Day 7 - Thursday, September 22, 2005 Cont'd...

We are now in the last of the Austrian cities we were to visit. Innsbruck. As we drive towards the city we pass some areas that had just a couple of weeks before been under flood waters. I had heard about it on the news and had hoped that we wouldn't get caught it in. There wasn't much visible damage, though we were told that the road on which the bus was driving was completely covered. It was hard to imagine the quantities of water required to do that.

Those few of us who did not go on the horse carriage tour were now brought to see the Olympic Ski jump. Noel told us a few tales of some brave (or should we say insane) souls who used various means to get from the top to the bottom. Like the group of guys in a rubber lifeboat. Sounded funny but not all of them survived the trip. The most interesting story was the drunk. He managed to make it down to the bottom with little more than a sprained finger...though most of his clothing had been scraped off!

A fair distance away, but at the base of the jump we stopped to see a small church, sorry, no digital picture. Will have to scan my film one. The interesting point was that there was also a small cemetery there...which people about to come the ski jump have a great view of. Must have been interesting for the athletes.

We were then brought to our hotel, the Grauer Bear. Interestingly enough, it was the very same hotel my mother's grandparents stayed at when they were in Innsbruck during the war. We even got a room in the old part of the hotel. Like in Salzburg, this hotel also had some electricity saving schemes, such as motion detectors in the hallways. There was also a motion detector enabled light in the little entrance way to our room. Unfortunately that one was so sensitive it went on whenever somebody reached up to scratch their head in the other room. We had to keep the door closed. But I'm getting ahead of myself, we haven't actually been shown our room yet. For now we dump our stuff in a storage room and head back out with Noel.

Turns out we were very close to the old city, about a block away. Noel brings us the long way around, showing us a couple more things, but the main goal of course was to bring us to the Swarovski store. This was the "factory" that we wanted to see. It was more of a museum of their work. In the front window was this incredible planet earth.

Inside, as you can see through the windows, there are a couple more displays. One of them contained a bull, which depending on the colour or direction of the light, would sometimes vanish. It was pretty neat. Downstairs was a display of dresses worn by Shirley Bassie. For those of you who don't know her by name, you might know her voice from singing Goldfinger.

Upstairs they had animal forms completely covered in tiny coloured crystals. Snakes, parrots, and even one giant iguana that must have been as tall as I was. And of course, there are the normal collection, their little animals and pieces of jewelry. I get a little fish and a necklace. For my sister, we bought a little cat holding up one paw. We thought it would be appropriate. See, while we were gone, my cat Mozart got lonely for his "mommy" and decided to start waking up my sister early in the morning. When she didn't hop right out of bed and rush down the hall to feed him, he reached up with one paw and started poking the closest available body part, her eyeball. We thought the little cat on the necklace would remind her of that.

Well, Noel goes off now to retrieve the others that were on the excursion, to give them the same tour as us. We are on our own for the longest time in the entire trip. Funnily enough, it is also in the smallest city. But there was lots to see. First, the landmark of Innsbruck, the Golden Dachl (Roof).

The story behind this goes as follows. Emperor Maximilian I was at odds with the Pope at that time, and was excommunicated from the Church. In the process, he lost all his lands and wealth. He was humiliated and the other nobles made fun of him. Well, time passed and he and the Pope became friends again, his lands were restored as was his money. To prove that he had returned in full force, he had the shingles on the roof of this balcony replaced with gold. It's quite beautiful when the sun reflects off of it.

It's lunch time now, so we go looking for a place to get a bite. We walk to the left of the Golden Roof towards the river Inn. Just before we get there, we find a little pizza parlour and decide to try it out. The pizza had incredibly thin, crisp crust. It was excellent. Though we were cold because all the doors and windows were open, and the occasional pigeon would wander in around our feet, it was a nice little spot.

We then walk out to the river, which has a very noticeable aqua green tint to it, almost the colour of this page. Only the mountain streams were greener than the Inn. We stood where my mother had stood thirty years ago. When we got back home we found a picture of exactly that spot. So with the river in front of us, the old city behind and to the left of us, the mountains were on the left (well, really all around, but the biggest were there). Remember I told you about the mountains of Salzburg? Well, now we could compare. The mountains in Innsbruck were impressive (a little further down you'll see a picture of some of them). They basically rise right up to the sky.

Well, we decide to walk around a bit and take some pictures. This happens to be the moment when the faithful batteries we had from the beginning decide to die on us. Well no fear, we had brought some rechargeables along. Apparently the recharger didn't like the voltage converter we needed to plug into the wall, and the batteries turned out to be charged only long enough to turn the camera on. We run about a couple of little stores trying to find some replacements. This was one time when my mother's German came in handy, we encountered the first person who spoke no English at all. The store lady didn't have what we needed but she managed to indicate to us where to find a camera store.

This little runabout brought us right back to the Golden Roof.

