Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Gettin high in Salzburg and Innsbruck

Having originally planned three days of chillin in S-burg, I eventually decided to change things up a bit and leave after two to head to Innsbruck for a couple days. I was pleased with the choice, as it gave me a chance to get a taste of the Tirolean Alps (though the damned mountains outed me as a tourist non-stop, as I walked around Innsbruck constantly gawking at the snowcapped peaks, often uttering an inadvertent but audible "whoa"). And while they`re only a couple hours apart, they`re really quite different, with the exception that appreciating the best sides of each town requires--but richly rewards--effortful climbs to places on high. To wit:

In Salzburg, easily the best thing about the town is the castle that sits on a bluff above it. Though there is a funicular railroad that delivers most tourists to the top, I chose instead to hike up the road, which is both cheap and much the better way to go because it provides a way to avoid the aforementioned tourists and, if only for a moment, have part of the castle (more or less) to yourself. As I got to the top, sweaty mess that I was, I stood out on one of its patios (probably not the right word--suburban homesteads have patios, but do castles?) and could hear, faintly but clearly, a string quartet performing something by Mozart (I think--the B.R. knows I`ve got nothing by way of musical knowhow) from waaaaay down in the town square. For just a second, it was one of those so-perfect-you-could`t-script-it moments. Then a tour group of loud Italians poured onto the patio (again, word choice, I know) and I couldn`t hear the music anymore. Other rewards from hikes: the view from atop the Capuchin Monastery in the new town, and the wonderfully fresh and hot wiener schnitzel at the al fresco restaurant atop the Mönschsberg on the hill opposite the castle.

In Innsbruck, the medieval part of the old town is great, and the views of the Alps from just about anywhere are incredible, but at this time of year, it`s all about the hiking. I went to the visitors center where I was told that my options included staying another day and joining up with the moderate group hikes at 9am (meh) or buying a relief map of the area and setting out on my own. I went for the map, and over lunch of mystery sausage ("knacker"--I have now set a practice of going into a restaurant or to a food stand and ordering the most obscure-sounding sausage possible. Astonishingly enough, this has not yet steered my taste buds or my irascible tum wrong) figured out what seemed to be a reasonable, and reasonably accessible hike. I set out, finding the trailhead with little difficulty, and eventually got a good, if somewhat sweaty, rhythm going. I was just about to congratulate myself for my robust vigor when I began to be passed (on their descent, that is) by a stream of elderly people (including one nun, hiking sticks and all, Grüss Gott-ing all passersby) who had obviously negotiated the hike before me with little difficulty. Thus feeling not a little foolish, I chose not to stop after an hour and turn back, but rather to keep heading up the path, even though it changed on the map from "low" to "moderate" difficulty. I am not sure who creates these designations, or what their notion of "high" difficulty would be, but as I was heading up a grade so steep that I had to take care not to smack myself in the face with my kneecaps, I began to think that the difficulty ratings were meant for Alpine natives, not city dwellers like myself. On balance, though, I did well--I was not at all overcome by the altitude, was not passed by any natives on the ascent, did not fall on my ass on the descent, and was not eaten by a mountain goat. Plus, the views of the Innsbruck valley were awesome in the true sense of the word, and the next morning I was intrigued to find that my calves and ankles were so sore I could barely ambulate.