Category Archives: Austria

A Recap of my 2012 European Vacation

All this thinking about World War II over the last few days of the trip naturally brought to my mind how for the entirety of this trip we were positioned in areas that would have been clearly behind enemy lines.  Germany, of course, is now clearly remembered as the primary villain of this war.  Munich, of course, was the heart of it all.  Hitler’s first gatherings, first speeches, and primary residence for most of his life were all in Munich.

Italy was also considered one of the axis powers in World War II.  Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini formed an alliance and fought side by side until September 1943, when Italy kind of just gave up.  Their ”pact” was actually announced at the Brenner Pass at the Italy/Austria border, the very pass we rode the train through last Friday.  After Italy’s capitulation, the nation remained a war zone, with the northern part of the country being occupied by the Germans.  This area of occupation receded over time from South to North, meaning that Florence and areas further north were occupied longer than Naples and Southern Italy.

Austria was not officially an enemy, but they seemed quite willing to cooperate with Hitler, potentially out of fear.  When German expansion is discussed, the term used for their entrance into Poland (which started the war), and later France, etc. is “invasion”.  This implies an attack, and some kind of a resistance, albeit in the case of France, Belgium, etc. an insignificant one.  For Austria, the term used is “annexed”.  Germany annexed Austria.  There also seems to be no documentation of an armed conflict.   This suggests to me that Austria went without a fight at all.  While nowhere in Europe would be a travel destination during World War II, these three countries were clearly enemy nations.

Furthermore, before the World Wars the borders of many of these nations were not even the same as they are today.  And, it was not long before that when Italy and Germany were not even unified Nations yet.  They still had independent city-states and regions.  That’s why many Italian Americans still think of themselves as Venetian, Roman, Tuscan, etc.  However, today we seem to think of national borders as being mostly constant, not really any threat of changing.  This is especially true of Americans.  It feels as if the wars of the 21st Century are not even fought over territory or borders they way they were in the past.  Sure, there are disputes over Taiwan, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea from the Korean perspective), but they have yet to erupt into any kind of armed conflict.  Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq last decade were not to annex their country or parts of them.  They are fought over influence.  This trend started with the cold war.  Poland was never part of Russia, but part of the USSR, which Russia dominated.  So, it appears to many that the movement of National borders is a thing of the past, and never needs to really be thought about.

This trip helped reinforce my views that that we should not take our National borders for granted.  This is not only due to the WWII stuff, but also the historical image of the Italian peninsula prior to Italian unification in 1871, the Napoleonic wars, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The world is a fluid place and nothing lasts forever.  The U.S does not seem to be the kind of place in danger, or on the verge of a major change, but it can’t be ruled out.  We’ve already had a civil war over cultural and economic differences, many of which are still in place today, just in a slightly different form.  We’ve also had recent open talks of secessions recently, most notably in Texas, but also in Vermont and California, which are likely from a completely different ideology.

Of course, the Americans that are most likely to share my view that we should not take our borders for granted are those paranoid about the “reconquesta”.  This theory states that, through immigration, Mexico is attempting to take back the region lost in the Mexican American war in the 1840s.  This region includes California and most of the Southwest.  This group of people tends to be ardent supporters of border security and even support further restrictions on legal immigration.

I do not share this view.  I have always viewed the people coming here to be looking for a better life.  People who came here from Mexico most likely came here for something Mexico could not provide for them.  Why would they desire to turn the area they have come to back into a part of Mexico?  Seems to me that would make their dangerous illegal border crossing into a futile measure.  From a sociological point of view, I have a much greater concern for the possibility that the different regions of the U.S., with different cultures, values, and politics, cannot remain as a part of one Nation with increasingly insufficient Federalization.

I do, however, understand what is at the heart of the objectives and fears of the minutemen crowd; preserving our culture, heritage, and way of life.  It is human nature to avoid/resist change when what you currently have is functional, enjoyable, and desirable.  Those wishing to stem the tide of immigration, both legal and illegal, genuinely love America the way it is (or was).  They fear this influx of people will fundamentally change this.

