The foothills of the Bavarian Alps build steadily on the German side, tracing the road up through the valleys until suddenly you round the corner, the road falls away beneath you and there, several hairpin turns below you, is Austria and the Tyrollean plateau. It’s completely unexpected and breathtakingly beautiful, even half smothered in mist.
I think I thought of Innsbruck as being a larger version of Zermatt; tucked into the side of the mountain, nestled among the Austrian Alps, but they’re more of a fence, soaring hundreds of feet into the sky wrapped around the valley below. Perhaps they’re not quite so awe inspiring as their Swiss cousins, but they still dominate the sky line; a solid wall of rock and snow capped peaks to the south and west, with little green swards appliquéd on to the side, looking utterly flat compared to the mountains behind. They looked completely inaccessible, and yet more often than not there would be a little village and a church tower perched up on top; dropped there by giants playing at keeping house.
Innsbruck itself is beautiful. We headed for the old town and its famous gold roof, meandering along the riverside as all of the past few days worth of thunderstorms washed away downstream. I’d started taking pictures of the pretty coloured buildings before we got anywhere near; they were the perfect oranges and golds to brighten the sky on a misty grey day while we waited for the clouds to clear, and reminded me so much of growing up in Devon where we paint out houses the colours of ice cream and think its totally normal.
But by the time we found the gold roof all thoughts of beautiful buildings were entirely forgotten, even though we were in the heart of the pretty bit. On the way in we’d been stopped by an actual traffic policeman (a first in itself) and redirected to clear the road to allow the police marching band to go past. I love marching bands, they’re definitely one of my guilty pleasures, and it seems that Kitty has similarly excellent taste in music as she insisted that we rolled the windows down and listened for as long as possible. To our huge delight, as we turned around the corner to see the gold roof, we could hear a solid brass oompa-oomp-pa. There’s something about that music that makes my toes itch to be moving, and Kitty and I sped up as we headed forward and around the corner to see the band set up in front of the old town hall.
Exploring to do? What exploring. John and Elma went for a little wonder but while Pip was busy batting out a beat on my back, Kitty was mesmerised. She found a spot on the cobbles and sat in front of them, immersed in the music and utterly in the moment. And with a bit of time to stop and look around we finally worked out what all the little white banners were about; we’d come to Innsbruck in the middle of Music Festival.
Having thoroughly enjoyed one impromptu concert we lucked out again when our stop for a picnic in the Innsbrucker Hofgarten turned out to be just outside the Musikpavillion where a group of students from the Innsbruck School of Music put on a more classical concert to a packed pavilion and a good number of people just outside the door. We couldn’t stay for the whole concert, but to hear just the start, and be able to watch the children running around quite happily outside was a serious treat.
The reason for our scuttling away, despite the very excellent tree climbing trees, and the discovery of the princess and the frog in a fountain, was a castle. Not the Habsburg Palace (beautiful though it is), but a gorgeous castle adventure playground, complete with tower, battlements and a nice swirly slide. One of the two was always going to get the majority vote in our family and much as I would like to go everywhere and see everything when we travel, the priority for travelling with little kids has to be making sure that they’re having as good a time as you are, so play parks and good spaces for running around have as much merit as very pretty palaces.
The funny thing about being in Innsbruck is that it doesn’t feel like an alpine town when you’re just walking around the gardens, or along one of the main roads. It’s completely flat, and it’s not until you suddenly look up about the roofline of the streets, or something that isn’t quite a cloud catches your eye, that you realise that you’re surrounded by these stunning peaks.
In a day we were only ever going to scratch the surface of Innsbruck, and tempted though we were by the idea of a cable car up the mountain, or a visit to the Alpine Zoo, we opted to spend what time we had pottering around and soaking up the atmosphere. And paying a visit to a yarn and fabric shop of course. If you follow my handmade posts you’ll know that I have developed a serious addiction to making leggings for the children. It meant that after owning it for four years I finally got around to figuring out my Mum’s overlocker (and promptly wondered what on earth took me so long) and it all started in Innsbruck when a window display of Christmas table cloths caught my eye and before I knew it we were standing in the middle of one of the biggest and loveliest fabric shops I have seen in years, facing a wall full of rolls of cotton jersey. That I only came home with four lengths for leggings for the children, a starry cotton print to make Pip shorts next summer and the most eye-popping sock yarn I’ve knit for John to date I see as a testament to my restraint, though I agree that may not be a view entirely mirrored by everyone else within the household. I have made all of the leggings though!
When the family finally tore me away, there were still little winding lanes to explore; grockle shops filled with miniature dirndls and lederhosen and every souvenir you’ve ever thought existed. Splurging our pennies on ice cream instead, we peeked into a glass blower and became appropriately dazzled by the swarovski crystal displays in front of the museum; enough sparkles even for my glitter loving lot.
Down Maria-Teresien Strasse we found a wonderfully pink church, and a little further on the Annasaule (St Anna’s column), also in pink, this time of the marble variety and therefore much admired. By the time we arrived it was mid afternoon, the skies had mostly cleared and the sun shone; perfect timing because this is one of the views of Innsbruck; the street, the column, the church and the mountains.
I know we want to explore more of Austria some day and we couldn’t help but love what little we did see, but this was the far point of our trip, the furthest we were ever going to be from home, all 866 miles of it, and I think we were all a little reluctant as we turned for the hills; back to Germany, and an acknowledgment that for this year at least, it was time to start making our way home.
I loved filming in Innsbruck and got slightly obsessed with the Police band and recorded quite a few snippets of their performance, so it seemed only appropriate that for our little film postcard home, I should turn the soundtrack over to the very talented Polizeimusik Tirol.
If you’d like to read some of our other postcards home from this year’s adventures check out: