A Night Well Spent in Innsbruck

In Innsbruck I ate vegetarian. And it was amazing. The sweet little town of Innsbruck was so much more than I had ever imagined. It was small, but full of life and true sense of community. It had that old world European charm combined with a scenic background that was to die for. Once home to the Winter Olympics, the mountain range and overall outdoor surroundings that layered the town center were unbelievable.

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We arrived by train from Salzburg early Tuesday morning. Squeezed into our jam packed travel schedule to break up busy cities and long days of exploring, we looked to Innsbruck as a day of rest. Some place to go where we didn’t feel the pressures to stack our day with museum after museum or sight after sight. We were simply visiting to enjoy and relax for a much needed 24 hours of nothing but breathing in the fresh air of what I would call, one of the worlds most beautiful areas. We stayed at a gorgeous new hotel called Hotel Adlers. Just a few blocks from the train station and steps away from the center of the town. The hotel takes pride in promising a prominent view from every hotel room, so we were looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. With top story luck and floor to ceiling windows, we got a million dollar view of the mountain range and sights overlooking the town. It was exactly what we were wishing for and was absolutely stunning.

Having the urge to just relax in our hotel room all day and stare out the insanely large windows at the mountainous ski jumps and snow capped points, we forced ourselves to walk around the city a bit. We did a little research only to find that one of the best restaurants in all of Innsbruck was a vegetarian restaurant. A bit skeptical, we thought, a day of veggies was probably a very good idea! The restaurant was called Chez Nico. It was buried within a side street of a square amongst cobblestone roads and cracked cement fountains. It offered a set lunch menu paired with regional wine. Austria, much like Germany, is known for a lot of beer… but they do have a spectacular white wine scene. After drowning ourselves in red wine while we were in Italy, beer and white wine have been a nice change of pace! The owner of the restaurant, Nico, is French.. So he infuses his French background to create one of a kind vegetarian dishes using all local/organic ingredients from his very own garden. Talk about fresh!! Also, it is white asparagus season here in Europe, and the Europeans take that very seriously. Every corner you pass, every market you cross, white asparagus is literally the center of attention. It’s actually quite refreshing to see just how seasonally their eating habits are in this region. Unlike how a lot of Americans shop in the States, Europeans eat strawberry’s when it is strawberry season, and a whole lot of white asparagus when it is white asparagus season. This is something that struck me as a really cool way of life. Needless to say, our three course vegetarian lunch infused a healthy amount of asparagus. And every last bite was delicious!

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After our bellies were filled with nothing but fresh veggies and a small dose of crisp white wine, we strolled through the town to see it’s history and what it was all about. The town center reminded me a lot of Salzburg, but on a much smaller scale. With old buildings holding their authenticity and pastel colored structures correlating along the river, it was marveling. Not to mention the mountains hugging the entire town! We stumbled upon an indoor market that reminded us a lot of Reading Terminal Market. Reading Terminal Market is the most amazing place in the world – located in Philadelphia, it’s a whole establishment dedicated to local vendors who sell their home grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and so much more… Including an array of different meal choices. With local food carts and cheese stands that overlap with homemade donut stands… It’s easily the best place ever. My husband and I would spend our entire weekends there when we lived just a few blocks away. At the market in Innsbruck, we roamed around reminiscing about all it’s similarities that we are used to. We went from stand to stand trying different fruits and vegetables while also looking at homemade souvenirs. We picked up a carton of the most amazingly delicious strawberries. So big and juicy and beautifully red! We then made our way to the local wine vendor and gracefully worked with the owner to pick out a perfect Austrian white wine. We took our treats from the market back to our hotel room where we relaxed over some vino and watched the sun set over the mountains…. Finally getting our much needed relaxation time with quite a view.

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That night, we went to a “famous” restaurant/bar where Innsbruck folk like to hang out, watch games and converse – The place was called Rox and it had a really cool vibe. It almost had the feel of a Philadelphia sports bar combined with slightly older character (just being European gives it naturally old character). We drank big dark beers and ordered bar food that was so so good!! After our Austrian bar scene experience, we made our way up to the hotel rooftop bar where we had cocktails and enjoyed the views of the picturesque mountain range.

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The next morning we sprinted to the train station to catch our train to Munich. You know in the movies sometimes there is that really awkward character sprinting to the train station, knocking everyone over, making fellow walking pedestrians feel really uncomfortable? Well that’s Mike and me. And we’re usually a little (or really) stressed out, in which case causes me to drop my bags on occasion, making everything ten times worse. Ah the joys of traveling by train for three months!

Until tales of our liter beers and castle tours from the region of Bavaria, bon voyage!

