February 18, 2008
My architectural partner Paul recounts the following tale. During a recent flight back to the states from London, a Brit sitting next to him states that in the U.S. he has only been to Florida. Continuing an extended conversation, Paul responds stating Florida is not necessarily representational of the states and to appreciate the U.S. he should visit New England, if he wants to have a sense of American history. The gentleman quickly quips: hell, my kitchen is older than your whole country!
Anyone who has not visited Europe is truly missing a lesson in history. Though I usually base my trips to Europe around skiing, the culture and history impress me most.
Participating in a group trip to Kitzbuhel Austria this past January, I take the optional opportunity to ride a train to the Olympic City of Innsbruck for a day. I’ll remember the day more than any other of my stay, including three days of fine skiing.
The train is clean, quick, and the countryside serene. In little more than an hour I am at the new Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof Railway Station in the heart of this revered city. Prepared to walk, I rush several blocks to catch a bus to visit the famous Berg Isel ski jump and Olympic stadium at the outskirts of town, site of annual competitions since 1925. Its new shiny metal jump tower nicknamed the “Cobra”, “High-heeled Shoe”, or “the Golf Club”, designed by re-known contemporary architect Zaha Hadid, is visible throughout the city and the structure is truly striking. I ride to the top and witness an extraordinary view of Innsbruck, the adjacent pine forest and surrounding Alps.
Full of contrasts, this city is not timid in its presentation of avante garde architecture along side centuries old towers, churches and palaces. Its history is best displayed in the section known as “Old Town”, complete with Emperor Maximillion I’s Golden Roof palatial residence, built in 1500.
Seeking lunch I proceed to the top of a new multi-stage mass transit system that culminates atop a nearby Alp with restaurant, lodge and access to some seriously steep skiing. This recently dedicated transit system, also designed by Zaha Hadid, (Austrians must love her), is but another architectural and engineering masterpiece linking downtown Innsbruck with the surrounding mountains. Truly ahead of its time, the multiple entry stations glow with stainless steel, craft quality concrete and free form ivory colored plastic canopies.
I enjoy lunch overlooking the city while skiers and boarders enjoy the powder and terrain park far above snow free Innsbruck. Full and a bit sleepy after a tasty bite, I ride down the mountain and find time for some shopping in the Old Town.
This section of the city is replete with shops, cafes and restaurants set amidst plazas, narrow streets and arcades, with beautiful axial views to the surrounding Tirol. With ornately painted facades, intriguing cantilevered metal shop signs, and clean streets buzzing with tourists, students and workers, this section of Old Town is breathtaking without exaggeration. The weather this day is perfect, mostly sunny with temperatures in the high 40’s.
All too soon I board the train back to Kitzbuhel for my last dinner together with fellow tourists.
Innsbruck combines nature and sports with over 800 years of history and culture. Of my half dozen trips to the Alps, this ranks among the most memorable.