Due to general busyness, I had to take a short break. I used to joke that I had the plague when I was really sick, until I found out that people can actually still get plague! So, I don’t have plague, but I am ill . . . which is not uncommon for me after traveling unfortunately. 😧
I’m not a morning person and I wish that I was in regards to trains. I tend to take the late evening train, after everything has closed, but in the winter this means you miss out on one of the best parts of train travel – seeing the area that you’re passing through! I also realized that virtually everything closes by 17h00 (5 PM) in the winter, so my trains were later than necessary. A 6 PM train would have been fine. Or even 7 PM to allow time for dinner.
I did start my first day in Innsbruck rather early to beat the crowds, which I strongly recommend. When I arrived around 9, the funicular was fine, but when I came down about 2 hours later, people were packed in like sardines! I went to the funicular at Congress Station – this is important because putting in the name of the funicular (Hungerberg) will get you to the TOP station. Of course, if you’re going later in the day, the bus might be a better option.
The first cable car leaves from a station near to the funicular last stop and the views from that platform are lovely, although I imagine they’d be better with more snow. Many areas in the Alps (not all) are suffering from lack of snow I learned.
The second cable car takes you to a height of 7,401 feet and you can see the entire valley, ringed by mountains. Interestingly, I learned that this ring of mountains has some unusual effects on the city. Innsbruck has an above average amount of sun because the mountains create a strong downward wind that pushes out clouds, but also causes headaches and aggressive behavior! The view below is from the top, where there are several levels of climbing courses and also one of the steepest ski slopes in Europe.
My next stop was the Imperial Palace Hofburg (yes, there’s one in Vienna too) because it’s right by the bottom of the funicular. Unlike the Mozart museum, where the no photos symbol is on every sign (I only missed it due to using the app), there is only one tiny spot where it tells you this here, which is right as you enter and I never saw it. Consequently, I had several pictures before a staff member told me it wasn’t allowed! I’m glad that I have some photos though because it’s really moving to see the obvious signs of Maria Theresa’s love for her husband in multiple places in Austria. This palace is no exception and she converted his bedroom into a chapel after his death here.
Sadly, a grand celebration here turned to tragedy when this palace became the location of her husband’s death during a multi-day celebration of their son’s wedding (son and wife shown below).
There was once a Tyrolean line of the Habsburgs and this palace was the main residence around 1500. For me, Maria Theresa was a more fascinating historical figure than Sisi. She was the only female Habsburg ruler and yet she managed to pull it off! One of the steps towards this was managing image, so she included paintings in this hall of all of her children, with her daughters represented equal to her sons to help reinforce the new rule of the Habsburg-Lorraines. Only the heir to the throne had a unique position of honor, pictured between his parents.
Another unique feature is that she memorialized the children she’d lost at a young age on clouds in the heavens. I think this shows that, even in an era when losing children was much more common, that didn’t mean they weren’t grieved.
While the Bavarians ruled the area from 1806-1814 from this palace, the only time it was frequently occupied after Maria Theresa was by Franz Joseph’s brother. In 1848, his uncle, Ferdinand I, was viewed as too compromised to rule, so 18 year old Franz Joseph became ruler. The next story was also intriguing to me – young Sisi was originally intended to marry Franz Joseph’s brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig, and Franz Joseph was to marry her older sister, but the emperor fell in love and was stubborn enough to insist he’d marry Sisi or nobody at all. Of course, he needed to provide an heir, so he was allowed to marry her. Sadly, that didn’t work out so well! His only male heir committed suicide and Sisi was an unhappy wife. She actually went against the common custom of double beds in a shared room and this single bed is part of the brightly-colored interiors that Karl designed for Sisi here. One can only hope that Karl hadn’t loved her also!
This is a really lovely palace and you can expect to spend 60-90 minutes here, although they only have 100 audio guides and you’re stuck just reading or waiting for a guide if it’s a busy day. Although, if it’s considered busy in December, I can only imagine how much worse it is during tourist season! Ironically, for being “busy,” I was often the only person in a room, which made for a nice visit.
The next stop was Schloss Ambras, which I was at first disappointed with, then loved. The original fortress was destroyed in 1133, but part of the 13th and 14th century rebuild is still there. Interestingly, it was also built for a woman, Sigmund’s wife, Katharina of Saxony.
The first part and much of its current appearance was from the 15th and 17th century when Ferdinand II remodeled it for his wife also. Compared to other European countries, the Austrians seem to have more rulers who bucked tradition and married for love as his wife, Philippine, was not royalty and his children were removed from the line of succession as a result. The castle continued to be used by the Tyrolean rulers until 1665.
The first part of the museum was all armor and military items, which don’t interest me, so I was thinking that seeing a different style of castle was the best thing that I’d get out of my trip. Then, I saw this very unique ceiling from 1586. They have mirrors so you can get a better view of the details even!
One of the best parts was the cabinet of curiosities though. It was far better than the one in St Peter’s. Plus, you’re free to take pictures here! This 1596 glass bell piano is the only one that still exists.
The collection here is just really, really impressive and with good explanations of the pieces. There were even paintings of an ACTUAL hairy family with the family history of how many of the children were hairy and how many of the grandchildren also ended up with this unusual condition.
The hall of portraits is closed in the winter (the ticket is cheaper as a consequence if it wasn’t part of the card), but the older part of the castle still has many things worth seeing – just be aware that it is nearly as cold inside as out! You begin to understand why they had such massive fireplaces. The Spanish Hall was a standout highlight of the castle though. The painting was phenomenal, as was all of the wood carving.
It wasn’t entirely clear to me how this particular castle escaped all of the looting and depredations that other locations have suffered and how it was able to retain so much of the original collections, but it’s certainly to our benefit that it has! There was even an original stained glass window that had the Ferdinand II’s coat of arms.
By the time I made it back into town, I was pretty tired, but the Swarovski Crystal Worlds site was unique in being open much later than the other sites (and having it’s own fancy bus). It’s in a subterranean cave, so it was fine to do as a night activity. But, I’ll start with that in the next post!