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  1. One thing we hadn't done during this short break is visit the Christmas market in Bolzano in the evening. We'd got back to the hotel early enough today to be able to go out again in the evening, so after night had fallen, we put our coats and boots on, and headed out the door. Soprabalzano was pretty in the dark. It had its own Christmas market outside the cable-car station. It appeared that we were going to be the only people taking the cable car at the point we boarded. Yes, the doors closed without anybody else coming through, so we had it to ourselves. About 7 minutes into the journey. an illuminated Bolzano appeared in the distance. There were two very handy landmarks standing out. There was a Christmas market alongside the Big Wheel, and another in the main square, which had the cathedral on one edge. The first cabins were enclosed by trees with beautiful fairy lights and large red baubels. And the street had lovely lights suspended above it. The edge featured reindeer and lights. The cabins happened to be closing at the point we arrived, so we said goodbye to the reindeer and walked towards the main square. We knew we were nearly there when the cathedral appeared. Each side of the square featured a light show of moving stars. We were really pleased to see that one of the cabins housed a nativity scene. There was a beautiful tree at the side of it and a lovely view of the cathedral and its roof above it. We stopped beside it to have a small mug of Glühwein. Although it was time to head back home, we decided not to take a direct route, leaving the square from the end opposite the cathedral. It took us up a street we'd already seen in the daylight. We knew where we were going. We'd seen that the nearby streets had decorations up, and wanted to see them at night. There were plenty of trees in the nearby square, surrounding some more cabins. And some Christmas lighting guiding our way back home. It was a fun evening to a fabulous day, before we fly back home tomorrow.
  2. When we woke up on our final morning we found that it was actually sunny outside for a change We had breakfast and Tim managed to track down the owners of the hotel to pay for our room. Once we were all settled up, we set out for a final walk to the cable car station. It felt warmer in the sunshine and the snow had thawed to some extent, but the paths were still slippery in places. I found it difficult not to keep turning around as we walked, because there were some beautiful views behind us. This was definitely the clearest day we'd had, and I was hopeful of some good views from the cable car too. Luckily we managed to catch one which wasn't too busy and had plenty of space for our suitcase, plus managed to get a seat on the side with the best views The views were indeed spectacular. We've been up and down in the cable car lots of times over the course of the past few days, but a lot of the time we just travelling through clouds, and even on the slightly clearer days we couldn't see all these mountains. As we got further down we could see the lower slopes which would be covered in vines during the summer. Soon we were down in Bolzano. Because we were staying up in Oberbozen, we hadn't actually seen very much of the main part of Bolzano, so we'd decided to come for a walk around before catching our train back to Verona. We bought our train tickets, left our suitcase in the left luggage office at the station, and set off for a stroll around town. I was keen to get over towards the river which I remembered as being really pretty when we were last in Bolzano in 2015. Even in winter, the countryside looked really lovely We passed the victory monument, controversial because it was erected by Mussolini after Italy acquired South Tyrol from Austria following WW1. There's a good network of footpaths and cycle paths which criss-cross the river here. Once we were on the far side of the river we had a good view back towards the snowy mountains We walked alongside the river for a while. We knew we couldn't afford to walk too far, because we had to back at the station for our train at 12.31. We were catching the last possible train to the airport for our flight at 16.40. With views like these it was definitely tempting to keep going rather than turning around though Eventually we had to turn around and head back to the town centre. We had a final walk through the main square and made it back to the train station with plenty of time to collect the suitcase and catch our train. We've had a wonderful holiday in Bolzano and would definitely like to come back to this region again one day
