June 9, 2010 Seebersdorf to Vienna Austria

30 06 2010

We awoke from our luxurious slumber in the wonderful bed around 0630.  The sun was already risen and throwing dappled rays onto the grounds outside the window.  It was going to be another sunny and hot day. 

We met with the group and headed down to breakfast at 0830.  As we arrived a gentleman was leaving.  I found out that we were the last of the clients.  We basically had the castle to ourselves.  Everyone here was working for us.  Kind of like nobility ;)  The walls in the dining room had frescos painted on them and the pastel blue of the background was very calming.  The entire design of the dining area brought you back to the 18th century.  Nicely done.  Breakfast was nice and fresh.  They brought you coffee in your own little coffee pot and there was a delicious bowl of fruit salad.   I had the usual meat/cheese/bread breakfast but added to it with a huge helping of fruit salad.  Yum!

With breakfast finished and a few more shots of the castle area we were loaded and ready to go.  One stop would be required…  We had to buy some pumpkin seed oil.  Apparently this was “THE” place to get pumpkinseed oil.  We stopped at the little shop that the hotel receptionist had recommended. While there, I decided to hang out in the van while they got their oil.  Not long after, they came out and said, “We don’t know which one is the good one – it’s all in German.  Can you come help?”

I had no idea of pumpkinseed oil brands and didn’t have enough german knowledge so I said “Go buy the most expensive… probably the better one.” I hope I was right.  We’ll have to have some when we get home to make that determination I guess.

While sitting in the van, I saw a hawk (or eagle) land and perch on a power pole across a field.  When everyone came back I said I wanted to try to go over and shoot the bird.  I drove over that way but was disappointed to determine that the pole was really in the MIDDLE of the field. We weren’t going to be getting close to this bird any time soon 😦

I looped the van back around and in no time we found ourselves close to a stork working a freshly cut field.  I wonder what they eat…  Anyway, this one was kind enough to allow me to get some decent shots of him in the field with the 100-400 before we decided to move on.   The other four agreed that we should head quickly back into Bad Waltersdorf to take some pictures of the beautiful stork nest that we saw last night.

We zipped over and parked near the bank.  While Francis and I staked out the Stork nest, the three women went and shopped in a few little shops (wow – MORE shopping!)  I saw at least two young storks in the nest but they didn’t poke their heads up very high.  Mom kept watch over them and made sure all was OK.  While we were watching the female stork started making all kinds of noise, moving her head around and generally acting strange.  We looked up to see the male stork flying in and circling the nest.  I figured we’d get some great shots of him landing and the two of them in the nest.  No love.  He landed up on the church above us and only after we had been outwaited for 15 minutes did he decide to fly off and NOT land in the nest.  Boo.

I was happy that I had a couple of decent BiF shots of the stork and one or two of mom and a baby’s head.  We were good to go.  We stopped in the bank to use the ATM and get some Euros.  Away we went!

Vienna was close.  This is a good thing.  We had spent some significant time in Bad Waltersdorf and by the time we hit Vienna it was noon.  Our plan was to drive to the Schloss Schönbrunn since it was out of the core of the city and then return the vehicle and head to our hotel.

Those plans fell apart.  I had plugged in the address that I could find for the palace only to end up in the middle of downtown and circling in busy streets with one ways, Do-Not-Enters and all likes of traffic restrictions.  The GPS was NOT helpful at this point.  I was getting pretty frustrated with traffic so I found somewhere to park so that we could get a bearing on where we were and where we wanted to go.  The palace idea wasn’t panning out so well.  We got out and walked a bit while trying to find our bearings.  It was SMOKIN’ hot.  We found a pizza restaurant and ate lunch while re-evaluating our idea. 

New plan.

We decided to find the hotel and unload our gear and then take the vehicle back as we were to have it back by 1700 that day.  I plugged in the address of the hotel into our GPS and it came back with “Your destination is in a restricted area”  Oh Goodie.  I followed the twisting roads that are Vienna around some that were pretty narrow until I came to the “restricted road”  The sign said “Taxis, Limousines and buses only”  (or something like that – it was in German!)  I wasn’t about to get my first international traffic ticket today so I pulled off to the side of the road and Francis and Iris headed over to find the hotel and check in.  We might just have to carry our gear from here.  Whatever.  At least we’d be settled for more than a day.  After waiting for what seemed an eternity I was assured that we could drive down the road and pull over to unload as long as the driver stayed with the vehicle.  Ooookay…  We found a spot just down from the hotel and I pulled over while the other four unloaded some of the gear to take up to the rooms.  It turns out that our “hotel” for the night was one floor of a 5 floor commercial building and that the entire “hotel” was about nine rooms (all fully booked that night – I might add)  I waited down at the van.  And waited.  And waited.  It seemed again to be an eternity before anyone came back and I could unload the rest of the gear from the van.  We had to make sure it was absolutely empty because we were returning it.

With the van unloaded and everything in the rooms, they all came down together to return the van with me.  Not exactly what I had been expecting but hey… why not.  I plugged my one last address into the GPS – the Europcar address, and we were off.   The twisty maze of restricted streets, combination car/tram roads etc meant that we probably drove twice the actual distance to get where we needed to be, but we found it.  At the office the nice guy at the desk pointed out that the drop off is just down the block but due to construction I’d have to make a big loop around 4 or 5 blocks and come back at the garage from another angle.  This seemed easy enough.  I hopped back in the van and started driving.  It was then that we realized the map that they had given us with big black arrows had the arrows blacking out the street names, so we were pretty much out of luck for that approach.  No problem, thought I,  I’ll plug the address of the parking garage into the GPS and it’ll get us there.  After a few turns things were looking good until I realized that the GPS wanted to take me down the road with construction and had simply brought me right back to where I started.  I was getting frustrated.  I’m not a big fan of driving in downtown traffic when I don’t know where I’m going or how to get there.  After another 15 minutes of driving far enough down the way to get the GPS NOT to take us down the construction road we finally arrived at the drop off and said goodbye to the van.  It was going to be feet,buses, subways and trains from here on in again.

We took our little tourist maps of Vienna and tried to figure out which way was which and where the info centre was as well as our hotel.  Francis led the way and we  headed back towards the hotel.  It looked like it was about 2-3 km away.  Not bad but definitely a good walk given the temperature today.

We weren’t too far from the hotel when we came upon the info centre. It was cool inside.  Thank God.  The 4 others went over to buy the Vienna card (it had worked well in Salzburg…  the plan was to use it here too and get good value.  I went over to the other cash and inquired about buying tickets to Budapest.  After figuring out the time and price, I went ahead and placed my order.  After much waiting and humming and hahing… “Sorry, it appears the system is down” was the answer.