In Europe everything is closer together.  So from an American perspective, I find it fascinating that all of the places I visited over the past two weeks have maintained their separate regional identities as well as they have.  On one side of the Brenner Pass, they spoke Italian, the other German.  Restaurants still open (or reopen) later in Italy than Austria and Germany.  Italians still have different food and drink options at most of their restaurants.  On our arrival in Innsbruck we got a tall (0.5L) beer, something rarely found in Italy.  I joked that the wine portion of our trip is over, and the beer portion had begun.  The rest of our trip confirmed this statement.

Anyone that has traveled around the United States knows there is a certain level of homogeneity throughout the nation.  One of the most major differences I have noticed is the complete change in building design when crossing the border from West Texas into New Mexico on a storm chase.  Regionally, there are differences across the nation in food, lifestyle, and cultural/religious values.  But there are some things that are similar throughout the country.  You can’t find a place in the U.S. where nobody eats cheeseburgers, nobody drinks coffee, and nobody follows football- except maybe a hippie commune.  That’s probably why I am so astounded by Europe.

America is one of three or four countries in the world where we have the option of completely ignoring the rest of the world.  There are almost no activities, aside from riding a functional rail system that we NEED to travel elsewhere for.  That is possibly why we come off as smug to the rest of the world.

I know I am supposed to come back from this type of trip with a new more “worldly” attitude.  At least that is what a standardized life script indicates.  But I am still just as understanding of what romantic “worldly” liberals refer to as a “typical American attitude” as I was before the trip.  Traveling to another country, especially one that does not speak your native language involves going outside our comfort zone.  Americans have an option of not doing this.  Many of us refuse to go outside our comfort zones in other areas of our lives, like talking to new people, going to a new kind of restaurant, changing careers, etc.  Who are we to criticize others for not going out of their comfort zone and traveling internationally?

Speaking of going outside your comfort zone, I definitely believe our first destination, Rome, was furthest outside our comfort zone of all.  The city’s layout is the most confusing and the most unlike ours.  As the trip progressed, it feels like each subsequent destination brought us “closer to home”.  Munich is by far the city I could feel most at home at- of the ones we visited.

Still, America is my home, and I am glad we live here.  I really enjoyed visiting all of the areas of Europe on this trip, but there are a number of things I like better in the USA.  On top of my list is the address system in Chicago and many other US cities.  We have a lot more streets like Western Avenue, which maintain the same coordinate for it’s entire duration, and the same name.  If I am given an address on Western Avenue, I automatically know the East-West coordinate of the location.  In Europe, and especially in Rome, street names change more frequently, sometimes every block.  That’s a lot more road names to remember.  Also, the numbering of our addresses tells you the other coordinate.  If someone tells me to meet them at 4006 N. Western, I know the establishment is just north of Irving Park Road, and on the west side of the street it is on.  European streets often have both even and odd numbers on the same side of the road with no numerical distinctions of blocks.

I also like the supermarkets being open later.  Most shops in Italy, Austria, and Germany close at 6 PM.  If we wanted to save money by not going out to eat, we had to decide this ahead of time.  I really enjoy being able to come home from work and decide on the spot whether or not to eat out.

I have always said it is great to respect and participate in other cultures, but that you should still live in your own.  I am American and I love American culture, but that did not stop me from enjoying all of the activities I did over the past few weeks.  I tried to order strange local food to get the full experience while here.  Italian food is not that different here.  Some items are more common, seafood, salami, and the sauce tends to be made differently.  Austrian and German food can be found in the US, but less frequently.  We’re kind of more into their beer, as a country.  But I did eat a lot of their local food and enjoyed it.  I love encased meats!

Also, everyone that we came across and dealt with was very friendly, especially the proprietors of Hotel Perseo in Florence, the Poggerino winery in Chianti, and everyone at the Laimer Hof in Munich, this includes the other guests who engaged me in conversation Tuesday night.  This makes me happier that we chose the places we chose.  Even the (likely) drugged up woman in Austria was friendly to me.  I just kind of feel bad for not learning the language.  After all, we did go to their county- not the other way around.  I’m grateful to all that accommodate us by knowing English.  In North America- heck, in all of the Americas, you can get by in over 80% of all places by knowing two languages- English and Spanish.  If you know four, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, you can get by in over 99% of all places.  So, we generally learn fewer languages than our European counterparts.

