On the outskirts of old town Innsbruck, Austria, there’s an entrance to a funicular that takes people up a mountain overlooking the city. It’s not actually a secret entrance, but it rather seems that way since it looks a lot like it’s just a bus shelter unless you see the tiny sign that says Nordkette and take the stairway or elevator to go below ground. There you find a ticket desk as well as a stop for the funicular.
A funicular is a cable-operated transit system, generally a railway for steep inclines where two cars run simultaneously with one going up while the other goes down, and the two counterbalance each other. These cars are permanently attached to the cable and the entire system stops or moves so both cars are either stopped or in motion at the same time. This differs from ground based cable cars in that cable cars like the ones in San Francisco are independent of one another and stop and go by attaching or detaching from a cable which constantly remains in motion.
The funicular at Nordkette is unusual in that it doesn’t go directly up, but runs under a river first before ascending the hill. There is another stop on the other side of the river, which is above ground. That stop is just a small platform, but it does give people on that side of the river the opportunity to go up the mountain without having to cross to the other side of the river first. Most funiculars have just two stops, one at the top and one at the bottom, but this one has 4.
You can get different tickets for different prices that cover all or just part of the things at
Nordkette. As far as tourist attractions go they weren’t too pricey so we went with the full
package that included all the way to the top of the mountain plus the zoo. Getting to the top takes two separate aerial cableways beyond the funicular’s highest station. It was raining at the lower elevations and snowing higher up the day we went there. We didn’t want to be soaking wet everywhere not covered by our raingear when we got to the top where it’s really cold so we did the zoo on the way back down. The funicular makes a stop for the zoo partway up (or down) the mountain.
The zoo is not right at the Aplenzoo stop. You have to take stairs or an elevator down to a little road and then walk kind of around a corner and up a hill. There were a couple of small signs pointing out the way. The road split into one going down and around a corner and one continuing up toward a bus stop – which happened to have a bus sitting in it when we got there. There was no sign saying which way to go so we went up toward the bus.
There was a sign there that pointed out the way to a trail going past a lovely church and that trail led to the zoo. Alpenzoo is the highest altitude zoo in Europe and has animals native to the Alps. You don’t have to take the funicular to get there since a road goes up that high, but it’s a lot more fun to get there by funicular than by bus or car.
You enter the zoo through a gift shop. If you haven’t already got a ticket you can get one there. They also give you a map of the zoo, which has pathways winding around through the different animal exhibits. Most of the pathways are paved. There are some directional signs so you don’t have to rely entirely on the map, which was helpful for us since our map disintegrated pretty quickly because it got wet every time we took it out to look at it. One of the pathways passes through an aviary. The zoo had a crazy bathroom with self-cleaning toilets. Part of the flushing process included the seat circling around through a water bath.
The zoo would be a lot better on a nice day. Besides slogging around through slush in the rain while we followed the pathways, a lot of the animals had sense enough to keep out of the weather and were hiding in their dens so there weren’t as many to see.
We did see some stuff though, like playful otters who are going to get wet rain or shine, some young chamois (who look something like goats) eating hay under a shelter where they were out in plain site, a bear that wasn’t hibernating, and a wildcat that had some round windows into her den area. She looked like a giant housecat, but would periodically try and attack faces that stayed in the window too long. Through a lower window we saw 3 sleeping kittens. Bigger than regular kittens of course, but still little kittens. The mama might not have been so aggressive without them to protect.
There were other things to see on a rainy day too, like the aquarium part consisting of indoor tanks, and some birds and other displays. While the wild things generally stayed out of the rain, the cows in the farm animal area stood right out in it. Then again 3 moose were lying on the ground out in the rain and they’re wild.
Innsbruck is definitely a city worth visiting. There’s a lot more to see there than we had time for during our short stay.