Day 6 — Innsbruck, we think, is the perfect mixture of the modern and the old…really old! I feel like our day hereis kind of like being in a time machine going backwards.
We start out with 21st century sparkle about 15 minutes East of Innsbruck at Swarovski Kristallwelten (www.swarovski.com/kristallwelten) in Wattens, where the famous company is headquartered. Here there literally is a crystal wonderland — a labyrinth created by international artists that use crystal as an art form in 14 Chambers of Wonder, with paintings, sculptures and installations. We loved Jim Whiting’s Mechanical Theater with the dancing pants and the man’s torso that comes apart to reveal his insides that are all glittering crystals.
It’s easy to see why this out of the way place has become one of Austria’s top tourist attractions drawing 700,000 visitors a year.
Kids will love it – it has everything from a park and playground where you can play hide and seek to the largest crystal in the world (300,000 carats)! The Crystal theater has flower angels, crystal-eating plants, a dancing crystal sun and moon and even a puzzle that char\nges depending on how you step. Everywhere it sparkles and glitters. There are also special workshops for kids so they can make their own crystal creations. www.swarovski.com/kristallwelten/kinder
You can’t help but walk out saying WOW no matter what your age.
Then we time traveled back centuries in Innsbruck. (www.innsbruck.info) You see the Alps everywhere you look in this historic city where you can get to the mountains from the middle of town via cable car in 35 minutes (that prompted another WOW from my mountain-loving daughter). Five hundred years ago there were already 20 hotels here!
Here’s a city where you can tour a centuries-old castle or church or watch as athletes navigate a giant ski jump in the middle of town or visit a zoo that’s devoted entirely to Alpine animals — even local fish. History here is more than about the buildings. Of course even the most blasé teen can’t help but be impressed with the Golden Roof, the symbol of Innsbruck (take home some chocolate in the shape of it) that glitters in the sun, and took 6 kilograms of gold to build in 1500. Even the walks of the McDonald’s are 500 years old. So is the building that houses our hotel, The Golden Adler (a Best Western, actually, www.bestwestern.com)
But it’s the living history here that’s most exciting. Take guide Elisabeth Grassmayr, a grandmother of 10 whose family has been casting bells for 14 generations — over 400 years! See www.grassmayr.at We see a man working on giant bells and Mrs. Grassmayr, the grandmother of 10, shows us the museum where bells date back centuries. Kids can test the tones. It’s an amazing place! These bells, she tells us, go all over the world.
I’m actually more interested in Mrs. Grassmayr’s history. Being an American whose grandparents came from another country, I’m amazed to meet someone whose family goes back so many generations in one country.
She gestures to the pastel colored houses across the Inn River. “They are six hundred years old — here before America was discovered,” she says proudly. The bridge across the river, she adds, was built in 1080. Innsbruck is a half hour to Germany and a half hour to Italy. Even centuries ago, the easiest route through the Alps was through this small city, making it a center of trade.
Today, of course, it is a tourist mecca, and also one for students with 23,000 university students among the 130,000 people who make this beautiful city their home.
What I love about this place is it’s the perfect combination of history, culture and outdoor fun to keep kids and their parents happy. Who isn’t going to like visiting underground chambers with fanciful crystal creations? How about a palace with rooms full of armor — including plenty that are child-sized.
Schloss Ambras, the medieval castle, dates from 1565 and there is a great garden where kids can run off some energy and maybe spy the resident peacocks (www.khm.at/ambras). We learn that Archduke Ferdinand II converted the castle for his wife Philippine, who was a commoner and therefore not accepted by the royals. They were apparently a happy couple and the parents of two sons.
Fittingly, my daughter Melanie and I end our day at the Ottoburg Restaurant in the Old Town that we’re told may be the oldest house in Innsbruck, with part dating back to 1180. The food was great too. What better way to end a trip to Austria than with Wiener Schnitzel?