Archive for the ‘Things to do in/near Innsbruck’ Category


Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Annie and Markus went for what I’m pretty sure is the last ski of the season on Sunday. (With our string of 20+ degree days, I’m done with skiing so enjoyed a blissful day at home alone.) This prompted me to record one of our interesting adventures this winter, which got lost in the dearth of posts the last few months. (Can something get lost in a dearth?) Anyhoo…

One Sunday we drove out to Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. (Not, Markus was quick to point out, even close to the highest point in Austria.) Our season ski passes let us go on the cable car for free, but we had to pay for skiing. I chose to sit it out and spend a few hours enjoying the view.

It really is a long way up.

We started here.

And then went up…

…and up…

…and up…

…and up…

…and up.

At the top are several restaurants, shops, a small museum focused on the history of mountain climbing and lots and lots of massive picture windows and viewing platforms.

Annie and Markus bought their ski passes and went on there way.

Zugspitze: highest mountain and highest ski region in Germany.

The reason that our ski passes didn’t work is that the cable car is in Austria but the ski region is in Germany; the boarder runs right through the mountain peak. So if you go out one of the doors you leave Austria…

…and enter Germany.

Even after almost three years here I still think the proximity of all these countries to each other is so cool.

Just into Germany there is an old restaurant (closed when we were there.) Here is the door:

Wait a minute; what does that sign say?

That’s right. Built in 1897. 3000 meters up a mountain. Maybe it doesn’t compare to the pyramids, but I’m still mighty impressed.

This 14 foot high, gilded iron cross was erected on the mountain’s summit in 1851, hauled up there on foot as the first cable car wasn’t built until 1926.

I’m not sure what drives people to explore, discover and build in the most unlikely of places. But I’m glad they do, as I had an awesome day.

This Day Brought to You By the Letter “S”

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Sunday Markus, Annie and I went to Seefeld, a pretty recreational area about half and hour from Innsbruck.

The day was filled with skiing…

I'm in the white and Annie is ahead of me in the pink. (Click to enlarge.)


…and sleeping.

Annie and I have had a run of particularly crappy days lately, so this awesome one was truly soul saving.

Writing About Writing

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Yesterday was the first session of a writers group here in Innsbruck for native English speakers. It was really interesting!

One of the members who is friends with the teacher offered her home, blood-orange tea  and a big pot of soup. It was a comfortable, warm environment perfect for getting creative.

Linda, the teacher, is a retired professor from the American Studies program at the University of Innsbruck. She believes that writing is about accessing deep within yourself to discover interesting and charged energy. Totally non-linear, so right up my alley of course. We started with a relaxation exercise and then memory recollection. She took us through exercises to draw out works and emotions, and then made us do “free” writing where you set a time limit and are not allowed to stop writing. No editing, reading what you wrote, picking up your pen, lifting your head.

It was a frustrating and also weird experience at times, but overall I can see where it is going and think that some good writing can come out of this process. We’ll see over time.We are meeting once a month, and as the group is only going to be about 7 people, there should be lots of great writing, reading of work and discussion.

As well, this Sunday I’m going to see what the local International Choir is all about. Just really pushing my creative boundaries!! Although if I don’t start channeling and seriously focusing some of that energy, my 60+ Christmas cards are never going to get out the door in time for the holidays. Wish me luck.

I Guess You Can Never Say Never

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

So I’ve been having a thought the last few days. And it is something I was sure I would never think. Ever.

O.K. Here goes…

I’m sad winter is over.

A couple of weeks ago I gave Annie’s Kindergarten teacher a memory stick to load up with pictures from the last few months. She gave it back to me late last week and I was delighted to discover that she had put 500 pictures on there, (ah, the magic of digital images) with quite a few of Annie.

Going through their activities…skating, sliding, ski week…made me realized I’ve loved this season. And now that I’m starting to catch the skiing bug, I’m going to miss the snow even more. We might try to squeeze another day or two out of the mountains at higher elevations or get a run in on one of the glaciers, but as the buds start to peak through on the branches there is no denying that winter is done and spring is in the air. And my overriding thought is “darn.” That is enough to make one ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Hillary?”

I’m thankful Annie’s teachers are so shutter happy, as the last day of Annie’s ski week, the day when parents came to watch, was windy and snowy and Annie started crying when she saw me (no idea why, as she loves skiing) so my pictures from that day are less than excellent.

Here are a few of the highlights of Annie’s winter.

Rutschblatten at the park near the Kindergarten:


Climbing up the hill at the park near the Kindergarten. (Annie is pink and blue)


Rutschblatten 2010 from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.


Annie went skating twice with her class. These are from the first session where I joined in. (Ah, the benefits of being unemployed.) Annie is towards the end of the video. (I probably should have taken the time to edit it, but then this post would never actually be posted. Patrice at the beginning is trying skating for the very first time!)


