Finding 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, freshly baked bread, decadent desserts and several places to grab a decent cup of coffee. The weekends are especially busy as both vendors and customers flock to the market.

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

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

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

Where Innsbruck’s Hidden Stories Are Kept

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

He said the nearby rail yard in Innsbruck was destroyed by Allied bombs during the War (World War II) and many of the surrounding buildings had been pulverized, but his building survived – he was age 4 when the war ended. For many years afterwards, he could remember having a clear line of sight, all the way to Schloss Ambras castle, several kilometers away. In the late 1940s 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 1800s. 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 throughout the centuries.

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

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

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

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

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

See the Sights and Save Money in Innsbruck

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

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

innsbruck card - image source - www.innsbruck.infoThe price (at the time of this writing) per adult is €29 for 24 hours; €34 for 48 hours; and €39 for 72 hours. The kid’s 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 is 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 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 come 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 stepping 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 L̦wenhaus station then crosses an architecturally stylish bridge over the River Inn Рtreating 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 the 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

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.

ȚdleinThe collection includes hundreds of items, but one tiny wooden sculpture, called the Țdlein, less than foot tall, is so ornately carved with such precision and detail that one catches their breath Рonly then to see the carving is without facial features Рa skeletal head with deep and empty eye sockets and the toothy face of Death Рand 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’ 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 meters in diameter! Outside is a courtyard 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 the American Traveler 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 menu, 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.

Tips for an American Camping in Tirol

Camping in Tirol, Austria, can be very different from camping in the U.S.

On a recent trip to Tirol, I was invited to go camping at a location about an hour east of Innsbruck in the beautiful countryside. What I encountered was very different from my expectations: camping under the stars, cooking over an open fire, and being away (or at least not too close) from other people. What I encountered was a more leisurely and communal form of camping. The closest American counterpart I can think of is staying at a KOA.

Camping in TirolThe experience began with turning off the main highway and traveling down a nicely paved road lined the waving flags. This guided us to a central building that included a restaurant, recreation room, showers, and a small cafe. I was surprised to see the campground even offered Wi-Fi. Cars and trailers were parked in organized rows, each in a specific lot. We parked our car in a side parking area and walked to our trailer.

Outside the small trailer was a raised platform where a small table or chairs could be set and a shade cloth raised overhead. The remaining grassy area was maybe 9 meters square. The neighbors’ trailer provided the boundary of the lot on one side, some bushes on another with the road providing the third side, the trailer fenced in the fourth side. You could pitch a tent in this space if you wanted.

Camping in TirolAt one point in the afternoon, everyone walked to a small lake about 5 minutes away, it was surrounded by a large green space with an abundance of geese. The lake was picturesque and a good many folks enjoyed swimming in it. Nearby was a small water monitoring facility. I was told that on weekends the lake is packed. Some locals visiting the camping area told me the owners are very concerned about the quality and safety of the water as it “was the basis of their livelihood.” Afterwards, we returned to the campsite.

A long extension cord snaked from some unseen power box into our site and into the side on an electric grill. Dinner was prepared on the grill and everyone helped to set the table. We took the dishes to a large building that offered hot showers and included a large bank of sinks for washing dishes.

In the evening people stayed inside their trailers, socialized or watched tv. For those in tents, they stayed up talking.

I was surprised that for all of the compactness of the campground, it was quiet and the neighbors were very pleasant.

Many of the campers had brought their RV or trailer to the campground and leased space on a long-term basis; the purpose being that on weekends or during time off they might come to the campground to relax.

If you get the opportunity to go camping in Europe by all means do, you will have a good time; but set your expectation that such ‘camping’ might be more leisurely and less roughing it.

Tips for an American Grocery Shopping in Tirol

Grocery shopping in Austria is one of the best ways to learn the German language and discover this great culture. First-time shoppers from America will see many similarities in the grocery stores, but there are some differences. Here are some tips to better enjoy grocery shopping.

