Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Into Switzerland

We had our breakfast in our Austrian Gasthof, retraced our steps back down the valley and headed off westward towards  Liechtenstein.
Mountain stream
Fields at the head of the valley
We decided to go to Switzerland via Liechtenstein, despite the fact that I had been to Liechtenstein before, and knew it wasn't very exciting. It's two biggest sources of income are postage stamps and false teeth.  Says it all, really. But Andy hadn't been there and wanted to see it. 

We looked at a couple of restaurants for lunch and thought the prices looked a bit steep, and then suddenly thought that these prices might not be in Euros. We hadn't even thought about getting any Swiss Francs, even though it was always part of the plan to go into Switzerland. We asked a Kiwi that we saw near an ATM to confirm our suspicion about the currency, and then got out some Francs.

Scloss Vaduz, Liechtenstein's Castle
After lunch we drove through some glorious countryside - picture book stuff with cows, wildflowers and a beautiful mountain backdrop, and then the road started climbing up to get over those mountains. 

It was a lovely day, and so lots of people were out enjoying it. There were families picnicing, people in open-topped convertibles and lots of bikers. The route up was full of hair-pin bends and spectacular scenery. 

View back down the valley

The Hotel at the top of the Klausen Pass

Looking down the other side from the top of the pass
After reaching the top of the pass we headed down the other side. This side had fewer hairpin bends,   but there was often a sheer drop off on one side.

Looking back up at a section of the road

The road down

Road hugging the cliff

Cliff side cut away to leave room for road
We were driving along, a little way behind a couple of cars. A motorcyclist overtook us.  We didn't pay him any more attention as the road was demanding all the attention we had.  We came around a blind bend and saw the car in front of us pull up behind the car in front of him. I thought to myself 'why on earth are they stopping there' followed quickly by 'why one earth is that woman getting out of the passenger seat [of the car in the very front] - have they had a row? No, she's walking over to the edge ... is she motion-sick after all those bends? No, she just looked down and then looked paniced....'. Cog wheels started turning rapidly in my head. "Has someone gone over the edge? I asked Andy.  He got out to check.  He called back that a motorcyclist had gone over.

Andy had stopped hard up against the rock face making it impossible to get out of the passenger side, so I climbed over the gear stick and handbrake to get out. I looked over the side and sure enough, 40 or 50 metres down was the biker, with his bike about 3 metres away from him. He was in long grass, which would have softened his fall, and was moving. I couldn't understand where he had gone over, because there was no gap in the safety barrier, and no break in it either. I then noticed someone else in the grass, they appeared to be falling down, but then I realized they were sliding as they had slipped rushing to get to the biker. A couple of minutes later another person followed.

When I first got out I asked Andy if anyone had called an ambulance.  He said that he had seen people doing that. I'll confess I was relieved, as I didn't think my German was up to giving the emergency services all the information they needed. Nonetheless several minutes later someone came up to us asking if anyone had called an ambulance.  Turns out this was the woman from the first car. She said the motorcyclist had overtaken them and then was going to fast when he came to a bend in the road, skidded while trying to break, and subsequently went over the edge.

Once it was determined that there was nothing we could do, we decided we may as well leave. About 10 minutes later two police cars passed us going back up the mountain,  but it wasn't for another 20 minutes that an ambulance passed us.

When we finally reached the bottom of the alps, I had thought we would stay in Altdorf, of William Tell fame, but we couldn't find anywhere to stay. We tried a few other places, but by this time we were really tired and stressed and made it to Lucerne (which is the other end of the lake from where we had started looking) and just found a comfortable chain hotel (Renaissance Blu) and checked in. 

After having breakfast in Austria and lunch in Liechtenstein, we settled down for dinner in Lucerne, and that is the start of another story ...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Konigsschlosser

We left Innsbruck reluctantly, as we found it so beautiful with its mountain surroundings.  The aim for today was Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau - two of the palaces associated with King Ludwig II of Bavaria, which are located just over the border in Germany.

It was already quite warm when we arrived there about 11:15, and the day just kept getting hotter and hotter (when we got back to the car just after 5pm, the SatNav said it was 36 degrees outside - and a lot more in the car!).

We first visited Hohenschwangau,  which is where Ludwig grew up. Then we we had lunch, followed by a visit to Neuschwanstein.   We had been to both these castles back in November 1991, and a lot had changed.  Most obvious was that at that time there was snow all around, and the trees were all bare, but were covered in leaves now. But not so predictable was that you now had to buy the tickets down in the valley below the castles before visiting them, and you were allocated a particular time to view each castle,  based on the language in which you wanted your guided tour to be conducted. 

It had nearly killed me climbing up to Hohenschwangau owing to the combination of the heat and asthma, so when the time came to face the 40 minute climb up to Neuschwanstein I declared that I wasn't going to do it. There were horses and carriages that could have taken us part of the way up, but the best option appeared to be catching a bus which left us with a mostly level walk to the castle.  What we didn't realise was that the entire population of Yokohama would be crowded onto the same bus as us. I am sure it was quite unsafe having so many people in the one bus.

Once inside Neuschwanstein I found it every bit as breathtaking as I had 23 years ago. Sadly, they still did not allow photos inside. They had opened up more of Neuschwanstein since we were there, including some of the unfinished rooms which had been converted into a cafe and gift shops.