 

Once Upon a Time in Salzburg

In Salzburg, I ate Ox. It wasn’t my favorite of meats, tasting almost like a thick cut of dry roast beef, but I am happy I tried it! Salzburg is also home to amazing homemade dumplings that I could have eaten for days and this delicious desert called Salzburger Nockerl… Which I also could have eaten in excessive amounts. Salzburg was the most charming, baroque, tranquil little town I have ever visited and there was not one part about it that I didn’t fall in love with.

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The town of Salzburg is buried below steep hills and snow-capped mountainous layers. It was the birthplace of Mozart over 250 years ago, and the Old Town really hasn’t changed much since! Which is where it gets it’s serious charm from. All of the buildings, street signs, store signs, restaurants, bars and cafés have this vintage look that cause you to forget that you are currently living in 2014. It almost felt as though I was living as a fictional character in an old Charles Dickens book. And I never wanted to leave. But not only was the town so overwhelmingly entrancing, the countryside was every bit as charming and breathtaking. I think I had somewhat of a scary permanent smile on my face the entire three days we were there.

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After hopping from city to city for a month, my husband and I were craving a little peace and quiet. We have always dreamt of the mountainous countryside of Austria. So instead of staying in the town of Salzburg, we thought it would be fun to nest up in the quiet hills at Hotel Schloss Leopold – also known as the estate/castle where The Sound of Music was filmed. Call us nerds, but it couldn’t have been more enchanting. Hotel Schloss Leopold recently renovated their stables to accommodate roughly 55 brand new hotel rooms this past February, so the rooms were beautifully new with that old, historic charm. And you couldn’t beat the views! With the estate sitting on a beautiful lake and overlooking the gorgeous mountains, it felt as though I was in a dream. Growing up, I was a huge Sound of Music fan, and I can’t deny that I diligently counted down the days and watched the Carrie Underwood special over the holidays (I loved it!!!), so I recognized all corners of the property. And I was one happy girl 🙂

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When we arrived on Saturday afternoon, we toured the property and then took a walk in the rain into town. The walk into town was not the easiest of walks. It was actually quite challenging, especially in the rain! There was a beautiful path that took us through gorgeous rows of deep green trees and then lead us to a steep hill… Where we paused and stared at each other for a minute. When we finally came to the realization that we were going to have to climb up this steep hill, we took a deep breath and silently began. Literally wheezing at the top of the hill, we high-fived each other and continued on the path that brought us right into the cobblestone streets of town. We walked around town for a bit until the rain picked up, then we began our voyage to find a cool Austrian dive to get a drink. We read about these secret beer caves that we desperately wanted to try, so we took out Google Maps and began our search for the caves. When finally reaching the most accessible cave, the one that was easiest the find, we creeped open the door only to get denied by one of the waiters… In his angry German voice… Which was really scary… I almost started crying. Believe it or not, at a lot of these tiny secret beer caves that are known to serve the best Austrian bar food, require you to make a reservation… even if you are just planning on drinking there. God forbid you walk in without a reservation, I am warning you now, you will get yelled at. And it is so much worse getting denied in a German accent than in an American one.

Completely discouraged and a little depressed, I followed my husband to his next great idea…that took forever to find. Thank goodness for our hotel umbrellas, otherwise we may have been in another, slightly less dramatic, Vienna downpour situation. We walked up a steep, dark, tiny cobblestone hill and opened what appeared to have been someone’s front door. A little skeptical, we walked up the staircase and followed the music. After getting a few doors wrong (walking into a couple closets and a bathroom) we found the correct door that lead us into the coolest little bar – St. Paul’s Stub’n. There were no seats available as we didn’t have reservations, but the staff was a lot nicer than the former place we stepped into, and they allowed us to sit on the windowsill, drink beers and order food. And the food was delicious. The Austrian bartender even took a shot of his favorite local liquor with us! It was Saturday night, so we thought, why not!! We were beaming with happiness. {You are probably wondering if we walked all the way back to our countryside hotel that night after far too many dumplings and beer – the answer is no. We took a cab.}

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Sunday was a bit chilly and semi-gloomy, but that didn’t stop us from doing what we had planned. That morning we had breakfast in the ballroom of the hotel, it was beautiful. Afterwards, we started our journey to hike up to Castle Hohensalzburg – this overwhelmingly large and historic castle that sat at the top of a very steep hill. There is a shuttle that takes people from town up to the top of the castle, but Mike and I wanted to hike it. Completely unaware of just how steep it really was, we started to regret our decision when we were only half way, but there was no turning back. My thighs will be thanking me later, I kept telling myself. Finally reaching the top, we both almost collapsed into each other’s arms, but the stunning views and the perplexity of being in front of this gigantic castle blew us away. It was really spectacular. We toured the ancient rooms and took a lot of photos of the town from above. Being that high up and feeling one with the mountains was truly remarkable.