Skating 2010 from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

Ski Week:

Every educational institution in Tirol, from Kindergarten to High School (Gymnasium) has a ski week sometime after Christmas. Last year I was constantly side-stepping gaggles of three and four year olds piled up on the sidewalk waiting for their bus. They looked sooooo cute in their helmets and ski boots! And now this year it was Annie’s turn. She loved skiing (except for the last day.) It is such a fantastic family sport (as long as no one breaks a leg), that I’m really thrilled both she and I are learning to be comfortable on the hills.

Getting ready

Getting ready

Up, up, up in the gondola

Up, up, up in the gondola

Ready to rock!!

Ready to rock!!

Magic carpet ride. Seriously, how cute are those kids?!!!

Magic carpet ride. Seriously, how cute are those kids?!!!

Learning the "pizza"

Learning the "pizza"

Annie is at the front of this line (at least, I think that is her), but you get the idea.

Annie is at the front of this line (at least, I think that is her), but you get the idea.

[MISSING: Actual pictures of the ski race.] Between needing to console a crying Annie at the start gates and user error of the video camera, pictures were a bust. But hey, life’s like that sometimes. But trust me, she was fantastic! She made it the whole way down the beginner run with her hands on her knees and chin up. And she even did great pizza turns between flags!

Proudly showing off medals and certificates!

Proudly showing off medals and certificates!

So that is it for Winter 2010. I’m sure not nearly as exciting as it was for my B.C. friends and family who were able to experience the Olympics, but it was pretty great here in Innsbruck in its own small way.

Yesterday as I was walking with Annie home from school, jackets flung on our arms, she held my hand and said “I like snow.” Yes, my love. Me too. Next year…more skiing, new adventures (cross-country or ski touring), more ski-jumping competitions to watch, more snow to play in. We can’t wait!

Jumping over Innsbruck

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Every year, just after Christmas, is a ski jumping competition in Innsbruck, part of the Four Hills Tournament that takes place in Germany and Austria. Markus was sorry we missed it last year (all 20,000 tickets were sold out by the time we investigated), so we made sure to get tickets early this year.

The event is at the Bergisel Schanze, just outside of Innsbruck’s city center. So our gang jumped on a street car and joined the hoards hiking up to the viewing area.

The large bowl where the ski jumpers land, and where the crowds view the event, means that there really isn’t a bad spot in the house.

The view from Bergisel is, well,…


stunning. It was a perfect clear day, ideal for viewing.

We were all dressed up in our winter warmest, and Nicole brought a big pitcher of glühwein and lots of sandwiches.

Friends Tom and Nicole

Friends Tom and Nicole

Renata, Ryan and Rebecca (don't think I didn't have problems with those names all week!)

Renata, Ryan and Rebecca (don't think I didn't have problems with those names all week!)

Markus, Annie and bundled-up me

Markus, Annie and bundled-up me

Whenever an Austrian was about to jump, the crowd went crazy with cheers and horns and cow bells and flag waving.

The crowd goes wild

The crowd goes wild

Annie was an ardent flag-waver

Annie was an ardent flag-waver

It was excellent viewing, but the pictures of the jumpers turned out to be a bit of Where’s Waldo?.

Can you find the flying man in the trees?

Can you find the flying man in the trees?

And to top it all off, a Tirolean, Gregor Schlierenzauer, won.


He is a 19-year-old phenomenon, who has won several races during the season and is one of the favourites for the Vancouver Olympics.

I thought I would enjoy the day, but instead I completely loved it! It was so much fun. And Annie managed to make it through 4 hours outside and still keep her smile. She was a superstar. We are talking about trying to make all four races next January and becoming official ski jumping groupies. And to think I used to hate winter.

Ryan and Renata Return!

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

I’m very happy to say that my friends, Ryan and Renata, have returned to Innsbruck from Victoria for another visit. (Actually, I should say Winnipeg, as they came direct from there where they are working on a contract.)

I picked them up in Munich last week and we decided to spend a couple of hours looking at the town. Although we were there only for a short while, we managed to have some glühwein, walk though the old town (which was very busy despite all the stores being closed on a Sunday) and have dinner at the famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall (the epicenter of Oktoberfest and home of the giant beer stein). A nice diversion.

Ryan and Renata in Münchin

Ryan and Renata in Münchin


Keeping warm



As we were reviewing what we wanted to do, it became apparent that I would have my work as guide cut out for me, as we fit in an awful lot last year: Christmas markets; cross-country skiing; downhill skiing; tobogganing; Salzburg; Sud Tirol, Italy; Trento, Italy; hiking; and lots of walking around and shopping. As it is also fun when I get to experience something different, Markus suggested Kitzbühl, which I have yet to visit and only know from the photos of stars skiing there in gossip magazines.

