After saying good bye to my Austrian family, we head for Innsbruck, following the Rosanna and then the River Inn. The valley widens and flattens and we pass through farmland, acres of potatoes and wheat crops. We easily locate the quaint little Hotel Heimgartl. After a short nap, We walk downtown to soak up the ambience of the old inner city. We wander slowly peeking in windows and admiring the architecture. The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), the centerpiece of the old town, consisting of over 800 gold-gilded copper tiles, glows richly in the evening sun. This pedestrian-only section offers lots of entertainment. There are several mimes, a gentleman making bubbles, another crafting balloon animals and flowers along with a variety of buskers. We take note of a large stage set up at one intersection and plan to find dinner far enough away to ensure a quieter experience.
|Hotel Heimgartl||Covered foot bridge across the Inn|
We are a little weary of heavy bread and salty wurst and schnitzel, so choose an outdoor restaurant that promises lasagne. The waiter compliments our choice of an Italian entree and recommends a lovely red Austrian wine: "Zwegielt". The entertainment on the large stage consists of a band in traditional Tyrolean dress, a men's choir and traditional dancers. The men stamp their feet, clap, slap various body parts and kick their legs in the air; all executed with shouts, yells and generally high good spirits. The choir even has a yodeller!
We hop-on the sightseeing bus and set out on a city tour. We hop off to wander around the grounds of the castle that Archduke Ferdinand II built for his "gasp" commoner wife, Phillipa. The gardens and trails are lovely and the pond is full of fat ducks. The ducklings are cute but too busy paddling and eating to stop for a photo.
We hop back on the bus to finish the tour. The friendly bus driver suggests we take the J bus up to the mountain lookout rather than the expensive cable car. The bus crosses the river and I suck in my breath when I realize he is going to drive this behemoth full-speed through a narrow street access between two buildings. Bob exclaims: "Surely we're not going in there!" It is so close I could reach out and touch the buildings on either side. The lady seated in front of us laughs at our reactions and says: "We are used to it."
|Views of Innsbruck from the observation point||Innsbruck old town|
The shuttle to the Swarovski Museum is packed for the half-hour trip. The tour features artistic applications and interpretations of crystals by new age artists. Not at all what we were anticipating. A young lady on the tour, said that she had been hoping to learn more about crystals and how they are formed and cut. Our expectations were similar but we gamely finish the tour and then are spilled out into the extensive and very expensive shop. What a tourist trap! The prices are the same as at home except they are in Euros.
We set out in the general direction of Salzburg. The valley gets even wider and flatter as we pass through the small villages and towns. Tilly, our GPS with a lovely British accent, guides us through heavy traffic to our Salzburg BnB. Our hostess greets us, shows us around and sends us down the street for lunch. The Gasthof Eder is only a seven-minute walk and has a shady outdoor beer garden. This is perfect, as Salzburg is now as unseasonably hot as St. Anton was unseasonably cold a few days ago.
The number 6 bus passes in front of our BnB and takes us downtown. The squares in the old town are big and spacious with fountains and waterworks. The largest is Mozartplatz, Salzburg being the home of that great musician. A busker plays classical guitar in front of the church which is filling rapidly with young people for some kind of youth festival. The streets off the square are insanely packed with people. Food and beer are readily available but the tables are jammed and no seats are available. Six live bands play at strategic locations. We wander through the crowds, enjoying a frozen yogurt cone and taking in the sights. Eventually we find a quiet place to enjoy a glass of white Austrian Zwegielt before catching the number 6 back to our place.
We get in our car and drive out to Hellbrun Palace. This amazing place was built in the early 1600s by Markus Sittikus von Hohenems, prince-archbishop of Salzburg, as a recreational retreat. It was strictly a day place and the main building, despite its size, has no bedrooms. It is playful, mischievous and whimsical on a large scale and features mythological characters such as Neptune, Medusa, Andromeda. We join a guided tours as it is the only way to enjoy the full effect of the place. The guide invites us to sit at a stone table on stone benches while he tells us all about the fountains. As he chats, he turns the water on and those who chose to sit at the table get soaked with water shooting up through their seats and arcing over them from behind. At the next one, we think we are in a safe place. NOT! I get my feet and legs wet as little spouts of water are activated both in front and behind me. We go through several more of these including one where I get a good shot of water in my ass. Too funny! One of the displays is a scaled-down town with some 250 moving figurines and yet another plays the sounds of music and birds to complete the whimsy. All of these effects are created with natural water pressure.
|Hellbrun Palace||fountain surprise|
Our next stop is the famous Augustiner Braüstübl. It is a huge place with several large indoor beer halls, but on a hot day like today, everyone is outside in the beer garden. Hundreds of tables and chairs under big leafy shade trees. We buy tokens, pick up one-litre stone beer mugs and then stand in line to have them filled right out of huge wooden kegs. It is purported to be the best beer in the world. We certainly like it! Inside the building is the delicatessen arcade: a row of booths, each one selling an Austrian specialty. We each enjoy a plate of roasted pork belly and German potato salad. It is a wonderful, friendly place and a couple of native Salzburgers sit down with us at our table and chat while we eat. It is immensely pleasant, sitting under the trees, drinking fabulous beer. I suggest we could stay here all summer. We made a serious error in strategy -- we should never have driven to this place in our own car! On the other hand, if not for having to drive, we might still be here at midnight!
