A Day in Innsbruck

The view north from the 7th floor of what actually is the city hall, overlooking the historic district of Innsbruck.

If you have a chance to spend a few hours in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria, here is what you can do: Have lunch overlooking the city (featurephoto) at the Lichtblick Restaurant . The food is awesome, locals eat here, and the view from the seventh floor of the building (that actually is the city hall) is spectacular, even if the clouds are low. If you look south, you can see the Bergisel ski jump.

The 360° Cafe next to the “Lichtblick” has an even better view, but smoking is allowed there, so I preferred to have lunch in the restaurant.

From there, it is just a short walk to the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the symbol of the city of Innsbruck. It is tiled with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles. Currently, you can only admire it from the outside, since the museum is closed until Feb. 19, for preparations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Emperor Maximilian I.

Walk through the downtown area with it’s historic houses with beautiful ornaments. If you have another hour or two to spare, stop at the Museum of Tyrolean Heritage. It has interesting artifacts about life in Austria, and is much more than just your usual exhibition of old stuff. You can, for example, walk into many old parlors or “Stuben”, transfereds from their original location in Austrian villages to the museum, with tiled stove, wooden ceiling, and all. It can get a bit claustrophobic at times…

The Hofkirche or Court Church is also accessible from the museum. A multimedia show about the life and death of emperor Maximilian I is worth experiencing, as is walking around in the church. (You can also get a view from above from the museum.) The center of the church is the emperor’s graveside (with his statue on top of it) – it is empty, however, since he is buried in Vienna, next to his parents,

The church, famous in Europe for it’s art, is also called the “Black Men Church”, because of the statues to the left and right of the “grave”. However, many women are among these statues, that represent people Maximilian claimed to be his ancestors.

“007 Elements” in Austria – A Must for James Bond Fans

Entrance to the ice Q restaurant and the James Bond installation on top of the Gaislachkogl mountain.

It’s all there: the Bonds, the villains, the girls, the locations, the weapons, and the gadgets. And “007 Elements” on top of the Gaislachkogl  mountain in Sölden, Austria, is called “cinematic installation” for a reason. It is not just an exhibition, it’s a 360-all-senses-experience, 3000 m (about 10.000 ft) above sea level.

Literally built into the mountain and opened only last summer, even the entrance is dramatic: You are walking through the “barrrel of a gun”, a reminiscence of the iconic opening scene of every Bond movie in general, and of  2015’s Spectre ,in particular.

Barrel of the Gun

From there, you walk onto a large balcony with a spectacular view (don’t go on a day when it’s too cloudy, the scenery is part of the installation).

View from the Gaislachkogl

Walk through the “Lobby”, where you get a brief introduction, into the “Lair”. The “Lair” is a 360-hall of mirrors, where you experience many of the famous scenes from the Bond movies throughout the decades.

Scene from Goldfinger

Inside the “Lair” – a hall of mirrors with larger than life projections of many of your favorite Bond scenes.

Proceed to the “Briefing Room” – and “Miss Moneypenny” Naomie Harris introduces you to the many exotic locations of the 007-movies.

“Moonraker”

Mountain Chase in Spectre

This includes, of course, the area around you: Sölden and the mountains of Austria. It’s dark and cold , so keep your ski clothes on, and yes, you may enter with your ski boots on your feet. Do you feel lost inside the mountain? Here is an overview of the layout of the installation, the gondola  and the ice Q restaurant.

Speaking of which: the restaurant’s architecture was the inspiration for the “Hoffler Klink”, where Bond meets Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) for the first time in Spectre.

Ice Q Restaurant

Dessert & Champagne, ice Q restaurant, Sölden, Tyrol, Austria

The famous Walther PPK

But before you enjoy the excellent food at the ice Q, (make a reservation, it can get crowded!), there is much more to see and experience inside “007 Elements”. And you are part of it. A “scan” of your arm is the entrance ticket to the world of spies. You get your own number (mine: 6067) and history: Apparently, I survived 16 bullet wounds, 24 amorous liaisons, and132 high speed pursuits, disabled 28 explosive devices, and completed 32 missions.

