Ice Caves and Hallstatt

Trip Start Aug 03, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2010

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Jungegastehaus Salzburg

Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25, 2010 Wednesday: Ice Caves and Hallstatt

We drove out of Salzburg today along the same route as the Sound of Music tour of yesterday but we went farther through the Lake District to Dachstein.  We took the tram up to the Ice Caves and got a ticket for a tour of the caves.  It was a very steep hike up to the cave entrance and it took me awhile to get there, but it was worth it.  We have been in Mammoth Cave and in Carlsbad Caverns and other lesser known caves in the US.  This cave was similar but different.  The caves were formed by water eroding limestone but the formations in the caves are formed of ice.  The snow that melts off the mountain in spring and summer runs through the cave where the temperature is never above 1 degree Celsius, about 34 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was cold.  I was very glad I had bought a winter hat in Wales.  Next we rode the tram higher up the mountain for a great 360 degree view of the area

Once at the top we had dessert for lunch.  Larry and I split a Germknodel mit Vanillesauce. Scrumptious! Derek and Erin had apfelstreudel.  And Beer!  After we ate we visited the sled dogs that were up there.  They had raced in the Iditorod Race in Alaska.  We hiked up to the top of the mountain and on the way we saw people jumping off the mountain with parasails.  There was a crew there filming them as they took off one after another.  It was mesmerizing.  At one point near the top is what is called the Five Fingers.  These are five platforms that jut out over a cliff so that you are hanging over the valley.  One finger had a picture frame for taking pictures.  Another had a glass bottom floor like the CNN Tower in Toronto.  A third had a 10 inch round hole so you could look straight down to the valley floor.  At the top of this area was a bit cross.  There are crosses on top of all the tall peaks that we saw.

From the top we could see Hallstatt.  We had driven through there on the way to the ice caves.  Last year when Erin was there she came in by train to Hallstatt.  But the train station is across the lake from the village and she had to take a ferry across the lake.   By the time we left the mountain and got back to Hallstatt, the village was in the shadow of the mountain behind it.  Hallstatt is a very small village with great old buildings built right into the cliffs of the mountains that surround it.  We walked around a bit and visited the Catholic Church up on the cliff.  The church itself was not that special but the Chapel of Bones was amazing.  It was outside the church in the cemetery.  Because there is very little burial space in the cemetery, bodies were dug up after 15-20 years and the long bones and skulls set to dry in the sun.  The graves were used again and again. It is called a Charnel House and is the only one like it in the world.  Then the skulls, once bleached by the sun, were painted with roses, ivy, laurel and other things and the family name put on them. Then they were displayed in the chapel.  The last skull placed in there was in the 1990's.  It was all very respectful and a unique way to deal with the problem of not enough space.  Today, most people are cremated.

When we were walking on the town platz, I noticed a restaurant that had a lake terrace.  So I suggested that we eat there for supper.  The restaurant was part of the Gruner Baum (Green Tree) Hotel.  It was pricey but it was the best meal we had in Germany or Austria, in the best location.  When we went to the terrace it was almost empty.  There was a table on a floating dock on the lake and we sat there.  Derek and Erin had Wienersnitzle, Larry and Viennese Beef and I had Ravioli with a garlic and mushroom sauce.  It was a great meal, sitting there with the ducks and the swan begging for food, the vintage motorboats touring on the lake, the gulls calling back and forth to one another, and the mountains across the lake reflecting the setting sun.  It was a wonderful day, my favorite for the trip.
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