Cities & Urban Trails

Walking the Murals & Urban Art Scene in Eugene, Oregon

I like my hiking repertoire to also include urban trails. 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 at Sizzle Pie for 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

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

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

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

Hafelekarspitze

View from Hafelekarspitze

Curious Finds in Hötting

Curious Finds in Hotting

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

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

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

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)

Schloss 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

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

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

Hidden Treasures

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)

Innsbruck’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

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 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.

Visiting Innsbruck’s Hofkirche (Court Church)

Visiting Innsbruck’s Hofkirche (Court Church)

A very curious place to visit in Innsbruck, Austria, is the Hofkirche (Court Church). The Hofkirche houses the tomb built for Emperor Maximilian I and is ringed by 28 ornately crafted bronze statues that stand 2 to 2.5 meters high. These tomb guardians represent the Emperor’s ancestors and his heroes of antiquity, including King Arthur.

Looking upon the HofkircheThese statues were cast with magnificent detail and some have facial expressions with such workmanship that when the light is just right you have to look twice to make sure the statue did not blink.

On top of the cenotaph (the Emperor’s Tomb) in the center of the Hofkirche is a kneeling Emperor Maximilian. He is surrounded by the cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, temperance, and prudence. Maximilian is kneeling in the direction of the church’s alter. Below are ornately carved wooden pews. It is common to see visitors to the church sitting in the pews, or kneeling in prayer. The church itself is surprisingly bright with lances of natural light shooting in from the windows. The light plays well with the dark statues and alternating black/white diamond pattern inlaid into the floor.

Looking in the direction of the alter along one row of statues.Construction on the tomb began around 1500 and took more than 80 years to be completed – long after the Emperor’s death in 1519. Perhaps the most curious item about this ornate place is that the Emperor is not buried in the tomb. This slight oversight in the original plan does not diminish the artisan craftsmanship, metallurgy, stonemasonry, or stone carving skill that helped to create this amazing place and is considered Innsbruck’s “most notable work of art.” (Innsbruck, the City Guide).

Visitors to the Hofkirche should begin their visit with a short video followed by an immersive presentation that highlights the life and legacy of Emperor Maximilian I.

Amazing detail can be seen on each of the statues.We purchased our tickets and walked into a pleasant courtyard. There a docent-led us into a small room. The wall included a number of paintings featuring the Emperor. The docent selected the language of the program (German, English, Italian, and Spanish that I saw, possibly more are offered) from a small device in the wall then left the room. The lights darkened and a presentation began about Maximilian’s early life and sections of the wall illuminated when being discussed. Then a section of the wall opened and we were beckoned into a dark chamber with a giant globe at its center. This part of the presentation focused on one of Maximilian’s favorite sayings, “He who does not make his monument in his life is not remembered after death and will be forgotten with the toll of the bell.” An unseen booming voice speaks and highlights Maximilian’s work, patronage of the arts, wars, marriages and ultimately his legacy, which shaped European events for centuries. The lighting and sections that open on the globe help to emphasize the words of the disembodied voice. Then another section of the wall opened and we are enticed into a third chamber that is dark and playing calming monastic songs. In the far part of the chamber is a painting showing the dead Emperor, at the edges of the chamber are white linen forms that resemble the shapes of the statues that we will later see. Additional history and story are given by an unseen voice and the program concludes. As it does loud bell tolls… the sound of a latch opens and a door opens and we step into blinding light. I suspect the desired effect was to simulate a ‘going to the light’ experience. Once my eyes readjusted to the light I looked over ten meters or so and the docent was inviting another small group into the first chamber. It was only a few steps to the Hofkirche and to see these ornately crafted bronze statues. The presentation was fun, educational and took about 15 minutes to complete.

When visiting plan thirty minutes to an hour for both the presentation and the visit to the Hofkirche.

A 360 Degree View Over Innsbruck

A 360 Degree View Over Innsbruck

A must see in Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town) is the Stadtturm (City Tower).

It is great to walk up the 148 steps as they wind along the inside edge of this great tower. At the lower levels the walls are scrawled with decades of visitors’ comments. Some of the steps are worn looking from thousands of visitors over the years; other steps clang with the sound of footsteps as unseen visitors above return. The stairway is narrow in places and sometimes you have to wait for others to come down or up the stairs.

At the top is a small door and you need to duck your head to exit, when you raise your eyes you are overlooking all of Innsbruck – at 31 meters over the city it is a magnificent view; below are rooftops, umbrellas from sidewalk restaurants and people moving in all directions.

The Stadtturm was built approximately in 1450 and had a tapered form, but it collapsed in the 16th century. The tower was rebuilt in the 1560’s in the ornate Renaissance style we see today.

View from the Stadtturm. Looking down onto the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof).

View from the Stadtturm. Looking down onto the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof).

Overlooking Part of Innsbruck's  Altstadt (Old Town)

Overlooking Part of Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)

A Little Known Story About Innsbruck’s Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)

A Little Known Story About Innsbruck’s Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)

Visitors to the Alpine city of Innsbruck, Austria, can expect to see the Goldenes Dachl (The Golden Roof). The Goldenes Dachl is the center of Altstadt (Old Town) and the historic center of Innsbruck.

The name is derived from the 2,657 gilded copper shingles that adorn the top of this structure built around 1500. The effect is radiant when light shines upon the roof; it continues to impress visitors 500 years after being built by Emperor Maximilian I.

I won’t go into the life of Emperor Maximilian I, but here is a little about his legacy; Maximilian greatly expanded the House of Habsburg, through wars and marriage, and helped it become one of the most important royal houses in Europe thus greatly influencing European history for centuries after his death.

