Alpen Animals & Hafelekarspitze

We had decided the evening before that we would go straight to the Alpen Zoo in Innsbruck, which is slightly out of town and had its own parking. It solved the issue of how we might get there the following day with the other things we wanted to do and have a solid option for the rest of the day.

The Alpen Zoo only has animals that can be found in the Alps. There is a sign at the very start telling people not to expect Lions or Elephants. But they do know that there are some animals that get a more passionate reaction than others so the four or five key creatures they have to display are split out over the 29 enclosures. You start with Beavers, then there are Wolves, then Bison, then Elk, then Lynx, then Bears and finally Wildcats (which were hiding when we were there) and in-between them there are many other creatures, Owls, Ravens, Marmots and many more. It is a very effective way of keeping attention. Our experience with the bears was a little disappointing, the bear had learned it could get reactions by ‘mugging’ the window, pushing its face into corners and generally making a show. The window was filthy and crowded by Phone Photographers so I never really got anything I was happy with. The Lynx were another matter. high in the trees the male was sleeping, his head lolling off a branch. At ground level, the mother was washing her two cubs play fight. Walking round to the other side of the enclosure, I saw the mother pick up one cub by the scruff of its neck and carry it up the slope. I got a lovely image of her looking in my direction. The final impressive animal, the Wolf, was hard to find, one thing the Alpen Museum shows is how important it is to be genuinely local in the habitats. Most museums will give an animal a habitat like their own, but the trees, the rocks and the grass will all be local. When given a local environment the wolf faded into the fallen trees and rocks of the Alps. I got two good photos, one peaking out from behind a tree and one mid-lick (or mlem) on a posing position.

It is a really good venue, with a theme that helps keep things focused and gives you a reason to be there. The are some enclosures you are perhaps less impressed by like the Ravens, and there is a definite problem in the 30+ degree heat that there are no vending machines or snack bars for water. Quite a few of the animals could not be seen due to the heat, they’d found somewhere dark and cool and were staying there as the sun beat down on Austria.

We then drove into the centre of town to the hotel, we’d been recommended the parking garage in the train station and once we parked up, we noticed there was an underground entrance to the Grand Hotel Europa right there, the most upmarket hotel we had stayed in on this trip. Four stars and in the centre of town. We managed to slip ahead of the tourbus of tourists who had just arrived by about three seconds to check in, saving us a half our wait as they all got their keys! The rooms are retro but nice, the whole hotel has a modernised 60’s vibe to it. We dropped our stuff and as it was only 5pm, decided to do a bit of sightseeing before the sun went down.

We ended up doing quite a lot, our hotels central location meant we were able to check off quite a few things we’d intended to see the following day. Starting with Rudolfsbrunnen, a 19th Century foundation built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the membership of Tyrol to the Austrian lands and then moving on to Landhausplatz and the Befreiungsdenkmal, the Liberation Monument. built in the late 1940’s dedicated to those who fought the Nazis.

A number of skaters were practicing in this area, and the setup of the square was clearly a reason why, I commented to my friend about it, as its rare a government will be happy with skateboarders and cyclists moving around a national monument to freedom. This is very much the exception. The whole area is designed as a skate park and it is supported with a few billboards highlighting were you are asked not to skate. Its a very clever way of managing the issue of skaters.

After the memorial is the Triumphpforte, the Triumphal Arch, an arch built for a wedding that never happened and repurposed into a memorial for the deceased bridegroom. We then walked back towards the north to find the Annasäule and 18th Century column with four saints and the Madonna on top. It was also blessed with magical powers and +1 radius against the undead by Brixen Prince-Bishop Kaspar Ignaz Count Künig in 1706.

We then crossed the square to see the Goldenes Dachl, the Golden Roof, a famous landmark in Innsbruck, but gold leaf over a small balcony is not something that can impress after seeing some of the temples of South East Asia. We spent very little time seeing the ‘Juliet Balcony’ and instead bought tickets to the Stadtturm, the City Tower. 133 steps up in a spiral to reach the viewing platform of the tower giving 360 degree views over the city. It is a lovely and unimpeded view, until w reached the last quadrant where two girls were taking ‘modelling photos’ with an iPhone and taking about 20 shots per pose. The whole tower was held up whilst one girl told the other how beautiful she looked with no training or skill. Perhaps the most fundamental thing I have learned in 10 years of photography or more is the more photos you need to take of a scene the less you understand the shot you are taking. Friends of mine, who are far better than I am or will ever be, can take one photo, almost from the hip and leave knowing they’ve got the shot they need without review. As long as this segue was, is how long a queue of us were waiting behind our two amateurs to finish. When they finally noticed the problem they moved around past the entrance/exit to the tower and we could take the alternate spiral staircase down to the bottom.

