At about 10:30pm on our final night in Zurich, I hopped onto my email to find a number of emails from Air BnB and our Innsbruck host. Our accommodation had been cancelled. We had to find a new place.
At the 11th hour (literally), I desperately sent off requests to a number of different people. Our saviour at around 12am was Pia, a lovely Viennese born woman living in Innsbruck. And how lucky we were.
We arrived in Innsbruck the next day via another stunning train trip via the Brenner Pass through the Alps. The trip takes you from Switzerland, into Austria and Liechtenstein. I’m not sure if that means we can count this as a country visited, but I’m claiming it. Pia picked us up at the station and drove us up to her gorgeous apartment in a small town just outside Innsbruck called Aldrens.
At first we were unsure about staying outside of the city, as it meant taking a 15 minute bus ride in and out each day. In the end though, it turned out perfectly. Pia was an amazing host and had two gorgeous dogs (giving us a well needed pooch fix). The best part though, was her place had the most amazing views (almost 360 degrees) across the mountains surrounding Innsbruck. Every day we would sit on her amazing balcony and take in the breathtaking views – including a couple of thunderstorms which were quite spectacular.
Being away from the city, I really felt we got a taste of the real Innsbruck – how locals experience it. I don’t think it’s really a city that’s about the city (which feels like it’s some kind of weird mix of being stuck between the 1600s and the late 1990s), it’s a city that’s all about its surrounds.
While it does have a beautiful ‘old town’ which is a pedestrian zone with cobbled streets and nicely restored buildings, we didn’t feel like it offered anything that spectacular. The real attractions are the surrounding mountains that can be seen down every street scape and supply all sorts of snow sports in winter (they’ve had the Winter Olympics here) and hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking etc. in the summer.
On our first day we took the opportunity to really enjoy this part of Innsbruck and headed up the Nordkette mountain via funicular and cable car some 2300m above sea level. Our two day Innsbruck card (well worth the 41 Euro) allowed us to do this, see a number of other attractions and use public transport.
I cannot express how spectacular it was up there. It really took my breath away. While the view down into Innsbruck was a bit clouded, the other side was clear. Rocky mountains, forest, grassy hills, wildflowers and even the odd bit of snow as far as the eye could see. Simply stunning. I could have spent all day up there, but we had to get down to our next destination, the Innsbruck Alpen Zoo. So I took the opportunity to throw a sneaky summer snowball at Tim and we headed back down.
The Alpen Zoo, a zoo filled with native Austrian Alps animals, was a real treat. Tim and I both love zoos (so long as the animals are well looked after) and this one was a great example. We saw many animals we’ve not come across before and a few old favourites: Otters, wild cats, lynx, moose, ibex, beavers, a wolf, brown bears and more. We both loved the lynx and I was also quite fond of the beavers who had a little baby who was being super cute.
On day two we took a bus ride into the nearby town of Wattens – famous for being the home of Swarovski Crystal. For me though, it was about getting back to my roots. My grandfather (Pa), came from Austria and spent a number of years in Wattens working before he left to come to Australia around the time of WWII.
We checked out the Swarovski Crystal World – which was surprising quite spectacular despite being a bit of a tourist gimmick. It’s full of the most stunning crystal art installations and has quite a dark tone to it. But the real point of the trip was to visit the town and see if I could track down any of Pa’s old friends (or at least their relatives as Pa would have been over 100 by now).
Unfortunately we had little luck. We did manage to find a building that belonged to a family who Pa used to know. It once housed a chocolate shop and then a cafe, but it was literally having the roof pulled off it as we arrived – with apartments being built below. The rest of the town was pretty sleepy as it was the middle of the day and many things were closed. We headed back to Innsbruck, a little sad we didn’t meet anyone, but glad we’d made the trip. It did make me feel a little bit connected again to my Pa who passed away a number of years back. He was a bit of an adventure seeker and you could see how Wattens and the wider state of Tirol would have been the perfect playground for him.
Some of our other escapades while in Innsbruck included:
The Tyrolean Folk Art Museum: A wonderful collection of furniture, clothing, artefacts, craft, nic nacs, photos and so much more from Tyrolean history. My favourite was the replica farmhouse rooms. Walking into them you felt like you were stepping back in time.
Schloss Ambras: A 16th century renaissance castle, filled with amazing historical artefacts. The highlight of this would have had to be the Chamber of Art and Curiosities – a room filled with the most weird and wonderful things collected by Archduke Ferdinand II.
Chez Nico: Our un-notebale mention for food in Innsbruck. This place was number two on Trip Advisor with one patron saying it was the best vegetarian food in Europe. We went along based on this recommendation knowing little about it, only to find once the food started arriving that it was a 60 Euro degustation. The food was very pretty, but pretty bland and pretty much blew our budget for two days. Oh well. Live you learn.
Austian Food: It was great sampling our first Austrian fare. Having been vegetarian for about a year (recently converted back to my carnivorous ways), I wasn’t expecting to love Austrian food, but it must be in my bones. Give me a wurst (sausage), some sauerkraut, mustard and a hunk of bread and I’m a happy fräulein. We also had a great traditional Austrian meal at Wilder Mann resutaurant in Lans, the next town along from Aldrans. It’s apparently a bit of an institution. I had a gratinated pork steak. Yep. Pork covered with melted cheese. How can you go wrong?
It really was lovely getting to know the area that my Pa called home for so long. Once again, it reminded me how much I love being in nature. If I was going back, I would definitely stay out of the city again. It’s in the mountains that Innsbruck really comes alive.