Today, most visitors just look at the Goldenes Dachl, take a photo and move on to the next sight. But, the curious should peek inside the Goldenes Dachl Museum (Golden Roof Museum) to learn more about Maximilian I and the 500 year history of the Goldenes Dachl. Inside this museum are some great photos, including photos of Innsbruck during the early 20th century prior to and during World War II (it was here I was reminded about a story I heard back in 1996 during a pervious visit to the city). The story involved the people of Innsbruck encasing this beautiful building in a protective bunker during World War II, yet little is mentioned today about this act of preservation. The story might be known to natives, but it is rarely mentioned to tourists.

During World War II Innsbruck suffered from both occupation by Axis powers and aerial bombing from the Allies. In the mid and late war years the city was slammed on multiple occasions from Allied bombs which devastated the nearby railroad yards and many surrounding buildings. The Altstadt area also received bomb damage. To protect this treasure, the people of Innsbruck encased the Goldenes Dachl in a thick bunker to protect it from damage. At the War’s end the bunker was removed; amidst the surrounding ruins of war the preserved Goldenes Dachl shown brightly and became a symbol of hope during Innsbruck’s rebuilding.

Shown below is an image taken in 1945 showing bomb damage with two meter deep rubble piles; the rectangular bunker can be partially seen in the left of the image, note the horrific gouge in the top front. The color photo is from the same vantage point taken in the summer of 2011; it shows the Goldenes Dachl and Altstadt area alive with visitors.

Original 1945 Photo Source: Goldenes Dachl mit Luftchutzmauer, Friedrich Nickel, 1945, schwartz-weiss Negativ, Sammlung Walter Kreutz KR/NE-3486.
Source Book: “zur Stadtgeschichte Innsbrucks,” page 120, Ingrid Bubestinger and Gertraud Zeindl.

Discovering Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)

Discovering Innsbruck’s Altstadt (Old Town)

If you visit Innsbruck, Austria, you will likely visit the picturesque Altstadt (Old Town). Altstadt is the heart of the city and provides visitors and locals with a collection of medieval buildings, historic hotels and modern restaurants. The main thoroughfare is cobbled, clean and offers a myriad of respectable side alleys to explore.

The old town is over 500 years old and the buildings that have been constructed throughout the centuries are maintained to retain their beauty and flair. There is great historic significance here and several insightful museums are hidden in various nooks of old town (more on this in other posts). Altstadt has another purpose – to provide tourists with what they want: a centrally located, safe, colorful and non-intimidating place to visit.

In the time required to eat a very leisurely lunch, enjoying a coffee and just hang out (OK – 3 hours) at a cafe it is possible to see a dozen different tour groups parade by; each group with 30 or 40 participants taking in the sights, snapping pictures and chattering before being rushed off to the next destination bypassing much of Innsbruck itself.

Experiencing Innsbruck’s old town at different times during the day, and over multiple days is a fun way to learn more about the people of Innsbruck. Winter is a wonderful time to visit, but this article will cover visiting in the summer. Here are some discoveries made about the Altstadt over the a month during the summer.

Altstadt in the Morning During Summer:
The streets are mostly empty of tourists. The sky is overcast but clearing. The light is soft and colors on the sides of buildings appear to be waking up. Delivery vehicles are parked outside shops to restock supplies before the tourists arrive later in the day. A healthy looking local woman jogs by then is quickly followed by a man on his bike. The sound of tables and chairs being unlocked is heard, then followed by the clank of being quickly placed on the cobbled streets in front of restaurants. Several a-frame-boards on the sidewalk offer breakfast, one entices people to an ‘American style’ breakfast. Some folks are sitting outside enjoying the morning with a coffee. The coffee is served in a ceramic cup on a saucer – never in a paper cup.

Altstadt in the Afternoon During Summer:
The streets are busy and packed with tourists. A woman who is part of a tour breaks away from the group; she is wearing a newly bought Dirndl, a traditional dress, and is staring up at the ornate buildings – she seems curiously out of place. She is so fascinated by the sights and almost bumps into a man who is walking his dog. A number of languages are being spoken by people in the crowd: German, English, Italian, Hindi, Japanese, Spanish, but quickly the voices seem to intertwine and blend together. A group of Scouts (both boys and girls) wearing colorful red shirts walk by. The uniforms were casual, yet pressed and well maintained. Tourists snap photos in front of the Golden Roof, the centerpiece of old town. Several silver-painted humans appear as statues on the street, they are only occasionally moving and surprising unsuspecting tourists. The smell of cigarette smoke is heavy in the air. People look at trinkets displayed outside a shop and dole out money to buy a memento of their trip. The smell of cooking is in the air and people are packed at tables that line the streets eating a variety of items, but mostly pizza. A bike zips in and out of the crowd and whizzes by almost clipping me. An older person says something in German to the rider as he is passed. A baby cries because he is tired and the Mom picks him up. People walk by with shopping bags under their arms. Many tourists are wearing basically the same type of commercial t-shirts, branded tennis shoes and bulky shorts, with the exception of their respective language, it is at times hard to tell who in the crowd is an American and who is European.

Altstadt in the Evening During Summer:
The pavement is wet from a late afternoon rain. The sky appears a cobalt blue as the sun has long since set behind the towering mountains that loom overhead. Historic buildings are washed in beams of light and are beautiful to see. Some of the tables from the afternoon seem to have been stored for the night, but most of the tables closer to the Golden Roof are filled with late night diners. Cigarette smoke is still prevalent but less than in the afternoon. The human statues have disappeared and some of the store fronts appear to be quiet and dark inside. Backpackers walk by headed to some unknown place to stay. People walk a little more slowly, some are arm-in-arm. More locals seem to be on the street. A woman in the top most story of a building looks down on the crowd and continues to ‘people watch’ for about an hour. Children with dark features dart to and fro playing and some women wearing veils talk quietly among themselves at the side of the street. Occasionally the sounds of Middle Eastern and South-east Asian languages come from the back restaurants as the businesses close down. Some German speaking teenagers are hanging out, smoking and looking bored, they are dressed as though they just stepped out from an American mall. One comes up carrying a skateboard, saying something dryly, then all walk down to the bus stop.

Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)

Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)


Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)

Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)


Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)

Innsbruck's Altstadt (Old Town)


Some amazing gelato we found in Altstadt

Some amazing gelato we found in Altstadt


The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)

The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is the centerpiece of Altstadt and probably the most photographed building in Innsbruck. Note the street artists picture on display at the lower right - it is Michael Jackson.

Tirol’s Heumandl – The Man of Hay

Tirol’s Heumandl - The Man of Hay

When visiting the countryside of Austria’s Tirol keep an eye open for the “Heumandl” or the “Man of Hay.”

At first glance, this two-meter (7 feet) tall shape looks like person standing in a farm field. When many of these shapes are together they appear like an amassed army ready to march into the village beyond.

But, look closer, these forms are actually stacks of freshly harvested hay.

A Heumandl begins with a skeletal form, called a Hiefler. The ones I saw were made of wood and had a 2 meter tall center staff that supported two sets of four ‘branches.’ Each branch group was about one-quarter and three-quarters of the way up the main staff.

At harvest time when the grass is about half a meter in height it is cut and stacked on the Hieflers to dry. After the grass has dried it is collected and stored. During the cold wintertime the cattle and animals can enjoy the bounty of this summer harvest.

The locals mentioned this form of harvesting hay is becoming rare; more and more it is an infrequent sight to see.

This photo was taken in July near the village of St. Sigmund im Sellrain, about 20 km (13 miles) northwest of Innsbruck.

Savoring the Experience at Eugene’s Farmers Market

The Lane County Farmers Market–

  • Traces its history back to 1915
  • Features over 85 growers and producers
  • Offers produce that is often less than 24 hours of being harvested

The market has a long history of providing jobs and locally produced food for the community.

blog-2011-05-26-img-01During a springtime road trip through Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I was offered a delicious opportunity to experience local and farm fresh food while visiting Eugene. Over the years of traveling in Oregon I had always found myself returning to the Eugene area, yet once again I was finding my time limited. I decided to make the best of those few hours and visit the local farmers market.

It was a Saturday morning and I walked about 15 minutes from my motel to the corners of 8th and Oak Streets. The evening before there had been a gentle rain giving the sidewalk and surrounding buildings a pristine sheen. The air was cool and moist but there was gentle warmth that hinted summer was near.

Ahead was a bustle of activity; there was a small city of tents, cars were being unloaded, people were milling about, and I could hear music. A woman passed me; she was carrying a large cotton bag that had been stuffed with greens, the vegetables were so abundant they appeared to be surging over the bag’s edge.

I had arrived at the downtown Farmer’s Market, officially known as the Lane County Farmers Market. As I walked up to the first grouping of booths I could not deny the abundance of colors: a color pallet of orange from the carrots, a gradient of white to green from the asparagus, and the rosy red blush of turnips. Nearby were grouping of dark leaves that sprawled across several displays, each bunch was vibrant and sturdy – it was a small forest of salad.

A man passed by, he carried a flat filled with produce and presented it to a woman behind their display. The farmers were surprisingly healthy looking with pink-cheeks, and well defined statures. Mostly, though I noticed their smiles; it was obvious they loved their work.

The time was now mid-morning and the market was just starting to kick into a higher gear. Everyone was lively and embraced the good ‘vibes’ of the morning air.

A dark-haired girl gently swayed her head to the melody she crafted with her violin. The open case at her feet welcomed donations from her milling audience.

There was a table covered with a red checkerboard cloth, upon it was a small display of eggs, each egg had a slight, yet distinct variation from the next; some were tan, others were red, some were speckled. As I observed them a woman wearing a sun hat came up, plunked down her money and spoke to the owner by name, she wanted 2 cartons. The scene reminded me of a cowboy swaggering up to the bar of an old saloon. The owner reached into one of the coolers, that was behind the table, and gave the woman 2 dozen fresh eggs.

A wood-fired pizza oven gently puffed a thin trail of smoke into the sky; it was still being warmed in preparation for lunch.

A waft of aromatic goodness and a sizzle from an iron skillet was seductively compelling. I peered over splashguard of a booth’s display; a man had just added several types of veggies and garlic to a masterful looking egg creation. It appeared as though this dish could rival a similar meal from a high-end restaurant.

Finally, my eyes and tummy got the better of me. I had to sample some of this amazing food, but I was in a quandary, of the amazing choices what should I eat? Finally, I decided, and then I ate well.

Afterwards, I stepped through a well-worn door and into the red-bricked and cozy Park St. Café; one of the neighboring locally owned businesses.

I enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee, read the paper, and watched the market unfold until it was time for me to return to my motel and grab my bags. For several minutes I had noticed a family outside the window, a curious child was at their side, the parent’s were carrying bags full of bread and vegetables. They appeared to be waiting for someone. I tipped the cup and savored the last few rich drops, both of coffee and of my time at the market. The family started to smile and they welcomed some friends who had just arrived, giving warm hugs to each other. As I sat the cup down, it was decided. This was a place where I wanted to spend my time.

The market has a long history of providing jobs, and locally produced food for the community; but look deeper, it’s the embodiment of a connection to the land, to friends, and with neighbors.

To learn more visit:
http://lanecountyfarmersmarket.org
http://www.parkstcafe.com

Ten Tips for Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail: Part 7 of 7

Ten Tips to Better Enjoy the Barbary Coast Trail

The Barbary Coast Trail is roughly 4 miles in length and takes visitors through several of San Francisco’s colorful neighborhoods while exploring the city’s past and present. Here are 10 helpful tips for saving time and money on the trail:

1. Take a Map.
An excellent map is the “Walker’s Map of San Francisco,” by Pease Press Maps. It can be purchased at many bookstores and vendors in San Francisco. The map shows the Barbary Coast Trail route as well as many other great walking trails in the city. I found the map to be very durable even after heavy use and multiple trips.

