Agree to disagree

Posted: March 29, 2010 in Uncategorized


October 14th, 2009

From the moment I stepped out of the train station in Innsbruck into cold, driving rain, my resident friend who I had planned to meet missing in action, my already dampened spirits after leaving the bliss of Gimmelwald behind were now thoroughly soaked. Walking across downtown to my hotel, the town seemed quite nice, though with much more modern architecture than I’d expected. I also noted a permeation of money, with high-fashion shops regularly lining the streets; surprising at first for such a small town, but thinking about it further, fairly standard for a ski destination, especially a former host of the winter Olympics. Skiing and shopping somehow seem to have become companion hobbies. Thankfully unlike so many other ski towns, this lineup of trendy stores didn’t define the place, it simply added to the larger character.

The hotel itself, which I had booked online, was enticingly described as a charming place set along the Inn River opposite the Altstadt, the historic district of town. In reality it was a soul-crushingly despondent building smelling of decades of stale cigarette smoke, hosted by a cheerful elderly woman who watched me like a hawk every time I was within sight of the lobby, and a bar full of yet more elderly locals who eyed me like I was hunting war criminals. My room, on the top floor of a flight of stairs that made a noise like trying to strangle a horse with a live cat at every step, was the closest I’ve ever felt to prison. The one, tiny window some ten feet off the floor offered a view of metal roofing and only really gave the suggestion of light. I unpacked my soaking backpack and resolved to spend as much of the night as possible doing my laundry in the laundromat and internet cafe around the corner. For some reason I also decided to buy a kebab as comfort food, a decision my stomach berated me for well into the night.

The following day the rain had at least let up, but the cold forced me to buy a beanie at one of the plentiful outdoor gear shops. So armed, I went wandering. Thankfully one thing you can really do in Innsbruck is walk and hike. The mountain range the town is nestled against is criss-crossed with trails; nothing drastically committing until you get to the upper slopes, which were by then quite snow-bound. I lingered as long as I could stand among the buildings and shops downtown, then hiked up to Hungerberg where I appropriately stopped for an extremely Germanic lunch of a giant pretzel and bratwurst that was for some reason served in a bowl of warm water. Sadly even from this higher vantage point the mountains, the biggest attraction of the area, were mostly obscured by low clouds, giving me only faint glimpses of the dramatic landscape surrounding the town.

After spending the remainder of the day wandering through town and the university campus, essentially in a desperate bid to avoid going back to my hotel, I found a quiet table at one of the few smoke-free bars to spend the evening reading, having failed to find a coffee shop to hole up in. Isolation had become something of a necessity, since even barring my complete lack of conversational German, Austrians on the whole appeared at best distant, and at times seemed to find my very existence distasteful. Even trying to order a beer from the barman using the fullest extent of my German, I got a look that suggested I had asked about the state of his sister’s virginity. I was not making new friends in Austria.

An early night’s sleep later I gladly vacated my room and trudged to the train station in the pre-dawn darkness, fat, wet snowflakes swirling into my face. Headed for my 6AM train to Italy, I was happy to put Austria behind me with the promise of warmer weather, better food, and, surprisingly, less cigarette smoke. I wasn’t ready to write the place off, but our introduction had been the most awkwardly unpleasant handshake, the kind of limp, clammy grab at your knuckles that leaves you wiping your hand on your pants. I’d like to think it was just having a bad week.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    You pretty much summed up Austria and Innsbruck perfectly. They don’t like outsiders- they even like you less when you look like them, speak like them but aren’t them.. and the smoking is terrible here. I pretty much never go out because of it.

    It sucks the weather was so bad when you were here, the mountains are really the best part (and the city run saunas which I realize I should of sent you too)

    • Anonymous says:

      In that case, I fully endorse your move to Munich. The mountains aren’t as nice, but the people are certainly more accommodating, and you don’t have to wash your hair after going to dinner.

      Clearly this last trip to Austria just wasn’t meant to pan out, since pretty much everything was stacked against me. I’ll have to give it another go when it’s more in season.

      • Anonymous says:

        yeah Munich has no mountains which sucks but its waaaaay more international there in my opinion. Just going there for the day I often meet 3-4 people per trip, which is how many I meet in Innsbruck in a year.. Tyroleans in my opinion are very private, highly guarded and sometimes even paranoid people.. the mountains make you crazy 😉

        and yeah- I dont have to wash my hair and all my clothes after a night out on the town in DE– which is also a big draw. I am sick of going out and coming home feeling like I was chain smoking all night- it sucks.

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