I should start by saying that until only a few weeks before we left, Cara and I had no intention of stopping in Austria. It was a side note on our journey from Italy to Germany. A beautiful side-note, I suppose, but I was more than happy to simply enjoy the scenery as our train worked its way through the Central Alps (I say, as I type under artificial light on the train; we’ve been in a tunnel for a few minutes) like the little engine that could. The plan made sense until we realized that we had to include Austria in our Select Eurail Pass. Well then, we had to make a stop in Austria, and it seemed that Innsbruck made the most sense.
Innsbruck is a quaint city of approximately 120,000 extremely fit mountain people. It is situated in the Inn valley between the Nordketten mountains and the Central Alps, and is named after the Inn River which runs through it. Innsbruck played host to two Olympic Winter Games (in the 60’s and 70’s), and as the ever industrious Austrians were wont to do, made extensive use of the infrastructure from the ’64 Olympics in preparing for those in ’76, and have continued to make ample use of the facilities (hosting annual alpine ski competitions, transforming the Olympic stadium into a sports and concert venue, and the Olympic village into budget housing). We only had one full day in Innsbruck (with 2 nights booked in our 600 year old hotel), so Cara and I wanted to make the most of it.
We started early with a trip up the Nordketten mountains by funicular (a sort of very steep train), and the Nordkettenbahnen (a sort of gondola) which took us from city level, at approximately 570m above sea level, up to approximately 2800m at the peak of Hafelekar. The air was a little thin up there, and Cara and I were both huffing and puffing by the time we reached the very peak (a ten minute hike from the bahnen station). Even with that, the air felt so clean and fresh, it seemed as though the lung cancer we’d likely initiated in the land of mopeds and vaporettos was quickly reversed. In Italy, we saw many beautiful buildings. We visited historic sites, and appreciated the toil of man. On Hafelekar, we paid homage to nature. Its immensity and its wonder. We stood on the peak and looked over Innsbruck, we stared into the distance at mountains even taller than the one on which we stood. I’m struck now, in reflection, that I’ve been to the Alps and stood upon them, before doing the same in our own Canadian Rockies. This is something I am now moreso motivated to do.
Cara and I explored and hiked the various trails snaking along the peaks and faces of the range and savoured every molecule of mountain air we could manage. I even yodelled and listened as my voice (my voice!) echoed off mountain walls and through valleys kilometers away, and found its way back to my ears behind me. We took many photos and honestly, went slowly as we didn’t want to leave. This, on its own, was worth the visit to Innsbruck.
We made our way down to Seegrube, which was the station approximately 2/3s (probably close to 2km above sea level) of the way up the mountain, and sat down to look over Innsbruck one last time. I enjoyed an Austrian beer (don’t worry, it was past noon) and a pretzel, and Cara savoured an ice cold Coke. We then hopped back on the bahnen and left that place, which, seemed so close to the sky.
The afternoon consisted of sightseeing at the various landmarks and historical sights of Innsbruck. We used the Sightseeing Bus to get around, which was useful as it rained for the entire evening. Perhaps this was lucky, as it was clear and beautiful for our entire trip up the mountain, but it also put a certain damper on our afternoon touring.
First, we visited Hofkirche (the Imperial Church), where the Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I (though not his body) is housed. His tomb was not complete at the time of his death, and although his heirs saw to the completion of the monument, they did not wish to disturb his body at its initial resting place.
We next visited a Tirolean (Tirol is the region of Austria in which Innsbruck is) Museum where we saw many pieces of history and got to go inside reconstructed historical rooms (which was really cool).
We then paid a visit to Bergisel (the Olympic ski jump; we were able to go to the top and see what the skiers see before they push off. Believe it or not, the path of the jump points directly towards an ancient cemetery… I don’t know about you, but I would find that very unnerving to jump towards). Ambras Castle closed out our day. We had intended to visit the Swarovski Cristelwallten (Crystal World), which is a garden and cavern filled with spectacular natural crystals. It is described as a chamber of glittering dreams. Unfortunately, everything touristy in Innsbruck closes at 5, and we simply ran out of time. Cara and I both decided we would like to do another visit to Austria in the future, to do Innsbruck properly, and also visit Vienna and Salzburg. Who knows, maybe we could also do some skiing in the Alps (if we go during the winter).
Anyway, that’s enough of an update on our short, but excellent stay in Austria. If ever you are passing through Innsbruck, it is worthwhile to schedule a few (3-4 hours) to go up the Nordketten. It truly is breathtaking, and was the definite highlight of the stop.
We’re on the train to Munich now. We’ll watch as the mountains melt away and we descend into our first German stop. Check back in a few days, or follow the blog, to see what we get up to there!
Until next time, auf wiedersehen!