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111op's Trip Vignettes (Sept. 1-9) (Engadin(e) Region in Switzerland, Lake Como, Milan, Venice, London)

111op's Trip Vignettes (Sept. 1-9) (Engadin(e) Region in Switzerland, Lake Como, Milan, Venice, London)

Sep 10th, 2007, 05:31 PM
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111op's Trip Vignettes (Sept. 1-9) (Engadin(e) Region in Switzerland, Lake Como, Milan, Venice, London)

Hi, this was my itinerary:

Saturday: Arrived in Zurich. Train to St. Moritz. Piz Corvatsch cable car ride. Dinner at Muttoas Muragl.

Sunday: Bernina Express (actually we used regional trains) to Tirano, with stop in Diavolezza. Train from Tirano to Varenna. Overnight in Bellagio.

Monday: Villas Carlotta & Melzi.

Tuesday: Villa del Balbianello, Villa Serbelloni gardens. Train to Milan.

Wednesday: Milan (Last Supper, Castello Sforzesco, Brera)

Thursday: Train for Venice. Venice Biennale (Giardini), Palazzo Grassi. Dinner at Da Fiore.

Friday: Very quick visit to Scuola Grande di San Rocco, San Marco Church, Secret Itineraries Tour of Doge's Palace, lunch at Al Covo, Venice Biennale (Arsenale). Flight to London Gatwick at 10:30 pm (delayed for 20 minutes).

Saturday: Friend's wedding near Manchester. Dinner at Pied-a-Terre with yk.

Sunday: Window shopping in London. Flight to NYC at 6:30 pm.

I don't have the energy or time to write a blow-by-blow trip report this time, especially when I've to upload so many photos (just bought a digital camera) and my DSL connection seems woefully inadequate. It seems better to write vignettes instead and supplement them with photos.

I guess I'll be writing things in a random order and not necessarily chronologically based on the trip's progression.

I'll start with the Venice Biennale.
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Sep 10th, 2007, 05:33 PM
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Venice Biennale

The two big venues in Venice for the Biennale are Giardini and Arsenale. In the first, national pavilions are located and host the country's choice of artist(s). A group show is held in a warehouse-type space in the second. I think that this is an abandoned shipyard.

This year the US sent Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died of AIDS about ten years ago. The NYT reviewed this installation a few weeks ago and provided a nice introduction of his art -- sometimes political, but always whimsical and occasionally poignant.

France sent Sophie Calle, known for her obsessive ability to create art based on her own life experiences. In the French pavilion this year, she chose to chronicle a breakup in excruciating detail by inviting more than 100 women to interpret a breakup e-mail that her ex had sent her. "Prenez soin de vous," he told her. "Take care of yourself."

What did this mean? The most comical of the entire installation was a video that showed a parrot eating the letter while parroting banalities like "I never lied to you" and "Take care of yourself." I found this to be a lot of fun, especially in light of what I've been going through lately.

A group show normally takes place in the Italian pavilion. This year's choices are a bit conventional and well-established, with artists such as Sigmar Polke, Lawrence Weiner and Ellsworth Kelly. Sophie Calle contributed a piece here also, which was a tribute to her mom, who died shortly after Calle learned that she had been chosen to represent France this year.

At the Arsenale, the Chinese artist Yang Fudong got to screen his multipart film "Seven Intellectuals in the Bamboo Forest." The most famous artist whose name I recognized was VALIE EXPORT, who made a splash in performance art.

Unfortunately I didn't really spend very much time at the Biennale. The first day we spent about an hour at Giardini, and the next day we spent even less time at Arsenale. It'd have been nice to explore the Biennale more.

Photos:

(I could not identify all artists, but I could probably research and find out. I'd like to know especially who created the witty wallpaper at Arsenale. I think this is the one who had/has a show at MoMA recently.)

Giardini: Weiner, Kelly, Polke, Scarpa (permanent), Samba, Gonzalez-Torres, Calle

Arsenale: EXPORT, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, Francis Alys

Link for photos of Biennale:
http://tinyurl.com/2fhkrt

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Sep 10th, 2007, 05:57 PM
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Wow! I have read various things about the Biennale this year, the infighting between the Director and the Mayor of Venice, and some media coverage of the more controversial artworks-but this sounds 100% BETTER than the Biennale of two years ago, which wasn't worth crap, IMO!

