Monday, October 1, 2007

Innsbruck and South Tyrol (Italy)

Friday, September 21

Our drive to Innsbruck was pretty short...about an hour from Garmisch. It was a bright, clear day that promised to be warm. The drive down was pleasant enough...a lot of pretty scenery. There was some construction as we got closer to Innsbruck, and signs warned us as we were getting near it (the signs in Austria have faces...frowny faces as you get closer to the construction zones, smiley faces as you drive out of them).

The bus parked next to the royal gardens, and our only agenda in Innsbruck as a group was to visit the palace. So that's the first thing we did (no pictures were allowed inside, but videotaping is allowed). It was a nice palace. Not the nicest one we've seen by far, but worth the time.

After that, we wandered into town as a group for a bit...our guide pointed out a few things of interest. Then we were cut loose.

The three of us didn't do much after that. We shopped mostly (Lance discovered this fantastic Christmas store in the main square where we were able to add to our ornament collection). We ate (of course, I had to have some Sacher Torte...when in Austria and all...). And we visited Dom St. Jakob.

Our time there was fleeting. Shame, really, because Innsbruck is a beautiful city. I was glad to go, because one of my long-time online friends is from Innsbruck (Hi Dani!), although she's since moved to the States. I was glad to finally see her hometown. (Hon, I hope my pictures don't make you too homesick!)

We got on the bus at our scheduled time, and drove up to the Olympic ski jump area, where we had fantastic views of the city. After about half an hour or so up there, we headed back toward Garmisch.

I would recommend the Innsbruck tour if you're staying at Edelweiss. Definitely a city worth checking out.

Saturday, September 22

This was the day I would finally return to Italy. Only, this area of Italy didn't look like the Italy I know. South Tyrol once belonged to Austria, so this area still has a mostly Austrian flavor. The main language is German. Restaurants serve schnitzel as well as lasagna. The buildings have a very Austrian/Bavarian look to them. But bits of Italian culture have crept in over time, so it's a nice blending of both cultures.

But before we got there, we had to drive through Austria. We took the same route that we had taken the day before to get to Innsbruck, but we passed Innsbruck and kept on going. We got to experience the Europa Bridge, which is the highest bridge in Europe, and probably the most scenic (also popular with bungee jumpers). We stopped at a rest stop on the way...a rest stop with a McDonald's that probably had the most beautiful view in the world (and this McD's had a pastry shop in it that sold the most amazing looking pastries). There was also an Austrian restaurant, convenience store and a chapel (because you can't go anywhere in Europe without having somewhere to stop every 5 minutes and pray). We had about half an hour to spend here, so I wandered around and got pictures of the scenery.

We arrived in Vipiteno (German name: Sterzing) about 2 hours after we left Garmisch. It was hard to tell we were in Italy at all, because nothing about the landscape or architecture changed. The first thing we did as a group was go to a shop called Mair Mair for a wine Italian is that? That was just a short diversion, but Mair Mair also has Italian leather goods and a gourmet food shop (dried pastas, seasonings, oils and sauces). So once we finished the wine tasting, we explored the shop a bit. And I was elated to find the most perfect travel purse in the world. Now that we're getting ready to leave... But I bought it anyway. It was only 15 euros. It had plenty of pockets, yet it wasn't big and bulky. It had a long enough strap to wear across my chest. And get this...THE PURSE HAS A ZIPPER GOING AROUND IT THAT YOU CAN UNZIP TO EXPAND THE MAIN COMPARTMENT! Like luggage. This was very useful to me later on.

Anyway, we had between 1-2 hours to explore Vipiteno on our own, which is actually more than enough time. So we exhausted everything there was to do there long before we had to be back on the bus. But all in all, it's a cute town, and I liked it there. If you go, visit the little church in the center of town...the Tourist Info Center is right next to it, so you might overlook it. But it's worth going in. It's tiny, but has really fascinating frescoes from floor to ceiling.

Once we got back on the bus, we drove a few minutes to Castle Reifenstein, from the 12th century. It's privately owned, but we were allowed to take a tour. Very neat. I didn't actually get a good photo of the entire was on the opposite side of the bus from where I was sitting, but I got pictures of parts of it as we went through it (except for the prettiest rooms, which were not photo-friendly).

Here's a photo of Reifenstein.

There was another castle nearby that I photographed, but it's closed to the public. The name of that one escapes me at the moment.

Anyway, we spent about an hour, maybe a bit longer, touring Reifenstein. Then we went down the road to a typical Alpine Gasthof for lunch (this is where the schnitzel and lasagna come into play). It was warm by now and we sat outside, enjoying the sunshine...but also a lot of bees that threatened to spoil our meal. We all had pasta, although I must say that my dish, though tasty, was kind of odd. I had macaroni with ham, meat sauce, mushrooms, and peas. The meat sauce and the peas were not mentioned on the menu. Too much meat in it. But it filled up my stomach, and that's what counts. Lance had their house speciality - lasagna - but said it was strange...not like the lasagna he has had before.

After lunch, we hopped back on the bus for the drive to Bressanone (German name: Brixen), which was about half an hour away. Brixen (as it's more commonly known) is famous for its Baroque cathedral, which is a pilgrimage site (this site has had a cathedral on it since the 9th century, but the current cathedral was built in the 18th century). The drive to Brixen was very pretty...passing vineyards and apple orchards everywhere along the way. We had a dramatic view of Brixen, which sits in a valley, from a road high up where we were stuck in traffic for a bit. But we made our way down into town, and to our surprise, there was a festival going on...added bonus!

I should say that normally, this tour out of Edelweiss stops in Brixen first, and more time is supposed to be spent there than in Vipiteno. But it being a Saturday, the itinerary was changed, because the shops in Brixen are normally closed on Saturdays, whereas Vipiteno has "Red Carpet Saturdays" (as you will see in my photos), where the shops are open all day, and a red carpet is rolled down the center of the street.

We had about an hour in Brixen. Not long enough. The town is much more beautiful than Vipiteno. And with the festival going on, there was certainly stuff to do. We visited the cathedral, which I liked a lot, but I was more impressed by the frescoes in its astonishing medieval courtyard. I had never seen anything like it.

All the while, we heard music coming from the stage set up in the town square.

The cathedral and courtyard were pretty much all we got to see there. We stopped for postcards and gelato, and to find a normal restroom (many of the restrooms there have squat toilets), and then we had to leave.

I would really recommend this tour. This area of Italy is often overlooked by tourists, which is a shame, because it's really beautiful. But perhaps being off the beaten path is what makes it so great, because the streets weren't clogged with people.

Pictures here...a little over 100 in this set. (Just some photo advice: all of the photos I took inside churches? Never once used flash. You don't need it unless it's very dark inside. Don't use it.) Also, a few of these pictures could use a bit more re-touching, but lack of time prevents me from doing that at the moment. I re-touched the ones that were really bad.

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