All this, the guns and gadgets, the technical equipment behind the scenes, is presented in the most futuristic manner – worthy of a Bond “museum”. More than once, you change the view of an exhibit with the movement of your arm.

The plane from Spectre

If you pay attention skiing down, you can see at least two of the cars used in Spectre on your way downhill (hint: they are on opposite sides of the mountain, so you would have to go down twice).

Hinx’ Range Rover from Spectre

Spectacular Sunsets and Interesting Art – Belgium’s Coast

If you need a place to stay while visiting Dunkirk, you might want to take a look at Belgium. I found a nice little apartment via Airbnb, overlooking the North Sea and close to the French border in Koksijde-Bad. It was super relaxing to sit in a cozy armchair behind the panorama window, watching people enjoying the Belgian coast even in autumn, and the waves washing ashore.

Looking north towards the North Sea in Koksijde-Bad at sunrise, from the apartment.

The sunsets to the west over Dunkirk were spectacular – twice a grand finale to the sunny weather during the day.

And there is more to see than “just” sunsets and beach. Walking towards the west along the water brought me to St. Idesbald, home to a surprisingly large museum with art from the surrealist Belgian painter Paul Delvaux. The entrance of the Paul Delvaux Museum is one of the typical little Belgian houses, but most of the exhibition is underground and there is a lot to see.

Delvaux is known for his paintings of nude women, and in the age of #MeToo, it got me wondering where the line is between art and sexism, and whether we should at least have a debate about why and how a certain artist made naked women the center of his work, why all the men in his paintings are fully clothed, and the women bare-breasted.

Paul Delvaux Museum, St. Idesbald, Belgium

PS: If you  are hungry after visiting the museum, how about lunch at the restaurant on premises: Het Vlierhof.

WW II, Operation Dynamo, and the Dunkirk Spirit

If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s epic thriller Dunkirk, you know a bit about the story of the Battle of Dunkirk, and how pleasure boats and other civilian ships came to the rescue of British and French soldiers surrounded by the German military in 1940, during World War II at the French coast.

The exact number of “Littles Ships” that participated in what was called “Operation Dynamo” is not known, but an estimate puts it somewhere between 1,176 an 1,588. Not only British civilians risked their lives navigating the beaches of Dunkirk, but also Belgian, French and Dutch citizens. But these civilian boats were only a part of the story.

Visiting the Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo will give you more insight into these days that made history.

Altogether, between May 27th and throughout June 4th of 1940, almost 340,000 soldiers were evacuated, about a third from the beaches, the rest from the harbor of Dunkirk.

The museum, located close to the beach and the harbor, gives an excellent overview over what happened during the days preceding the evacuation, and afterwards, with charts, models, and artefacts. Here, you can read about the mistrust among the Allies, about tactical mistakes that gave the Germans a huge advantage, and the decision to secretly evacuate first the British, and finally the French soldiers, too, from a besieged city. The latter received a warm welcome in England, only to be sent back to France almost immediately, where they ended up captured or demobilised, following the armistice of June 22nd.

And you will hear about the “spirit of Dunkirk”: How a major defeat and retreat became a victory in the public eye in Britain, and helped to muster the courage and determination to fight Nazi Germany.

The war, however, should go on for five more years, and Dunkirk was not liberated until May 9th, 1945, its port and the city in ruins.

PS:
The Museum reopened in 2017 after some major renovation, but will be closed for the winter after November 11th. It will open some time in spring of 2019, after more remodeling.

PPS:
If you want to have a cup of tea on board of one of the “Little Ships” – I highly recommend visiting the “Princess Elizabeth”. The Paddle Steamer is moored in Dunkirk Harbor and a Restaurant and Tearoom.

Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – The Real Castle

Contrary to Neuschwanstein, which is world famous but has also never been more than a tourist attraction, Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg – Ludwigsburg Residential Palace – is the real deal, as far as German castles are concerned. Kings, queens, and princesses have lived here.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Eberhard Ludwig (Louis), the Duke of Württemberg, felt he needed a place that suited his rank. First constructed as a hunting lodge in 1704, the building soon grew in size and splendor. When the Duke moved in, in 1718, for a short time, Ludwigsburg instead of Stuttgart even became the capital of the state.

