Wednesday 6th October 2010, Murau, Austria
Wow, this is a wonderful campsite, well up to Austrian standards with a sanitary block so huge and gleaming I got lost in there! After the simplicity and grubbiness of off-season campsites in Romania and Hungary this is a revelation! I won't want to move on! We are the only people staying here but the heating and piped music are working just for us.
Ian has discovered he has the ability to charm lady campsite owners! He was gone so long registering us here when we arrived I went on a search and found him deep in discussion in a dark corner of the bar with the friendly lady in charge. She was refusing to believe he was English, convinced he was from Germany! His charm still didn't get us wifi access however. We have to wait until Anne-Lise is on duty tomorrow as she has the password. Really it would be more practical use to us than potted plants in the toilets but very few campsites seem to consider it worth providing.
It was incredibly soggy when we left Langenwang this morning with white billowing clouds over the hillside. We took the motorway to Bruck an der Mur, marked on our map as a place of interest. Parking proved to be absolutely impossible however. Modestine is too tall for underground parking and we are nervous to leave her, even if we could find a place, in areas reserved for cars only. Probably she'd be okay but some countries refuse to accept her as a car. In any case, I found myself going around in circles in a city I did not know with cars hooting me whenever I slowed to read a sign or attempt to park.
So we ended up swept back onto the motorway heading for Leoben. Here we did manage to park on the outskirts of the town and walk in. It proved to be a very pleasant place with several impressive buildings dating from the 16th to the 18th century around the main square. Outstanding amongst them was the Hackl Haus with its baroque façade where the Kaiserin Maria Theresia lived during 1765.
Leoben has a modern, covered shopping centre, smart cafes and restaurants and a university that specialises in mining and engineering. The surrounding area has rich iron deposits and, as we later discovered, there are huge iron smelting works on the edge of the town. (Yet we never found a single locally produced man-hole cover!)
On the edge of the town stands a small house in which Napoleon signed the Treaty of Leoben in 1797. During his Italian campaign he succeeded in forcing the Habsburgs back from the Venezia and his army proceeded northwards towards Vienna. Austrian envoys negotiated with Napoleon, agreeing, in exchange for the French ceasing their advance, to partition the Venezia and recognise French sovereignty over Lombardy. (Travelling the way we do, we are constantly picking up snippets of European history that gradually fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, giving us a much better understanding as to why and how Europe has become what it is today.)
Eventually we discovered a very nice cafe with wifi access where we spent a good hour sorting emails and bank accounts and loading on the pictures for our next blog. Keeping track of bills while we are travelling can be difficult. We'd completely forgotten the standing order for the community charge! Fortunately Ian's pension arrived at the same time or we might have been in difficulty!
Concerned that our progress is too slow, we took the fast roads westwards and put some distance behind us. Austria isn't a country you can cross easily. Routes are dictated entirely by the terrain. Tunnels through the mountains, several kilometres long, have made everything much easier but generally the roads have to follow the valleys around the mountains. We are heading for Innsbruck but there is no straightforward route and we will need to wind either north or south tomorrow to make our way round.
Thursday 7th October 2010, Westendorf, Austria
This morning Anne-Lise was back on duty and provided us with internet access for an hour before we moved on, thus solving a host of little problems – such as where we will be moving on to once we leave Austria. Generally we make it up as we go but as we have hopes of meeting a few friends along the way we need to warn them of our advance.
Most of the day has been spent driving at a leisurely pace along winding roads through the pristine Austrian countryside. Steep green fields, freckled with dark red/brown cattle lay to either side of the road. Higher up autumn was turning the leaves on the trees to scarlet and gold while higher still were the dark green of the pine forests. Beyond were the peaks of more distant mountain tops. In sheltered cleaves wooden farmhouses nestled, their windows and balconies filled with scarlet geraniums, while along the valleys the main industry was timber with logs waiting for processing and long rows of planks, neatly stacked, left to season. Everything is just so perfect. Even the cattle seem to have been carefully positioned on the landscape, evenly spaced from each other!
When we were not driving through spectacular scenery, we were driving through tunnels, worming our way through the hillsides, sometimes for seven kilometres or more. The tunnels are not pleasant at all but they are amazing works of engineering. We even encountered two roads converging deep inside a mountain with a slip road on to the major route!
During the afternoon we turned off to continue through the countryside along minor roads, stopping beside the lake near Zell am See. The sun was out and it felt like summer. People were sunbathing, boating and fishing while across the water was the little town of Zell with the jagged peaks of the Austrian Tirol looming, snow clad, above. Whether the snow has fallen already this year, or whether it is still there from last year we could not tell.
