Grossglockner – Over The Top!


Grossglockner – Over The Top!

Lienz, Igls

Saturday, 4 June 2011

It may have had something to do with the co-joined bed setup that they have here in Austria or maybe it was the delightful Austrian white wine that we had with dinner – either way, we slept like babies and woke to the iPad alarm around 7.30am.

The view from the balcony this morning was not as spectacular as the one we saw last night. The cloud was low in the valley and there was some light rain falling. However, we put our faith in the weather Gods and trusted that the day would fine up as the sun rose over Europe.

We made our way back down to the hotel’s restaurant around 9.00am and shared a light breakfast with a few of the other guests. It was a bit like ground hog day when we walked into the dining room as all the guests were sitting in exactly the same seats they were in last night at dinner. Habits are easy to form!

We enjoyed the view over the town of Lienz from the window seat that we chose for our breakfast. The weather was improving slowly and we kept on visualizing the clouds lifting and the sun shining through onto the spectacular Dolomite mountain range that we saw yesterday when we drove into Lienz.

A quick repack after breakfast had us down in the lobby and checking out around 10.30. The staff were wonderfully efficient in getting us on our way and before long we were driving out of Hotel Haidenhof’s driveway and down into the centre of town.

The narrow streets in Lienz didn’t offer too many parking options however, we managed to find a tight spot close to the town square. The space was so tight that I had to climb out over The Princess’ seat to get out of the car because I couldn’t open my door! We discovered later that we were about 50m from a huge public car park. So close yet so far away.

When we entered the town square area we discovered that the weekend markets were in full swing (we didn’t even remember that it was Saturday). The majority of market stalls were selling freshly grown and made produce and we enjoyed drooling over the array of cheeses, salamis and fresh fruits.

We broke up our market experience with a bit of retail therapy in some of the excellent local shops. In fact, we purchased some new hiking shoes and shorts in one of the many sportswear shops that were in town (this area is very big for hiking, mountain biking and white water activities). Despite the hundreds (thousands) of sports shops in Hong Kong we still buy shoes and clothes overseas.

Before we left the market stalls we stopped at the very end stall. This one was run by an Italian couple from Verona. The owner spoke quite good English and he explained that he had spent some time in Australia. He was very happy to tell everyone that came to the stall that we were from Hong Kong and that I was from Australia and The Princess was from Canada. They were a lovely couple and we really enjoyed sampling the cheeses and salamis that they made on their farm. Indeed, we purchased a bag full of outstanding food and two bottles of their wine too.

On our way back to the car we stopped at a bakery and bought some fresh rolls as our plan was to stop beside the road on our trip to Innsbruck and eat fresh bread rolls with the salami and cheese we had just bought!

Before returning to the car we found a whole new area of Lienz and took time out to take some photos and video of the beautiful streetscape in this part of town. The history in Lienz (like Brixen yesterday) is quite amazing and hard to get your head around at times. To think that this little town alone was a thriving hub hundreds of years before Australia was claimed by Captain Cook is difficult to comprehend.

Some of the locals we met in the market place told us that we might consider taking the quick way to Innsbruck instead of driving across the famous alps road – the Grossglockner Road. This high alpine road crosses the alps at heights of up to 9000′ and the locals were concerned that a. we wouldn’t see anything and b. we might encounter some snow falls and road closures. We took their advice however, we put our faith in the travel guru and set of for a couple of hours of zig zagging our way through the alps of Austria.

Just outside of Lienz we stopped on the side of the road at a picnic spot that looked out over the lush green valley and south to the Dolomite mountains. We broke out the rolls, salami and cheese and sat down to a most beautiful lunch. To try to describe the taste of this fresh produce would be impossible. Suffice to say that you have to come to Austria and experience it for yourself!

The weather continued to improve as we headed higher into the alps and, at times, the picture postcard shots you have seen were presenting before our eyes. The towering snow capped mountains loomed over the green foothills and deep valleys and brightly colored churches broke up the green and white patchwork. Fast running rivers carved up the valley floors and were feed by waterfalls tumbling down the steep mountainsides. Absolutely stunning.

The four cylinder Ford struggled a bit in the high mountain air and, at times, we had to negotiate the switchback turns in first gear. The thin mountain air didn’t have the same affect on the dozens of bikes we had pass us as they roared up the mountain in pursuit of the next corner – we preferred the more leisurely pace.

The last of the snow drifts were melting in the warm (around 13 degrees at 8000′) air however we were still able to enjoy the view of the higher snow covered peaks above us.

We stopped many times and took in the sheer beauty of this place and I was even able to get my hand wet (and cold) by making snowballs and throwing them at The Princess – gently of course!

The drive across the alps took around 2 hours (with stops) and the descent into the northern part of the alps came with a marked increase in temperature and a vastly different sky – high clouds, lots of blue sky and no rain! The weather Gods did indeed smile upon us!

After returning to relatively lower altitudes we headed for Innsbruck – around 90 minutes from the national park exit. The drive west to Innsbruck took us past the lower mountain ranges that make Austria famous for skiing. Indeed, at one point the ranges were covered with ski hills as far as we could see into the distance. The extensive range of skiing locations obviously attracts thousands of winter sports people from all over the world (maybe we will come back and see this part of the world in winter!) and they are obviously well catered for.

Fortunately the little Ford Focus was more suited to open road driving at lower altitudes so I was able to push along the autobahn at speeds of up to 140km/h and this meant that the time to Innsbruck was reduced a little. As a side note – we were still passed by cars that must have been pushing 160-170km/h. Impressive.

Our talking GPS accurately navigated us to Igls (pronounced like eagle) and into the driveway of Hotel Sonnenhof. This family run hotel at the end of a country lane in Igls is the perfect spot for us to stay while we get to know more about Innsbruck. It is quiet and quaint and the view from the balcony is spectacular! White snow capped alps lining the not to distant horizon and Swiss style houses in the foreground – very easy on the eye!. It all seems like a bit of a dream.

We took time to settle into the room before walking the short distance into the village and looking for a place to dine. We settled on the Sport Hotel – an historic hotel right in the centre of town. We sat down on the balcony over looking the town and distant mountains and ordered another delightful meal. Tonight’s fare consisted of a cream of rocket soup and cream of asparagus with smoke salmon soup for starters then some beautiful veal in tuna sauce and some local ravioli and a carrot sauce. Superb. This trip is becoming one of sampling some of the most wonderful menus in Europe! I guess we will have to do a bit of hiking in the alps over the coming week!

We returned to the hotel just as the sky was turning from dark blue into black and we witnessed the quarter moon setting over the western alps. What a wonderful way to close out another spectacular day here in Europe.

We plan on some more high altitude sightseeing tomorrow here in Igls and we will keep you posted with a summary of our activities in tomorrow’s blog.

Gut Nacht from Austria

R&P.

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