As usual, we were slow getting started. Maybe I should just write about the days that we get started early, since that would be noteworthy. Before leaving Italy, we stopped by a supermarket in Cortina to stock up on Italian food, as Risa isn’t so keen on Germanic-style food.
I was expecting another hard day of driving up steep passes, but as luck would have it, the pass into Austria wasn’t too steep. Foolishly, we filled with fuel just prior to leaving Italy, only to learn that fuel in Austria was a massive €0.30/l cheaper! I was going to research the difference in prices this morning, but I forgot…
As usual, the border crossing was barely perceptible, with no change in scenery or buildings. There was only a small generic EU sign designating that we were in Austria, and an equally small and unimpressive unmanned hut guarding the crossing. It’s a little anticlimactic, as even crossing the states in Australia has a big welcome sign. The only real change we could see were the signs now being in German, instead of Italian.
The only other thing we noticed was just how clean everything was. It would have been more noticeable if we hadn’t just come from the Italian Alps, which was also pleasantly clean, unlike the bigger cities, like Florence/Rome/Naples.
The valleys here were incredible, feeling like we were driving inside walls, following a beautiful topaz river, that was raging it’s way back towards Italy.
There is a scenic road, the Grossglockner Alpine Route, that I would have loved to have driven, however, after our recent experiences with high alpine roads, we thought that it might not be worth the expense (it’s a toll road) – especially since the weather seemed very changeable. Instead, we drove to a road parallel to the tourist route, which also gave incredible views of Grossglockner mountain, with the dozens of waterfalls that were crashing down to the valley below. Excuse the images, Risa snapped these while we were driving, as there was nowhere to stop.
The road that we were following, 108, was also an unavoidable toll road, with a €11 toll to use the 5.3km Felbertauern tunnel.
How could we drive past what was touted as being the tallest waterfall in Europe? It was basically on our way to Innsbruck, so it was a no-brainer.
It was certainly a marketed commodity, which felt really strange after all the waterfalls we’ve visited both in Japan and Australia, which are in National Parks, and free from commercialism. Here there is a giant tourist centre, museums, and dozens of souvenir shops – as well as having a €3 entrance fee.
We parked in what turned out to be the wrong car park, as it tried to charge us nearly €20 for a two hour park – which was thankfully waived by the support lady on the phone. From here it was a short hike to the bottom of the falls, followed by a constant climb that zig-zagged to the higher regions of the falls.
The 380m height of the falls is a little misleading, as the falls are broken into several separate sections, with a total of 380m combined. Still, the volume of the water flowing was impressive, making a thunderous roar, and sending huge volumes of mist into the air – making some lovely rainbows.
There were a few view points that really got close to the action – Risa looked like she’d just walked out of a shower after enjoying the action up close.
We didn’t bother walking all the way to the top, as we started to hear actual thunder, as well as a few drops of rain. Even if this hadn’t of occurred, we were ready to head back down anyway.
We took a slight detour on the way back to the car, checking out the falls from the base. It took us through lush green forest, filled with beautiful wild flowers.
As it turned out, our favourite views were on the drive towards Innsbruck once we’d left the attraction. They looked far more impressive once you were able to see the entirety.
It turned out that road that we took, Gerlospass, was yet another toll road, this time €9. If the weather had of been more favourable, it would be beautiful, but we had dark clouds threatening storms. We did love the hillsides that looked like green velvet, studded with small alpine huts.
We caught the lovely pink hues of a stormy sunset, before retiring to a crowded motorhome parking area. It was actually the most crowded that we’ve yet visited, requiring us to fold in our mirrors before parking, lest we hit the neighbouring vans. It was so compact that we couldn’t open our windows, which made for a very hot and unpleasant evening.
The morning started with smell of cow shit, reminding us that we were very much in a rural area. The other thing we noticed were the constant view of mountains. We realised that we hadn’t been out of view of them yet in Austria.
As we approached Innsbruck, we spotted a bright twinkling… thing. Looking a little closer we spotted a giant Swarovski logo on top of a building. I personally hate their glittering crystals, but Risa was curious, so we tried to go investigate.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the popularity, given how popular the stores are, but still, seeing buses of tourists arrive still surprised me. Once I learnt that it was nearly €20 to enter, I stopped being surprised, and started being shocked! We decided to investigate as far as we could without having to pay – which turned out to be the gift shop.
The gift shop turned out to be filled with all the tacky items that I have come to expect from Swarovski, but it also had some interesting items – who wouldn’t want a €3000 sparkling Darth Vader – or an equally ludicrous Ganesh?
The free section of the museum was interesting, with a brief history of the company – did you know that they also produce industrial cutting equipment, as well as reflective safety equipment?
Risa was interested to see more, so I let her explore the sparkly Crystal Cloud, as well as the art gallery/museum. Images don’t accurately capture the crystal cloud, which sparkled brilliantly as the crystals moved. She thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was just as happy to save money, and catch up on tech blogs. She said that the art gallery was actually really impressive, with interesting use of light and visuals, combined with crystals.
The capital of the Tyrol region, and the biggest of the cities in the west of Austria. I was concerned about finding a place to park, but it turned out to be really simple, only a 10 minute walk to the centre of town – we just needed Euro coins to pay for parking…
We thought that now we were in a larger town, it would be a little grimier, but it was just as clean and well maintained as the smaller towns we’d whizzed past.
The old town was super compact, and equal parts beautiful. There were colourful historic buildings, in a style unlike any we’d seen so far on our travels.
I’d read about the Golden Roof, and nearly missed it when we walked past it – I was expecting something bigger. But, once I’d spotted it, it was impossible to not notice the shining golden tiles that covered the alcove. And, keeping with the rest of Austria that we’d seen, mountains were never out of sight. It must be an awesome city to live in, with such convenient access to nature.
We only had enough change for two-hours of parking, so it was extreme tourism, power walking around town, taking in as many sites as we could in our limited time. Of course, we found time for some strudel – I went for a berry and ricotta cheese.
Leaving town, we had yet more mountains to tackle on our path to Switzerland (via Lichtenstein). The main route, using a tunnel, was closed. This meant crossing a steep and long mountain pass, and with the company of plenty of other motorists. I wonder sometimes if we have less power now, or if it’s just struggling with the heat and altitude – or if we just have more stuff in the car now. Corsica was slow, but we were in 1st gear and 20kph at times this afternoon.
We stopped just short of Lichtenstein in a large gravel car park. Like most towns we’d passed through in Austria, there was an ever present smell of cattle. The flies were thick, making the evening meal an unpleasant experience. We have some windows with fly screen, but not all, making cross ventilation a challenge.
Once the sun set, the flies stopped annoying us. I’d assumed they’d left the van, but we realised at sunrise that they were just hiding in our van. I tried my hardest to ignore them, but they seemed fond of flying onto our faces. It was fun trying to kill them at 5AM while half asleep.