to London. Upper Class costs 90,000 Virgin Atlantic miles and $1,100 in taxes and fees per person!
But we paid 100,000 Hawaiian Air miles and ~$298 in fees and taxes. That’s because you can redeem Hawaiian Air miles on Virgin Atlantic. We earned the Hawaiian Air miles from the Hawaiian Air credit cards when they were issued by Bank of America.
Unfortunately, this redemption costs more now. It is now 125,000 Hawaiian Air miles for a round-trip from the US East Coast to London!
The flight was nice, but it didn’t live up to the Virgin Atlantic hype. We’re fairly thin, but still found the seats cramped compared to business class on other airlines.
If you’re new to miles and points, there are easier ways to go to Europe (with American Airlines, United Air & Chase Ultimate Rewards) than with Hawaiian Air miles. We had a lot of Hawaiian air miles which we wanted to use up.
We took the ~ 1 hour underground train from London’s Heathrow airport to King Cross station. And then took the Eurostar train from London to Strasbourg, France. It took only ~2.5 hours from London to Paris!
We stopped at the Gare du Nord station in Paris and then had to walk ~15 minutes to the Gare de L’Est station to catch the train to Strasbourg.
We booked the train journey from loco2 which lets folks in the US pay the best price for train tickets. We booked the trip to Strasbourg at the last minute, so the train tickets cost us more than it usually would have.
See this post from The Man in Seat 61 for the best tips on booking train tickets!
If you use Google to search for train tickets, you will likely be directed to the raileurope website, which doesn’t show folks in the US the cheapest tickets!
We stayed at the Hotel Cathedrale in Strasbourg. This is a small hotel which is right across from the Cathedral in Strasbourg. We booked the hotel using 1 free night from our Hotels.com account and paid cash for 2 nights. In all, we paid ~$250 for 3 nights.
I’ll write more about Hotels.com later, but it is one of the best ways to get rebates for hotel stays in non-chain hotels or if you don’t travel frequently enough to take advantage of hotel loyalty programs.
We took a train from Zurich to Milan and then a 1 hour train to my (Daraius’) favorite town in this trip – Varenna!
Varenna is a beautiful small town with a population of less than 1,000. We had a great view of the city from our hotel!
We stayed at the Hotel Eremo Gaudio which Rick Steve’s describes as “for monks with champagne tastes.” The Terrace Bar overlooks the lake and offers wonderful views of Lake Como and Varenna. The hotel is a former monastery.
Hotels in Varenna fill up quickly, so the cheaper rooms were not available when I booked. So I splurged 230 euro or ~$300 a night for the Teodolinda suite, which had the BEST view of any suite which I’ve been in. I justified the splurge because it was our anniversary.
The furnishings weren’t so great and included a plastic chair, but it was a delightful place to spend 2 days!
We only had two days in Varenna before we stayed at the Park Hyatt in Milan.
We used 22,000 Hyatt hotel points for each night and transferred them to Hyatt from our Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
The Park Hyatt in Milan is perfectly located in Milan and it was only a 2 minute walk to the Duomo!
Our next stop was Venice, which is really crowded in the day!
We stayed at the Molino Stucky Hilton for 2 nights – 1 night with a free weekend night certificate from the Citi Hilton Reserve card. And the second night with 50,000 Hilton points.
The hotel had a rooftop pool with a great view.
The Hilton is not on the main island of Venice, but on the island of Giudecca, which is a more residential part of Venice. It was only a 15 minute boat ride to the Hilton on the free shuttle boats. I actually liked being away from the hordes on Venice!
Oh, and we got upgraded to the Tower Suite which had a separate dining and living room and views of the canal!
Our last stop was in Rome. We took the Frecciargento (high speed train) from Venice to Rome.
We could see the entire city from our hotel – the Waldorf-Astoria Rome Cavaliere. Daraius booked 4 nights at the hotel using an AXON award for 145,000 Hilton points, before the Hilton devaluation. It now costs 70,000 Hilton points for 1 night at the hotel.
We got upgraded to a room with a Rome view, which beats facing the back of other buildings!
The hotel is located away from the center of Rome, and we found it a pain to get to and from the city. The hotel does run free buses, but they get filled up quickly, unless you stand in line early for the buses.
The hotel does have nice views of the city, but we’d skip staying there again. On our last night, I paid extra to check-out the top-level Imperial floors and the Imperial lounge. We actually preferred our non-Imperial floor room!
On the other hand, Emily had the best meal of her life at La Pergola, the 3 star Michelin restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. We ate at quite a few McDonalds to save up for that splurge!
We visited the Colosseum and all the other places which folks visit in Rome!
That’s why I obsess over miles and points!