We rose very early Friday morning—we rose at 5:30 a.m.—because we had a very big day planned.
We rose at such an early hour in order that we might gather for breakfast the very minute the hotel dining room opened at 6:30 a.m. We intended to be packed, breakfasted, checked out of our hotel and on our way to Klagenfurt no later than 7:30 a.m.
Our hotel in Graz was the newest hotel of our entire trip. It was an ultra-modern hotel, with ultra-modern architecture and ultra-modern conveniences. We liked it.
However, during breakfast we overheard other guests complain incessantly about the hotel. The guests complained about hotel personnel, the décor, the size of the rooms and the size of the baths, the room furnishings, the bath fixtures, the towels, and Internet connectivity.
The guests making the complaints, we were able to ascertain, were from Belgium and Denmark.
We could not understand the source of the complaints. The hotel was perfectly satisfactory and featured many amenities not often encountered in European hotels.
Further, the dissatisfied Belgians and Danes were bitter because they had had to pay for their breakfasts (we did not—our breakfasts had been included in the price of our rooms). They also complained about the breakfast foods on offer, which they believed to have been inadequate.
We could not understand the complaints about the food, either. The breakfast foods included fruits and fruit juices, cereals, breads and rolls, cold cuts and cheeses, bacon and sausages, eggs cooked to order, and a bewildering variety of pastries. What did the Belgians and Danes expect would be served for breakfast?
After overhearing thirty minutes of non-stop moaning, we concluded that the guests in question were simply complainers by nature and would, no doubt, benefit from some serious counseling. We arrived at this conclusion after listening to them express their dismay about the city of Graz itself, a city these Belgians and Danes had found to be totally boring (“with nothing to do”) and not worth a visit.
We were on our way out of Graz not long after 7:30 a.m. We rolled into Klagenfurt just after 9:00 a.m.
We spent almost two hours leisurely walking around the old part of the town.
We found Klagenfurt, an 800-year-old city surrounded by mountains, to be completely charming.
We did not visit the interiors of any buildings, but we did explore the exteriors of the Landhaus (the regional government center), Neues Rathaus (the new city hall), Altes Rathaus (the old city hall), Klagenfurt Cathedral (a splendid Baroque structure erected as a Protestant Cathedral but converted to Roman Catholic worship during The Counter-Reformation) and Stadtpfarrkirche (Town Parish Church, another splendid Baroque structure).
The old part of Klagenfurt is filled with stately squares, courtyards and churches. The architecture is a pleasing mixture of Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque.
The city boasts a proliferation of towers—towers rise from sacred buildings and towers rise from secular buildings—and the assortment of towers made a stroll through the city a particular pleasure.
We loved our time in Klagenfurt. Klagenfurt is one of the great, undiscovered cities of Europe. One day we shall have to return for a longer visit.
From Klagenfurt, we drove past Lake Worth toward Heiligenblut, the village (with its famous church) that marks the southern entrance to the world’s most remarkable and most famous roadway, Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (The Grossglockner Alpine Highway).
Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse is the road built upon The Grossglockner Pass, the highest of all passes through The Alps.
From Heiligenblut, one may see the forbidding mountains ahead, mountains through which the roadway proceeds.
We traveled on The Grossglockner Alpine Highway all the way to Zell Am See. Although only 48 kilometers in length, The Grossglockner Alpine Highway passes through several vegetation zones, from temperate to Arctic, and is renowned for its 36 sharp bends that allow the roadway to climb some of the steepest mountains of The Alps.
The road was planned in the 1920’s and constructed in the 1930’s. Having fallen into disrepair through neglect during World War II, the road was repaired and modernized in the 1950’s.
The Grossglockner Alpine Highway is perhaps the most remarkable road in the world, providing drivers with some of the most beautiful views to be had anywhere.
The road is closed for much of the year. The Grossglockner Alpine Highway opened this year on May 9, and is due to close for the year in another few days. Even during the few months each year the road is in use, it is open only during daylight hours (from sunrise to one hour prior to sundown), and is often closed at short notice due to weather conditions.
This year, a one-day ticket for a standard passenger vehicle was 28 Euros. We found the scenery to be well worth 28 Euros.