2. Read Before You Go.
A good reference book is “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail,” by Daniel Bacon. It approaches the trail with a good deal of back-story. My copy of the book was published a few years ago but it is still a great reference. Read up a little before you go so you can identify where you want to spend more of your time.

3. Where to Find Bathrooms?
If you are starting your trip near the Old Mint in the Downtown area you can make a pit stop at the Westfield Shopping Center at the corner of Market and 5th near the Powell Bart station exit. Along the trail, you can always find facilities at storefronts, restaurants or small eateries. Many of the facilities at restaurants and eateries are for ‘customers only’ so you might need to buy something or at least offer a couple of dollars as a donation.

4. Take the Cable Car Like a Local.
San Francisco is known for cable cars. People queue up near a cable car turnaround waiting for their opportunity to experience riding on one. During weekends and especially in the summer these lines can be very long. Ride on the cable car early in the morning or late in the day to experience fewer people. The cable car system is part of the city’s public transit service and (if a cable car has room) will make stops along the route to pick up passengers. It is possible to walk a couple of blocks up from the cable car turnaround to one of these stops and flag down a passing cable car. Where you sit on the cable car is important: as you board sit in a seat in the open section, or if you like a bit of fun – stand on the outside railing. Inside the cabin, it can be a bit claustrophobic and you miss some the colorful antics and comments of the conductor. It is also a treat to stand on the back of the cable car.

5. Take Bart & CalTrain into the City.
Driving in downtown San Francisco can be very stressful and parking very expensive. If possible take the BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit) system. It is a great way to get around much of the Bay Area and takes you directly to the beginning of the trail near the Powell Street Station. If you’re driving from the south (up to the peninsula) park at the Colma Bart Station. It is a clean place to park and does not have the grungy feel as the neighboring Daly City station. Parking at the Colma station on the weekend is free and access onto the freeway is close. Always check online for changes to parking fees routes, etc. The CalTrain runs along the western peninsula from San Jose to San Francisco. It is a good way to get into the city but you will have to the take a surface tram or walk, once you arrive in San Francisco to get to the start of the trail on Market Street. Walking the mile or so up to Market is much safer than it used to be and is ok in the daytime. The area has been greatly gentrified over the years and walking during the day has never been an issue for me.

6. Dude, Spare Some Money?
Panhandling does exist in San Francisco and you might be asked for money. Aggressive panhandling (when someone is belligerent and gets in your face) is not as common as it once was in San Francisco, though it can still occur. You are more likely to have your money ‘taken’ at a cheesy t-shirt stand in a touristy area than by a criminal. Be prepared to see a homeless person shuffling down the street or someone crashed out in a doorway. As with any big city, crime exists but I have never had any issues while walking on the Barbary Coast Trail.

7. Take Supplies: Water, Munchies, and Some Small Bills.
Bring some water, munchies and some extra cash with you. You will want to stay well hydrated and keep your energy up. Even after a short time, the best of us can become grumpy when we are hungry. Keep a couple of one-dollar bills in a buttoned pocket or somewhere that you can easily access as emergency cash, like if you need to use the bathroom facilities and need to offer some cash to a store owner. Several banks are along the trail’s route, but fees associated with ATMs can be expensive.

8. Shop Around Before You Eat.
Another reason for keeping some munchies with you is so you will not eat at the first place you see when you are hungry. SF has some excellent places to eat; but you still want to choose wisely, the problem isn’t finding a good place to eat, it is trying to figure out which of the many good places to eat. Along the trail are restaurants to satisfy every taste.

9. Avoid the Crowds.
San Francisco is a popular place for tourists. The mild climate makes the city a destination year round but summer is the busiest time. You will always find crowds but if you can visit mid-week or during the wintertime, you can have many of the attractions to yourself. I actually enjoy exploring in the wintertime. The cooler weather keeps most people away and the clear skies after a rain make for the most stunning views.

10. A Day Trip Suggestion.
The Barbary Coast Trail can be ‘walked’ quickly in as little as 4 hours and can really be explored if you have several days. However, if you have just one day I suggest starting your exploration early in the morning; being on the trail by 8 a.m. is ok. This allows for poking around different stores, people watching and enjoying the sights. You can easily spend several hours walking through Union Square and Chinatown. Enjoy some tea in Chinatown and continue past Portsmouth Square to the Wells Fargo History Museum to learn about the Gold Rush (note: only open during weekdays). Continue past the Trans America Pyramid along the old coastline and the Old Barbary Coast area. Around lunchtime, grab a sandwich at Molinari’s deli in the North Beach neighborhood. If you need a coffee, the nearby Caffe Trieste, offers some good coffee and sells some lunch items as well. Work off lunch by climbing up to Coit Tower and enjoying the views of San Francisco. As you walk down to the waterfront check out the sea lions at Pier 39. A lot of places at Pier 39 will be selling bread bowls filled with Clam Crowder – avoid this temptation and hold out for some crab later that day. As you leave the sea lions you might be tempted to catch a ferry and visit Alcatraz Island – I would suggest making this a separate trip. Continue down the waterfront to the World War II vessels and check these out. Just beyond this area along the trail are vendors who sell Dungeness Crab – grab a bite to eat at one of these vendors. Check out the Hyde Street Pier and climb aboard the myriad of old-time ships. If you need a snack the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory is nearby, but one dessert can easily feed several people and you might have to wait some time for a table. The Hyde Street Cable Car turnaround is a few feet away and the line for a ticket has generally shortened by the end of the day. The Cable Car ride back to Powell Street is about 15 to 20 minutes and will take you back past Union Square to the starting point.

