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Northern Italy and a bit of Bavaria, a family trip

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Northern Italy and a bit of Bavaria, a family trip

Old Aug 6th, 2016, 11:51 PM
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Northern Italy and a bit of Bavaria, a family trip

We recently returned from a 4 week holiday in northern Italy and southern Germany (July 2016).
Using public transport, we followed the beaten path, so probably not much new to add, but I love reading trip reports, so here’s mine

I knew that I had to visit the Dolomites, so built an itinerary around a week there in July. (And it was a good time to leave Adelaide, South Australia; with our cold fronts of winter about to sweep in bringing max temperatures …13C …possible hail …20mm rain! )

Fodors was a great help, I was inspired by

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-dolomites.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...nd-castles.cfm
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...o-daughter.cfm

………..all take great photos, links in their TR’s.

This was our first trip to Italy so mixed it up for a ‘taster’. I just played around on a map until I found an acceptably uncomplicated route using the train/ bus system. We were happy to have a ‘gentle’ trip, nothing too frenetic, with a variety of experiences. I did a quick Google map check and it looks like we travelled 1,100km in a month, not including day trips (not your typical Aussie roadtrip, that’s for sure).

Family holiday with teens (they are 16 and 19, so we are essentially travelling as 4 adults now, previous family trips to Europe and Asia). But, they are still teenagers, so their favourite pastimes are sleeping and eating. A few obvious requests – no unbearable long train rides (10hr train ride in Vietnam was not my most inspired choice), no early rises, hotel must have wi fi. We constrain costs by booking apartments or at least rooms with a kitchenette, street food and market produce to create meals. Trains are cheap in Italy and I pre purchased IC trains at discount where possible.
I love travelling as a family, the boys are great mates and we’ve had wonderful shared experiences.

ITINERARY:
Milan (2 nights), Vernazza (3 nights), Volterra (2 nights), Florence (4 nights), Verona (4 nights), Trento (1 night), Ortisei (7 nights), then to Germany…. Mittenwald (5 nights), Munich (1 night)