Bring a Bag
In the U.S., bags are often included as a ‘courtesy’ item when you shop. In Austria, the stores expect you to come prepared with your bags. The locals generally use cloth mesh or fabric bags that are lightweight. If you do not have a bag the store will be happy to sell you one, for a small fee. Most of the paper bags I saw for purchase were 20 cents. If you are traveling and don’t have a bag you can use a daypack. The store does not mind what you use for bagging as long as you quickly make room for the next customer.

Weigh Those Veggies
At most U.S. stores you take the fruits and vegetables to checkout and the checker (from memory) enters a code into the register while the items are weighed. In Austria, you might need to approach a scale, weigh the food, and type in an item code. A sticker emerges from the scale and you attach it to the item or bag. Some pre-packed veggies are already weighed and marked. Be observant, don’t just grab some veggies and rush to the checkout, take a second to look to see if it needs to be weighed or it is already marked.

Bag Your Groceries…Quickly
In the U.S. the checkout person will scan/weigh the food and send it down a small chute where the food queues up and, if we’re lucky, a store employee bags the groceries. In Austria, you or another person in your group needs to be ready to bag the food immediately after it has been rung up. There is generally little space for food to queue and in some cases no area at all – as in a drop-off. If you are slow with this process and food backs up, you might earn a wrathful look from the checkout person or others in line. Best to be ready to bag.

Rent a Shopping CartRent a Shopping Cart
I have seen in a few places in the U.S. where grocery carts are rented using a quarter or a dollar coin as a deposit, but it really has not caught on in the States. However, in Austria, and much of Europe, use of coins are commonplace. When you approach a grocery store you will see the shopping carts are locked together. Have a 50 cent coin or a 1 Euro coin in your pocket. Insert it into a coin area on the cart’s handle and unchain the cart. At the end of shopping, return the cart, re-chain it, and your deposit money is returned.

Tax is Included
In Austria, the food is taxed, but the tax is included in the final price. If something costs you 1 Euro, you do not have to pay additional. As a traveler I find this helpful with budgeting my daily expenses; I do not have to consider an additional 7% -10% on top of the final price. I found this to be the case with many food items in restaurants as well, taxes were included in the price.

BioKnow About Bio
Some food will have the letters B-I-O written on the packaging or signage. This food is generally more expensive than conventionally grown food. This is Bio (pronounced, be-oh), and the closest thing in the U.S. we have to this is the ‘organic’ label. Bio is part of a healthy foods movement and like the organic label has made tremendous strides to improve food quality, but (this my observation) it is possible the label often gets used when possibly it does not meet required standards – or people refer to something a Bio when it is not. I did buy some food (vegetables and walnuts) that were Bio but found it originated from overseas at a location I would question. I asked some locals about the Biolabeling, they were comfortable with buying bioproducts “because it was safe.” When other locals were asked about a recent Bio food scare in Germany involving tainted sprouts, where several people contracted food poisoning and some even died, the response was, that it was a terrible accident, and to be safe, “shop from the local farmer first, then buy Bio, then look at conventional foods.”

Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are alive and well, but you might need to look for them. Innsbruck has a downtown farmers market and on Saturday such markets can be found on certain corners. The corner market near me in Innsbruck is small, with just a few farmers selling items, but they have the standards: fresh greens, fresh bread, some meat products, and honey. Some items are high in price, but the in-season veggies and bread are more reasonable.

Visit at Off Times
If you are uncomfortable speaking German try to visit stores at down times when they are not packed with customers. The staff is more open to helping you find things and are more willing to speak. You might have several conversations in broken English/German with the store staff but it is always good fun.

Check the Hours
In the U.S. there is usually some store in town that is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. In Austria, the stores have more standard hours (like 9 am to 6 pm) and might be closed on Sunday. Plan ahead and take note of when your local store is open to make sure you have the food items you need.

Tips for the American Family Visiting Playgrounds in Tirol

When traveling overseas it is important to observe how local families interact with their kids, it will tell you a great deal about the culture.

The playgrounds in Tirol, Austria, speak volumes.

The playgrounds are nothing like the low-risk, cushioned, gently-sloped, plastic, shredded rubber turf play structures that dot the city parks and schools in the US.

