12 January 2016 – Nordkette Innsbruck, Alpenzoo and the Old Town at sunset…..
The plan for the day was more fun in the snow, with a trip up the Nordkette Mountain via cable car, and some sledding. While we were up there we visited the Alpenzoo, Europe’s highest zoo, and then finished off the day with seeing Innsbruck’s old town as the sun was going down.
The first morning in our apartment in Innsbruck started rather early. The church bells from the church right next to our apartment (Heilige Ingenuin und Albuin) started going off at 6am, every 15 minutes. It was just possible to doze between them, but that was entirely ruined by the huge 5 minute cacophony at 7am, ensuring that no one was able to have any further sleep. On the upside this was our view from our breakfast table…….
It was the first morning in 8 days that we didn’t have a hotel breakfast, and it was nice to have a leisurely bacon and eggs in our own kitchen before getting our warm clothes on for a day out in the snow. We planned to do take the funicular and cable cars all the way up to Hafelekar, in the Nordkette mountain range. Our apartment was on the side of Innsbruck that backs onto the Nordkette, and we had beautiful views of the mountains from our apartment. The weather forecast was for snow in the city and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like up the mountains. Given the forecast was the same for the next two days, we decided to risk it and head up the cable cars. Worst case, we play in the snow!
When we left the apartment it was a bit cloudy, but not actively raining or snowing. We headed out past the extremely noisy church and through town and across the river to the funicular station.
Once we arrived at the Lowenhaus station we couldn’t figure out how to use our Innsbruck cards to get into the station and we didn’t want to buy tickets when the fares are covered on the card. The station was unmanned, so there was no one to help the poor confused tourists, so we decided to walk to the funicular starting station at Congress which is about 500m back along the river. When we get to Congress (it had just started raining), the Nordkettenbahn staff pointed to a scanning machine we hadn’t seen at the Lowenhaus station so we feel like dills. Of course one funicular is just leaving so we have to wait 15 minutes for the next one.
The funicular starts at an altitude of 560m at Congress and goes through a tunnel for the first portion on the way to Lowenhaus. We have a short wait there and then through another tunnel and a steep incline where we get up to the Alpenzoo station at 760m.
As we wanted to visit the zoo we got off at this station. When we walked outside it was raining. We figured wandering the zoo in the rain might not be that much fun so we head back into the station and have to wait another 15 minutes until the next funicular arrived. It seems to be the story of our last few days.
Once the funicular arrived, it’s up to the Hungerburg station (at 860m) where the funicular ends. As we get out of the funicular station it’s still raining so we take a quick look at the views back down over Innsbruck but opt not to walk around the town and head into the Nordkettenbahn Cable Car station to head up to Seegrube.
While we are waiting around at the Hungerburg station for the cable car to arrive, we look at the museum of old cable cars and are very thankful that we are not going on the old wooden ones that don’t look particularly safe. There are quite a few snowboarders and skiers also waiting to go up, in full gear. It’s now snowing outside the station so the kids were happy to watch the snow fall. We were starting to doubt we were going to see much up the top, but figured that the kids would have fun in the snow.
The Seegrubenbahn cable car is even bigger than the Untersberg one and holds 96 people. There was so much snow on the front of the car that it was impossible to see much out the front as we went up, up, up. We lost sight of Innsbruck before half way up. Seegrube is at 1,905m (6,250 feet above sea level) so we had climbed some serious altitude that morning.
Once we arrived at Seegrube, we got the kids mittened up and headed out. It looked freezing outside, it was snowing and there was ice everywhere. Once outside the signs warning of death and danger were everywhere! It was very white and you couldn’t see much past 50m in front of you.
The kids were more than happy to play in the snow. There was a kids ski school running, with adorable tiny kids zooming around on skis. We spent most of our time trying to keep out of their way! There was quite a quantity of wet snow coming directly into our faces at all times. Despite the unpleasant conditions, everyone was having fun.
