Here’s the thing about Innsbruck. If you’re just passing through, you’re going to have to choose: the mountains or the city. The city is full of diversions — museums, shopping, historical buildings and monuments. The mountains, well, we don’t know. We chose the city, you see, in spite of the fact that Ski School Innsbruck sent us Florian, a guide with excellent English and a preference for the kind of recreation that gets you connected with nature, not your own adrenaline.
Florian walked us through the center of town, underplaying his knowledge of the tourist sites. We headed towards the Bergisel, the site where Andreas Hofer’s farmers army vanquished the Napoleonic troops. We stopped in to check out some gear at the place that supplies his clients when they need rentals and then went for coffee at a tiny pink cafÃ©. At the foot of the famous ski jump just on the edge of town, we turned back opting to head away from the crowds. (January 4th is the world cup ski jump championship and none of us particularly enjoy crowds.)
After a few phone calls to check the weather up higher in the mountains — foggy and staying that way – Florian left us to our own devices. I confess that I felt some regret as we parted ways on a busy Innsbruck street corner. It’s not every day I have a mountain guide handy. And later, when it looked like the clouds might break, I worried even more that I might have made the wrong decision. But because the mountains are just outside our front door at home, we opted to spend the afternoon in the city and went to lunch.
It turned out all right. First, we splashed out a little for lunch at the Hirschen Stuben, an updated traditional Tyrolean place in a former cellar. Dinner plates start at about 16 euros — lunch ran about half that. I had Tyrolean spinach ravioli in brown butter and a salad. The husband had grilled chicken and parsley potatoes. I’d recommend this place. It’s stylish, the service was good, and the food was yummy.
After lunch, we headed up the tower to check out Innsbruck and the famous Goldenes Dachl (golden roof) from above. Then, we went to the Tyrolean Folkskunde Museum — the Museum of Folk Art. They have an extensive collection of the stuff that daily life was made of 100, 200 , 300 years ago. Carved spindles, butter molds, powder bags, furniture, front doors and ovens and and and… It’s all worth seeing, some of the objects, while not having any use in present times, are so gorgeously crafted and covered with surface embellishments that they’re works of art in their own right.
The collection includes a number rebuilt “bauernstuben” — the equivalent of the modern living room. They varied in style and complexity, but most included a “kacheloven” — a wood burning, ceramic tiled oven, a kitchen table, wood paneled walls and, maybe in a wealthier home, ceiling. This is where the family would do their cooking, their household chores like spinning or weaving, and where they’d all sit to take their meals. They’re generally pretty dark chambers. I feel a little claustrophobic when I think of the smoke from the fire and everyone in there at once, but I’m a modern sort of person who requires a lot of personal space.
Adjacent to the museum is the cathedral that houses the tomb of Maximillian the First. Someone must have been hit by a fit of paranoia about what would happen to Max once he was interred because he’s surrounded by “The Black Men” — statues of the former dukes and other royalty from the Empire, women and men. They’re larger than life and covered in ornate details and they’re cast iron. The mind boggles when thinking about the creation of these huge heavy figures. I don’t doubt that they serve their purpose of making sure you behave when you’re standing at the Emperor’s crypt. They are impressive and intimidating and totally worth seeing.
We spent the better part of the afternoon wandering the museum and gawking at the iron sentries at Maximillian’s tomb. When we headed back outside it was still foggy and damp and most of the regret I felt about not seeing the mountains was gone. Because it was that time of day, 4pm, we went straight to Munding, a cafe/pastry shop that’s been in business at the same location since the early 1800s. There we joined the Italians and Japanese tourists — and the local Innsbruck ladies in furs — for the Austrian ritual of afternoon coffee or tea and cake.
Refueled with cake and something warm to drink, we concluded that if you are visiting Innsbruck, you must stay for at least three full days. You need one day to see the city, one day to see the mountains, and one day to wait out the weather. You might not need that third day, but if the weather is grand, certainly you won’t waste it. We had only one full day at our disposal, so we were forced to choose.
It’s a little bit like standing in front of the bakery case at the Munding. You’re not really going to go wrong, no matter what you pick, but it’s an impossible decision. Everything looks so delicious, you are just going to have to go back again and get the thing you did not try the first time.