Subject: Passion Play, St. Moritz, Lugano, Venice
We just returned from taking a local group of 41 to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. The main focus of this 11-day trip was the Passion Play in Oberammergau. It was certainly much grander and more magnificent than we ever expected--what a moving experience: fantastic drama, staging, music! Ever since I was a child and first heard about the Passion Play, I have wanted to go, and finally I did it! We both highly recommend it (Put it in your travel plans for 2010!). Oberammergau does an amazing job of handling the 4700 people that arrive five times a week (on average) for the play; the guest house where we stayed was charming and the food superb (even the rather hurried lunch during play break included four courses with plenty of wine--it is testimony to the compelling drama of the play that none of us fell asleep during the after-lunch-and-wine 3 1/2 hour second portion of the play!) All in all, a delightful experience.

St. Moritz remains one of my favorite towns, especially if one wants to ride some of the scenic Swiss train routes. Two hotels I recommend there are the Belvedere (where the group stayed this time--wonderful locations with all of our rooms overlooking the lake and mountains) and the Landguard (where the two of us stayed 3 years ago, with a lovely balcony overlooking the lake and beautifully decorated rooms). This time we took the group on the Bernina Express train, over the Bernina Pass, to Tirano, Italy for lunch, and back, with a stop at Diavolezza to ride the cable car to the top. With clear weather, blue skies, fluffy white clouds, sun, and lots of snow at the top, we had the perfect experience. Last time, Bill and I also rode the Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, another wonderful Swiss train experience.

I first read about the delights of Lugano in Karen Brown's Switzerland guide. It truly is a marvellous place. We took the group on the boat to the cliffside village of Morcote, a beautiful ride, had lunch there, and returned. Some of us then got on another boat and spent a couple hours going to Gandria, another cliffside village. On weekend evenings, Lugano closes its main waterfront street to all vehicular traffic and has its version of the Promenade, with whole families, all dressed up, out strolling, eating, listening to musical groups, going out in boats, and just enjoying the marvelous ambiance. Perhaps some of you can tell me if there is an Italian word for this Promenade. I'd love to know it. Do they do this in other cities and towns?

And what can one say about Venice? I just repeat what others have said: Wander, get lost, soak up Venice! We found 2 museums we had not been to before and that we can recommend: The Greek Icon museum (amazing, wonderful -- we were the only ones there!), and the Museum of Sacred Art (free!). Both were found just by getting lost. And, as hokey as it may sound, a gondola ride on a moonlit evening really IS quite a romantic experience!

While group travel is not everyone's cup of tea, the people that go with us on the annual trips we lead are quite happy and would not want to be on their own--and good for them--what's important is that they do enjoy themselves. It really is not the way we choose to travel either, but realize that a local group, where everyone is familiar with each other and with the leader (we do not do this as a living--just to take friends) makes many people feel very comfortable and happy.

Cheers, Pat (and Bill) Baltimore