Cities / Towns Visited: 26
Countries Visited: 10
Steps Taken Today: 19,132
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,046,393
It was an early start, but we bounded out of bed with enthusiasm, well you know, as much as two sleep deprived, non-morning people can bound in the early hours. We headed to the station while our brains booted up, and before we knew it we were being whisked away to the south of Salzburg to the tiny town of Werfen. As the train pulled into the station we were excited to see another medieval fortress up on one of the peaks which protect the town. We alighted and found ourselves once more in an unassuming small town with a lot to offer.
Our first destination was at the end of a half hour shuttle bus ride up another of the many mountains hugging the valley; the Eisriessenwelt Ice Caves. After purchasing our tickets at the base station, it was a twenty minute walk up to the cable car station. Once we had reached the top, it was like being back in Murren; mist hung amongst the countless pines blanketing the slopes, giving an eerie atmosphere in which you expect ghoulish creatures to creep from. It was a further twenty minute hike to reach the entrance of the cave, which slowly came into focus as we neared. This ice cave, which was only discovered in the 1800’s, is the largest in the world, with the cave itself stretching 42 kilometres into the mountains. We marvelled at its mouth as we joined the line for the English tour.
Eventually our guide joined us, after sending in a Deutch speaking tour, it was finally our chance. We were put at the back of another Deutch speaking group, so that our bilingual guide knew who so speak which language to. Every second one of us was handed a carbide lamp, just as the first tourists to the caves would have had in the 1920’s. We were sad to find we were not allowed to take any photos, so that the tours aren’t slowed down by stragglers, which is completely understandable given our experiences over the month or so, but still unfortunate. With this in mind we prepared our brains to imprint what we were about to witness. As the door to the cave was opened we were met by a huge gust of wind, as the zero degree temperate of the interior tried to equalise with the warmer external air (we were later to learn that in summer, when outside is much warmer, this wind can reach 100km/h). As a result most of our torches were blown out, and upon entering we had them relit. As the door was shut, and our eyes started to adjust to the dim light of the lamps, we began to see what we had come so far to see.
All around us, the rock was covered here and there with ice. As the guide lit his magnesium strip (again, the same as the guides in the 1920’s would have carried), the bright light began to reflect and illuminate our surroundings. As we began to head into the cave, along the safety of the wooden boardwalks which create the path forward, we began to see the way the ice had come to pool and freeze in this vast underground cell. Walking into a missive cavern, some 35 metres high, we came up to a massive pillar of ice, which had been created over many years. As the ice and snow of the mountain melts in the spring, it finds its way through the cracks and drips into the cave, but as the temperature in there never rises above zero degrees if freezes. The pillar would have started as a mere stalagmite and stalactite pair as the water fell from the roof, but over time it had become this towering column, resembling some bizarre frozen waterfall. As we continued, we began to notice that the very rock in here seemed to shimmer, this was of course simply due to frost, but regardless it created a magical environment. After a short while we reached a giant wall of ice, known as ‘the great ice barrier’, which was where the first explorer has reached, but had been forced to stop, as he was unable to scale the sheer 70+ degree gradient. We, however, took the stairs, coming up to another massive ice formation, endearingly known as the elephant; although you do have to use your imagination a little, as the thaw every year adds to natures artwork, thus it looks vastly different to how it did when it was named. Reaching the turning point of the tour, we passed beneath the grave of the first man who managed to scale the great ice barrier, just a couple of years before they opened it to tourists, who had died only a year after his venture, and had asked to be buried in the cave. As we circled round we reached the last chamber. The cave of course continues on for another 41 kilometres, however this is the last cavern with ice. It is known as ‘The Ice Palace’, and is basically a limestone chamber with a giant ice lake as its floor. This ‘lake’ holds the oldest ice in the cave, and at some points is nine metres deep of pure frozen water. Eventually it was time to head back out, passing back down the other side of the cave. With much mirth we watched as the people in front of us ‘sneakily’ took photos on their phones, as they pretended to just be using the flashlight app. This was of course only possible as we had to go one by one, and the guide was at the front of the group, unable to see them. Unsurprisingly this slowed us all down. Sigh.
As we left the cave, we realised we would have to hurry back down the mountain if we wanted to make it to the bus, in time to get to our other destination in time; Hohenwerfen, that castle we has seen on the hill on our way into town. After speed walking to the cable car, taking it down, and half jogging back to the carpark we managed to catch the bus we had hoped to, and we were on our way. You see we wanted to reach the castle before 3:30pm. The reason; why they have a falconry display of course, where their falconers fly their birds of prey. Our friendly bus driver was kind enough to drop us off at the pedestrian path which leads around the base of the mountain, to the road which leads to the funicular, saving us a good 15 minutes of walking from the station. As a result, we ended up reaching the summit an hour and a half before the main event. We took this opportunity to go on a quick guided tour of the castle, which involved walking through the old chapel, the sentry walks, the prison filled with medieval torture devices, and up the clock tower to the top for stunning views of the castle, and the town in the valley.
After devouring a couple of frankfurts with bread, we hurried down the hill to watch the bird of prey show. The skilled female falconer came out with an eagle on her arm, much to our glee and slight envy. All you feminists out there will be happy to know that women have been practising falconry alongside their male counterparts for centuries. The birds were stunning, and it was awe inspiring to watch their aerial acrobatics, speed, and pure force as they took or the bait swung by their master. She followed this with a falcon, before the male falconer came out, accompanied by a massive golden eagle. He then went up to one of the high windows of the fortifications where he released two massive vultures. I must say this was the first time I’ve ever seen a vulture in free flight, and they really are huge. They have a bad name, as scavengers, but when you see them swoop above you, its hard not to admire their majesty. Once the birds were taken back to their respective cages, we continued on down to the falconry museum, housed in one of the towers. With a large array of information on the history of the pastime around the world, along with a number of historical falconry uniforms, and taxidermy birds of prey, it was an enlightening visit.
The castle was also home to a temporary exhibit, which we made a beeline for before our descent back to earth. Their current display was dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci and his inventions. With numerous models of his work, including a number of his ideas for flying machines, and his parachute; along with interactive displays which demonstrate many of the concepts he was the father of, like ball bearings, and many cogged instruments, especially for the purpose of lifting. It was incredible to see just how broad his knowledge and intellect ranged. We often forget that he was so much more than just the creator of the Mona Lisa.
Our adventures had finally come to a close, and we travelled back to Salzburg, full of excited discussion about all we had seen and done. A quick supermarket dinner, and we were soon tucking ourselves in for our last night in Salzburg. Today had been one of the best; a slam dunk, if you will. We had basked in the incredible power of nature, and its ancient creations, which have lived before us, and will live on long after we have turned to dust; and we had basked in the ingenuity of man, to build such an impressive stronghold in such a precarious location, filled with the genius of a man from a different time. We had seen the majesty of the avian creatures we are lucky enough to share this world with. Every part of the day made us thankful for all we had experienced. It had fed our imaginations, and inspired new stories for us to write in the books which will follow the one we are working on now. This is why we travel, and this is why we would encourage you to as well.