So, we left the info center with better directions, a tourist guide, Vienna cards and no train tickets yet for Mrs D and I.  At this point we split the group up.  Mrs D and I headed back to the hotel to see about getting our laundry done while the others were going to go shop (I didn’t really feel like I was going to miss much 🙂 )

Mrs D and I got back to the room to find that our room was surprisingly warm compared to the reception area.  On top of that, I couldn’t seem to get the A/C controls working.  I went over to the reception and inquired.  Apparently the A/C was broken. There would be someone in to fix it on Friday (shortly AFTER we were leaving).  Bummer.  We asked about laundry and they said “We can do it”.  I said that we would prefer to wash our own as it would be cheaper and I asked for the location of a Laundromat.  Apparently we weren’t too far away from one and the directions were pretty straight forward. 

Mrs D and I packed up the small suitcase with all our dirty laundry and proceeded to trundle across the cobblestone roads, dragging the luggage with us.  While the walk was short, the sun was hot and we were glad when we came to the intersection where the laundry was supposed to be.  We  looked around and couldn’t find any Laundromat.  Then Mrs D mentioned that the little door on the corner was for a Dry Cleaners – perhaps THAT is what the hotel meant?  We went into the cleaners and asked if there was a “self-serve” laundry around.  In her broken English (which is WAY better than my German) she explained that there were no Laudromats in downtown Vienna.   Only dry cleaners.  People either have their own or share some in an apartment building.  Tourists usually have the hotel do it for them.  Boy – the look I got from Mrs D was priceless. 

With our newfound knowledge of the state of clothes washing in Vienna we headed back to the hotel to sheepishly ask for the rate for laundry.

“25 Euros for one load of 8Kg.  You’ll probably want two loads because you have whites and colours”

Wow! I can see a business opportunity.  Someone’s got to be able to do it for MUCH less than that!  I hate hotels and their services.  They know they’ve got you… it’s a monopoly.  Urgh.

“Um, we’re OK with it all together… nothing is THAT new.  When will we be able to get our laundry back?”

There was NO way I was going to spend 50 Euros doing LAUNDRY.  I think I could BUY enough clean clothes to last me for the trip for less than that!

“Probably at the end of the day tomorrow.”

Wow!  24 hours to do one load of laundry.  Urgh.

“Great! If it’s done a little earlier, could you drop it by our room?”

And with that, we emptied our clothing and hoped to see it again before we left.

As it was now dinner time and we were pretty tired, we texted the other 3 and told them that we were just going to be hanging back at our hotel room and having instant noodles for dinner (the cursed chinese instant noodles that we HAVE to bring on every trip).  We would see the others again when they came back later at night.

After the ever satisfying noodles, we headed out to see a bit of the city on our own.  We wandered down towards where we had dropped off the van.  We walked along streets and saw a lot of lovely architecture.  The interesting part was that so many of the beautiful old buildings had very modern stores and businesses.  It took away from the feeling of quaint old, but I suppose if you’re going to be a big city you can’t let all your old buildings just be souvenir shops.  I still didn’t like it a lot but that’s life.  Vienna wasn’t about to change for me.

We walked down towards a monument and fountain.  The monument was covered in Cyrillic writing.  I figured it was a communist monument or something from the past.  It turns out we had found the Russian Liberation Monument to celebrate the liberation of Austria from Nazi rule by the Russian forces in WWII.  Cool.  I took a few shots but it really needed the ND filter to get my shutter speed slow enough to get some good effects.  I thought that this might make for a nice shot at night.

Mrs D wanted to work our way over to the “MuseumsQuartier” so that we could see what the whole thing was about.  After checking our map we wandered down the road and passed by Karlsplatz and went into St. Charles’ Church briefly.  It’s a beautiful church with some odd parts including two spiralling columns based on “Trajan’s Column” in Rome.   The  church has a magnificent dome, the view of which is quite unfortunately spoiled by a bunch of scaffolding at the time.  No matter it was a lovely view inside the church.

We continued our wanderings and then came across a street restaurant scene.  There was a length of  almost a kilometre of restaurants jammed into the width of a street the whole length.  There must have been 20-30 different restaurants and they were all pretty busy.  Seafood, asian, traditional Austrian… it was all there.  We wandered through the cacophony of dinner sounds and medley of aromas it was quite something to behold.  I felt like I was in one of those Discovery Channel documentaries.  I learned later that the area was called the “Naschmarkt” and that during the day it’s a very busy market area.

Two blocks later we emerged and refound our bearings.  We would have to duck up through a few blocks to get to the MuseumsQuartier.  Off we went.  Not all streets in Vienna feel touristy and the one that we found ourselves on was much more local.  There were old looking apartments, a few teens on skateboards and a tattoo parlour.  It seemed like it might not be the neighbourhood to hang out in at night :(  We hurried a bit through there.  Not long away we found ourselves at the edge of the MuseumsQuartier.  We went in.

The MuseumsQuartier is basically just a large quadrangle with museums fronting it on all sides.  The museums ranged from major to less so and is touted as the eighth largest cultural area in the world.  Basically to me it seemed like just one large place for a bunch of University students and hipsters to hang out.  If it had been in Vancouver there would have been an unmistakable odour of weed.  I wasn’t overly impressed.

We left the area and started heading back to our hotel.  We walked past the Hofburg Palace as the sun was setting but we were about 15 minutes too late, the shadows of other buildings were already being thrown on the facade.  It was a very interesting building and again I thought to myself that this would likely be cool at night.  We continued through various archways with some very cool sculptures until we found ourselves just few blocks from home.

With the sun pretty much set it was a good time to finish what had definitely turned into a pretty long day.  We knew the other three weren’t too far from home too as the “Spot” was on Francis and they had a check in just 5 minutes ago about 3 blocks away.  Sure enough they came back shortly after us.

We went over to talk as a group and realized that the other room’s A/C worked.  It appears that it was just OUR room that had non-working A/C  Man – we were not having much luck.  Blown power in Prague, overheating in Salzburg and now no A/C in Vienna when the temp was over 30C in the day.  There was a fan in the room but it didn’t help much.  We would be asking reception to move to a new room tomorrow!

With another blog entry done we slipped off to uncomfortably warm sleep.  Tomorrow we would see the Schonbrunn Palace.

June 8, 2010 Drežnik Grad to Seebersdorf Austria

23 06 2010

We are definitely getting used to the “wake up and go” routine.  Mrs D has become an expert repacker.  If you’re having troubles fitting things in your suitcase while on vacation, just give her a shout and she’ll, I’m sure, Be happy to pop over and repack your suitcase so that it all fits – for a modest fee 😉

While we managed to fit everything into the bags we haven’t managed to make them any lighter. It definitely is getting harder to carry these things up and down stairs.