And here are my photos https://flic.kr/s/aHskDja7Fy

Obviously we could have seen a lot more in that time, but we like this pace. Anyone that has survived teenagers knows early mornings are not welcome, and we agreed on a ‘slow’ trip.
Also agreed on some crowd avoidance tactics, no queueing, no big museums. We prefer the outdoors, smaller towns, historical architecture, so minimised time in big cities.
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Old Aug 6th, 2016, 11:53 PM
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MILAN: 2 nights
Accommodation: Ibis Centrale (€67 per room)
I did not really want to visit, it was my husband’s wish to recover from flight here (he doesn’t like my tendency to move straight on after our flights, fair enough…it’s 24 hours travel time from Adelaide). How wrong I was, Milan was a great short visit.
Milan is an expensive city, so I opted for a budget hotel, excellent value (if booking well ahead), convenient location (near Centrale station where we would arrive and depart from), late checkout.
The Ibis is probably considered to be in a bland business neighbourhood, but it is so close to city sights. And it’s all kind of exciting for us, the big city feel, crowds (by our standards, given I grew up in the outback.. these photos might explain why … https://flic.kr/s/aHskB2jK3B and we now live in a small, quiet city), historical buildings, an adrenaline rush for sure. And we were meeting friends from Germany (who coincidentally booked the elegant Hotel Sanpi around the corner from the Ibis), who were doing an overall more grand visit to Milan than us with an opera and some fine dining.
First day is usually spent in a jetlag fog, best managed with lots of walking and fresh air, so just walked… no real agenda, wandered the Brera district, Duomo, the Galleria and Piazza Mercanti (the old merchants square), columns of San Lorenzo (2000 year old), gelati in Navigli area.
Didn’t expect to enjoy Milan, ….but it has a vibrancy and interesting architecture. Had marked off some public parks to wander through, as I need green spaces / trees to breathe and to balance some of the greyness and bustle of city streets. That worked well, we walked through the nearby Indro Montanelli public park several times (did visit the Villa Reale art museum, I like portraits - wonderful marquetry flooring there too).
I enjoyed walking the streets early, and we came across an open door to the production end of a bakery; my interest was obvious and the baker/?owner gestured to enter and keenly showed us their equipment (spotless kitchen!) and products partly completed. No shared language, but a nice moment.
Pre booked train to Cinque Terre.
Against all advice to not visit the CT in summer, we then headed to Vernazza.
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Old Aug 6th, 2016, 11:55 PM
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VERNAZZA: 3 nights
Accommodation: Lisetta Rooms http://www.lisettaroom.altervista.org/ 2 rooms (€645) shared terrace. It only had a few reviews on TripAdvisor at the time, …..
http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Hotel_...a_Liguria.html
A failing of TA review system where a single review (by someone that hadn’t actually stayed there) really dragged down its’ rating (it was based on a booking cancellation policy, not on the accommodation itself) and the photos really are not attractive, even those on own website. I booked very early as many options don’t allow for early booking or were really small and I was afraid of missing out (few affordable options had a terrace). Then a poor rating popped up, “thin walls, urine smell, a dump” which was a bit alarming. And luckily it was great. Not fancy, but perfectly clean and to our delight was a typical colourful local building, looks over the main street, 3 rooms available that share a terrace. We booked 2 rooms, so had a kitchenette with 2 bedrooms (each with ensuite) that opened onto the shared terrace, there was another self contained room separate to our section.
Busy main street and harbour in Vernazza, but fabulous quiet, little alleyways, doors directly off lanes, windows overlooking street life, colourful buildings many built into the cliffs, stunning coastline.
As we live in a quiet, dull, outer suburb in South Australia, street life in Europe is fascinating (our suburban streets are so bland and empty of people, just cars, and we have a 1000sqm block so not exactly used to high density living). We can park 8 cars in our front yard, so walking past those terrace houses with a doorway directly off a public footpath is incredible. The huge sandy beach at the end of our street at home is usually quite empty, so fun and interesting to us to see the tiny pebbled ‘beaches’ with loads of activity and life.
Sure, Vernazza was swamped with tourists/ daytrippers, but, we arrived by train at 5pm so the station was not horrific, having a terrace overlooking the street, wandering the back alleys, heading out early or late for the hikes, enjoying the wine tasting bar on the cliff edge http://vernazzawinexperience.com/ , exploring Portovenere, it is possible to escape the crowds a bit. And, to be honest, we kind of liked the buzz of people enjoying the cafes, the walks, the harbour, am sure the locals find it annoying but we didn’t. Trains are packed, though.
We would have our double espresso at a local café while the kids slept in, and watch the town come alive - an elderly lady selling produce from her car; deliveries in mini trucks (before the vehicle restrictions start in the morning) and observing the challenges of working in a town like this… builders on one site juggling a winch and bucket and a mini dumper with caterpillar tracks to move rubble down steps, presumably unable to restrict access for pedestrians, so working within the confines of the narrow lane with people passing by.
Enjoyed a wonderful meal at Il Pirate restaurant http://www.ilpiratarooms.com/eng_vernazza.html a seafood pasta and risotto, and a pannacotta that was just amazing.
Ferry to Portovenere (€26 day pass). Great day, wonderful to view coast and villages from water, Portovenere is gorgeous, and is blessed with castle ruins, stunning views, and rows of colourful, narrow buildings.
Vernazza to Monterosso hike (€7.50 day pass). Probably a 2 hour walk, lots of steps, stunning views and a good workout.
3 nights was the right length of stay for us.
Discouraging on TripAdvisor and Fodors as to how to reach Volterra, often described as time consuming and inconvenient, and that a car is necessary, but found the train/ bus combination easy. Vernazza to La Spezia then Pisa, then Pontedera by train and Pontedera to Volterra by bus. A bit cumbersome, but not such an ordeal.
Useful info : http://www.volterratur.it/en/come/how-reach-us/ bus timetables
Some dodgy dudes hanging around bus station in Pontedera (like most transit stations); I got the impression of conversation struck for ‘opportunistic’ purposes, but we avoided any incident and perhaps I misread intentions anyway. But worked as a reminder to the boys about being wary (1 young man ‘wandered’ behind me, loitering by my backpack).
Really nice bus ride to Volterra, great sense of anticipation as we approached the hilltop town and got glimpses of walls and towers. Lovely surrounding countryside.
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Old Aug 6th, 2016, 11:58 PM
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VOLTERRA: 2 nights