I also wonder why they accommodate us like that, and whether or not they resent it in some way.  There has to be some kind of economic factor.  I mean, I know of other places where they are less accommodating.  And, it is not like I feel like everybody needs to accommodate me, like some kind of self-absorbed asshole, but if someone out there does accommodate us and is friendly, well, why not give them business and tourism money?  But, I bet some of the mare worried that we are trying to Americanize the world.  The band Rammstein’s not as famous (as Du Hast) follow up “Amerika” is about exactly this.

I really have no desire to Americanize Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.  There are some places in trouble that would benefit from American ideas, but I am under no delusion that our way is the only way to do things.  In fact, our differing geographies (US more spread out) and histories (Europe being older and more culturally different) dictate that we must be different.  On that note, those that want to Europeanize America are just as misguided.  Sure, I would love to be able to drink a beer on the street without worrying about open container laws, and I would love to have the train system Europe has.  But, maybe not at the expense of European tax rates and gas prices.

We travel to various destinations for various reasons, sometimes for work, sometimes to visit people.  Sometimes, we travel to visit a specific destination.  When we visit to go to a specific place, we visit them because in some way they are different from where we usually are, our homes.  Suburbanites come into the city; Chicagoans go to the Dells, heck, even a Pennsylvanian taking their family to Disney World all share something in common.  In all of these cases, something is different about where they are going.  That is why I look on with wonder as I see the Medieval looking town of Radda, where I can literally imagine knights riding up and down the rolling hills.  Or in Rome, at Circus Maximus, I imagine chariot racers jockeying for position.  History, culture, heck, even the future comes to life in special places at special times when we take a break from our day-to-day lives that so often consume us to the point where we don’t even realize how much time has gone by (The theme of the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime).

On my travels I saw various places that took me back to various times in history.  I also saw places that put me on a train of thought that lead me to wonder things about myself and the culture we all live in.  Are we really selfish?  Do we really need to crowd retail malls on Sunday, and what happened to spending that time with our families?  Is this why our families seem so dysfunctional these days?  Are some places destined to be wealthier than others?  Is it natural for mountainous places to be outdoorsier and health conscious?  Can we really be no more than a couple of bad elections from millions suffering they way they did?  Why do the European exit signs make it look like you are trying to make an escape, from like a mugging or something?

Really, the list could go on for pages.  And the list is different for everyone.  What matters more than the answers or even the questions is that we keep asking them-even if it is only to ourselves.  And that we keep visiting new places, whether they are geographical, sociological, or situational, and coming up with new questions based on new experience.  Of them includes international travel, and I am privileged to have traveled to a wide variety of new places in the spring of 2012.

The World’s Largest Beer Garden

It always seems to be 2/3 to ¾ of the way through any trip that people inevitably begin to think about what awaits them back home.  It was actually the previous night when it started for us.  This was unfortunate, as I was really doing my best not to think about my problems including work throughout this entire trip.  People take vacations either to get away from their day-to-day lives for a while, or to see different places/ do different things.  This trip was kind of both for me.  I desperately needed time away from the office when this trip began, but it is also my first ever trip to Europe.

We checked out of the Weisses Kreuz and took a train to our final destination, Munich.  In Italy, we moved around a lot more.  Both the Weisses Kreuz and the Laimer Hof (our hotel in Munich) are four night stays for us.  This gives us a chance to relax for a bit rather than having to carry our luggage around daily.  Overall, I was impressed with the Weisses Kreuz.  One exception, though, were the pillows.  They were crappy, kind of lacked volume.  The pillows at Laimer Hof are much better. 

