Tag Archives: europe

The Frozen Olympic City: Innsbruck, Austria

My very first journey of my study abroad experience, other than to my “home city” of Prague, was to none other than Innsbruck, Austria. I have skied since I could walk and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity of proximity to the Alps for granted.

I took a Student Agency bus from Prague overnight to the two time former Winter Olympics host city. I would definitely recommend http://studentagency.cz/ if you are looking for a cheap, comfortable bus to travel in. Yes it does take a bit longer but if you are one a budget it’s nice. There was a screen on every seat for movie or television viewing and even a bus attendant that offered you free hot beverages and other items for an additional fee.

I arrived without much trouble. I even slept for most of the bus ride. I had to use the phone navigation to briefly locate my hostel, silently praying that my mom would forgive me for the data fee.

My accommodation? Hostel Marmota in Innsbruck, located next to a barren field and neighbor to a crematorium. I chose this place for convenience but also because of the reasonable reviews on HostelWorld. Unfortunately my room was not ready upon my 7:30am arrival. I was able to store my bag and hung around the lounge for a while before I decided to venture out and explore.

Honestly I didn’t know much at all about Innsbruck before I arrived there. I only knew that I had come here to ski the Alps and that the Olympics had been here twice. Now you could imagine my surprise when only a short walk away from my hostel was Ambras Castle, which I stumbled across my accident. It is a gorgeous place even in the cold winter weekend I was there. There were suits of armor, beautiful artwork and finery from the days of Austrian Emperor Franz Ferdinand.

I always feel like the dumb American coming to a place like Austria and not speaking a lick of German. I guess I look too European because people assume I speak every local language. It’s nice in the Czech Republic because I I do speak enough to get by but here it’s just terribly awkward as I silently pray that the person also speaks English. I ended up at a local pizzeria for lunch on the other side of Innsbruck. The waitress was very helpful and hospitable so I left a nice tip before I walked back to my hostel. My feet hurt after that adventure but I didn’t feel that I was ready to use the public transit system just yet. When I get lost I tend to get VERY lost.

I got back to my hostel and could move into my single room where I relaxed and began researching places for skiing the following day. There were quite a few:

  • Patscherkofel
  • Götzner Bahn Muttereralm
  • Axamer Lizum
  • Stubaier Glatscher
  • Schlick 2000
  • Kühtal
  • Rangger Köpfl

After deciding that I would go to Schlick 2000 or Stubaier Glatscher the next day I went out once again to explore the historical center of Innsbruck at night. One of my favorite things to do in Europe is wander around the city at night. Not always the smartest or safest thing to do but I feel as if the city speaks to me on it’s barren cobbled streets. Whispering secrets of the past, present, and possible future. It was really quite nice as I wondered about without much direction. I popped into a grocery store and bought some simple supplies for dinner I could make in the hostel kitchen and managed to fake my way through as a local or at least as a fake German tourist. After the beating my feet took that evening I decided to try my hand at the trams since I knew that there was a tram stop very close to my hostel and had a very comfortable ride back as it tutted along the streets and across the river back towards the hostel. Success.

After a quick breakfast and checkout I meandered over to the Ramada Inn close by to hop on the ski bus that would bring us to the main departure point. I’m not sure if I was actually allowed on this bus or not but no one seemed to notice me so it didn’t matter. From there I waited with a group of skiers and boarders for a bit before the buses all arrived and hopped on the one headed towards Stubai Glacier. Unfortunately it was closed that day due to dangerously high winds but it was headed to Schlick 2000 as well so it was really a win for me.

I rented my skis and boots and hit the slopes. The ticket was my first suprise as I got on the gondola. Its a card that you stick in your coat pocket and then a sensor at the gate reads it and lets you right through. It was very cool and super efficient. I’m a north eastern skiier and we are still on the “scan the bar code system”. The whole day was pretty amazing especially the views from up there.
It was so big that I could go down a slope and not even even see another person, allowing me to go at any speed I wanted. A huge change from the American North East skiing I’m used to where I have to weave in and out of people and ski lessons.

My center of gravity was slightly thrown off since I had decided to ski with my pack on rather than being smart and actually locating a locker. Whatever it wasn’t actually that bad plus I had a lunch on my person so I didn’t have to buy expensive mountain food. On my last run of the day I got horribly lost on a glade. For those of you who don’t ski a glade is basically skiing through the woods and this particular glade was off mountain so if I got hurt… Well that would have spelled trouble. It got uncomfortably steep and grassy at one part so from there I clicked off one of my skis and slid down on my side.