It was a total white-out and you couldn’t see the edge of the mountain. Behind that Cloud 9 wooden shed (it was actually a bar) is where there is a sheer drop down many hundred metres. It wasn’t overly frightening though since it was impossible to see!
We spotted little sleds for hire for 5 Euro for an hour so decide to get one and see if the kids liked it. We were allowed to use the lift/travelator that the ski school were using to take the students to the top of their practice area, but most of the time it’s quicker to walk up so Anto and Mikl take turns dragging the kids up the very small hill, which was quite a lot of effort. Astrid did enjoy her couple of rides up the lift though.
Both kids had a ball going down and only fell off a few times. Soren was getting very cold and miserable from the snow blasting in his face, so we offered to take him inside for lunch but he begged for one more go (several times) so he and Astrid had a few more goes before it snow got worse and we decided to call it a day and head for the restaurant.
Anto and Mikl couldn’t resist having one go each on the kiddy sized sled before handing it back. It seemed to only make them more determined that we had to find time for more sledding later in the trip!
It was absolutely freezing, below minus 10 degrees with an even lower apparent temperature. My camera was quite unhappy about the temperatures too, with my wide-angle zoom lens freezing repeatedly. It was certainly challenging photography conditions. Aside from the frozen camera, I also had it in its weather proof bag, which was rapidly covered in snow, so I had no hope of seeing through the viewfinder. I also couldn’t have my ski gloves off for long without my hands freezing. I ended up having to warm the camera up enough to pick my settings, put it back in its bag and my gloves on and shoot away hoping for at least a few good shots. All things considered I got some pretty good shots of the sledding. The camera and the kids decided it was definitely time for a break from the cold and we headed inside for lunch.
We decided to go to the self-serve restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is supposed to have stunning views right over Innsbruck. Not this day, there were lovely views of white! We did enjoy watching the snow fall as we ate. For lunch, I had a potato and mushroom soup. Anto had bratwurst with chips. Mikl and Alan had a goulash soup. Kids had sandwiches we’d prepacked with the bonus of a hot chocolate to warm them up. The boys of course had beer.
After lunch we decided to head further upwards on the cable cars, to Hafelekar, knowing we wouldn’t see much as we couldn’t see the cable car lines more than 20m above us and we highly doubted it was clear at the top. We only had one return ride on our Innsbruck card so we couldn’t come back to do the trip to Hafeleker without paying for the trip to Seegrube again so we figured we might as well keep going. Hafeleker is at an altitude of 2,256m or 7,400 feet. The highest of any of the mountains so far on our trip.
The Hafelekarbahn is a shorter ride and a slightly smaller cabin. That said, the cabin still held 69 people. The view on the way up was the Seegrube station disappearing below us very rapidly, then white. We did see the avalanche guards all the way up the mountain and lots of birds flying around at the top which stood out against the white of the snow and sky.
It was pretty quiet up at the Hafelekar station as it was a miserable day and it only has a few black ski runs (with greater than 70% gradient) but no chair lifts as you have to catch the cable cars back and forth. It also has a lot of hiking trails, but it definitely wasn’t the day for that either. Most people go up for the views, but also none of them this day! We head outside and as predicted, it’s white and cold. Very cold, the apparent temperature was below minus 20 and it was blowing a gale, so there was a lot of snow in our face.
We went for a little walk and let the kids play in the snow which is deep and soft. Despite the absolutely abominable conditions we all had fun. Both kids were determined not to let the fact that they couldn’t see with all the snow in their faces, or the fact that it was freezing, spoil their fun!
We had anticipated spending most of the day between Seegrube and Hafelekar, but the weather was making it pretty miserable and we didn’t want anyone getting frostbite, so we decided to head back down and see if it was now nicer weather at the Alpenzoo. We took the cable car back down to Seegrube and straight onto the next one down to Hungerburg. The view on the way down was pretty much the same as the way up, white!
We decided that since it was not actively raining we’d have a look around Hungerburg, which is a pretty town. We ended up walking towards the zoo and figured we couldn’t be bothered walking back up the hill to catch the funicular so we kept walking down.
