Rediscovering Eugene’s Forgotten Trolleys

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: March 2018 | Participants: 14 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

It’s difficult to imagine today, but between 1907 and 1927 streetcars (commonly referred to as trolleys) ran along 18-miles of electrified tracks in Eugene. Their comforting clickety-clack as the wheels passed over connections in the tracks where heard on four routes in this city of 11,500 people. Only the finest cars were used and each was superbly-crafted with heaters and rattan seats. At 45-feet in length, they could carry up to 100 passengers. The cost per trip was 5 cents for a child and 10 cents for an adult. Our walk will help re-discover this curious icon of the early 1900’s using old photos and traversing the Fairmount trolley’s 5.5-mile route. We walked the Fairmount’s route in its direction of travel from the train station, through downtown, across the University of Oregon’s picturesque campus, passing historic residential neighborhoods, crossing over some of the last remaining visible tracks, and back. Although many of the trolley’s tracks are not visible today, look carefully, many miles of track from this time are hidden just under the pavement.
 

Walking the Murals & Urban Art Scene in Eugene, Oregon

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: December, 2017 | Participants: 19 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

Over the past months in Eugene, Oregon, a number of building-sized murals have started appearing  – some almost overnight. I needed to check out this gigantic expression of creativity, so I gave an open invitation for an informal walk. Surprisingly, nineteen people joined me! The murals are part of the 20×21 project, an initiative to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals in Eugene between now and the premier track and field 2021 IAAF World Championships. As a runner myself, I am really excited for this event. After the walk, some of us enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and salad (the vegan pizza there rocks; an image is included below). Here are a few photos:

San Francisco’s Salty Old Waterfront

blog-20120805-img1The visitor center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors a glimpse into a salty past. Most visitors to San Francisco’s northern shore only see a tsunami of stores that sell trinkets and bobbles; however, the curious will find ‘ The Waterfront’ exhibit to offer a rich story.

The Waterfront is not just an exhibit; it is an experience more than 150 years in the making. You can discover a time before European settlement, learn about how the Gold Rush shaped San Francisco, hear voices of sailors in a Barbary Coast saloon, and even see lumber being transported over your head as a ship delivers its cargo. The exhibits also include fishing boats, actual equipment and several hundred artifacts woven throughout the walk. A very realistic looking street fish market impressed my young daughter.

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Afterwards, make a short walk across the street to explore the historic sailing ships of the Hyde Street Pier. Visiting the ships will cost you a little, but it is far more valuable than what is sold in most of the surrounding tourist stores. The queen of all the historic ships on display is the Balclutha, you can get a better look with this video-

Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm

Back to 1885 at the Sacramento Hostel

blog-20120902-img1If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.

The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.

The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.

Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.

Learn More:
http://norcalhostels.org/sac/

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week

If you ever have the opportunity to experience San Francisco’s Fleet Week, it is a blast!

I arrived with my family at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien on a Sunday morning. The O’Brien is “one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships of the 2,710 built and launched during WW II.” At the pier we showed our tickets, A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week had our backpacks briefly inspected, and we walked up the gangplank. We joined about 950 other people on-board that day to experience Fleet Week, a time during the middle of October when active military ships dock in San Francisco, California. The passengers of the O’Brien would be enjoying the events that day from the middle of San Francisco Bay.

About a quarter of the passengers wore caps identifying they had served in the military over the years, while some caps stated, “Korean War Veteran” or “Desert Storm Veteran”, many had caps stating the names of various naval vessels.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekAt 10 am a deep yet high pitched ‘Bhwaaahh’ and a river of steam gushed from the ship’s turret. Gigantic ropes that held the ship fast were brought aboard and a tugboat helped to pull the 441 foot long Liberty Ship from the dock. Looking over the aft of the ship I could see sheets of spray being ejected from the water every second as the massive propeller chopped though the water. We were underway.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week Our first treat that morning was seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close. This massive structure dwarfed the O’Brien as the ship chugged under the mile long span and out in the Pacific. After a few minutes we turned and returned under the bridge to parallel the San Francisco waterfront. There was a definite presence of the security: police and military boats skittered quickly over the water to create a boundary area, an exclusion zone, for the aircraft to perform that had to be free of boats.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien was the only ship to parade in front of the waterfront that day. The day before the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) a supercarrier, the USS Antietam (CG-54) a guided missile cruiser, the USS Milius (DDG-69) a guided missile destroyer and a number of naval vessels, entered San Francisco Bay in a Parade of Ships with the O’Brien bringing up the back; as we skirted down A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week the waterfront and under the second massive bridge in the bay, the Bay Bridge, we passed many of these ships now at port. In the distance, anchored in the middle of the bay the impressive and intimidating looking supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson. Around all of the ships were gray-colored military patrol boats protecting the perimeter of their respective vessels.

After a closer, yet still distant look at the Carl Vinson, the O’Brien chugged back under the Bay Bridge. It was time for the air show to start and within a few minutes a tight group of sleek looking planes descended in a A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week tight arc over our heads and into the exclusion zone we had traversed earlier. At first it was hard for us to view the air show but the O’Brien positioned itself between Alcatraz Island and the Bay Bridge; this location allowed us to look down the two or three mile long ‘channel’ of where the planes would be performing.

A number of planes performed that day, too many to respectfully give credit in this short write up, but all were magnificent. Just a few a mentioned below.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The sleek Red and White Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds soared overhead. These individual aircrafts moved as one organism in the sky, with often only a few feet from a each other. When they separated each became a unique part of the whole in performing their choreographed maneuvers. At times it appeared the planes were playing a game of chicken turning to the side at the last second as they zipped past each other.

