Friday, July 22, 2016

More Incredible Views, The Trek Up the Mountain to the Ice Caves! Day 2, 5/27/16

Alex and I slept well after our first day in Europe! But we were up early and ready for a big day.  A really big day! First though, breakfast! Our hotel had a wonderful included full buffet breakfast, and when one is traveling with a 16 year old teen boy, this is very important! The selection included croissants, sausages, cheeses, eggs, meats, fruits, various pastries, hot and cold cereals and each day there were subtle changes just so you would have a bit of variety. It was a great way for us to start our mornings here in Salzburg!

After breakfast, we were ready for the tour Alex was most looking forward to and the one that I was probably the most apprehensive about. The Ice Caves in Werfen, Eisriesenwelt. While I truly wanted to go to the Ice Caves, this was a physical day, and based on everything I'd read about it, me not being in the most moderately decent physical condition, including having a hip problem, I wasn't sure that I should be, or could even do this walk, or hike or whatever it was without any preparation for it.  But hey, for Alex, I'd give it a shot. If it came to it, I would wait at the entrance of the cave while he went in.  I knew going what the logistics were, how bad could it be? And I love an adventure, I'd been to caves before, how hard could it really be? 

So, at 8:30 am we were picked up by our driver from Edelweiss Tours. There were three other people in our group. On our drive to the mountains, our driver told us a lot of history about Salzburg and many personal stories.  It definitely made the hour long drive go quite fast.  He was a very good guide. As we approached the mountain where the Ice Caves are, he gave us the rundown of how the day would work.  We would have approximately a 20 - 30 minute walk to the cable car, then the cable car would take us up another 1600 ft or so, and then we'd have another 20 more minutes to walk to the actual entrance, up...and up...and up.  It's a gradual incline on a stone walkway. Not bad. But you're already up at an altitude of 5000 ft, so yea. I'm so looking forward to this! And then, when we get to the entrance, there are just 700 steps in the cave to walk up and 700 steps to walk down. We'd all meet back here at the visitors center at our designated time. 

Eisreisenwelt is the name of the cave in Werfen. We were ready! We had our tickets, bottles of water, cameras and off we went!

Fair warning for this post, there are a huge amount of pictures here! So much about this day was taking in the scenery and around every turn it was just an other beautiful view. I just don't think that it's possible to capture the scale of the mountains, but hopefully you can get a little taste of just how we felt on this incredible day!


So this is what we were ready for. You can see, it would be cold in that cave!  0 degrees celsius! There would be 1400 steps in there!  No cameras...once we got in, I did understand why.  No, not to sell their books and postcards. Really, to prevent people from backing up on the steps and falling into the abyss! It's dark in there. It's narrow and really, your pictures wouldn't do it justice anyway! And then the trip up to the entrance is drawn on the map. We were at the bottom. We just had to get up to that picture of the ice up there at the middle of the mountain!

The air was so clean and crisp and the views were just stunning. So, at least we had a nice slow walk with plenty of picture stops!

It was so very green

And you'd look up and see the snowcapped mountains....

Eventually we'd be way up there!

At one point there is a tunnel cut into the mountain that can be used as a shortcut. So, I took the shortcut, Alex of course continued along the scenic route. He took the camera and pretty much kept it the rest of the walk up the mountain. I had my cell camera. He did a great job with the photos!

This is the exit of the tunnel

Me, waiting for Alex since the tunnel route was just slightly faster!  Just taking in the amazing views....and resting a bit!

These are some nice shots of the paths and the scenery together

A glimpse of the Hohenwerfen Castle....some tours offer a tour of this castle as an option for those in your group who don't want to make the trek up to the Ice Caves.

While this certainly isn't my favorite picture of myself, my face says it all....what am I saying?  "You have got to be kidding me, with every turn there is another turn and we just keep walking, where is the cable car, and do we seriously have another 20 minute uphill walk after this?" Yes, that is exactly what my face says here!

Another castle view

Oh, maybe we're almost to the cable car!

Whoo Hoo!!!  Only 3 minutes to ascend 500 meters or so! But hey, for the truly adventurous, there is apparently a trail that takes only approximately 90 minutes to hike, and it's not a paved trail like the one we've been taking. For those who are interested!

And here we are....sort of. Now we're in the home stretch!

Yea, we're way up there now!

We can't even begin to express just how much Alex and I absolutely loved these mountains....they were just breathtaking!

After disembarking the cable car, you can grab a snack at this nice little snack bar, or maybe save that for on your way back down the mountain.

Alex saw this path and had we not been on a mission to see the ice, I'm sure he would have been long gone down this trail!

Holy you see that hole in the mountain?  That's where we're heading. It might look close, but seriously, do you know how many switchbacks are between us and that hole? Too many!

Danger, Rockfall!  No worries here!

Almost there!