We went over to the restaurant and again raised our cholesterol with Ham, Cheese, eggs and bread.  It was all quite tasty. After the food, we checked out of our rooms and by paying in cash we were able to get a 5% discount – a definite plus!  We were aiming to get to the nearby caves for 1000 when they opened so that we could be on our way quickly after that so we beetled on over.  I had the GPS turned on for the drive there and noticed that most of the roads on which we drove weren’t on the GPS.  Croatia is very poorly mapped digitally. Too bad, it would be nice to know that you could comfortably cruise around the different little roads with the knowledge that you’d be able to find your way out later.

We arrived at a parking lot with one car and a dirt road leading down from it.  The sign posted implied this was the place.  It certainly wasn’t big on the marketing or publicity scale… I had my doubts and thought this might be a bit of a mickey mouse operation.  I figured, though, that for $5 you can’t go terribly wrong.

It was a warm walk down the 500m to get to the hut where two people were already waiting to go. They were Dutch.  As we waited another couple came and joined us – French.  For once, as a group of eight we would be the majority and the tour would be in English. w00t!

Our guide spoke English well, but with a fairly thick accent. I wonder if all in our group understood.  She gave us a great bit of history of the caves as she led us up to the upper cave which would be the one that we were going to see.  These caves were not as long and extensive as the Dachstein caves and our walk into the cave would only be about 500m.  I was disappointed when I heard that but hoped that we’d be going for quality instead of quantity.

We were equipped with helmets this time – a definite sign (to me) that we’d be likely in closer “cave-like” quarters.  It was looking good.  As we approached the cave entrance we began to see bats flying out.  We were the first people there and as such the bats that settled in for a nice day’s sleep were disturbed by us as we came in and flew around. I found it really amazing. Many in our group weren’t quite so enchanted by having little flying mammals zipping around them as they flew their zig-zag path to somewhere that didn’t include people.  They stopped in crevasses a few times but since we weren’t allowed to use flash in the cave, the chances of actually catching on in flight was going to be about nil.  We continued past the entrance of the cave and immediately I could see that this was nothing like the “Mammoth cave” in Dachstein.  There were visible limestone columns and also definitely ridges/tubes as well as some stalagmites and stalactites.  All this and we had barely even STARTED!

The cave was a cool 7C and as we wandered through we saw some beautiful ceilings of stalactites, some of which had been broken off due to “souvenir” hounds and possibly just due to earthquakes and other ground shaking. (bombs anyone?)  The lighting in the cave was pretty dim, I was thankful for my 7D and being able to shoot at 12800. I don’t think I would have had ANY decent shots if it weren’t for that (and the 2.8 lens). One of the structures actually resembled a ghost face, they named it – appropriately – Casper 😉 The cave was more like caves I’d seen in BC.  There were little holes that disappeared down into the darkness and there were big holes that were clearly deep and deadly. I imagined being an explorer when they first found the caves using the acetylene lamps and hoping that the next step you take doesn’t have a drop into death.

Our guide explained that in this cave, like many in Croatia, they had found skeletal remains along with military equipment.  It was likely that during an earlier war that a soldier had used the cave for refuge and had either been too injured to survive or got lost in the pitch black of the cave and never found his way out again.  Creepy. They had also found bones from a prehistoric cave bear which would have been about 2-3x the size of the current bears. Yikes.  I would have hated to run into THOSE teeth when I was exploring the cave!

Our tour of 45 minutes was just enough to make you want to find more caves and see them, but my mild inner claustrophobia balanced that desire nicely.  Already I had hit my head on the ceiling.  I don’t know that I could imagine myself squeezing through some narrow passageway…  It was good to get back out to the entrance.  At the entrance to the cave, we were allowed to use our flash again on the cameras and I got a nice shot of 6 bats sleeping on the ceiling.  I think they’re cute. 🙂

With the cave visit wrapped up we hiked up the now scorching hill in 30+C sun and scrambled into the cool air conditioning of our van. Oh, thank God for A/C!   I plugged in our hotel address in (a castle in Seebersdorf Austria) and we were off!

The caves seemed like a nice diversion from a day of driving, it would be about 4.5 hours drive to Seebersdorf and it was hot and sunny. I figured we’d be able to get to the castle by about 1500.  Plenty of time to relax and enjoy our destination.  Wrong.

On our way into Croatia we had passed a “Fashion Outlet Mall” along the highway.  I was informed that we’d be stopping there.  Sure – the caves had been my idea, now it was time to compromise and let them have some shopping time. (Of course the caves were 7C – the outlet mall was 35C but heck…we’re going!)  We arrived at the mall around 1300 and the midday heat was busy turning the pedestrian walkway into a giant frying pan. It was midweek so things were quiet and to top it off, the mall was so new that many of the stores hadn’t even officially opened. I was glad for that – less places to shop meant a faster getaway :)  Wrong AGAIN. I was amazed at the care and attention that our shopping women were able to give to all the different stores.  While it took me about 10 minutes to check out the two possible stores, they were going to make sure they didn’t miss out on a good deal ANWHERE.  About an hour or so later we were free.  Two of the women had bags of stuff in hand and there was a happy Croatian merchant.  Finally – back into my Air Conditioning.

The drive to Seebersdorf was uneventful, paying tolls, whipping along at 130kph and generally just hoofing it along to make it to a place for the night.  We found our castle at 1715.  Not exactly the 1500 I had hoped for.  We began our usual routine of “unpack and head for dinner”.  First though a word about our castle…

Wow… what a cool place.  The driveway up from the road took us through one arch and past a series of buildings (restaurant apparently) for about 200 ft and up to a big arch that had large wooden doors and was definitely the last gate you drove to.  The place was quiet.  We met the receptionist and checked in.  They gave you one of those old keys that felt like you were going to be opening a cell somewhere. Big, iron and unwieldy.  Each room had a name.  Mrs D and I would be staying in the Lichtenstein room.  As any good castle would, this one had a courtyard that was a nice size with grass and some lawn chairs and tables.  The height of the surrounding building meant that the scorching sun was well off the ground by the time we arrived keeping things a bit cooler within the confines of the castle walls.  The place even had a small “lift” which was a feature on their advertising. LOL!  That lift came in handy when we were hauling our luggage up to our rooms –that’s for sure!

The rooms were something else again.  They were HUGE.  The furnishings were either antique or made nicely to look like antiques.  Solid wood armoires and beautiful parquet flooring.  The other room even had a four poster bed and a fantastic chandelier!  The rooms were cool despite having no air con.  Whew.

