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So, here you are again. About to read another report about another trip to the Dolomites. You might think... isn't this a little repetitive? Why another trip to the same place? Well... here's Andrew's top seven reasons to return to the Dolomites (I couldn't think of ten reasons, so you're stuck with seven):

7. Gotta add more entries to my via ferrata page...

6. Aida under the stars with Roman Limestone baking your butt...

5. Daryl's been pestering me for another ferrata trip for a while now...

4. Gotta practice my Italian or it'll get rusty...

3. Twisty Roads par Excellance!

2. Nowhere is it easier to get a dose of big air....

1. Fresh Gnocchi and Panna Cotta at 10,000 feet!... need I say anything more?
Saturday, July 14
Arrival & Loss
We arrived not in Italy, but in Zurich, Switzerland. We found the combination of flight and car rental to be a bit more favourable than if we'd landed elsewhere nearby. However, for future reference, I think that the slightly extra expense of flying directly into northern Italy might be worth it, in terms of hassle, time travelled (you need to travel quite a few hours to get from north of the alps to south of the alps), and fuel costs.
Air Canada Flight 864
CR-V in the park-n-ride
The swiss countryside
Anyway... upon landing in Zurich we were delayed from getting an efficient and speedy start to our trip by a piece of lost luggage - which contained all of Pu's outdoor gear. After a time chatting with the folks at Swissair's lost+found department (where we even managed to get Pu a cash disbursement for our troubles), we were off in our two volkswagen rental cars, bound for the first stop in our trip - Riva del Garda, Italy.
courtesy PChen
Getting off to a bad start
The vierwaldstattersee
Zooming South
We headed south through a wonderful sunny summer day in Switzerland - past trim little towns, well-tended grassy slopes, headed for the Gotthard pass, one of the major crossing points into Italy. Normally, one would take the 17km Gotthard car tunnel, but we were feeling the need for scenery, so we opted to go up and over the Gotthard pass on the overland road route. In fact, nearing the top, we discovered an even more rustic route - an old cobblestoned road, which appeared to serve as the way over the pass before the more modern asphalt-paved Gotthard pass road was built. The old cobblestone road was quiet and little-travelled, and it made the route over the pass that much more scenic. Pu got his first taste of the Alps, and was duly impressed.
courtesy PChen
Old Gotthard Pass road
Old Gotthard Pass road
Pu and Daryl
From the Gotthard pass, we headed down into an Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (the Ticino area), and from there, on into Italy, passing north of Milan and heading east along the flat plain of the Po for a short distance. Then, we turned north onto a scenic bit of highway that follows the cliffy western shoreline of Lake Garda. "Follows the cliffy shoreline" is probably not the right phrase - "burrows through them" is probably more accurate. The highway (called 'ss45') runs through many interesting galleries and tunnels, some old and some new. In between, you get glimpses of the turquoise waters of Lake Garda, and you drive through many mediterranean-style small towns, each lushly vegetated and carefully set into the limited space between cliff and water.
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
Rustic tunnels
The SS45bis
Speeding along
After about an hour of this sort of pleasant driving, we suddenly arrive at the north end of the lake, where Riva del Garda sits on the more open, flat land that lies along the north shore.
courtesy PChen
Somewhat tropical
Riva del Garda is a lovely town in a lovely setting at the north end of Italy's largest lake - Lake Garda. Lake Garda is almost like an land-locked fjord: long, narrow, and bounded on each side by steep, dramatic high cliffs. The town has a beautiful historic walled center, mostly closed to vehicular traffic (which means that you can walk unhindered through the old streets). The city comes right up to the lake's edge, and there is a wonderful stone boardwalk area that allows pedestrians to stroll along the lake.

The region in which Riva del Garda is located is within the 'Piccoli Dolomiti' (the little Dolomites). It is a mountainous area, but the elevation of the peaks is relatively lower than the main Dolomites, and the valley bottoms are near sea-level. In fact, Riva del Garda's elevation is only about 300ft ASL. As a result, it is good and hot here in the summer, and this year was no exception. Temps were quite high, averaging in the upper 30s each day.
courtesy DBoyd
Aparthotel Englo-Vacanze
In order to make the first few days of our trip a little more settled, we decided to plonk ourselves down in one spot. Searching around on the Internet a few days earlier, I had found a nice little 'apart-hotel' in Riva, and for a reasonable price, too: 30 Euros per person per night. An 'apart-hotel' is basically an apartment that you rent on a short-term basis. Ours, called 'Englo-Vacanze', was up on a hill, just above (but still very close to) the old town center. It was a very large, elegant heavy-set stone building, with balconies and oval windows.

Our apartment was very modern and very elegant, with a full kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. Outside, the grounds were filled with lush plants, including fig and olive trees, and there was a nice indoor swimming pool, too. Plus, free wireless internet! (although we had to be verr-ry close to the wireless router in the main lobby for us to get a useable signal)
Our kitchen
Our kitchen
Our bathroom
Pu's lost bag had created a wee bit of a logistical problem. We couldn't really start any via ferratas until we received his bag. At the earliest, we'd get it back the next day, and even that wasn't assured. We'd had a long day of travelling, though, and dusk was falling - and we were starving, so we didn't worry too much about the bag and instead checked-in and then walked down into the old part of town for a bit of much-anticipated Italian food!
Nightime streetscene in Riva
We strolled down into the warm darkness, down to the old walled-in portion of Riva del Garda. The combination of sights, sounds and smells was intoxicating: warm night air, narrow cobblestoned streets, wafting scents of baking pizzas, and lively strains of a musical performance in the lakeside central piazza.
courtesy PChen
Nighttime waterfront, Riva del Garda
After a bit of walking around, we simply couldn't wait any longer, and we stopped at a little pizzeria (called 'Pizzeria Bella Napoli'). A bit of red wine and a huge-but-razor-thin margherita pizza did the trick for me!

I again marvel at how a pizza with about 7 basic ingredients can manage to taste so different (i.e. a much better kind of different) than a pizza in North America.
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
courtesy PChen
Some needed refreshments
Misshapen but delicious
Patiently waiting
[Next Day >]

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