Category Archives: Austria

GO WITH THE FLOW – cycling by the Danube

It's one of Europe's most popular cycling routes - hundreds of kilometres of safe, car-free bike path.

It’s one of Europe’s most popular cycling routes – on safe, car-free bike path.

We cyclists hate stopping. When you stop pedalling a bike, it starts to wobble, then topples over. It takes far more effort to get a bike moving than it does to keep it rolling along at a steady speed.

That’s why cyclists run red lights and ring angry bells at pedestrians blocking their bike path. It’s also why, when enlightened planners lay several hundred kilometres of flat, smooth, wide, almost uninterrupted bike path along the iconic Danube River, we come in droves to roll along it. Continue reading

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Filed under Austria, Cycle touring, Cycling

THE ARTIST WHO MADE VIENNA FUN

In a nondescript back street, one facade springs out is unmissable.

In a nondescript back street, one facade catches the eye.

At first I found Vienna and the Viennese a little intimidating. Too grand, too well-dressed, and possibly too expensive. The ATM dispensed 100 euro banknotes – it was the first time I’d seen them.

That Habsburg architecture is impressive of course, though isn’t it also overblown and pompous? Fine for a palace or opera house but would you really want to live under all those cherubs in the cornices?

So it was welcome light relief to discover Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who revamped a Viennese city incinerator and later the public toilet block in Kawakawa, New Zealand, making them surely the world’s most enjoyable garbage disposal units. Continue reading

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Austria

CIRCUM-LAKE-UTION – cycling round the Bodensee

Will we have as much fun as the people in the picture?

Will we have as much fun as the people in the picture?

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published my article about our epic ride around Lake Constance on Europe’s most popular cycling route, so now I can release the full story on the blog…

I’m regularly reminded that my wife is smarter than I am. She doesn’t need to do the reminding personally; usually it’s only too obvious. On this trip she’s riding an electric bike. Continue reading

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Filed under Austria, Cycle touring, Cycling, Germany, Switzerland

HIKING KARWENDEL, AUSTRIA – know thy limitations

One slip here and you’ll be several hundred metres lower in a very short time. Not worth the risk, was the assessment.

Hiking is a hobby and supposed to be good for your health, not something you should risk your life for.  So I’m grateful to have walking companions with cool heads.

The six of us are sitting on a comfortable patch of grass, somewhere over 2000 metres, in the Karwendel region above Innsbruck. We have a week’s route planned out and accommodation booked in mountain huts (thanks for organising all that, Kees). But we’re still shaking slightly from the twenty metre track section we’ve just crossed. Continue reading

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OUT OF OFFICE REPLY – Hiking in Alps. Back soon.

This is as far as I got last time I went hiking in Austria. This week we’ll be going further, into those mountains behind me. They look cold.

I’ll be taking a week off blogging, while I join my Dutch hiking friends on an expedition into the Austrian Alps, above and beyond Innsbruck.

It sounds exciting, it looks beautiful and I can’t see any wifi points out there.

The weather forecast is for rain every day. A good story starts with something going wrong, I tell my writing students, though the stories I like usually have happy endings.

Back soon, probably with a tale or two to tell.

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Filed under Austria, Hiking

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA – Cheap hiking deals in the summer

The view from the top of an Olympic Ski jump. How does anyone do it for the first time?

When the snow melts in a valley dependent on winter sport tourism, hotel managers naturally abhor vacuuming those empty rooms, so brilliant deals are available at a fraction of the cost of a skiing holiday. The Tyrolean Alps are no less beautiful in spring and summer, with their greenery, wildflowers and warmer weather, and they’re considerably less crowded.

In Innsbruck, Austria, home of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, between June and September, as little as EUR179 buys three nights’ bed, breakfast and dinner, with entrance to all attractions, unlimited use of cable cars and buses, plus guided mountain walks. An Innsbruck Card offers all the above, excluding accommodation and meals, for EUR25(24hrs) EUR30(48hrs) and EUR35(72hours).

Innsbruck could hardly have a more spectacular location. The milky green river Inn (“Innsbruck”, the bridge on the Inn) cuts through a wide glacial valley, with snow-capped mountain ranges rising on both sides.

Regular buses shuttle out to Innsbruck’s holiday villages, notable for their old farmhouses, all exposed wood and geranium boxes, with peculiarly Tyrolean decoration - elaborately painted window and door surrounds. Churches all seem to have been supplied in kit form from the same warehouse; identical size, cream and salmon colours, with a choice of two steeples – pointy spire or onion dome. They look incredibly cute against those brilliant mountains.

Innsbruck itself is relatively small, but the university gives the place a lively student buzz. Brightly coloured houses line the river bank and the old town has been tastefully preserved. And thanks to the money lavished on Innsbruck over the past five hundred years, since outdoor enthusiast Emperor Maximilian I moved his court here from Vienna, there’s no shortage of historic buildings and museums.

That suited me perfectly, because on the day I arrived winds were lashing the mountain peaks at 100km per hour. It was no weather for playing outside, but fine for scuttling between the town’s attractions. I particularly enjoyed Castle Ambras, former home of the megarich Hapsburgs and, for a view of how the poorer half lived, the Folk Museum, displaying among other things wood carvings Tyrolean farmers made when they couldn’t play outside either.

By mid-afternoon the weather had cleared enough for me to take the funicular railway, then two cable cars, up onto the 3000metre high Nordketten range. It’s wild and rugged limestone country. Those who enjoy life-threatening experiences could join the mountainbikers tackling the downhill runs, or try the high climbing course of chains and ladders along the ridges. An extremely good head for heights was needed, I was warned, so I settled for just admiring the scenery.

Igls village, just above Innsbruck

The next day was made for walking; cool, still and with sun breaking through on Patscherkofel mountain, towering over Innsbruck. Local expert Evelyn, who runs a ski hire business in the winter, and in summer works for the tourist office, guiding walks for visitors, suggested we take the cable car to save ourselves a 1500metre slog up from the village. That was fine by me. The view from the top was breathtaking enough and we had time and energy to take it in.

Walking above Innsbruck

Once over 2000metres we could make it as easy or as hard for ourselves as we liked, walking a few hours on the signposted trails leading along the ridges and over the peaks. Then at a mountain hut we drank beer and tucked into a huge lunch of sauerkraut and heavy dumplings – potato balls studded with ham and herbs. Perfect walking food, in a perfect walking spot.

Staying a night in the area makes you an automatic Innsbruck Club member, entitled to free daily guided hikes in the mountains. At the tourist offices each morning, guides assign people to groups appropriate to their levels of fitness and masochism, then take them up the hill for three to five hours. On Tuesday evenings ‘lantern wanderings’ lead visitors up to a mountain inn for some jolly Tyrolean music.

BONUS: For those needing one final thrill, the Olympic ski-jump ramp is open to the public – to look at, not to fly off. I teetered at the top and realised legendary Olympian Eddie the Eagle had the right approach to ski-jumping: slide down the slope as slowly as possible, cling to the sides by your fingernails if you can, and when you reach the bottom, try not to sail too far out into space. It’s an awfully long way down, and directly beyond the landing area is a cemetery.

DETAILS: Easyjet flies from London Gatwick to Innsbruck from around GBP125 return. See easyjet.com.

For accommodation and other activities, see innsbruck.info

The writer was a guest of Innsbruck Tourism.

First published by Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under Austria, Budget travel, Hiking, Travel, Travel- Europe