  3. The weather forecast for today had been really positive, consistently stating that it was going to be sunny. I was quite surprised then when Tim opened the curtains this morning and found that it was snowing outside When we stepped out of the apartment after breakfast, we were the first to walk in the fresh snow The plan for the morning had been to go and see some different earth pyramids near Oberbozen. The path towards them started just outside our hotel. When we attempted to follow the route though, we found that the path was quite steep and slippery, with rocks just about covered in snow. We made it part of the way and I was hoping that the path was going to flatten off after a while, but it continued to go quite steeply down, so in the end we gave up and climbed back towards the road. The road itself was beautiful; we were the first people to walk in the fresh snow here too We decided to walk up to the station and catch the train to go and revisit the earth pyramids we'd seen at Klobenstein on Friday instead. It seemed like a good idea to stay high up, because if it had been snowing up here then it had probably been raining down in Bolzano. The walk to the station was very scenic in the snow We walked past the cable car to the train station. It was a lot busier than it had been on Friday; there seemed to be a tour group of Italians. We managed to squeeze on and get a seat though. The whole landscape which we travelled through was covered in snow and when we got off the train in Klobenstein, this was the view that awaited us. Wow. We hadn't been able to see these mountains at all when we were here on Friday! We walked on snowy pavements towards the pyramids. A pond which we'd passed on Friday was now almost completely frozen. The ducks looked rather cold! I was excited to get to a roadside viewpoint where the entire view had been covered in clouds the other day. There was still a bit of cloud today, but we could see a lot more We could see the church in the distance more clearly too, and now it was completely surrounded by snow We'd had no idea that all these mountains were here when we'd walked along the path the other day It didn't take long to get to the viewing platform for the earth pyramids. They looked really cool with snow on top of the stones that sit on top of them The views of the mountains from the viewing platform were amazing too. We were lucky that the cloud was just in the right position not to obscure the mountain tops. We even caught sight of some mountain goats in a field below us. They must have been rather cold! Then it was time for us to head back towards Klobenstein. It was nearly lunch time by this point, so we walked back towards the village to see whether there was anywhere we could get food. There didn't seem to be a lot of options, so we caught the train back to Oberbozen and the cable car down to Bolzano, where we ended up going to the same restaurant (and having the same meals!) as we did the other day. The food genuinely was really good! Bolzano itself seemed really busy, with lots of people out shopping. It all looked very festive though and there were some lovely Christmas decorations. We decided to go back up to the hotel for a while, then head down to Bolzano in the evening to see the Christmas lights switched on There was still a fair bit of snow in Oberbozen once we got back up on the cable car. The roads had been gritted though, so it was easier to walk back to the hotel. Once back in the hotel, we were able to watch a beautiful sunset from our window
  4. The weather forecast for today had showed torrential rain all day in Bolzano. I was hoping it would turn out to be incorrect, but when Tim came back from buying breakfast looking rather damp, it seemed like we had to accept the inevitable and make a wet weather plan. Tim suggested that we go down to Bolzano and visit the archaeological museum, which is home to an exhibition about Ötzi the Iceman and which we visited the first time we came to this region in 2015. Meanwhile I was googling what transport we could use for free with our Mobilcards, and established that we could travel on regional trains between Brenner and Trento. When I looked up the weather forecast for Brenner, I found that rather than raining there it was supposed to be snowing The chance of seeing some snow was too big a temptation to resist, so we decided to catch the 11.02 train from Bolzano to Brenner. As we were eating breakfast, it looked like the precipitation in Oberbozen was changing from rain to sleet. In fact, once we got outside we found that it was turning from sleet to snow. By the time we had walked to the Ritten cable car station, it was snowing properly I was covered in snow It was very misty, so we had zero view as we travelled down in the cable car to Bolzano. It was pouring with rain in the town itself, so we were rather damp by the time we arrived at the train station to catch our train to Brenner. The journey took around an hour and twenty minutes and looked like it would have been really scenic if the cloud hadn't been so low. About two thirds of the way through the trip, the rain turned to snow and by the time we stepped off the train in Brenner it felt like a blizzard. Brenner (or Brennero in Italian) is a pretty small village, stretched out along one main road. I knew it was close to the border with Austria, but I hadn't realised quite how close until I got a text from EE welcoming me to Austria When I'd seen on the weather forecast that there was going to be snow here, I'd imagined that there might just be a few flakes falling. But