FAR OUT & ABOUT: A Colorful Trip

A former senior editor of this newspaper once suggested that my travel articles should not be so uniformly “rosy,” so this time I will try to use a broader palette in painting the highlights of our recent trip to Austria and Germany.

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Published August 23, 2013 7:22 PM
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dscn0876A former senior editor of this newspaper once suggested that my travel articles should not be so uniformly “rosy,” so this time I will try to use a broader palette in painting the highlights of our recent trip to Austria and Germany.

 

By Paul Hicks

 

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A former senior editor of this newspaper once suggested that my travel articles should not be so uniformly “rosy,” so this time I will try to use a broader palette in painting the highlights of our recent trip to Austria and Germany.

 

dscn0907Our main destinations were Innsbruck and Munich, but we discovered that the best gateway for our purposes was the Zurich airport. Even though the flight was fine, I’ll dab on a bit of gray at this point, because Delta left my bag at JFK, and it took two days to reach us.

 

We rented a car and drove through Switzerland to the small city called Feldkirch in the westernmost part of the Austrian Alps. Along the way, we passed many scenic places where we could almost hear Julie Andrews singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

 

One day we drove high up into the mountains and watched hang gliders soaring over a glacial blue-green river. As we started down a steep, narrow road, a large farm tractor came barreling up toward us, forcing a quick reversal of our stick-shift car a hundred yards or more uphill before he could pass (color that experience purple).

 

Rather than tackle the Arlberg Pass, we traveled to Innsbruck via the Arlberg Strassentunnel (Europe’s third longest), stopping for lunch in St. Anton. It was there that Hannes Schneider developed modern skiing techniques in the early 1900s and opened a skiing school that is still one of the most famous in the world.

 

Austria’s expertise in the field of skiing has earned it the right to host two Winter Olympic Games, in 1962 and 1976, both times in Innsbruck. The gleaming silver Bergisel ski jump south of this Tyrolean capital is a striking architectural feature and remains the site of a major annual European ski jumping competition.

 

Our hotel in the Old City, the Goldener Adler (Golden Eagle), claims to have had Mozart and Goethe, as well as many other notable guests, during its long history.

 

dscn0888Innsbruck is a very walkable city with convenient trams available when you need them. Our favorite walk took us through the lovely Hofgarten to the impressive Hofkirche (royal court garden and church). The ticket to the gothic church and cloister included entrance to the adjoining museum that houses a fascinating collection of Tyrolean folk art, traditional clothing and interiors of rooms dating back to the 16th century.

 

In our walks around both Innsbruck and Munich, we saw many well-dressed men and women wearing similar Tyrolean and Bavarian outfits, including lederhosen and designer-made dirndl dresses. As we passed a wedding party gathered before Innsbruck’s most iconic landmark (a building called the “Golden Roof”) we noticed that the bridesmaids were all wearing dirndls with aprons in a rainbow of colors.

 

The weather was cloudy the day we took the funicular railroad from the center of Innsbruck part way up a nearby slope rather than go to the higher levels where it was snowing. Instead, we enjoyed a comfortable walk down a long wooded trail to the Alpenzoo and the train back (our kind of mountain climbing). Later that evening we attended a free brass band concert in a city square and topped off the evening with apple and cheese strudels at a café run by Vienna’s famous Hotel Sacher.

 

dscn0896It was an easy drive to Munich, but dropping off the rental car proved to be quite a challenge. Just as we approached our destination we were stopped by a parade of demonstrators who were waving Turkish flags and expressing solidarity with the protestors in Istanbul. Despite the delay, it was an interesting insight into the life of Germany’s largest ethnic minority.

 

Our hotel, the Torbrau, was comfortable and centrally located. Nearby is a wonderful outdoor market where every day but Sunday you can enjoy the sights and smells of all kinds of food, spices, flowers and Bavarian specialties. From there it is a short walk to see and hear the Glockenspiel perform in the belfry at the Ratshaus (city hall). At 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. in the summer, the carillon plays while life-size figures reenact historical Bavarian events.

 

A bit further away is a vast park, even larger than Central Park, called the English Garden, where we watched all sorts of activities during a long walk. We passed a game of cricket on one field while nearby a group that looked like a cast from Monty Python were holding a mock battle with padded swords and cross-bows that shot what looked like arrows tipped with whiffle balls.

 

Further on we saw students in wet suits engage in the sport of “urban surfing” as they dove upstream with their surf boards into a fast-flowing river that runs through the park. Where the fast water meets the slow a wave is formed, and the challenge is to stand up on the board and ride the wave without being swept downstream.

 

dscn0931We discovered the popular beer garden in the center of the park just as our legs were about to give out. To the tunes of a Bavarian oom-pah band, we quenched our thirst with steins of radler (a mixture of beer and lemonade) while munching on an enormous pretzel.

 

All the guides to Munich list the Nymphenburg Palace as a top attraction, but we were glad to admire the palace from the outside and devote more time to the gardens and pavilions. Equally enjoyable was a walk around the adjacent Botanical Gardens. Although these attractions are in a suburban area, they are easily reached by a tram.

 

If you are visiting Munich with children, or even if you aren’t, the German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology (Deutsches Museum for short) should not be missed. Frommer’s calls it the “Louvre of Technology,” and notes that “it may be hard to drag the kids (adults) out of here.” We only scratched the surface, but especially enjoyed the computer section, which has its own “Internet Café.”

 

A travel article is not complete without some dining comments. In both Innsbruck and Munich we sampled a bit of the traditional fare, including schnitzel and red cabbage, but enjoyed many good and some excellent examples of what is called “neue cuisine.” It was the height of the white asparagus (spargel) season, and there are countless ways to enjoy this delicacy, which is an obsession with both Austrians and Germans.

 

When we set out to plan the trip, we were going to start in Vienna, but discovered that one of its main attractions — music — is missing in the summer. We then thought of visiting Salzburg and its great music festival, but were discouraged by the reports of large crowds and high prices. At the risk of sounding too “rosy,” our decision to enjoy the gemutlichkeit of western Austria and southern Germany was ausgezeichnet.

 

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