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INNSBRUCK, HEILIGENBLUT AND WATTENS CRYSTAL WORLD TOUR

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Helblinghaus viewed from City Tower
Helblinghaus viewed from City Tower
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located in Austria's western state of Tyrol at an altitude of 2,000 feet (600 meters), Innsbruck is tucked into a valley between the Nordkette mountains and the River Inn. Colorful patrician homes line the left bank.

A wall surrounded Old Innsbruck until 1790. The best view of the Old Town (Altstadt) is from the City Tower.

Helblinghaus stood out from the colorful buildings below us. It looked like a decorated cake. Originally a Gothic 15th-century building, it was redecorated with intricate Rococo stucco in the 18th century.

Golden Roof

Opposite Helblinghaus is Innsbruck's most famous attraction, the Golden Roof. Covered with 2,657 gilded copper tiles, the roof was completed in 1500 by Emperor Maximilian 1. From the balcony below it, he and his wife observed festivals and tournaments in the square.

More glitter awaited us in the Hofburg or Imperial Palace. Especially impressive was the dining room table set for dessert, circa 1840. In those days, dinner consisted of nine-to-13 courses.

Hofburg dining room table set for dessert in 1840
Hofburg dining room table set for dessert in 1840
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Giants' Hall, with its sparkling chandeliers and painted ceiling, featured portraits of Empress Maria Theresa's 16 children.

The street, Maria-Theresien-Strasse, is named after the empress. We viewed its buildings, St. Anne's Column and monuments during a fiaker (horse-drawn carriage) ride, followed by a refreshing eiskaffee (ice cream topped with coffee) at an outdoor café.

Suits of armor

Ambras Castle has a fascinating collection of armor for knights, and even their horses. Dating back to the 1500s, some of it was ornately engraved.

Suit of armor for knight on horse. Ambras Castle
Suit of armor for knight on horse.
Ambras Castle
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Originally collected by Archduke Ferdinand II, it includes armor for children, a suit of armor for an 8.2-foot (250-centimeter)-high giant and jousting armor for knights.

Ambras also contains the Archduke's Chamber of Art and Curiosities. The collection of objects unique to Europeans in the 16th century includes Turkish shoes with curled toes and goblets made of gold-encased coconut shells.

Crystal Worlds

Just a 20-minute drive east of Innsbruck, there is a subterranean treasury that must be seen to be believed. Located in Wattens, Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Kristallwelten) features art created from crystals, sounds and aromas.

Crystal wall in Swarovski Kristallwelten
Crystal wall in Swarovski Kristallwelten
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We should have suspected that Crystal Worlds was not an ordinary museum when we arrived. Two piercing turquoise eyes stared out at us from a giant's head, carved into a hill. There was no building in sight—just a tongue of water pouring out of its mouth.

Entering a door behind its face, we emerged into a soaring underground lobby bisected by a crystal wall, 36 feet (11 meters) high and 138 feet (42 meters) long. Glittering tantalizingly inside, were 12 tons of ersatz rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. Irresistibly, our hands reached up to touch them.

Largest crystal in the world

Turning, we spotted a glass case that drew us like pins to a magnet. The world's largest crystal beckoned within.

Grossglockner and St. Vinzenz Church in Heiligenblut
Grossglockner and St. Vinzenz Church in Heiligenblut
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Weighing 137 pounds (62 kilograms), equivalent to 310,000 carats, it measures 15.8 inches (40 centimeters) in diameter. With more than 100 facets, it contrasted starkly with the world's smallest crystal next to it. Measuring just 0.03 inches (0.8 millimeters) across, it had 17 perfectly cut facets.

Other Chambers of Wonder ranged from the largest kaleidoscope in the world to a crystal dome, the size of a room. As we walked inside the crystal, the effect was surreal, like being inside the aurora borealis.

Looking in one direction, we saw our images multiplied a hundred times over in blue facets.

Glancing the other way, our reflection repeated itself in mauve. In the center, our voices took on the monotone resonance of robots.

Highest mountain in Austria

Only Mother Nature could surpass this fascinating journey through Crystal Worlds, as we discovered during our scenic drive from Innsbruck to Hohe Tauern National Park to see Grossglockner. Austria's highest mountain, its snow-clad peak has a height of 12,458 feet (3,797 meters).

The spectacular sight of its lofty summit beyond the needle-point spire of the 15th-century St. Vinzenz Church in Heiligenblut was unforgettable.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Innsbruck Tourism

Austrian National Tourist Office

More things to see & do in Austria:

Graz Austria Tour

Durnstein and Weissenkirchen in Austria's Wachau Wine Region

Touring Salzburg, Hellbrunn, Salzkammergut and Hallstatt

Vienna's Hofburg, Schonbrunn, Belvedere Palace and Grinzing Tour

The Largest Ice Cave in the World