A Travellerspoint blog

Setting the Record Straight and Off to Neutral Territory

BY BEN

sunny 30 °C
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Imst alpine coaster -- AGAIN!

Imst alpine coaster -- AGAIN!

With Austrian music still playing in our minds from last night, we left the Marmota Hostel in Innsbruck and began our final exit of Austria. We definitely are fond of this country. Our liking for this land is not for any one particular feature but rather an accumulation of traits. It is country of quaint towns and historic cities that are well groomed and cared for. The hiking trails are numerous and the fresh air and mountain scenery picturesque. It also is one of the few more northerly western European countries that is not too hard on the pocket book. Take all those traits and add the nonstop sunshine we experienced and you get a winning combination.

Our journey to Switzerland took us right back through the Austrian town of Imst; home of Europe’s longest Alpine Coaster. We couldn’t just pass through and not relive the 3.5 kilometer thrill ride. There was also some unfinished business to attend to. Ever since we rode this track a month and a half ago, Muriel has been insufferable in her stories about her superior coaster skills. Her eldest daughter has been corrupted by this poor modelling behaviour and also has exhibited some tendency to brag about her own prowess, even going as far as to say that she could go much faster than her father.

In this second run down the coaster let the record show that Muriel was the first of our party to go down the hill and posted the slowest start of any of the riders in the previous 20 minutes. Hannah was the second to leave the gate and trailed her mother by 18 seconds (this being loudly reported by Muriel at the finish line) by the end of the 3.5 kilometers. The ever humble and quiet yours truly was the third to head down the track. Since there is only one track it was not possible for me to reveal my true potential as I needed to repeatedly apply my brakes for the last third of the run so as to keep the requisite 25 meter distance from the coaster in front of me. In case it is not clear, it was Hannah who was in front of me. Abby followed a minute and a half behind me.

Swiss accommodations

Swiss accommodations

If Muriel or Hannah were writing this post, they would either have written nothing on this entire subject out of sheer embarrassment for their previous unseemly boasting, or they would have written paragraphs of excuses to explain their lackluster performance. Fortunately, it is not their turn to write today. I will just let the facts speak for themselves as to who is the better faster and humbler coaster driver.

After enduring a bit of a subdued atmosphere in our car after riding the Alpine Coaster (I was feeling great) the slower members of our travelling group made their peace and became more cheerful as we approached the Swiss border. I think everyone was looking forward to being on neutral ground.Until a couple of weeks ago, Switzerland was not in our travel plans and we thought we were done with new countries on this trip. We have decided that three nights in Switzerland was better than no time at all and made the decision to do a little extra driving to fit it in.

Our first bit of time in Switzerland was all about sticker shock. We had braced ourselves for higher prices and were not disappointed. A Swiss vignette (road toll sticker) cost 37 euros. The price of groceries is at least a third higher than other country we have visited so far. Our accommodation also cost at least one third more than similar accommodation anywhere else in our travels. From what we have seen so far of the Swiss who dwell in the smaller communities we suspect that they find these prices a bit stiff as their homes seem no more commodious then any of their neighbouring countries.

Having Swiss fondue

Having Swiss fondue

Our hosts have been very generous with their time, help and conversation. We learned that they have lived quite adventurous lives having lived three years in Israel, a couple of years in Ghana, and 12 years in Cameroon. They were support workers for Wycliffe Bible Translators. While our host, Chris, was in Ghana he learned beekeeping and then began to train bee keepers in Cameroon. He has continued as a beekeeper in Switzerland and now is a part time advisor and inspector of hives for the Swiss government. He has offered to show us his hives tomorrow which I look forward to. I think the girls are still not too sure whether adding a potential bee sting to their travel adventures is such a good idea.

To celebrate our arrival in Switzerland we decided to commit a Swiss dining faux pas and have a cheese fondue at the height of summer. The only chiding we had to suffer was from our hostess who raised her eyebrows and said “the Swiss only have fondue when it is very cold out.” After getting over the shock of such a concept she quickly offered up her fondue pot so we could celebrate out of sight of the rest of Swiss society. We waited for the cool of the evening before feasting. We felt a bit sad for everyone else who will have to wait until December.