We realized that we were pretty hungry – having skipped lunch, so it was time to venture out and find food.  The problem was that we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere… where to go?  We asked at the front desk and they gave us some directions to look for a place with green lamps, or the one near the church.  Simple enough.  Off we went.

We drove out  and through the roundabout into Seebersdorf.  We went one way and then another… no church. No green lamps.  Hmm.. We went the last remaining way and ended up starting to wind up quite a steep little hill.  Nowhere to turn around and a long way to the “church” we saw in the distance.  Of course there are churches about every 5 miles – I forgot about that little detail when the desk clerk was talking about a “church”.  We turned off on a driveway figuring to turn around and it was a restaurant… Hmm… we were pretty hungry so we figured we’d stop in and give it a go.

The restaurant turned out to be a Tapas bar.  In the middle of southern Austria we find probably the only Tapas bar for hours in any direction.  Hah!  We get a table on the patio overlooking the beautiful valley below us.  The sun is beginning to head for the hills so it is throwing a lovely glow onto the valley although the haze of the day is not helping.  There was a light breeze cooling us down and the only real problem we had was that none of us had ever had tapas before.  The owner was a really nice guy and we said to him “Just pick what you think we’ll like” for food and we all had a beer.  At least I had a beer.  The rest tried a “Radler”  Kind of a shandy.  Beer mixed with lemonade.  Either way it was a refreshing drink, making things even better.   I could easily have spent my whole evening there sipping beer watching the sun slip away.  I asked the owner about the Jet fighters I had heard earlier in the day – apparently there’s an air base about 1.5 hours from here and they were testing the new Eurofighter today.  THAT would have been a cool stop.  Darn – missed it.

The food was sort of a European Dim Sum.  Little samplers of food in various taste combinations.  We had 8 little plates and the edge had been taken off our hunger while our taste buds had been delighted.  Food with zing!  Quite different than the usual schnitzels etc.  The decision at this point was – do we stay and eat more (it wasn’t exactly cheap) or do we go back and try and find the “right” place?  We went for the “find the restaurant”. 

We drove back down to the castle and tried our directions again.  This time I had a better idea of the roads and knew where we went wrong.  We headed into Bad Waltersdorf this time… It wasn’t long before we found the restaurant with green lamps – CLOSED on Tuesday (but of course – why not?)  We went down the street and parked near the restaurant “by the church”.  There was a HUGE stork nest on top of the building and there was a stork inside.  Two of us kept trying to convince me that it was fake. I stuck to my guns and was rewarded when a second stork flew in to join the first and they moved.  It WAS real! 🙂

The restaurant was an old in dating back to 1507.  The atmosphere was classic older Austrian and the greetings of Grüß Gott could be heard amongst friends and patrons. Wow – what a throwback some of these places are.   The food was hearty and filling.  I even had a salad bar to go with my meal but not much salad.. mostly potato, bean, pickled cabbage. I had a big plate of lettuce with some tomatoes and cucumber and put what I thought was oil and vinegar on it all.  Turns out I had seasoned my salad with a regional specialty “pumpkinseed oil”  It was tasty but a bit of a surprise when you’re expecting balsamic vinegar flavouring 😉

We definitely ate too much at this point as it was our second “dinner” for the day.  We were well sated and ready to go back and pass out.

We got back and took some night shots of the hotel and area.  Mrs D and I hung out for a while with Maggie, Francis and Iris before going back to our room to sleep.  No Internet connectivity in the rooms.

Tomorrow – Vienna!

Europe 2010 Trip posts

21 06 2010

The GPS track of my Europe 2010 trip:

My Europe 2010 Trip posts Table of Contents (un-hyperlinked posts are still coming):

May 25, 2010
May 26, 2010
May 27, 2010
May 28, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 30, 2010
May 31, 2010
June 1, 2010
June 2, 2010
June 3, 2010
June 4, 2010
June 5, 2010
June 6, 2010
June 7, 2010
June 8, 2010
June 9, 2010
June 10, 2010
June 11, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 13, 2010
June 14, 2010 – Nothing for this day… spent it in an airplane 😉

Photos can be seen here:

Places visited: 

  • Praha
  • Karlovy Vary
  • Cesky Budejovice
  • Cesky Krumlov
  • Salzburg
  • Innsbruck
  • Sankt Wolfgang
  • Obertraun
  • Hallstatt
  • Graz
  • Dreznik Grad
  • Plitvicka Jezera
  • Seebersdorf
  • Vienna
  • Budapest
  • Szentendre

Other Stats

  • Days travelling: 21
  • People in group: 8
  • Currencies used: 5
  • Photos taken: 17GB of JPG
  • Languages understood: 0
  • Overall rating on a scale of 1-10:  8.5

June 7, 2010 Hiking in Plitvicka Jezera

17 06 2010

We woke up to what was already becoming a warm day.  It was going to be a hot one.  Not exactly what I had been hoping for when the plan was to be hiking for most of the day.

We had laid out our plans last night.  We were ready for our attack and the plethora of waterfalls meant that we’d be bringing the tripod and the ND filters to see if we could get the silky flow look going even in the more full sun of the midday.

We headed over to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  We had powdered Orange Juice (yeach!) and rather than a buffet like many other breakfasts had been, this was an a la carte one.  After looking through the menu, most of us had variations of omelettes – ham and cheese, ham and mushroom etc.  I think it was Maggie that ordered the scrambled eggs and sausage.  As usual, bread was abundant, but there was no butter or jam.  We really had begun to wonder if people just ate their bread dry (yeach again!)

The poor waitress was pretty overworked so breakfast was a bit slow.  That’s OK, we had started early to ensure we’d be moving early enough before the heat of the day. It was going to go up to 32C today!  When our omelettes showed up, they were HUGE.  I’m pretty sure they were 3 egg omelettes.  Shortly after them, the butter and jam for the bread.  Now we had a feast to finish.  The eggs and sausages ended up being basically big pieces of kielbasa sausage cooked up and next to the scrambled eggs.  There was enough cholesterol and fat to put you into cardiac arrest right there and then.  We finished as much as we could and then scrambled out to the van to head up to lakes.

The drive up was quick as we were about 15 minutes at most from the parking lot.  We found a shady place to park the van which we knew would be a small oven later otherwise.  Cameras? Check. Water? Check. Tripod? Check.  Off we went.  The cost to enter the park was 110 Croatian Kruna/person which seemed like a lot.  Then we learned that it would include the cost of bus transportation within the park as well as the boat ride. Well, now it seemed like pretty swell deal!