Then came an F-18 Super Hornet. It roared over head passing several hundred feet at times over the O’Brien. Once, it moved slowly over the water, with it’s nose pointed high to the sky, it seemed to hang in the air for several second then shot away as though catapulted away by an unseen slingshot. It disappeared into the blue… everyone looked around, we could not see it. About half a minute passed and we stated to think this part of the air show had ended. It was unusually quiet…

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A thunderous and encompassing roar ripped through the air – splitting the solitude. The sound made the O’Brien shudder and scared the life out of everyone. The passengers looked up to see the gray F-18 several hundred feet overhead slicing like a great axe through the air – water vapor was rapidly condensing at the back of the wings creating a white cloud that followed the jet. In just a second or two the fighter was already distant – the white cloud now appeared to be a gigantic cone that enveloped the back of the plane – yellow and red fire spewed from the engines and the cone still seemed to grow wider. Now the thunderous sound caught up to us, the sound grew deeper, louder and could be felt in one’s chest. The plane now appeared to be half way to the Golden Gate Bridge a distance of several miles, we still had to cover our ears because the noise was so loud. The jet pulled up and disappeared in a fog bank that seemed to appear off the ocean from nowhere.

Everyone on the O’Brien was silent.

Then someone giggled aloud, followed by others laughing, then people began to speak with exclamations of “Wow!” At that moment nine-hundred plus people on the O’Brien were smiling.

A few minutes later a sudden cold wind, that must have been 30 miles an hour, hit everyone in the face and it did not let up. The Stars and Stripes that rested atop the mast had been still for much of the morning, but now the colorful banner flew straight out to the side. The fog bank on the horizon moved closer and started to blanket one of the tall towers of the Golden Gate.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A United Airlines 747 was seen low in the north, it banked right, flew next to the Bay Bridge then between the O’Brien and San Francisco. Some laughed as to why a commercial jet was in an air show, but as this massive plane flew over us, they stopped laughing. It is one thing to see such a huge jet at the airport, but when it is directly over you…you get an appreciation for the scale and presence. The jet made three passes for the spectators, just a few hundred feet over the water, and on the last pass pulled up extremely tight climbing into the sky.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekA sleek looking F15-E Strike Eagle, dominated the sky, it too made a number of passes, rolls, dives and maneuvers to showcase its dexterity. Again the people of the O’Brien loved the show.

The fog bank was still closing in, hid many of the ships and sail boats that were on the bay water. The wind grew still more intense. People of the O’Brien A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week sought shelter behind walls and side rails to shield them from the wind. Most were not prepared for the sudden change in weather.

The massive Cargo Support Plane (I believe a C-117) for the Blue Angels passed nearby, it made several passes to introduce the highly-skilled flight team, but it was obvious the fog was going to be a problem. The fog now completely covered the massive Golden Gate Bridge and had engulfed half of the area in which the Blue Angels were to perform.

As the support plane left a deep ‘sshhhoooo’ of engines announced the Blue Angles as they flew past. The sleek blue and gold planes made multiple passes of the area traveling in wide circles, apparently studying the foggy theater of activity before deciding on a plan of action. Then they returned and in a tight formation made a slow and respectful pass between the waterfront packed with spectators and the O’Brien before leaving. The air show had concluded.

The inability to see, was a safety issue not only for the pilots, but for the public. Everyone on board the O’Brien was sad to see the Blue Angles leave early, but no one spoke badly about their decision, everyone understood that safety was paramount.

As the show ended the exclusion zone on the water was no longer needed, a thousand sail boats and small vessels moved in every direction like water striders moving in all directions across the San Francisco Bay to return home. That alone was an amazing sight.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien spent the next thirty minutes slowly maneuvering back to it’s berth. The volunteer deck hands wrestled giant sized and intertwined ropes to secure the ship. After fifteen minutes or so the gangplank went down and we disembarked.

It had been a fantastic day on a historic WW II ship, being in the company of so many who have served their country over the decades, while seeing some amazing aircraft piloted by very skilled pilots. I was very thankful for that day and having the opportunity to enjoy it with my family in a free country.

To those reading this who have served, or are serving in the U.S. armed forces, “Thank you for your service.”

Reference:
SS Jeremiah O’Brien website.

Learn More:
http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org
http://www.fleetweek.us

Innsbruck’s Bergisel

Any visitor to Innsbruck, Austria, will notice the Bergisel, a high and rounded hill at the southern end of the city.

On the hill are several great places to visit. Two are listed here, the first is “Das Tirol Panorama.” This is a new and architecturally beautiful museum that highlights an important battle that occurred on the hill and defined Tirol. In 1809 Bavarian troops, allies of Napoleon, marched into the Inn Valley to Das Tirol Panoramaassert control over the land. The Tiroleans, led by a local folk hero, Andreas Hofer, rallied to protect their homes and their independence. The most famous battle was the Third Battle of the Bergisel in which the Tiroleans fought off the invaders. The battle was memorialized in a giant panoramic painting that is 1,000 square meters (10,764 square feet) in area. Today, this huge and historic 360-degree painting is accentuated with bullet shredded trees, cannons, and war-torn land, giving the viewer the perspective of being in the battle.

Outside the museum is a life-sized statute of Andreas Hofer along with several monuments of Emperors of Austria.

Bergisel StadiumUp the hill is the entrance to the Bergisel Ski Jump and Stadium.

The ski jump rises 250m (820 ft) over Innsbruck. It is a sleek and modern structure with a steep track that pours down from the tower and launches over an extremely large open space – a deep depression – carved into the hillside for viewers. This bowl-shaped viewing area can accommodate 28,000 standing visitors! At the opposite end of the jump are the cauldrons of the Olympic flame that were used in 1964 and 1976.

View from the TopAs I entered the Stadium a swoosh was heard. A man had just launched from the edge of the jump and ‘flew’ with grace for several seconds until his skis made contact with the steep artificial ground, in several additional seconds he had stopped and left the field. Everyone watched the jumpers for some time with their practice runs. It was very impressive to see.

