A swim in the Rhine, then a drive to Innsbruck

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Heimgartl Innsbruck
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Sunday, August 21, 2011

We left France for Switzerland for the last time of this trip. Pulling into Basil, the girls had a deep desire to swim the Rhine through the city of Basil, and of course I was up for that. Mason did not want to be involved in this adventure because the Rhine is a pretty scary place: the water is opaque and moves extremely fast, building standing waves and piling up on the upstream edges of bridge supports. We parked and walked down towards the river. But first, we would get a bite to eat. 'Brace yourself', I told myself, this one will be expensive. I was right. I didn’t eat, but the girls ordered three croissants, two glasses of milk and a coffee and it cost me thirty-five dollars. Ouch.

We disrobed down to our swimsuits and dove into the river, swam like hell out past the boat moorings as the rather swift current dragged us towards them. Then we just relaxed and waited for the current to take us to our exit point. It was really quite easy, a new bit of adventure and the first time we have gone swimming since Barcelona. Mason had a change of heart and wanted to go also, so I took him a bit up river, and then he and I did a swim. We aimed ourselves for the shoreline steps where mom and the girls were sitting and drying off, and we climbed up next to them, dried off and headed back to the car. We didn’t know it but the real adventure of the day was to come a few minutes later.

One of the things you do in Europe without fail is to pay off your parking pass before heading to the outlet from the parking garage. I have always done this, but figured it was not necessary because the outlet from the garage has a machine that takes your payment. This time, I couldn’t find a machine in the parking garage, so I took my chances at the parking garage exit. The machine didn’t work. I tried all three of my credit cards but none of them worked. Then six cars stacked up behind me. I sent Estela out to find a machine to pay it off while I sat with the kids. Then a very angry man approached, and asked me what the trouble was. He pushed the info button about twenty times and started shouting into the machine in German for them to open the mechanical arm to get me the hell out of the way. They did it, and I parked across the street to help Estela, two floors below. The machine Estela was dealing with had eaten my credit card, and there was no way she was going to let us leave the country without that card. She got the attendant to open the machine and give her card back, then I stuffed some cash in there and the job was done. I thought I would never say this, but I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Switzerland.

From Basil we had a four hour drive to Innsbruck, Austria. The problem is that the Swiss are chronically working on their roads, day or night, and four hours dragged into five. Everybody was pretty hungry by the time we got towards the eastern end of Switzerland, but I refused to leave the highway for food because of the sheer costs associated with using the Swiss franc. So we kept driving and driving, wondering when we would cross. Sometimes it is difficult to know when you leave one country for the next in Europe. The road construction styles change and the sign styles change but you are always looking for that sign that tells you that you have arrived in the new country. So we drove and drove until the GPS gave us instructions to leave the highway to cross the Rhine River to enter Austria. Unfortunately, I was too busy looking for signs of Austria that I wasn’t looking at the GPS. When it was too late, I realized that we would need to drive ten miles out of our way to turn around. But as I was approaching the exit to make my turn around, I got a sign saying ‘welcome to Lichtenstein’. Woo-hoo, another country bagged, and only by one of my stupid mistakes. I told the girls we have another country in our quiver (not that we are bagging countries, but why not). We turned around and went back into Switzerland.

My mother told me after traveling through the Tyrolean Alps that Austria is the most beautiful place she has ever been. I tend to agree with her. We drove for two hours through tunnels under mountain peaks, and through valleys between towering Tyrolean ridges. The scenery is amazing. If Yosemite Valley was 150 miles long, you would get the impression of what it is like here. The peaks are rocky and completely lacking snow at this time of year, but the green foothills and endless iridescent grasslands lets you know you are in a place very special. The Alps blew me away during my first trip when I was in high school, and they still do.

We arrived in Innsbruck at 6 pm, just as the sun went behind the peaks. I checked in with the front desk clerk, a guy named Steve, who treated me like I was his personal house guest. He gave me free internet, and explained in great detail all the things we can do in our one night and one day in Innsbruck, and asked us to come back at any time, he would have a room waiting. It was hard not to like this guy. We checked into a very clean room with five beds, and a waterfall right outside the window. We unpacked a little and then walked the half-mile to the old town, just down the Inn River.

Innsbruck is one of those towns you want to take your pack off and hang out for a while. I found a hundred things I wanted to do, just standing in the hotel lobby. The one night we had I wanted to go see the Gundolf Family, who would probably be like the Von Trapp Family in Salzburg, and they put on one hell of a Tyrolean musical show. But we were tired, hungry, and were broke after just one day in Switzerland. I wanted to rent a mountain bike and explore the hills, and go for a cable car trip and spend a day hiking through small villages on the upper slopes below the timber line. I wanted to get a kayak and paddle down the Inn River and have a van take me back and do it again. I wanted to see the area and get used to it. Almost everybody is fit in Innsbruck, and you can see why. It is an adrenaline and endorphin filled town.

When we arrived in the old town there were two knights in full armor going at it with swords on a stage in front of what looked like a royal court on a raised platform, right in the town square. When one was dead, some women in medieval dress danced for a while, then a super fit guy set up a tightrope and climbed up on it, stood on one foot and juggled with those big bowling pins that jugglers like so much. There was a gymnastic show, some singing and some jesters shouting something funny (I’m sure) in German. I wanted to shout "Off with their heads! I am hungry! Bring me food!," but I didn’t. We found an Italian place on the main square that served the best tortellini I have ever had, stuffed with real gorgonzola cheese. That was Adriana’s dinner, but I ate some of it after I finished my spaghetti, Mason’s pizza and Estela’s tortellini (Shelby ate all of her food, but I wanted that too). Each meal was about six Euros, which is quite a bargain, especially considering the quality of the food. Austria and Germany are cheaper than France, and quite a lot cheaper than Switzerland. It’s good to get some great deals for a change. Now bring back the knights and the wenches!
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