We stopped for food shopping in Zell and for a walk along beside the lake with its sunny cafes and smart hotels. It is very pleasant for an afternoon but there seems little to do in these picture postcard little Austrian towns other than to stroll between cake shops.
The whole area seems to be preparing for the Oktoberfest - the time for bringing the cattle in from the fields and for harvesting the grapes. On every roundabout in every town there are superb, life-size figures made from straw and dressed in traditional folk costume. Everything is ready for a final celebration before the onset of winter.
Once we left Zell driving became very difficult. The sun was sinking and we were driving west. Our route led us high up into the mountains along twisting roads, the sun forever present. Once we reached the top of Pass Thurn at 1274 metres we had to descend an equally winding route beyond, passing through little villages with the sun permanently dazzling us. The journey was quite horrible and it was with great relief that we reached tonight's campsite.
Saturday 9th October 2010, Innsbruck, Austria
The sunshine has continued hot and glaring over the past two days but when not actually driving it has been very enjoyable.
Making our way along the valley floor yesterday we planned to stop at Wörgl, assuming it would be a typical little Austrian town – we are here without any guide books this time so everything is a mystery. We discovered soon enough that Wörgl is a rather ugly and very industrial town surrounded by countless factories involved in wood processing. We might have realised I suppose, given the name Wörgl. If we wanted a town that was quaint we should have been seeking out somewhere with a name like Dinkelsbaum which would surely be typically Austrian with garden gnomes and coffee shops.
So we drove on through, following the Innsbruck road straight into a hillside. Just before the tunnel swallowed us, on impulse we turned off into the little town of Rattenburg. It may not be quite as cute a place as our imaginary Dinkelsbaum but it certainly proved to be a lovely historic place where we somehow managed to spend a good four hours pottering its pretty streets, climbing up to its ruined castle, wandering beside the fast-flowing river Inn, sampling its coffee houses and browsing its souvenir shops. It has a reputation for glass products with almost every little enterprise in the main street involved in glass blowing, engraving and cut crystal. We needed nothing but it was pleasant watching the glass blowers and browsing the shelves of ornamental glass. Overshadowed as it is by the Rat mountain the town gets almost no sunlight in winter and can actually experience times of permanent darkness!
It was late afternoon before we left Rattenburg and followed the motorway to Innsbruck. The campsite listed as offering easy bus access to the city was isolated beside a lake high in the mountains above the city without any convenient transport at all at weekends. Poring over our atlas of Austria we worked out where we must have stayed on our last visit which proved to be far more convenient once we arrived. Getting here however was very unpleasant, making our way down the steep and winding road with a rude Austrian driver in a BMW hooting us on every bend and trying to force a way past. Ian was so mad he made a Churchillian gesture at the driver as he shot past us on a hairpin bend.
The campsite has changed management since we were last here and it's much more expensive. It's easy and cheap into town though and we have free wifi, a wonderful bonus. The sun was still so hot we could sit outside with our Hungarian wine while supper cooked, watching the planes flying down the valley between the surrounding mountains to land at the nearby Innsbruck airport. It's very noisy as they land and take-off but fortunately they don't seem to fly at night. Watching their landing lights skimming over the mountain tops at dusk before dropping low over the campsite is really rather exciting.
Our present neighbours are a retired couple from Australia. They bought an old VW camper van in England five years ago and leave it in storage in Chester. They fly over every year from Brisbane, pick it up and spend the six months of the Australian winter exploring Europe before returning it to storage in England and flying home until next year. They are on their way back from a tour around the Baltic, much as we did in 2008. So as Europeans we really are not so very adventurous at all.
It has been hot and sunny all day. This morning we took the bus into Innsbruck. It's strange revisiting a place we never expected to see again. We could not remember details of the city until we arrived. Once here everything became familiar and we even knew where to change buses on our way into the city.
We have not really worked systematically at the cultural bits today. We did all that on our last visit. We have simply enjoyed pottering around the beautiful streets of the baroque old town, watching the living statues and street entertainers and browsing the tourist shops. We did though fill in on some of the things we never managed to see last time. One disappointment was that the huge panorama of Innsbruck which we could not see last time, is still not open to the public until early in 2011. So, sorry Ralph, we could not fulfil your request on this visit either.
As we browsed the main square with its baroque architecture, arcaded souvenir shops and cosy cafes, we were invited to a Shiatsu meeting. Unsure whether this was a form of meditation, an alternative health cure, a martial art or a breed of oriental dog, we declined!