I climbed a good number of steps to the base of the tower (yes, there is a lift that will take you from the base of the stadium to the tower). An elevator inside took myself and several visitors 50 meters to the top to a restaurant and a viewing platform.

Visitors can get to the Tirol Panorama and the Bergisel Stadium by bus or on foot. Regardless of how you arrive, wear comfortable shoes.

A Day On Nordkette

If you stand anywhere in Innsbruck, Austria, you will notice an imposing mountain range rising 2454m (8051 feet) over this beautiful city. This is the Nordkette (Northern Chain) – an immense wall of granite with numerous peaks and trails to explore. Visitors can easily visit via the Nordkettenbahn (gondola) which whisks people up the mountain in 20 minutes.

Starting near downtown Innsbruck (560m, 1837 feet), visitors can take the fast and modern Hungerburgbahn and in ten minutes be within a few steps to the Nordkettenbahn (gondola).

NordkettenbahnThe Nordkettenbahn (gondola) glides over rooftops and farms, hiking and biking trails that quickly reveal themselves hidden among the trees. The sun that day was bright and the clean air allowed for endless vistas as the gondola ascended ever higher. After 15 minutes we stopped at a solid rock building known as the Seegrube.

The Seegrube station is located at 1905m (6350 feet) and offers a restaurant and areas outside for play and exploration. It is a joy to walk down the mountainside from this location, but that is another story.

In the summertime musical events are held outside Seegrube and people often bring tents and camp out on the side of the mountain. The terrain here is rocky and barren looking, but quite beautiful. As people disembarked from the gondola a nippy temperature embraced everyone. People quickly began putting on warm hats and an extra jacket.

We walked a few paces inside the building to the second leg of the gondola ride. A small cable-car glided into the station; this was the more petite-sized Hafelekar station bound gondola. In a few minutes our gondola-pod, holding maybe 10 or 12 people, rose over the shattered and rough looking stones below. We climbed, at a very steep ascent of 40-45 degree angle up the mountain. Upon the barren rock face were large metallic structures, fences designed to hold great weight and guard the city below against avalanches.

HafelekarspitzeAs we approached the Hafelekar our gondola slowed to a crawl. At that moment a powerful wind gush pushed the car to one side and people in the pod briefly lost their footing. As the pod swung back the operator increased the speed and the pod – with a hard bump and then a dull thud – arrived safely at Hafelekar, elevation 2256m (7729 feet). The landscape here was naked, only grass and lichens were visible on a barren landscape of jagged stone. The air was cold – around 6 degrees C (42F) and made colder by the fierce wind that boxed our ears and made our eyes tear.

Several tourists wearing only shorts, a t-shirt and a camera bolted quickly up the mountain for photos. After ten minutes they vigorously returned and clamored into the warmth of the station.

Cross on HafelekarspitzeReaching the actual top of the mountain requires 15 minutes walk up a steep and rocky path to the summit of Hafelekarspitze. This small trail was well worn during the years of visitation. The top of the mountain has a small protective rock wall for visitors, near this area sits a large cross. From the mountaintop, you can see miles beyond in every direction. Below, Innsbruck appeared like a miniature toy city, with tiny buildings and small train yard. The mighty Inn River was just a appeared to be a gentle ribbon of water.

Standing on top of the mountain the setting was peaceful; a bit windy, but the sun was shining, a blue sky was overhead, and the dramatically sculpted mountains surrounding us looked peaceful, but that was about to change.

While exploring some side trails the wind grew very fierce and some menacingly gray clouds appeared to spontaneously generate overhead. We quickly removed ourselves from the mountain via the gondola and shortly we stood again in Innsbruck. We peered up the great line of mountains, the area near the top – where we were – was blanketed by dark clouds and was hidden from view.

An hour afterward, these clouds had silently marched down the mountainside and were bathing Innsbruck in a cool rain.

Learn more:
http://www.nordkette.com/en/top/home.html

Hafelekarspitze
View from Hafelekarspitze
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View from Hafelekarspitze

Curious Finds in Hötting

Innsbruck has a number of colorful neighborhoods, one of the more curious is Hötting.

Hötting is located in the northwestern part of Innsbruck, just a short walk from the touristy and historic Altstadt area. Immediately crossing into Hötting it is noticeable the crowds have thinned and the pace of life is slower and more relaxed.The main street, Höttinger Gasse, is quiet except for the occasional auto that whizzes past. Walking up the gradient of the street sharply increases but it is not uncomfortable, possibly this detracts most tourists from venturing to this area. The streets are Curious Finds in Hottingvery narrow here and suggests this is a very old section of town. According to the Stadtarchiv Museum (City Archives) this is actually one of the oldest sections of Innsbruck. The streams here were once used as a water source for the city.

A short way up the street are signs of artistic graffiti on a long wall. Some of the images, artwork and designs have humorous slants. One image mixed in with the tangle of colors is a life-sized paintingCurious Finds in Hotting of the animated character Homer Simpson, of course he is thinking of beer as shown by several thought bubbles. At the end of the wall is a curious visual display; several large plate glass windows – like those of a shop – offer a glimpse into a bedroom. In the bedroom are two mannequins with a variety of arms and legs sprawling in every direction; in the midst of this revelry the mannequins gaze at each other with unemotional expressions. The scene is cause for a double-take among passing pedestrians. Another area along the street, in a recessed area, is a stenciled picture of a former US President wearing an elfin looking holiday stocking on his head with the words, “Happy X-mas USA.” A small business selling drums and didgeridoos is nearby. Another small business has a sign offering eastern meditation and martial arts classes.

Curious Finds in HottingContinuing up the street is a very curious memorial; it is from World War I and dated “1914-1918” and the words, (translated to) “The Fallen in War from Hötting.” The marker features several carved crosses and a man – a soldier, his head down, his hands resting on and over the barrel of his rifle, his expression austere. However, approaching the monument his expression changes, he now appears sad, somber and mournful. He stands over a number of names of soldiers from World War I – those who never returned. A second set of names appears below the first grouping; these names appear on a memorial that was never intended for them, these are names from World War II.

