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9:29pm on Sunday, 7th August, 2011:

Cathedrals and Palaces


It rained all day today. Sigh. I guess you want evidence of this...

...well unfortunately I have none, as my camera ran out of battery. I did manage to recharge it a bit over lunch but it kept cutting out. As it happened, we went on an excursion in the afternoon to a place where they didn't let us take photos anyway — the Eisreisenwelt. This is the largest ice cave complex in the world, at over 42km in length. They didn't tell us until we were actually inside it that less than 2km of that length is actually ice cave; the rest is just cave.

So, here's how it works. You get in a coach and drive for 45 minutes out of Salzburg, through a tunnel, up some hairpin bends, then you're at the base camp. You then walk uphill for 20 minutes until you reach a cable car — apparently the second-fastest in the world. No, we don't know what the fastest is. Or maybe it was the second-fastest in Europe.

You queue 25 minutes for the cable car, then ascend 500m in a couple of minutes, then you walk another 15-20 minutes and then you're at the ice cave.

We had a pretty good guide up until this point, but then we switched to the ice cave specialist guide. His name was Luka (I guess he lived on the second floor), and he spoke English such that every stressed vowel was two vowels. Thus, ice cave became iyiss cayive, light became liyight and seven hundred steps became seyiven hundreyid steyips.

Oh yes, about one in four of us was given these little Davy lamps that gave off approximately one candlepower of light and went out in the slightest gust of wind. Also, inside the ice cave we had 700 steps to climb.

We weren't too happy about having to climb 700 wet steps in dim light having just spent half an hour trekking up a hill to get to the cave. I actually took the trouble to count the steps, and was impressed to find that there were indeed exactly 700 steps to the top. Then there was a bit of a walk round a frozen pond and another set of 76 steps up. At this point we were over 1,500m above sea level. Then we went down by another 700+ steps the other side of the cave. Total time in the cave: 75 minutes.

I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. After all the effort to get there, I was expecting something a bit more special. Attempts to persuade us that the same block of melting ice was a powolar beyear when we first saw it an an eleyeiphant five minutes later didn't add much, and all cave systems seem to have one big cavern called a cathedral and another called a palace.

If the cave system had been in the USA, it would have been lit with tasteful coloured lights and would have been spectacular. The steps inside would have been an escalator and we'd have have jetpacks to take us right from the base camp to the cave entrance. However, it was in Austria and they seem to like the idea of climbing up mountains (or, as our first guide described it, "climbing mountains up") so we were doomed. At least I know these statin pills I take to stop strenuous exercise from giving me a heart attack work.

Still, all that tromping around seemed to inject some new energy into my camera and I was able to take a snap of the magnificent panorama awaiting us when we emerged from the ice cave:

That's what clouds look like when you're in them.

We did get to see a nice castle beneath the clouds, though:

It's where they shot Where Eagles Dare.

Then it was back to Salzburg. We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant where I got to sit in a draught and as a consequence have an aching left calf.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).