The French pavilion sounds really interesting! (they always have the best exhibition at the Biennale, imo!) I especially like the idea of a parrot eating the email and making comments-that IS amusing! But what former flame would speak in the "vous" form to his ex-lover? Now THAT is really COLD!
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Sep 10th, 2007, 06:18 PM
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I think in 2005 Annette Messager won the Golden Lion.

Not sure if the vous is really so out of the ordinary. I seem to recall that Chirac uses vous with his wife or something like that. Isn't there much hoopla about the more informal Sarkozy, who likes to tutoyer?
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Sep 10th, 2007, 06:19 PM
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Meals

Photo link:
http://tinyurl.com/34qekb

We had dinner at Muttoas Muragl. This was a nice funicular ride up to see some wonderful landscape, but it's hard not to complain about paying 45-50 CHF for about six to seven shrimps. Ok, we got some shrimp crackers too....

Bilacus is a well praised restaurant in Bellagio. We thought this was good value. Food was simply prepared. We found the fish here much better than fish at the restaurant for Hotel Florence. Lots of movie stars apparently ate at Bilacus -- including people like Bacall, Ardant, Zsa Zsa Gabor (!) and even Matt Dillon.

In Milan we ate at some overpriced places -- probably tourist traps. One was a restaurant in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Another was a tea salon (Ova?) in the high-end shopping district. The lunch menu listed 6 euros for "assorted sandwiches." I was asked to pick my own from the counter, and I wondered how many I should pick. In the end I picked two different half sandwiches.

Well, guess what.... Each half sandwich cost 6 euros!

Wallpaper Milan thinks that the Gucci cafe in the Galleria is good value compared to the other tourist traps. Water cost 2 euros, if I remember right. But orange juice set us back 8 euros.

Now to the fancier meals.

We had the six-course tasting menu at Da Fiore in Venice (110 euros per person). This was nice, if not excellent. The decor was elegant and inviting (the restaurant's website doesn't do the restaurant any justice). I was relieved that the food was better than what reviews might have led me to believe.

Lunch at Al Covo the next day was better foodwise. As a bonus there was interesting art lining the walls, including pieces by Joseph Beuys, Araki and Alighiero e Boetti. What I found the most amusing was the restaurant's insistence that "service charge [was not] included" with this highlighted on the receipt. Service was a little brusque as well. I felt that I didn't order enough even though lunch cost 84 euros. We had two pastas and the daily fish special (34 euros). The pastas were excellent but the main course was less successful.

The treatment of the Araki photo was a little heavyhanded as well. This was a photo of flowers and not of lurid subject matter that Araki is so fond of. Araki's name was on a label pasted to the front of the frame.

We had dinner with yk at Pied-a-Terre in London. yk wasn't convinced that this restaurant deserves the two Michelin stars I think it has. My mom liked it better than Da Fiore. I think that we had an eight-course (or was it nine courses?) tasting menu at 80 pounds per person. A 12.5% tip was added. yk was brave enough to ask for tap water, so the final damage was "just" 90 pounds per person.
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Sep 10th, 2007, 06:57 PM
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Other art on this trip

Photo link:
http://tinyurl.com/29onos

Apart from the Biennale, I saw other art in various venues.

Lots of Canova in Villa Carlotta. Thorvaldsen also worked for this villa. What I found most amusing were reproductions of seminal works by Titian, Rembrandt and the Flemish Primitives.

In Milan, thanks to SelectItaly and a hefty booking fee, we got to see Lenoardo's "Last Supper." My mom thought that nothing had really changed much from when we saw the painting in 1999. My memory of that experience was fuzzy. Anyway, you get 15 minutes to see this painting, which was unveiled again in 1999 after a 21 (?)-year restoration. During our viewing period, one of the visitors actually dropped a water bottle on the other side of the low wall separating us from the painting, so someone had to be called to retrieve the bottle.

Castello Sforzesco, a former ducal residence (?)/military fortress, is now a complex of 12 (?!) museums. This deserves much more time than we allowed ourselves. The most famous piece here must be Michelangelo's "Rondanini Pieta,"</b? which was his last work and left unfinished. A close examination of the sculpture shows that Michelangelo changed his conception as he worked on the sculpture. One could still see remnants of a first version -- such as Christ's finished arm.

Also impressive was a funereal monument for Gaston de Foix sculpted by Bambaja.

One room supposedly contains (much faded and damaged) frescoes by Lenoardo.

The Pinacoteca, to my surprise, contains works by Correggio, Antonello, Mantegna and even Lippi.

