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Trip report - Bavaria, western Austria, and Dolomites

Trip report - Bavaria, western Austria, and Dolomites

Old Jul 14th, 2001, 03:59 AM
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Trip report - Bavaria, western Austria, and Dolomites

We just returned from an all-too-short (11 days) trip that took us in a circuit beginning and ending in Munich and spending about half the time in the Italian Dolomites.

As some of you will know from my previous posts, the itinerary was designed to have us briefly overlap the 17-day concert tour of our two sons' boys choir. Maybe I can get my 11-year-old to post a report about his adventures in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Italy (final concert was mass at St. Peter's in Rome!)

Day 1: Fly into Munich in the morning and pick up a car from Avis in the airport. A piece of cake! We got a brand new Toyota "Avenis", a Camry-sized sedan. A diesel, we were told emphatically. (More on that later.)
Drove to Oberammergau, following the very well posted signs on the autobahn ("to Garmisch-P"). Stopped off in Ettal for lunch and a tour of the beautiful baroque chapel. Nice!
Checked into the small Hotel Turmwirt on the edge of Oberammergau. Very nice, with a helpful staff. The room had a large balcony with the ubiquitous alpine flower boxes on the railing. My wife napped while I explored. Bavaria was having a bit of a heat wave, and of course there was no AC. Open windows got a moderate amount of traffic noise. An Italian restaurant for dinner.

Day 2: Drive to the rural abbey of Wieskirche. (Tried a back-roads short-cut, but got lost and had to backtrack. No harm done.) Met up with the boys choir in the incredible rococo chapel, where they sang an excellent concert. We follow their bus to Neuschwanstein. Very cool. Very crowded! The short walk higher up to the bridge is a must, and the trail keeps going for an even better view of the castle from above -- recommended for those who don't mind a medium-effort hike and signs that warn of the risk of death! Back to Oberammergau and dinner at the choir's hotel. They were staying at the Alte Post, right in the middle of town, with excellent two-level suites in a new wing. (Of course it isn't quite the same when you stuff four energetic boys into each suite.) Shared the "traditional" German meal of wiener schnitzel and fries -- it was the tour's third identical dinner in a row! Walked around town in the evening with a group of 8 boys. As is their custom, they sang a couple of impromptu street-corner songs, instantly attracting an appreciative audience.

Day 3: Drive to Salzburg. The choir left Oberammergau early and stopped at the saltmine for a very fun tour. We opted instead for shopping for wood carvings in the numerous Oberammergau shops and a back-roads drive rather than the autobahn.
Located the Hotel Wolf after a couple wrong turns (very small; VERY old; very well situated in the center of the old city). Driving in Salzburg is a bit confusing because the street names change constantly and are not well signed. [Observation: Outside the towns and cities, the road signage is *excellent*, but inside it's very minimal or nonexistent. We asked each of our hotels to e-mail us explicit directions, and that didn't always help.]
Took a guided tour of central Salzburg with the boys. Very crowded and VERY hot (almost as hot as the weather we left behind in East Coast U.S.)
They sang a short afternoon concert at the Salzburg Dom (i.e., cathedral). WOW! Supper reverb, and the choir was in top form. Lump-in-throat time.
Rode with the choir to the nearby lake-side resort town of Mattsee for dinner and a full choir concert. In the audience was the Amadeus Boys Choir of Vienna, who got up and sang a number part way through. They were having their one-week summer camp nearby. Nice, but HOT!

Continued in next post.
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 04:05 AM
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Hi Bill:

Keep it comming! What a wonderful way to tour, with your Boys Choir!! You should be so proud!

Old Jul 14th, 2001, 04:37 AM
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Forgot to mention -- the Hotel Wolf is on a small street RIGHT off the Mozartplatz. Super for taking in the sights and the nightlife -- several places to eat and drink in the middle of the plaza -- but the nightlife kept going VERY late (it was Friday) and made for some boisterous noise outside our wide-open windows.

