Mar 4, 2016

Italian Alps: 3 days at the Dolomites

When I was planning my europe trip,  i found myself lost and uncertain of where to go. Everywhere seemed great and everywhere was worth a go. I soon came to the realisation that i was never going to be able to finish everything and the only thing I can do is focus on one objective. So I turned to Rick Steve's website and referenced his Alpine itinerary because enjoying the great outdoor was what I prefer. Since i have more time at my disposal,  i slotted Cologne and Prague into my itinerary and then moved to the highlands afterwards.


Despite already knowing how beautiful and different the Dolomites were, it still didn't prepare me for it’s majestic-ness.




I took a train to Ponte gardena and caught the 350 bus to my Hostel in Selva Gardena. However I only found out when i was there that I needed to take another bus 471 from "Plan" to "Selva de Plan" . It's only one stop but it's 30 minutes of uphill climb I'd rather not challenge with my luggage. Check out my review of my lovely stay at Val Gardena here.

Click here for a map of Val Gardena.


This is where my hotel is situated. It's a lovely place very close to the Dolomites and has a small stream in front.  Having breakfast in the cozy dining room beside the Dolomites was such a worthwhile experience.




I spent 3 nights there and was outdoor most of the time. On my first day of arrival, with recommendations from my hotel owner, took a bus to the Sassolungo range and then hiked down. 


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Hiking down is of course, always easier than hiking up. And I just had a wonderful day taking the scenery in.  







The views were spectacular and the sights you meet along the way was just so peaceful. I find even the wild flowers here beautiful! And there were cows grazing too.


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Wild flowers that looked good enough to put into a vase!






Every corner you look, you can see the Dolomites peeping up behind proudly showing their peaks off.




I returned pretty late. I am pretty sure I missed my last bus back to Plan de Gralba and had to hike up. I was famished and popped into one of the fancy restaurants near my hotel.


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And I had a candlenight dinner by myself, talk about #foreveralone! The menu was too extravangant for me so I just ordered some Aglio Olio , sparkly water and bread. Was it costly? yes it was but their service was superb and I tipped.




Because my hotel was part of the Active Val Gardena movement, I was given a free bus card that was valid for a week and be allowed to join any of the Active Val Gardena tours for free. I choose one and had the hotel staff reserve it for me. However I missed the meet up time since I missed my first bus and end up missing the whole tour. So day 2 was a random hike by myself again. But don’t worry, I had a lot of fun taking in the beauty around even if I was by myself.


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I can’t remember which peak I went to that day . I started on the right foot path and then ended up on the motor way, which of course is not the safest path. I got ridiculously lost and did a lot of dangerous stuff such as hiking off the beaten path (because I was too lost and kinda just relied on my phone GPS). Upward climb of near 75 degree on loose rocks and clinging onto whatever vegetation I could for my dear life. On reflections, I feel really silly for doing that. But the thing about climbing up a very steep slope is that taking a U-turn is even more dangerous because coming down safely seemed even harder. The climb always started simple because the view is hidden from sight and by the time I realise this path was a bad choice was the time I couldn’t back down haha. I’m glad everythign turned out fine though, praise God and His angels for their covering upon me! Nobody likes falling down a slope in the middle of a holiday afterall.  




I climbed up from the slope on the right so you can imagine how steep it was.


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I found myself on the Panoramic viewpoint and there, I found a chair lift so I took a ride up because, why not?!



I took the easy way up while hikers made their way up with hard work haha. I had some minor heart attack on my way up though because nobody told me I should have pulled the barracade in front of me down. So I basically took a moving chair up a slope without any seat belts.



Yes, this was the chair lift.


The sun came up when I reached the top and I saw one of the bluest sky I’ve ever seen in Italy yet.





There was a quaint cafe on the top and I settled for a cup of tea with one of the best views ever. As I looked upon the dolomites , it felt like I could touch the peaks if I just reached my hands out. That was an unbelievable feeling! And then I wondered how did God created such a beautiful and magnificent thing! It felt like I was looking at Mordor!



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The view from the Dantercepies cable car which is walking distant from the Chair lift. I really wished my photographs did the place more justice!



The view while descending. And yes, I opted to hike down.






The paths are easy to spot and there are signboards frequent enough to tell you where to head to.  I cannot express enough how awesome being in the middle of these magnificent stones was! The paths, although often precautiously close to the edge, is generally easy to walk.




