Monday, January 07, 2002

Snow + Mountains = Brrrrrr

Snow + Mountains = Brrrrrrrrrr

Breakfast was a buffet of a saliva producing bread and roll selection, cheeses both hard and soft, cold cut meats, cereals, soft boiled eggs with are in the same category as sea creatures in my experience, coffee brewed or espresso, and teas. We love these types of buffets for our first meal of the day as it fuels us for the rest of the day until dinnertime.

Ron decided that after looking at the map, that we should walk back to the train station to purchase our Innsbruck Tourist cards. My objection was that it took eight stops from the station to the nearest hotel stop, so that seemed like a quick way to burn off the fuel we had just loaded into our systems. His reasoning was based on the fact that the tram travels a large circle, but point-to-point it is not a long walk at all. Sometimes, you just have to have faith in something, so I chose to have faith in him yet again. We walked and hit the river, which we could not cross due to the highway, so we walked some more. We walked some more and we walked some more. Eight tram stops of walking later, we reached the train station.

After conferencing with the Minister of Finance, I was dubious about spending the money for the Innsbruck Tourist card after our experience with the London Pass, but we thought it out and decided we would recoup our money on the trams and buses alone. The rest was icing on the cake. Hmm, after that walk a piece of pastry sure sounded good. Instead, with our passes in hand, we took the train to the lower entrance of the Alpine Zoo. This is the only zoo in the world, according to the brochure, that only has animals that are indigenous to the Alpine region. At the base station of the zoo, you have to take a funicular up the mountain to the zoo area. Our pass covered the funicular ride as well as admission to the zoo itself. At the zoo stop up the mountain, the signs point in the direction of the zoo and claim it is seven minutes walk. What they conveniently omitted is that is it is seven minutes if you are a mountain goat or a veteran mountain climber. Just because we both were wearing Royal Robbins shirts, did not give us an ounce of an advantage. For the uninitiated, Royal Robbins is an expert mountain climber turned businessperson from Modesto, California that made his fortune by designing and selling mountain climbing clothing. He created his fame first by being an expert mountain climber.

Trolling up the mountain, holding the handrail to circumvent falls on the ice, we felt like planting a flag of discovery when we reached the zoo. It was worth the climb. There are over one hundred and fifty species of animals kept at the zoo, including many birds and fish. It is also the highest zoo in Europe at 727 meters (multiply that by approximately 3, for feet). Our first discovery was the beavers that were true to their reputation and were busy building a dam. The exhibit allowed you to see both above the water as well as below, so no action on the beavers’ part was missed. One little fellow was trying desperately, to climb out of the water onto a narrow ledge. Too bad for him, he could get half way up, but his little fat ass, kept pulling him back into the water. Sad to say, I could well empathize with his struggles.

Keeping themselves occupied in the next exhibit were two brown bears. One bear took a long limb of a tree and held it up like a walking stick. When I snapped his picture, he then put hit head on his paw and gave me a forlorn look as is to say, “Here is another great pose for you.” I shot his a second time.

The trails transverse up higher and higher with different animals to view at each level: moose, elk, and birds of all varieties, ibex, and mountain goats. At one level, there are domestic animals that are of the high altitude variety, goats, cows, and chickens. The chickens had glorious plumes of purple, reds, and rust colors that gleamed in the sunlight. One of the goats came to the edge of the fence and stuck his head over wanting to be petted. Giving into temptation and loving having my back scratched, I did the honors on his neck. His lips started quivering, his mouth slipped open and his tongue popped out and hung to the side. Not being sure whether this was goat enjoyment or if he was on the verge of having a stroke, I continued nevertheless, if nothing else, but to discover the outcome. When my fingers were numb from the combination of the cold, plus exercise, Ron took over. It has been a long time since I have witnessed such a blissful look shining in a pair of eyes. The goat seemed as happy too. Mr. Goat gave us an unsolicited present to remember him by long after we parted company. Our hands smelled of goat. Regardless of how many hot soapy scrubbings, we had eau de goat for the rest of the day. We may have to swear off goat cheese for a while.

Doing a reverse hike, we made our way back to the funicular and took it to the top since it was included in our pass. At the top of the mountain on the north side is a ski resort. We were at the peak, minus fifty feet which you would need the ski lift to get up to and skis or a snowboard to get down from. Not this man, not in this lifetime! The view was incredible and even I did not mind the cold white stuff that had coated the mountain. Looking out from that vantage point is staggering, it is 6,500 feet in the sky. To maximize the time there, we had a snack so we could look out the windows and drink in the view. Wanting something deliciously Austrian, I ordered a beef soup with noodles and wurst. The wurst turned out to be cut up hot dogs, so that was disappointing, but it was still warming and provided us an opportunity to sit leisurely to enjoy the vista.