We walked about 2km over to the pickup point for the “bus”.  We were heading off from ST2 and would head up to ST4 and begin our hike down the lakes, returning to where we had started.  The plan was that the hike would be more downhill than up that way.  The map of the lakes helps you to understand this.  We were going to head from the top left corner down to the bottom right.  It was an ambitious plan that would have us hiking for 4-6 hours according to the park ranger to whom we spoke. The ranger also assured us that there was somewhere along the way that we would be able to buy and eat lunch – which was nice.  No need to pack in lunch!

At ST2 where we were catching our bus we found things that looked a bit like trains with wheels. I should have taken a picture as it’s hard to describe.  They call them “panoramic trains”  The front of the “train” is a bit like a transport truck cab and it’s attached to a passenger compartment that holds about 16 or so people, very much like a normal bus.  Then they chain on 2 or 3 more “cars” which are passenger compartments that hold about 20 people each.  This train then takes you up for a 20 minute drive through the forest and you realize that it’s going to be a lot of walking until you get back to where this thing came from!  We disembarked at ST4 and were immediately fascinated by the beautifully clear water running in the creek near the stop and the sound of what I thought were ducks quacking.  We began our hike at 0950.

Wow!  What can I say?  Words cannot accurately describe the wonderful walk through shaded paths and boardwalks along such a well maintained trail that wound its way around azure and aquamarine lakes that were so clear you could see 14” fish cruising even when they dropped down 10-15 feet into the depths.  Too bad no fishing is allowed. ;)  We were treated to waterfall after waterfall which varied from cliffs to small rivulets.  All the while we stopped and clicked. And Clicked. And Clicked some more. The photo opportunities just kept on rolling.  These lakes are a water landscape photographer’s dream!

It wasn’t all roses though.  One drawback to such natural beauty is that it attracts many tourists. It’s not too hard to shoot around them, but the boardwalks are designed such that a tourist 50 feet away makes your tripod bounce while you are trying to get that 5” water blur shot.  This was annoying.  The only real thing that they could do to stop this would be to build more supports into their boardwalks. Not a HUGE pain but a nit, and one of which I was acutely aware around some of the busier viewpoints.  All the people on the trail were all very well mannered and respectful of photographers – even the group of 30 less than quiet school kids that were on trip.

We got down to the boat launch to catch our boat across the big lake and have lunch.  The boat arrived. We were ready.  Two of us were missing!  Oh no! The boat schedule said it travelled every 30 minutes.  We weren’t looking forward to a 30 minute wait.  Our two companions arrived – late.  We had missed the boat.  Apparently the call of nature had been a bit too much with the sound of all the rushing water. Hehe.  We were lucky.  Since we were into peak season, the boats ran every 15 minutes and one seemed to arrive even sooner.  Without much delay we packed onto the boat and enjoyed a leisurely 20 minute boat ride over to the side of the lake.

As we approached the far shore of the lake you could see one thing.  MASSES of people!  It was crazy… tour after tour of people were all eating lunch, playing games…  You name it. The serene quiet of the lakes was totally SHATTERED!   By now we were around 1300 and the sun was coming straight down from above and working at frying anything exposed into a little sunburnt crisp.  We were anxious to find shade in which we could settle down and eat lunch.  We split up and continued to scan the tables for people that appeared to be leaving.  We set up on a few groups that appeared to be tidying up and we scooped in just in time before another group got a premium table – in the shade and near the cafeteria line.  I went with the classic schnitzel while others had a chicken leg.  Drinks went down really easily and this was one of those times that you were glad that they sold drinks by the bottle and not some tiny glassfull.  While we ate, the school kids moved on and things became a bit more relaxed, but the heat kept us hiding in the protection of the shelter.

We continued our hike down and were treated to more spectacular views and quiet waters.  This continued until we got to the end and went to the “big waterfall”.  It was REALLY tall, and consisted of a group of about 10 different stream points all flowing off the cliff edge.  In the sun, the mist shone and when the wind blew up we all hid our cameras to protect them from the water :)  Due to the angle of the sun, it was tough to get a group shot in front of the falls but we tried and had some moderate success.  We then began our ascent up the steep walk to ST1 where we were going to catch the little bus/train back to ST2.  The walk was open and exposed, making this the hottest part of the whole hike.  It was hot, exposed and uphill.  When we got to the top we were pretty happy to find a little stand where we could buy popsicles and pop.  Wow did we need them!

We pretty much finished our hike around 1550.  All tolled we took 6 hours to walk the walk.  Lot’s of photos!

After getting back to the van we drove home and all took showers to cool down and clean off after the hot day of hiking.  I went out to see if I could find a snake or two or maybe a bird.  No love.

We went over to the hotel restaurant and had dinner before going back to our rooms to review our day’s pictures and activities.  Tomorrow we would drive towards Vienna with a stop at some Austrian castle for the night.  Should be interesting.

Going to be a long day driving…off to sleep.

June 6, 2010 Graz to Drežnik Grad Croatia

12 06 2010

Our stop in Graz came to an end today.  One night to see the scenes and then head down to Drežnik Grad.  Graz had primarily been put in the itinerary as a break in the drive.  Good thing.  It was another four hours according to the GPS until we would get to the lake district in Croatia.

Mrs D and I had a quick energy bar for breakfast and a cappuccino down stairs while the other three went with the Austrian breakfast. I have to admit, it seems that yes, there is a limit to how much ham and cheese I can have every morning :)  We were packed and ready to go pretty early. We had decided last night to make a point of stopping at the mausoleum of emperor Ferdinand II before we left as it opened at 1030.  We drove over to the general area of the mausoleum and found a parking spot.  This is all MUCH easier when executed on a Sunday morning.

While waiting for the mausoleum to open we found the famous double spiral staircase that was built in 1499.  I’ve got admit, I’m not much for staircases but this one was pretty cool.  Pictures just didn’t do it justice.  Two interwoven opposite spirals meeting at each floor – probably not very practical, but very interesting.   We took a few pictures of the outside of the lovely Katarinakirche next to the mausoleum but were unable to enter as Sunday mass was being held.

At 1030 on the nose, we were the first visitors for the mausoleum of the day.  The air had that cool musty smell of something that had been closed for a long time in a basement.  It would soon dissipate as the heat of the day warmed the building’s insides.  The inside was huge, ornate, luxurious. One might say “over the top”   I can’t imagine having something like this built for me BEFORE dying.    Seems a bit narcissistic. To our benefit, Ferdinand II had some lovely frescos all over ceilings and gilded statues adorning the corners and peaks of just about anywhere with an edge.  Being the first people in gave us the luxury of setting up our photos and being able to get some pretty fine shots.

Down in the bottom of the mausoleum lay the crypt of the emperor with ornate marble carvings of himself and his wife on the top of the tomb.  The floor appeared to be the original floor with very little restoration work done, and as such it was cordoned off.  They had installed mirrors on the walls that allowed you to see (and photograph) the top of the tomb and to see the detail of the carved effigies on the tomb.

