07/26/2016 - 07/28/2016
Innsbruck is one of those cities whose name is emblematic of Austria. The name conjures up images of snowy Alps, Olympic skiers, and funiculars. But would there be anything for a family with small children in the height of summer? I was optimistic enough to schedule two nights there, thinking that if we ran out of things to do there would surely be other interesting towns in the area. Thanks to our unscheduled hike at Ehrenberg Castle, we arrived in town late and had to rush to the old town to get dinner before the restaurants closed. It was raining fairly hard but we were determined to eat in a real restaurant on our first night in Austria, so we threw on our ponchos and the stroller covers and braved the elements. When we arrived at our chosen restaurant they were full, and I started to thumb through TripAdvisor again when a middle aged man came over to us. "You don't want to eat here," he said. "It's a gay bar." I found this a little hard to believe but he was already giving Mei Ling directions to another restaurant. I was rather dubious but when we arrived I found it was another top choice on TripAdvisor. We ended up having an excellent meat-and-potatoes type meal that gave us everything we needed for a good night's sleep.
I needn't have worried that we were spending too much time in Innsbruck. We bought fruit in the Markthalle, the main covered market, and had a satisfying lunch of Weisswurst and Käsekrainer. The latter is a long, skinny pork sausage made with chunks of cheese that is a local specialty.
Over the next two hours we explored the old town of Innsbruck. One of the highlights was the landmark Goldenes Daschl, a gold-colored copper-roofed balcony that projects from the front of a building at the end of the main street Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse. Many of the buildings in the center had beautiful, ornate facades that looked like they had been built yesterday. On the other side of the River Inn we could see rows of brightly-painted houses. Every direction we looked, the formidable Tyrolean Alps loomed at the outskirts of the city.
We retrieved the SUV to visit Schloss Ambras, a Renaissance era castle in the hills just south of the city. We didn't feel any need to tour the interior, but had a pleasant walk around the grounds. There was an ice cream truck for the kids as well.
I was thinking of Mei Ling when I put our next stop on our itinerary. Swarovski Crystal Worlds is like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of lead glass jewelry. The museum itself is a little tawdry but the grounds are quite pleasant, especially the hillside troll waterfall and the crystal rain clouds over the pond.
Dinner was one of our classic European Odysseys. Our first attempt was located somewhere up in the steep hills north of the River Inn. We struck out with the SUV's built-in GPS, and I eventually located the place with Google Maps. It was all for nought, however, as the place was closed up with a sign on the door apologizing for their summer vacation. There didn't seem to be anywhere else close by, so we drove another half hour to the hills south of the city where we found our target to be open and very popular with the locals. We ended up with a good meal and even better views of the valley beneath us.
The next morning we got on the road quickly and made our first stop in the neighboring town of Hall in Tirol. The small city had an old town that was even larger than Innsbruck's, yet the narrow lanes were largely free of tourists. As in Innsbruck, the building facades all appeared freshly painted and were festooned with bouquets of flowers. Overlooking it all was the majestic tower of the Parish Church of St. Nicolas.
Our last stop in the Tyrol was Kufstein, best known for its Fortress sitting atop a rocky perch 300 feet above the town. The pedestrian area around the fortress was very colorful with elevated passageways connecting buildings on opposite sides of the streets, We took the funicular to the fortress and walked the ramparts for a while.
From Kufstein it would only have taken an hour and a half to get to Salzburg, but I was determined to see the Grossglockner High Alpine Road so instead of east we drove south into the mountainous heart of Austria.