Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Afternoon in Salzburg! Day 2 Part 3 5/27/16

After finishing up at the Ice Caves, we still had a full afternoon of sightseeing! Our guide left us off at our hotel, we dropped off our jackets and off we went! Our hotel, the Wolf Dietrich Alstadthotel & Residenz was quite charming. Our room was plenty big enough for both of us and the staff was very friendly. The hotel was located across the river from the Old Town, still in walking distance to pretty much everywhere we wanted to go. 

It was a short walk to the river and across to get over to the Old Town, and to where most of the tourist sites were. 

At this point we were hungry, and we didn't really have a plan. These GIANT pretzels really called to me, so of course this was my lunch! It's a bit difficult to get a perspective of their size, but I'd say they are about the size of a dinner plate.  

So then we wandered around a bit more, and our goal was to find the tourist office to exchange a voucher we had for the Salzburg Card.  This card grants you admission into most of the attractions in Salzburg for free, or if not free at a discount. It also provides access to their public transportation system.  We had purchased the 2 day Salzburg card, and for us it was a huge value!  We used it at several sites.  

For those of you who haven't heard much about Salzburg before, the city is famous for quite a few things.  Salt being one...the next is Mozart.  Mozart was born here and lived here for quite some time. 

And the next one it's famous for, we'll get to that later!

After we visited a small museum called the Panorama Museum with our card, which didn't allow photos, but had a very cool display of a 360 degree piece of art of the city of Salzburg, we decided that the Hohensalzburg Fortress would be our next stop for the day!

Some pictures on the way to the Fortress, which the whole way there, all I was thinking was..."please, no more steps!"

The kid waiting for his mom....

I was thrilled that the way up to the fortress was a funicular! No climbing here!

Once up there, we had to get our bearings and decide how to tackle this fortress!  There was a guided tour, there were rooms and courtyards to explore on your own, of course there was the amazing views, and then a restaurant!  It was all good!

This fortress is Central Europe's largest, completely preserved fortress, and it dates back to the 11th century! It was built originally to guarantee the safety of the archbishops, but also served as a barracks and a prison. Throughout the centuries the fortress grew in size to what we see now.

The views from the outside of the fortress

Once again, I don't think we could be enjoying ourselves any more than we are!

First up, we went into the courtyard and rooms we could visit on our own.

Inside there was a special exhibit of marionettes...had to check that out!

And a little bit of humor when you open the coffin, the skeleton of good ol' Wolf Dietrich pops up!  The kids here, and Alex too all really loved this!

The chapel

And excavations of the original chapel dating from the original section of the fortress. They had a video showing how the fortress expanded over time. It was quite interesting!

There was also an armory exhibit will various weapons dating from the medieval times to present day.

And then we went into the torture chamber....

We went on a guided tour of parts of the fortress and we got to go up onto one of the lookout towers, which provided us with even more wonderful views!

What was so interesting about being up there was as we were looking at these views today, was hearing the stories of hundreds of years ago and imagining what the land may have looked like then as compared to now. 

After we visited what seemed like every nook and cranny of this fortress we ate dinner outside enjoying the views...

Alex had schnitzel and I had brats.  This was our first true Austrian meal and it was delicious!  

It was time to head back, back down the funicular...

The horses were all lined up and ready to call it a day too it looked like!

It had been a perfect day and as we crossed back over the river, the sun was starting to set...what would tomorrow bring?

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Ice Caves! Day 2, part 2...5/27/16

We left off at the entrance of the Eisreisenwelt Ice Caves. We made it up the mountain....Alex practically ran up the last section of the climb, I felt as if I barely made it at a crawl. But we were here! We made it into that little hole of an entrance we could see from down below and now we waited for our tour to begin.

Yea, that's right, I can finally sit down for 15 minutes! 

And be so thrilled that I actually made it up the mountain! The worst part had to be over right? We've been in caves before. When they say there are 1400 steps in the cave, how difficult could they be? ONLY 700 steps are up, and surely there will be plenty of stopping to look at the ice.