From the peak of The Grossglockner Alpine Highway, we could see our destination, Zell Am See, in the valley below.
We loved The Grossglockner Alpine Highway. Traveling The Grossglockner Alpine Highway was one of the highlights of our trip.
Zell Am See is a resort town on a lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. The town attracts visitors in the summer for the beauty of its lake and mountains. The town attracts visitors in the winter for its winter sports. Although Zell Am See has fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, the town has 14,000 hotel rooms—and the rooms, all of a very high standard, are filled year-round.
We did not intend to spend much time in Zell Am See, but we did intend to walk around the town a bit and have lunch at an outdoor café, enjoying the breathtaking views to be had in any direction.
We ate lunch at a café that offered nothing but Austrian cuisine.
We ordered Kasnocken, an Austrian dish comprised of noodles, butter and cheese. Kasnocken is baked in an oven and served in the very skillet in which it is baked. The contrast between the creamy parts and the crispy parts is one of the joys of Kasnocken.
For dessert, we ordered Mandelecken, a light almond cake served floating in blueberry sauce. Genuine Mandelecken bears little resemblance to packaged Mandelecken, an almond wafer cookie. Genuine Mandelecken is a delicacy, a light cake with the subtle flavor of almonds. The Mandelecken we were served was Weis (White) Mandelecken, although Mandelecken is sometimes coated in a chocolate glaze.
It was an excellent lunch, filling but not heavy.
From Zell Am See, we drove to Kitzbuhel, taking a scenic route instead of the main roadway. Once again, the views were awe-inspiring.
My father had been to Kitzbuhel before—he had undertaken a skiing holiday in Kitzbuhel several years before I was born—and he had wanted to return to visit the town a second time.
In the 1970’s, Kitzbuhel had been a very fashionable summer and winter resort, but today’s Kitzbuhel is no longer fashionable—today’s Kitzbuhel is down-market, with a reputation as a tourist trap. At present, Zell Am See enjoys the up-market reputation (and desirability) that Kitzbuhel enjoyed thirty years ago.
Kitzbuhel is undeniably beautiful, nestled in a valley below a range of mountains. We did not object to the town, although it certainly did seem to be swarming with British tourists.
In many ways, Kitzbuhel is a town created for the fantasies of travelers. Since the town’s “discovery” by the British in the 1920’s, Kitzbuhel has played up its reputation as a “typical” Alpine village to such an extent that Kitzbuhel is now the least typical village in Austria. The town’s buildings, painted insanely bright colors, feature gabled roofs with overhangs, gussied up to resemble Alpine chalets. The town presents an artificial, “music-box” face to the world.
There was a lot of kitsch in Kitzbuhel—including the local tourist pamphlet titled “Kitz Mix”—and a lot of trashy trinkets for sale.
Nevertheless, Kitzbuhel has a few buildings of interest, first among which are the town’s churches. There are several churches in Kitzbuhel, but the two largest and most important churches—one Gothic, one Baroque—are only steps apart.
We spent an hour walking around the town, and we spent thirty minutes at an outdoor café, drinking coffee and watching tourists.
We were happy we had stopped in Kitzbuhel—and, once there, we were happy to leave.
From Kitzbuhel, we drove to Innsbruck, where we were to spend the night. The scenery from Kitzbuhel to Innsbruck was as wondrous as the scenery we had been experiencing all day.
It took us more than an hour to get to Innsbruck. Once we arrived in Innsbruck, it took us another half hour to locate our hotel.
Our hotel was a very old, family-run establishment—the origins of the hotel date back 500 years—situated in the very center of Innsbruck. From the outside, it looked like an old Mississippi River riverboat hotel catering to steamboat passengers, but the hotel’s interiors had been completely refurbished and were entirely modern. It was a perfectly acceptable hotel.
It was past 6:30 p.m. when we checked in, and the couple checking us in—who appeared to be the hotel’s owners—asked us what our plans were for the evening.
We said we had no plans, other than finding a place for dinner—and we very quickly realized that we had committed a strategic blunder.
The couple running the hotel pounced instantly. They told us that there was a wonderful place nearby that served dinner and provided Tyrolean entertainment during the meal, and that they would be happy to make a telephone call to see whether there were openings for us at that night’s show.
