The train pulls up at the station as darkness settles for the night. As I disembark I can see my breath in front of me. In the distance is the shadow of snow-capped mountains. We have arrived in Innsbruck, Austria. In the cool night’s air, as I stare at the train against the background of the mountains and the turrets of the old town, I feel like I’ve stepped into a fairytale.
We sling our packs over our shoulders and navigate toward Nepomuk’s, the Bed and Breakfast we have booked. The streets of Innsbruck are quiet at this time of night. The few people around are wearing hats and scarves, bowing their heads to escape the icy mountain wind. I get a little jab of excitement every time I see a sign written in German. After studying the language for 8 years, I am finally in a place where I can practice.
Our accommodation is in the town square. This area is charming with narrow alleyways and Austrian architecture. We find our bed and breakfast and follow the instructions we have written down by entering Cafe Munding which is adjoined to the B&B. The bell jingles, welcoming us as we enter. The cafe smells of roasted coffee and freshly baked cakes. A lady bustles out of the cafe to greet us and guides us to the building next door. Her name is Anna and she is a student at the local university who runs the hostel in her free time. We chat idly as she lets us into our accommodation and leaves us in our 6 bed dorm room.
And, it is the most luxurious dormitory I have seen. The bunks have plush mattresses and there is a mahogany table in the centre of the room. In the far corner is a bookcase with every kind of book a traveller could possibly need; Lonely Planets, atlases and maps. But the highlight of the room is the view from the window. As I lean out into the icy air I can see part of the old city or altstadt, and the house with the golden roof. Opposite is a locksmith, I recognise the word schlüssel or key. On our beds are clean, fluffy towels and a small chocolate. A welcome gesture. I like this place already.
We settle our packs near our beds and throw on our jackets. We wander through the main square, listening to the hubbub of people dining in restaurants, escaping the late autumn chill. I take in every conversation I can, trying to translate, but the Austrian dialect is slightly more difficult to follow in comparison with the hochdeutsch or “high German” I have been taught at university.
We have dinner at a restaurant that serves traditional Austrian food. The waiter greets us in German and I reply, feeling a thrill of excitement to be able to converse with the locals.
“Hallo wie geht’s?” our waiter asks, guiding us toward our table.
Then, assuming that I am fluent with the language, he races ahead, explaining the daily specials. My mind works over-time to keep up. Something about roast beef…
“May I get you a drink tonight?” The waiter asks, picking up on my hesitation and switching easily to English as most Europeans can.
I am jealous of ability to smoothly transition between languages.
After dinner, we make our way back to Nepomuk’s. There are two others in the room, chatting with each other in German. They introduce themselves as Mark and Rudy. They are both from Germany. Mark is in Austria trying out for med school. I am impressed by his ability to translate medical terms into English. Rudy is on ski holiday. We talk about everything and nothing, switching from German to English. Later, I fall to sleep listening to the sound of people talking on the streets below.
In the morning we dress and head to Cafe Munding. They provide us with freshly baked rolls, cereals, a choice of hot drinks and a piece of cake. I find it slightly difficult to stomach the cake this early in the morning. It is a rich chocolate with chocolate buttons baring the name Munding. Along with the hot cocoa, it makes for a sickly breakfast.
Today, we are exploring the altstadt. In the light, the mountains provide a scenic background to this quaint old town. They rise from behind the buildings and are coated in a thin layer of snow. The architecture is just as I pictured it would be. Some of the buildings have slanted roofs and others have turrets. They are a range of colours – pinks, yellows, creams and greens. They are overflowing with character in their mismatched state.
I have my photo taken in front of the Golden Roof or, in German, the Goldenes Dachl. It is a landmark here in Innsbruck, was built in 1500 and was the residence of Tirolean sovereigns. It is an impressive building and is the highlight of this picturesque town square.
