Where Eagles Dare - Eisriesenwelt

Trip Start Jul 02, 2009
Trip End Aug 01, 2009

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Flag of Austria  , Salzburg,
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Natalie had noticed in the Lonely Planet that the worlds largest ice caves 'Eisriesenwelt' near the village of Werfen. As it was on our way to Salzburg we thought why not tick another 'Worlds biggest/largest/first' off the list (Chevy Chase eat your heart out!)

Well what an experience... the day starts with a 15 min minibus ride up the mountain to a stopping point 200m from the ticket office. The walk to the ticket office takes another 10 minutes as it is fairly steep, but nothing had us prepared for what was to come after that.

Firstly, you buy your tickets, which include the cable car up the mountain. The cable car travels 700m at a 65 degree angle, and with Natalie not the best person to be with when heights are involved, it was an entertaining ride for the kids!!

Then after we made it to the top of the cable car we were delighted to find out that we had another 250m climb up to the actual ice cave itself. The kids did amazingly well and we made it to the entrance of the cave, at a lazy 1710m!

What was more disconcerting for Natalie is that three of the guides were leaning/sitting on a fence post at the entrance, and behind them nothing but a sheer cliff with gravel and scree to help them rapidly descend 800 metres!!!

We were greeted by our guide, who had the pleasure of telling us that there were another 720 stairs upwards in the cave itself... just what my burning quads needed to know! On top of yesterday's walk to the falls, my legs were telling me enough was enough, and I was worried about the kids, especially Declan.

We were given our torches and then we entered the cave... the air at the entrance to the cave itself blasts you in the face like the feeling you get sticking your head out of the car window into a hailstorm. Then we proceeded the first 346 steps (yes they are numbered) to the first ampitheatre of ice.

During the walk there are some amazing sights, such as ice that looks like an elephant, a polar bear, a huge room that looks like a palace (with a floor 8m thick of ice), and a throne room as well. Declan soon found out how cold it was in there (minus 6) when he thought it would be a good idea to take a step off the path and went heel deep into icy slush at the side!!!

Over an hour is spent in the caves, with some quite steep climbs both up and down... we fell behind the group on the way out of the cave, as Declan and Paige needed to take their time coming down the steps, as they were quite slippery in places. We eventually came out into the bright sunshine, and made the walk back down the mountain... a great day, although very tiring, and we highly recommend the Tirol region of Austria to anyone who wants to see and experience fantastic mountain scenery.

Into Salzburg next, so Nat can go on the sound of music tour, and Jamie can quietly throw up!

Day 12
We started the day with the other big highlight in Werfen, the Schloss Werfen, and the amazing Falconry/Birds of Prey demonstration. For Clint Eastwood fans, this was the site for the shooting of the movie 'Where Eagles Dare'.

We caught the short cable car up to the castle, and then proceeded to look around the grounds for a while. The highlight of the self guided tour, being the torture room, where I took the time to explain the shame masks to the kids (where in medieval times people who committed minor criminal acts were forced to wear a mask in public highlighting the misdemeanor... I thought it would be great to tell the kids that it could still happen to them!)

For those readers that have been to see the similar bird show at Healesville Sanctuary, there is no comparison. The birds here fly directly into the crowd, over your heads, so close to some that their hair was being moved. Kids were instructed to sit still for very good reasons, as the sight of a huge eagle heading straight for you is a tad unnerving to say the least.

Any photographer would know that this is probably the toughest shooting challenge of them all, and after rattling off 150+ photos, Jamie was only slightly happy with one of them... guess more practice is needed.

Rest of the journey into Salzburg was fairly uneventful, and we arrived at our camping site around noon. We set up camp, Nat quickly booked herself into the 'Original Sound of Music' tour with Paige and then headed into Salzburg in the early afternoon.

Salzburg itself is a city with a lot of character and charm, if you get off the main streets, which have been turned into fairly congested motorways. The Salzach river runs pale blue with all the additional NaCl content, and once you get past the fact that every second shop has something to do with Mozart, it has a certain charm about it.

We had dinner that evening at a wonderful restaurant in one of the back streets of Salzburg, and then headed home for some rest.

The only slight downside being a fairly nervous 25 minute wait at the main bus station for our connecting bus to take us back to the campsite. That had been the first time we had actually felt uncomfortable anywhere in Europe, but I guess like most places, it just depends on the luck of the draw.
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