Curious Finds in HottingFurther up the street is a church, the “Alte Höttinger Pfarrkirche” (Old Hötting Church). This church is quite old and has some refurbishment work that is under construction. Nearby is a simple graveyard, a peaceful and colorful place with various dates on the markers along with photos and flowers for loved ones. Walking out of the cemetery, through a stone gateway and up a curved street is a small green space with magnificent and expansive view of Innsbruck. Several benches are placed here for the enjoyment of folks who have discovered this fine location. Curious Finds in HottingLooking below are the streets of Hötting and downtown Innsbruck can be seen not far away. Hötting is very pleasant, safe and quiet. It is a worthwhile place to explore, the quiet back alleys and narrow streets reveal farms and houses with gardens.

Find Fresh Food at the Markthalle in Innsbruck

Eating healthy foods can be a problem when traveling. Dealing with a different schedule, an unfamiliar language, and the lack of a kitchen means that most meals come in the form of a ready-made sandwich or dining out. Often, this food may not be prepared with the healthiest of ingredients. When I explore I deliberately seek out places that offer fresh food – and places recommended by locals.

One great location for fresh food in Innsbruck, Austria, is the Markthalle. The Markthalle offers a place for farmers and small businesses to gather under one roof; it is a big warehouse packed with fresh food, colorful vegetables and fruits, recently harvested meats, fresh baked bread, decadent deserts and several places to grab a decent cup of coffee. The weekends are especially busy as both vendors and customers flock to the market.

The Markthalle Innsbruck is just a block from Altstadt (Old Town), the heart of the city. The market is located next to the river close to the Innbrücke (Bridge over the Inn) and Market Square.

The hours are:
Mon – Fri: 7:00 am – 6:30 pm
Sat: 7:00 am – 1:00 pm
Sun: closed

For more information visit their website (the site is in German):
http://www.markthalle-innsbruck.at/index.php

Where Innsbruck’s Hidden Stories Are Kept

While in Innsbruck, Austria, I observed the one-hundred year old building I was staying in was similar in architecture, but obviously much older than the surrounding buildings. I asked some local residents about it. They were not sure, but the question intrigued them. Finally, a call was made to Opa (the Grandfather) of one of the residents. He had lived in the building as a child.

He said the nearby rail yard in Innsbruck was destroyed by Allied bombs during the War (World War II) and many of the surrounding buildings had been pulverized, but his building survived – he was age 4 when the war ended. For many years afterwards he could remember having a clear line of sight, all the way to Schloss Ambras castle, several kilometers aways. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the ruble was removed and the city rebuilt.

Wow! A simple question had uncovered a great story. My curiosity had peaked, but where could I find other hidden stories? The next day I made a trip to the Stadtarchiv Museum (City Archive Museum) located in the Altstadt (Old Town) part of Innsbruck.

The museum has two entrances, but the front entrance from Altstadt is the most alluring. Peering in from Altstadt via a tunnel you see a pleasant courtyard. Most tourists see the courtyard and just move on, but if you take the time to explore, a small cobbled alley – almost hidden from sight – reveals itself. The museum entrance is just ahead. The museum itself is small and consists of two halls.

The first hall chronicles the history of Innsbruck from the initial founding roughly eight-hundred years earlier to the 1800‘s. It also includes many stories about the cultural and economic contributions of the city. Take some time to enjoy the beautiful paintings of Innsbruck at different times through the centuries.

The second hall includes an exhibit about the time between the wars, when Tirol was annexed by the Nazis. It and also features photos of the liberation by the Allied forces. One picture provided a direct connection for me; it is a black and white snapshot of an American soldier standing in the middle of a street directing traffic – it was the same location I had walked across that morning coming to the museum.

I saw a map of the bombs that had been dropped on Innsbruck during the War. The area around the building where I was staying was in was a sea of red dots, indicating where the various incendiaries had detonated. For some reason, possibly luck, the building survived while others around it had been devastated.

The exhibit then moves from that ugly period in history and continues to the more aspiring time when Innsbruck hosted several winter Olympic games.

The displays in the museum are in German, but translations of the displays are available in a booklet printed in English.

This tiny museum is one of the most fascinating in all of Innsbruck, yet possibly one of the least visited or even the least known. It is best enjoyed once you have seen many of the other sights, traveled around and obtained a ‘feel’ for Innsbruck. Only then will some of the hidden stories written within the museum make themselves known.

See the Sights and Save Money in Innsbruck

Visitors to Innsbruck, Austria, can keep some cash in their wallet by using the Innsbruck Card.

The Innsbruck Card is like a ‘golden ticket’ for the holder and provides free entrance to the beautiful sights and historic museums in the Innsbruck area; a ride up and down on one of 7 lifts and free transportation on public transit lines. The card is valid for either, 24, 48, or 72 hours, depending on what you purchase.

innsbruck card - image source - www.innsbruck.infoThe price (at the time of this writing) per adult is €29 for 24 hours; €34 for 48 hours; and €39 for 72 hours. The kids price is half the adult amount. This might sound a lot of money, but museum entrance and bus transit fees start adding up and can wreck a budget.

I found the card to be a great investment. The card allowed me to see some amazing stuff, it easily paid for itself in a day and personally saved me $80 in entrance fees over three days!

If you have the time and budget I would recommend the 72 hour card; it provides the most flexibility to accommodate weather, crowds and Monday. Museums are generally open 6 days a week, but Monday is the day that museums in Innsbruck are closed, so plan around this day accordingly.

The Sightseer BusThe city has an exceptional transit system, but you should consider using the Sightseer Bus with your Innsbruck Card. This big red bus makes stops at all the major museums and runs every fifteen to twenty minutes, it is a very fast and direct way to get around, and of course, free with your Innsbruck card.