In the afternoon we cross a small bridge and walk along the river. The mountains are less visible at this time and they are coated in a dense layer of mist. We are on our way toward the Alpine Zoo. We wander up the hill through cobbled lane ways and past traditional buildings. The higher we climb, the more amazing the view becomes. We can see Innsbruck spread beneath us like a sea.
The zoo is only about a 20 minute walk from the altstadt. It appears to keep the environment as natural as possible. Here, there are otters, wild cats, farm animals, moose, and mountain goats. I spend countless minutes watching the mountain goats spring from rock to rock. They are lithe and strong. They approach the fence cautiously and take food from a little girl’s hand. I also love to watch as the otters dart in and out of the water, peering up at us from their rocks.
Nothing excites me more than the farmhouse. Snow has started to fall in a thin layer so we duck beneath its shelter to avoid being soaked. Although you can see these animals anywhere in the world, I love watching them. There are baby sheep prancing around and pigs snorting in their enclosure, rolling in the mud.
We spend the entire afternoon at the zoo. It is mid-week and there are only a handful of others here which means we enjoy the animals mostly to ourselves. The zoo is surrounded by that wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. The air is crisp and fresh and reminds me of my home state, Tasmania.
In the late afternoon we return to Nepomuk’s. Rudy and Mark are in the room, having a conversation. As they see us they switch to English and tell us about their day. Mark had his major test to get into medicine school and Rudy went skiing in the nearby mountains. His cheeks are stained red from the cold. We decide to go to a neighbouring pub for a pint of beer.
The pub is bustling with people on a Saturday night. It is a cosy establishment with cushioned chairs and moose-heads hanging on the walls. We order a pint and sit chatting for hours. Rudy and Mark are spotting out the attractive girls in the area. Mark tells us about his ex-girlfriend who currently lives and studies in Innsbruck. He has been spending the majority of his study-free time letting her show him around the area. The waitress puts down our drinks and has a quick but apparently entertaining conversation with the boys. I am surprised to witness how fast they speak. In the classroom, the teacher slowed it down so we could all follow.
“I can’t understand many people here,” I tell them.
“We can’t understand most people here either. They have a very different dialect to us. Sometimes we can’t understand the people who live in our own country because of the many dialects,” Rudy says.
I am looking forward to experiencing all these dialects. It is exhilarating to finally experience the language in this authentic way.
In the morning, we wander around the outskirts of the city away from the scenic altstadt. It is still a beautiful sight with colourful buildings. As it is a Sunday there is not much going on. European Sundays are usually quiet. We wander into a chocolate shop and pick out intricately decorated and filled chocolates.
“Kann Ich zwei von diesen haben bitte?” Can I have two of those please I ask, pointing at the chocolates behind the glass.
She nods and smiles, obviously picking up on my foreign accent. But she seems to understand what I have said.
“Noch etwas?” Anthing else? She asks, presenting me with the chocolates wrapped delicately in plastic bag.
“Nein danke, das ist alles.” No thanks, that’s all.
Again, I’m not 100% sure of my grammar but she seems to get the gist.
We eat our chocolates. They are delicious, I especially enjoy the one with the nougat centre. Today, we are making our way to Bergisel hill that is south of Innsbruck. At this hill is the ski-centre where they held 1976 Winter Olympics. As we climb we are treated to a spectacular view of Innsbruck.
We pay at the gate and catch a cable car to the top of the hill. We continue up the lookout house in a lift, where we pause to see one of the major ski jumps. I stand with my toes at the edge of it, wondering what it would be like to fly down the slope. It makes my stomach flip with nerves. From this viewpoint, it is impossible to imagine flying down there.
We venture to the top of the viewpoint tower. There is an icy wind but the view is spectacular. We can see the mountains opposite and the entire city of Innsbruck.
We spend the remainder of the day leisurely exploring the city and walking along the rivulet to wander through the many leafy parks. Innsbruck is a picture-perfect city.
Every place I visit I ask myself “could I live here?” and Innsbruck is just one of those beautiful places that I could. Well, for while at least… until the travel bug kicked in again.