Next we take the cable car up to the Salzburg castle, on top of its rock, high above the city. This is the biggest castle north of the alps and originated around 1077 undergoing many changes down through the centuries. This important fortress was never taken although it was surrendered to Napolean without a battle. We take the audio tour and then wander through remaining rooms until closing time.
|View of Salzburg from the castle||Salzburg castle|
Relaxing in our basement room at the BnB, l am distracted by a strange noise. I look up at our window to find three hens, one red, one white and one black, clucking and bobbing their heads, while peering intently in at us. We break up laughing.
We grab some breakfast and pack up for the 400 Km drive to Prague on the A1/E55 autobahn. It is another hot sunny day. We drive through flat valleys and the mountains get lower and softer and begin to recede. The fertile soil seems to produce all the major farm crops such as wheat, oats, canola etc. The topography slowly changes to long rolling hills with more deciduous trees. Not very far along the autobahn after crossing into Czech Republic we are pulled over by a police car. Fortunately one of the very polite officers has visited the U.S. and speaks a little English. Evidently, to drive legally on a Czech autobahn, one needs a vignette, a sticker on the windshield. We knew that Austria has the same requirement and we had dutifully purchased one before entering. We did not, however, realize that we needed one for Czech. The policeman suggests quite firmly that we OUGHT to have known; we agree. Since we are tourists and apologize sincerely, he decides not to give us a €50. fine as long as we promise to buy a vignette at the VERY NEXT service centre. We do!
Before long, the freeway ends, but we see lots of evidence that construction is underway to complete it. We press on, noting the roads and countryside are not quite as well managed as in Austria though they are still quite acceptable. We reach Prague and have a devil of a time finding a place to park, but eventually find our BnB and get settled.
We find dinner at an interesting place called the Lokal . Plain, but tasty Czech fare washed down with Urquell draft and served in what is described as a Soviet-era long hall restaurant; essentially a long covered passage between two streets. It is a bit like a dinner at the local community hall, but with better service and we rather enjoy the place. Guests are provided with a reference book to help translate the Czech menus, which I think is very sporting of them. We walk around the huge central square, taking in the sights and soaking up the atmosphere. Prague has been keeping temperature records since 1770 and this the hottest June 9th ever: 36°C! Sure glad we could be part of that!
|Lovely buildings on the Central Square|
|Central Square||Rooftops of the old city|
|Astronomical clock||Charles Bridge|
Breakfast in Prague is problematic. Apparently, Czechs rarely eat anything substantial in the morning and so, only expensive tourist restaurants on the central square serve breakfast. I notice some fellows wearing hop-on hop-off bus tour shirts and Bob goes off to get us tickets. Our guide, Craig, is an amiable young Brit and talks to us about cubism and points out the building of the Black Madonna and explains the evolution of the local postal system. At the Powder Tower, he jokes that the remaining section of the old city walls were bombed in the war by the British and American pilots who were supposed to bomb Dresden, but got lost and dropped their bombs on Prague by mistake.
The tour takes us past a Volkswagen factory, which is all glass and we can see the workers inside all dressed in white. We get off at the Charles Bridge stop, find a cold drink and then walk through a riverside park and across the famous Bridge. This leads us up through the old Jewish Quarter, now a thriving and wealthy community, after hundreds of years of poverty and oppression. .
A Salvador Dali exhibition catches my eye, where we view over 300 pieces of his work. He was either seriously deranged, totally stoned or an inspired genius. His works are intriguing and often disturbing.
We solve the breakfast issue by finding the Bohemian Bagel. It is a little hole-in-the wall place on a side street near the square, run by expats, which serves a delicious American-style breakfast. Our ticket is still valid, so the sightseeing bus takes us to Hradčany castle, which claims to be the biggest castle complex in the world . Our guide is well informed and has a great sense of humour. He explains the lineage and the complicated relationships of the Hapsburg kings and the countries they ruled taking us all the way back to Queen Isabella of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus. We learn how the Czech and Slovak regions were combined into one country and then he explains the recent Velvet Divorce, when they became Czech Republic and Slovakia again. He also told us the story of King Wenceslas I and how his brother stabbed him to death on his way to mass, then made him a Saint. Wenceslas is held in great esteem to this day and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. His remains are secured in a section of the cathedral along with the crown jewels.
We catch the bus again and get off at Wenceslas Square. The square is really a very wide boulevard and is the modern shopping district of the city. We enjoy our stroll down the middle taking pictures of buildings and fountains and then return home to freshen up before attending a lovely little concert by the Prague Chamber Orchestra. Neither of us knows much about classical music but the acoustics are excellent and the music is pretty.