The drive out of Tuscany and up into the Austrian Tyrol was absolutely spectacular.  First a drive by Lake Garda, a favorite from a prior summer, then up into the foothills of the Alps where the the Dolomites reach for the heavens, and then into the Alps themselves, many still snowcapped on their highest and most ragged peaks.  We got it all–vineyards, hill towns, and the spectacle of the mountains themselves.

Drive from Italy to Austria

We were headed for Innsbruck, Austria and found a lovely campground up in the hills above the city and through several small but charming Austrian towns.  The campground was spectacular and the amenities were the finest we have seen in all of Europe.  The bathrooms in particular were something out of a snooty country club.  Ah, a taste of the luxurious!  But only a taste…

The first day there we drove across the valley that the city of Innsbruck actually sits in to another stretch of mountain on the other side, and there took a funicular up the mountainside.  Innsbruck is a bit of a skiing capital, and has hosted two Winter Olympics, so in winter it is the main lift for skiers; now it is a delivery vehicle to a rich network of hiking trails that go off in every direction.  We chose one that continued along the ridge fronting the valley below and loved the whimsically scattered gates and the views as we moved across the face of the mountain.

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After about seven miles and with darkness beginning to encroach, we took a series of three ski lifts down to the valley floor.

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At the bottom we met a wonderful group of Tyrollean hikers who had come down just ahead of us.  We shared our trail mix with them and they just happened to have a couple of flasks of Schnapps with glasses which they shared with us.  All told it was a thoroughly refreshing experience.

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The next day, a Sunday, we headed into Innsbruck proper and found it so unlike the Mediterranean atmosphere we had lived in while in Italy.  This was Alpine, Germanic, Northern European, and elegant in a totally different way.  Still charming, colorful and lively, it had long served as the capital of the Tyrol and was the seat of much of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries.

Innsbruck 6

After spending the morning wandering around the town itself, we headed up through a narrow slit of a valley to the Ambras Castle, built in the sixteenth century and the residence of Archduke Ferdinand II for much of his lifetime.  There was a medieval festival going on at the castle, with many in medieval dress including a couple of very long-legged women!

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There were musical and dramatic performances, lots of food from that period, and a chance to wander through parts of the castle.  Here are some of the performers from a musical reenactment of a medieval gathering.

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In the end we were brought a ferocious rainstorm that drove all to shelter, in our case under the awning of a wine bar on wheels where we spent the storm talking with a local painter who seemed to know just about everything about David Hockney.  It made the delay a pleasant one.

The following day we headed across the remainder of the Alps to the north and into Bavaria just south of Munich to meet our dear friend Terri Luchsinger.  The next day we stole her away in Romy and headed back into Austria, but this time to Salzburg, that baroque wonder, birthplace of Mozart, and most importantly to our children, the site of “The Sound of Music.”

The narrow streets filled with beautiful and fashionable stores are inviting

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and seem to wind endlessly from one square to the next.  Close to the base of the hill that is crowned with the Hohensalzburg Castle is a plaza with a wonderful golden ball of huge scale, and topped with a man who appears so real that one is compelled to watch closely to see if he moves and is thus confirmed as human rather than art.

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The castle is the largest fortress in Europe and some say the most beautiful.

Salzburg, Austria, Terri

It is reachable by either a funicular or a long gradual walkway, and the views of the city from above are spectacular with the river snaking through the middle of the old town.  No wonder it is a World Heritage Site.

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The river itself has a number of bridges.  One of them, limited to pedestrians and bicycles, is covered with padlocks, a phenomenon that is appearing all over such bridges in European cities.

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We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at an outdoor cafe our last night in Salzburg.  We sat on a narrow street that came directly down the slope of the hill, and had a trough in its middle and water constantly flowing its length.  There was a cluster of plastic balls which floated down the trough when taken up to the top by children, and it was an unstoppable source of fun for a sizable number of kids and those watching from the cafes as well.

Salzburg, Austria, Terri_3

After three days in Salzburg we headed back to Munich, plopped Terri on a flight back to San Francisco, and had a couple of days in Munich, one of those cities we had visited in the nineties but had not returned to since.  It was a delight, from its downtown with the central plaza and famous bell tower at city hall

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to the beer halls we spent an afternoon sampling.  Most had outdoor areas to eat and drink in summer (note the Bavarian gentleman with the mustache to the left)

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and inside they are quite magnificent for ambiance and decor,

Munich, Germany

right down to the racks of personal beer mugs locked away for individual local patrons.

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Fortunately we had a few days of necessary recovery from the indiscretions of quantious beer drinking with our friends Gina and “Yoyo” and their wonderful children off in the Black Forest.  Then we headed on to Amsterdam and caught up with Karen and Mike Goot, longtime friends from San Miguel who moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, and were in Amsterdam for a few days.  We met up with them in town and managed that traditional return to the Feel Good, our first and still favorite coffee shop, before heading off to the  Rijks Museum

Amsterdam, Goots

and the Van Gogh Museum as well, though we were there chiefly for the amazing flowered maze in its garden.Amsterdam, Goots_3

As night fell we found ourselves in the Cafe de Dokter, established in 1798 and demonstrating so well that warm, interior space that the Dutch long ago realized was the way to handle the cold, the gloom, the darkness that awaits outside.

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