The last place to visit was the bell tower.  Heck, who DOESN’T want  a mausoleum complete with bell tower?  It was a long winding walk up staircase but once we were up, it afforded some nice views of the golden adornments atop the neighbouring Katarinakirche.   Iris nearly jumped out of her skin when the 1115 bell rang.  We all had a good laugh and headed down as it was getting on in the morning and we had a four hour drive ahead still.

As we left the mausoleum we found ourselves in the middle of a marathon through the old town of Graz.  The poor runners were running in some pretty sweltering heat and had some real hills to contend with along their run.  We cheered them on for a bit and then headed off to continue our own marathon.

Francis took the wheel and drove for a while.  The GPS seemed to be a bit behind at times and it would say “turn right now”, just as we crossed through an intersection.  As a result we got a bit of a grand tour of Graz while we wound our way out of the city.  It was a real treat to be able to relax a bit more and not have my eyes peeled on the road or have to remember the clutch while slowing down (damned clutch 😉 )  It was interesting to see that Francis suffered a bit from “oncoming traffic aversion” just as I had in England.  It seems that the tendency is to want to push over to the passenger side more due to the awkward feeling of being on the other side of the road from normal.  This isn’t too bad, except when cyclists and narrow roads are along your path.  Francis did well and didn’t smack any cyclists or drive us off the road.  Better than my British “mirror incident” of 2008.  The GPS happily directed us out and along to a piece of road that would lead us onto the highway, if the highway had still been there.  It seemed the maps were a bit out of date and as such we had a detour along a few country roads before finally finding our way onto the highway.  No worries.  We would get there, just not quite as quickly.  After an hour or so of driving we took a break off of a small road and I switched with Francis. I know it can be quite nerve-wracking to drive on you unusual side of the road, so was happy to take over. 

We drove down some pretty narrow route until we started to arrive at the Slovenian border.  There was no customs, but there were tolls.  The Europeans have it right.  You want a fast highway(130kph)… you pay the toll.  You don’t want to pay the toll, you drive the windy roads. We stopped in Slovenia for gas and food.  Thankfully they accepted Euros as we didn’t have any Slovenian currency with us.  The Slovenian leg of the trip seemed to consist of a gazillion tunnels.  The tunnels were really nice and modern and well lit, but you still had to switch from sunglasses to regular and back again as some of the tunnels were 6km long!  Electronic road info signs that had updatable speed limits also informed us of the temperature as we drove along.  30C! It was a scorcher!

Croatia is not an EU country so when we hit the Croatian border it was a different story.  The  Slovenian exit check was quick but the Croatian entry was more thorough.  It was a Sunday and line up of cars coming OUT of Croatia was huge.  Probably Slovenians, Austrians and Germans coming back from their lake vacations.  The Croatian Customs agent spent quite a bit of time determining whether or not the HK passports needed visas.  Now I know what it feels like to be the car that everyone is waiting for :)  No issues, just time and we were off to the lakes!  It wasn’t long until we left the highway and the road started winding.  If you weren’t lucky, you got stuck behind a big truck for the next hour.  As we were moving against the flow of traffic things went pretty well for us.

We followed the GPS right to the parking area of the National Park.  Whoops.  I’m guessing we overshot the hotel?  Francis got out and got some information about the park and also some directions for the hotel.  Back a few km.  This makes sense as the GPS coverage of Croatia is only about 60% :(  We backtracked on the road and within about 5-10 minutes we were turning into a very nice little hotel/resort, Plitvicka Sedra.  Being a larger group and having two rooms (a 2 person and a 3 person) we were put in the “annex building” and had the second (european first) floor to ourselves with the two rooms having a common entry door.  Maggie, Francis and Iris got right to their laundry and in no time their half of the flat looked a bit like a Hong Kong apartment 🙂

We got some information about activities and the lakes from the receptionist… There was a nice 2km hike nearby that we could do and the lakes (about 6 hours of hiking) as well as some nearby caves and horseback riding.  I brought the info back to the group and we all agreed to go for the 2km hike.  It wasn’t much of a hike :(  The weather was so hot and we were all quite tired so it was abbreviated into about a 1km hike and retreat into our air conditioned van to get home.  

We went for dinner to the hotel restaurant as it was close.  More meat!  It was good food but everyone seems to want to overcook their meat. After dinner I wandered around a bit to see what I could see near the hotel.  I found a “red backed shrike”  He was kind enough to pose a bit for me.  Another new bird for me.

To go wander the fields I had to pass a sign warning of snakes.  Snakes?  Yes, as it turns out Croatia has a number of poisonous snakes and the receptionist says that they had to put the sign up after seeing some not long ago.  Excellent – snake shots? None today :(  It would have been cool to see a horn-nosed viper or a common adder!  No luck.

Another late night to sleep after trying to catch up on the blog.


June 5, 2010 Hallstatt to Graz Austria

10 06 2010

By the time I got up and showered Francis, Maggie and her sister were already out and about going to shoot around the town before breakfast.  Mrs D and I went out and I took Mrs D over to where she could get the “postcard” shot:

Hallstatt Austria Salt

As we arrived at the spot, there were the others, already trying various shots and angles as well as some portraits with the town as a backdrop.  We wandered down towards the other side of town and saw a swan taking off across the lake – (s)he was magnificent with the wing tips just touching the water enough to leave little circles with every beat.  Unfortunately I had the wrong lens. The 17-55 just wasn’t going to be able to cut it 😦  No worries.  The early morning walk and snap was still fun.

By 0830 we had all woken up and we gathered for breakfast in the hotel while overlooking the lake.   The day was sunny and promised to be hot.  Too bad we were losing three members this morning.  The last few days had been so cold and it was just promising to get better!  After our classic Austrian breakfast, it was last minute shopping for the three that were leaving us.  We had to get them on a 1107 train to Salzburg and the station was BACK in Obertraun.

With shopping complete, we started moving the luggage down from the top floor where we were down to the lobby.  After hauling down Mrs D’s an my bags, I went up to get the van so that we could load.  I whipped around to the end of the tunnel and then back so that I could get into the village and discovered that the gate which had been open when we arrived was closed – and you needed a ticket to open it. I didn’t have one of those…  Ack. To make matters worse, someone had come in behind me and was waiting.  I threw the van into reverse and let it slowly creep slowly backwards.  The car behind got the hind and moved right off.  Back into the tunnel to try and find my free parking spot and back down to the hotel get the ticket so that I can reverse the procedure all over again.  I brought Francis with me this time.  We came back around to the gate again, this time armed with the ticket and we watched as some small Winnebago-like vehicle had just experienced the same lesson we did.  The backing up and the rearranging of cars was quite comical.  I just pulled out of line and went for a spin in the handicapped parking area while the Winnebago dude played his game.  It felt quietly good inside to know that I wasn’t the only poor guy to have this happen.  some sort of signage would go a long way. I drove down the little windy road of the town and through the narrow clearance area and arrived to find that 3 other vehicles were loading in front of our hotel.  The town square was beginning to look like a parking lot.