Posted by KZFamily 23:59 Archived in Switzerland Tagged austria switzerland imst Comments (0)

A Family Affair

BY MURIEL

sunny 35 °C
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Innsbruck hostel

Innsbruck hostel

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 traditional band

Innsbruck traditional band

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.

Tirolean Music

Tirolean Music

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.

Posted by KZFamily 23:44 Archived in Austria Tagged austria hostel innsbruck folk_music Comments (0)

Schönbrunn Palace

By Hannah

sunny 28 °C
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Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Palace

Mom and I went out with just the two of us today, as Dad wasn't feeling well and Abby had had enough of trooping around fancy old buildings. We took the metro (oh, how I wish we had one in Victoria) to Schönbrunn Palace, where Empress Maria Theresa, the only female to succeed the Hapsburg throne, had done her ruling. She was admirably tough, fighting wars and maintaining the Habsburg Empire all while birthing sixteen children. She was described by Frederick the Great as "the only man among my opponents".

One of the more nondescript rooms of the palace was especially important to me. Awhile ago, before we went on this trip, I read a book called "Mozart's Sister". It was a historical novel told from the perspective of Nannerl Mozart, the young prodigy's older sister, who was quite the musician herself. The first chapter starts with Wolfgang and Nannerl playing for a small group of royalty. As the young Wolfgang finishes his piece, he leaps from the piano bench, runs into the arms of Maria Theresa, and kisses her on the cheek. Rather startled, the empress nevertheless gives the boy a squeeze back. To my delight, I found that I was standing in the room where this very scenario had unfolded. I had believed the embrace to be an embellishment, the author taking some creative licence and adding interest to the first few pages of her book. But here I was, listening to an audio guide telling me it was true.

Prater: the Black Mamba

Prater: the Black Mamba

There was another room that stood out to me, darkly beautiful and decorated with gold. A large portrait of Maria Theresa's husband was hanging there. When he died, she wrote the number of years, months and days that she and her husband had been married in her diary, and had then converted the total to weeks, days, and hours. She wore black and mourned every day after his death. Despite her deep love for her husband, she only let one of her many daughters marry for love (turns out she was her favourite), and had the others married off for political reasons.

After our tour, we strolled around the gardens and forested grounds, enjoying our time together. Not that we revelled in Dad and Abby's absence, but I will admit that it's nice to take a break from the family dynamic every once in awhile. We snapped some photos of the beautiful Sun Fountain, and hiked up the hill in order to get a closer look at the imposing hunting lodge overlooking the palace. It was blazing hot, and we made our way back into the shade of the trees as soon as we could.

Leaving Schönbrunn Palace behind, we started walking through Vienna, looking for a place to have lunch or a cool drink. Eventually we ended up at a little gelato place and had ice cream instead, mine chocolate and Mom's raspberry. Then we headed home, ready to tell Abby and Dad all about our day at the palace. Upon our return, I promptly beat Dad in a game of crib, and got my first 28 point hand. Yes, this is important enough to immortalise in writing.

Later that evening, we all went out to the Prater to take on a few more rides. Dad and I went on one called the Black Mamba, which you can see here, that spun us around, backwards and forwards, all while our seats turned over and over again. It was equally disorienting and exhilarating. Not surprisingly, Abby and Mom chose to watch from below. We rode a couple more, both of which Abby joined me for and regretted moments later, and then decided we weren't willing to spend any more money on the pricey rides and headed home.

Posted by KZFamily 09:45 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna palace austria schonbrunn prater crib cribbage Comments (5)

Park Place

BY ABBY

sunny 25 °C
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Vienna park

Vienna park

Today we decided to have a relaxing day as a family, but we couldn't resist the warm sunshine outside so we decided to spend our day in a large park nearby. We found a shady spot with a picnic table beside a little pond and set up our things. We played a game of crib (Mom and I won) and then went to our own devices. The other three played a game of Scrabble later on, and Hannah won that one. Dad still isn't doing that well so we postponed the amusement park for tomorrow. Mom and Dad found a movie called "56 Up" on Netflix which we watched, and even though we couldn't find any of the first 7 films in the "Up Series" it was still enjoyable.

Posted by KZFamily 09:43 Archived in Austria Tagged park relax czech_republic Comments (1)

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