it was actually already pretty deep The snow-covered trees above the town looked really beautiful. As we walked along the main street we passed the local church, which had a rather colourful clock tower. We suddenly realised that we'd accidentally walked as far as the border. You can't make it out in this photo, but there's a square blue sign on the building behind me saying Republik Österreich. The main feature of the border seems to be a large shopping centre, which I'm standing next to here. Having reached the limit of Brenner in this direction, we turned around and walked back the other way. When we got to the far end of the village, we caught sight of a waterfall in the distance. You really can't see it very well in this picture because it was snowing so much, but it was just in between the trees We were feeling rather cold by this point, so we found a restaurant to get out of the snow. I had a lovely Hawaiian pizza, while Tim had schnitzel and chips. For pudding, I had tartufo, which was icecream drenched in espresso Tim had a dessert called cuore fondente (melting hearts) which consisted of little cakes with melted chocolate in the middle. We had a while before we needed to catch the train back to Bolzano, so we went for another stroll after lunch. It was still snowing really hard. It was hard to tell exactly where the border was, but this bit definitely seemed to be Austria. I got a picture with the Austria sign We also found a stone marking the border; Austria on one side... ...and Italy on the other. As we got the train back towards Bolzano, the clouds started to lift a bit and we began to get glimpses of the mountains which had been hidden from view this morning. The sky was a lot clearer in Bolzano as well, as as we caught the cable car back up to Oberbozen we finally got a good view of the snowcapped mountains in the distance (the photo is a bit blurry because it was through the slightly wet cable car window!) Darkness was falling as we travelled up on the cable car and when we arrived in Oberbozen, everywhere looked very Christmassy. As we began walking back towards our hotel we got some really great views of the sunset. It was amazing now that it was finally clear enough to see the mountains properly It had obviously continued snowing here during the day too and everywhere looked very white. Unfortunately the road which we needed to walk down towards our hotel was a bit slippery as a result. And it was hard to look at your feet when the views were like this in one direction... ...and like this in the other. We may have taken just a few photos By the time we got back to the hotel it was properly dark. It turned out to be a really great day, especially for one which started out by promising to be so rainy
  5. The weather forecast for today hadn't promised great things, and it was a little bit damp when we stepped out of our hotel this morning. It was also quite misty, and we couldn't see any of the higher mountains in the distance. We walked up through the village, which looked pretty with its Christmas decorations. We could see that there had been a reasonable amount of snow here in the not-so-distant past. Our plan for today was to catch the Ritten train, which travels along the plateau towards a town called Klobenstein (Collalbo in Italian). The journey was free with the travel cards we bought yesterday, which was a bonus We had a pleasant journey in a train that was nearly empty, and it wasn't long before we were stepping off the train in Klobenstein. We had come here in search of earth pyramids, and it wasn't long before we saw a sign pointing towards them. We walked past a house which had some enormous gnomes... ...and then down through the village. One of the hotels had a rather unusual nativity scene outside Signs led us to the the neighbouring village of Lengmoos/Longomoso, which looked like a really pretty little place. From there we passed what looked like it was supposed to be a viewpoint, but there wasn't much of a view today. Before long we caught sight of a little church in the distance. It looked like it was in danger of being obscured by the clouds... ...and soon it actually was! We were following the path that was supposed to lead us to the earth pyramids, but I was starting to get a bit worried that once we got there we wouldn't actually be able to see them with so much low cloud! We also passed a sign which said that the path was only open as far as the first viewing platform, so we weren't sure how much we were going to be able to see. We reached the viewing platform and it was indeed rather misty! It looked like this might be the best view I was getting of an earth pyramid When we looked over the railing, we could just make out something which might be earth pyramids behind the clouds. It was very atmospheric, but I had hoped to have a clearer view! Luckily, once we'd been standing there a while, the cloud started to move The church became visible again and we even got a glimpse of the higher mountains in the distance. Now we could see the earth pyramids better too! Once we could see them properly it became clear what