The Weisses Kreuz is actually a really old hotel.  Mozart actually stayed here when he was like only eight years old.  Thinking about this, I actually speculate as to whether or not he wrote his first symphony while he was unable to sleep due to the crappy pillows at this hotel.  The Laimer Hof has nicer pillow.  So, under my ridiculous theory, had Mozart’s family chose to visit Munich and stay at the Laimer Hof instead, he would possibly have never became a famous composer.  It is weird to think about, how sometimes little things like this make all the difference in the world, in the course of history.  What if the wind happened to be blowing in a different direction the day the volcanic ashes covered the Island of Crete, disrupting the Minoan civilization, paving the way for Mycenaean takeover, which eventually lead to Ancient Greece?  What if the Allied powers had chosen a different day in June 1944 to invade Normandy?  One that was less favorable?  All of this seems so minor when it happens, but ends up having profound implications on subsequent events, creating a world, and a history completely different from what would have been had they gone the other way.

With the desire to get my mind off of work and what awaits me back home, and back into vacation mode, we visited Hirschgarten, the world’s largest beer garden.  I don’t speak German, but from years of living in Wisconsin, I have become fluent in German beer.  I knew I wanted something sufficiently alcoholic but not too dark.  Of course, Hefeweizen is the answer!  I really enjoyed this beer.  In fact, I enjoyed it enough to order dinner here, and drink three liters of it.  Once it got dark we went back to the hotel, but the drinking did not stop.  The hotel staff served us beer downstairs.  It kind of felt like a normal night for me.  There was a computer in the downstairs room where they were serving the beer, with free Internet.  I logged into g-chat and talked to some people back home.  In the U.S. it was still the later part of a workday, on a Tuesday in fact, so my crazy party demeanor and random ridiculous questions may have seemed out of place to the people I was talking to. 

I also actually held a fairly productive conversation with some of the other hotel guests.  Mostly, I talked to some people from the other side of Germany, the Northwest part of the country.  Curious, and lacking inhibition, I asked them about how they viewed Greece.  From which I got a somewhat expected response.  But, I was kind of surprised they were not as angry as I thought they would be.  I am ALWAYS mad when I end up footing the bill for the irresponsibility of others; it forms the basis of my belief system when it comes to government.  So, I am glad there are no wars about this yet.

I also asked them what they thought about Bavaria, as it kind of has a separate identity from the rest of Germany.  Before this trip, I had been telling people that Munich is the “Denver and the Detroit” of Germany at the same time.  Denver, due to its general climate, with frequent abrupt weather changes due to it’s proximity to the mountains, as well as it’s status as kind of an island of liberalism (voting SDP) in a region considered the most conservative in the country (CDU dominance).  Detroit because of the BMW factory and headquarters.  But, the man I talked to actually equated Bavaria with Texas.  I guess Texas kind of does have it’s own identity separate from most of the U.S.  There are, of course, major differences.  They drink less beer in Texas, as there are numerous dry counties in Texas.  Also, Texas’s only liberal city, Austin, is nowhere near as large in size and scope as Munich.  That is the problem with analogies like this.  There will always be differences.  When someone asks me what Chicago neighborhood equates with Astoria, or Forest Hills (both in Queens), I am at a loss for words despite my knowledge of both New York and Chicago.  There simply is not an equivalent neighborhood.  That is why, in a way, we visit other places, on trips like the very one I am on right now.  The experience is different from what we know.

Stubai Glacier

The main event today was skiing the Stubai Glacier.  This is one of nine ski resorts the City of Innsbruck offers free shuttles to for tourists.  Axamer Lizum, the resort we went to on Saturday is another.  This resort is actually on a glacier.  It peaks to 3.2 km (roughly 2 miles) above sea level.  The ski resort guarantees snow from October through June!  This seems impressive, especially since there are places in Colorado that boast peaks just as high, yet cannot boast snow for this large a part of the year.  In fact, I think most of the resorts there close by mid-April, if not earlier.