Accommodation: Camere Renzi (2 rooms 2 nights, €240, cash on arrival) more like an apartment.

http://www.camere-renzi.com/home_eng.htm

Totally fabulous (lovely old building, faded grandeur, character – looks like grandma’s old furniture but some very fine wooden pieces in there, not modernised, large rooms with gorgeous old floor tiles, seating area, terrace, unbelievably cheap)

I was hoping Volterra would meet my dreamy, romanticised notion of a walled, hilltop town in Tuscany,… medieval/ renaissance buildings, gorgeous alleys, tiny family run specialty stores (alabaster, food), intact walls, Etruscan gate and museum, Roman ruins….and it met all my expectations. Just gorgeous. So pleased I didn’t opt for a day tour from Florence, so atmospheric at night and I loved exploring the alleyways and town wall. 2 nights was perfect for me.

Leaving Volterra, bought bus tickets at downstairs shop, bus @ 10.05 am arr Pontedera 11.23am. Trains direct to Florence every 30 mins. I sat next to a young Italian man who chatted about Italy and was surprised by my itinerary (why Trento and Volterra, both “so so” according to him, given Rome was not on my agenda? I told him I LOVED Volterra and he seemed genuinely surprised).
And once I got to Trento, I loved that too…
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:00 AM
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FLORENCE: 4 nights

Apartment : https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/3109752

Lovely 2 bedroom apartment, modern, stylish, views (€600) Overheard the boys debating whether the bidet was a toddlers toilet or for washing feet.

Our host recommended and booked for us, dinner at nearby Cesarino Trattoria http://www.trattoriacesarino.it/ and so glad we went, Fiorentina steak (rare T bone), pici with vongole, spaghetti with fresh anchovies. Wonderful meal.

Obviously Florence is packed with sights, and crowds, but is lovely wandering mornings/ evenings and we day tripped, so the issue of the mid summer crowds and queues didn’t affect our enjoyment.

Boys were familiar with Florence, having climbed its’ rooftops in Assassin’s Creed and they did love seeing it ‘for real’.

Our apartment in a great location, easy to walk to our sightseeing goals. It was 35C, so walking to San Miniato was a bit of an effort, but we were able to fill a pleasant day just wandering past the major landmarks (no museums, no queues).

We left kids to sleep in most mornings, while we wandered to San Ambrogio market (small scale, my perfect market, double espresso at the ‘bar’ then some shopping - did unwisely buy a chunk of pecorino cheese that seemed like a good idea at the time). We bought fresh produce for breakfasts and lunches most days. The Mercato Centrale is larger, but I much preferred the San Ambrogio market as I don’t like crowds. Great sourdough rye bread, fresh berries, cheeses, there are a couple of butchers and a fishmonger, on some days there were a few Asian stalls, and Saturday had an organic cheese/ bread stall. And our local park was well used by families and dog walkers, nice to watch.

Our day trip to Siena was a disappointment, due to poor planning. I overestimated my map reading skills and underestimated the time to get to bus station (not finding it) and buy tickets. We just made the bus, but had to buy tickets from driver as no time to queue at counter (€20 more) and had to stand in a hot bus for the 90 minute journey. So we were hot, tired and cranky on arrival. More queueing for Duomo tickets. The Duomo is stunning, but Siena deserves another visit from us. This was the single time that the heat and the crowds, were too much. Our manners deserted us and we elbowed our way onto the return bus to get seats.

Hubby and kids refused to accompany me to Lucca for a day trip after my Siena disaster. But, although reading that the bus is preferable to the train, I took the train. The Lucca station is in a nice area, a small green park in front, then the wall of Lucca directly in front of you. I like how Lucca unfolds itself in that approach. Stunning. A perfect day wandering this delightful town. Super hot again, though. I could stay there a few days, I think.

