22.07.2013 - 22.07.2013 35 °C
Much of the day involved driving from Vienna to Innsbruck, one of the few places to which we’ve backtracked on this trip. We booked into a hostel, the only one for the trip. I think it’s good as it will give the kids some idea of what they could expect should they ever try the standard ‘great unwashed hoards’ kind of journey for which those post-high school years are so renowned. The hostel seemed less than a year old so we had high hopes ourselves. We hauled our backpacks up the three flights of stairs, our luggage finally fitting in with that of the rest of the occupants. The quad room, with that oh-so-valuable private bathroom, was basic but alright despite not having any blinds in the 33 degree heat. However, it was missing one key element: linen. I know that many hostels do not provide linen but this was not supposed to be one of them. Reception indicated they had had a crisis with their laundry service so sheets and towels would be coming later; as it turned out, the hostel made a quick trip to IKEA and bought new ones for the many full rooms.
Thinking the girls would benefit from cooking and eating a meal in the common room, we went to check it out. Despite being so new, it already had the rundown backpacker feel (much like the backpackers that were ensconced there actually.) There were four fridges filled to the gunnels, with copious reminders not to eat other people’s food (not something that you would actually think needed to be spelt out). We moved onto the cooking area, which sported three dirty stoves, two sinks filled with unwashed dishes and decaying food particles, and drawers of half-cleaned cutlery. There were notices tacked up which said “Clean all dishes you use.” Again, I ask, why this is necessary, knowing already that even this cannot shame some into cleaning up after themselves. Seeing the state of the kitchen, I had to agree with the girls that it wasn’t a place we wanted to prepare food so we decided to forgo the experience and eat in the city. I hope the experience doesn’t turn them off hostels; however, they may just elect to get nicer digs with a few friends when they travel, as we have done through the apartment route. At $100/night, the quad room was certainly no cheaper than we’ve been paying up to now.
Innsbruck’s old town was a welcome respite from the heat, providing more shade, fewer choices and a calmer atmosphere than Vienna. While we settled for a fairly standard over-priced tourist supper, we lucked out on our dessert, finding an ice cream deal that was too good to refuse! The entertainment in the main square was excellent: we were treated first to a 55-person traditional Austrian band clad in lederhosen and aproned skirts and then switched gears drastically to listen to an eclectic Spanish group that was very entertaining. We were only there a few minutes but within that time, they had drawn a fair crowd and sold five of their CDs – we have never seen street bands be that successful with personal sales.
We would have stayed longer but had to rush off to the next thing, an event that Ben had pre-booked for us. He felt that we may want to experience something of Austrian folk music and happened upon information for “Tyrolean Evenings with the Family Gundolf.” In what must have been a weak moment, we all agreed. As we drove up to the hall, we saw tour bus hoards milling about. Abby surveyed the crowd, immediately noting “I don’t like this...they all have grey hair... Is there going to be anyone our age there?” Personally, I didn’t think there would even be anyone else MY age attending but I didn’t want to have her freak out on me so I pointed out the other three people under forty I could see. Since we had bought the ‘show with a drink’ option (as opposed to the ‘show with a meal,’ which we didn’t want to spring for), we were shown to a seat close to the front and offered drinks immediately. Ben chose beer; Hannah, Coke; and me, juice. It seemed as if all had been watered down. I sighed into my drink and hoped for the best. There were about 300 seats in the hall and people just kept filing in during the twenty minutes leading up to the show. Abby tells me now she was continuing to scan the crowd and not feeling good about the evening ahead, noting that in addition to the grey hairs, there were large pockets of Japanese, South American and European enclaves forming. Everything was indicating that this would be a tourist trap and that we would first have to endure the evening and, secondly, accept that we wouldn’t get the value out of the ticket price. I don’t mean to sound anti-tour group but we do tend to avoid the events that attract the larger tour groups as they don’t tend to be authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences. And now to find we were smack in the middle of one of these events was starting to be quite disheartening.
At the stroke of 8:30, the MC came on the stage and started to announce the next few songs. His job throughout the evening, when he wasn’t performing, was to introduce each set in his impressive triad of languages, German, English and French. The players came on stage and I was relieved to see a couple of youths in their twenties among them, hoping the girls might appreciate the bright, eager faces to the more craggy ones. However, I have to say right now that no matter who you are, no matter how tall, Aryan and handsome, you cannot make lederhosen look appealing and manly. The first number was a fast paced ‘shoe-slapping’ dance performed by the young men, followed quickly by a yodel by a fresh-faced young Austrian woman. The pace was quick; the yodels, varied and interesting; and the music, rambunctious and surprising. I looked over to my girls and saw wide smiles on both their faces. What a surprise this was turning out to be. As the numbers moved along, we were caught up with the varied program, which demonstrated instruments such as the Tirolean harp, the saw, alporns (long alpine horns), the zither, the raffele (an old Tyrolean string instrument), a xylophone and cowbells. All were intriguing and aptly supported the various dances that alternated with the music; there were polkas, folk dances, and lots more shoe and thigh slapping. As unusual as the hearty slapping routines were, when they combined them with a frolicking play fight in the Courtship Dance or wood chopping sessions in the Woodcutters Dance, they kept you even more riveted. Hannah ended up with a wood sliver coming her way so has kept it for a souvenir. We felt we could almost identify the various uncles, aunts, and cousins who were dancing and singing together. And they seemed to be having such fun too, just as much as the crowd. We could see them laughing and joking with each other on stage, no mean feat when you consider how often they must repeat this show.
When Grandma sang her ‘yodeling cow’ song, it almost brought the house down and we felt that must be the highlight. But, we were in for another treat. When we entered the hall, we had been asked what our native country was, which turned out to be important for the last song. The finale each night is a twenty minute medley of a few bars from a famous national song of each country represented in the audience. As the songsters called out the name of the country and began singing a folk song in that country’s own language, that portion of the audience hailing from that part of the world would jump up and start singing right along with the performers. It was something to see, whether a nation’s contingent was large or small. Spurred on by the large delegations from Brazil, Spain, Mexico and other such lands, even the small groups from India, Singapore and Australia would stand up and sing along. The whole audience would encourage each nation with loud cheers. When it came time for Canada, we stood and tried to rock the place with the two other Canadians in the room (who weren’t related to us) as the singers lead with ‘This Land of Ours’ and ‘Alouette.’ You can’t help but feel pride when you’re singing about plucking that little French lark to bits, knowing that you’re representing your country in all its glory. They ended up singing songs for about 25 countries, an amazing achievement that was appreciated by all of us in the room. As we filed out the door, we could feel the energy of the place as audience members called out their thanks and still sang ‘their’ songs. We all confessed afterwards that our initial feelings of dubiousness quickly gave way to gratitude for the very fun evening we shared together. Here's a clip of our favourite bits.