Friday, 6 June 2014


I came back late this afternoon from a hot three hour hike in blazing sunshine up the mountain that looms behind my hotel, complete with snow patches at the very top. I got nowhere near the top, of course -- that's more like a five hour slog, even though this village is already quite high up in the valley above Innsbruck -- but it put a lot of things in perspective.  In fact, the 40 minute wander I had round the village this morning had already opened my eyes.

So far, I've spent most of my time in Innsbruck, which is a far larger, more vibrant, and modern city than the slightly crumbly historic backwater I remembered from my last visit, which was admittedly forty-two years ago in 1972.  I've been getting back to my hotel late, after dark, and I had assumed I was in the sort of hillside hamlet one might find oneself in on holiday in Wales, the Lake District, or even the Dordogne.  There'd be a hotel or two, maybe a bar, but no shops beyond a tiny, ill-stocked Spar, and a general sense that everything worth doing, buying, or seeing lay in the valley below.  Or maybe even 20 miles away.

I have rarely been so wrong. This village shouts prosperity at every turn.  It has a bank, and its own multi-lingual tourist information centre, several up-market shops (including one that sells an amazing range of hiking and skiing gear), plus a number of bars and restaurants.  As well as the "typically Tyrolean" and lovingly-preserved old timber-framed buildings, it has plenty of new houses, mainly built to a chic, modernist euro-aesthetic with stunning views over the Inn Valley.  I began to wonder what it would take to persuade my partner to learn to speak German.  We'd probably get more visitors here than we do in Southampton.

The key word, of course, is skiing.   Up here is where the snow-slopes and cable lifts are, not down in Innsbruck.  I haven't looked at the seasonal tariff for my hotel, but I'd be amazed if it doesn't double or even treble in winter.  The hiking shop is already starting to stock up in ski-boots, and all that other, hi-tech, hi-fashion gear that goes with a week or two sliding down hills, and gets the tills beeping.

Needless to say, I have never been skiing, and have zero interest in doing so. Curiously, though, I do have an extensive ski-related vocabulary in German.  The lady in the hiking shop looked mildly astonished when the man who had stumbled his way through some elementary shopping transactions started to name the exotic items being unboxed in the shop, and referred to skiing in the Austrian manner as "schi-laufen".

As it happens, in 1972 we had a German assistant who helped us with our spoken German at our school, named Herr Hübler, who was a trainee teacher and part-time skiing instructor from Salzburg.  He seemed unconcerned that to hand out vocab sheets on skiing to a group of working- and lower-middle class boys from Stevenage was about as pointless as handing out polo sticks at games time.  But (and here this post takes an elegant concluding slalom turn) Herr Hübler was a nice man, and offered his half-built house in Salzburg to two of those boys to stay in during that summer of 1972, should they be able to make it down there.  Which we did, having a fine time during the Salzburg Festival, and from where we hitchhiked down the Inn Valley to Innsbruck, and had an even finer time.

From my hotel room balcony

But you were wondering about the exhibition opening...  I'm coming to that, not to mention my television debut.


Martyn Cornell said...

Ah, the old 'view from the hotel room' cliche - except on this occasion, eminently worthwhile.

Mike C. said...

The ultimate "hotel room" photographs are the photos of Abelardo Morell, where an entire room in, say, Venice, is blacked out and, via a pinhole, becomes a camera obscura of the view outside -- really original and interesting work.