Strange… not only do they not say, “g’day mate” in Austria – they speak German! Oh well, what’re you gonna do?!
After we spent four wonderful days in the Dolomiti mountains (which you can read about HERE and HERE), we planned an impromptu trip to Austria. The Dolomites span across the northern end of the Italy, just south of Austria. A quick google search confirmed that we could arrive in Innsbruck in under three hours and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Once we explained our plan to visit Innsbruck to Claudia’s cousin, Angelo – he suggested we also stop by Salzburg. Well, what’s another couple hours drive and another day or two? After all, we didn’t think we’d be back in Austria anytime soon.
I spent our last night in Canale D’ Agordo (Italy) booking an Innsbruck hotel, researching tourist attractions and planning our itinerary. I was up early, with breakfast in my belly and our luggage in the car by 8:30am. We got on the road at 11:30am.
The GPS took us on small streets winding through the mountains, as opposed to the faster Autostrada – and that was perfectly fine with us. The drive into Austria was probably the most pleasurable drive I’ve ever undertaken. While I loved chauffeuring my wife and baby, I must admit that I did envision instead riding my motorcycle; and sadly missed my poor Harley, sitting all by it’s lonesome in Maryland.
View from the road departing the Dolomites
A two-lane tunnel shooting through the mountain
Jen and I were awe-struck by the mountainous scenery; but also impressed by one noticeable phenomenon. Once we crossed over the border into Austria, there seemed to be a castle or fortress at every turn. I was nearly giddy – I’ve been on a caste-hunt since I moved to Italy. And now I was as excited as a boy on prom night, knowing my first castle was just around the corner.
We were greeted by a castle almost immediately upon entering Austria
Older fortresses lined the newer road
We arrived in Innsbruck around mid-day and checked into our hotel. We set out to walk and enjoy some of the sights the city had to offer. Our hotel was centrally located (thank you, booking.com), so we wound slowly through the old city toward the funicular (cable car up the mountain). Innsbruck has astonishing mountains surrounding the entire city, and we intended on elevating ourselves high enough to command a view of the entire city.
The Old City in Innsbruck
A pretty church peeking out
Along the way, we saw signs for the city zoo – an attraction I had read was enjoyable for families. Since it was on the way, we decided to let Julia have some fun of her own. What we didn’t realize was the trek was going to be quite challenging by foot.
Talk about your uphill climb!
We were tempted to stop here, but we pushed on
We continued to climb for over an hour on steep vertical streets until we finally arrived at the zoo. We eagerly entered, excited to take a break from the climb up the mountain. Oooohhh… so sorry! Since the zoo was literally built into the side of a mountain – the zoo itself wound upward still. I guess that explains why the mountain goats had one of the most impressive exhibits (and one of my favorites).
Alpenzoo – we made it!
Majestic wolf – he had just finished dancing with Kevin Costner
Large brown bear who got within feet of us
Julia wanted to play with a bear of her own
There was a petting zoo for Julia, who always loves getting a chance to pet the cute farm animals.
“Stop watching moooo eat!!!”
Adorable lil guys!
“Uhh, mom – these guys are a little scary”
Stopping for a quick drink
“Momma, guarda (look)!”
As we wound our way through the zoo’s path, we spotted various bird sanctuaries just off to the side. Everyone had the option to enter and get face to face with various birds (without any glass or cages). I opted to go in each one, but Jen has a small fear of birds so she didn’t go in any of these exhibits. However, strangely enough – the path eventually led us directly into one of these sanctuaries. There was no going around it, so Jen would have to confront her fear. Well, how bad could it be?
As we were walking through (a distance of maybe 20 yards from beginning to end) we first noticed the bird’s lunch – recently digested and lying about four feet from where we were walking. It did not help Jen discover a newfound confidence in these winged mammals.
Lunch?! Ummmm, are we next?!
Next, we came face to face with the great bird itself, taking a drink after it’s lunch.
“Oh, he doesn’t look so bad”
“Well, he’s coming closer”
“Umm, and closer!” (at this point – he was hissing)
Here is Jen, gripped by fear and making a dash for the door
This guy was clearly not happy we had come into his world. He perched atop a nearby rock and hissed until we both cleared from his home. I couldn’t help but laugh at Jen’s gripping fear coming full surface. That is, until I had to walk past him myself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I hugged the right side of the wall. Next, we came to another one of these death cages. Only, this one was marked by heavy chains!!! What is this?! Some kind of torture zoo?! What type of carnivorous bird was in this exhibit?!
What lies behind the chains?!
Nothing but a bunch of these cute, little guys. WHEW!
After we finished at the zoo, we walked the short way to the funicular. The ride up was fun and the view was truly worth it. We stopped to get a bite for Julia – something that proved to be either a mistake or a wonderful turn of events (depending on how we decided to look at it), as we missed the final cable car by mere minutes. We started the long walk down, a bit nervous about how long the walk might take.
The funicular station
Jen and Julia at the base of the station
View over Innsbruck
The beautiful mountains surround the city
We thought it wise to follow a sign to the zoo, quite some distance below. I knew I could easily get us home from the zoo and so following the sign (as opposed to the actual road) seemed smart at the time. We had no idea this particular route would add a significant amount of time… but also give us a memory of Innsbruck we’d always cherish.
A sign we saw later, noting the path
We didn’t seem to notice as the road narrowed, and then the pavement disappeared. We were too taken with the beauty of nature and the view of the city in the twilight.
City view as the sun sets
A portion of the funicular
When the path started making sharp turns and the branches and rocks started bouncing Julia’s stroller more than a lowrider with hydraulics – we realized we made a mistake. As it turns out, our Italian is far better than our German. The signs we saw pointing toward the zoo were for mountain bikers – we had begun a trajectory that wound us deep into the woods, on a steep descent. There was just enough daylight to keep Jen from worrying too badly and so we made light of the situation. I pointed out the positives – it was certainly a much more direct route down the mountain… and when else would we have an opportunity to hike through the hills in Innsbruck?
The path here was still fairly simple
It got a bit trickier – I took over the stroller
At one point, we found a vast clearing in the woods used as a small campground. I reassured Jen that if we couldn’t find our way out of the woods, we had a wonderful place to camp. She reminded me that we didn’t have any camping gear – I refrained from joking that our love would protect us.
A clearing along the way
Charming old bridge we passed by (but not over)
Back on a solid path, nearly at the bottom
It was dark by the end of the journey
We crossed one final bridge to get back to the city
At long last, we made it the base of the mountain just as the sun had set. We rejoiced at our good fortune and decided a celebration was in order. Since Julia was already fast asleep, we grabbed a bottle of wine and had a little party for two in our hotel room.
The main clock tower, back in town
Innsbruck is simply wonderful and we would love to have been able to spend more time there. But I had already planned the next day, andHohenwerfen Fortress (my first castle) was calling my name.