I called it a day after that and instead of waiting 30 minutes to get on the bus I walked 10 minutes to the small town below to the tram which brought me back to Innsbruck. The route was very scenic and I enjoyed every second of it since the bus would not have offered such an opportunity.

Innsbruck was gentle in my first trip alone and it is certainly a place I will never forget.

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The Quiet Country Side: Lidice & Terezin, Czech Republic

There are many towns in the Czech Republic that are worth the day trip. A trip to Lidice and Terezin will bring you to the WWII section of Czech’s history.

About 30 minutes outside the city of Prague is Lidice, or at least, where Lidice used to be.

The Nazis leveled the town to nothing, killing almost all of the inhabitants and sending Aryan looking children to SS families in Germany. This town was not Jewish if that’s what you are thinking. It was Christian.

11070962_10206384471197691_1437589520490169913_n.jpgIt was punished for hiding the assassins that took down the Protectorate Reinhardt Heydrich, the mastermind behind the “great extermination” and Hitler’s right hand man.

Lidice is now a grass valley filled with memorials. Talk a walk down the path and you will find a collection of child statues. It is for the 88 children of Lidice that were sent to Poland and gassed. At the foot of the bronze statues of children are stuffed animals and candles that people have brought in remembrance.

To say it is powerful would be an understatement. An entire community completely obliterated for selflessly all to keep their hero keep out of reach of the enemy.

Continuing onward, Terezin is about an hour from Lidice. We arrived at the ghetto museum. Terezin is a normal town, unlike what I had seen in my previous visit to Krakow’s ghetto. So it may catch you by surprise on how different it looks from other ghettos. This is because this ghetto was the beautified by the Germans to trick the Red Cross delegation to think that the ghettos were nice places for people to be kept. The Germans succeeded.

Many artists and well known and respected figures were kept here. People who would be missed if they simply vanished like many families and neighbors did during this time. After the delegation left more than half of the population was sent to Auschwitz.1900048_10206384475757805_1280837162194926976_n.jpg

The small fortress itself was interesting and worth the tour. Again different from the Auschwitz I had seen as Terezin was built in the 18th century.

It has tunnels and a sturdy foundation (If you are claustrophobic avoid the tunnels). In the cell block you may come across a wreath in remembrance of the assassin who started WWI. He is regarded as a national hero to this day in certain parts of the world.

Take your time. Take it in. If this is your first concentration camp be respectful. I always tell people I am with to picture themselves walking through a cemetery or a museum to help frame their mindset.

 

And I will Christen thee… with bones? Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

To start a blog I thought I’d start with something eye catching that many people actually do not get the opportunity to see when traveling in the amazing country that is the Czech Republic (or Czechia, whatever they are calling themselves today.)

That would be the sleepy city of Kuta Hora located east of Prague in the Czech Republic. Although Prague is known as the “City of One Thousand” spires and Kuta Hora is known for the Gothic St. Barbara’s Church, which is adorned with medieval frescoes and flying buttresses, there is a hidden gem here.

Sedlec Ossuary.

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Also referred to by many as the Bone Church. It’s probably something you’ve seen pictures of plastered all over the Internet but never truly knew much about it none the less where in the world it is.

A little history for you about Sedlec so you know what makes this space so special.

In the 12th century an abbot returned from a mission to  the Holy Land with a small amount of earth from Golgotha, also known as Calvary, where Jesus was crucified and sprinkled it over the cemetery there. Naturally this holy aspect added to this place caused people to flock here so that when they passed they would be buried there. As one may imagine, when the plague ran through Europe the death toll rose dramatically in this area and there was no long
er any room for the 10959696_10206067237667051_8745935172628972077_n.jpgapproximately 40,000 people that were buried there. One of the abbots erected this Gothic church in the middle of the cemetery and under it a chapel which would hold the bones of unearthed graves.It was later remodeled in Czech Baroque style.

The present arrangement of the bones dates from 1870 and is the work of a Czech wood-carver, František Rint
(you can see his name, put together from bones, on the right-hand wall over the last bench).
Also out here is the Czech Museum of Silver. Kuta Hora gained its wealth from the Silver mines. The minting of local currency took place here for over 200 years here, beginning in the 13th century before plague, war and later fire closed the mines down for good in the late 18th century. You can still go down into the mines today to explore on tours but also take a look into the museum as they have an Old  Master of Coin there that will demonstrate how they actually minted coins back in the day. And hey if you’re lucky you might even get a chance to do it yourself.

Now Kuta Hora is not difficult to get to from Prague. There are buses that go out there every so often. I’d recommend spending a day out there as you can fill your day up there, grab some local food and beer for lunch and that’s what I’d call a ‘Prekrásny Den’.