We didn’t see any celebriaty, but enjoyed the town nonetheless. I was expecting an over-the-top place, like Aspen, where every other store sells designer labels, $10,000 watches or trendy art. But, as Markus explained, there are just too many ski resorts in this area to not offer at least a range of prices and options. (Although we did spy a gated community which obviously housed those who could afford the very best.) Overall, a very lovely town.

Old church and graveyard near the city center

Old church and graveyard near the city center

Ryan and Renata in the ancient part of town

Ryan and Renata in the old part of town

The town is highlighted by the Ache river and of course the surrounding mountains.

Kitzbühl is highlighted by the Ache river and of course the surrounding mountains.

Where the wealthy hang out.

Where the wealthy hang out.

For lunch Markus suggested we check out a new hotel, called the Grande Tirolia, which cost €70,000,000 to build. The decor was very trendy, taking inspiration from both its Austrian location and Russian owners, including an entire wall of schnapps bottles, one for each member of the golf club. The Michelin-rated restaurant wasn’t opened for lunch, so we ate in the golf Bistro. Although the design was interesting and relaxing, the food was unfortunately quite bland. But an interesting experience anyway. And the drive around Kitzbühl to reach the hotel was pretty.

Grand Tirolia hotel entry

Grand Tirolia hotel entry

Reception lounge area

Reception lounge area

Ryan and Renata in front of the open kitchen.

Ryan and Renata in front of the open kitchen.

View from the hotel driveway

View from the hotel driveway

I really look forward to going back someday to ski!

A Grand Grandparent Day

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

One set of grandparents, Nana (my mom) and Grandpa Drew (my stepfather) are visiting from Canada. Well, Drew has already returned home but Mom is staying for a few more days.

Last weekend we tackled the requisite visitor activity, a hike up a mountain. As my mom has had two hip replacements and has a stent in her heart, this needed to be planned carefully. Markus scouted out an easy-ish trek and off we (Drew, Mom, Markus, Annie and I) went. I became much more worried once we got a bit higher and realized that there was snow and ice on the ground. Mom didn’t have hiking boots on, so it was quite slippery. With the help of a few strong arms, my hiking poles and a midway rest (a hide-and-go-seek break for Annie and Drew) we made it up.

As a reward, we came to a restaurant with a particularly lovely view as well as a 5 euro schnitzel special. Delicious.




After our hike we headed straight for a Christmas celebration in Rattenberg, a small medieval village about 45 minutes outside of Innsbruck. The city has put up hundreds of candles in all of the windows and set up a stage for performers. There were Christmas stalls and every store was open and decorated for the season. The town is known for its glass blowing, and many stores had beautiful hand-blown ornaments, glassware and vases. Mom bought some Christmas tree angels and a pretty blown-glass flower.

After some glüwein and wurst, we moved to the main stage area. There were children’s choirs and musicians and choral singers. A rope was strung across the square, and for a finale a woman was lifted up on a swing. Swinging above the crowd she proceeded to sing a beautiful Ave Maria that completely enchanted Annie. Very pretty.




As I keep saying, there is just nothing wrong with Christmas time in Austria. It is the best time for a visit without a doubt. Absolutely beautiful.

Almabtrieb und Landesumzug, 2009

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

There are few weekends here where there isn’t something going on either in Innsbruck or in one of the neighbouring towns. Pretty much anything is taken as a reason to gather outside, drink beer, eat deep fried cheese and sausages, play traditional Austria tunes and…drink beer.

This weekend we fit in two festivals. The first, on Saturday, was in Kufstein. The festival is a celebration of the cows being taken down from their alpine summer home back to the farms. “Look, the cows are coming! Let’s sing, eat and drink!!” Cracks me up.

The farmers dress their prized bovines in floral headdresses and huge cowbells and parade them through the city center. My friend, Nicole, caught the action on her cell phone video.

Almabtreib from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

The other festival was a 200-year celebration of Andreas Hofer. Hofer is a huge hero here, as he and his army of pitchfork-carrying farmers pushed back Napoleon’s troops. A few times. The result of these battles (eventually lost by Hofer’s troops) was that Sudtirol became a part of Italy. The parade included several groups and banners calling for the reintegration of Sudtirol into Austria. This part of Italy even has a “distinct society” status. All very Quebec, right down to the protest bombings in the 1960’s. Markus tells me that the Italian police weren’t too fussed about giving the suspected rebels a fair trial at that time. They just never came home.

The parade was massive. 26,000 participants marched through downtown Innsbruck for four hours in front of about 50,000 spectators. Given that Greater Innsbruck has only 350,000 residents, this is an impressive turnout.

