Friday, July 24, 2009

All that glitters is not gold (well, not literally)

Oh thank god for those cooler cotton sheets. The beds are narrow, the road outside probably the busiest one in all Austria (let alone Innsbruck) late at night and the night is hot and clammy following a lovely mountain storm that initially promised the delivery of cooler air - but with the windows shut because of the noise - yuk!

So we have to pull ourselves out of bed this morning - thankfully the shower is hard and hot so its not long before we are feeling more human. Down to breakfast right on 9am just as they are packing up for the morning (Michael mistakenly heard breakfast until 10 am when he checked us in) so we finish our rolls and coffee in a hurry so that the girls can clean up. The lift in this building is something out of some industrial past. You press a button to call it and then when it arrives, you pull open a door, stepping in and closing it behind you. There is no inner door, and heaven help anyone who is standing in the way when you have to open it at your floor as there is no window to make sure you are not going to hit anyone! Turns out that most of this complex houses university students in term with all the rooms available for the Youth Hostel during holidays (such as now). This room would be a nightmare for a student wanting to study - noisy and none to comfortable, but OK for a night or two!

One big plus is that we can take the bus from outside the hostel into Museumstrasse on the edge of the Old Town. So today we abandon the car (and Kate and Frances) and take the O bus that gets us to our destination in about 15 minutes. First thing we take a look at is the Hofkirche (Court Church) as it is just across the road from where we alight. So through a plaza we walk to discover the entry to the church is through the Tyrolean Museum of Folk Art. We buy a combined museum ticket and in through one of the loveliest cloister gardens we have seen to date we go to enter the church. This church is important as it records quite a bit of history (and displays some magnificent works of art) relating to the Hapsburg dynasty and the reign of Maximilian I whose empty sarcochagus is surrounded by 28 larger than life bronze statues of his ancestors, relatives and heroes. And while we are here, the impressive clock is being re-gilded and I sit for a while, mesmerised by the attention to detail it is getting from the craftsman perched high above me in a cherry picker.

Then it is back out into the street. We are very close to the main square now and I lead Michael down a narrow shopping street in the pederstrianised centre so that we come upon the Golden Roof from its side view. In doing so, we pass by a lot of cafes with their tables set out on the streets and the tourists packed in. And again we are astounded at the number of people travelling with their dogs. We see them on leads, in bags, in prams and even sitting at the table with their 'owners'. What next?

The Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) is an impressive sight and Innsbruck's best known landmark. Built between 1420 and 1460, it was the Tyrolean state residence for some time. The 2567 gilded copper disc tiles gleam in the sun and attract every tourist for kms around! You have never seen so many cameras. But the best views Michael discovers are from the viewing platform high on the City Tower with its 187 steps (a piece of cake he says after the 718 of a couple of days ago).

From here we walk the Old City, mesmerised by the amazing architecture. The old city walls are still visible - they now form part of the walls of many buildings which have an impregnable look with the buttressed walls. There is (art) graffiti on many buildings - the earliest form of advertising as the scenes depicted usually relate to the activities carried out in the building. And later advertising took the form of shingles hung outside the door with similar designs. After taking a look inside St James Cathedral with its amazing cupola, frescoes and artworks, it's time to grab some lunch (given that breakfast was such a hit and miss this morning).
We wait for ages for some petulant teenager to get up and join her family from the table they were sitting at before we can sit at the Panini Cafe. Sounds very chic, but there were lots of locals eating there and the food looked fab. And it was. Our order was:
Tomaten Spinat Omelett mit tomaten und cremespinat gerfüllt (Tomato Spinach Omelette with tomato and creamed [pureed actually] spinach filling) Michael
Bauern Omelett mit Röstgemüse gebratenen kartoffelscheiben und speckwürfel (Farmers Omelette with roast vegetables, fried potato slices and ham speck) Maria
Washed down with Apple juice and sparkling mineral water. Yu-um.

