Innsbruck

After skiing for the afternoon we drove back towards Munich and stopped in Innsbruck, Austria to explore the city a bit and get dinner. Innsbruck is a small old town tucked in the northern Austrian Alps, it is the capital of the state of Tyrol.

It was about a 45 minute drive from Stubaier Gletscher, so we arrived right around nightfall. We parked right outside the center and walked towards the Old Town, initially unimpressed by a surprisingly large amount of trash and standard architecture. This quickly changed when we coincidentally stumbled upon a massive Christmas parade… There were mobs of children dressed up in white robes with lit candles, people shepherding sheep throughout the streets and men with long brown cloaks holding large wooden sticks with flames. It looked like a medieval scene straight out of Hogwarts or Lord of the Rings. Quite the unique entrance into a new city!

We followed the parade throughout the town, occasionally the procession of children would stop to sing Christmas carols. We had no idea what this town wide parade was, but of course it seemed like everyone else did. The entire city was in the center of town for the parade, a lot of local families, which was unlike our more touristy experience in Salzburg. Even though it was already dark, you could still see the gorgeous, old, colorful buildings that line the main streets and were illuminated by the Christmas lights.

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Once we saw that the parade was coming to an end we walked around the Old Town and saw tons of Christmas markets, lights, restaurants, old churches and a small play being performed for local kids. The city felt familiar, quiet and magical.

We made it all of the way to the river, to check out what the bridge and the other side looked like. During the daytime you can see the peaks of the Alps towering over these buildings, but unfortunately in the dark they weren’t as incredibly impressive. We also walked around the Marktplatz market square with a carousel and Christmas vendors.

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We had thought that Salzburg seemed old, but even from our couple of hours in Innsbruck in the dark I could feel that the origins of the city were even more ancient. There were stone plaques written in Latin of old dates and endless old stones and massive wooden doors.

In the main square, which was all jazzed up with a giant tree and a bunch of lights, we got to see the Helblinghaus, a beautiful white building from the 15th Century with elaborate Gothic and Rococo designs.

img_3776 Adjacent to the Helblinghaus is another famous building, the Golden Roof building (Goldenes Dachl) which is one of the main highlights of the Old Town of Innsbruck that dates back to the Middle Ages (1500) when Maximilian I ordered the construction. The roof has over 2,500 original copper tiles, which you can see on the right side of the image.

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As we were stumbling around the cobblestone streets trying to decipher all of the old signs and guess the ages of the buildings, we were overwhelmed by the echoing GONGS of the cathedral bells, which drew us closer to sneak into the Cathedral of St. James. The cathedral was built in 1180, but suffered from earthquake damage in the 16/17 Century so it was reconstructed. Check out how beautiful the front facade is!

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As it was getting late, Dad and I decided to wander back towards the car in search for a spot for dinner. I would have loved to stay longer exploring the city, but we still had the couple hours to drive back to Munich. We ended up eating at a strange restaurant called Orangerie. Which worked fine for a quick dinner, but unfortunately, I would not recommend!

After doing some research on the parade upon getting home, we realized that what we had stumbled upon was the Christkindleinzug parade, a town wide tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years. Each year the children dress up as angels and shepherds and begin the solemn procession with the sheep through the city at 5 PM. What a beautiful tradition! I could tell that the families of Innsbruck are very proud and tied to their city, which makes me appreciate the culture even more. I loved the mystical feel of walking around at night, so hopefully some day I can get the chance to explore the city during the day!

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Austrian Alps

On Sunday morning Dad and I left Munich for the day and drove to ski on a glacier in Austria. Stubaier Gletscher is a ski resort in northern Austria, Tyrol, a bit south of Innsbruck. The drive was long, about two and a half hour, but it was beautiful and definitely worth the trip! You always have to work harder to get the spectacular views that we got. So about a half hour past Innsbruck there is a one way winding road with mountains, forests and waterfalls that leads up to the base of the mountain.

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Yes I literally took this from the car.

Stubaier Gletscher is a resort with about 40 trails and 25 lifts. It wasn’t too crowded, it seemed like some local families were out to ski for a couple hours. The conditions weren’t ideal, it was a bit icy in some parts of the trails, but there was enough snow to ski happily for Dad and me!

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After getting lift tickets we took the Gamsgarten lift up to rent boots and skis. Everyone was super friendly and attentive. Then we went even higher up to the summit, called Schaefelspitze. We walked up some stairs to a 360° view deck, and boy was it amazing! At the highest point in Tyrol Austria, you are above the clouds surrounded by stunning, rocky, jagged mountains.

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It was a pretty warm, sunny day afternoon, so we had a couple great runs and then ate our lunch outside the lodge in the sun. After a couple more runs it was already time to call it a day and return our skis. But we had so much fun and now I’m able to check off “skiing in Europe” from my bucket list!

We had such a great day in these not-so-great conditions, so I can’t even imagine the quality of skiing at the resort with ideal conditions. It makes me want to go ski in other spots in Europe! The mountain closes pretty early around 4 PM, so by around that time we were heading back to the car to drive up to Innsbruck for dinner.

