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Flight or flight Room at the Inn

Just spent a tortured few minutes trying to come up with a sub-title I was happy with, and I’m not sure I succeeded. But I write this thing in a very serial fashion, especially when I’m a little drunk – as I’ve been told I should be when diarising, since the journey-to-Cyprus episode of my “completing the EU” trip a few weeks ago.

Anyway. I’m abroad again. This time I’m with Helen, and it’s Christmas. We’re in Innsbruck!

0645 is an unreasonable time for a cab at any time of year, but in December it feels particularly harsh. Nonetheless that’s what I’d booked, with one of them “app” things from the local mini cab empire. Alarm set for 0530, I was awake a good hour before that such that when Helen stirred I was instantly, and very very annoyingly, hyper and ready to go.

Started to pack at about 0600 or so, took the bins out, and come 0625 I was bored and wondering where our driver was. Immaculately turned out and very friendly, he turned up exactly on time – in a fucking Merc – and droves us the 285/X26 route to Heathrow. It’s already rush hour and the traffic was terrible the whole way, while the weather started bleak and moved through terrible all the way to apocalyptic. Bah.

In Terminal 5 just after 0730, as we walk along to the First Wing I am delighted to read the specific baggage instructions for Christmas paraphernalia. NO BIG SNOW GLOBES.

First Wing security is busy but efficient enough. Neither of us have our bags called out for extra inspection and soon enough we’re in the lounge. That’s also busy, but not so bad that we can’t easily find a seat near the food. Helen goes and fills a plate full of buffet breakfast while I wait to see someone who’ll take an order from the menu. By the time Helen’s back no-one has been past, so I go fill up my own plate of fry up awesomeness.

That might be a champagne next to it

We’re happy in these seats once we’ve finished eating so just stay there. Giant bears are advertising a small luxury hotel chain a couple of seats away. My phone’s glowing orange with all the notifications about delays to our flight: the 0925 is delayed to 0935, then 0931, then 0940, 0942, 0941, 0938, and CheckMyTrip insists on telling me about each such change.

Eventually it settles on 0940. Or 0938. Not long after we’re assigned a gate (another event which triggers tons of notifications) I get fidgety so we walk down to A13. The monitors say people should sit down, but small queues are forming. They open the group 2+3 queue, but not group 1, eventually explaining that staff shortages mean they can’t man every single queue today. The one bloke who stood steadfast in the group 1 queue before bitches loudly about the situation.

It’s not a terribly long wait to get on the plane, and we walk all the way down to row 22. I’d deliberately chosen a row so far at the back in order to be behind the wing for maximum decent vantage point out of the window, considering we couldn’t really sit that far in front of it.

We weren’t first on the plane, of course. Business class was mostly full as we walked through, and on the other side of the aisle in our section of the plane was a family with two kids SCREAMING THEIR HEADS OFF. Oh Jesus. I’m reminded that just a few hours prior I’d listened to Doug Stanhope’s latest podcast episode, which is mostly about a great time in a lounge followed by a flight that featured a loud screaming child. Damn it!

The plane is completely full, a fact they announce numerous times as they implore people to store what they can under seats in order to help everything else fit into the overhead bins. While the last few people filter in loud voices from immediately behind us pipe up, as two posh girls talk incessantly about all kinds of travel and other nonsense and they genuinely do not stop for even a second all the way until touchdown. Christ almighty.

It’s still awful weather out as we taxi. On the runway we can feel the gusts of wind buffeting the plane around, and once in the air it’s even worse. It’s a rough and unpleasant climb, and during the worst of it the pilot puts his foot down – I’m convinced this is to get us through the really bad weather quickly. I find the whole thing fairly unpleasant, but poor Helen absolutely fucking hates the experience. Later she explains how her heart was racing and she had a massive fight or flight response. Later still I am very happy that her misfortune delivered me the title to this diary entry.