The traditional costumes are always interesting to see and Annie loved the music. The highlight of the parade was the carrying of a giant crown of iron thorns on the shoulders of 20 men to represent the suffering of the Sudtirolers. Apparently this caused quite the controversy in the past, so the thorns are now covered with red roses. In celebration of the year, 2009 roses were used to beautify the crown. Very impressive.

Our pictures weren’t great, but you can see 44 images of the parade here on the local newspaper’s website.

Another highlight for me was taking Annie to the start of the evening festivities in the square behind the hotel. A band was playing traditional music that literally everyone in the crowd knew and sang along to. Annie and her cousin, Lili, joined the dirndl and lederhosen-outfitted couples and were dancing queens for over an hour. Sadly, no pictures or videos but, trust me, it was cute, cute, cute.

I’m sure there is more going on next weekend, but on Friday we are off to the island of Elba, Italy (between the mainland and Corsica) for 6 days. But more on that later…

Showing Off Our Part of the World

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

We  had a great week with the Ravenhills. I loved the long conversations, great laughs and getting to know Emily and Amanda better. We stayed up late, talking on the balcony or drinking at a local bar. It was a welcome gift from home.

And of course we had interesting times touring around Innsbruck and area. I remember always enjoying showing off Victoria to guests, and Austria is even more fun, especially when visitors have never been to Europe. The history and buildings and landscape are impressive even before we hit the attractions. As with every visit, there were some successful adventures as well as some duds, but overall I think they left knowing a bit more about our part of the world.

Since I have a zillion photos, thanks to Mike’s obsessive diligent photo taking, I’ll let the pictures (mostly) speak for themselves. Enjoy.

1. Walking up to the Alpenzoo, where springtime was in full swing with lots of animal babies.







2. Bling-bling tour of the Swarovski museum. It was too modern/kitschy for the Ravenhills’ taste, but oh did we have fun in the gift shop.





3. Very cool tour of the Red Bull Hanger 7 aviation museum in Salzburg. This testosterone session nicely balanced out  crystal world. Those dudes are marketing geniuses, given that the drink is, well, great if you are totally wasted.





3. Touring the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress overlooking this historic city was impressive, even a second time. The view from the tower is magnificent, and shows why this castle was never captured in battle. And a massive pretzel at the end of the day…what could be better?





4. A challenging hike up the Alps with lots of photo ops and tasty traditional Austrian fare to make it worthwhile.





Tempted? I’ll be back in Austria in September if you want to make you travel arrangements to visit.

Arrivals and Departures, or How Canada Regains a Resident

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Our phone rang at 5:00 Wednesday morning; it was Rebecca letting us know that she arrived home safely back in Canada.

Her last few days in Europe were a bit crazy, but hopefully we sent her off well and with a good feeling about this place she called home for the last year. On Friday a few of her friends came over for a delish BBQ that Markus prepared. I think (not to put words in her mouth) that one of the best parts of this year for Rebecca was meeting new friends. They were absolutely lovely people, and I hope they keep in touch.


On Saturday our friends from Phoenix, the Ravenhills, arrived: parents Cassandra and Mike and their girls Emily (15) and Amanda (13). Rebecca spent countless hours with Emily and Amanda growing up, so they had a blast during this short reunion.


After a stroll around our ancient city center, we all went for a traditional Austrian meal. (There was a LOT of eating this last week.) The adults followed up with a drink on top of the city hall, while the girls took in a free concert by a Russian rock band.



Sunday morning we decided to take the tram up the mountain for a casual brunch at a chalet. Rebecca and Annie weren’t dressed for the cold (bad parents) but the rest of us did the short walk up to the peak, finding some snow on this cool rainy morning. The girls (including Doro, Rebecca’s best friend at school) had a snowball fight in July. Crazy. (Most photos are by Mike…he has a great camera and took maybe a couple of pictures. 1,200 and counting over the first 9 days of their Euro trip.)


Amanda gets to know the locals high above Innsbruck

Amanda gets to know the locals high above Innsbruck

The Doppelgänger of Rebecca is Doro. She speaks English very well and is super sweet.

The Doppelgänger of Rebecca is Doro. She speaks English very well and is super sweet.


Rebecca’s last day was spent packing and shopping. She was given wads of cash from the family, which turned into many, many Euro t-shirts and other clothes. The Ravenhills went with her to get the shoppin’ started. As our present, Markus and I gave her some Austria music (Falco and Austrian folk music) to remember the year. (She requested it…not a bad joke on our part.)

Rebecca was sad to go but also was looking forward to being back in Canada and seeing her mom and Katherine. Markus was clearly down as he loaded the car and drove Rebecca to Munich. Annie and I will catch up with Rebecca in August, but it could be until Christmas or longer until Markus sees her again. Six months is a long time away from your little girl; (she will always be his little girl.) Even though there were some tough moments, I think Rebecca will look back on this year as a positive time in her life.