The Innsbruck card can be purchased at the ‘Tourist Information’ center downtown which is located at the border of Altstadt and the Maria-Theresien-Straβe (street). The desk staff are multi-lingual and very informative. I suggest you go early in the day to avoid the tour-bus crowds.

Maximize your experience by knowing the places you want want to visit before you buy the card. When you purchase the card you will be asked about the 24-48-72 timeframe and an important question, “What Tourist Officetime do you want the card to start?” Be careful, do NOT say “now” and then leave to enjoy a coffee. When you purchase the card a chip embedded in the card is activated. At the end of the 24, 48 or 72 hour time period the card will be invalid. I made good use of the card for 72 hours, but was four minutes late arriving at one museum. I attempted to use the card when it was 72 hours and 4 minutes old, but only found it was no longer active.

All cards comes with a brochure that lists all of the museums and sights, includes a map and shows the route of the Sightseer Bus.

Riding Innsbruck’s Hungerburgbahn

Years ago during a visit to Innsbruck, Austria, I had the pleasure of riding a quaint and antiquated one-hundred year old funicular railway, called the Hungerburgbahn. A funicular railway is designed to climb steep slopes. The old Hungerburgbahn (shown in a photo from the early 1900’s) squeaked, clicked and creaked up the mountain making the ride an adventure in itself. The route was a simple straight track that traversed over a bridge Hungerburgbahn - source Wikipediaspanning the Inn river, then up the mountainside, past the Alpenzoo and beyond to the Hungerburg cable car station. The track was less than one kilometer in length, but riding it was like stepping back in time. Sadly, this funicular railway was closed in 2005. It was replaced in 2007 with a modern, safer and more expedient railway.

The new Hungerburgbahn is step forward in time. A futuristic building with rounded and sweeping architecture identifies the Congress station to riders. This underground station is close to Altstadt (Old Town) Innsbruck, the center of shopping and tourism. At the station quiet escalators move passengers below ground to a small waiting area where a polished and modern tram car glides quietly to the boarding area. The doors whisper open and people board. The doors close with computerized efficiency and the tram hums away down a dark tunnel. With a sudden flash the tram bursts into the daylight, making a quick stop at the Löwenhaus station, then crosses an architecturally stylish bridge over the River Inn – treating riders to a postcard view. The train disappears into another Hungerburgbahn - Newtunnel and begins a steep ascent up the mountain. Individual pods on the tram change their angle, keeping the riders comfortably level, but this action is so silent, so normal that people do not observe that any change in the angle has occurred. Now the tram re-emerges into the light, the Alpenzoo station is just ahead. To the passengers, the sights and buildings of Innsbruck begin to appear in miniature as the tram climbs higher. A stop is made at the Alpenzoo and then just beyond is the terminus of our ride at the Hungerburg station. From this station passengers can explore the countryside or catch a gondola to explore the top of the mountain. The Hungerburgbahn travels less than 2 kilometers and climbs 288 meters in elevation in just a few minutes.

Visitors to Innsbruck will appreciate the close to downtown station and the fast travel time up the mountain – especially if you are traveling with kids or the weather is a concern.

Reference: Wikipedia.

Exploring the Halls of Schloss Ambras (Castle Ambras)

An enjoyable outing while visiting Innsbruck, Austria, is Schloss Ambras. Schloss in German means castle. Plan to spend at least half a day to explore the armory, the chamber of curiosities, the gardens and the many rooms of this Renaissance palace. The castle houses a splendid collection of historical items and artifacts that have been collected over the centuries.

Schloss Ambras ArmoryThe first stop is the armory. Here visitors are greeted by a life-sized exhibit of armor-clad knights on horseback. The craftsmanship of the armor is first-rate. The metal work is so shiny that at times a visitor can be momentarily blinded by the reflecting lights. Adjacent rooms have a weaponry-cornucopia of swords, pikes, lances and a variety of hunting blades, even some of the earliest rifles.

Vlad aka DraculaThe Chamber of Arts and Curiosities lives up to the name. Some of the items in the collection do not need an introduction, like a painting of Vlad the Impaler, who was notoriously known throughout the centuries as inflicting horrific, slow and grotesque deaths upon his enemies. His atrocities have sobered many throughout the years, causing a person to wonder if such a human was really a monster? Vlad was the inspiration for the character we know today as Dracula.

Another painting features a man who survived being impaled in the head at a jousting tournament and apparently survived well enough and long enough for his portrait to be painted.

TödleinThe collection includes hundreds of items, but one tiny wooden sculpture, called the Tödlein, less than foot tall, is so ornately carved with such precision and detail that one catches their breath – only then to see the carving is without facial features – a skeletal head with deep and empty eye sockets and the toothy face of Death – and one catches their breath again.

Spanish Hall - source wikipediaWalking across the green courtyard in the brilliant sunlight you pass a small cafe and walk to the upper castle. Here is the Elegant Spanish Hall. This beautiful hall was built between 150 and 1572 and is truly a feast for the eyes. As in years before people have donned their finest attire to attend waltzes, balls, and social events and visit this hall for an evening of revelry and fun. Today, waltzes and other events continue held here in this lovely hall.

The remainder of the main castle offers 4 floors to explore. On these floors are 250 paintings from over 400 years of members from the House of Hapsburg and relations. You can also find special traveling exhibits. There is also a small, but the ornate church, and a bath hall.

Schloss Ambras GroundsFinish up the visit by exploring the lush grounds that surround the castle.

Learn more:
http://www.khm.at/en/plan-your-visit/ambras-castle/

Innsbruck’s Glockenmuseum (Bell Museum)

Ever wonder how those gigantic bells at the tops of cathedrals and town halls in Europe are made? A visit to the Bell Museum and Grassmayr Bell Foundry in the middle of Innsbruck, Austria, can help to answer that question.

