Road Trip Europe 2024 Part 2 - Bolzano, Innsbruck, Zurich

Curriculum: Europe is Wonderful After All These Years
Published: 2024-05-17
Road Trip Europe 2024 Part 2 - Bolzano, Innsbruck, Zurich

5/22/2024 - Wednesday

Today was a travel day.  We have a hotel waiting for us near Bolzano.  We decided to break the drive up by stopping in Verona for lunch.  It was roughly a two hour drive from Milan to Verona.

Unfortunately the minute we found a parking space near the center of town, it started raining cats and dogs, with thunder and lightning too.  So we waited almost an hour in the car for the storm to let up - which it finally did thankfully.  

We first walked over to see the old Verona Arena, which was built in the 1st century.  It predates the Rome Colosseum by around 50 years.  There are parts of the inside that have been "reformatted" to support live concerts that are held from time to time. 

We had a nice lunch in front of the arena just off the Piazza Bra.  Afterward we walked on a rather nice shopping street called Via Giuseppe Mazzini, which featured a lot of high end shops and boutiques. To our surprise one store featured a larger than life picture of J-Lo in her undies on a poster in their big picture window. Sigh.

Verona is famous for its Juliette balcony, the one that Shakespere made famous in his Romeo and Juliette play.  Well, as I had read and then confirmed, it is quite a letdown when you finally see it.  Despite the hoards of people taking pictures of it in the rain, we ployed through the mass of people to get some good shots.  We did not wait in line to actually enter the balcony.  Now that would have been silly!  It's not real, after all.

After our brief interlude with Verona, it was on the road again towards Bolzano.  

As I expected at some point, Google, or was it just the GPS system or the Internet, well, something started to degrade and our directions to the hotel were a bit muddled.  It recorrected itself just in time to find it.  

We had decided to stay at hotels that were outside city centers, out closer to nature, when it made sense.  So the hotel we selected was situated in Andrian, or Andriano (if you are Italian).  Andriano is about 7km west from Bolzano, which is the capital of province of South Tyrol. 

Bolzano is its name in Italian, and Bozen is its name in German.  Why the two names?  Well, this area was heavily contested through history by the Italians and the Austrians, and even before there were such entities as Italy and Austria.  I'm not going to go over the history here other than to say the dispute over South Tyrol was resolved by treaty in 1972.  

Practically everything has two names - one in Italian and another in Gernam.  All train and bus stations, streets, and towns have two names.  It makes for a lot of crowded street signs.

We stayed at the Sonngart Hotel in Andriano.  The hotel is located at the end of a one lane road lined with fields of fruit trees on both sides.  It's a bit tricky if another car is coming from the other direction!  

The Sonngart is a family run hotel, and we met the entire family the first day we arrived.  The women of the household could not speak English, but the father and his son could.  The hotel appeared to be practically brand new, so that was a bit of a pleasant surprise.  Breakfast was included, and the son was the chef so he made us eggs every morning.  We only stayed two nights but with we could have stayed longer.

We arrived at the Sonngart at around 7pm, checked in, and collapsed on our beds.  It was a long day, but a good one.

5/23/2024 - Thursday

Unfortunately we had only one full day in Andriano, and this was it.  What a beautiful place.  Our room had a nice view of the mountain skyline.  

So we drove down to Bolzano, which was only 7km away.  Finding parking was not easy but a cop directed us to an underground parking lot that was within walking distance of the old town center.  (The worst part of driving for me was finding parking, and then parking that big SUV in a narrow parking space!)

The old town was quite pretty, with beautiful buildings lining the narrow cobble stone streets.  It was raining intermittentlyl so not especially ideal for taking pictures, but we got some pockets of sun that helped a bit.

We had lunch on the Waltherplatz plaza, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, right in front of us.  The Catholic church has distinctive colored tiles on its roof that give it a sense of style and grace.

In the end, it was a fine day exploring the old town. We did want to see the South Tyrol Archeological Museum, specifically Ötzi the Iceman, but the line to get in was too long. We wished we had more time, and better weather, but still the day was a success.  

5/24/2024 - Friday

Today was a travel day - from Andriano to Mutters, which is northwest of Innsbruck.  But, that is a short trip, so we decided to ride the Cable Car Ritten (really a gondola lift) up the mountainside to a small town nestled in the mountains. 

Then, you can pick up the Ritten Railway that connects little towns in the area at that elevated level, or plateau as some call it.  Sure, the views of the Dolomites are nice but you are not really that high into the mountains on this tour, so it paled in comparison to Mt. Rigi in Lucerne.  Still, it was fun, and definitely something you should do if you find yourself in this area.

The rest of the day was driving into the Innsbruck area and finding our hotel in Mutters.  It was a little tricky finding the Seppl Hotel, but we did eventually find it with the help of a passerby, with no thanks to Google Maps.

5/25/2024 - Saturday

On our first full day in Mutters, we decided to explore Innsbruck's old town area and its attractions.  We took the tram for Mutters to Museumstraße tram stop, which is walking distance from the town center. 

From there we walked to the Court Church.  Not particularly impressiving from the outside, the inside is indeed facinating.  In the center of the church is the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I. It is actually a memorial because his body is buried elsewhere.  Guarding the tomb are 28 cast iron statues of various individuals that were decided by Emperor Ferdinand I, Maximillian's grandson. Upstairs in the Silver Chapel you will find Archduke Ferdinand II and his wife were buried there.  One note - to get into the church you must buy admission to the museum too, which is connected to the church.