By this point we were both in need of water, the day had been extremely warm and even with us both having over a later of water at the hotel before leaving we needed more. My mate had mentioned the Hard Rock cafe four times since he’d noticed it an hour before and so we stopped their for drinks. I was on the beer, he tried out a few of the cocktails as we found a place to stay in Salzberg. We ended up in a hostel as every hotel we searched for only had double beds, and with the heat as high as it has been we’d prefer a bit of distance between us at night. 

It was then time for dinner, we went to Altstadtbeisl as is was a highly rated Austrian restaurant and it was our first night  in Austria. I had a Gröstl, a hash of meats and potatoes, followed by a strange Irish coffee. It was espresso and baileys with ice cream on top. Once finished we headed back to the hotel, dropped our bags in the room and went down to the hotel bar so I could catch up on my writing. The heat in the bar was incredible, my friend lasted about 25 minutes before heading back to our air conditioned room. I stuck it out as I write better in public, or at least I write better when I have made a commitment to complete something. Or I write better when there is beer on tap…

We were up at our new, slightly earlier time and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was a wider spread than we have normally seen, though it was lacking any way of getting coffee as the staff were too run off their feet to take an additional request. The restaurant is a very old fashioned, (deliberately so) set of rooms with period furnishings and the staff are dressed in period clothing. 

We then headed out, past the square where we had had dinner the evening before and found the Nordkettenbahnen, the funicular that takes you part the way up the mountain as we’d decided we’d be going to the top to see the views over Innsbruck. The funicular stops at the Alpine Zoo, and then at a way station. You change to a cable car at this point. That cable car then goes further up the hill and you swap to a final cable car for the last ascent. Its a bit fiddly, but the cars are timed together so it doesn’t actually take too long to get to the summit, perhaps 35 minutes. Given it was 32 degrees, it was very uncomfortable in the cabins when they were not moving as they were quite full. 

The top is called Hafelekarspitze, and it gives wonderful views over the city and from the other direction over the Alps. At the very pinnacle, mountain sheep are grazing away. There are a number of trails from the cable car station around the area as in the winter this is a ski resort and in the summer a place to hike and mountain bike. We took the trail to the highest point and I’m sure I annoyed a number of other tourists by breaking out my tripod to get some images. It did cause one couple to ask me to take their photo, with their iPad, as I clearly knew what I was doing. The seemingly perpetual haze over the alps meant that it was not as clear as I’d like for images of the town. We spent some time on the mountain, before taking the first cable car back to have some lunch at Restaurant Seegrube, with its terrace overlooking the slopes and a series of semi-domesticated Ravens squawking for food at us.

We got back into Innsbruck and headed to the Museum Hofburg, which was somewhat hard to find as they were doing a lot of building work in front of the museum. The basement, a baroque cellar and the first floor were closed, so we could only look at the impressionist art exhibit on the ground floor, and go through the decorated rooms of the Imperial abode. It entered around the matriarch Marie Teresa, who was the last in her line and the only woman to lead Tyrol. As she had ten children, (who looked identical according to the paintings of them in the various rooms) her line became very secure after her. We were somewhat disappointed as the ticket price did not change even though 2 of the 4 floors were closed but the imperial rooms were interesting, an insight into how people lived in 18th century Austria. You can see the cross-pollination of the royal houses of Europe in how similar the decorations and furniture are to a similar venue you might find in the United Kingdom.

Having done a fair bit of Innsbruck in short order we decided to head out to our lodge in Werfen to ensure we got there in good time as it was over two hours drive away without traffic. On the way to the parking garage however we stopped to get some Ice Cream. It was fantastically cheap and huge portions, it took us the whole walk back to the car to finish them, and my beard was sticky by the end.