We loaded the van and we all hopped in.  I made a loop around the town square (about 80 feet in diameter) and figured I’d go around the other parked cars and into the narrow passage.  Coming at the passage from an angle meant the already narrow passage got even narrower with plants and people all around.  I was just about there when another car came through from the other side.  Back out… try again.  Ugh.  By now, two other cars had left the area where we were parked, so I could get a nice straight run at the passage.  Success!  We were were on our way out of Hallstatt.  Thankfully, no mirrors scraped or pedestrians hit on the way out.  We made it to the train station in Obertraun with about 7 minutes to spare, so we took some pictures and said all our good-byes.  The train was punctual and was in the station for about a total of one minute and then it whisked the three women away from us as we waved them on their way.  We were sad to see them go.  It did mean one thing though… More space in the van!!!  We now had a van for 9 with only 5 people in it.  It was downright luxury 🙂

From Obertraun we drove the route up into the hills above and then along winding roads in the pre-alps that afforded beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. I found one opportunity to turn out and take some pictures, but for the large part there was no chance to stop.  The drive was about 2.5 hours and getting to our hotel in Graz was pretty straightforward thanks to the GPS.

The hotel was located right near the train station (far enough that you didn’t hear it though) and directly next to a strip club.  We had great jokes at Iris’ expense about her choice of hotel locations.  The hotel name was “Daniel” and it was a nice new “boutique” hotel.  The rooms were furnished in modern “Ikea” styling and there were big bean bags in the lobby with an iMac for surfing.  The one really odd thing about the rooms (and we wonder if the strip club proximity had anything to do with the design) was that the shower had a full length glass window onto the bedroom.  That’s right.  You could sit in bed and watch someone shower.  Weird.  The room with Francis, Maggie and Iris managed to work around this problem by stacking up their beanbag chair and some luggage against the window so that people could shower in private.  It really was odd.

We walked down to the old town of Graz shortly after arriving.  The was about 2km but it was hot and it felt longer.  Temperature had begun to creep upwards and was about 25-28C today.  We did our best to try and follow an old town walking tour as suggested by the guide book.  The second stop brought us to the Graz armoury.  The largest European collection of war items from pre 19th century.  30,000 items!  It was really cool.  The armoury is 4 floors high and on the 2nd floor we ran into a staff member that was VERY keen on cameras and was happy to talk about all the different armour and its design while also discussing the latest in Canon cameras.  He was super helpful, unlike the woman on the first floor that just kind of said “Hello” and “Don’t touch’”  What a difference.  It was cool to learn about the different type of armour you got if you were just a peasant fighting for the king or if you were someone with some money, in which case your armour had a bit more design involved and wasn’t jus a hammered out piece of metal.  On the top floor, they let you put on a couple of “prop” helmets (the real ones would probably have been too heavy) and wield a sword.  You could take pictures of yourself looking goofy 😉

We followed the old town route some more and we decided to veer off it and head up to the bell tower.  Of course, like any good part of any ex-castle, the bell tower was atop a hill which meant more climbing. Calves and thighs were reminding me of that.  The bell tower used to be part of a fortification here but when Napoleon came to town and ruled things he had the previous castle razed to the ground and the only thing that spared the bell tower was the townspeople paying a hefty amount to keep it there.  Typical government.  Everything is overpriced  🙂

The view over Graz from the Bell Tower was great.  We had timed our arrival with sunset so we enjoyed using the golden light of the setting sun for various portraits in the rose garden below the tower.  Some shots were great – others – not so much.  I managed a nice panorama shot of Graz but won’t know how it turns out until I get home and can stitch it together.

We headed back down from the bell tower and had another late dinner at around 2100.  More classic Austrian food, this time Styrian. Some good beer!

By the time we got back to the hotel it was quite late and we said our goodnights and agreed to be up and ready to go by 0830.

Sleep came easily again after blogging.

June 4, 2010 Obertraun to Hallstatt Austria

9 06 2010

We moved 5 minutes down the road today.  To Hallstatt from Obertraun. 

The plan had been to go visit the Salt mines and then go shopping in Hallstatt for the remainder of the day.

We had our typical buffet breakfast of meat, cheese, bread, yogurt, juice and cereal at the SeeHotel.   We had noticed the waters receding last night and by this morning the road to the hotel was actually dry. We didn’t need to walk along benches to get to our vehicle this morning.  Yipee.   Packing up was much faster this morning since we hadn’t brought all our luggage in, just a garbage bag of essentials.  Way easier.

A short run down the road to Halstatt and we headed directly to P2 where we knew from yesterday that we’d be close to the funicular to take us up to the salt mines.

We headed up on a 0930 run up the mountain.  This thing smoked…  5 m/s up the hill, and it was a STEEP hill.  In no time we were up at the top of the lift, in and around the clouds of the morning.  The weather forecast said that things should improve.  It had stopped raining but there were DEFINITELY no shortage of clouds shrouding the alp peaks and the lying in the valleys now below us.

From the funicular there was a 10-15 minute walk explaining the history of the salt mining in this area for the past 7000 years.  Archaeologists had found hundreds of people buried as well as tools dating back thousands of years.  It had been a rich source of knowledge about the Hallstatt people.  The salt mine had been so successful that Hallstatt became a key centre of commerce long before Christ.  The only thing that apparently really sunk the salt business was a mine collapse that sealed the mines for almost 100 years.   By the time the mines reopened another mine had become the major salt producer.  This collapse marked the end of the “Hallstatt period” as historians have come to call it.

We arrived at the mine entrance just in time for a tour.  Since the majority of visitors were German speaking, the tour took place in German and the guide gave us an English bit before moving on.  The English was REALLY abbreviated from the German. I don’t know a lot of German, but I could recognize many terms and descriptions that WEREN’T in the English one.  This place really seems to cater to the Austrian and German tourists that come here in the summer to escape the heat of the cities.  Even so, the tour was quite interesting and we learned a lot about olden day salt mining and the methods they use today, in these same mines.  While on the tour we got to slide down these big wooden slides to go to a lower level, just as the miners had done for thousands of years before us.  It made for a bit of fun.  The group was fairly large at 40 or so and I was surprised to learn that the groups in the busy season go up to 70!  We finished out our tour of the mine with a ride on a mine train (A long series bench with wheels that you straddle) and we whizzed 600m back to the daylight at the end of the horizontal shaft.  With our tour complete, they gave us little samples of Hallstatt salt and tried to sell us pictures of ourselves going down the slides.  I didn’t like mine, but some of our group shelled out the 5 Euros for their picture.

