What a glorious morning it was when we departed Innsbruck for our 3 hour 54 minute train ride back to Zurich. The sun was already peeking over the snow capped Alps making the white of the snow illuminate with the contrast. Everywhere you looked there continued to be wow moments making us thankful for the time that we had spent here. Innsbruck is definitely a place to return – number one on the trip so far for Philip and Claire (a big statement given the beauty of our other three stops). For me Salzburg still wins just for the Xmas markets and festive spirit (a pretty closely fought contest though).
We zoomed along at 200 kilometres cutting through the valley that separates one mountain range from another – it’s hard to take it all in. As we got further into the valley the green pastures turned to white and the countryside became reminiscent of those white Xmas scenes that you imagine when back home. It was also a little darker as the sun had yet to peek over the sheer mountain inclines, another reason probably why the snow was still sitting on the ground.
Each time we get on the train we think that the last one was the best trip we have had but I’ve gotta say this one outstrips them all – going from Innsbruck through the valley, into Liechtenstein and then to Zurich – just the perfect Winter Wonderland. Spruce trees dusted with “icing sugar” snow, a crisp, clean expanse of white on the ground, then rising up into the mountains on either side and then the sun exposing patches of light on the peaks above. Ok so what I can… we are very lucky!
It’s been great going on the train as the route we have chosen for the entire part of this trip has been different each time. Therefore we have seen a lot of the Austrian, Swiss and Czech countryside giving us a much better picture of these countries that if we had flown. Taking into account travel to airports, check in time, waiting and flights, it also hasn’t proven to be any longer than flying and each time we have arrived in the centre of the city making transportation to our hotel much easier. My guess is, it also works out to be same if not cheaper than flying to all these destinations!
A quick change at Zurich HB and then onto another train to the airport. We arrived at 1:40 and had three hours to wait until catching our Swiss airlines flight to Oslo. We could have taken a later train that would have got us in with just over an hour to spare but we’re not Swiss and we find it hard to trust public transport therefore we took the train that gave us breathing space knowing full well that the Swiss would have got us there on time if we had decided to chance it.
After a quick purchase of some Swiss Army knives (integral to any holiday in Switzerland) we had something to eat and then made our way to the gate. It was incredibly quiet at the airport; everyone had already reached their New Year’s Eve destination and so those who were around didn’t seem to be in a huge hurry to get anywhere.
The flight from Zurich to Oslo took 2 hours – a short one for us. Just as well as we scored our first ADHD child in the seat in front of us and a French speaking father who was doing his best to adopt the same approach as us – ignore him. Luckily technology in the form of the iPad came through and saved us all although the child to the left of us and behind us didn’t have such equipment and relied upon mother’s to sing in orders to quell the storm.
Arriving at Oslo; a new country, a completely different language and different currency, we began the process of acclimatising to the Scandinavian way of life. This began when the train system had shut down early for New Years. I had thought this was the case and was therefore hesitant to buy the $35 pp one way train ticket that every other traveller was buying from the ticket selling dispenser. Luckily another girl concurred with me and we decided to wait until we got through customs to see if there was an information desk that could shed some light on the situation before deciding whether to share a taxi or use public transport. As it was we were correct and the only public transport operating was a bus that took 40 minutes to get into the city. Given that this would cost us $85 for three rather than $200 for a taxi we decided to wait and take the bus. (Yep this is Norway and even the Europeans say “good luck …you’re going to the most expensive place in the world!)
Upon reaching the bus terminal (which is also the main railway station) we decided to get a taxi the rest of the way. We could have endeavoured to locate the hotel ourselves but we had come in form a different location and did not want to walk the town on New Years Eve dragging three suitcases. $40 Aus later and having travelled a complete distance of around 2km we arrived at our hotel…The Hotel City Box.
The hotel was a complete bargain at around $185 Aus per night. It’s slightly different to most hotels; there is no check in desk as you use your booking number to pay, get your room key and password access for WiFi. The room isn’t huge with a double bed and bunks but it does have everything you need and is in a good location – close to the city but far enough away from the noise of all the revellers.
After dropping off our bags and kitting up for the winter cold, we headed into the main body of the city to City Hall. It was here that our research had said we should be for the fireworks at midnight. When we got there, there were more police standing around than party goers (and let’s just say there were about twenty police). People were walking around in a kind of “let’s fill in the time and see what happens” approach. There was no entertainment, no food vans, no 2014 strange glasses or bugles, no half sloshed teenagers drinking something from a paper bag and no apparent restaurants open. Yep it sounds like a real hoot and at the time we also thought this was going to be another New Years Eve dud. The laughter continued when an ambulance turned up to join the police vehicles and more police…what for?
At around 11:15 it all started to happen. Significantly more people arrived and we had seen fireworks going off in the distance for the past 25 minutes or so. Claire and Philip’s cynicism about my choice of venue began to subside and there now seemed to be some logic in my choice of location.
Then it happened. From about 11:30 onwards, fireworks shot off all around us. It appears that anyone can buy and discharge fireworks and they did…everywhere. It became a real issue as to know where to look as the sky filled with colour all around us. The private fireworks weren’t those that give a little spurt and that’s all. These cans were of full assortment…big, brash and colourful. This was accentuated even further when the city organised fireworks chimed in at 12 midnight. They filled the night sky, which by now was also starting to discharge it’s own fireworks in the form of rain. It didn’t really matter though – we had done New Years Eve rain last year in Paris and then there were no fireworks.
Walking back to our hotel, a distance of around 1km, we pondered how slowly the night had begun and how it ended in a real bang! The length of the show, variety of the fireworks and proximity to us made this a show to remember and will set the standard for other fireworks we see in the future. Incredible to think we’d see it in a small city on the fringes of the Arctic Circle. Happy New Year
2014 starts tomorrow when we head off to Tromso to hopefully see some more “natural” fireworks in the sky.