Many of the Tirolean play structures are two to three stories tall, made of solid wood, have pulleys, rope bridges, ramps, water flumes, sand pits, lengthy slides, zip-cords, and … teeter-totters! I cannot remember the last time I saw a teeter-totter in an American playground. One play area even had a small rock climbing wall.

Most interesting is that when playing on private land a parent does not need to sign multiple liability waivers just so the kids can play.

I have seen a variety of playgrounds in Tirol, all have safety designed into the structures, but they are also architected to foster independence, spark creativity, and provide a setting for kids to make decisions – and some decisions on these play structures of have an element of risk.

Of all the play areas I have seen, except one, parents were engaged with their kids and having fun as a family.

Below are some photos of what families can expect playing in Tirol.

A wooden structure built over a gigantic sandlot. Here kids can find pulleys, ropes, and hand-crank conveyor belts. Water from a nearby play area pours in helping to create a fair amount of wet sand.
An area in the woods with water flumes. Now and again you might find a water wheel about three-quarters of a meter in diameter. Here kids can divert the water, dam it up or play with the wheel.
A small play area with swings, a slide, and a teeter-totter. They also have this hammock swing.

Roughing It On Kellerjoch

The morning began with a harrowing drive  –of utmost haste – up to a mountainside. Our driver zipped around hairpin turns, up narrow roads, and past grazing cows who, no doubt, wondered why these humans were in such a rush. Our rapid speed allowed us to gain an elevation of several thousand feet in a short time. The destination that morning was a mountain named Kellerjoch. It was located about a 45 minutes drive outside of Innsbruck, Austria. I was sitting in the side passenger seat, tightly grasping the door handle and beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

The driver was a local and felt very comfortable on the steep mountainous roads. He and several relatives of mine (our guides for the day) were going to take me (the newbie in the group) and my wife on a ‘real’ hike. After forty minutes of a religious-affirming-ride we arrived at our destination, it was an unassuming parking lot on the side of the road. Five people poured out of the tiny car and everyone stretched.

I am not sure how high we were in elevation, but I was starting to feel a slight pressure in my head. The air was crisp yet muggy, trees surrounded us and the temperature was cool. The handful of clouds in the sky appeared like cotton balls illuminated by brilliant sunshine against a blue backdrop.

Up the mountainA nearby trail marker showed our destination; the top of the Kellerjoch mountain and the round trip was only 6 kilometers (3.7 miles). “That is a very easy hike.” I thought and was starting to feel cheated out of an experience. Then I saw the elevation gain was 1000 meters (3000 feet)! “Good heavens, that is steep!” The guides were taking us straight up a mountain… I felt as though the newbie was going to be roughing it that day.

We unloaded our things. I was dressed in layers – the same things I wear in California when on a hike: zip-off pants, an undershirt, a long sleeve shirt so I can roll up the sleeves, hat, day pack etc. The man who had driven us was wearing only shorts, a short-sleeved shirt and a bandana covered his head. The others wore similar clothes and were outfitted with an ultra-small backpack. Everyone was tan and appeared to be in really good shape. As the trunk of the car closed – and the car locked – everyone stopped and smiled at me; there was an awkward pause, then the driver mockingly inquired why I was dressed for winter. “Yep,” I thought, “the newbie will get it today.”

We started up the road and soon crossed to a ski run. Everyone started hiking straight up the slope – at a 35-degree elevation! Ten minutes when by – twenty – thirty. I was breathing hard from the constancy of the ascent, sweating from the high humidity and having a tough time with the altitude. A fit woman in our group was not even breathing hard, and she yawned like she was bored…then slowly looked at me. Yes, I was the slow one in the tribe and would be soon abandoned on the mountain – I could feel it. Minute after minute the group moved further up the ski run. My wife (a native of Austria – bless her, was staying with her husband in this time of trial) continued to be further behind. Finally, the rest of our small group disappeared made insignificant to my eyes by the scale of the mountain and the depth of the forest. The only sounds heard were from cowbells coming deep from within the woods.

The trail finally moved off the ski run and onto side trails. It was still steep but a little easier. A ski lift overhead hummed as chairs were carried up the mountain. At one point a couple of overhead shouted down and (in German) asked us to ‘Have a good hike.’ For a second, it occurred to me that maybe our guides had trampled down the mountain, unknown to us, and taken the ski lift up just so they could taunt the newbie. I looked closer but it was not them on the ski-lift. We continued our march up the mountain.