When we got out and began our walk down to the funicular we were reacquainted with an old friend – the SUN!!!  The sun was slowly breaking through the clouds and the village of Obertraun, below, became visible clearly from up where we were.  We took pictures with the sunny meadows behind us and generally soaked up the warmth and life that the sun brings.  We were so happy!

It was at this point that I threw out my idea for a “plan B”.  If you recall, the original plan had us spending the afternoon wandering through Hallstatt buying a bunch of overpriced and largely worthless souvenirs.  I threw out my idea.  I figured they could go shop until they drop but I was going to go check out the Dachstein Caves.  They looked quite interesting and one of them was an ICE cave!  After some discussion around the group it was agreed – The Dachstein caves would be the activity for all of us.  (So much for being a rebel – apparently I ended up as a leader 🙂 ) 

The road to the caves was back to Obertraun and then off along a new route that led pretty quickly uphill.  It wasn’t long before we swung around a corner and the gondola system that would take us up to the caves was visible.  Wow!  It went a LONG way up.  The gondola takes people even higher than the caves for those that want to get up to 2990m and do some serious alpine hiking or mountaineering.  We were just going to go up to the first station.  Strangely, this is the time that I found out that Clara is afraid of heights… She was going to tough it out on the gondola though as she was NOT going to miss these caves.  The cost to see both the “Mammoth Cave” and the “Ice Cave” was 15.50 Euros. It was pricey, but I was sure it would be worth it.

We all boarded the gondola at around 1345 and we went to the ticket office to be assigned to a group for our cave tours.   We found out that we would be seeing the Mammoth Cave first and then over to the ice cave.  No problem.

The man at the ticket counter said it would take approx 15 minutes to walk to the Mammoth cave and that our tour started in 30 minutes.  Ack.  We hadn’t had any lunch and it looked like we weren’t going to have any lunch either :(  The group hit the little souvenir shop and grabbed ice creams for a quick energy boost.  I bought a milk chocolate bar and a snickers which I could have later.  We left in a hurry and started up the hill towards the mammoth cave.  The walk wasn’t strenuous but it was a constant gentle uphill.  By the time we got to the mammoth cave we were pretty hot since by now the clouds had given up any pretence of being able to stop the sun.  It was a sunny, hot day and we were starting to cook in our fleeces and jackets which we wore in anticipation of cold wet weather on the mountain.

Within about 10 minutes of our arrival our guide came out and introduced himself. It seems again that as the English speakers we were in the minority but this time the guide would talk to us as we walked from point to point and then address the mostly German speaking crowd at the specific locations.

The cave was huge. It actually goes on for over 60km in the ground but our tour was only 800m  The weather in the area is generally cooler than in many places which means that water evaporation is not as quick.   The slow evaporation meant that stalactite and stalagmite growth conditions weren’t favourable.  The impressive things about the cave were its sheer size in volume and the formations that formed as the underground prehistoric river flowed through it.  It was very interesting and nice to be in the “climate controlled” 8C. The tour was quite informative and it definitely made me wonder what the other 99.8% of the cave would be like.

With our caving appetite whetted we were excited to see the Ice cave.  Good thing too, since we would have to book it down and then back up to ice cave which was even higher up the mountain as the last ice cave tour would be starting in about 25 minutes.  Cathy wasn’t feeling well and her knees were bothering her, so she decided to stay down below at the little restaurant while the other seven us headed up, and SERIOUSLY UP.  Switchback after steep switchback eventually led us to the entrance of the ice cave.  We had just enough time to breathe and congratulate ourselves for making it up when our guide appeared.  Our tour group was much smaller this time and we had an English tour since we were the predominant group.  The ice cave was amazing!  There was a start where you walked along and he gave you the same basic information about karst formations and caves but then he opened yet another door and we entered a frozen wonderland.  Wow!  Icicles hanging right next to you as you walked along the boardwalk.   Ice flows that looked like frozen rivers that had solidified hundreds of years ago and now stood still for us to gaze at in wonder and amazement.  There were ice columns that extended over 40 feet.  There were ice curtains…even a frozen waterfall.  The tour ended with a view into a pit of ice that really made you think that if you slipped off the walk that you might just come out in some mythical land.  What a great tour.

After finishing our tour we had about 25 minutes to get down to the gondola as the last ride down would be at 1710.  Again we didn’t have much time to rest but headed directly down and got in line.  The 1700 gondola was full but we DID get into the 1710.  Shortly, we were back down at the parking lot and climbing into our van and tuning the now quite necessary Air Conditioning.

Next stop: Hallstatt.  We drove back down our now familiar little road to Hallstatt and with the flooding subsided were able to drive right down into the centre of the village which was where our hotel was situated.  At on point on the road we passed between two buildings and I swear there was no more than 6” total to spare for the van!

We unloaded and I went up to park the van.  I had to go back out via the narrow passage and all the walking tourists so that I could go and park up above the village in the free parking.  Of course free parking came with a price.  I had to hike DOWN the stairs again to get back to the hotel.  My feet and knees had just about had enough of all this.

At the hotel I learned that we were up on the 3rd floor (that’s 4 floors up for we North American folks) so we were about to haul our luggage up the stairs when the girl at reception had a young lad come up and help with the carrying.  Most excellent.  The rooms were spacious and nicely decorated in a period style.  The floors creaked liked you’d expect of a 300 year old building.  There would be no sneaking in our out from THIS place.

We headed out for dinner to a little place Maggie and Francis had eaten at the last time they were here.  The gentleman serving us was quite friendly (almost a little too casual) and we had a challenge getting him to stop chatting with the other clients so that we could order. That being said – he was a nice enough fellow and easy to get along with.  We ordered a bottle of wine to share as this was the last night that Clara, Cathy and Maggie’s sister would be with us.  They were beginning their journey back to Hong Kong tomorrow.  We feasted on fish pork and beef after having started with soups and salads.  Desert was different.  We had some puffy egg-centric dessert that I liked while the others gave a mixed review.  We also had found Francis’ new favourite desert – Kaiserschmarren. 

By the time we finished dinner – we were stuffed.  We walked across the small town square back to our hotel rooms and we called it a night.  With no Internet available I got lazy and didn’t write the blog… I started falling further behind 😦

We had a long day ahead of us the next day as we would be heading to Graz so I took advantage of the quieter evening to get some better shuteye.  Soon we would be heading to Croatia!

Good Night!

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