Some of the Duke’s successors would later spend some time in the castle, using it as a summer residence, throwing pompous parties with fireworks, ballet and opera performances. All together, there are 452 rooms, 18 buildings, three courtyards and  beautiful parks and gardens, blending three different architectural styles: Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. So there are plenty of stories to tell – and a lot of ground to cover. After all, the Ludwigsburg Palace is one of the largest Baroque buildings in Europe to survive in its original condition.

There are two tours available in English, and you have to decide whether you want to check out the rooms of the male inhabitants – King Frederic I and the Duke – or the female ones: Queen Charlotte Mathilde and Hereditary Princess Henriette Marie. Or you stay for two days and take both tours, since there is also the Ceramics Museum, the Fashion Museum, and the Blühende Barock, the permanent garden show with its flowers and the fairy tale garden where kids can meet Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, and other famous fairy tale characters.

Neuschwanstein – The German Fairytale Castle

Germany is know for its castles – and especially, of course,  Neuschwanstein. With its delicate white towers and steepletops, it does look like a castle right out of a Cinderella movie. But did you know that no one actually lived there – ever? King Ludwig II started planning the castle in the late 1860s, the foundation stone was laid in 1869. But the construction took forever, and when the King died under mysterious circumstances in 1886, the castle still hadn’t been finished. It was opened to the public soon after his death, as a tourist attraction.

King Ludwig did live, however, in Neuschwanstein’s sister castle, Hohenschwangau. It is less known, but if you are in the area, why not visit both castles? Make a reservation for your tickets well in advance, because they are in high demand. That way, you know the exact time of the visit. You still have to pick up the tickets on the day of your visit, though. So make sure to get there early if you’re going by car and need a parking space. And enjoy the spectacular view of the Alps.

Oh, and if you are looking for a place to stay because you want to visit the castle early in the morning, check out the hotels and vacation rentals around the Hopfensee. It’s gorgeous there.

The Hopfensee – a pristine lake not far from Neuschwanstein

Brussels: Politics, Art, and Chocolate

When I was visiting Brussels last autumn, I discovered that the Belgian capital is not only a modern city where politicians are debating the future of Europe. It is also a place of art and history – and delicious chocolate, of course.

Going to the visitors’ center of the European Parliament, the Parlamentarium, is a great way to learn how European politics works and how the European idea came about in the first place.  You can spend quite a while there, since a lot of the exhibitions are interactive, and let you explore political Europe and the impact politics has on EU citizens and member states on your own.

Brussels Grande-Place, the central square, is a most-go, of course. I recommend going in the evening, when all the guild houses, as well as the City Hall, are spectacularly illuminated (picture above). Also a must is the Manneken-Pis, the statue of the peeing boy, that has more than 900 suits to wear for every occasion. Its female counterpart is Jeanneke-Pis, much less known, situated in downtown Brussels, too, but hidden in  a tiny cul-de-sac.

If you are looking for a place to have lunch, why not visit the Musical Instruments Museum and take the elevator to the top floor of the former Old England department store. Along with a nice meal in the restaurant, you get a great view of the city. You don’t have to buy a museum ticket to get to the restaurant, btw, going up to eat is free of charge. Check the opening hours.

Right around the corner is the Magritte Museum, where I fell in love with Magritte’s painting “The Empire of Lights”.

Magritte’s “The Empire of Lights”

But an even more spectacular museum, although a bit off the beaten path, is the Horta Museum. The two buildings, situated next to each other, and their rooms, furniture, interior design, and art are jaw-dropping. Every door handle, every window, every piece of furniture is a piece of art. The Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta (1861-1947) lived and worked here. It was recognized by the UNESCO as World Heritage site in 2000. I have no pictures to show, since it is strictly prohibited to take photos inside the buildings.

Horta Museum

I did not have the time to go into the most famous symbol of Brussels, the Atomium, but at least stopped by to take a peak. It looks really cool. I guess I have to come back one day to check it out. And, of course, to eat more chocolate – either at one of the chocolatiers inside the Galerie de la Reine, like Pierre Marcolini, or at the shop that was recommended to me as the best place to buy chocolate in Brussels: Mary. I bought a lot, for friends and family (and myself) and everybody loved it.