And this, this I just don't even understand! This sign below indicates that on the "sidewalk 221" there are exposed cables and danger rockslides.  Ok...that is all good.  But then look at the pictures below where there are exposed cables.  Is this a sidewalk or a deathtrap!  Oh my! I sure hope no average tourist decides to walk on that path!

But back to our nice, safe walk, with railings!

And we made it!  We are at the entrance to the ice caves!!

Beautiful, just beautiful...

Now we got to sit and wait for our tour to up! Inside the cave!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

From the Top of the World, to Far Underground! Day 1, part 2! May 26,2016

We had just finished our first stop at the breathtaking Eagle's Nest and had made our way back down. Our introduction to Europe had so far been wonderful! We were making our way towards our home for the next few days, Salzburg, Austria, and our next stop was going to be Hallein! Why Hallein? Well salt mines of course! 

The Celts were mining salt in Hallein in 400 BC! This area dates way, way back! When we arrived we purchased our tickets to the mine and had about 20 minutes until our tour started. There was an area set up that had a recreation of the Celtic town set up, which was quite fascinating! Apparently it was about now that the jet lag must have taken over because I don't have one single picture of this area. Very, very unlike me! Therefore, I'm going to borrow some pictures and credit them to their sources so that you can get a feel for what it was like there! A blog with no pictures would be pretty boring! 

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We spent about 20 minutes looking at the recreated village, and it really was quite amazing to think about how the Celts lived in 400 BC! 

Then it was time for our Salt Mine Tour! This was no ordinary mine tour, or cave tour! It was really an adventure combined with quite a bit of history!

Before going into the mines, we had to put on our miners clothing....

And I think they wanted us to know it may be cold in there, and to wear proper shoes!

And then it was time to go....our guide, David, hadn't been to the mines before, so he was coming with us. Before entering everyone got pictures taken, so we included David in our picture. It's a nice group shot!

So first everyone on the tour sat on these green "train" carts and we rode into the mine. It was pulled by an engine.  Off we went! 

When the train stopped we got off and walked a few hundred yards further. It was very quiet and you could picture what it may have been like to work in this mine. Then we went into a large chamber with benches. Here we'd begin our history lesson. Throughout the tour there would be vidoes that would show the history of salt mining in the region. The salt that was mined mainly went to finance the region of Salzburg - Salz (salt) Burg (castle). The salt was first mined by the Celts, but later, in the 1500s the mining was re-discovered and used by the Bishop of Salzburg to finance essentially everything in that region. It really is quite a story! 

So, the way the tour worked was that we'd watch a bit of the movie, learn some history, walk along, learn about how the salt was mined, see another bit of the video and so on. I'll admit I was tired at this point and I did miss some of the video. I think Alex may have caught it all though because later when we were in Salzburg, he kept telling me about different facts I was supposed to have known from that video!

At two points in the cave we crossed from Germany to Austria and back....the actual border sign!

Now, this mine tour wasn't all walking and watching videos and history - see, back in the day, the miners used these old mine slides to get to work apparently. So, these miner outfits we had on actually had a purpose. The bottoms of them had a "thick seat" so that when we went down the slides we'd have sort of a buffer ;)  There are two slides. The second steeper than the first. We went in groups of 3 or 4. So, Alex, myself and David went down each time, and it really was quite fun!  All of us had a good laugh as we slid down the slides! 

I didn't purchase our picture, because it really was just that bad...but here's what the promotional picture looks like of a group going down the slide....and yes, it really does look this silly!  The only difference is that there's no conductor with you in the real picture.

After the slides, next up was a boat ride!  Yes, a boat ride in the caves!

(photo hotel alpendorf)

Now of course there was originally not a boat in the mine, but the purpose of the boat ride now is to explain one of the most profitable methods of extracting salt from the mine. What they did is fill a large cavern, like this one where the boat ride took place, with water and allowed that water to sit for a couple of months. During this time, the water leeched the salt out of the rocks. After 6 - 7 weeks, the water turned to brine with a salt content of about 27%. Comparing this to the ocean, you will see that it only has a salt content of 3%. Now, after the water turns to brine, they drain the water out of the mine and send the salt to the town of Hallein below the mountain. There the water is evaporated off and the salt is left behind. It really was an amazing system that they had!

So, as we rode across this little lake underground, they had music playing and colored lights along the rocks.  It was very unique!

And we made it to the other side!

In some of the chambers there were statues and plaques, which I believe were gifts given to the Bishops during the time the mine was in use

We finished up our tour, and had only about a 30 minute drive to our hotel in Salzburg. Interestingly, the name of our hotel was the Wolf Dietrich, which was named after the Bishop who was the Bishop that the entire Salt Mine tour was about! We checked in, dropped our luggage and went out to get something for dinner. It didn't take us long to feel quite comfortable in Salzburg!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Shelley & Alex take on Europe! Our adventure begins! Day 1 - 5/26/16

Alex, my almost 17 year old son, and I were heading to Europe! I had the opportunity to sail on a Viking River Cruise and Alex was my lucky traveling companion! Since he attends cyber school, he was able to finish up his junior year of high school while traveling. Now, I'm sure those of you familiar with river cruises might be thinking - a 17 year old on a river cruise?  That doesn't really sound like the "normal" passenger.  True!  And that's all part of the adventure! Just what does a teenage boy think of a river cruise? And what would we do to keep it adventurous enough for him, but still not too adventurous for me, the average 47 year old mom! Read on because we sure had an amazing time!  