Our guides did call on our cell phone (known as a ‘handy’) half an hour later to say they had arrived at the Gasthaus (restaurant) half-way up the mountain and were waiting for us and, “Would we belong?”

After a short discussion, they said they would hike to the top, and that “if we were having a tough time” we could wait for them at the restaurant. Grumble. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the gasthaus – we had actually not been that far behind them on the trail. We collapsed. The elevation was 1900 meters (6,200 feet). This was not a high elevation for a hike, but after several hours of a 35-degree ascent, it sure was! We enjoyed some apple juice and a snack. Then rested. Later we pet a dog, watched the cows walk past and the also watched the tourists eat lunch under shade umbrellas at the gasthaus. Nearby, a man with a giant balsa wood glider placed it on a giant bungee anchored to the ground. He pulled back the bungee a distance and released the glider. The glider shot into the crystal sky. He controlled it remotely and had a wonderful time being a kid. The views were great and we could see miles up the great Inn Valley.

An hour later the handy rang again, it was our guides. They were approaching the top and wondering “if we had reached the gasthaus yet?” We explained we had been there for an hour enjoying the sights, petting a dog, watching cows etc and having a grand old time. They seemed impressed we had been there for so long, possibly they realized we had not been that far behind on the trail after all, or they were being ornery. …My vote is on the ornery part. Anyway, they raised the bet.

Now, a change of plan, they would meet us as another gasthaus – it would take about an hour and a half for everyone to reach, and the hike “should not be hard.”

Refreshed, we were ready for a rough hike that included trauma, pain and heartache. Instead, we found the trail now nurtured us and treated us to the sheer beauty of the Alps: blue mountains in the distance glittered with snow, mountain-sides carpeted with green forests, rippled clouds danced overhead, our path was bordered by bubbling springs, buzzing insects and all manner of small flowers. This place was medicine; all of the aches, pains and grumbles vanished from my body.

The trees began to thin along the mountain near the tree line, and we could see a small barn was in the distance. We approached and heard cowbells coming from the sturdy structure. We walked up quietly and looked through an open window to see a dozen or so light brown colored cows. They turned their heads and peered back ….with such indignation that I felt as though we had just crashed some social event or interrupted a conversation of high political matters! We politely took our leave and continued down the trail.

In this area was a large patch of green grass that stretch a good distance and the path appeared like a ribbon disappearing into the beyond. The wind danced on the grass playing chase with itself and creating wide sheets of movement. The shadows of clouds glided over the mountainside – moving faster than a horse could run. After twenty minutes the trail moved back into the trees. The shade was welcome but we did not feel fatigued from the heat or sun. Above us was the gray peak, a tiny cross dotted the highest point on the mountain.

Descending along the side of the mountains we several tiny dots that appeared to us as ants walking behind each other. The ants slowly became larger and behold – it was our guides!

We met them at a trail junction about fifteen minutes later. They seemed surprised we were so far along the trail. At that moment we had paid some unseen dues, the value of which I am not sure, but I was not a newbie after that.

They looked a little tired and were talking about beer which, I admit, after a long hike, sounded very good. We passed several other people on the trail – one youthful couple was in their eighties at least. The trail connected with a dirt road and led us downhill, which was indented and there with small rivulets of spring water. After half an hour a gasthaus appeared ahead of us on the trail. It was perched near the edge of the valley, surrounded by trees on three sides, with the open edge overlooking the most pleasant views you have gazed upon while enjoying a beer.

Everyone was in good spirits. We enjoyed our beer and some Gulaschsuppe (Goulash Soup) while some of the others enjoyed a Kaiserschmarrn – a decadent dessert – and some Radler, and refreshing mix of soda water and beer. The sun was starting to lower on the horizon, our entire hike had taken about 7 hours and an unknown distance.

We rolled ourselves away from the table and continued down the dirt road to where the car was parked. The remainder of the walk was pleasant and the final hour of our hike passed quickly.

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 wooden 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 to the 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 are 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