Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shiny baubles

We take our leave of Innsbruck this morning. Last time I was here there was snow on the Alps as a backdrop to the City. But this time, we are about a month later in the year and the only snow are small pockets high on the slopes. The clouds roll down the mountains and then retreat, all the time, as though there is some huge being sitting atop, breathing heavily. So the backdrop is just as picturesque!

We head out of town towards Wettens. As we turn on to the motorway from the back streets of Innsbruck and then Innsbruck Hall, the traffic is building. Then, with a pile of traffic behind us, we spy a church - outside Volders - out in the middle of nowhere and attached obviously to a monastery or something like it. This one is different. The masonary on the outside of the building is decorated and painted with a pinkish orange hue. So quick exit right as I see a road leading down! We have inadvertently lucked upon Karlskirche! St Charles Church. Built from 1620 in the Early Baroque style, this church is reminiscent of the ornate St James Cathedral in Innsbruck, but with one major difference.

There is a quiet beauty about this one that was built for an order called the Servites. And if they are true to their vows of poverty, then to whom does this glorious example of marble and gilt and painted beauty belong? You and me? And it is filled with light thanks to the inclusion of a row of leadlight windows halfway down the walls and around the wall of the cupola that towers above us. There are also a number of impressive crystal chandeliers hanging throughout the Church - maybe made by Swarovski?

We cannot get in to the main body of the Church which is behind locked gilded gates, nor to the two side chapels devoted to Mary, but nevertheless the sight is breathtaking. And it adds to the dilema I face when confronted with such wealth in the properties of a Church that preaches support for the poor and oppressed. Especially when I have the first person examples given by Aunty Mary and now Michael. Hmmmm. The attached former monastery now houses a private secondary school.

Now, I'm nothing if not a glitter girl - Donna is Bling queen, but I guess I would say I come a close second! Last time we were here in Innsbruck, we went to the Swarovski Cristal shop in town but this time, I have convinced Michael to go with me out to the
Swarovski Kristallwetten outlet. Situated just outside Innsbruck, you enter this ‘magical’ world but only after the extraction of €9.50 per person (€2 discount if you make a purchase in the shop!) There is the easily recognisable entrance – entering behind cascading water from the ‘Giants’ face. The information leaflet describes it as thus:
"Here a subterranean landscape made of thousands of crystals awaits you. Be prepared to embark on a journey between dreams and reality, where you will encounter fairytale characters and mythical creatures ... As soon as you step inside you find yourself in a deep blue chamber, far removed from everyday life" As Rod Serling said " come to a crossroads and there is a signpost up ahead, and the next stop - The Twilight Zone'". What a load of crock! This would have to be one of the world's greatest acheivements of advertising hype and con-artistry.

The whole experience is in reality a sometimes clever combination of animatronics, lightshows, artistic elements and a maze like warren of rooms that are very dark with a one-way system through the lot. And the number of people moving through is amazing - the company is certainly raking in the money through here.

We are disappointed as we had expected the experience to be more like that at the Wedgewod factory where you learned something of the production and the honing of artisitic skills. But it was nothing like that. In fact, you see little of Swarovski Crystals as they are commercially seen until the very last room where there is a collection of historic pieces. And from here, with your eyes becoming readjusted to normal lighting, you step into the showroom and sales area.

And this is where the cleverness of marketing really shines. The lighting is bright and the large room is white and mirrored with dazzling reflections going on and on and on. The works on sale range from crystal topped pencils for €3 each up to ornate pieces with price tags just shy of €5,000. And the sales staff are run off their feet!
You can custom make pieces yourself, or have a jeweller do it for you. But spend you must!

So Donna, we didn't miss a damn thing last time, and I wish we had not wasted the money (or time) here today. In fact, the best part of the visit for us was the cakes and coffee in the Coffee Shop at the end of our visit!

When we leave Wettens it is well after 12 noon and we now turn for the south and further east of Austria. We have read of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the highway through the park is considered to be one the world's most scenic. I try to program Kate to take us from Innsibruck through Zell am See and then to Lienz before heading for Salzburg - but she advises that there is no route. And when I add another way-point through Hallstatt, the route becomes a 7.5 hour epic.

We just don't have that amount of time, so we begrudgingly give the Lienz section a miss - pity, because this is where the really scenic area is. And again, I am sorry that we spent so much time at the blasted Swarovski place. Still, we pass through three of the four seasons in one day (everything but summer today with the highest temperature a cool 18.5°C) and some truly stunning scenery.

The rain follows us for a time and you can now appreciate why there is an abundance of water in this high country. Eveywhere you turn there is running water, rivers, stream, waterfalls. Water, water everywhere! And still the mountains and valleys breathe out the clouds!

This afternoon we cross from Austria unwittingly back in to Germany - a tight litte corner as we travelled north from Zell am See before we head east again to Salzburg. It came as something of a shock - I had through that the road was further east, but obviously not! And then back into Oesterrich! We pass lots of quirky little carvings, statues, advertising hoardings and roundabout art on the way.

And finally we arrive at Salzburg. As we come into the outer suburbs we glance to our left an see the imposing Festung Hohensalzburg - the Salzburg Fortress, and a couple dressed in traditional garb walking through the residential streets. The roads near the Jugendgästehaus (translated liteally as Youth and Family Guest House) are the biggest mess that we have encountered to date. The route as told by Kate is totally blocked, and we end up on a circutious route to get here.

The hostel is a pleasant surprise. It is modern, has a cafeteria and out room is a family room on the second floor that is huge with a separate shower and toilet, windows that open wide for fresh breeze and beds that are comfortable enough for me to have a nap. And we have th MOST amazing view of the fortress from the windows in our room. Parking is outside the door and the only drawback is that there is no internet connection in the rooms - but the wifi in the downstairs area is free.

There is a large convention centre next door and today there is a gathering of African people. Their music continues with the same lyrics, but with differing rythym and beats for hour after hour. And there is dancing in the grounds. And the sound of children's laughter and adult's joy - wonderful sounds to hear!

Tonight we decided to eat in once I have had a nap. The pizza cooked by the staff is hot, the crust crisp and altogether delicious. Add to this a glass of red wine and I am as happy as the proverbial pig. I have missed the nightly free showing of 'The Sound of Music', but believe me, I will make sure that I am in time for it tomorrow night!!!!

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