But back to the plane ride. Once we’re steady at cruising altitude she’s demanding gin, though the M&S trolley starting at row 7 is going to take a while to get to us. While we wait we just have to put up with the loud girls behind us, the screaming children, and I have to deal with the man next to me spreading his legs and arms so wide that he’s really fucking encroaching on my space. In his defence, the bloke in front is the only person in the whole cabin around us who reclines his seat – and he’s regularly up and down, getting stuff from his bag or coat in the overhead storage. Each time he sits down with such force that were my neighbour not manspreading he’d probably have his kneecaps broken.

Obviously I am finding this mostly hilarious, and imploring Helen to try and take my Schadenforeman-lead and find all the horrors of this flight funny. It’s to no avail. Where’s this fucking gin? Ah, here’s this fucking gin. She pours it out, making sure to extract every last drop.

Adding to the unpleasantness, whenever a member of crew makes an announcement over the tannoy there is loud screeching feedback. Lastly, having repeatedly stated how fantastic flying to or near Innsbruck is, we’re stuck in low cloud such that Helen can’t even see any mountains out of her window. For fucks sake! But then...

Hang on... it’s clearing...

Cloud starts to properly clear and hurrah! The alps! The best descent I’ve ever experienced is paying dividends again.

We circle a bit. The drop-down screens update our arrival time to half hour later than what they said a minute ago. Helen’s not relishing this, despite the view, because as we went through those clouds it was a bit turbulent.

But then the view goes into full “holy shit!” mode, and perhaps circling wouldn’t be so bad after all?

It’s great, as always. I feel privileged to have flown over this landscape with a great view 3 times in the last 24 months. One of the loud girls behind us is saying how she’s flown this, like, a thousand times, yeah?

Sadly, Innsbruck starts to appear beneath us. Innsbruck with its shitty boring surrounding landscape.

We haven’t circled for half an hour at all. In fact, we’ve touched down not too far behind schedule. Two sets of doors have stairs attached to them and soon enough we’re walking across the tarmac, marvelling at the fucking fantastic views in every direction. Seriously, I said this in December 2016 and I’m saying it two years on: fly to Innsbruck! It’s amazing!

Passport control is not amazing. It’s immediately inside the door and few enough desks are open that queues form back into the open air. Some people are getting their passports stamped. How do I get a stamp? It takes quite a while to get through the border but once we’re done it’s straight past the carousels and outside to the bus stop, where a machine to buy tickets proves so difficult to use that my struggle almost causes us, and two other folk behind us, to miss the bus that’s leaving, like, any minute.

But we all make it, and a scenic ride into Innsbruck takes not much longer than about 15 minutes. Getting off one stop beyond the train station, we’re next to an ice rink full of kids holding onto stabiliser-penguins. Doubling back on ourselves a bit I request around 5 minutes grace to try and walk us to the hotel before consulting a map, and take us exactly the right way. Boom!

Our hotel is a little outside of the town centre proper, but this ain’t a big city. Official check-in time is 4pm but our room is ready already (it’s about 1.20pm or so), so we’re able to dump our bags and admire the wood panels and giant LG TV and minibar. The view out of our window is of a main road and two kebab/pizza takeaways. Hmm.

All the rooms are themed and decorated invidivually here, and Helen’s enjoying reading about the building’s history – but I’m not having it. The forecast for our time here isn’t ideal so I’m saying look, let’s exploit the dry weather and go get our bearings in the remaining 3 hours of daylight. She agrees and out we go.

Along the edge of the old town we go past a fancy church ‘n that, and at a corner of a road have a slight disagreement. I believe the altstadt is to the left; Helen thinks it’s either straight on or to the right. Maps and signs and the sheer amount of tourists all agree with me and we walk through a city gate into Christmas. Hurrah! Christmas!

Christmas means pedestrianised streets full of Christmas markets. That’s why we’re here after all. It’s instantly fantastic, if a little more crowded than expected. There are nice looking restaurants and bars, souvenir shops, stalls, strudel cafes, and what’s this – oh, a shop that only sells flavoured or herbal schnapps, willing to give us a free taster of some 18% liquor. Go on then.