For over 400 years bells have been forged at this small business. Visitors can explore the bell museum to learn about the manufacturing process, tour the old foundry and get a peek into the modern facility that continues to make bells. This is not a large museum, but a good amount of information and history is packed inside.

A ten-minute video plays continuously in a small room. It chronicles the birth of a bell from ore, through being produced, to completion. The video is in German, but English only speakers will still learn a good deal. Two items from the video are of particular interest: with all of the wars in Europe over the centuries few enterprises survived, however this bell foundry continued by producing cannons; the video also states that records were kept of all the bells that were made (over 6,000) but no records were kept of the number of cannons produced.

In the museum are bell patterns and casts of all sizes. Markings on the floor show sizes of some of the large bells – some of which are several meter in diameter! Outside is a coutryard lined with bells where you can see just how big and sturdy some of these amazing bells are up close.

For more information visit:
http://www.grassmayr.at

The Old Foundry
The old foundry
The New Foundry
The New Foundry

Tips for Dining Out in Tirol

Whether you are visiting family members, on a tour, or independently exploring Tirol in Austria, you will ultimately find yourself eating at a restaurant or cafe. Here are four tips to help you have a more enjoyable meal.

Water:
In the U.S. a glass of drinking water (tap water) is always served in a restaurant and is complimentary with the meal. It is OK to have just water, and not any order social drinks, with a meal. Mineral water can appear on a menus, but is sometimes considered extravagant.

In Austria, and much of Europe, a glass of (tap) water is not a complimentary item. Asking for just tap water, and not ordering social drinks, is considered rude and cheap.

Water can be ordered but what you will receive will be mineral water. The waiter will ask, “Do you want Stilles Wasser or Prickelndes Wasser?” Prickelnd means with bubbles, the water is carbonated; Stilles Wasser means no bubbles, just mineral water. The waiter will then bring a small bottle of mineral water to you.

If you want regular tap water, you can ask for it, but request it AFTER the other drinks have been ordered or when your meal is delivered to the table. Requesting water in this way will save any locals at your table any social discomfort or embarrassment.

Tax:
The prices listed on menus have the tax included. A dinner that is advertised at €15.00 will cost you €15.00. Tipping will be extra.

What to Tip:
In the U.S. a waiter often earns a base pay (sometimes under minimum wage) and makes up the difference in pay through tips. In the EU, a waiter, as an employee is already covered by a handsome benefits package and has state run health care. So, tipping in Austria has different rules than it does in the U.S.

I checked with natives of Innsbruck to ask how they tip. Their general rule is: if you order drinks, tip up to the next Euro. If you order food, tip several Euros. So when drinks cost €6.20 you might pay €7 which includes the tip; if dinner costs €25.40 you might pay €28.00 which also includes the tip. Be careful of touristy restaurants (a place that talks to you in good English and gives you a menu in American English) because they sometimes play to the American custom of tipping at 15% – 20% and will even print this request in the English worded menu. In the end, wherever you eat, if you receive excellent service tip what you wish.

Paying the Bill:
In America, a bill is placed on your table near the end of your meal. In Austria, you must ask for the bill. This custom does allow you to stay at the table and talk sometimes for hours. When you are ready to pay identify yourself to the waiter and ask for the bill. In smaller restaurants the owner will approach with a small change purse and a copy of the bill. The owner will show you the bill and say the total amount. You reply with the amount you will pay, (following the tipping rule). Any change will be returned.

Wilten, A Most Beautiful Basilica

A visitor to Innsbruck, Austria, will see many beautiful churches and shrines. Each place of worship has a unique story sometimes hundreds of years in the making. The Basilica in the Wilten neighborhood of Innsbruck has a great story and is one of the most beautiful structures in the entire city.

Inside Wilten Basilica
Inside Wilten Basilica

A long time ago, as the story goes, a giant named Haymon came to the great Inn valley in the Tirol. Here he saw the people of the valley being harassed by a dragon. He did not like this so he crafted weapons to fight the dragon; it was a terrible battle, but Haymon prevailed. This victory did not sit well with another giant, named Tyrsus, who also lived in the area. He considered Haymon his rival. The rivalry eventually turned to blows and in the commotion Haymon stabbed Tyrsus – who died. Haymon was overcome with grief! He sought atonement and out of his grief founded a monastery at Wilten. Haymon continued to be a monk at the monastery for the remainder of his life.

Today, the monastery still exits and is adjacent to the beautiful Wilten Basilica.

Visitors to the Basilica will be impressed by the beauty; the soft and gentle colors, the abundant light, hand carved wooded pews – it is a place you just enjoy.

The Basilica is centuries old, the oldest part being the chalice which dates from 1160.

First, there are the great wooden doors that a person enters – they are massive, yet well balanced and open with a firm push. The main hall has lofty ceilings and walls that are painted with biblical scenes.

After entering the Basilica and admiring it, walk to the center and look back; over the front door is a massive and towering pipe organ which, despite its size, blends well into the surroundings.

On this day the Basilica is quiet. Some people are sitting in pews praying, reflecting on life itself, or just sitting quietly enjoying the ‘presence’ of this place.

A person who had been sitting quietly stands and takes a step – it is heard all the way to the back of the Basilica.The person looks around the church for a second then walks up center aisle and exits the Basilica.

Near the front door are some candles, many are lit to remember relatives and friends. To the side is a photo hung on the wall, it is Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Basilica in 1988.

My wife and I have been here before, many years earlier; the Basilica has not changed and there is comfort in that. The stillness and near absolute quiet of this place is most audible. Suddenly, a loud and heavy ‘pop’ is heard as the main door is quickly opened and a group from a tour bus pours inside. The sound echoes through the place. The tourists try to be quiet, but is difficult for 40 people who are amazed by the beauty in this place. The tour guide walks to the front and, as quietly and respectfully as she can, points out the various features of the church. The group appears to be from Spain, but they look like a group of retired Americans from Florida – sunglasses, wide brimmed sun hats, shorts, tennis shoes and cameras mounted firmly to their bellies. Many of the tourists stop at a table and buy postcards, books and other items. The leave. A few stragglers stay behind a minute or two and capture some of the returning calm and silence then they hustle outside to catch up with their group.