I was glad to finally see the masterful tour de force in foreshortening by Mantegna in his "Dead Christ" in Brera. Raphael has a famous early work here called "Marriage of the Virgin," similar to a painting by his teacher Perugino. I didn't know that one of Tintoretto's massive paintings on St. Mark is here. The museum also has a collection of still lifes by the modernist Morandi. Then there's Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus." And yes, that painting called "The Kiss."
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Sep 10th, 2007, 07:02 PM
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Sorry about that bold face. I need to learn how to use Fodor's edit function better....

...

The most famous piece here must be Michelangelo's "Rondanini Pieta," which was his last work and left unfinished. A close examination of the sculpture shows that Michelangelo changed his conception as he worked on the sculpture. One could still see remnants of a first version -- such as Christ's finished arm.

Also impressive was a funereal monument for Gaston de Foix sculpted by Bambaja.

One room supposedly contains (much faded and damaged) frescoes by Lenoardo.

The Pinacoteca, to my surprise, contains works by Correggio, Antonello, Mantegna and even Lippi.

I was glad to finally see the masterful tour de force in foreshortening by Mantegna in his "Dead Christ" in Brera. Raphael has a famous early work here called "Marriage of the Virgin," similar to a painting by his teacher Perugino. I didn't know that one of Tintoretto's massive paintings on St. Mark is here. The museum also has a collection of still lifes by the modernist Morandi. Then there's Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus." And yes, that painting called "The Kiss."
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Sep 10th, 2007, 07:18 PM
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Finally, sensing that I may not be returning to Venice anytime soon, I decided to visit Scuola Grande di San Rocco. We tried going the first day but arrived at 5:10 pm, and the box office had closed at 5 pm though the place was open until 5:30 pm.

The next morning I made a very quick visit there. I was only there for about 15 minutes (I had no Julia Roberts to woo), and when I left a tour group had just arrrived (Ugh Venice!).

Since I had so little time, I had do a Cliff Notes run of Tintoretto (sorry!) based on Frommer's. I looked for three paintings and of course headed first straight for the "Crucifixion," a painting that Ruskin once called "beyond reproach."

It was hard not to notice that there was a Giorgione painting in this place. That was a real surprise, given how rare Giorgione paintings are.
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Sep 11th, 2007, 04:57 PM
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Engadin(e) Switzerland

We stayed in St. Moritz. The town must be glitzier during the winter. Still there're plenty of high-end stores. We flew into Zurich and took the train there. In the afternoon, we headed to Surlej to take a cable car for Piz Corvatsch. Then we took a bus to Punt Muragl for the funicular to Muttoas Muragl. That was a really pleasant experience. It was interesting to see cows roaming at the top.

Dinner at the restaurant there was overpriced. My order came with about six or seven shrimps for about 45-50 CHF!

The next day we left St. Moritz and took regional trains that followed the Bernina Express route. I wanted to try out the open-top cars, but it was difficult to know which trains offered this option.

We first stopped in Diavolezza for another impressive cable car ride. When we got to the top, we discovered that there were basically no barriers or safety nets separating us from the alpine landscape. It seemed possible to hike along the mountains or to the glaciers. This was definitely a highlight.

While waiting for the next train to continue with the journey, we chatted with a couple from Lucerne who maintain an apartment in St. Moritz. According to them, this is one of their top favorites anywhere included and beats the Bernese Oberland and Jungfraujoch.

The train we were waiting for came with an open-top carriage at the end. As we got on and moved towards the end, we realized that that carriage was closed. Apparently it was available just for a private tour group that day.

The rest of the journey to Tirano, Italy offered stunning scenery. The train traversed the Alps without the aid of tunnels. As it then descended, the scenery became much greener. There was an amazing variety of scenery in terms of mountains, snow, rivers, water, trees, greenery.

At Tirano I bought our train ticket from Tirano to Varenna and also from Varenna to Milan since I had read that the Varenna train station in Lake Como is mostly unmanned. In Tirano, there're two parts to the station -- a Swiss side and an Italian side. I waited about half an hour to buy some simple train tickets, getting a good dose of the Italian way of doing days. The agent initially overcharged my credit card by 60 or 70 euros, realized his mistake and then had to fumble and call to find out how to reverse the charges.

There are two things that I feel that I could have done differently.

First I didn't realize that many hotels in this region offer a combo package whereby you get to use public transportation and lifts for free as long as you stay two or more nights. Though we were staying just one night, our transportation costs easily added to a second night of hotel. So I could have looked into the possibility of booking a hotel for two nights and forfeiting the second night.