On the square stands the house with the golden roof. More amazing still is the highly ornate Helblinghaus with stucco dating from around 1730. Innsbruck certainly has an amazing amount of architectural bling and this property is well named!
Amongst the arcaded shops we discovered a Christmas shop bursting with everything anyone could possibly desire to make their Christmas tacky. There was a party of Antipodeans eagerly purchasing wood carved festive gnomes and Santa Clauses on bicycles, having them carefully packaged to send back home. In just a couple of months from now they will be eagerly unwrapped to grace the mantelshelves of homesteads in Waggawagga!
The Maria-Theresien-Strasse had crowded coffee terraces around the Annasäule, an extravagant baroque monument commemorating the retreat of the Bavarians in 1703 during the war of Spanish succession.
A stroll around the city took us to the flea-market - where we successfully resisted the temptation to purchase a deer's skull with antlers, a rusted sink and a CD of Neil Sedaka songs.
The city has a triumphal arch built in 1765 on the occasion of the marriage of the future Leopold II and Maria Ludovica. During the festivities the prince's father died. So on one side the arch celebrated a wedding while on the other it mourns the death of the king.
We took a stroll around the Hofgarten with its lung stone, presented to the city by the Feng Shui Society at its conference in 2005 to keep the city's aura calm. The trees in their autumn colours, the backdrop of the mountains and the horses and carriages lined up waiting for tourists made it an attractive place indeed.
One outstanding attraction of Innsbruck we seem to have missed out on last time was the Leopoldsbrunnen, celebrating Leopold V, prince of Tyrol who died in 1632. Outstanding mainly because it is the oldest statue of a rearing horse north of the Alps! Why do cities always make so much fuss about their superlatives?
The Hofkirche in the University quarter houses the cenotaph of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, flanked by 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of his grieving relatives. His body is actually buried where he died at Wiener-Neustadt.
Next to the Hofkirche is the Volkskunstmuseum housing the most important collection of folk art for the Tyrolean region. On our last visit somebody – we regret we cannot recall who but thank you anyway – recommended that we should visit this museum. This time we managed it. It is, unsurprisingly, bursting at the seams with things wooden. There are chests, chairs, cupboards, furniture, tools, cooking equipment and more, more, more, all made from wood. There are reconstructions of farmhouse Stuben or parlours, the room in which everything in the house seems to have happened from eating meals to laying out the dead. They are all wood-panelled with carved wooden ceilings, doors, floors and window frames. Around the walls are wooden benches and all the furniture is bare wood. There is also a gallery of costume, another of religious paintings – on wood, and carved wooden statues.
The Cathedral of St. Jakob with its twin towers is highly ornate late baroque inside with elaborate stucco by the Asam brothers whose work we have previously encountered in Bavaria. The cathedral also houses the cenotaph of the Archduke Maximilian III. As we left, the tranquillity of the city was ruptured with three simultaneous bursts of sound. A siren announced midday, the huge cathedral bell, immediately above our heads, joined it and a low flying plane roared its way up from the airport to skim low over the city. Once our ears had recovered we bought rolls for lunch and picnicked in the gardens facing the cathedral.
During the afternoon we took a walk across the river Inn and along through a riverside park. Here Ian was delighted to discover a statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, a poet writing in Middle-High-German who died in the 1220s. Ian had studied his work at University and the words came flooding back to him. Just ahead of us were a couple of disenchanted teenage Austrians, smoking as they slouching along with their baseball caps and baggy trousers dangling off their hips. Fortunately they did not look back and see Ian as he waddled behind them, imitating their slovenly walk, while reciting 13th century German poetry. Help me someone!!
Searching for the Olympic Village, which we eventually gave up on, we passed by the
Zeughaus - the old arsenal built around 1500. The building is now a museum of warfare and the courtyard was piled with stone cannon balls.
Back in the town we collapsed at a cafe table in the square, just beneath the Stadtturm dating from 1440. From the top there are stunning views across the city and out to the surrounding mountains. We however were far too exhausted to climb to the top. Instead we indulged in coffees and a cake for Ian. Today's was called Gutenburg Torte and was the obvious choice for him. Full of chocolate cream it was delicious but had little to do with printing.
Finally, before staggering to the bus stop for the ride home, we stopped at the Jesuit church – part of the old university with the tombs of the Jesuits in the crypt.
Our previous report on Innsbruck can be read on Wednesday 4th June 2008