It is always slightly unnerving to arrive in a new place in the dark. My mind never tries to fill in the blanks or create an overall picture from the sounds, smells and vaguely street-lit sights; a blank canvas for the morning light.
And what a morning sight it was! I woke up in Innsbruck (capital of the Tirol region in Austria) last Sunday morning for the first of six days of perpetual sunshine, an alpine skyline and beautiful buildings, that, dare I say it, rival Paris.
Most ski Sundays here in Bonneville involve getting up at 6.30, throwing together a ham sandwich and eating a boring bowl of oatmeal: by Sunday my fruit supply generally consists of one bullet hard kiwifruit and a lemon. Ski days in Innsbruck are a much more leisurely affair. Wake up at 7.15, stroll to hotel restaurant for breakfast, sling your skis over your shoulder (like a pro) and hop on a bus at the perfectly reasonable hour of 9a.m.
And the breakfasts, oh, the breakfasts! Eggs, bacon, tea, toast, yoghurt, fresh tropical fruit, croissants, doughnuts, ham, cheese, pickles, juice, coffee, cereal, nuts, seeds, fresh bread and the best bircher muesli I have ever tasted. I was in breakfast heaven…
Our first day we headed to a resort called Schlick 2000. The variety of pistes was somewhat lacking, but for a first day it wasn’t too bad. The real adventure was getting home. Not wanting to risk pulled muscles and broken bones on the first day, we left the slopes early and went to find a bus stop. Instead we found a tram station and after waiting on the tram for 45 minutes we wove through the countryside of Innsbruck, at times, appearing to only service a horse stable.
hot chocolate and apfelstrudel break at Schlick!
Day two Elle and I, fueled by a fantastic breakfast, took the bus to Axamer Lizum. Day two was Monday and the day I discovered the wonders of week day skiing: empty slopes and no queues. Bliss. We found the snow better than the previous day and the views still offered something spectacular. Lunch was an interesting meal: meatloaf which was really large slices of luncheon ham, potato salad and mustard sauce… From our lunch time loungers we had a wonderful view, possibly one of my favourites of the trip, of a bright red cable car traveling above the mountains.
After two nights of Italian we were all keen to sample the local Tirolean delicacies. We found a large, rambling, medieval tavern only metres from our hotel. I felt there should have been jesters dancing in one corner and the tables adorned with pigs heads and barrels of wine. I ordered roast pork in an onion, carrot and beer sauce served with sauerkraut and a pretzel dumpling. The standout piece here was not the perfectly cooked pork, or the hearty sauce, or even the Austrian red wine, it was the pretzel dumpling. I have decided that this really is the only form in which a dumpling can be eaten.
The lovely thing about not staying in a ski resort with the mountains directly at the back door of the hotel is that you can see a different resort everyday. Our third day we headed to the nearest resort just 20 minutes out of Innsbruck called Patscherkofel. This mountain was slightly unusual as, while not very high, the summit offered more routes for walkers than pistes for skiers. In the name of research, we decided to take the tiny one-man bucket lift to the very top and ski down a walking route. This track was not to everyone’s liking as it was snow-plough all the way but, the views! “Breathtaking” is a rather stereotypical, clichéd word to describe a vista but I really am at a lost to describe it in any other way. It was like being on top of the world: layer upon layer of mountains stretching away into the distance, clear blue skies and green valleys below.
Across Europe at the moment is Carnival week: saying good-bye to winter and hello to spring. So coming off the mountain on Tuesday afternoon we were greeted by fairies, witches, buzzy bees, silly string, hippies and caterpillars. The revelers had taken over Innsbruck and when we returned to our Tirolean tavern again that night we were seated in a separate smaller dining hall. The atmosphere was not amazing, nor the service particularly outstanding but my meal did not disappoint. Wild game ragout in a mushroom, celery and carrot sauce with cranberry jelly and homemade spinach spaetzle noodles. With wonderful colours and a sweet cranberry sauce in its own cracker cup, this meal was bright enough to distract me from my fellow diners asking for brown sauce, ketchup and vinegar to go with their steak frites.