On to Verona
Pre booked IC train to Verona.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:03 AM
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VERONA: 4 nights

https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/448813?s=Prlx

Wonderful 2 bedroom / bathroom apartment, modern décor, air conditioning, terrace, lift (€671)

An easy 10 minute walk from the train station, and to the historic centre. Really large, bright apartment, helpful owner (maps, restaurant recommendations, local shops).

Fabulous Vegan café downstairs (Dulcamara Vegan Bistro) https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Resta...na_Veneto.html that supplied us with farinata slice, vegan burgers, lentil salads, really great food.

Verona, such a lovely historic city, so much delight in just wandering the streets, churches, bridges, the castle, the Arena square, Giusti gardens, plus many day trip options. Instead of a wine tour, we visited a wine bar for a tasting, a great alternative, Signorvino http://www.signorvino.com/en/wine-shop/verona near the Arena)

I had assumed Opera season was just that. I accidentally discovered that David Gilmour (husband is a huge fan) was playing at the Arena while we were going to be there, but the concert was sold out, however found tickets on a reselling site (viagogo) several months beforehand. At the time, the viagogo website offered 85 tickets for sale, while the official site stated ‘sold out’.

Generally, I have been good at planning, but I was unaware how much more than ticket price I was paying ( the tickets we received in the mail were stamped €69 each). My cost buying on viagogo was a LOT more than that. This was my viagogo bill :
Number of Tickets: 2
Price per Ticket: €186.36
Total Ticket Cost: €372.72
Booking Fee: €85.69
Delivery Fee: €18.95
VAT: €0.00
Adjustment: -€0.00
Total Charge: €477.36


but my husband was thrilled – so it was worth it.
Something to be aware of, tickets are not emailed to you, they are posted.. and naturally travellers are possibly en route when despatched (up to 3 days before concert) so you need an alternate address (we had contacted our airbnb host who gave us the neighbouring address as a delivery option). As it turned out, we received them in Australia 2 weeks before leaving.

On this subject, we read in an English newspaper that concert tickets are frequently sold en masse via software that allows multiple pre-loaded credit card numbers and false personal details to flood the original selling site and that buyer then on sells at a much higher price to these 3rd parties who charge another 25% commission, hence tickets mostly not available to the average fan at the cover price. The young local man seated next to me said “this is Italy” and no one expects to pay cover price for tickets.

Day trip to Venice. Boys were keen, husband not. Another compromise (knowing it would be hot and crowded and not long enough) but opted to accept it for what it was…. a glimpse at a unique city, sharing that shock and awe moment as a family. Chose a sunny day for best photo opportunities, it’s an easy regional train ride from Verona. Negotiating those narrow alleys with the crowds was frustrating, but had marked a route that eventually led us to a quiet piazza where we could breathe again, stopped for a surprisingly good lunch, and then soldiered on through the throngs to do the obligatory photo op at the Piazza San Marco, before escaping on a vaporetto. Beautiful, amazing city, crazy crowds, so while most people might not recommend a day trip, it worked for us.

Sad to leave Verona, but it was a quick 1 hr train ride to Trento. This would work as an excellent day trip from Verona, too.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:04 AM
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TRENTO: 1 night

http://www.alcavour34.it/

€100 per room. Lovely place, 3 modern double rooms available, wifi, breakfast. Renovated 16th C building, 3rd floor, in a lovely alley leading to Piazza Duomo.

Stunning city, so pleased we visited. Train station is small, leads to a lovely public park (I’m always looking for green spaces), and nice 5 min walk to centre. What a gorgeous piazza, and we were staying right there. Spent the afternoon at Buonconsiglio castle, and did one of our few ‘tours’, the Torre Aquila to view the ‘Cycle of the Months’ frescoes (very worthwhile). So much interest, ambience, and charm packed into this small city centre, and so easy to get to.