We strolled the many cobblestone streets of Innsbruck that day, and soon came upon the building with the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), a Gothic oriel covered with 2,657 gilded copper shingles. Emperor Maximilian I had the Golden Roof built between 1497 and 1500 on the front of the government building known as the "Neuhof". 

There is a widening of the street in front of the Golden Roof building, but unfortunately there was construction going on to repair the streets. This was true of much of Innsbruck, where seemingly there was a renovation project everywhere you turned.  That made for some difficult picture taking at times.

Our next stop was a walk to the Inn River where we could see the so-called "colorful houses of Innsbruck." The establishments housed in these buildings are various; some of them shops, others restaurants, and still others are private residences or apartment buildings.  Still, pretty to look at from a distance.

Finally, we walked over to see the Cathedral of Saint James (Dom St. Jakob).  This baroque cathedral historically dates back to 1180, but was rebuilt in the 18th century to repair earthquake damage.  The interior of the cathedral is stunning, though not particularly large. The main altar is equisite, with so much beautiful detail in the gold appointments that surround the painting of the Madonna and Child in the Alps.

What impressed me most about Innsbruck were the building facades in the old town. They just blended in so nicely.  Hard to describe. But we hadn't done any mountain trips yet, so perhaps the best is yet to come.

5/26/2024 - Sunday

This is our last full day in Innsbruck.  It is up-the-mountain day.  We decided to go up the cable car and gondola lifts to the top of Nordkette mountain.  We took our regular STB tram from Muttersbahnhof to downtown Innsbruck, and then walked over to Innsbrucker Nordkettenbahnen, which is where you pick up the cable car to Hungerburg. To get to the top of Nordkette it was a bit expensive, but we had a little discount from our city ticket.  

Getting to the "top of Innsbruck" is a three legged journey.  First the cable car to Hungerburg, then a gondola lift to Seegrube, and then yet another gondola lift to the top of Nordkette.  There is a place to eat and take in the views at each stop.  

The views from each station are exceptional, but we liked the views from the top the best.  It was a little cloudy towards the northern mountains but looking south it was clear and beautiful.

When we came down we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day, so we hung out at a cafe from which we could see the Gold Roof for a couple of hours.  Then we went to an Asian restaurant called Fuji for dinner.  Home on the STB tram - our last tram ride in Innsbruck, sadly.

5/27/2024 - Monday

Today was our final travel day by car.  We left Mutters at around 11:30 after doing a little walking tour of this cute little town. Here are a few pictures that give you and idea of what the town is like.

We were happily driving on the A12 highway until somewhere before St. Anton, when we saw that the Arlberg Tunnel was closed.  I had read that it was closed for most of the year, so it was no surprise to me.  I was not sure how to make it to the other side of the mountains on local roads, but Google Maps came through for the most part.  We were treated to some of the best views of our entire trip during this detour, so nobody was complaining. 

I had originally planned to take the route north past St. Gallen, skipping by Liechtenstein, but the passengers voted to go into Liechtenstein instead.  So, it was tricky navigating that leg of the journey.  We were getting short on time, having lost more than an hour on the tunnel detour, so we skipped passing through Veduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.  Because of that, the bits of Liechtenstein that we did see looked just like Austria or Switzerland.  Oh well, at least we can say that we were in another country.

(Sorry I have no pictures of the travel day!  I have a few videos but right now Samraworld doesn't support videos.  It will someday!)

We got into Zurich at around 6:30, and to the Flag Hotel soon afterward.  I had to get the car back to Zurich airport before 7:30, so we quickly unloaded our stuff and took the car back.  By the time we got back to the hotel via Uber, we were bushed.  Yet, we went out to dinner anyway!  

We settled on a Turkish dinner at a restaurant called the Musti Grill.  Sounds awful, but it was great.  We ordered the BBQ set, and it was so much food we took a lot of it back to the hotel, thinking we can eat the rest for dinner tomorrow.

5/28/2024 - Tuesday

We had two full days in Zurich before flying to Prague, so what to do? We are a bit tired from the last two weeks of touring, so we were not motivated to do too much.  But, we did want to check out the Old Town district.  So, we picked up the tram near our hotel, and took it to Paradeplatz, and then walked down towards the Limmat River to the most historic bridge in Zurich, Münsterbrücke.  There you will find two important churches. 

The first one we encountered was Fraumünster Church (Kirche Fraumünster). This stoic Protestant church sits near the east entrance to the bridge.  The main draw of this church are the stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall.  

The second church that is worthwhile checking out is the Grossmünster Cathedral. It is probably the most important church in Switzerland from a historic perspective. Grossmünster was the place where the Protestant Reformation initially took hold, and from which the replacement of Catholicism in Switzerland was driven.

5/28/2024 - Wednesday

The weather was looking better today, so we decided to go on a cruise on Zurich Lake.  After arriving at Paradeplatz we walked directly to Bürkliplatz, where you can buy tickets for boat rides of varying lengths.  Mini, small, and long boat rides are offered there, so we chose the small one, which has a duration of one hour.

You may recall that we had done a lake cruise in Lucerne too, and so if I had to compare the two, the Lucerne one wins hands down for pure beautiful views.  Here in Zurich you cannot see any high mountains, so it is not as impressive, but, it is a nice ride regardless. The boat travels to eight stops along the lake, so you can get off and explore at any point in the journey because your ticket is good for the day.

For the rest of the day we did some strolling around town, and a lot of souvenir shopping.  We flew to Prague on Thursday, 5/30/2024.  If you want to read about our Prague trip, click here.