After we finish, we continue our exploration towards the Visitor Information Centre. Our plan had been to go there first this morning and then to take the 'Sightseer' Bus. But we got a little waylaid! The Centre is busy, but the lass who gives us the information we are after is cheerful and helpful. The bus leaves down past where we alighted this morning and runs every 40 minutes. So off we set. Turns out we have just missed one. But he swings back on the way to havingsome lunch so on we get only to find ourselves parked with two other couples in a back street while the driver disappears for 20 minutes. Oh well, at least we are out of the sun! The route skirts the old city passed sights such as the Congress building, the Arsenal Museum, the Provincial Theatre, Rudolph's Fountain, the Triumphal Arch, the Olympic Sports Stadium, the Bergisel Stadium with its ski jump first built in 1925 and the Ambras Castle. The bus is operated by the local government bus agency and the driver could not be more bored or less enthusiastic if we had given him detailed instructions. Not the best advertisement for the service. We don't get off anywhere though as none of them appeal enough for us to want to spend 40 - 80 minutes there. Besides, we have seen the entry to the Nordketten Bahnen (Northern Cable Railway) just up the road from where we got the bus. Back in Innsbruck proper, off to the cable railway station we trundle.

We are headed up the mountain by cable railway and car to have a look at Innsbruck from on high. The views from up here are great. Not only do you see still in quite a good amount of detail, the City of Innsbruck and the Inn River that parts it, but you are looking across the valley into the southern Alps. The day is now very overcast and it begins to rain while we are at the middle station of Hungerburg. We have climbed 300 m at an average grade of 46% and 10 metres/second and from here need to change to a cable car to go higher to Seegrubbe at 1905 m.

In the car before us were three young guys with their cycles - one much dirtier than the others. Michael makes a comment about the lack of suspension on one of the bikes and they respond, so a conversation is struck. Fabian is the muddy one with a well worn bike. Robin and Wolter on the other hand are much cleaner with newer looking bikes. Turns out that Fabian is the local who loves to come down the mountain bike track while the others are visitors from Belgium who have hired bikes. They will go down the graded and gravelled 'road'. Road my arse - it is a hairpin nightmare for any driver let alone a cyclist as one of them finds out later, coming to grief just after the first turn.

But Fabian is a seasoned mountain-biker. Greg, you have no idea what these tracks are like. The have tight corners on cambered board hoardings that are almost vertical. They go down forested slopes and muddy dips. In all, they go down about 1400m in altitude and Fabian tells us that if he takes is tast he can do it in 20 minutes, but prefers to take a more technical approach and 30 minutes with fewer errors. I ask him how many times he has broken his leg and he laughs and says none. He also admits that his Mum has never seen the track - she doesn't want to. And neither would I !! But Fabian, give her a break and wash your own clothes - u mess 'em, u clean 'em! (From another Mum!) And Fabian's mum - you don't want to see the path he cycles - it will give you nightmares!

Finally, when it is raining quite heavily and the afternoon light is waning after 6pm we head back in to the valley. We decide to go back to the hostel and get the car so we can find somewhere more authentic than the tourist traps in the old city for dinner. Ah, but first, as we are walking back to the bus stop, we call in at the arko Confiserie for some more pralines (we are missing the ones we bought for Steph!). Hmmm - remember this shop well from our trip last time (he he he).

After driving around for about half an hour, we finally find a great little restaurant called Burgtaberne run by the Drucker family - Chef Barry, his wife Marlene and their very hospitable son Bernard. They suggest that we eat out in the patio as it is cooler which was very nice. Bernard speaks more than a little English - quite well in fact. He apologises that their menu is only in German and we reply that we are trying to improve. He jokes that we do not go to the Old City to have dinner but we tell him that we went there this afternoon and want to have something more authentic. When he comes to take our order, I request Schnitzel but before I can finish, he asks if we want to eat authentic Austrian food. When we say yes, and ask his recommendation, his first comment is that his Dad is cooking and he likes all his food - how nice! And then he suggests:
Speckknödel mit Sauerkraut (Ham and herbs formed into breaded meatballs with sauerkraut) Michael
Tiroler Gröstl vom Tafelspär mit Spergelei und Krautsalat (Tirolean Beef with Fried potato, Fried egg and cabbage salad) Maria
Home made Apple Strüdel with vanilla ice cream and fresh cream Heaven!
and then finish it with Espresso coffees.
The food is fabulous and the service is fantastic. That cabbage salad I had is so refreshing and delicious that I ask for the recipe. No telling here - I will use it at home!
Bernard you do your parent's proud! Well done. Bernard also tells us that in the last month he has had two other Australian groups who have eaten there - FANTASTIC the Aussies are getting away from the fast foods!

He tells us that after operating the restaurant for the last five years, that in three weeks, they are closing the restaurant and re-styling it to a coffee house (that will still offer light meals) called Virger-Stüβe. So, if you are ever in Innsbruck, look them up, you will not be disappointed! You will find them in Universitätsstr between Kaiserjägerstr and Dreiheiligenstr. And make sure you let them know you saw them here!

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