It took us a lot longer to get there from Innsbruck (about an hour), but I enjoyed the skiing here a lot more than Axamer Lizum.  First of all, Axamer Lizum is not for beginners.  Abby and I felt like the worst skiers there.  At Stubai Glacier I saw people of all ability levels.  Also, here I was able to do some trails at the intermediate level (Red).  In fact, that is what I mostly did.  So, I felt much more legit.  This was possibly related to the better snow conditions at higher altitudes.  The snow conditions did, however, deteriorate in mid-afternoon, as temperatures were well above freezing on most of the hill.  It got close to 70 in town, and I felt overheated on the ride home.

Overall, the whole experience was fun.  After skiing, we had 45 minutes to spare before the bus came to take us back to town.  We went to a bar to buy some soda, as we were thirsty.  As was the case at the other ski resort, there were people partying, having a good time, and listening to techno.  Then, they played a techno remix of Manfred Man’s hit song For You (from 1984).  It reminded me of Eric Pryd’s Call on Me, from several years back, which was a remix of the Steve Winwood song Valerie.  My trusted sources tell me that that song was quite huge in the London Club scene in the middle 2000s.

I thoroughly enjoyed this remix.  I think the Europeans do a good job of remixing old American music.  They periodically seem to do it with songs you would never think of making into a remix.  I mean, Steve Winwood, Manfred Mann.  Who thought of taking this song and turning it into a techno remix?  I mean, I could ponder a way to throw Metallica and Lady Gaga onto a Yanni track before I could ponder a remix of Steve Winwood or Manfred Mann.  But, they were good, real good, along with most of the other music I heard, both on this ski resort and the other one.

I could definitely see myself coming back here.  There really is no place in America like this.  It’s like the fictitious town in Hot Tub Time Machine.  We have ski resort towns in America, like Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat, and Park City, but they are not nearly the size of Innsbruck, which has about 120,000 people.  Denver, Fort Collins, and Salt Lake City are bigger, but they are not nearly as close in proximity to the skiing, they are not ski towns.

Thinking of all of this European techno, specifically their producing quality remixed of American songs, naturally leads me to think of Flo-Rida.  A year and change ago (sometime in 2010), he released Sugar, which takes the tune from Eiffel 65’s 1999 hit song Blue (Ba ba di ba ba da).  Flo-Rida managed to spin this whole thing around.  Finally, an American creates a hit from a European track (Eiffel 65 is Italian), and Flo-Rida becomes a National Hero, well, at least to me.

We went out for Indian food tonight.  Abby found a place across the Inn River, meaning we got to see another part of town, kinda.  In the grand scheme of things, German food and Austrian food are similar.  So, it is probably a good idea to get something else as to not get burned out on this food before Munich.  I have no interest in trying Mexican food in Europe.  Maybe there are some places that are decent.  But, with Mexico borders the United States, and the US is currently experiencing a great migration of immigrants from Mexico.  So, I don’t see how the Mexican food here can be as good as it is in the US.  In fact, I imagine it to be a lot worse.  However, India is really nowhere near either county (USA or Austria), so it’s more worth a shot.  I did the Indian food here, but not as much as the Indian food in the U.S.  This could be due to the fact that the Indian food in the United States caters to our tastes.

As the day draws to a close, our last in Innsbruck, tow things are on my mind.

1.   What am I to expect from Munich, our next and final destination?  Tyroleans and Bavarians have to have some major cultural differences.  They fought each other repeatedly in the past, and have been declared part of two different countries fairly consistently throughout history.  What are these differences?  Will I end up experiencing them on this trip, or will I only be visiting places where these differences do not show up?

2.  Why the %&!# do I still have a lot of energy?  The story of my life.

Touring Innsbruck, Austria

The weather was not quite as nice in the mountains this morning, so we took a day off from skiing.  Hopefully we’ll be rested for tomorrow- we plan to ski the Stubai Glacier, a place where it is possible to ski year round (although I don’t think many ski in the summer).

After sleeping in a bit, we hit up the Alpenverein Museum, which is a museum of mountain climbing I saw in an Innsbruck information packet.  This museum was great, and only 4 euro each.  We saw the complete history of mountaineering, including the tools people use to scale a mountain, how people map out mountain passes/routes/terrain, pictures people drew of mountains, stuff about mountain sickness (from high altitude), and stories and thoughts from mountain climbers themselves.