Salzburg

On Saturday Dad and I drove the 2 hours from Munich to Salzburg. Thankfully with one English and one German GPS (the almighty Fräulein) we were able to arrive safely in downtown Salzburg and got a parking spot right along Salzach River. Salzburg is a charming, small city in northern Austria, next to the river at the foot of the Alps. It is most popularly known for being the birthplace of Mozart and for The Sound of Music. salzburg-map2

While much of the New Town on the northern side of the river was destroyed due to World War I, thankfully the Old Town remained intact. The Old Town is a beautiful collection of interconnecting plazas with fountains and horse drawn carriages beneath a large hill called Monschberg that has an ancient fortress, The Hohensalzburg Castle perched on top.

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There is the castle on the top of Monschberg.

So Dad and I got in to Salzburg and immediately starting exploring. So first we headed towards Old Town, crossing the Markasteg Bridge, that seemed to be a smaller cousin of the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. Not having a specific destination for the day, we just wandered around and enjoyed the small cobblestone streets, pastel colored buildings that date back to the 1200s and endless Christmas markets.

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We followed the crowds to the main shopping street in the Old Town called Getreidegasse, a small lane of shops with elaborate signs. Supposedly in the historical Salzburg, which was first founded in the 5th Century by the Celts, the citizens could not read so the large signs with drawings were necessary. It almost seemed as though the shops were competing for whomever could have the biggest and best sign. I mean even the McDonalds had a fancy sign out front!

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After escaping from the the crowds on that main street and the overwhelming amount of Christmas markets, we continued walking through the city, stopping to marvel at giant wheels of cheese, peek in a couple dramatic cathedrals, and laugh at the touristy trinkets (check out those lil’ Mozart ducks!)

The church above is called Kollegienkirche, a beautiful baroque church constructed in the 17th Century. The afternoon sunlight was shining in delicately and you could hear the echo of footsteps. In the image on the right, if you can look very closely you can see a date on the peach-colored building, 1294. Wow. Just wow.

Even though we weren’t exploring Old Town for very long, I was still able to enjoy some of the small artistic details that express the history and interesting architecture of the city. Salzburg is a city that is full of these small, charming details.

So we headed up the Monschberg hill towards the castle, climbing curved stone staircases and pretty steeply inclined sidewalks. The castle, or better yet, fortress  (I just like to say fortress, it makes me feel like some sort of medieval princess!) had started being built in 1077 by the Archbishop of Salzburg. It is the largest, preserved, still-standing fortress in central Europe!

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Climbing up towards the top

Once we got to the top terrace of the castle grounds, we took a few minutes to enjoy the views. In the main plaza of the complex is this striking 400 year old Linden tree. On the side of the building on the right is a medieval-looking, golden sundial.

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From a small peephole on the bottom of a stone wall, you could get a stunning view of the city, along with the hundreds of coins that people have tossed out there. Out in the distance you can see the soft fog that coated the valley throughout the day, providing for a sort of mystical feel.

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The higher we climbed, the better view we got of the downtown and surrounding area. There were a ton of church steeples and the people down people looked like tiny little ants. The best view was from the main terrace, which granted was crowded, but looked over the entire city. There was a small café area where music was being played and you could hang out to enjoy the afternoon. Dad and I took some great pictures from up here!

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If you walk around to the back side of the castle grounds you may find another small café area, which looks out towards the south. I got a hot chocolate and we ate our lunch at a table overlooking the mountains covered with fog.

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The rest of the castle grounds has massive stone walls, eerie, dimly-lit underground tunnels, and old blacksmiths rooms. Wandering around the grounds really makes you feel as though you’re in a totally different era. On the way back down the sun started to set so we got this pink-ish glow that started to illuminate the surrounding valley.

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After that we climbed down towards Old Town and went into the Petersfriedhof or St. Peter’s Cemetery. The unique rule about this cemetery is that the family of the deceased must continue to pay a fee to claim the body’s spot. So it is the family’s responsibility to clean and take care of the grave. Because of this, most of the old stone tombstones were very neat and lavishly decorated with wrought iron signs, candles and flowers. If the family doesn’t pay, they remove the body from the cemetery… How weird is that!

The other cool part of the St. Peter’s Cemetery is that is that there are ancient catacombs that are built into the side of a giant stone cliff. The catacombs date back to 700 AD, the early stages of Christian migration in Europe. One stone in particular caught my attention in the cold, dark catacomb, the date was written in Latin, 1288.

As the sun was setting Dad and I started walking along the narrow alleys back towards the river to get a good view of the sunset. The Christmas lights made the city feel really special at this time of night.

We crossed the bridge, admiring the pastel colored sky on the way and went to walk along the street where Joseph Mohr wrote the Christmas carol, Silent Night. It was a very quiet, local alleyway built into the side of a cliff, with small bars, apartments and even a brothel.

We had dinner on that side of the river at a small restaurant called Shrimps. The northern side of the river seemed like a more average local neighborhood with small shops and bars. It was nice to not eat dinner and feel like we were surrounded by other tourists. Afterwords we walked through the center again at night, enjoying the twinkling lights and horse-drawn carriages. In the markets there was an intricate toy train platform, an ice skating rink, elaborately lit Christmas trees and musicians playing Christmas carols with trumpets on the rooftops. It was a magical ending to a magical day.

While Salzburg definitely proved to be touristy, it is rightfully so. It is a small city, so personally I don’t think one needs more than a day or two there; however, it is definitely worth the visit. You can really get a sense of the history from walking around downtown and the fortress. The pastel colored buildings, the baroque churches and dramatic natural landscape of the city provide that the Salzburg experience is unlike any other.

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