Day 4: We didn't see the boys the next morning as they left early for Vienna (with a concert at the Abbey of Melk along the way). We headed south toward Italy. The weather was nice, so we opted for the quickest route to the Grossglockner Hauptstresse ("high-road"). [Paulo -- sorry, but we skipped Kitzbuhl.]
Stopped to fill the fuel tank and were dismayed to find that the nossle wouldn't go in the opening... and that the little note on the fuel-tank flap said "95-octane gas". The Avis people (and the paperwork on car) were emphatic about it being a diesel. We decided to drive into the nearest town and find a gas station with a mechanic to verify that indeed it was a gasoline engine. Sure enough.
Grossglockner was UNBELIEVABLE. An alpine pass that was more scenic that any I've driven in the American Rockies (including similar drives in both Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks). We sure lost the heat wave in a hurry and took advantage of many of the pull-offs to gawk and take pictures. Traffic was surprisingly light for a Saturday afternoon, but we were amazed at how many people were doing the road on bicycles!
As we drive toward Italy through Lienz it started to rain a bit, so we just keep driving. As with crossing from Germany to Austria, the national border doesn't even require you to slow down, much less stop for a passport check.
Drove straight to Cortina and checked into the Hotel Menardi. Very quaint and comfortable, with a helpful staff. About 1 km from the center of town, with a pleasant pedestrian path (well off the road) passing directly behind the hotel. The only downside was that it was RIGHT on the main road into town. Once again, noisy at night with open windows. A rear-facing room would have been better. Dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant in town -- forget the name; sorry. Cortina is predominantly Italian, unlike the western Dolomites, which are predominently German-speaking.

Day 5: We had planned to drive past Lake Missurina and hike to the Tre Cime, but the "Greens" were protesting the private access road that day! (Not clear whether they were protesting the road itself or the tolls!). We settled for a hike around the lake and a 2-stage ski lift to the top of Monte Cristallo. Beautiful view and lodges with restaurant/bar at the top of each stage. But the trails at the top were snow-covered cliff walks, requiring climbing equipment to "clip in", so we passed. Nice lunch at the "refugio" between the two lifts.
Walked around Cortina and did some shopping and had dinner at the restaurant at Lago Scin, a couple km outside of town on the road to Lake Missurina. Excellent gourmet meal in the Italian-Tyrolian style.

Continued in next post.
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 05:07 AM
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Day 6: Departed Cortina on the Great Dolomites Road. Stopped at Passo Falzarego and took the cable car to the top of Monte Lagazuoi. Not only excellent views of the Dolomites and valleys, but a fascinating complex of tunnels from the brutal prolonged fighting in WWI between the Italians and the Austrians. You can hike through the tunnels for long distances if you like. Flashlights mandatory and helmets advised. We only did a short tunnel that had windows cut through at various places and a big opening for shooting mortar shells down on the pass below. The moderately strenuous hike is well worth it. [Thanks, Paulo!]
Several passes later (lunch at the top of Passo Pordoi and a gawk-break at the top of Passo Sella) we pull into Castelrotto/Kastelruth. The Hotel Cavallino d'Oro is right on the medieval plaza and is utterly charming. Walked around, stopping at a bakery and a small grocery store for a picnic dinner, consumed in a field outside of town, on the road above Siusi.

Day 7: Drove to the nearby high country plateau called Alpe di Suisi. The road is closed to all but local traffic at the town of Compatsche, where there are big parking lots. We avoided the up-hill part of the hike by taking the ski lift (named "Panorama") right at Compasche. Hiked the #7 and #12 trails to Saltria. Trails are very easy to walk and very well marked, but get a real trail map rather than the standard freebie (which didn't show the #12 trail). The wildflowers, for which Alpe di Siusi is famous, were absolutely beautiful. The colorful meadows went on for long distances with mountain peaks in the background. Stunning!
The bus that was supposed to transport us back to Compasche was not running that afternoon, and we never found out why. So we added a few more km to the hike by walking the #3 trail back. We were very glad to sit down for a late lunch and cold drinks at an outdoor cafe in Compasche. The hike would have been the perfect length if the bus had been running.
On the way back, we took a detour to the tiny town of St. Oswald, where there's a ruined 12th century castle. Kinda cool, but be careful not to follow the trail sign along the higher road between St Oswald and St Virgilio that directs you to to the castle by way of steep hiking trail. (An extra hike that our legs didn't really need at that point.) The ruins are visible right off the lower road. Most restaurants were closed by the time we got back to Castelrotto, but the Hexer Keller ("witch's cellar") off the plaza was open and served good Tyrolian food.