unusual structures they are. The info board explained that earth pyramids were formed by rainwater eroding soil which contains large rocks. The soil under the rocks is protected from the erosion and - over the course of thousands of years - a pyramid of earth is formed beneath the stone. The process requires a certain type of soil, as well as periods of heavy rains followed by drought in which the earth can solidify. All of this makes the earth pyramids which are found here quite rare. Seeing the stones balancing on top of the pyramids is really cool - it doesn't look like it ought to be possible! By the time we were leaving, the weather was an awful lot better than when we had arrived. We walked back towards Klobenstein, to catch the train back to Oberbozen. The return journey wasn't quite as peaceful, because the train was full of children on their way home from school! Once we got to Oberbozen, we caught the cable car down the mountain to Bolzano. It was so cloudy that we could barely see a thing! It was around 2pm by this time and we were rather hungry, so we had come down to Bolzano with the aim of finding lunch. I expected there to be lots of restaurants in Bolzano, but somehow we struggled to find one. There was a restaurant near the main square (but the prices were quite expensive) and a couple of pizza places (but we had pizza last night, so were hoping for something different). There was the added complication that we'd missed the official lunch time, so not everywhere was still open and serving. We walked around for what felt like quite a while, before eventually finding a restaurant that seemed promising Tim had Wienerschnitzel with potato salad and cranberries. ...while I had a turkey schnitzel with fried potatoes The food was really delicious While we were eating the rain in Bolzano seemed to become a bit heavier though. We had a brief walk around, finding the cathedral with its colourful roof. The centre of town was looking quite festive. There was a little Christmas market in the main square... ...a beautiful Christmas tree... ...plus a ferris wheel in the distance. As we walked back towards the cable car station, we passed some more lovely decorations. There was a tree covered in red baubles beside an ice rink... ...plus these rather cool reindeer The cable car back up to Oberbozen was very cloudy again and the rain seems to have got worse this evening. The forecast for tomorrow isn't very promising, but we've certainly made the most of the weather today and had some fun
  6. We haven't been away before Christmas for several years - not since 2013 when we last went to the Christmas markets in Ljubljana and Zagreb - so booking a trip to Bolzano before Christmas this year was something that happened quite spontaneously. We were watching the Eurovision song contest... or, at least, I was watching the Eurovision song contest... and Tim was sitting in the same room watching it under sufferance... and somehow he managed to get so bored that he started playing around on Skyscanner and found cheap flights to Verona in the week before Christmas. Admittedly they were from Gatwick and would require quite an early start, but the temptation of a cheap flight was too much for us to resist. When researching where we could go, Tim found some pictures of Bolzano in winter which looked really pretty, and so we soon had a plan When the alarm went off at 02.30 this morning I was admittedly slightly less excited by the concept of an early flight from Gatwick We had a smooth journey down though, arriving at the airport by 6am and with plenty of time to have breakfast at Wetherspoons. Our plane boarded quite early too, but unfortunately it ended up taking off around 50 minutes behind schedule. Unbeknown to us, there is some sort of industrial action going on in France at the moment which includes French air traffic controllers being on strike. Because of that, lots of flights were being rerouted to avoid flying through French air space, and that was causing congestion. I ended up falling asleep before we took off, although take off itself did wake me up because it felt like the plane was being blown from side to side as it raced down the runway! There was a bit of turbulence during the flight itself and overall the skies seemed quite cloudy. We didn't have much of a view because we had middle and aisle seats, and the person next to us had the window blind closed for a lot of the flight. It was around midday by the time we touched down in Verona, where the pilot announced that it was a rather mild 12 degrees! It certainly didn't feel freezing cold when we stepped off the plane and I started to regret having brought so many cold weather clothes with me. We've been to Verona before but never to Verona airport, and first impressions were that it seemed pretty small. We had to queue for ages at passport control because pretty much the entire flight had to pass through three automatic passport control gates, but the upside was that our luggage was already coming round the conveyor belt by the time we got out There is a frequent bus service from the airport to the main train