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I reached the nearest bus stop around 5:34pm and waited for my next bus. I had narrowly missed the previous bus so had an hour to spend before the next one. It was too cold to stand outside for an hour so I popped into a cafe and ordered a cup of coffee.



After the cup of coffee, I went up to the panoramic view point area.


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And they called the place a panoramic viewpoint because it is in the middle of the Sella Group and Pizes De Cir . When you’re here you almost feel like you can hear the mountains singing through the wind.




I started my third day in Passo Sella . Took a bus there from my hotel and joined my hike group which was part of the Val Gardena Active movement. What this means is , as long as your hotel is part of the Val Gardena Active programme, you don’t need to pay for the fees of the guide. You will however, need to pay for all the rides yourself.


We took the One person Telecabin up to the Cinque Dita peak. Cinque Dita is one of 6 summits of the Sassolungo mountain group. I guess the most interesting thing about the telecabin was not so much the ride but how you get in and get off. The Telecabin (that beige rectangular cable car thingy) doesn’t stop, the passenger needs to run into it while it moves sometimes with the help od the staff or without and after you get in, the staff slams the door behind you. Needlessly to say, it was exhilarating though almost scary. I grinned widely when I managed to hop on with the help of the italian staffs (2 of them, each holding onto one of my hands). I turned around to see them slam the door shut while I grinned and waved ecstatically at them like an idiot. One of the Italian staff (middle aged and charismatically good looking like most italian man!) saw my and winked back at me haha!


In the Telecabin, you can only stand. The view, needless to say, was impeccable. You feel like you’re the Ring being transported to Mordor by Frodo, hahahaha.


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This is the Cinque Dita peak which we hiked down from. It is 2.996m above sea level and it is an ancient coral reef.



It was early in the morning being so high up meant it was pretty cold up there. There was a lot of mountain fog right where we were. And I finally did what I’ve been wanting to do the past few days.



Touch the rock of the Dolomites!

And then we descended. The mountain fog was so strong that you cannot see beyond it some times. Coming down was a lot scarier than I thought as the ground was full of small loose rocks. What I did not foresee however, was frozen ice.



At the beginning of the hike, our guide pointed to my canvase shoes and asked if I’m ok with them. I gave an awkward “Yes” because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t have any other shoes anyway.

Everyone ahead of me walked effortlessly over the ground and I did so too, until I slipped and fell on my very first step. It was frozen snow! It’s difficult to tell since everyone’s walking like it’s nothing, but the ground the girl (in cyan jacket) is walking on is frozen snow!!

As soon as I fell (I had absolutely no control over my body), a kind italian traveller offered one of his trekking stick to me. I was too embarrassed to accept something so important and politely rejected. But he insisted. Knowing how essential they are, I meekly accepted one of them.

If you’re wondering why I felt so awkward, it’s non other than the realisation of my own stupidity. Everyone else came in sensible clothing and trekking shoes. I had underestimated the hike so much that I came in a pair of canvas, shorts , winter tights and a Uniqlo ultra light down jacket. This is hardly appropriate for our climb at all!




The italian uncle who so kindly lended me the trekking stick even offered to take photographs for me. Here we have just descended the peak for around 10 minutes. Yes, I slipped and fell only 10 minutes into the hike –___-;;



This was what I saw when I came down. I held my breath at the beauty of the place.



At certain points, we’d walk straight into a cloud of mountain fog and this is how dense they are. So dense you can’t even see the rest of the mountain range beyond. I’m glad we had a guide to lead the way!


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Our guide told us the blue flower is called the “devil’s claw”. That big rock was also a memorial place for some unfortunate helicopter accident that happened on this mountain. Unfortunately I can no longer remember what it was and google gained no results. My guide only spoke german and italian with very minimal english. Throughout the trip, the Italian uncle who had so kindly lended me his hiking stick became my best (and only lol) friend because he was one of only two people who could converse fluently in english. He basically helped translated what the guide was saying and we went on to chat about other things in life.


One particular fact I learnt from him was that schools in Italy have 3 months of summer holiday. And he immediately went on to express his disatisfaction with that by saying “ that’s way too long!”. I laughed out loud as the idea never occured to me before! I only remember school holidays as a teenager but school holidays to a parent is a whole different thing all together! He went on to complain about how his wife and himself have to go on extended family holiday (they are on one now!) and find summer camps for the kids to join so as to get them out of trouble. He lamented that the long holidays only made the children lazy and they soon forgot everything they learnt in school.