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We later on headed down the hill and straight into town, where the Salzburg Marathon had just taken place. Resulting in the town being rather chaotic, but in a cool way that didn’t necessarily annoy us. There was loud Austrian music blasting and everyone was in good spirits. We ate a late lunch at an outdoor bar and people watched as the happy runners walked by with their families.

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We started to hike back to our hotel where we decided to venture down a hidden path we had never seen before. We had all day (and Google Maps if worse came to worse) so we didn’t mind getting lost in the countryside together. It turned out to be the most memorable of walks we have ever taken. It felt as though we were lost in a story where we happened upon a magical land. Making friends with giant pigs the size of small horses, chatting with cows and their baby calves as they grazed the fields, chasing after gobbling turkey’s to watch them go wild, and stumbling upon the most alluring pond filled with a party of beautiful flamingos fighting chickens and crows for food. Captivated by everything going on, we were so taken aback and mesmerized we didn’t even realize how late it was getting. So we had to wave goodbye to our animal friends and head back to the real world.

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Sunday nights in Europe have been tough. We’ve realized that a lot of restaurants are closed and our dining options are always limited. So we decided to take a stroll to the one place that was open, the local Austrian brewery – Stiegl Brewery located in the countryside just minutes from our hotel. Not knowing about the huge beer festival going on that day, we caught ourselves amongst extremely happy drunk Austrians dressed head to toe in traditional attire, dancing and cheering rants in German we didn’t understand. It was amazing. The only thing disappointing was that the restaurant at the brewery was only serving a choice of two dishes.. Chicken or Ox. So we ordered one of each and split them both. And this is when I tried Ox. My husband, being the sweetest man alive, let me eat the whole chicken while he suffered with the rest of the tough, chewy Ox after I decided I didn’t like it. The food options may have been limited, but the beer options were out of this world! They had just about every flavor beer on tap you could ever imagine. In fact, believe it or not, I was drinking grapefruit beer all night long that tasted just like Fresca! Remember the soda Fresca?? It was like candy in a cup! And for the first time ever, I was keeping up with my husband. Feeling pretty good about myself that night 🙂

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Really, the only major thing I wanted to do in Salzburg right when I got there was run in a filed, spin around, and sing, “The Hills Are Alive” from The Sound of Music. And on Monday – my dream came true! It was such a special day. Our hotel offered the cutest white bicycles with hand woven baskets attached to the front of each. So we went on a bike ride adventure through the villages of Salzburg. Biking just about every single neighborhood from morning to late afternoon. This was the day that I gave my husband a personalized DIY (do it yourself) Sound of Music Tour. Taking him to sites like the field Frau Maria sang, “The Hills are Alive” and the gazebo where “16 going on 17” was sung! He had to listen to me chant “My Favorite Things” and hear sporadic lines from “Do Re Mi”. It was one of my favorite days… and one of my husbands most feared. However, he stuck by my side and acted interested for the sole purpose of making me happy (and making a slight dream of mine come true)! And I made sure he got a giant beer right afterwards. We ate lunch on the lake and walked in a number of beautiful gardens. It was so nice!

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After the tour I gave Mike, we hiked into the town where we got to walk through Mozart’s birth place and see his very first violin he received when he was just 6 years old! For those of you who don’t know, I’m a violin player, so this was really cool to me. We toured the home and saw some sweet love notes he had written to his wife as well as locks of his hair (kind of weird). It was awesome.

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That night, we had dinner at a Michelin Star Restaurant right in town, called Carpe Diem. The restaurant was so cute! The downstairs being more casual, serving only cocktails and the most adorable appetizers all in ice cream cones! Apps like beef tartar, tuna tartar, cheeseburger and fries (in a cone!!), brie cheese and raspberries, just about anything you can imagine! The upstairs being more formal, where the Michelin Star restaurant is located. We ate upstairs, but still got a complimentary beef tartar cone before our starters! I had lobster to start followed by Guinea fowl and Mike had an egg and caviar starter followed by veal cheek. For desert we got the infamous Salzburger Nockerl. It is my new favorite desert! It was a delicious meal.

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The next day we boarded the fast train to Innsbruck – home of the Winter Olympics years and years ago! While sitting on the train we eavesdropped on the funniest little American family of four… Their deep discussion revolving around their rebellious teenage son refusing to learn how to ride a bike while also reading travel guides out loud. As uninteresting as this might sound to you, we rarely ever hear Americans, and this family kept us quite entertained… Making the hour and a half train ride quite interesting!

Until takes from our night in the mountains of Innsbruck, Prost!!