Topfenstrudel mit Sahne
Loosely translated as cheesecake on the menu, this dessert may have won over the dumplings for crowning delight of this restaurant. Creamy, yet light and tangy, almost savoury with the occasional hidden raisin, it was far from the traditional cheesecake.
Day three was a long day, a day where we spent about as much time on the slopes as we did in a bus there and back. And there and back again. For those of you who know me well, no, I did not leave my skis behind, or my boots. We returned to Kuhtai resort for a bit of tobogganing by moonlight.We arrived at the resort, a thin crescent moon hovering above the mountains, and piled into jeeps.We were driven halfway up the slope to a restaurant where we quickly downed a plastic glass, or two, of vin chaud, then after a brief left-right-brake lesson off we went! I’d like to say I could feel the wind in my hair and the rushing noise of smooth wood on snow. But, always safety conscious, I was wearing my helmet and my toboggan had a tendancy to veer to the right… But 2.5km of pure adrenalin nonetheless.
The skiing during the day was well worth the hour and a quarter trip: the pistes were long, expansive and challenging. As always, the view was incredible. Even after living surrounded by mountains for 6 months it is a sight I don’t think I will ever get over.
Lunch was also worth mentioning. (Isn’t it always?) Two potato and herbed cream cheese rostis buried under layers of smoked salmon. I would ski everyday if this was always on offer.
Erdäpfelröstikrapfen gefüllt mit kräuterfrischkäse dazu norwegischer Räucherlachs...
Thursday we took a break from skiing to see what the city of Innsbruck had on offer. A star attraction of this beautiful city is the Golden Roof: small and unimposing but impressive nonetheless, this building houses a history museum of Innsbruck and the Tirolean region. I found the history of the Golden Roof building the most interesting, especially the photos of the street during WWII.
The Golden Roof today
The Golden Roof WWII
With a keen eye for gastronomic delights, I had noticed an indoor market hall on our first day in Innsbruck. When I think of indoor market halls I think of what les Halles in Paris would have been like in its hay day. I was hoping for complete sensory overload: bright, clashing colours of flowers and fruit; stall owners and customers bartering and jeering; the overpowering scent of strong cheeses, fresh fish and home cured meats. Vibrant, bustling and slightly jarring to the senses. The Innsbruck market did not play along with my fantasy but the stalls were beautifully presented and the produce was vast, colourful and fresh.
During the afternoon we took a sightseeing bus to the base of a hill overlooking Innsbruck. At the top of the hill is the famous Bergisel ski jump centre built in 1964 when Innsbruck hosted the Winter Olympics. The tower was completely redesigned in the early 2000s and is now much more of a tourist attraction than a concrete ramp. The ramp is dauntingly steep and how anyone could bring themselves to fly off the end I don’t know. Personally, I’d prefer to sit in the restaurant overlooking Innsbruck eating pretzels and drinking vin chaud, which is exactly what we did!
A fine Austrian lunch...
Thursday evening we thought why not try Cantonese banquet in Austria? This was Chinese like I had never had it before: Chinese take-away in a Styrofoam container does not even begin to compare. A multitude of flavours reached the palate-not just sweet and sour or soy sauce. At the end of the meal, the waitress bought out a tiny tea tray with 6 miniature tea cups full of hot liqueur. Watered down port is the closest we came to identifying this liquid.
Friday we woke up, the weariness of 4 days skiing beginning to register in our muscles. Today we were heading to the very end of the valley: Stubaier Gletscher. This was a ski resort like nothing I had ever seen before, like a shopping mall on the slopes. The resort was magnificent with kilometres upon kilometres of wide, well snow covered pistes. Our very last run for the day was about 100 metres wide with a gentle slope in the cradle between two mountains-a truly great way to end the week.
Saturday morning we were up early for our very last breakfast. I was tempted to ask the chef for the secret of the bircher muesli but, instead we stole ham rolls… Innsbruck is a wonderful city where history, sport and art all come together under a stunning mountain backdrop.
Thank you Elle, Julie and Phil for taking me on your wonderful holiday.
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