It’s easy to look at our difference but when he shared his opinion on this issue, it only tells me how similar everyone from different countries are. Even though we look different, we are all made in God’s image and we all face similar problems in life. I’m sure when I become a parent myself, I will have the exact same problem as him hahah.



The first peak of blue skies!



The early noon sun beams down so brightly and made everything pop!


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And then we rested at this beautiful cafe. After we were done, we started to hike around the cinque dita peak.



The mountain on the left of the Cafe.



The view when you look down from the cafe area. Isn’t it beautiful?!


Can you spot the cafe? Our guide told us that the cafe is built on the safest location here as the big boulder behind it will strategically block off an avalanche if it ever happens.





We continue to walk around the range.




Because we are hiking around the mountain, the paths are narrow, meandering and right at the edge. In short, it’was a very wild hike!


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We reached a resting point some where around noon and sat down for a rest. At this point I was starving and meekily took out my sandwich. I stared on in amazement as the rest my group mates stood around chatting enthusiastically without a hint of hunger. Our guide told us the Dolomites had a lot of minerals in their stone so if you look closely, there is a glittery finish to it. Our guide also taught us how to tell the age of a tree by the amount of rings it has in it’s trunk.







And then we walked passed this huge slab of frozen snow. Can you see it?

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According to our guide, the snow came out from a cave and flowed down. It was probably rain water than soon turned into ice. What amazed me is the scale of it and how much they looked like rocks!





As we got lower, foliage started to dominate the scenery.




Near the end of our hike, we find ourselves parallel to the Sella Group.

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And then we finally reached our destination; the Selva Ciampino Cable car station. The view there did not disappoint.


Click here to see a Google photo sphere!



In case you’re wondering what I wear inside. That’s a long sleeved uniqlo heat tech and a thin outer top. Because it’s summer and because the hike is rigorous, you don’t really feel the cold. Photo kindly taken by my new itialian uncle friend haha!



Like most of the cable cars or chair lifts , the peak has a restaurant and toilet for everyone to use. There was also a lot of sun chairs for hikers to lounge and enjoy the sun.




I started to envy the italians who live here. It must be amazing to live so close to such beautiful and majestic mountains. We took the cable car down to selva gardena/wolkenstein and something hilarious happened while going down.



My guide was chatting with other members of the group while we descended in the cable car. And suddenly, my guide pointed towards my general direction and said something in a language I couldn’t understand. At that point, the italian uncle who was chatting with him also turned towards my direction. Thinking my guide was pointing to a range behind me, I instinctively turned around only to turn back and see them trying very hard to hide their gaffaw .


Apparently my guide had asked me in english, whether I know my way back to my hotel. After a few hours of trying to understand a foreign language, feeling like a transparent hiker along with physical exhaustion (dude, I just climbed a mountain yo), I just came to the conclusion that they are pointing at something behind me hahah. It was embarrassing to say the least!


I did become friends with the lovely Italian family though. The italian uncle introduced me to to his lovely wife, daughter and son. And his beautiful daughter practised her english with me. It was lovely meeting them!


I then took a bus to Ortisei, a remarkably beautiful village I haven’t explored yet.




Unlike the other villages, Ortisei is very big and is further away from the dolomites. It has a church, a few supermarket, hotels and an Art musuem.


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Orisei is significantly more commercialised with numerous shops catered to tourists. But a stroll around the village is still pleasant and unsuffocating. The food here are also reasonably priced. I didn’t step into any restaurant but I bought  a sccop of Gelato for 1.30 and found peaches going for 1.20 at the supermarket. White Peaches are extremely tasty and affordable in europe during summer. If you can get your hands on some, definitely grab them!



And interesting art instalment in the middle of the road.





I took the last bus back to my hotel and ate my sandwich beside the lake in front of my hotel. And thus, ended my last day in Val Gardena.


If it isn’t clear, I loved this place a lot. The dolomites had surpassed my expectation and found a special place in my heart. The friendly vibes of the italians along with the majestic peaks is a sweet lure. I look forward to visiting the area again, hopfully in another season to experience it’s beauty in a different way. Maybe one day I’ll find some friends to skii with me there !

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