Soren had managed for fall asleep in the ergo, so walking down gave him time to rest. It was a nice wooded path down to the zoo, but we found it amusing that all the signs to the Alpenzoo say 20 minutes, even after we’d been walking for 15 minutes. It did in fact take around 20 minutes of following the zig-zagging path down through the forest.
It was now sunny over Innsbruck and only raining intermittently, but not too heavily. So it was a pleasant time to be walking around the Alpenzoo. The Alpenzoo is the highest zoo in Europe (it’s partway up the Nordkette mountain). It has 150 species of animals and over 2,ooo animals. Most are animals suited to the alpine conditions. The Alpenzoo is also covered on the Innsbruck card, so it was a good place to take the kids for free. Soren, of course slept through the whole thing!
Astrid did manage to enjoy herself though, and has become quite the fan of visiting zoos in her snowsuit. The Alpenzoo had beautiful views over Innsbruck, and the animals had lovely views from their enclosures as they were all nestled into the hill. The only issue was that we had to keep walking up hills to see everything.
During our visit we see wolves, a brown bear, chamois (little deer), mountain goats, barnyard animals (pigs, sheep, goats, cows and chickens) – most of which you can pat. We answered the question about where all the old Christmas trees go, the zoo animals get them. Every zoo we’ve been to throughout January had animals feasting on old Christmas trees!
Astrid also loved the large moose, owls and lynx. We managed to see a few different animals compared to other zoos we had visited. They did have a good collection of birds of prey, including some I’d never even heard of.
After an hour or so we got a bit sick of walking up and down hills and Astrid was getting tired so we headed out of zoo having seen about 3/4. Soren was still asleep in the ergo so we figured it was a good time to make a getaway before he woke up and realised he missed out on animals. We walked back to the funicular station and it wouldn’t let us in since we’d exited that station before that morning when we aborted our zoo visit due to rain. We hadn’t actually ridden on funicular twice but couldn’t now get in. We thought we’d catch the bus down but it was a 20 minute wait so we just walked the 1.6km since it was just about all downhill.
Astrid was getting pretty tired so she decided she wanted to stay in the apartment for the last couple of hours of the afternoon. Alan was also tired volunteered to look after her. Soren had just woken up so was keen to go out, so he and Anto, Mikl and myself headed into old town, which we hadn’t yet had a chance to explore. The cloud had mostly lifted and the walk over the river was very pleasant.
Innsbruck lies geographically halfway between Munich in Germany and Verona in Italy. It is best known as a Winter sports haven due to its position in the mountains, and has hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. The Old Town is also known for its imperial architecture. We decided we’d do a quick whip-around the main tourist hotspots. First up were the Golden Daschl (golden roof), Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Hofkirche.
Then we headed through the main part of town, past the dozens of expensive looking shops and towards St Anne’s Column, and the Triumphforte. Yes, every city seems to have its own version of the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a beautiful city with stunning views of mountains either side. Despite it being a cloudy days, the colours were amazing.
As the sun was now setting, we walked back through town and via a market hall and supermarket to pick up dinner supplies. The sun was now very low and the colours of the building and river were more than impressive. I certainly racked up some photos this day! We might not have managed to get snow in the city but I was quite enamoured with Innsbruck.
We decided to have dinner in the apartment so kids could have an early night. Dinner consisted of several frozen pizzas and fresh raviolis and some jarred sauce, all of which are good. It was followed by tiramisu, which was amazing for supermarket dessert. By some miracle the kids were bathed and actually in bed before 7pm (if not quite asleep). It had been a long day in the snow and cold, but we had plans for more of the same the next day with a visit to the ski jump and the Patscherkofel mountain.
Statistics for the 12th of January 2016, in Innsbruck Austria – the minimum temperature was zero degrees and the maximum temperature was 4 degrees, with a mean of 2 degrees. It was hovering between minus 10 and 20 up the top of the mountain, so significantly colder! The total walking for the day was 17.75km. A pretty busy day. No wonder Astrid piked out of the last few kilometres!