Monday 22 December 2014

Christmas Markets weekend - Austrian leg

Something Europe does very well is Christmas Markets ("Weihnachtsmarkt" or "Christkindkmarkt") - twinkling fairy lights, steaming mulled wine and carol singers - you can't beat them for getting you in the festive mood.

One of my sisters came over to see me in Munich at the beginning of December and we headed straight off to Innsbruck, Austria to start our market experience.

Every road trip needs snacks!
Arriving in the city, we headed straight to Hungerburg's Panoramic Christmas Market. This mountain side market is next to the funicular railway station and gives great views back down into the city.

We cosied up with our first Glühwein (mulled wine) of the season...

...and admired the Tyrollean views.

Innsbruck is in wide Alpine valley in West Austria, about halfway between Munich (Germany) and Verona (Italy) so we felt like we were in the middle of Europe.

In Austrian (& German) Christmas Markets you pay a deposit charge for your mug which you get back when you return them - or not if you decide to keep as a souvenir!

We watched the sunset before heading back down to Innsbruck to explore more of it's Christmas Markets.

We started at 'The Family Christmas Market' at Marktplatz, right on the Inn River. You can't miss it's eye-catching 14 metre Swarovski crystal tree.

This traditional, cosy market is family-friendly with a petting zoo, puppet show and carousel.

For the big kids (aka me and my sister!) there were lots of handicrafts, christmas ornaments and other wintery treats.

We'd built up a hunger by now (being surrounded by delicious smells didn't help!) so we surveyed some of the food on offer...

...before settling on savoury pancakes ("Palatschinken"). Freshly made in front of us and very tasty!

We moved onto the historic 'Old Town Christmas Market'. This gorgeous part of Innsbruck is surrounded by medieval buildings and home to the famous Golden Roof.

But we started a the Brother's Grimm 'Fairytale and Giants Alley' (Märchengasse). This old town alleyway is full of life-sized characters amongst the historical building facades.

Ready for our next feeding (it's very difficult to resist when you're surrounded by heavenly looking and smelly treats!) we chose a baumkuche (literally "tree cake"!) to share. This pastry-layer cake is cooked around a cylinder before being dusted in a flavour of your choice - we went for chocolate powder. Seriously yummy!


Revived by our sweet treat we headed into the Old Town Christmas Market. This market has been running for 41 years and has over 70 stalls. It was busy - clearly the place to be on a Friday night in Innsbruck and we treated ourselves to another Glühwein to warm our hands in the freezing cold - Soph even managed to co-ordinate her mug and outfit!

We admired Innsbruck's most famous landmark - The Golden Roof ("Goldenes Dachl"). This roof was completed in 1500 and is decorated with 2,738 fire-gilded copper tiles to mark the Emperor Maximilian I's wedding.

We also gazed up at the massive Christmas tree in the middle of the courtyard...

...finding a good viewing platform to soak up the atmosphere (and fairy lights!).

We continued exploring the market, spotting more tasty treats.

We wandered along to Maria-Theresien Straße Christmas Market (number 4 of the day, for those who are counting!). This is Innsbruck's main shopping street is full of twinkling trees and some very modern Christmas decoration designs.

Hungry again we were drawn to the kiachl (or "Knieküchle" in German) stand. This traditional fried dough pastry is made freshly for you and filled with either cherry sauce, icing sugar or (bizarrely!) sauerkraut!

We happily wandered through the stalls, pausing to gaze at more treats on offer - such as toasted almonds and chestnuts, Lebkuchen (traditional Christmas cookies made from soft gingerbread), stollen and sausages.

And also feeling festive surrounded by decorations, toys and other handmade trinkets.

 The Christmas markets close around 8pm so, full of yummy food and with frozen fingers, we headed to our hotel.

The next day we woke up to bright blue skies over the Alps around us.

We decided to make the most of it and head out to see all that Innsbruck had to offer. Innsbruck is the Capital of the Alps and is full of imperial monuments and historical buildings.

We visited the Hofkirche ("Court Church")

The Imperial Palace ("Hofburg")...

And another little market, but more flea market style than the Christmas Markets.

St. Anna's column...

...and a modern nativity scene outside the art gallery.

A little chilly in the Alpine air, we headed into a cozy coffee shop for a late morning treat.

And a treat it truly was - we had hot chocolate and coffee and a giant chocolate mouse!

It was sachertorte-style with layers of chocolate cake and apricot jam, covered in chocolate icing and marzipan ears.

We gave it a good go, but ended up with half of it in a doggy bag!

We had a final peek into the Christmas Markets - and met the four giants guarding Riesengasse (Giants Alley).

Then we bid farewell to the city centre and climbed in the car to explore some of the surrounding sights.

First up was Wilten Basilica - a historical church

and neighbouring Stift Wilten.

On our way to the Bergisel Ski Jump. Innsbruck has been the host to the Winter Olympic Games twice and also the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games and this Ski Jump stadium is situated above the city on a hill overlooking Innsbruck.

It is 47 metres high and the stadium can accommodate 28,000 people. The entrance fee was ridiculous though so we satisfied ourselves with a peek and then admiring the surrounding views.

Next on our self-guided tour was Ambras Castle ("Schloss Ambras"). 

This hillside former Archduke residence was closed on the day we visited so we walked through the gardens instead.

Then we headed back to Munich...until we spotted a random looking sign.

We couldn't figure out what on earth this meant, so we had to follow it to investigate!

It turns out that it is a sign for Swarovski's Crystal World theme park - Wattens, just outside Innsbruck, is home to Swarovski. Unfortunately the site is ongoing a major refurbishment so peered through the fences to see the inspiration for the road sign!
Crystal rainclouds!

After an unusual finish to our Austrian adventure, we drove back to Munich to continue our Christmas markets exploration.

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