Read more about the Barbary Coast Trail:

Part 6: Northern Waterfront
Part 5: North Beach
Part 4: Barbary Coast
Part 3: Gold Rush City
Part 2: Chinatown
Part 1: Downtown

Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail – The Northern Waterfront: Part 6 of 7

San Francisco Barbary Coast Trail Northern Waterfront

The Barbary Coast Trail is roughly 4 miles in length and takes visitors through several of San Francisco’s colorful neighborhoods while exploring the city’s past and present.

This section of our walk along the Barbary Coast Trail begins at Pier 39 along San Francisco’s Northern Waterfront. Pier 39 is a haven for tourists. It is a fun place to see but be careful to manage your time – it is easy for time to quickly pass and there is a great deal in the area to experience.

At the northwestern side of the pier is the boisterous ‘barking’ California sea lions. These pinnipeds ‘haul out’ on the docks to sun and rest. During the winter months, it is possible for the population to reach as high as 600! During this visit, roughly 150 or so sea lion residents were enjoying this bay-side property. From a distance, the sea lions look cute and cuddly, but some of the males can reach weights up to 850 pounds and 7 feet in length! The sea lions have proven to be a revenue generator for Pier 39 attracting thousands of onlookers each year. We enjoyed watching their rest as well as antics including two juveniles playing tag; one wound dive into the water quickly followed by a friend, a second later the first would bolt from the water landing on the pier. The friend would join him and the two would playfully wrestle then chasing each other again. After having our fill of sea lions we walked down the Embarcadero passing colorful and sometimes flamboyant street vendors who sought the attention and tips of admiring tourists. In the distance, we could see our next stop, the USS Pampanito.

The USS Pampanito is a submarine that served during World War II and today welcomes visitors. During the War the Pampanito patrolled the South China Sea sinking six enemy ships and damaging four others. Sometimes her crew was subjected to long hours, depth charges and near misses by torpedoes. Visitors have an option of using a handheld device to help guide them through the sub and learn more about this vessel’s story. I was fascinated to see a tiny galley that was roughly 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, it served 4 meals a day for up to 80 crew members!

My daughter enjoyed the torpedo rooms with polished metal and gigantic sized torpedoes on display. The smell of diesel and oil permeated the air in the sub and I could only imagine how great the smell must have been more than sixty-five years ago.

This was a good visit, but as I entered the mess I remembered a visit eleven years earlier when – as I entered the same room – was greeted by four elderly men who had served about the Pampanito during the war. They were warm natured and jovial about talked affectionately about their service, but also with great respect. It was easy for them to laugh one minute, then have a strong emotional and reverent tone in their voice the next. I do not know if any of these men still return, but the presence of those who served aboard the USS Pampanito during the war still lingers here.

Our next stop was just a few steps down the pier to the Liberty Ship ‘SS Jeremiah O’Brien’ – and it is a treat! This is a wonderful place to play and learn about US History. We stayed an hour and a half and still did not see it all.

A Liberty Ship is a cargo vessel built during World War II to supply forces in Europe and in the Pacific. The Jeremiah O’Brien was one of 2,751 ships that were built for this purpose. The O’Brien served at the battle of Normandy and in the far Pacific, but this ended in 1946 when she was made inactive and ‘mothballed’ with scores of the other ships. Years later she was chosen for restoration and sailed away from the mothball fleet under her own power. Hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly and returned the O’Brien to her former glory. In 1994 the restored Liberty Ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and returned to the Normandy beaches of France to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. The O’Brien is only two of such Liberty Ships that remain.

I enjoyed the labyrinth of walkways and ladders in the four-story-tall engine room. The kids loved patrolling the sky and defending the ship against imaginary aircraft with the revolving anti-aircraft guns on deck. These giant guns still pivoted on their turrets, powered by hand cranks and the grit and energy of youthful kids. At the back of the O’Brien, we found an inactive artillery shell that must have weighed 80 pounds and was about 30 inches long. The best part of our visit was the lack of crowds.

Continuing down the waterfront check out the sidewalk cafes and crab vendors who will serve up some cooked Dungeness Crab.

The next stop was the Balclutha, a square-rigged sailing ship (also shown at the top of this article) that evokes a time when white sails powered giant wooden ships over the waves. The interior has been restored and offers a glimpse into the cargo and life of the time. It also introduces you to the cramped crew quarters and the small, but luxurious Captain’s quarters. While on the main deck look for an empty cage as it is the beginning of a scavenger hunt of sorts. One sailor’s old journal talked about pigs getting loose during a voyage and how difficult it was to locate and capture them. This scavenger hunt barrows from his journal entry – your job is to try to find the wayward pig, Sowclutha, she is somewhere aboard. Other historic ships are moored in the area and offer other opportunities to explore some great vessels.

Everyone was ready for a snack so we visited Ghirardelli Square for a quick bite of ice cream. Afterwards, we bought Cable Car tickets for a quick trolley trip back to the start of the Barbary Coast Trail at Market and Powell Streets.

>> Read my Ten Tips for Walking the Barbary Coast Trail.

Reference: “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon.

Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail – North Beach: Part 5 of 7

The Barbary Coast Trail is roughly 4 miles in length and takes visitors through several of San Francisco’s colorful neighborhoods while exploring the city’s past and present.

The North Beach District has deep Italian roots and this influence imbues the culture of the area.

Columbus Avenue is the major thoroughfare through North Beach, it is lined with restaurants, coffee houses, and a bookstore name City Lights, the first stop on our exploration of this section of the Barbary Coast Trail.

