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On Rails and Cables Around Tyrol

Posted on December 9, 2022

Reading time: 5 minutes.

Zillertalbahn, Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Austria

Part of Austria may be the main subject of this piece, but there was some travel in Germany on this extended weekend visit at the end of May 2016. The reason for that German incursion was my deciding to fly to Munich for a rail transfer to Innsbruck where I based myself. While the latter does have an airport, there appeared to be more flights there from the U.K. during the skiing season when I went about checking.

It still appears that there are several flights a day operating between Manchester and Munich. With the upheavals of the pandemic, you never can be sure about these things, so I did a quick check on Skyscanner while writing these words. Both Lufthansa and easyJet fly the route now as they did back then, when my outbound flight was with the former and the latter conveyed me back again. Both did what was needed, and I was able to find my way around Munich airport easily enough.

Though Munich hosts a major air travel hub, the first stretch of my rail journey to Innsbruck was on the Munich S-Bahn network . This is a local service, so there was little accommodation for luggage, and the train was busy too. While I was tempted by the prospect of a brief visit to Munich, that never happened, and I instead changed train at the city’s Ostbahnhof for a EuroCity service.

That was operated by Austria’s ÖBB and was destined for Venice if I recall correctly; it could have been Verona as well. This was an electric locomotive-hauled affair that was well patronised. Even so, I found a comfortable space easily and with somewhere to store my luggage as well. The route by which the train entered Austria shadowed the River Inn for much of the way. Because of the Schengen area, there were no passport formalities though police were seen onboard at times.

Stops at Kufstein, Wörgl and Jenbach punctuated the final approaches to Innsbruck on the Austrian side of the border. The German routing largely avoided the mountains, so the real alpine views were in Austria itself. On disembarking from the train, the oppressive sultry air in Innsbruck for it was very thundery; thunder was sounding in the mountains later that day. Then, there was a walk ahead of me to the hotel.

The way that I went from Munich was direct and without any change of train. It is possible to go via Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a change there for a more scenic approach, but this seemed to take longer, and I did not have that much patience. If I was staying longer, then it might have been an option. It so happened that I did play with ideas of going to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a day trip only for there to be too many ways of occupying my time in the end. Another idea was to go south to Bolzano, but that sundered for the same reasons.

First, I needed to explore Innsbruck and then the Nordkette lured me up onto them. The first part of the way made use of the funicular railway to get from Innsbruck to Hungerburg. After that, it was use of one cable car to get me to Seegrube and another to get me to Bergstation near Hafelcarspitze. To be honest, the cable cars spooked me enough to encourage me to walk down to Hungerburg with a food stop at Seegrube. Then, I realised why fight scenes were staged in them during action films for sake of added drama. All worked efficiently otherwise, and I used the funicular railway to return to Innsbruck from Hungerburg.

The next day was Sunday, and I was surprised how few places were open away from the shops in Innsbruck train station. Though the forecast was not that enticing, I was fixed on going to Zillertal after some deliberations. Frequent Railjet services to Vienna or Salzburg were tempting, but I was there for mountain scenery, so I took my chances.

Only part of my journey was with ÖBB since I needed to change to the Zillertalbahn at Jenbach. Once there, I tried buying a return ticket at the ticket office only for my card to give trouble. In the end, it needed to be swiped and a signature to be made for the transaction to proceed. My limited German and lack of understanding coupled with a lack of English on the other side, produced an instance of curt communication using hand signs before all was sorted. Travel on narrow gauge diesel trains where they tell you which side to leave the train (a good practice that needs to be learned from German-speaking countries) was a much gentler experience.

[Mayrhofen]https://www.mayrhofen.at/en/ had an out of season feel while I was there, and the air was damp too. The Ahornbahn cable car that I had hoped to used was not in operation, and that perhaps was just as well given the gradient it ascends and descends. In its place, I opted for the Penkenbahn instead and braced myself for the ascent. That worked well, and any recollection of trepidation has faded with time. What remains is sauntering in damp conditions before I embarked on the return journey. There was a moment when things speeded up before stopping suddenly. In those short moments stopped in mid-air, thoughts of an unwanted overnight stay materialised before everything started going again. The journey back to Jenbach offered plenty of time for nerves to recover, as did the train from there to Innsbruck.

Reverse the outbound train journey returned me to Munich Airport again. The brevity of my time in Tyrol was impressed on me as I departed since there are many reasons to return. A longer stay might see use of buses as well as more of the local rail network. There is much more to see, as long as I can manage any nervousness about cable cars. Otherwise, having more time allows one to be more courageous in exploring.

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