Austria

After a few days in Alsace and a few more in Germany, we left Dinkelsbuhl the morning after Christmas to drive to our next destination, Kufstein, Austria.  The drive there took us further and further into the Alps, and the snow got deeper and deeper.  The traffic also got slower and slower, as the autobahn was clogged with post-Christmas Germans bound for ski holidays.  We got off the autobahn and took back roads instead, which made for a gorgeous drive through the mountains.

We arrived in Kufstein the late afternoon as the sun was going down.  The town is on a lovely location on the River Inn, and we enjoyed ourselves checking out the city centre.  We had much more snow and colder temperatures on our trip from here on out.

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The main feature of Kufstein is the Festungsturm (fortress) which sits high on a cliff over the river.  It is huge and imposing and wildly impressive.  It had closed before we got there so we didn’t actually go to the top.

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We stayed at Auracher Loechl, a quirky hotel in the heart of the main tourist street in Kufstein (really more of an alley), adjacent to the River Inn and located directly under the cliff with the fort.

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This was a really funny little place and I would definitely recommend it.  While our room was pretty small and no-frills, the staff was friendly and the breakfast spread, enjoyed overlooking the river each morning, was quite nice.  The restaurant attached to the hotel was actually really good; so good, in fact, that we ended up eating there twice.

On the first night, we had a drink at the fancy gin bar first.  This is located in the old wine cellar of the restaurant, which is basically a tunnel built into the cliff, so the setting is really cool, and the staff are a bunch of hipsters making gin-based cocktails using all sorts of varieties of gins and other ingredients.  This was really unexpected for Kufstein and really good!

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View out our hotel room the first morning

The next day, Saturday, we boarded a train for Salzburg.  After spending a lot of time in small villages, we were ready for a little urban life (such that Salzburg can offer).  Upon arrival, we walked from the train station to the Aldstad (old town), through Mirabell Palace and across the River Salzach.

River Salzbach

The main pedestrianized area of the Altstadt was more posh than I expected, with a number of designer boutiques.

Altstadt

We stopped at one of the most famous coffeehouses in town, Cafe Tomaselli, for coffee and our first apfelstrudel.  It became my thing to test out the apfelstrudel at almost every place we went in Austria and Germany after this.  This cafe had a wonderful historic atmosphere (although a bit too touristy), excellent coffee and very good apfelstrudel, although we went on to sample slightly better versions later on.

Apfelstrudel 1

We walked up to the fort and castle above the city, the Hohensalzburg Castle, but decided against paying the entry fee to explore the castle itself.  Rather, we discovered that there were loads of walking trails all over the cliffs and did that instead, ultimately ending up at the modern art museum.  In every direction we had amazing views over the city, and this was one of my favorite things we did all day.  Highly recommended.

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By late afternoon, we retired to the Augustiner Bierhall for our first proper beer hall experience, complete with huge tables, huge steins of beer and huge pretzels.  Perfect.  We spent more time walking along the river and around the city center, enjoying the city lights in the evening, and stopped in at Alchimiste Belge for some Belgian beer and a refreshing urban hipster vibe before getting on the train back to Kufstein.

The next morning, we awoke to a snow storm in Kufstein.  Plenty of snow had fallen and more was on the way.

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Regardless, I went for a quick run along the river, since there was a lovely little path there and the path was actually somewhat cleared.  I actually ran in the snow several mornings in Kufstein, and it really was quite peaceful.

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We had plans that day to drive to a winter hike we had picked out, but given the snow conditions, we had to skip that idea and instead took the train to Kitzbühel, a ritzy little ski resort that we read had winter hiking trails.  We arrived, walked around the little city center and consulted the tourist office, and boarded a gondola to the top of the mountain for a recommended easy winderwanderweg (winter hike).  Unfortunately, it was essentially white-out conditions at the top.  We could barely tell which way was up and it was nearly impossible to follow the walk markings.

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With the wind howling, snow and ice swirling in every direction, sub-freezing temperatures and little idea of where to go, we walked for about 30 minutes then retired to a lodge on the mountain to warm up.

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Salvation

After that, it did not take long to decide to get off that mountain.  I’m never one to give up easily, especially when it comes to outdoorsy stuff, but I was not having this.

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Trying to convince myself this is fun

So we left there in early afternoon and spent the afternoon/evening exploring Kufstein a bit more before getting to bed early to rest up for our ski day the following day.

We were up early and drove to Alpbach for our ski lessons for the day.  More snow had fallen but the main roads were clear enough.  This was very new territory for us; I had skied a bit in the U.S. as a kid, but it was a very long time ago, and Andy had basically never skied.  We had no idea about gear, lingo, technique, anything, and felt pretty intimidated.  We booked in for a day of beginner lessons with Alpbach Skischule and hired some gear.  Basically, we wanted to test it out and see how we liked the experience before booking a full ski holiday.

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We had a fantastic 74-year-old British ski instructor, Dave, and joined a group that included three Brits on a weeklong holiday and a young Dutch guy wanting to learn to ski to keep up with his girlfriend as he joined her family’s ski holiday.  Dave was great: really friendly and funny and a good teacher.  We practiced our snowplowing and turns on the bunny slope, stopping for a much-needed lunch break halfway through.

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I had so much fun and would love to spend more time skiing, and do a proper ski holiday next time.  The Brits we were with had booked a weeklong package with hotel, half-board (lunch and dinner) and lessons included, which seems like the way to go.  Alpbach was a very friendly little town and seemed to have a number of nice little restaurants and lodges.

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That evening, we joined Dave and the others for an apres-ski drink at the Post Alm pub, and sadly had to leave before it got too late given the falling snow and our drive home.

The next day, we awoke to yet more snow; I think we ended up with two feet total!  I ran along the river some more before we prepared for the next leg of our trip, back on the German side of the border.

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Up next, welcoming the new year in Mittenwald.  Thanks for reading!

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