[Continued in next post]
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 05:27 AM
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Great stuff Bill. Keep it coming--I feel as if I am with you every step.
We are going back to Castelrotto in Oct. for 2 nites enroute from Lucca to Munich.
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 05:39 AM
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Day 8: Drove to the large town of Bolzano (the "wrong way" from where we were headed) and visited the Sudtirol Museum, where the big item is the "Ice Man" -- a well preserved 5,000-year-old mummified body, complete with clothing and gear, found in a high glacier about 10 years ago. Worth the trip. Shopped in the market square for picnic supplies.
Drove north on the Autostradda. A bit of construction slowing things down, but not much traffic and very nice scenery. Crossed Brenner Pass without really noticing it. Flipped a coin between the all-autobahn way to Munich or the scenic route by way of Mittenwald and Garmisch-P and chose the latter. We regretted the decision about 20 minutes later when it started to rain pretty hard and the steep up-hill was slow going. We had thought to stop in Mittenwald for our picnic, but skipped it. A road-side pull-off had enough tree cover above the picnic table that we could eat without getting wet. My wife whipped up a salad of sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzerella with olive oil and herbs -- delicioso! Also made sandwiches with the tyrolian smoked ham called "speck".

Got into Munich in the late afternoon. Checked into the Hotel Torbrau after another intimidating drive through confusing urban streets... at rush hour. The hotel had provided very explicit directions for every twist and name-change of the roads, so we managed ok. Torbrau is an excellent mid-size hotel, very well located. Strolled around the extensive pedestrian malls at the city center and did some window shopping.
Checked out the Hofbrau House for dinner, but it was too wild and crazy. Settled for the excellent Ratskeller instead.

Day 9: A leisurely a.m., during which I dropped off the rental car at the train station Avis branch. Then a 4-hour bicycle tour (Mike's Bike Tours) starting at 10:30. Great fun! Comfortable 5-speed "cruiser" bikes with minimal up-hill. A young New Zealander was the guide (all of "Mike's" guides are native English speakers). He was knowlegeable and quite personable and amusing (in an distinctly "earthy" kind of way). The group was too big, however, at 26 riders. A beautiful day in Munich -- sunny and high 60s F. Lunch stop at the Englischer Garten (lots of good food; BIG mug of beer). I would definitely recommend the bike tour.
Did some serious shopping at stores large and small that afternoon. Dinner at the good Italian restaurant at the hotel.

Day 10: Rainy, but we walked around a bit more in the morning. Took the S-bahn train to the airport from the station right next to the hotel. An all-day "family pass", purchased at the hotel desk, was cheaper than two one-way tickets to the airport! We gave away our pass to a couple of young Americans going from the airport to the city, though it's also permissible to sell it. Flew out at 12:15.

A GREAT trip!

- Bill
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 04:57 PM
Greg T.
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Thanks Bill. Great report. You've moved the Dolomites up several notches on the list in my long-term vacation planning. Question: Would it be much of a problem to not speak any Italian or German in the places you visit? (Other than the basic "hello; please; thanks; goodbye" of course.)
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 05:46 PM
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Great report, really enjoy it!
Old Jul 14th, 2001, 07:54 PM
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Greg -

We didn't speak either language and did fine.

We carried a pocket phrase book with us (Rick Steves has good ones), but it was not difficult to find people who spoke a little English. At all hotels and most restaurants it was no trouble at all communicating. My wife speaks rather good French, and that proved a mutual second language with German-speakers on a couple of occasions. It's also amazing how easy it is to get by with the a handful of basic words and phrases and some pantomime.

