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!

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