City Lights is an excellent bookstore packed in a small space. Here you can find secluded nooks and squeaky staircases that take you to hallowed areas where free speech is cherished. In the mid-fifties, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti published a work by author Allen Ginsberg named, “Howl”. In 1957 the written work was deemed ‘obscene’ by the U.S. Government and confiscated by officials. A legal battle over free-speech ensued; later the Court ruled in favor of the author and Mr. Ferlinghetti. In modern times, such a poem would not raise eyebrows, but in the 1950’s this short literary work was ground zero for the national debate on censorship. You can find copies of Howl and an interesting book titled, “Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression,” upstairs in the small and quiet poetry room. Also on the shelves are a number of books from Beat poets and writers. At other levels of the bookstore, you can find titles that both challenge and expand the perceptions of the reader. Kids will enjoy the wonderful cave-like section of the basement that houses the children’s books.

Continuing up Columbus Ave. is Molinari’s Delicatessen.  They have mouthwatering sandwiches too; grab a number as you enter the store, grab your choice of bread from the bread bin and place it on the counter when you place your order. (Note: They do make a great vegetarian sandwich that you can customize with no cheese, just ask for an extra topping in its place). It might take a few minutes for them to call your number but it is worth the wait. We have never been disappointed here and are always impressed with the quality of service, friendly staff, and excellent sandwiches. Several sidewalk tables and chairs are just outside, you can sit and enjoy some great food while you people watch. We finished half a sandwich and packed the rest for later. Now, a coffee was needed, but where to go? Unlike other places in the city, in North Beach you will not find the typical cookie-cutter coffee stores; the community fiercely defends local businesses and does not welcome national chains. This was fine because I wanted a genuine cup of coffee with character and knew just where to look. In two minutes we stood outside a small coffee house called Caffe Trieste.

Caffe Trieste opened in 1956 and has been a fixture in North Beach ever since. Opening the door your nose is greeted with the pungent aroma of coffee. The tables and chairs are clean but show the wear of many patrons. The dark colors of the interior warm the senses and provide a home-like atmosphere. At the counter, I placed an order for two coffees for my wife and a cocoa for my daughter. In a minute several earth colored cups topped with white frothy milk foam were placed in front of me. An aromatic cup of cocoa quickly joined the coffees. In the back of the coffee shop, my family sat among cramped tables that are inlaid like an old Italian mosaic. Some of the tables were very colorful and our cups gently rocked from the slight imbalance of the tiles. My daughter dug into the whipped cream that floated on her cocoa and she offered some to both of us – the whipped cream was real and very delicious. A juke-box filled with CDs played several selections that included: opera, jazz, folk, blues and the deep sensuous voice of a woman singing in Italian. A couple sat next to us and conversed. As they finished their coffee one glanced at the time – in shock stated to her friend they were late. They both grabbed their jackets and left. The experience was comforting, unpretentious, but mostly the experience was like the coffee …genuine.

North Beach has a number of side streets to explore but on this trip, we retuned to the main thoroughfare, Columbus Avenue. Our first stop was the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi to see the three-quarter replica of the original chapel built by St. Francis called, La Porziuncola Nuova. It is a beautiful reconstruction of the chapel located in Italy and honorably pays respect to the San Francisco’s namesake, Saint Francis.

We continued down Columbus exploring the shops, bakeries, restaurants and coffee houses. We also stopped outside Club Fugazi. If you have the opportunity to see a performance here of Beach Blanket Babylon it is a fun experience. The show is known for pop culture and political spoofs and for the gargantuan sized headdresses worn during the show – which can feature the entire skyline of San Francisco. At Washington Square take a peek the St. Peter and Paul Church before heading up to Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill.

The walk to Coit Tower offers great views of the North Beach, but it is steep. One hill was so steep that grooves had been etched into the sidewalk to allow for foot traction. Autos that parked on the street could only park perpendicular to the curb, this was to reduce the risk of an out of control car on the steep grade. Climbing the steep terrain you appreciate the 495 feet to the summit of Telegraph Hill. Some folks drive to the top and during busy times of the year making the trip by car or tour bus can be a real headache. If you can, make the walk.

Crowning the top of Telegraph Hill is the fluted body of the 210-foot tall Coit Tower. Set against the sky it resembles a solitary Roman column overlooking the city. When we arrived at the tower we were surrounded by the cool shade of trees. We rested on a green lawn that overlooked downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge to catch our breath. Then we walked to the opposite side of the tower to enjoy views of the rest of the bay. Here the trees had grown and a number of people were clogging the best viewpoints making viewing difficult. We made a trip to the top of the tower.

We entered the building and were greeted with colorful murals along the walls of the lobby. The artists were influenced by the times of the Great Depression and the artwork reflects this time. The murals can be viewed for free, but you need to pay a small amount to visit the top. We made a quick ride to the top of the tower and were greeted with the most inspiring view; our eyes enjoyed a singular and delicious vista of many miles that included the immense San Francisco Bay and the sights of Alcatraz Island, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, the rugged Marin Headlands, Angel Island State Park and the waterfront – the next section of our trip along the Barbary Coast Trail.

After our visit to Coit Tower we made several detours exploring the fun, but strenuous, Filbert and Greenwich stairs. This allowed us to get our heart rate up and work off that sandwich and coffee. These stairways curve along the steep eastern face of Telegraph Hill to secluded gardens, small walkways, old Victorian and art-deco buildings. After these side trips, we walked down the western side of the hill to rejoin our original path.

Just ahead were more vistas of the northern waterfront and the next section of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail.

>> Continue with Part 6: The Northern Waterfront

Reference: “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon.

Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail – The Barbary Coast: Part 4 of 7

Old Barbary Coast

The Barbary Coast Trail is roughly 4 miles in length and takes visitors through several of San Francisco’s colorful neighborhoods while exploring the city’s past and present.