Second I wish that we had stopped in Alp Gruem after Diavolezza. We had plenty of time in Tirano. I wasn't really thinking and didn't check my train schedules carefully until we had passed that stop.

Photos (St. Moritz, Piz Corvatsch, Muttoas Muragl, Diavolezza)

http://tinyurl.com/336kq4

Photos of Bernina Express Route

http://tinyurl.com/2uew2e

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Sep 11th, 2007, 05:28 PM
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Third Venice Visit

This may be the last in a while.

A few years ago, a sobering documentary on Venice appeared (I forget the title now). I remember a statistic from it, that the native population in the city is well under 100,000, which is dwarfed by the number who visit it every year (something like 14 million).

Consequently the most popular areas like St. Mark's Square and Rialto are now overrun by tourists.

Outside of these areas, Venice was actually rather quiet when we were there.

Another problem with Venice is that many things seem overpriced. Our two-star hotel cost 180 euros per night. We had a really perfunctory gondola ride that cost 80 euros for about 35 minutes. I made the mistake of trying to piggyback a Trafalgar tour that was leaving near St. Mark's Square. I was hoping that we could join some of the folks on tour for a reduced price, but instead, our gondola was one of a fleet and our gondolier was on the cellphone the whole time. Still I was heartened to see that we passed by Trattoria Rivetta, which I found completely by chance during my last visit in 2005. This is mentioned by Scibilia in her guide on eating establishments in Venice.

I've written about our meals at Da Fiore and Al Covo. We also had lunch at Alla Madonna, regarded as a traditional fish restaurant. This is located near the Rialto bridge. Princess Margaret (I think) ate here, according to a framed letter that was displayed. This was decent, but even a very simple lunch was about 40 euros, if I recall.

Since this was my third visit, and I sensed that I might not return anytime soon, I decided to buy a glass from Pauly & Co. (104 euros). This shop has been around for about 150 years.

Then I decided to be sure to see a few things. I squeezed in a quick trip to Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where I visited in 1999. I made sure that we went inside St. Mark's Church and saw Pala d'Oro, the famed golden altar. I made reservations online so that we didn't have to wait to enter.

Near the altar, there're actually audioguide booths that look like phone booths. You insert one euro and on comes the guide. I've forgotten now the exact times, but the altar was built over centuries. The oldest part was probably around 12th century.

The other obvious attraction is Doge's Palace. We signed up for the Secret Itineraries tour in advance. This informative tour led us to a part of the palace not normally open to the public, where Venetian officers and judges used to toil. There were jail cells and torture chambers there. This was also where Casanova accomplished his famous escape. According to our guide, Casanova found a piece of iron during one walk on the attic, and he used it to cut a hole under his bed. As he readied for his escape, to his dismay, he was informed that he'd be moved to another cell. In the meantime, a guard had discovered the hole, but Casanova bribed his silence.

Once Casanova was moved, he befriended a priest in a neighboring cell, and he hid the tools for their joint escape in a Bible he sent to the priest. This time the priest cut the necessary holes for their escape and they fled to France.

Our guide also informed us that Venice has the third largest archive in the world after the Vatican City and Vienna. I found this unbelievable, but that was what she said.

She also told us that there was an official responsible for maintaining the "secret" papers of Venice. I forget his name, but apparently he was deemed more important than the Doge at times and led processions in state ceremonies and made the equivalent of 600,000 euros.

After we finished the tour, we saw the rest of the palace on our own. The most enormous room in this palace is Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Great Council Hall). Earlier on the tour, we had been led to the top of this room, where the supporting buttresses and pillars could be found. The guide told us that this part of the palace burned down c. 1574 (?), and the architect who built the Rialto bridge designed the supporting beams and structure that were concealed from the official rooms. So there're no supporting pillars in this room!

The greatness of Venice at one time is perfectly captured by the room's magnificence.

Venice photos:
http://tinyurl.com/22rgc3
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Sep 11th, 2007, 05:33 PM
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I'd be remiss in not pointing out the Bosch paintings in the Palace. These are the only extant Bosch paintings in Italy, according to the Michelin guide. I made a special trip to see them in 2005. This time, two triptychs were displayed, but the two diptychs were in restoration.
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Sep 11th, 2007, 05:48 PM
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Lake Como

Bellagio, where two arms of the lake meet, is usually regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in this area. Across is Varenna, which has humble origins as a fishing village. This is also where there's a train station.

We stayed in Bellagio.