It is quiet again and enjoyable.

Another tour bus pulls up outside, shortly followed by another.

Inside Wilten Basilica
Inside Wilten Basilica

Hidden Treasures in the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum

Many visitors to Innsbruck see just the major sights and miss some of the real gems. One gem is the quiet Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum (Tirolean Folk Museum), it helps to tell the story of the Tirolean people who live in this dynamic landscape of high mountains and cultivated valleys.

The museum has amassed a collection of cultural treasures: richly decorated traditional costumes, beautifully carved wooded household utensils, to religious objects that celebrate life, recognize the rhythm of seasons and some items that reflect on the uncertainties – or even some unpleasant questions about life itself.

One section of the museum I enjoyed focused on the Tirolean common rooms, or Stube (pronounced st-oo-beh); these rooms are made of wood and ornately carved from floor to ceiling. It was in this common room where every member of the family gathered to eat, keep warm, worship and share stories. Long benches along the walls provided seating for multiple family members and friends at the tables. Visitors to the museum can explore many of these rooms and walk between the different styles and architecture. The rooms also included a large ceramic tiled wood stove, called a Kachelofen (pronounced kah-kel-ow-fen). Some of the Kachelofen were ornately decorated and beautiful, others had more earthy tones, but all looked like they would keep a house very warm and comfortable. Many modern houses in the Tirol have a Stube with many of these elements built into them: an abundance of wood, furniture pieces that are ornately carved, long benches that seat multiple people, or possibly an ‘L-shaped’ bench built into the wall, and in the corner or somewhere on the wall is a wooden cross. The Kachelofen also continues in some houses, but in more modern forms.

Another item of interest at the museum are the traditional costumes. Each valley in the Tirol has its own style of traditional costumes for holidays and events. One of the more ornate costumes I saw originated from Südtirol (South Tirol) near the town of Meran, here a bearded man is adorned with bird plumes and furs.

The museum offers visitors a chance to see the adjacent Hofkirche from the unique perspective of looking down upon the dark bronze statues and the crypt of Maximilian I. Ask at the desk where the door is located so you don’t miss it.

I found the museum bound together much of what I was experiencing by visiting the people here; it provided a greater depth and history to the modern culture. That personal connection is the real treasure.

The Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum is near the sights of the majestic Hofburg, the Hofgarten and Altstadt (Old Town).

To learn more:
http://www.tiroler-landesmuseum.at/html.php/en/volkskunstmuseum

Inside a Stube
Inside a Stube. Note the Kachelofen at the left, on top is bed space.

A Towel Rack
A Towel Rack. This appears to be carved from wood. One of the more creepy items on display. It is included in a section in the museum that reflects on the uncertainties - or even some unpleasant questions about life itself.

Man from Meran
One of the more ornate costumes I saw originated from Südtirol (South Tirol) near the town of Meran, here a bearded man is adorned with bird plumes and furs.

Insbruck’s Vibrant Maria-Theresien-Straβe (Street)

Maria-Theresien-Straβe (Straβe is pronounced strah-say, translates to ‘Street’) of Innsbruck, Austria, is a vibrant, colorful place. It is the commercial heart of the city with a multitude of modern shops, restaurants and the place to people watch.

The Maria-Theresien-Straβe is partially an extension of Altstadt (Old Town) as pedestrians can freely move from the narrow streets of Altstadt onto the expansive Maria-Theresien-Straβe.

This busy street is actually in two sections: the first is a plaza and absent of traffic, the second section allows automobiles and street trains.

The plaza allows for people to dart from various shops or sit under large umbrellas and enjoy a meal. The plaza is freckled with tourists, locals, jet-setters, backpackers, people walking their dogs, high-fashion-short-skirted women, tour groups, kids entertaining the tourists to try to make a few Euros, an elderly man playing the violin – also trying to make a few extra Euros, and families with baby carriages out for a walk…just to name a few of the folks. An unknown number of languages are heard in the plaza; people are visiting from all over the world. Who is a local, who is a tourist?

Some teenagers walk down the street and dart into a modern shopping mall located on the plaza, they looked American but I soon realize they are local kids wearing the same styles and ‘fashion’ of baggy pants as American teens. The mall is immaculately clean, bright, with music pulsing from the various stores. Many of the stores had photos in their windows of healthy, sexy looking people wearing revealing clothes and styled hair, laughing, and apparently enjoying life (wearing the clothes of the store of course). The mall was a close copy of the one where I live in the States, only smaller. I briefly explored but felt uncomfortable at the sterility and mono-culture offered by the mall. I returned to the plaza area. Note: Bathrooms are at the mall.

Annasäule
Annasäule
Fiakers, horse drawn carriages, occasionally roll through the plaza; the sound of the horses’ hooves clicking on the street’s cobbled surface as it passes. A taxi driver slowly drives through the crowd and pulls up to a restaurant and picks up a couple. Taxis, delivery vans and emergency vehicles seem to be some of the few vehicles that are allowed. A bike whizzes by going too fast through the crowd – it dodges in and out missing people before disappearing around a corner. Some people mutter under their breath about that incident.

For all of the people who are here the plaza is surprisingly clean and free of trash.

Near the center of the plaza is a centuries old column called the Annasäule. It was erected in 1706 on Saint Anne’s day to commemorate the Tiroleans defending their lands against the Bavarian and French troops. The Madonna stands upon the column. Nearby, a modern raised reflecting pool might encourage mental contemplation, but during the day the outside edge of the pool is mostly used by people to sit, talk and contemplate the many people walking past.

