Saying goodbye to the family was fairly emotional, so I’m glad we had Austria to look forward to as our next destination.
For our whole trip, we had tried to keep everything as flexible and open as possible, only booking a couple of days in advance from deals sites, and just having a vague idea in our minds as to what where we were planning on going. Between leaving Tuscany and dropping the car back off in Lyon we had about a week to fill in. We both felt as though we had experienced quite a lot of Italy so decided to drive around through Austria and Germany to get to Lyon, as we wanted to experience something a bit different. My step-mum had spent a lot of time living in Innsbruck while on her OE, working as a tour guide, so she had so many great stories and memories from the place and convinced us that we could not skip past.
The drive north up to the Brenner Pass was an interesting one. Northern Italy seemed to be heavily industrial based, so before we got to the Alps, we had a good few hours driving through flat, yawn-inducing nothingness, surrounded by smog. The air quality was what particularly shocked us. The smog up there was some of the worst that we have seen on our journey so far so we were very pleased that we had decided to motor on through and get up to Austria rather than sticking around there.
The closer we got to Austria (and the higher we got) the better the air quality, and by the time we crossed the border, there was not a single wisp of smog about. Austria was breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes I am guilty of building things up to be much better in my head than they are in real life, but Austria surpassed every one of my expectations. It was stunning.
The GPS had a few issues with finding the place that we were supposed to be staying which meant we initially turned up at some random place about 20km from where we should be. I would say that this was a good thing as instead of driving on the motorway for the last 20km to our place, we got to drive on a much smaller back road through some very cute and quintessentially Austrian villages and had a chance to stop and take a few pictures. I have to admit that I was humming/singing the Sound of Music songs for a fair few kms after we arrived in this beautiful place.
The views from the Gasthof we were staying at were not too bad either:
At high school I took German for a year so was very intrigued to see how much I would actually be able to remember and use. Since we were not planning on going to any German speaking countries on this trip, I had not bought a German phrasebook, so had to rely solely on my language skills from 10 years earlier. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I remembered and even got some compliments from the waitress on how good my pronunciation was (although I suspect she was just used to people thinking a Schafes S was a B, so I took that with a grain of salt, still had a bit of a proud face going on).
In the morning we decided to do some exploring around the Innsbruck area and first thing on the list was a trip to the Swarovski crystal factory about 10mins outside of Innsbruck in Wattens. Honestly, I don’t know why I was so keen to go along to this as what I thought this would be was a museum filled with big things made out of crystals and I don’t really know why that sounded like it was worth a trip now that I think about it. But we went anyway and boy were we surprised with what this place had in store for us. When you get there, you enter the museum through a giant made out of a hedge with big sparkly eyes, spewing water into a pond:
You then enter into a hall with one glass wall filled with crystals with a huge sparkly chandelier in the middle, quite in line with expectations:
Then things start to get REALLY strange and I think in this case, the pictures will say a thousand words, mostly along the “WTF” and “?!?!?!?!” lines. I have literally never seen anything so strange before and so unrelated to crystals. It was just like a little kids nightmare come to life. I will let you see for yourself:
Actually, now that I have had a look at the photos we took, none of them are of the really strange stuff, so I will have to try and do the strangeness justice by describing some of them. One room we went into had a line of mechanical legs which were going the cancan, along with some shirts on coat hangers which flew around the room and a table which spun around. Another room had all of these crystal models of famous buildings, like the Taj Mahal, but inside them there were creepy videos playing which reflected all around with mirrors and strange noises coming from each one. Another room was designed by a famous (I had never heard of them) set designer and they were all strange scenes like some sort of creepy puppet show set. When I googled the museum, it seems as though most people did what we did and did not take photos of the weird stuff as everything on google images looks pretty normal too. But I promise you it was strange. We also looked it up on trip advisor after the fact and most people described it fairly in line with what I said above. I am very glad that we didn’t read any reviews before going because if I had read that before, I probably would not have gone. The best part of this experience was that it was so random, funny and very different from anything that we have done before.
We returned to Innsbruck (and sanity) via the back roads to check out the cute little villages on the outskirts of the city. Everything looked so cozy and welcoming, we instantly decided we were coming back in the winter to do some skiing.
As far as attractions went, we did not do much research into Innsbruck, instead, decided to do our favourite pass time and walk around the city. Overall, we found it very cute, full of delicious food (we had bratwurst and baked potatoes for dinner, with a snack on some pretzels, YUM), and just a little kitsch with shops selling dinky little nicknacks and traditional dresses (which people actually wear, who knew?). It is a shame that it was a bit of a grey day as the photos that we took definitely do not do this place justice!
Some of the cool places we went while there was a burger joint for lunch called Ludwigs, and went to a Schnapps shop called Tirol Geniessen which were both worth a visit. Ludwigs because the food was delicious and I could finally say the one phrase anyone who has done a bit of German at school remembers (Das ist mein Hamburger), and the schnapps shop because it was so cute (see below) and we got to taste some very unusual flavours of schnapps, although avoided the pine nut flavoured one for obvious reasons.
We stayed another couple of nights after this but will continue that story in another blog since our day trip took us out of the country and this blog is getting a bit long. If you take anything away from this instalment, I hope that it is you need to visit Austria RIGHT NOW!! It is so beautiful, the people are extremely friendly, it is very homely and the food is delicious. I cannot wait to get back there.