I would add to your list of essential terms to learn the following -- "Sorry; I don't speak [German]", "How much, please?", "What is this" (for menus), "Excuse me", and "Very good!"
Old Jul 15th, 2001, 04:54 AM
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Really enjoyed your report, Bill. It brought back many memories of wonderful holidays in the Dolomites! Is there anywhere to compare? (If there is, I haven't found it yet!) Now I must start planning my next trip! Thanks for sharing.

Old Jul 16th, 2001, 11:03 AM
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Thanks for the report! I'm tempted to hop on the plane and follow the exact same itinerary. We've been in Italy twice, but we didn't even consider the Dolomites. Now we have another great excuse to go back!
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 06:37 AM
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I enjoyed your account. Thanks!
We're still waiting for your son to report on his choir tour. (Or did I miss it?)
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 06:57 AM
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We only drove through the Dolomites (a detour from Verona to Venice) but it was truly fabulous. We took the Passo Sella on our way to Cortina from Ortiesi/St Ulrich, then travelled straight down to Venice where we took Vaporetto #1 down the Grand Canal at sunset. That one day provided optimum scenic overload.
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 07:40 AM
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Thanks for the great report! It was fun to follow your planning from the beginning and see how it all went. I'm so glad that you had such a terrific time!
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 02:30 PM
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In answer to "Armchair":
No, my son hasn't written anything (though he has a semblance of a journal from the choir's concert tour). But check out this article that ran in our local newspaper about all 34 boys singing on the plane in the middle of the flight from Frankfurt to Dulles Airport. I'd think it was a really nice article even if it weren't about my two sons!

Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 02:52 PM
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Hi Bill! Thanks for posting your report! It brought back great memories from our trip there a few months ago (We stayed in Castelrotto at the Cavallino d'Oro and had a great time - we skiied the Alpe de Suisi and also visited Oetzi the ice man in Bolzano). I must visit the Dolomites in the summer - it sounds like a much different experience than the winter.
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 02:59 PM
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Great report. We are planning on spending three or four nights in the Dolomites next summer (actually September) and had thought we'd use Cortina as a base. Is this good, or should we stay in Castellrotto at the hotel you mention? Sounds good, but what would be the best base. We like the sound of the hikes you mention, and yes, we'll have a car.
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 03:21 PM
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Patrick -
Cortina is bigger and busier, though certainly not to an unpleasant degree. It's just that Castelrotto is so much "cozier". Cortina is predominently Italian-speaking; Castelrotto predominently German-speaking, for what that's worth.

Very difficult to say which is the better pick.

Cortina probably has a better variety of ski lift options to get you effortlessly to the high country. (There was one right from the edge of town that hadn't reopened yet, but would by September.) We had the misfortune to pick a lift that had unusually difficult trails at the top. Great views, though.

We had our favorite hike out of Castelrotto (in Alpe di Siusi), but you should find out if the incredible wildflowers will be gone by September.

In short, we liked Castelrotto a bit better as a base, but in September Cortina might be the better bet.
Old Jul 23rd, 2001, 04:43 PM
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My wife and I recently completed a wonderful 10-day trip to Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. We planned much more, but finding Garmisch so appealing, we shortened my trip significantly. After landing in Munich, we rented a car from Hertz and traveled to Garmisch. The drive was picturesque and brief. We stayed at the Hotel Zugspitze -- a perfect choice. The rooms were spacious, very Bavarian, and inexpensive. We had a marvelous view of the mountains. The hotel had a great breakfast buffet and it adjoined a very good restaurant. What was most appealing, not counting the view from our balcony, were the quiet surroundings and the very attentive staff.

We took day trips to the local castles, to Innsbruck, Austria; Oberammergau, Fuessen, Mittenwald, and Lake Constance, Germany; Vaduz, Lichtenstein, and several other sites. Our very ambitious travel plans were curtailed because we found so much to enjoy in the area around Garmisch.

Next year, we'll venture into Italy.

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