I ask the man at the train ticket desk in Milan for a ticket on the tilting train to Zurich. The tilting train is fast and sleek. I’ve had to go to three different lines to get this train ticket because I want to buy it a day or two ahead of time so it won’t sell out.

When I finally get through the third line and purchase the ticket I am a happy girl. Until I realize that instead of the sleek, tilting train, I have gotten the “Slow boat to China train”. The sheer number of lines I would need to transit in order to rectify this is more than I can bear, and at this moment I am clutching a ticket for 4 to Zurich so we can go home. I shrug my shoulders and think – It’s an adventure!

The Milan train station has numerous levels and the only difference between it and Dante’s hell is the temperature. It’s like a gigantic open barn, only colder and wetter. It’s also undergoing a renovation. An idea whose time came right after it was built. There are pigeons galore who must be kicking themselves if they flew in to get out of the cold and wet. I’m not sure even they can find their way out.

While we wait for the train to Zurich, an older couple pulls their luggage up next to us. They are Americans, headed for Venice. The girls and I are watching the departure board for the gate to our train. Italian departure and arrival boards are retro, old school, cool. They make a little flipping noise as the numbers and letters whir around. The girls are fascinated, as am I. The one in Milan comes with a added bonus. Something is wrong with the wiring or software so that the first 3 entries on the left are always misspelled. Bergamo becomes Berfalo. Turino becomes Trhnno. You get the idea…. This takes place in between teasing Sweetie man about his habit of calling Venezia (ve-neht-zia) – Vi-nizt-a.

The woman of the older couple walks away in her bright blue rain jacket, her red hat and red rain boots. I watch her husband get progressively agitated as the time for their train gets closer and she doesn’t reappear. He asks me to watch for her as he starts making a sweep through the station. He comes back, still alone. I hand him my cell phone and ask if he wants to call her, but it’s an international phone and I can’t make it work. We actually have to leave without knowing if they find each other. They make a lasting impression these two. As you can see I am still thinking about them.

At this point I have led our merry band of travelers across a good sized swath of Italy and I am tired. Not cranky tired, deer in the headlights tired. I think my Sweetie senses this and he immediately jumps in to help. He’s ridden a fine line for sure because he’s usually the take charge guy (no really!) in his world. Because it’s my birthday and because it’s my “trip I’ve been planning for years” he’s been very accommodating. I’ll explain this heroism here shortly.

We ride the train up to Zurich through the Alps. The last time I tried that was on a filthy train that had no heat. You want heat when traveling through the Alps. Trust me on that one. Even though this is not the tilting train, it’s still lovely. We roll through towns that would make Helga the Punisher homesick if she were real. I try, very hard, to take a picture of the lakes we pass through the window of the train. The results are uniformly bad.

We arrive in Zurich which again is unknown territory for me. I don’t speak German and unlike most of the places we visit, there are precious few English placards to explain what is what. I’ve counted on the famous Swiss engineering to make everything easy. I’m expecting a big sign with flashing lights and arrows pointing to the Irwin-Frack-Wexler destination HERE.

Add to this Oldest has to pee really, really bad. Mind you she had her chance but didn’t want to use the train bathroom. It costs money to use the bathroom here, Swiss Franc money. We only have Euros money.

This is where my Sweetie swoops in for the rescue. He says – I’ll go find out what we need to do and I’ll come back. Which he does, after a few anxious moments, tickets (and Swiss Francs) in hand and instructions on where we need to go. He has, at this moment, the shiniest armor of any knight I’ve ever seen. We get on another train out to the Flughof. How can anyone say they are going to the Flughof with a straight face is beyond me. Flughof is German for airport. It’s almost as funny as Einfahrt which means arriving or entering. Let me tell you we have plenty of fun with that one at each train station when the announcements are made in German. But I digress….

We arrive at the Flughof and take the hotel shuttle to the Park Inn Zurich. We discover the Park Inn is a McDonald’s Hotel. Surprisingly the rooms are excellent. Clean and warm, with beds that raise and lower like a hospital bed. The shower looks like a futuristic transporter. Quite frankly I’m wishing we could go in, get clean and show up back in Portland without the hassle of flying. Sadly it’s just not that kind of shower.

Switzerland is expensive, even more than Italy with the bad Euro exchange. We decide to eat at McDonald’s because the kid’s are really keen to, and the hassle and expense of getting out and about is a damper. When the grand total comes it’s roughly 50 dollars for some burgers, fries and one beer. Talk about sticker shock. Shrug your shoulders with me people, “It’s an adventure!”

Off to bed with us, tomorrow is a looong day.