Finally, on to the Dolomites, the goal of this trip. Train to Bolzano, then bus to Ortisei.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:07 AM
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ORTISEI (DOLOMITES): 7 nights

http://www.lastei.com/apd1_eng.html

2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment (€1050)

Excellent accommodation, top floor, balcony, located on hill side of town, so a steep walk home, but there is a local bus (intermittent) that we did not use. Shopped at the local grocery store, ate out very well a few times in restaurants, Sotriffer restaurant in pedestrian zone, really lovely presentation, quality food, tapas bar at front and Mauriz Keller, as well as the very good huts on the walking trails.

Val Gardena card is €79 each, for 6 day pass (bus/ cable cars). We calculated our 4 days of cablecars came to about €100 each. We also used the valley bus several times, so it was both convenient and cost effective for us. Had we travelled without the boys, I suspect we may have spent another day on the mountain trails.

Bus timetables http://www.valgardena.it/dl/stchrist...5_11092015.pdf

While these Val Gardena towns are small, the visitor numbers did overwhelm the bus system and it is worth being aware and flexible about travel times. Quite a few people (some very unhappy locals) were unable to get on the packed buses. And according to a resident, it wasn’t busy yet, August was their busy month.

BTW, be aware of town names in different languages (Ortisei/ Sankt Ulrich/ Urtijei ) ( in Italian/ German/ Ladin), bus displays can be confusing (husband thought we were on wrong bus as he read Wolkenstein, not knowing it is another name for Selva).

We were blessed with 4 straight days of blue skies and puffy white clouds, heaven! Our first funicular ride, Resciesa, led us on a lovely walk overlooking Ortisei and the surrounding peaks, too beautiful for words.

Our next days cablecar, Seceda, sent me on my dream walk to the lookout and then Pieralonga and back down via Col Raiser cablecar and the return bus from St Christina. The craggy peaks, unusual formations, green pastures, it was all so dreamlike. Apfelstrudel at Col Raiser station as I didn’t want it to end.

The Saiser Alm cablecar delivers you to an alpine meadow and this day we headed to the Sanon Hut and looped back. Another good thigh workout.

Great weather continued… we took the bus to Selva and on to the Sasso Lungo, to the ‘coffin’ lifts or ‘flying telephone booths’….not for the faint hearted. Brave souls hiking up the scree trail under us, it’s very steep but our host says it only takes an hour. I had no intention of hiking here, just to view the peaks we had seen from so many angles up until then. Returned same way, stopping in Selva and taking the Ciampinoi cablecar and the trail to the Comici Hut, at the foot of the Sasso Lungo. Fabulous scenery, and great food at Comici.

Trails are well marked, and range in difficulty. Many options for easy walks with stunning scenery and excellent food at huts or cablecar stations en route.

The clear blue skies ended, but by then our youngest declared that the mountains all ‘looked the same’ and had enough of walking, so we spent a day at the Adventure Park and zipline in Ortisei, a treetop obstacle course that took them a few hours to complete. We discovered the nearby Baita Pauli Hut, the best outdoor area yet with an alpine cubby, playground, sunlounges, bbq, and good food.

Leaving Italy…. almost didn’t get on the 9am bus from Ortisei to Bolzano, it was packed (and left several angry commuters on the wrong side of the door) and we stood/ swayed for the hour long trip. Then train to Innsbruck and bus to Mittenwald (due to train line maintenance)
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:10 AM
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MITTENWALD: 5 nights

Accommodation : Haus Schweigart
http://www.haus-schweigart.com/en/index.php

for about €60 per apartment per night. Fabulous apartments, well stocked kitchen (eg coffee pods/ beers/ oil/ provided), balconies, views, modern bathroom.

We love Mittenwald (my 3rd visit). Many hiking trails, cablecar, chairlift, Leutaschklamm (gorge), river, lakes, forest, for the nature lover, we had previously enjoyed local walks and knew it would be a relaxing grand finale for our trip.