station in Verona, with tickets costing €6. There was a bus outside the airport when we arrived, but there was quite a big queue and it already seemed pretty full. We decided to give it a miss rather than try to push our way on and wait for the next one instead. That turned out to be a good decision; the next bus came within 15 minutes and it wasn't more than half full, which was good because it was one of those airport buses that doesn't have anywhere to put your luggage. We arrived at Verona Porta Nuova around 13.15 and went to a ticket machine to buy our tickets to Bolzano. It cost around €15 each on the regional train, which didn't seem too bad considering it was a journey of nearly 2 hours. The next train was leaving at 13.50, so we purchased tickets for that and then had a look around the station to see whether there was anywhere we could get a quick lunch while we waited. The eating options in Verona's station turned out to be a bit limited, and so we ended up getting a snack from Burger King (I know, this sounds like a dreadful thing to do when you've just arrived in Italy, but we were hungry ). All the signs and railway announcements said that our train was running late, but confusingly it actually turned up early and we were soon on our way towards Bolzano. Once we had left the outskirts of Verona behind, the journey quickly became really scenic. Although it was quite a grey and cloudy day, the mountains still looked beautiful (The photos aren't very good because there was a lot of reflection in the train window!) We passed through lots of interesting little places, and within half an hour or so we were getting our first glimpses of little bits of snow on the mountaintops. We arrived in Bolzano just after 15.30 and made our way from the main train station to the station of the Renon cable car. Our hotel is in the village of Soprabolzano/Oberbozen, which sits on a plateau above the main city of Bolzano at an altitude of around 1200m. Because we anticipated that we might be travelling up and down the mountain quite a bit over the next few days, we invested in a Mobilcard; this cost €28 each for 7 days and allows us to travel on most of the public transport in the region. The choices are 1, 3 or 7 days and it made sense to buy for 7, even though we aren't here for that long, because it was only €5 more than for the 3-day pass, and a single journey on the Renon cablecar would otherwise cost €6 each. This is the first time we've ever caught a cable car to our hotel and so I was quite excited As we got higher up we could see more snow in the distance. Soon we were at the top and only had a walk of a few hundred metres to get to our hotel. There were tiny little patches of snow on the grass, which suggested that there had recently been snow up here but that it had now thawed. We found the hotel without any difficulties but it was all shut up and there was a sign saying that reception would be open again at 18.00. Luckily, the owners had left us a note with our key... and luckily we were able to read German to follow the instructions We found our room and it is really beautiful It's more like a studio apartment than a hotel room. And the views out the window are fantastic I was in definite need of a nap by this point, so it was early evening by the time we set out to find some food. Everywhere was looking very festive There aren't loads of restaurant options up here, but we found a little pizzeria and shared a four cheeses plus a salami pizza. Then it was back to the hotel for an early night! The weather forecast isn't great for the next couple of days, but rain-permitting I'm definitely looking forward to exploring more tomorrow
  7. Today we didn't need to travel anywhere for a change, so we opted to have a relaxing day in Bolzano. We spent the morning exploring the town centre, which is really beautiful. The patterned roof of the cathedral looked lovely against the clear blue sky. Turrets seemed to be a popular feature on many of the big buildings. The centre of town is quite compact and so before long we found ourselves walking in a park alongside the river Talfer. We saw an enormous castle, surrounded by vineyards. The weather was so clear that in the distance we got our first glimpse of the spiky Dolomites. The views of the countryside surrounding Bolzano were gorgeous... ...and we spotted even more castles in the distance. After a few miles we crossed the river and walked back along the other side. We were aiming for the Siegesplatz, where there is a controversial victory monument. The monument was erected on the orders of Mussolini following the annexation of South Tyrol, to celebrate the victory of Italy in the First World War. Its construction was seen as extremely provocative by the German-speaking population at the time and it continues to be a source of tension, to the extent that it is permanently fenced off to stop people defacing it. We walked back into the centre of town, towards the archaeological museum. We don't often visit museums when we are on holiday, but this one is the home of Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy of a man who lived around 3000 BC and who was found in the nearby mountains in 1991. There is an interesting exhibition in the museum featuring his tools and clothing and what they have allowed scientists to deduce about life at the time. In the afternoon we decided to take the Renon cablecar to Oberbozen, which is situated on a high plateau above the town. The cablecar is extremely modern and is apparently the longest cable car journey in the world at 4km. It certainly felt like a long journey and there were some beautiful views. When we got off the cablecar it was a bit tantalising, because the flat nature of the plateau meant that it was difficult to find a good vantage point to get views over the mountains. The shape of this mountain was particularly striking. Some of the other mountains looked very spiky too, but it was difficult to capture them clearly in photos. The Italian maps and path markers weren't quite as easy to understand as in Switzerland, but we eventually found a nice path to walk along towards the village of Maria Himmelfahrt. There was a lovely restaurant there where we stopped for a late lunch and didn't hear any Italian spoken at all. Pudding was distinctly un-Italian anyway! We could have continued our walk down to Bolzano, but unfortunately by the time we had finished eating the afternoon storm clouds were starting to gather. We decided to walk back to Oberbozen and take the cablecar down again instead. We managed to get down just before the rain started. It was another lovely day in beautiful surroundings
  8. Today was the second leg of our journey to Bolzano. We woke up in Zernez and after a lovely breakfast in the hotel took the short walk to the train station, from where we were due to be catching a postbus across the border to Mals in Italy. We were booked on a bus at 09.46, but having arrived at the station a bit too early, we ended up accidentally getting on the bus departing half an hour before that one instead. The destination was the same, so it didn't matter, and although it later transpired that we'd ended up on the slow bus which stopped at every single village rather than the express bus which went almost directly to Mals, it was actually rather fun to see all the villages en route. As we left Zernez, the bus took us first through the Swiss National Park towards the Ofen Pass. The route was quite hair-raising at times as we travelled alongside a river gorge. From the top of the pass we had a view towards another snowy peak... ...before we started descending into Val Müstair. There were some beautiful little villages in the valley... ..and they had an impressive backdrop. Shortly after Müstair we crossed the border into Italy. We were now officially in Südtirol The postbus terminated in Mals, a little village where almost the entire population is German-speaking. The entire province of Südtirol (or Alto Adige in Italian) was originally part of Austria, but was annexed by Italy following the First World War. At that time it was a completely German-speaking region, but following attempts to "Italianize" it during the Fascist era, both languages are now widely spoken. After the Second World War there was a brief terrorist campaign to liberate the area from Italian rule, and following intervention from the United Nations the local population ultimately secured significant autonomy from Italy. These days both German and Italian are official languages and all public signs are billingual. From Mals we were able to continue our journey towards Bolzano (or Bozen, as it is called in German) by train, first travelling to Merano. The scenery was just as attractive this side of the border, the mountains dotted with rather impressive castles. We arrived in Merano around lunchtime, so decided to make a quick halt there and grab some lunch. It took us a while to find the town centre, but when we did we were amazed to register quite how un-Italian it felt. Almost the first thing we saw as we left the station was a fastfood van selling "Würstl und Kraut"; this menu sign was obligingly translated into Italian too, but it didn't sound like a meal most Italians would be impressed by We eventually found a slightly more upmarket restaurant in town, where the menu featured Wiener Schnitzel, Gröstl and Apfelschorle. From Merano it was only a further short train ride to Bolzano, the regional capital. We are staying here for four nights in total, so were relieved to find that the apartment we had booked was extremely nice. After settling in, we set off for a preliminary stroll around Bolzano. The first sight we came to was the cathedral, with its pretty tiled roof. The cathedral is situated in the main square, Waltherplatz, where there is a big memorial to Walther von der Vogelweide, a twelfth century German poet. Although this is the centre of town, the mountains aren't far away. From the short walk we had, it seems like Bolzano is full of beautiful buildings. This is our favourite view so far, though. Tomorrow we hope to explore Bolzano in more detail and perhaps try the cable car above the town
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