Finally, our group was ready to go. There were about 8 or so English speaking people and maybe 20 or so German speaking people in our group.  The English speaking got to line up first. The caves are totally dark.  There is no electricity in the caves at all to protect the structures. So, what they do is give every other person a candle lantern to carry. 

And as I mentioned before, there are no pictures allowed in the cave, for safety reasons.  Once in there, I totally understood this.

A little bit of the science behind the ice in the caves....Cave ice can be formed by a variety of processes. The Eisriesenwelt is a dynamic ice cave. This means that the cave galleries and fissures form a link from lower entrances to higher openings, which – like a chimney - allow the passage of air.

Depending on the outside climate, the temperature inside the mountain is either cooler or warmer, causing an air draft from top to bottom or vice versa due to the specific weight differences of the air. In the winter, when the air inside the mountain is warmer than outside, cold air enters into the passages and cools the lower part of the cave to below zero degrees.

This means that the melting water entering the rock fissures in the spring and dripping into the cooler areas of the cave will freeze, forming the spectacular ice sculptures in the interior of the mountain.

Now this chimney or air draft, means that when that door is opened, there is a major gust of cold, cold air that rushes out of the cave! It makes one wonder just what they're walking into!  The gust of air is blowing Alex's hair all over the place!

So while we couldn't take pictures in the cave, the photos on the website are freely available for use and I also purchased a book with beautiful pictures that I have used here so that you can see just what the caves looked like.
When we walked in, the only lights were the glowing from the lanterns that ever 2 or 3 people in the group had. We were walking along the wooden paths that covered the ground and we came along to a semi circle where our guide went into an area covered by ice. In each area where he went and explained something, he would take a magnesium string and light it to illuminate the ice structures while he was talking.  It would totally burn away, leaving really nothing behind when he was talking. 

Being in the English speaking group, we were still in the front of the line of people.  The guide began by telling us the history if these caves.  The total cave is over 40 km! That is huge! However only about 1 km or so has the ice structures in it. It was discovered in the late 1800s and then rediscovered and fully explored in the early 1900s. Once we learned those details, our guide let us know that we shouldn't worry about all of those steps, because we'd only be starting out with the first 350 steps at first!  I honestly wanted to cry right then and there. But just that first bit of ice that we had seen already and being in that cave was so amazing, that I would push myself and do it.  What's 350 steps at one time, after walking up hill for 40 minutes?

We were on our the end of the first climb, all of the group had well passed me except a wonderful German family, who took me under their wing to be sure I wasn't left in the dark. So I really never got to hear any of the tour in English.  By the time I had caught up to the group I was hearing the German descriptions! But I did make it up the steps, very slowly and sometimes I lagged really far behind, having to use my cell phone flashlight to see because I sent my family with their lanterns ahead of me a bit...but I could always see the tail end of the group! When they finally came to the end of the first 350 steps and I caught up, the remaining 350 steps up, were broken into much smaller and slower segments.  Stopping here and there to hear about the structures. 

It's so hard to visualize the vastness of the cave, and the amount of ice in there with the pictures, but it was spectacular!

I think we probably were in the cave walking around for about 90 minutes. Around every turn was something even more spectacular.  But perhaps the most incredible part was walking back down the steps. To get to the exit, we walked through basically an ice tunnel. The photo is looking upwards, but we walked down the tunnel to the exit.

We made it through, and while it was probably the most physically challenging thing I've done in years, it was also the most amazing site I've seen in quite some time!  What a sense of accomplishment as well!  I was feeling great, but also feeling like I'd be paying for this tomorrow!  We exited the cave and made our way back down the mountain to meet up with the rest of our group.

Back down the cable car

And even with my super slow walking we even had time for some souvenir shopping before our guide was ready to head back to Salzburg!

Before leaving we had a few minutes for the group to take some pictures in front of the Hohenwerfen Castle.

What a morning! Our day was really just getting started...we were on our way back to Salzburg for an afternoon of sightseeing next!  Our second day in Europe was perfect.  And I was so glad that I went ahead and decided to challenge myself to take that tour!  Go me!

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!