The thoughts got deep, as one mountaineer saw mountain climbing as a metaphor for overcoming our self-induced inhibitions in life, and others saw mountaineering to be associated with freedom in some other way.  However, the thing that stuck in my mind was the story of rope.  Specifically, the quality of rope was improved greatly in 1865, in response to four mountaineers falling to their death due to poor rope quality.  From a 21st Century point of view, it seem as though we should have been using much better rope all along, recognizing that human lives are at stake.  It brings up thoughts about the insurance industry charging inadequate rates in Florida prior to Hurricane Andrew, or the fact that the financial markets had to explode before they stopped leveraging 40:1.  Why are we so often collectively unable to recognize these risks until a disaster of some kind happens?

We went to lunch after the museum at a placed called Maria Van Bergund.  The food was great, but we had a strange encounter.  This woman sitting at the table next to next to ours was wasted (noon Sunday, and we were not sure what she was wasted on).  Abby noticed this first, but I thought it was no big deal, as I continued to share thoughts on mountaineering.  Then, she started asking me questions.  She spoke little to no English.  At first here somewhat less intoxicated friend helped her out (he knew English better).  Eventually, he left and she came over and sat at our table (to be in the sun).  Random people do talk to me a lot.  I feel like I am typically a welcoming person, and when I’m in a decent mood, I give off a fun and approachable vibe.  So, I try to have a conversation with her but I know very little German, so it’s hard.  I think Abby was nervous.  Eventually, she moved to another table, as she desired to sit in the sun and the sun/shade pattern advanced.  When she sat with a random old man, she got asked to leave the restaurant.  This did, however, spark up a pleasant conversation with a nice family from the UK.  Some of these events were strange, and I may have been uncomfortable, but I’d still rather stuff like this happen periodically and deal with the stress it causes than never have anything interesting happen.  Simply put, monotony would suck more than occasional stress, or drama.  I did not expect many encounters with random people in countries where I don’t speak the language, but the way I am, I don’t think I can avoid it, even here.

In the afternoon, we walked about 3 km, partially uphill to the Bergisel ski jump arena, where the 1964 and 1976 Olympic ski jump took place.  I was curious about how people watched this particular event.  It did not seem possible to me, but I think I was overestimating the spatial scale of the jump in my head.  I imagined what it was like for a ski jumper.  According to the info, once you start you accelerate to 90 km/hr in only 4 seconds!  Then, you take off.  You have a view of the whole city while in the air, as well as the entire crowd, and multiple mountain ranges.  Then, you have to land- how mind bottling!

Skiing Aximer Lizum

Today we skied an Olympic ski run, at a resort called Axamer Lizum.  Both the 1964 and 1976 Olympics were held here.  Oddly enough, the 1976 Olympics were moved here from Denver because Colorado voted down a State bond issue referendum, making the financing of the games uncertain.

Skiing here is HARD!  The trails we did were all blue, which is the easiest here (red= medium and black= hard).  However, I was rust form having not skied much lately, and the conditions were kind of bad.  It’s almost April, what do you expect.  The snow is very wet, and got very clumpy, especially on the steeper parts of the hill.  Oh, and I had a screw up with the ski rentals.  They did not fit my boots to my bindings properly, and my right ski fell out every time I turned (left).  We had to trudge up a hill and take the ski lift down to the rental shop to get it fixed.  This wore me out, and wasted the good part of the ski day, morning, before the trails get clumpy from use.

It is hard to imagine, though, that skiing an Olympic course is 29,50 Euro, slightly less than the $45 it costs to ski Devil’s Head in Wisconsin.  They also gave us a free wiener schnitzel!  This was at a restaurant at the top of the mountain, with an amazing view of the town.  So, overall, the ski mountain was a great deal.  The rental company was not.  They did not even give us a discount for the mess up with the rentals.  But, I learned something.  This was the first time I ever saw a ski resort have multiple rental companies.  Usually, in the US, the ski resort just sells the rentals.  Here, there were multiple companies competing for our business.  In this case, we should not have gone to the first rental company we saw.  They have the least need to be good, as they can count on business from tourists that just go to the first place they see.  The others need to have a good reputation to get business, so they are a better bet.