This is a pristine, picture postcard Bavarian town of about 7,000, colourful summer gardens, surrounded by mountains; elderly locals on bikes, walkers, tiny family-run smallgoods stores, bakeries, fresh produce shops (and the rotisserie in the main street is still there, pork knuckle, chicken, duck). Even our teen boys would happily spend 2 weeks here.
Ending a holiday in a place I’m familiar with is really nice, less sensory overload, I guess. And, at this end of the trip I’m ready to ‘nest’, so I quite like the grocery shopping and meal planning. There are not many English speaking visitors here, and I enjoyed practising my German in the small stores and stalls, but a non German speaker would have no problem.

Family reunion, we met there for Saturday dinner (Da Mamma Lucia) http://www.mammalucia.de/ excellent fresh fish, pizza, pasta.

Sunday walk to Lautersee (lake) and lunch at a typically Bavarian lakeside restaurant where some of the Bavarian words on the menu did confuse me. Different enough from high German to need help from waitress.

Bus to Garmisch Partenkirchen one day for the Partnachklamm walk. A really spectacular chasm and nice uphill walk through forest to Graseck for lunch.
Another day we bussed to Krun (thanks to ‘swandav’ for advice on this and our previous visits) and walked back to Mittenwald via the Buckelwiesen (a geological phenomenon that lead to the buckling now visible on the meadows. Farmers are compensated if they use traditional farming methods and not flatten the pastures which explains why we saw people using scythes).
And one day we took the chairlift (free pass with our visitors card) and walked another trail through forest and past a lake.
Mittenwald and surrounds are well served with hiking trails and natural beauty.

Heading home, we trained to Munich (2 hours), left our luggage in lockers and met my cousin in town.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 12:12 AM
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MUNICH:

Wander around city centre, Schwabing district, the English garden, Oktoberfest site. I’ve been to Munich several times but our youngest and my husband hadn’t. Overnight at my cousin’s house, before our flight home.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……………
It was a lovely month, with lots of walking, and a great week in the Dolomites. I find big cities a bit suffocating, so my itinerary with mostly smaller towns suited me. The kids said Volterra and Florence were their favourite ‘new’ places (they already love Mittenwald).

The train/ bus system served us well, and is cheap.

Apologies for so many photos, it was all so interesting and beautiful that I struggled to edit my collection further

And for missing the fact that cutting and pasting a TR loses the spaces, so some entries are a bit hard to read… sorry.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 02:16 AM
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Great report and superb photos!!

Really inspiring - in my mind I can picture myself following in your footsteps, so bookmarking to add to my ever expanding "bucket list" list. So, thank you!
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 06:12 AM
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ttt to read later.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 06:19 AM
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Delightful report.Your enthusiasm for your trip is catching!
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 07:48 AM
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Nice family trip! Thanks for sharing your stories + photos!
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 10:44 AM
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lovely report, Adelaidean; we've yet to make it to the Dolomites so it's given me a lot of food for thought.
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 11:44 AM
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Great trip report and lovely pictures. Thanks for sharing!
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 11:49 AM
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Adelaidean, loved reading about your take on your very personal mix of places, with particular interest in your time in Ortisei and Verona. Thank you for both the report and the photos!
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Old Aug 7th, 2016, 09:32 PM
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Hi Adelaidean,

Thank you so much for your report! I spent 3 weeks in Mittenwald before I moved to Garmisch, and the views and atmosphere there really influenced my move! It's such a pretty area!

I'm especially grateful that you took public transport and wrote about it -- hopefully others will see how easy and fun it is to get around without a car (I don't have a car, and I'm always trying to get folks onto the trains -- trying to reverse the effects of climate change on the mountains here).

Thank you so much; I enjoyed reading your report!

s
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Old Aug 8th, 2016, 03:43 AM
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Thanks for your comments. I created my itinerary from other people's TR's and ideas, and it is nice to share what worked and what didn't. There are so many regular contributors here that so generously give advice, it's a big 'thank you' to them, really .....luckily for us they enjoy helping other people have great travel experiences
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Old Aug 8th, 2016, 04:42 AM
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I'm really enjoying your vivid trip report! We were on a similar trip this summer and you're inspiring me to write it up. Lovely photos too!
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