A couple of hundreds yards later and it’s properly Christmas. There’s, like, a tree and everything.

We’re at the Golden Roof, some big historical .. thing.. in central Innsbruck, at the head of a very large pedestrianised area with shitloads of stalls and thousands of people. It’s great. We stumble through the crowds and past the girls dressed as angels because wait what?

Behind them is a gluhwein stall. Actually gluhwein and beer and raclette. With some discussion we eventually decide that fuck it, I’ll try some gluhwein as well – because they’re selling a white variant. I find the first sip to be absolutely disgusting, but from then on it’s actually not so bad. I think, in my mid-40s, I’m coming to some understanding about what my taste in wine is:

  • White
  • Warm or fizzy

It comes in a nice Innsbruck branded mug, which explains the expense: part of the cost is a deposit, and later we return these mugs to get €6,00 back.

Just up the way there’s a massive weird Rasta-or-something puppet. A man realises his child is photo-bombing me and tries to yank him out of the way; together they really make the picture better than it otherwise would be.

After just one gluhwein (plus the gin on the plane and a Buck’s Fizz back in the lounge) Helen proclaims she is “hammered”. I find this pretty remarkable tbh, but whatever. Maybe we’re at altitude? There are mountains around here after all, in fact you can barely help but see them. I am childishly fascinated and delighted by how there are glimpses of amazing scenery down most side roads in this city.

Leaving the Golden Roof part of town we head towards the river. This is a good 3 or 4 minutes walk and, oh, look, scenery again.

The bridge here goes over the river Inn, which makes it the Inn’s Bruck. Midway along it is a large Jesus. The sun is behind him and I’m a bit drunk and not a good photographer. So, you can have moody silhouette or detail surrounded by horrifyingly over-exposed sky. Take yer pick.

There’s another Christmas market down by the river side, with loads more gluhwein sellers as well as a couple of fairground rides, plus stalls selling things like hedgehogs, squirrels and owls made of pine cones.

Heading back away from the river we’re still not consulting a map. A bunch more streets full of Christmas lead us past stalls selling cheese, or gluhbier (really?), and a model shop that specialises not in Hornby trains or Scalextric cars or what have you, but solely in nativity scene components. Blimey.

There’s also this giant smurf/elf thing, which is par for the course I guess.

Each street is a kind of mini-Christmas-market in its own right, with entry and exit archways and some small attempts to project some kind of individuality but it doesn’t really work IMO.

But we are having a blast. The cuteness of a street performer’s two resting dogs is almost unbearable, which makes it hard to believe that some even cuter dogs are round the corner, in a bloke’s pram(!) at a bus stop.

Oh. A bus stop. That means we’re back on a normal road rather than a pedestrianised bit. We’ve actually walked out of the old town and into a more modern shopping district, which does have its own large pedestrianised boulevard but few stalls and only this mediocre view going for it.

Honestly the views are properly relentless and I couldn’t be happier about it, taking a series of awful pictures to demonstrate the “look, a mountain!” aspect of our walk.

But, like, the city itself is actually fucking beautiful too. Many of the buildings are architecturally pretty stunning and plenty are proud of how many centuries they’ve been standing.

Oh, look, a mountain.

By now it’s about 3.50pm, and we’ve done perhaps 1.5 circuits of the main city centre. Think our bearings are well and truly got, it’s time to go have a sit down and a drink, perhaps with some food. Before sitting down Helen pops back to a shop she’d earmarked earlier in order to buy this shawl/scarf thing. Inside at the till – where the lady attempts to hand Helen change from the credit card transaction – we notice the shop also specialises in cuckoo clocks. One of them is discounted to only €1800. Eighteen hundred euros for a discount cuckoo clock!

Even now, 6 and a bit hours later, I can’t decide if I’m happy or not that we weren’t in a cuckoo clock shop on the hour. But we weren’t, because after the purchase we went off piste up a side road we’d yet to explore, to a square in front of a church. The new hour is heralded with a bit of bell ringing that sounds so creepy it wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie soundtrack like Phantasm or something.