San Francisco’s original Barbary Coast was a once hive of opium dens, brothels, bars, and gambling houses.

It was along the waterfront that some of the bawdiest establishments catered to an unsavory mix of rough and tumble sailors and miners. This place was so lawless that it was named after the pirate-infested ‘Barbary Coast’ from Africa’s northern coastline of centuries past. From the time of the Gold Rush, the Barbary Coast remained a fixture of the city until it ended in 1917 with societal and police crackdowns. Today, quiet streets and upscale businesses only hint at its tawdry past.

My exploration of this section of the Barbary Coast Trail began at the Redwood Park located near the Transamerica Pyramid Building. Just across the street, Hotaling Alley caught my attention. The alley follows the original shoreline and the pavement have been designed to represent waves lapping a shore. Adorning the sides of the street are antique lampposts and curious looking hitching posts each topped with a horse head. These are actually bumpers to prevent autos from backing into potted trees, but they artfully pay respect to a time when this area was the location of the Hotaling Stables.

At the end of the street is the beautifully decorated Hotaling building. It was built in 1866 and for a good many years “housed the largest liquor repository on the west coast.” The thirsty saloons of the Barbary Coast demanded whiskey and this warehouse gladly provided it. In 1906 San Francisco was devastated by a large earthquake and a firestorm burned much of the city. All looked lost for this part of San Francisco, but just before the wall of fire reached the Hotaling building the wind shifted and the warehouse of whiskey was saved. Some in the country suggested San Francisco was being punished by divine retribution for its sinful nature; in response, the following was penned –

“If, as they say, God spanked the town
For being over frisky,
Why did he burn the churches down
And save Hotaling’s whiskey?”

Today, this doggerel remains as a plaque outside the old whiskey building.

Turning onto Jackson St. I returned to the path of the Barbary Coast Trail. A minute later, at the corner of Montgomery Street, I looked at an unassuming building of granite and brick. Here was the old Bank of Lucas and Turner and Company. It was constructed in 1853-54 and had an unusual first manager named Mr. Sherman. Mr. Sherman already had a history in California but it was the time he served in the Union Army during America’s Civil War that would immortalize him. Mr. Sherman would later be known for the ‘March to the Sea’ and oversee the burning of Atlanta, Georgia. History knows the man who worked here as General William Tecumseh Sherman.

I returned to the Hotaling Whiskey warehouse and just past it was the old Ghirardelli Building. It is here that in 1865 a process for storing chocolate was discovered that allowed it to be easily stored and shipped long distances. This discovery made Ghirardelli Chocolate a household name. Also at this location is a quiet alley called Balance. The alley can be walked in about 25 steps; its length matches a ship’s hull that is buried beneath. The Balance had sailed around the horn of South America and made several lengthy ocean voyages, but in 1849 it was moored here and abandoned as the crew headed to the goldfields. The ship quickly became part of the growing fleet of ‘ghost ships” that was anchored in the bay and later became the foundations for the buildings in modern San Francisco. All that remains of the Balance today is a street sign.

At the end of Balance is the quaint looking Gold Street. Gold Street is quiet now but during the Gold Rush, this place was likely swarmed with miners who had brought saddlebags full of gold to be weighed and tested for purity. Here the first Assaying Office was opened during the Gold Rush. One can only imagine the fortunes and dreams that were realized or lost on this tiny street. Today, a small plaque at the back of an upscale club marks the location of the old Assayer’s Office.

We followed the inlaid sidewalk markers identifying we were on the Barbary Coast Trail to the tree-lined Pacific Street. Here we passed a number of old brick buildings where sailors and miners once found entertainment and drink. Although this place is very different now some of the stories of that time remain; one such story involves sailors and miners being “Shanghaied.”

Shanghaied means to be kidnapped and sent to sea. The most notorious person involved in this unscrupulous business was Shanghai Kelly. His henchmen, known as ‘runners,’ would befriend unsuspecting sailors who had newly arrived from a voyage and likely had a pocket full of money. The runners would bring the sailors to Kelly’s bar for drinks, laughter, and the promise of female companionship. At some point, the sailor would be given drug-laced whiskey, once the drugs took effect the wobbly sailor would be whacked on the head and knocked out cold. The story goes that Shanghai Kelly would pull a lever opening a trap door in the floor – the unconscious sailor would instantly disappear. Underneath the bar, among the pillars of the wharf, the unconscious sailor would be relieved of his money, taken to a sailing vessel, and sold to an unsavory captain. The next day the sailor would wake to find that he had been kidnapped, penniless, was far out to sea, and likely working for an ogre of a captain…possibly sailing to Shanghai, one of the most distant ports in terms of travel time. If the sailor was fortunate and survived the harsh round-trip voyage, poor food, cramped conditions, and hard labor then he might just return to the Barbary Coast several years later.

Another story involves Shanghai Kelly having a ‘Birthday Party’ in which he invited 100 of the Barbary Coast’s most desperate to join him for a bay cruise to ‘celebrate’ his birthday. At some point during the cruise, all of the guests were given opium-laced whiskey. After the ‘guests’ were unconscious Kelly’s ship delivered new crews to three vessels that were waiting to set sail. Kelly ended his party returning home with a full purse and 100 men departed the party bound for an unwelcome ocean voyage.

Make sure to make a stop at the art store at 555 on Pacific Ave. You can recognize it by the ornate decorations and lighting on the outside. This is the old Hippodrome, the bawdy center of the Barbary Coast. Today, it is a fantastic art store with newspaper articles on the inside wall about its past. There is also an old Prohibition tunnel.

The vibrant North Beach lay just ahead, it was home to the beatniks, Italian food, great coffee, a famous bookstore and colorful theater.

>> Continue with Part 5: North Beach

Reference: “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon.