A quick, “No thanks—we don’t want to put you out”, from my Dad had no effect whatsoever. A quick call was placed, and our hotel’s proprietors—quite adept at this little drama, no doubt—assured us that they had been able to secure for us seats for that night’s Tyrolean evening.
We weren’t quite sure what to do: blow the whole thing off, and simply not show up; tell the hotel proprietors that we had changed our minds and beseech them to call back the Tyrolean people and cancel on our behalf; or go to the silly Tyrolean thing after all.
We talked about it up in our rooms, and we decided: well, what the heck, let’s go see what these people of the Tyrol are up to.
And so, against our better judgment, we ended up at The Gundolf Family Tyrolean Evening.
The food was about what we’d expected under the circumstances (all patrons were served the same things): Tyrolean cream of herb soup; an American-style garden salad; escalope with potatoes; and apple strudel with whipped cream.
The entertainment was also about what we’d expected: Tyrolean brass music and Alpenhorn music; singing, accompanied by zither, guitar, harp and cowbells; yodeling; a guy playing a saw; comedy skits (and very low comedy it was, indeed—men looking up women’s dresses and the like); and dancing, including shoe-slapping dances.
The best part of the show was three men dancing while chopping and sawing a log. The dance was mildly amusing and concluded the first half of the show (there was an intermission, which amazed us no end).
The show was, as my mother described it, “very, very Branson, Missouri”.
Nevertheless, we got through the evening—at a tariff of 43 Euros per person, not including beverages—and we did not begrudge giving these people a few of our dollars and two hours of our time for a mediocre meal and some pretty lame entertainment.
At least they had worked hard and honestly for their money.
However, we did not buy a Gundolf Family CD or DVD on our way out the door.
I wish we COULD have bought a DVD of a program we caught on television after we returned to our rooms. It was perhaps the funniest thing I have ever seen.
The program’s narration was in Tyrolean German, which we had trouble understanding, but the thrust of the program was the presentation of real-life videos of lowlife people caught in embarrassing situations.
The segment or partial segment we caught concerned a real-life family of lowlifes from the United States: an obese middle-age woman of appalling ugliness; her equally-obese middle-age husband; their squalid, slatternly adult daughters; their goofy adult son, who appeared to suffer from some sort of mental disability; and a bastard grandchild.
The videos, taken over a period of years, were hysterical. Andrew and I were laughing so hard we were literally crying.
Like any white-trash outfit, the family owned too many cars to count, including the requisite broken-down van. From the videos, we could see that the many cars bore license plates from several different states: Connecticut, Kentucky, New York and Virginia. The old jalopies were parked all over their neighborhood, turning an entire residential district into a used-car lot. One of the outfit’s cars was apparently repossessed, or so Andrew and I gathered from a video scene in which a truck arrived and towed away the newest of the cars.
Like any white-trash outfit, the family had mountains of discarded furniture—tables, dressers, a pool table—filling their entire backyard. To allow passage out of the house, there was a narrow pathway through the junkyard of furniture that began at the back door and proceeded all the way to the outer gate. The backyard full of discarded furniture was shown in all four seasons of the year: in the rains of spring; in the heat waves of summer; in the dead leaves of fall; and in the snows of winter.
Apparently neighbors shunned this white-trash outfit, because the videos showed, over and over, neighbors, including children, rushing into their houses the very minute this white-trash outfit pulled up in front of its house.
The funniest portions of the videos were scenes involving the obese mother, whose piggy face broke into a sweat whenever she walked DOWN her front steps. Among other things, the videos showed her tossing dog waste from her own yard across the fence into a neighbor’s yard, deliberately breaking someone’s yard light, and digging the family cars out from a snowstorm by dumping the snow into the already-plowed street. Aptly, the German narration referred to her, in English, as “White Trash Fat Lady”.
At the end of the program, the father of the white-trash outfit was shown in full profile, revealing his severely-extended stomach, while the narrator intoned, “Is he pregnant, too? Just like his slut daughters? Will there soon be more babies in America’s number one passel of hillbillies? For the answer, tune in next time.”
The man looked like he was ready to drop triplets any second, I swear.
Update Of 1 February 2010: Please see the following.