For some reason I feel a bit closer to home here, which feels odd to me given that I am half Italian.  But, it’s just some little things.  Innsbruck has sushi, thai, and other food options that I don’t remember seeing in Italy.  The restaurants are open a bit earlier for dinner (around 6 PM), and it is less out of the ordinary to eat dinner at 7 or 7:30.  I also see pool, bowling, darts, and other activities I am used to seeing around.  I saw young people being rowdy both Friday night and Saturday night.

Tonight we stumbled upon a crazy acrobatics show outside the Golden Roof.  People were on stage in colored body suits, singing, banging on the drums, etc.  And then someone, head to toe in orange, tried to walk a tightrope across the street, from one building top to another.  I still have no idea why this show was happening, but it made the town feel a bit like the town in Hot Tub Time Machine, where people ski and party!

Also, everything is cheaper here.  We got gelato for 1,10 each.  It was never under 2 in Italy.  Beer is 2,10 and most other things are noticeably cheaper.  Most likely this is because Innsbruck is not much of a destination for people from other parts of the world.  But, sometimes I wonder if a cultural difference, or Italy’s current economic standing/ dire need for cash has anything to do with it.  Maybe this helps me explain the US a bit.  Could it be that Italians, in love with the extravagant, made New York expensive and extravagant as an image of their culture, while the Germans and Polish made Chicago and the Midwest cheaper and more practical in their image?

Train Ride from Florence to Innsubruck

Today was mostly a travel day as we moved on from Tuscany and headed for Innsbruck.  It started with another phenomenal breakfast at Poggerino, but that now seems to feel like it happened like three days ago!  Ever notice how while on vacation, or during special events time feels like it is going faster while things are happening, but in retrospect more time seems to have gone by?  I’ve had times at work where I mistook a Tuesday lunch conversation for a Wednesday one, but the start of this trip feels like weeks ago.  Maybe it is that we perceive time in the present tense based on our awareness of time’s passing (i.e. inversely related to how involved we are in what we are doing), but in the past based on the quantity of memorable experiences in our lives.

The train rides started off kind of dull.  Florence to Bologna was like 80% under tunnels.  Bologna to Verona, at least until you approach Verona, is flat.  I saw irrigations and felt like I was in the Kansas of Italy.

After Verona things got interesting as we headed into the Italian Alps.  We kind of missed the Dolomites, but the mountains were quite nice.  Plus, the railroad tracks followed a river valley, so we got to see the scenery (as opposed to being under tunnels).  I read up a bit on Trento and Bolzano while we passed though this area.  It seems as though this is the outdoorsiest part of Italy.  There were bike trails (most likely the same one) along the river valley for much of the journey, and I saw plenty of riders.  Finally, we went thought the Brenner Pass, exiting Italy into Austria.

Innsbruck is exactly as I imagined it; an Austrian looking ski town.  The mountains came right up to the town and watch over it in all directions.  We could probably walk right up to one from the Weisses Kreuz, our hotel, which is right in the center of town.  There is a shopping district that seems to cater to both skiers and Austrian type people with bars and beer gardens.  Like I said, EXACTLY as I imagined.

We had a nice dinner at Ottoburg, at the recommendation of the hotel desk.  There, I decided to dive right into the local culture, and got the most traditional Austrian dish that did not seem scary.  It was phenomenal.  While there, we encountered a group of five guys in their 20s.  It was crazy because, other than speaking German, they looked and acted exactly like you’d expect a group like this in America.  Oh, except they were at a fancy restaurant together.   Groups of guys, for one reason or another, don’t do that in America.  But, their behavior, their interaction indicates one of two things; there really is not that much different amongst different types of people, or that the German influence has manifested itself in the heavily German Midwest (especially WI and NE) in the form of drunken Friday nights.  I’ll let you be the judge, but either way I had my first conversation with completely random people in Europe- awesome!