The plaza was recently created around 2008. I remember this area from previous visits when the entire street had cars and street trains. Seeing it now with just people, while welcome, felt odd. The new plaza space allows for more open space and movement, but also for more people and tourists. The city gained a great deal by having a bustling place to shop, dine and just hang out; but it lost something important – I am not sure exactly what. I asked a lifetime resident about the new cobbled plaza area and what they thought of it. The response was interesting, “What is good for the tourists is good; it’s not always so good for the people who live here.”

The Triumphal Arch at Night
The Triumphal Arch at night. A view from the opposite side, looking through the arch down the Maria-Theresien-Straβe.
The evening is my favorite time to visit the plaza area. The intensity of the day has diminished and the people visiting seem more relaxed. Some of the restaurants are still open and more locals seem to be out. The noisy bustle of the day has quieted and the street has more of the old feel I remember. In the late eventing the light in the sky can be a cobalt blue as the mountains hide the setting sun and the city looks painted as the lights play gently on the historic churches and buildings in the area.

Moving from the plaza to the the second section of the Maria-Theresien-Straβe the street trains and automobiles return. The street continues on in a southward direction but with a slight bend to the west. Here are more restaurants, sidewalk seating and a few other stores like outdoor sports shops. Here you can see to the end of the street; all the way to a large, white-stone, Romanesque style arch over the street that is at least 17 meters high. This is the Triumphal Arch and has graced the city for several centuries. Cars heading south have the pleasure of driving through the arch, while those driving north drive to one side.

Maria-Theresien-Straβe gets its name from the Empress Maria Theresia, she was the only woman ruler during the Habsburg dynasty.

Escape the Crowds at Innsbruck’s Hofgarten

The Hofgarten in Innsbruck, Austria, is a quiet and lovely place to escape the tourists of nearby Altstadt (Old Town). This large public garden was once created for Imperial rulers but today offers a quiet place for everyone to collect their thoughts, relax and enjoy being in this beautiful place.

Fiakers at the HofgartenA fleet of Fiakers (Horse drawn carriages) were queued under large shade trees at the edge of the park waiting for tourists. On slow days it is common to see nearly a dozen horses queued, while during busy days the Fiakers do not have to wait long for eager tourists to climb aboard.

The driver at the front of the queue tried to politely entice my family (in German) to join him and his horse for a ride around the city but we politely declined as our destination was the park itself. A few minutes later he asked another family about a ride, they clamored aboard and away all of them trotted.

We entered the garden by passing through a tall gate held in place with high and thick perimeter walls. Inside the walls were manicured lawns, lush trees, flower patches and wide pathways.

Near the center of the park was a large white structure. Some people had gathered, most were middle aged or elderly. Some of the crowd members stood but most sat on benches. Everyone quietly watched several men standing at a the edge of a large chessboard built into the ground. Each playing square on the chessboard was about a third of a meter wide and the largest chess piece was about half a meter tall. A good number of pieces lay at the sides of the chessboard – the battle must have been intense. Just a few pieces remained on the chessboard and the opposing Generals carefully contemplated the strategy and tactics of their remaining chess armies; only moving their pieces once they had calculated all possibilities.

We left the chessboard and explored the rest of the garden passing a small pond. People were courteous and quiet – enjoying this peaceful place in the middle of a city.

Above the trees in the distance gigantic mountains that stretched into the clouds surrounded this urban park and the city of Innsbruck.

The Power and Beauty of the Hofburg

The Hofburg (Court Castle) in Innsbruck, Austria, is a majestic sight. The building elegantly conveys beauty while projecting the presence of Imperial power. Originally completed in the year 1500 by Emperor Maximilian I it underwent refurbishment in the mid seventeen hundreds when it gained many current features. Today, the Hofburg is used for concerts, government social events, and a place for curious travelers to explore.

Inside the Hofburg are a number of rooms featuring the furniture and possessions of Imperial family members who resided here at different times over the centuries. In addition to being an extravagant home, the Hofburg also reinforced the presence and power of the Austrian State. The Giants Room where social and state events would be held is an example of this; it is a large freestanding Renaissance style room without columns, massive chandeliers hang from the ceiling, multi-colored and interlocking marble designs accent the floor, oversized portraits of the Imperial family members hang on the walls and an impressive almost three-dimensional painting on the ceiling dominates the heavens.

The Hofburg is beautiful, regal and elegant. It showcases how the über-elite lived in extravagant comfort and opulence. It also hints at how servants who worked in the palace lived. In one section a small, cramped and dimly lit room that was scarcely furnished sat adjacent to the larger Imperial ‘bathing’ room. Here the servants waited patiently and quietly until they were summoned.

While the building itself was impressive my ‘take away’ from the Hofburg was that the Imperial family members who lived here, in a way, lived in a microcosm. Actions related to politics, war, the economy and marriage assisted the goals and ambitions of one Imperial family. Many State decisions were likely made in a comfortable setting, with the warmth of a fire, with an abundance of food and surrounded by servants. While I appreciated the visit I was glad to step out the main door and return to the Republic of modern Austria – and the many rich experiences, choices and opportunities that can be enjoyed by all individuals. …Oddly, my first thought was to find some ice cream.

One such enjoyment are the free live performances that are held in the evening in the Hofburg’s courtyard. In summer (July) local orchestras, musicians and traditional folk music groups are scheduled every evening to play in the courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by the elegant Hofburg and the majestic building provides an audiophile’s dream of a clean, elegant and imperial setting for enjoying live music. I greatly enjoyed the presentation by an orchestra one evening – it was truly a treat. Arrive early for better seating.

Another nice treat is the Rennweg, the street that stretches in front of the Hofburg. Here are great opportunities for photos, sightseeing, theater, and seeing one of the many Fiakers (horse drawn carriages) that meander through Innsbruck’s streets.