Walking San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail – Gold Rush City: Part 3 of 7

Gold Rush

The Barbary Coast Trail is roughly 4 miles in length and takes visitors through several of San Francisco’s colorful neighborhoods while exploring the city’s past and present.

San Francisco was created by the American Gold Rush.

Gold was discovered by James Marshall, January 1848, at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The event was not well known until that March when an industrious man named Sam Brannan entered the sandy lot of Portsmouth Square in San Francisco and waved a bottle of Gold Dust over his head and cried out, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” In true entrepreneurial fashion Mr. Brannan, prior to his announcement, had stocked up on picks, gold pans, and shovels to sell to the newly energized populace who wanted to be miners. Within two years after his announcement, the small city of 1,000 exploded 20 times – to a population of 20,000!

Today, standing in the Portsmouth Square among the bustle of humanity surrounded by cement and steel buildings it is hard to imagine that on this location in 1848 one man’s announcement about gold ignited a worldwide migration of people to America.

The square has a number of plaques that are worthwhile to find, some include: In 1846 the U.S. Marines first raised the Stars and Stripes over San Francisco; the marines had disembarked from the USS Portsmouth and christened the square with the name of their ship. Also, this place was the location of California’s first public school, constructed in 1848 – the same year Sam Brannan made his announcement about gold. Also here is a marker dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, who often visited here to overlook the bay. Possibly some of the characters in his books were inspired by the sailing ships and the salty characters who sailed upon them.

Leaving Portsmouth Square I headed south just a few steps to Commercial Street. Commercial Street had a long history of business. One of the early establishments here was a branch of the Hudson Bay Company, a fur trading business that was involved in exploring North America during the 1600-1700’s as well as California in the early 1800’s. While walking down the street look for a little green space; this small area marks the location of Emperor Norton’s Imperial Palace, an eccentric character endowed with the title, “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico” who for decades charmed locals. He was so beloved by the city that it is reported his funeral was the largest in San Francisco’s history. While here also check out the Chinese Historical Society and the Pacific Heritage Museum. The site of the Pacific Heritage Museum was the original location of the US Branch Mint. It was here that gold from the Mother Load was housed from 1855 until 1874.

Walk to the end of Commercial Street to the corner of Montgomery and observe the topography around you, it’s really flat. Now, instead of cement at your feet imagine a sandy shoreline, deconstruct the buildings, move the people away, and un-pave the streets.  In front of you is a bay with several dozen wooden sailing vessels anchored in the shallow waters. Why then is the shoreline located 3/4 of a mile from where it is today? To find out walk to the Wells Fargo Bank History Room – a treasure box for those curious about the America’s Gold Rush history.

As you enter the glass doors it is hard to miss the refurbished Abbot-Downing “Concord” Stagecoach – the same kind you see on the Wells Fargo TV commercials. You can get up close and see the details in the woodwork. It is hard to believe that 9 people could have been stuffed inside – and another 9 on top! At the history room, you can also see beautifully crafted precision scales for measuring gold, solid gold nuggets, treasure boxes and photographs from the Gold Rush time.

Kids can ride a Pony Express exhibit and have their photo taken as the newest Pony Express rider. On this exhibit, they have a mochilla, a unique looking saddlebag designed to fit over any saddle and that could be easily transferred between riders. The mochilla could carry up to 20 pounds of mail in four pouches. People often do not think of San Francisco as being on the Pony Express route, but it was the final destination of many of those letters. It is amazing to think that these letters made a 1,966-mile journey by horseback from Missouri to California in just 10 days!

Upstairs you can sit in the body of a stagecoach and listen to an account from a rider who traveled by stage to the west coast. Just listening to this audio makes a person very appreciative of our modern conveniences. Also upstairs are a number of letters and photos from the mid to late 1800’s. I personally enjoyed a drawing called the “Birds Eye View of San Francisco” (shown with the abandoned ships in the foreground) which illustrates the hundreds of ‘ghost ships’ that choked the waterfront of San Francisco. Here is why the shoreline is not where it used to be; as the ships anchored in the bay hundreds were abandoned as sailors jumped-ship and traveled to the gold fields in search of fortune. As the number of ships grew this ‘graveyard of ships’ became new real estate and created the foundations of buildings, wharfs, and streets as the city grew to fill in the shallow bay, entombing the ships that brought so many to these shores.

Leaving the museum and walking just a few short blocks back on Montgomery, past Commercial Street to the corner of Clay Street is the Transamerica Pyramid Building. Make a quick walk up Clay Street to view a plaque marking the final station of the Pony Express.

At the Transamerica Pyramid Building look up and appreciate the unique architecture of this 48 stories tall skyscraper. It’s hard to imagine that during the Gold Rush, as the bay lands were filled, a building called the Montgomery Block once stood here. It was reportedly a hangout for famous names as Mark Twain, Jack London, and Robert Louis Stevenson. One story about this place tells how Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain) met a hulky and red-headed firefighter who intrigued him and the two became friends. The firefighter was named Tom Sawyer.

On the eastern side of the skyscraper is a lush area known as the Transamerica Redwood Park. It is a pleasant oasis of trees, fountains, and greenery in the middle of the city. Enjoy a sculpture of six children running and playing called, “Puddle Jumpers.” The sculpture’s message about jumping is reinforced by nearby frogs which are in honor of Mark Twain’s book, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Keep an eye open for a marker about two saloon dogs who were inseparable friends. They were named “Bummer and Lazarus” and the two roamed freely in the 1860s.

The park was a good place to rest before continuing on with the next section of the Barbary Coast Trail – into the heart of the old Barbary Coast. Today, an area of upscale establishments and businesses, it was once a place of “too many men, too much gold, and too little civilization.”

>> Continue with Part 4: Barbary Coast

Reference: “Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail” by Daniel Bacon.