And now we turn to the right and see down the main street.

At the far end of this street is the Swarovski store. No, one simply could not get lost in the old town of Innsbruck.

We turn to the right again, and at the corner of the two perpendicular streets is this pretty building with its fancy pink moldings.

Well, that's pretty much it. Not like there was *that* much to see there, though we could have wandered out of the old city to explore the more modern parts. Instead, we go to the one "attraction" there, the bell tower. It's only 148 steps I thought, couldn't be that bad. Well, my mother had a cold, so it made it really difficult for her. And I was just getting over my cold, so my breathing wasn't much better. Fortunately it wasn't a spiral staircase like in Casa Loma (for those of you familiar with the Toronto landmark), but it still flipped back and forth pretty rapidly. It was quite dizzying. And just when you think this must be the last landing, nope, there were more stairs to go.

My father makes it to the top first, steps out this tiny little door, and just as quickly backs right back inside. The speed at which this rapid succession of actions took place was quite remarkable. Anyway, I'm the next to try to step out and I kind of understand why he stayed inside, but I grit my teeth, hang on to the railing and wander around outside. The view is amazing. The mountains are beautiful and you can see the entire city as you make the full circle of the tower.

Then a group of young Italian guys come up to join us. My mother felt much better after that, considering that they were huffing and puffing from the climb. It wasn't just her who found it a bit of a workout.

The river Inn is right where that row of brightly coloured houses are, and you can see some of the mountains that surround the back end of the city. Apparently during the war, it was very difficult for the bombers to bomb the city, especially the old part, because by the time they cleared the mountain, they had already passed over a good part of the city. So a lot was destroyed but the old part survived. Oh, at the bottom of the picture, that's the white house with the pink molding again. As you can see we didn't get very far. If you go up two pictures where you see the length of the street, you'll see one and only one stone structure, that's what I'm standing on.

We leave the bell tower and wander the city a little bit longer, its still too soon to go back. We decide to get some ice cream. My parents order one scoop of vanilla, one scoop of chocolate. I had already had cheese on the pizza so I wasn't sure if more dairy would be a good idea. But instead of giving each of them one cone, the girl misunderstood and put both on the same one! Well, its kind of awkward for two people to each different scoops on the same cone, so we each got a little spoon and shared the thing. Trust me, the situation was funnier than it sounds, guess you had to be there.

Now it's time for us to get back to the hotel so we can have dinner with the rest of the group. Go 4 pictures up. See that dark passageway up ahead? Well we go through there, it seemed a little more exciting as we hadn't been there yet. It brings us here.

This is the Hapsburg Palace of Innsbruck (thought they were only in Vienna?) called the Hofkirche. This entire courtyard was surrounded by these four yellow coloured walls. We go through another passage and we're back where we started. About a block away we can make out our hotel with its dancing bear painted on the wall.

Inside, we go to retrieve out bags only to discover that they'd moved them to another room. Which was fine, except we now had all 44 people who had been by the hotel...and we all have the exact same blue Trafalgar travel bag! A few people had tied ribbons and other things to their bags so we could skip over those, but we actually had to open a couple to figure out which were ours. It felt weird.

Dinner was at the hotel. Going on at the same time was some computer conference. The speakers were so loud we could actually hear them as we ate, though it was difficult to make out what they were saying. I wondered if I should spy on them to see if they had any interesting tidbits I could use for work.

The evening was still young so we head back out into the city. This time we don't go the way we went before, we turn in the other direction. My mother wanted to see if she could find the place where she'd stayed the last time she was there. So we went looking for the train station which was supposed to be nearby. After a while we ask one lady, and in the end decide it wasn't worth wandering about in the dark for. So we walk back to the old city along a more major street. I call it major, but it was completely deserted. Apparently people in Innsbruck go to bed early or something. We make our way back to the main street, Maria-Theresien Strasse and turn down onto it. There we find another one of those plague monuments and a fountain. As we walked towards the old city, I notice some odd lights hovering in the air in a very freakish way. They were too big and too close to be stars, but I couldn't figure out what that could be. My mother told me it was the lights of the buildings on the mountain. In the dark, you couldn't even tell the mountain was there! It rose so high up into the sky you really had to look way up to see where the mountain ended and the sky began, so I had assumed I was already looking at sky. It was pretty weird, just this big black wall with a couple spots of light.

Before going back we stop at a little cafe and have a hot chocolate and some cake outside. We also walk past some stores but they were all closed now. This was something we noticed pretty quick. In Austria, stores close at 5, and do not open on the weekends either. Used to be that way here too, but now we're so used to having everything available to us all the time, sometimes we were at a loss when we needed to buy something at a strange hour. Even the restaurants seemed to be closing up, even though it wasn't that late yet. But it was dark, so we go back to the hotel. And thus ends our time in Austria, tomorrow we're off to Germany!