Prior to our cruise on the MSC Lirica, we flew into Europe via Switzerland 10 days ahead of the cruise and made our way by train to Italy for embarkation with several stops along the way. After visits to Zurich and Lucerne in Switzerland, and Vaduz in Liechtenstein we went on to Austria for a couple nights in Innsbruck.
Our second day in Innsbruck, Austria was a mix of rain and snow so we bundled up before heading out to Nordkette, our plan for the day. That was our only full day in town so if we wanted to go up the mountain it was then or never. Nordkette is the name of the mountain range just north of the city, but it is also the name for the total series of rides and attractions going up the side of a mountain visible from town with a station near the river in the old town area. The entrance to the funicular that takes people partway up the mountain was not far from our hotel so we just walked there. If you don’t know what it is you could be standing right next to it, looking right at it, and wonder where it was. It’s across the street from a little waterfront park and looks like a bus station with a funny light green roof unless you notice the tiny little sign that says Nordkette and take the stairway or elevator down underground. A big underground room holds the ticket counter and the end of the line stop for the funicular. That stop is called Congress and the name of the funicular is Hungerburgbahn.
Unlike any other funicular I have ever seen, which all just go up a very steep hill, this one first travels underground through a tunnel under a river. On the other side there’s a small station called Lowenhaus that has the same funny green roof as the entrance to the one on the other side, but that station is a little platform above ground giving people on the other side of the river a place to get on or off the ride – and the funicular a place to stop while the other car stops elsewhere as a funicular works with two cars in tandem going opposite ways.
After that stop it goes uphill to another stop at Alpenzoo where people can get off to go to the zoo, or back on after visiting the zoo. It was pouring down rain when we got to the Alpenzoo on the way back down, but the town was visible from there. Far away and appearing much smaller than it actually is, we could see the big ski jump that’s a major tourist attraction perched on a different mountain on the opposite side of the city.
It’s called Bergisel Ski Jump. It was a site for the 1964 and 1976 Olympics, but was rebuilt in 2002. It has a stadium and a restaurant and hosts annual events. Even when it’s not ski season people go there for the 360° views. It’s accessed by an inclined elevator. We did not have time to go there. We just saw it in the distance from a viewpoint at the zoo.
The last stretch of funicular track goes up a very steep grade more like normal funiculars. Its final stop is called Hungerburg. There’s a little town there, which had a Christmas market going during our November visit. The ground there was slushy with the same rain/snow mix as in town falling in the morning, but by afternoon it was just raining, like at the bottom of the mountain. Everything was shrouded in mist in the morning, but by afternoon part of the city below was visible through the clouds.
One of the booths at the Christmas Village had some sort of liquor made from pine trees they said was a local specialty. They gave out free samples and it was actually pretty good.
You have to go outside at the station in Hungerburg where the funicular ends and into another nearby building to catch the first of two cable cars, which travels from there up to a station called Seegrube. By the time we got that high on the mountain there was no more rain mix, it was pure snow falling at Seegrube, onto a thick layer of snow already on the ground.
The Seegrube station has a restaurant, hotel, tiny souvenir shop, and rentals of little bikes outfitted with miniature skis that people ride down a small hill by that station. Kind of like sledding, but on a bike. There’s a big flat area by that station where people go to play in the snow. A lot of them just stay there and don’t go any higher. Others go up the mountain to ski. We just passed quickly thorough that station on our way to the next cable car on the way up, but stopped in at the restaurant for lunch on the way back down.
We had lunch at a table by a window. We had their homemade tomato soup and French fries. We had to ask for more ketchup. At least we were able to get it there. In Lucerne when we tried to get more than the skimpy amount of ketchup provided we ended up with unwanted extra orders of fries to go with it. The whole wall next to the windows had a radiator running the length of it. There weren’t a lot of people in the restaurant at that time so they all had tables by the window. Everyone spread their coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and whatever else they had that was wet out over the radiator by their table to dry while they ate. Everything we had worn out on the mountain that was not covered by our raingear was soaking wet so we had our gloves and things on the radiator too, and hung the raincoats over the back of a chair near the heat so the outsides of them could dry as well.
It stopped snowing for awhile while we were there so after lunch we went out to explore for a bit before going the rest of the way down the mountain. We didn’t bring proper snow clothes or boots that would keep snow out doing anything other than walking over the top of it with us on this trip, but we had good enough clothing to walk around the area a bit and watch other people having fun on the little bike sleds and playing in the snow.
The last cable car takes people to the Top of Innsbruck station called Hafelekar, which is at 2,256 meters or 7,400 feet. In better weather people can take a short hike to the summit. There are other hiking trails up there too.
We stepped outside into a howling wind blowing icy bits of frozen snow so hard you couldn’t face into it with open eyes as the wind would drive those little bits of ice right into them. It was maybe a 20-foot or so walk to the sign that said Top of Innsbruck so we made it that far for a couple quick photos and went back inside. It was a long 20 feet in that weather and there was no chance of hiking any farther that day. It was snowing so hard we probably couldn’t have even found the trails if we’d tried.
On a nice day the views up there would be awesome, but all we saw was white. There is a little restaurant at that station that has soups, salads, desserts, meals, and will make picnic lunches for hikers. The cable car to that station only ran twice per hour when we were there. I don’t know if that is standard or just because it wasn’t very crowded that day. Since the schedule flashed by on an electronic readerboard it probably varies because if it was set they’d likely have a more permanent sign, but that’s just a guess on my part. There wasn’t much else at that station so we got a cup of tea and sat in the restaurant watching it snow for awhile before heading back down.
If we’d had more time in Innsbruck we would have chosen a nicer day to go up the mountain, but when your time is limited and you want to do something you do it anyway and just dress for the weather the best you can. We didn’t have snowsuits, but we wore good raingear so we did stay fairly dry.