Back to where we first entered the Altstadt we go into the cavernous Augustiner Stifftskeller. It takes a while for one of the waiters to serve us but once he does he’s friendly and attentive, and we get two beers and a bunch of fantastically dirty local food.

That would be three kinds of dumplings, three kinds of sausage, and a pretzel with salt just how I like it: in lumps the size of hailstones. It’s all AMAZING. But by god it’s unhealthy. I’m starting to wonder if the NHS shouldn’t supplement their “come get jabs if you’re going where there’s mosquitoes” service with “come talk to us if you’re going to eat the local food in Germany, Austria, or Porto” advice.

When we eventually attract our boy’s attention so he can bring us the bill, when I venture my card he clutches the machine and says “are you going to tip?”. Er, yeah. I mean we were anyway, but this bizarrely friendly-yet-blunt question throws me off a bit. Next he says “well, how much?”. Now I’m used to typing in a tip on a card machine, but not having it done like this. But it doesn’t feel pressured or anything and he’s delighted with the amount I do put on. It’s so dissonant.

Back out into the main Christmas market near the Golden Roof and there’s a band playing brass music from a balcony. I guess that’s pretty cool. Virtually no-one is applauding or reacting in any noticeable way to it, mind. Also it’s dark, and falling snow is being projected onto one of the buildings next to the tree.

We retrace our steps from earlier, back to the river and the market next to it so Helen can buy some pine cone animals. Things are way more crowded with lots more children about, and the whole town smells of gluhwein. Also, being dark, we now can’t see the mountains so everything is just that bit worse than it was before we ate.

Neither of us really want to fight crowds or drink street booze standing up so I lead us to a craft beer place I’d looked up. It’s great: virtually empty, friendly barman, 15 different beers on tap. I choose very badly, a worse-than-average schwarzbier, while Helen has a grape beer that’s simultaneously the sourest and most disgusting beer I’ve ever tasted. Probably.

It doesn’t get crowded during our drink. It’s gone 6pm on a Friday night but this place only opened at 5pm and stays open until 4am, so I suppose Tyroleans like to get their sauce late and we are, to all intents and purposes, drinking at a Wetherspoons-equivalent of 9am.

Leaving, I go to take the photo above which is in a different bit of the bar and it hits me: people are smoking. Indoors! And it smells fucking rank. I’d completely forgotten how unpleasant it is.

Not wishing to really drive home the classic stag-do-esque error of getting all shitfaced ‘n that on the arrival day so that the full day is ruined, we opt to head back to the hotel. Via Spar, where we buy a six pack of Coke Zero and a bit of booze to store in the hotel room fridge. Tomorrow, Saturday 8th December, is actually a public holiday around here, what with it being the feast of the immaculate conception. In practical terms this seems to mean shorter opening hours for shops and maybe a few museums or other attractions, but we’re hoping it doesn’t curtail us too much. But anyway, better to have supplies in the room just in case.

I empty the entire minibar contents in order to replace it with our purchases. Helen’s flagging, badly, and it’s all I can do to convince her we should go out for one last drink. It’s only 8.30pm or so, after all. Our realistic choices are the hotel’s bar or “Galway Bay Irish Pub” next door. Much to my surprise, Galway Bay shows some real Irishness on its website by not only proudly claiming to serve the best Guinness in Innsbruck, but detailing the six craft beers they serve from a microbrewery in Donegal. But that’s not enough to win us over, and down to our hotel bar “PFIFF” we go.

Oh. People are smoking, there are ashtrays on all the tables, and they sell cigars. Well whatever, it doesn’t smell as rank as Tribaun did. It’s a small place with only a handful of patrons and a nightcap of local lager goes down well, but Helen can’t keep her eyes open so my gentle cajoling that we should have another goes nowhere. Fine, I’ll sign it to the room and we’ll go back upstairs and write the day up accompanied by a can of Stiegl.

Created By
Darren Foreman
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