The ride down took close to a half hour since we were descending from the peak. My mind always imagines this little train car other derailing sending us tumbling down the mountain in the snow with an avalanche following or losing its tracking and we go flying down the hill at a rate that would make a speed skier envious. At times, I get so caught up in my reveries that my body reacts with an autonomous jerk or twitch that is obvious to those standing nearby. It is embarrassing and I am never certain whether I should continue the movements so that they will just assume it is a muscular disorder or allow myself the awkwardness.

At the bottom, without incident I might add, we took the tram to the center of town and went to the Maximillian Museum. Dear Max was a ruler umpteen years ago and still maintains a good reputation. The title he held was Emperor, not King. He was a shrewd ruler that married well to expand his kingdom into Italy, France, and Spain. After his first wife died of disease acquired during her fourth childbirth and only five years into the marriage, Max was devastated. It was a love match, but the fact that she brought land into his kingdom did not hurt either. A year later, Max married again for political reasons only. This was not a love match and his wife sat in solitude most of the relationship. Marrying his sons out to foreign princesses also increased his fortune as well as his land holdings.

Max did fall out of favor with the powers that be, toward the end of his life. He became ill and was not allowed back in his beloved Innsbruck to die. He died elsewhere in Austria. He has a vacant tomb in the museum bearing his name, symbolizing his love for the city, but the sentiment of the time. Surrounding the tomb are twenty life size bronze statues of people in his life, his first and second wives, his parents, his children, and other members of his court.

In the same museum, is a crèche museum where they have nativity scenes from the early 1500’s to the 1960’s. Being a very Catholic country, the crèche was considered a worthy art form and there are many variations on the theme. By the time we entered this section, it was 4:30, so we only had a half hour before we were shepherded out the door.

From the moment we arrived in Innsbruck, I had this sensation that we were on the set of a movie that was being filmed. There were few cars on the street at any time. As well, there were few people on the streets at any time of the day and the mountains in the background regardless of which direction you looked seemed like someone plastered giant murals on huge walls for background décor. To add to the effect, a tram would come chugging around a corner as if on cue from a director. It has a surreal feeling.

The stores here had many more signs in their windows advertising post-Christmas bargains, so we did a lot of window shopping. I found a few stores that had shirts on sale, so they were my main targets for the next day. They were cheaper than in Budapest. Using the Euro is so much easier to decipher what is a bargain and what is not. There is much less calculation involved. You have an immediate sense of whether something is a fair price, a steal, or a rip off. The shirts were a steal.

Trying to learn the lesson that restaurants do not stay open late just because we want to eat late, we started looking for a food source by 8:00 pm. What we learned is that cafés only serve food up until around 6:00 pm. Even then, it is only small snacks and not real meals. After that time, they only serve beers, liquors, coffee, and tea and generally close by 8:00 pm. After checking some menus at the available restaurants, with everything a la carte, a real meal would have been out of our budgetary framework. We decided on Weiner World, though there was no menu to peruse, we assumed that with a name like that it had to be one step higher on the gastronomic ladder than Burger King.

We seated ourselves, as there was no one around to seat us. Only seeing the other diners gave us a clue that they were still open and serving edibles. When the waiter finally appeared, only one for the entire restaurant, he provided us a multilingual menu…without any prices on it. I started to have dichotomous thoughts. On one hand, that cliché rang in my head, “If you have to ask the price, you can not afford it.” In the other direction, came the thought that this is Weiner World for God’s sakes, how expensive could it be?

We ordered with daring, I decided on the chicken schnitzel and Ron the chicken Roti. Mine came with the salad bar, which was a poor excuse for an assembly of vegetables, but I still managed to fill a bowl so that we could share the greens, reds, oranges, and yellows. Our meals came and they were exactly what you would anticipate from a restaurant called Weiner World. Something like a Wendy’s restaurant with a waiter. Then the mystery bill arrived. With a small beer and a glass of wine, it came to thirty Euros. That normally would have been our budget for two snacks and one dinner, but the mountain air made us feel heady, so we paid it without lament and added it to our book of experience. Memo to self: Send a note regarding this experience to the Ministers of Economics and Tourism so that this experience is not repeated.

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