Sunday, 17 September 2017

Magical Mountains - the Dolomites

I was very excited about visiting the Dolomites and was hoping desperately for good weather so we could do some hiking on the Alpe di Siusi, Europe's largest high alpine meadow. Weather forecast was for thunderstorms in the afternoon! We made an early start hoping to beat the thunderstorms. While it looked complicated on a map, it was actually quite easy to get up to the meadow from where we stayed in Castelrotto. We took a bus to Siusi, a cable car up to Compatsch and we were already up on the meadow.  To get to the trail head, we took a chairlift from Compatsch up to Puflatsch and we started our hike on the "Trail of the Witches".

It was an awsome hike, at least at the beginning, when it wasn't too steep and there were lots to see.  Apart from gawking at the ever changing views of the Dolomites, there were cows and horses on the meadows, not to mention the spring flowers carpeting the fields. It was particularly intriguing to watch the clouds roll in and cover the mountains from one minute to the next, even as my camera was trying to focus. The mists turned the landscape to magic!

All this time, we were watching the skies. One minute we could see all the way down the valley to Castelrotto, the next, we couldn't see 10 feet in front of us - that's mountain weather for you. Ever conscious of the looming clouds, we made good time and did the trail in a couple of hours, just in time for lunch at the much-hyped Arnikahutt, which lived up to its name. I love these mountain huts in the Alps! 

The hike after lunch was a bit strenuous as there were steep uphill sections with no switchbacks. But the approaching thunderclouds and fog were enough incentive to move us along and we made it to the chairlift before it started to pour. We were fortunate that there was shelter at the station.  By the time we made it to the cable car station going down to Siusi, the sun was out and we could see all the way down to the valley.

It was an amazing day - one of the high points of our trip!

Magic mountains - here one minute, gone the next...
Up into the clouds...

View of the valley from the top

The Alpe di Siusi as viewed from Compatsch, surrounded on all sides by the Dolomites

View from the Trail of the Witches

Mountain huts on the meadows

Friendly cows and shy horses

The landscape changed even as I was focusing my camera

Abundance of alpine flowers - it was spring afterall!

Lunch at the fabulous Arnikahutt
The last section of the Trail of the Witches was quite steep

We kept our eyes on the fog rolling in and had to quicken our pace

Made it!  Just in time before the thunderstorm hit!

When we reached the cable car station to Siusi, sun was out again!

I love how the locals in this area decorate their houses - this one in Castelrotto is actually a hotel with the months of the year all around it. The one below is the historic hotel we stayed at - the Cavallino D'Oro, beautiful inside too with one room with a decorated ceiling and another converted from the owner's chapel. 

 Next stop:  the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Hallstatt - Enchanting!

The second stop on our tour was Hallstatt, a quaint old town on the southwestern shore of Hallst├Ątter See (Lake) at the foot of the steep slopes of the Dachstein massif and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was just a couple of hours south east of Salzburg so we arrived with plenty of time to see the area as we were spending the night here. The area is famous for its salt mines dating back to prehistoric times, but we chose to take the short ferry ride across the lake to the opposite shore and did a short hike on a trail lined with an abundance of alpine spring flowers.  What a treat!

We were fortunate we got back to the town before a thundershower hit, just around dinner time, dashing our hopes for a tranquil dinner by the lake. We had to hustle earlier to get a reservation for a lakefront table as these were at a premium during the tourist season. We reconciled ourselves to an indoor dinner and were glad at least that the rain stopped by the time dinner was over and we could continue our walk through Hallstatt.  

Hallstatt is very pretty with 16th century Alpine houses going up the slopes of the mountain. Our after dinner walk took us up the hill to the waterfall above the town and the terrace above the Catholic Church for a panoramic view of the town.  But obviously we didn't walk far enough as it was only after I returned home that I saw the iconic view of Hallstatt from just a few hundred metres further on from our hotel next to the Lutheran Church that featured so prominently in photos of the town! I had to reconcile myself to the thought that one can't have everything and we did enjoy ourselves with immediate experiences of the area on our nature hike.

Please take a look at the photos and agree with me...;-)

Morning view of Hallstatt

Alpine houses all the way up the hill
Exquisite carved gables
Unique window covering

View of Hallstatt against the mountain backdrop from the ferry we took to the opposite shore.  As it turned out, the train station was on the other side and many people took the ferry to catch the train.

View of Hallstatt Lake from the trail

Part of the trail was on a suspended walkway making it an easy walk

Alpine flowers - there must have been more than two dozen species just along this trail

Bearded bellflower

Houses with boathouses - until the late 19th century, it was only possible to reach Hallstatt via boats and narrow trails so boats were very important for transportation

Walkway up to the waterfall above the town

The Central Market Square

Panoramic view from the Cathedral terrace

Next post: Castelrotto, Italy

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


We took the train from Munich to Salzburg arriving a couple of days before the beginning of our Alpine tour.  Salzburg was very touristy and the streets were already packed in late June.  Mozart's birthhouse was interesting and there were a lot of historical information on my favourite composer.  But by the time we got to the Mozart residence it was information overload and I was frankly bored, not to mention that it was quite commercialized and one room was pure Hollywood. That, together with the stifling heat and lack of air conditioning, made for a short visit.

The Hohensalzburg fortress at the top of the hill offered magnificent panoramic views of the city - it was a short funicular ride up to the top.  From there we did a leisurely hike along the top of the cliff to Monschberg, enjoying panoramic views along the way. We were told by various sources that there was a lift that will take us down to the city -  but none of the travel books told us that the lift was actually inside the Museum of Modern Art at the top of the cliff!  We stumbled upon it when we thought we would go inside the Museum to ask!

Old town Salzburg, with its river and bridges, could be pretty after all the tour groups were gone. Even the key sights like the Mirabelli Gardens, impossible during the day, quieted down by late afternoon and a pleasure to visit in the early evening. The golden hour saw the fortress enveloped in the light of the setting sun - something else we stumbled upon in addition to the open air movie night in the Kapitelplatz behind the Cathedral. We also enjoyed a concert in the Mirabelli Palace - an energetic rendition of the Four Seasons by the group Orchester 1756 playing on period instruments. 

Salzburg from the Hohensalzburg fortress
Love the arches inside castle!
The hike to Monschberg from the castle gave us views of the other side of the castle and panoramic views along the way

View of the castle from Monschberg
Castle seen from the gates of Mirabelli Gardens
Mirabelli Gardens
Concert inside the Mirabelli Palace
Residenzplatz in front of the Cathedral

Kids having fun with the street fountains

Entrance stairway to Mozart's birth house
This ancient water wheel is part of a 13th century canal system that supplied Salzburg with water from the Alps foothills, and still does. It once ground grain into flour to make bread at the bakery beside it. 
One of several bridges linking the old town and the new
Street musician beside the bridge
Carved door at the cathedral

Beautiful entrance to St. Peter's Church from the 12th century
The stunning Franciscan Church, one of the more unusual structures we came across on this trip, was built in the early 13th century. It reminded me of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Kapitelplatz with its free movie night against the spectacular backdrop of the castle at sunset

Salzburg - after sunset