Neuschwanstein perched up on Swan Rock
Then we had to try and find somewhere to stay.  What we didn't realise was that it was a long weekend,  and most places were totally full. It was a long time after we had crossed back into Austria before we found somewhere to stay, but it was another of those wonderful finds. The Hotel Alpenrose was at the end of a long dead end road, so was quiet, and had more fantastic mountain views. Dinner in their restaurant was a tasty and enjoyable experience.  And even more surprising,  no one there could speak any English,  so I had to converse the entire time in German,  which I managed without trouble. They understood me and I understood them. It seems my German is better than I realised - it just came naturally.  I guess that's the legacy of living for 9 months in Munich.

Gasthof Alpenrose
The valley leading to the Alpenrose

Mountain view from our room

The dining room

The moon rising over the mountains

Fields of wildflowers

Wildflowers everywhere

Sunday, September 14, 2014


We arrived in Innsbruck in the late afternoon and had to find somewhere to stay. Somewhere within easy walking of the old town centre, with parking, and with no unpleasant smells.  We drove around first, and only found one small place which looked terrible.  We checked Trip Advisor and everything we looked at was VERY expensive.  We checked the Austrian guide book we had and noticed that the modern upmarket hotel that we had passed appeared cheaper than many of the older, character-filled places we had checked. We looked for availability online,  and were offered an even better price. We booked into the Penz Hotel online and headed straight there.

It was very good. All the glass meant fantastic views everywhere. They had a bar up on the 5th floor (the top floor) where we had a drink before dinner. Such wonderful views of the Alps surrounding the town.
We wandered into the centre of Innsbruck for dinner.  Innsbruck has an extremely picturesque medieval "Altstadt", and the town is surrounded by Alps, so you frequently turn a corner to find a magnificent view.

15th century buildings around the old town

The Goldenes Dachl
We had a very nice meal in one of the restaurants spilling out onto the main "square" (it's more a funnel shape really). While we were eating, they were setting up a stage in front of the Goldenes Dachl - the symbol of Innsbruck. Just as we were getting ready to leave we heard a Tyrolean marching band coming down the street. They were having a Tyrolean evening, with music and thigh-slapping dancing.

Tyrolean dancers. Note the thigh being slapped

Jenny with two members of the om-pah band
Next morning, the breakfast (in what had been the bar) was unbelievable.  I have never seen so many different types of jam,  of fruits (at a breakfast buffet, at least), as well as cheeses, sliced meats and  hot food. They even had freshly squeezed orange juice (there is no bottled version that can compete).

Jam selection


Meat and other items
First thing on the agenda for the day was to take the Hungerburg funicular (a very modern funicular that seemed like something out of Thunderbirds) and then Nordketten Bahnen (two cable cars) to (almost) the top of the Hafelekarspitze, which was one of the mountains we could see from the town and the hotel.

The funicular arriving at the station

View of mountains from the funicular car

Scenery on the way up

We finally alighted at the top station.  The views were unbelievable.  They were better for me than for Andy or the camera,  because the slight morning haze was cut out by my Polaroid sunglasses.  I must get a polarizing filter for my new camera.  We walked up and over a little rise and saw other, equally impressive, views down the other side of the mountain. 

We then watched a paraglider prepare and then take off, nearly knocking some of the spectators (including Andy) in the process.  Andy decided that he really did want to walk up to the very summit of the mountain,  so I sat on the terrace,  enjoying a cold beer, watching him.

The paraglider over the Alps

We had been expecting it to be freezing up the top of the mountain,  and had filled the backpack with hats,  gloves and jackets, but it really wasn't very cold. While I was sitting around waiting for Andy to climb to the summit the lack of activity (and the cold beer) did leave me slightly cool, so I put on my jacket, but there was no need for the rest of the gear. Part way down we stopped for lunch and fantastic views.

Lunch with a view
When we got back down into Innsbruck we were assaulted by unexpected 34 degree heat. No wonder we weren't cold on top of the mountain!

The rest of the time in Innsbruck was divided between walking around sightseeing, and visiting the Folk Museum. Andy found that rather boring, but I loved it. They have all manner of old pieces of furniture etc., decorated with traditional folk art. That was particularly exciting for me as I used to do Folk Art painting.  I'd love to take it up again if we could arrange for the days to be more than 24 hours long. The other big draw card with this museum is that they have transplanted complete rooms from some old Austrian homes.

Decorated chair back

If it doesn't move, paint it

Decorated Storage boxes

A different type of decoration



One of the transplanted rooms ...

... and another

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Zell am See and Hall im Tyrol

For the first time on our trip, the weather wasn't beautiful. It wasn't raining, but it was overcast.

We headed off to see Zell am See, a lakeside resort town.  It was very pretty, with typically Tyrolean-looking painted buildings. The tourist shops in town were selling all sorts of lovely things painted in Bauernmalerei style which I would have loved to have bought, but unfortunately wouldn't have been able to fit in our suitcase! 

Tyrolean painted building

The Lakeside
From Zell am See we went to Hall in Tyrol.  It's another typical Tyrolian village surrounded by glorious mountains, and once again a market was in progress.

Sadly, the parish church was closed for renovations, so we were unable to see the 45 skulls and 12 bones of minor saints which now rest on embroidered cushions.

Onion dome on the church tower

Painted coats of arms on the Town Hall

The mountains as a backdrop to the town