This adventure will have tons of photos, so be prepared! The places we visited were perhaps some of the most beautiful sites I've been to and I took over 1500 photos this trip!  I promise I won't share all 1500...but there are definitely a lot of pictures in this story!

Of course, if you've read my travel blogs, or trip reviews before you know that I am a travel consultant so this is my absolute favorite thing to do - planning vacations!  Of course taking them is pretty exciting too, but I love planning out the intricate details of that perfect trip. And this one was no different! For me, if it's at all possible, I have two guidelines that I always try to follow when traveling to Europe: first - always take a direct flight whenever possible!  I know from some locations, a direct flight isn't an option, but if you begin your journey from a city where you can get a non-stop flight, just pay that extra money and go non-stop! You will thank me later! Not only do you get to your promised land vacation sooner, but you eliminated those risks....the risk of a missed connection, the risk of lost luggage on said connection and the risk on the way home of that delay when there's a cancellation on the connecting flight! And my second Europe rule is that you're spending a lot of money, points or miles to get over there so if you can - stretch that vacation for as long as possible! Once you get there, try to maximize your days! Many times your flight is one of your biggest expenses, so add on days to the beginning or end of your cruise if that's what you're doing. If you are doing a land vacation, stay an extra night or two! See that one extra site or city you've been meaning to see!

And that's what we did! We left on Friday night, May 25th and flew round trip, non-stop into Munich!  

The flights worked for my non-stop planning, and our river cruise ended outside of Munich, but we sailed out of Budapest. Munich is nowhere near Budapest though! So, this is where the second rule came in perfectly! We would add our time before the cruise between Munich and Budapest! And what better place to do that than Salzburg!

Our flight was smooth, and before we knew it is was what I like to call "fake morning" when suddenly you're woken from that hazy sort of sleep and being served a muffin top and coffee and being told it's morning, but your body knows that it's really only 2 am! But sure, we'll roll with it! Good morning Germany! We landed right on time and got through immigration and customs fairly quickly and met our driver, David, right outside of baggage claim.  He'd be taking us to Salzburg, with two stops on the way!  He told us he planned to take us the scenic route, no highways for us! 

We got our first glance of the Alps and suddenly all traces of jet lag were gone!  I suddenly was in love with Germany! 

Our first stop was the "Eagle's Nest". This compound served as Hitler’s second seat of government and was his 50th Birthday present from his inner circle. The Chalet that sits 6000 feet at the top of the mountain is the actual "nest" and has since been converted into a restaurant and lookout point.  That is the area we visited and it is amazing!  Truly the top of the world feeling!  You can also visit a documentation center at the base of the mountain, but we skipped that to get to our next destination.  This is the ticketing center to take the bus up the steep road to get to the next base of the mountain...

See that way up there, that's where we're going!  

The view out the window on the bus ride up the mountain. I've read that it's the steepest road in Germany....I believe it! We were told the road is only used by the special buses used for this site and that it's only open from Mid-May through October.

You can see the buses coming up the road behind our bus

This is as far as the buses go.  Here we picked up our ticket for the time we'd like to come back down. 

The views here were just spectacular!

Next we'd walk through the original tunnel in the mountain that would take us to an elevator that would take us up to the top -- to the Eagle's Nest!  To close to 6000 feet!

And then we stepped outside and were totally overwhelmed in every direction! 

Snow!  We were also standing in snow! wasn't cold, but there was snow on the ground!

Yup, we're really here! 

A similar view as the one from the bus ride, just from much higher up!

This is the actual "Eagle's Nest" building

The view from the other side of the mountain

This first stop truly spoke to Alex!  I loved it as well.  We honestly could have spent hours up here and I probably have a hundred pictures between the ones I took and the ones he took.  It was incredibly peaceful, even with all of the people there.  The air was so fresh and clean. It was perfect!

Our time up here was coming to an end.  We did have those timed bus tickets. So, we decided to grab a bite to eat at the restaurant. This is where our perfect German day sort of came crashing down. Our first experience with German food was really pretty awful. I don't know if it was the lack of sleep or that the food was actually bad, but neither of us liked what we got and we left hungry. Alex was wondering if he was actually going to starve on this trip. He felt things had changed for the worse. We took the bus down and David was waiting for us at the base. He asked us if we wanted to visit the documentation center, but when he told us it would take about an hour and half to go through it, we told him we'd rather get to our next stop since it was already 3:30. We'd just Google the history!  And off we went!