The destination seems popular with older folks, especially British ones. We spoke to one couple on our ferry ride from Varenna to Bellagio after our arrival, and they insisted that we should try the new tourist train ride in Bellagio. (We didn't do so.) Subsequently we ran into them again at Villa del Balbianello. On the bulletin boards of our hotel (Metropole), there were notes posted as to when tour coordinators would arrive at various hotels.

Home to George Clooney, this area is indeed quite beautiful, but I think that two days were plenty for me.

Among the villas that come up the most often, we went to most of them. Villas Melzi and Serbelloni are located in Bellagio. Villas Monastero and Cipressi are located in Varenna. Cipressi is now a hotel. Villa del Balbianello is located in Lenno. Villa Carlotta is located in Tremezzo.

Of these Balbianello perhaps offers the most stunning and unusual views and location. One of the films in the Star Wars series was filmed here. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to tour the interior of this villa (open by guided tour only), but the visit to the gardens was still extremely rewarding and memorable.

I enjoyed the gardens of Villa Melzi. The gardens of Villa Serbelloni are open by guided tour only and the tour required us to walk a fair amount (I think the guide said 4 km). Having gone to Balbianello earlier that morning, my mom gave up halfway on the Serbelloni tour. The villa is not open to the public. The grounds now belong to the Rockefeller Foundation, which hosts scholars here.

Villa Carlotta allows visitors to visit its interior. There's some interesting artwork in this villa, as I mentioned.
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Sep 12th, 2007, 01:26 AM
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Lake Como photos: http://tinyurl.com/yvg86x

Lake Como Villa photos:
http://tinyurl.com/yrjmg9

(Carlotta, Melzi, Monastero, Cipressi, Balbianello, Serbelloni)

Ok, that's it.

No other comments?
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Sep 12th, 2007, 03:01 AM
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I always have admired how you travel. The odd long weekend...I do admire your stamina and abilities! Plus, I thoroughly enjoy your writings. Thanks 111...I hope all goes well with "vous".
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Sep 12th, 2007, 04:08 AM
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Thanks. Maybe this weekend I'll clean out my closets. Have parrots eat unwanted letters.
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Sep 12th, 2007, 04:47 PM
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As usual, I don't get many comments, so I probably shouldn't bother -- but I did forget something.

Here are some photos from Milan:

Two things worth pointing out -- notice the photos of Viktor & Rolf. Things are upside down by design. Also I had some really good gelato at Grom. They just opened a store in NYC, but I've yet to try the NYC one.

http://tinyurl.com/2xaqqu
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Sep 12th, 2007, 08:10 PM
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Don't worry about the number of comments. I had 19 replies on my last trip repoort and 15 were mine!! Still I am glad I did it for me.

I have been reading your posts with particular interest as I will be in lake Como and Milan week after next. I love your Lake Como photos.

Why do you say 2 days are enough? I am travelling with my mother and was a little concerned that three day might be too much but was convinced here to even try to make it 4. Not possible but I stuck with the three days.

BTW my posts are usually the conversation stopper so don't expect too many comments after mine.

(I try to tell myself it is the time difference)
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Sep 12th, 2007, 10:35 PM
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I too enjoy reading your postings, though you don't post as often as you used to in years past if I remember correctly. They are always detailed, well written and interesting so keep it up. And this latest installation (if I may use an art term in keeping with the spirit of your writings !) is no exception.

In fact I've just returned from the Toronto GTG earlier this evening (details on the Canada forum) and 3 posters and I were commenting on your interesting posts and how you manage to pack so much into, and get so much out of, just a long weekend away to Europe and other places. You seem to plan meticulously and then keep detailed notes of everything you do, which when shared with us, is to our great benefit and interest. And I'd say that your writings of all Art and Classical Music events encountered on your travels are unparalled on this forum. So thank you, and don't be discouraged by the lack of replies. Some just like to silently observe and note.

Didn't you used to have a blog too ? Is it still running ? I seem to recall (perhaps incorrectly) that it was great for info on New York events and happenings.

M.
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Sep 12th, 2007, 11:34 PM
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Thanks 111op, wonderful photo's too. We were in the Engadine in June and took the regional train from Tirano up to Pontresina but on the way it started raining and we missed some of the scenery so we did the return trip again a couple of days later.

Aussiefive, I had to laugh at your comment, I also did a trip report but I think I made more comments too and I can relate to the time difference with you, I am from Perth.
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Sep 12th, 2007, 11:58 PM
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I am in Sydney so 2 hours ahead of you.
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