It’s long past time to delve further into Austria before heading back to Munich, and at breakfast Team Hubbard and our Spanish compatriots came up with a plan. After packing up and leaving our hotel in Ruhpolding, our first stop would be a cave known as Eisriesenwelt, which is German for the “Land of Ice Giants,” followed by an afternoon in Salzburg, the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest musicians, Maria Von Trapp. Oh, and Mozart was born there, too.
As the saying goes, an army marches on its stomach, and with such a busy itinerary, we knew it was important to start the day off with a hearty meal. After six months in Europe, Lydie and Cassie have become old traveling pros and recognize strength in “going local” when the dinner bell rings — at least so long as that means that you get to eat pretzels and call it breakfast.
After breakfast, we packed up and soon were on our way to Austria, heading to Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in the world. Reaching the entrance to the cave is no mean feat. After driving for about an hour and a half, we reached an extremely steep road up to the visitor’s center for Eisriesenwelt. We soon reached a parking lot, and cobbled together as much cold-weather gear as we could (borrowing liberally from our Spanish friends who packed better than we did). We adults put our heads together and came to the conclusion that the inside of an ice cave would probably be kind of cold.
The mouth of the cave is located high in the mountains. Indeed, explorers didn’t make it more than 200 meters into the cave until 1879. At the visitor’s center, we bought tickets for a cable car that would take us most of the way there. The cable car was fast and the ascent disturbingly steep. But we were excited, which helped to keep the butterflies at bay.
Maybe it was the change in altitude or maybe it was simply the relief we all felt once we were safely off the cable car, but the kids were more than a little loopy.
You can get a good sense of how steep the cable car ride was in the picture above, in which you can see the steep angle of the cables. But the weather was perfect and the views were spectacular!
We still had about 30 minutes of hiking to reach the entrance to the cave, so we headed off. Along the way, we continued to be stunned by the views of mountainous Austria.
On our way up in the car we had passed Hohenwerfen Castle, a beautiful medieval fortress. The entrance to the cave is so remote that the Austrians in the case once thought the cave was an entrance to hell. Looking back at the valley, we could look down inside the walls of the small castle (but sadly we did not get a chance to visit it on this trip). You can see the castle in the bottom right of the photo below.
We continued up the steep path and soon reached the entrance to a cave!
But it wasn’t the ice cave yet. This was just a teaser tunnel that punched through a part of the mountain, leading to more path on the other side. Onward and upward! Here, if you have extremely good eyes, you can see our crew on the path on the right side of the photo.
Eventually the path led us out of the treeline. In the distance we could see the entrance to Eisriesenwelt! The path along the way was covered in places to protect visitors from rock falls.
As we climbed, we spotted some side trails that led up into the mountains, with chains nailed into the rock for support. I was tempted, but we had an ice cave to visit. Soon, we reached the cave, where we had to wait with other visitors before entering it. Looking back, we could see the path we had climbed and the valley in the distance.
Soon it was our turn to enter the cave. The guides lined us up and passed kerosene lamps to every third or fourth visitor. We then approached a small door that has been installed to protect the cave. To accommodate visitors, the entrance to the cave was been enlarged from its natural state, which could allow more warm summer air to enter the cave and melt the ice. The door prevents this problem. But the door also creates a different problem. Eisriesenwelt is a massive cave, stretching more than 40 kilometers into the mountains. The portion that we would be visiting stretches upwards away from the door for at least one kilometer, so that the door is at the bottom of a long tunnel of sub-freezing air. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, opening the door releases a constant blast of frigid air that we had to stagger through get inside. As soon as we were inside and the door was closed, however, the wind ceased.
We climbed through the dark interior on rickety, slippery steps with the flickering kerosene lamps providing little light. There was no electric lighting in the cave. To showcase the more impressive features of the cave, our guide burned strips of magnesium. Unfortunately, there was also no photography allowed in the cave, but the internet provideth.
We continued to walk up for about 45 minutes, covering about 1 kilometer. Along the way, we saw extraordinary ice flows and formations. The ice actually forms during the summer, not the winter. In the winter, the temperature drops, cooling the surrounding stone to well below freezing. As the snows on the mountains melts, the water drips into the cave, where it frozen by the stone and cold air. It was incredible to hike in the low light of kerosene and magnesium through the cave, surrounded by ice and with tons of rock overhead. Halfway through our visit, we turned around, though the cave continues for more than 40 more kilometers. The hike back was just as beautiful. But we were starting to get cold, and it was a relief when we made it back to the entrance and were blown out the door.
Our spirits were high as we started back down the path, and we soon reached one of the side trails that led up into the mountains. Every now and then, 20-year-old Will demands some attentions and this was just such a time. I set off, promising everyone I would be careful.
It was incredible, and I wish I could have gone further. But we didn’t have the time, everyone was waiting for me, and I hadn’t fallen yet, so I called it a day and rejoined the group. We headed back down the mountain, grabbed lunch at the visitor center, and hopped in the cars headed for Salzburg.
Salzburg is a beautiful city. But our primary reason for coming was The Sound of Music. Our friend Teresa is a huge fan of the movie, much of which was filmed in Salzburg. With Fräulein Teresa in the lead, we set out to find, and if possible, recreate some of those scenes. (We actually started this process at Eisriesenwelt, as that area was used for many of the outdoor mountain scenes in the movie.) We started this madness at the Small Parterre, where Maria and the Von Trapp children sang “Do Re Mi.”
Nailed it. (Good thing we travel with so many extras.)
Next we, visited the the gardens Schloss Mirabell.
Diego and I should have worn our lederhosen (or maybe play clothes made from curtains).
Our final stop on our Sound of Music tour was the Residenz Square Horse Fountain. Along the way, we passed the birthplace of Christian Doppler, the Austrian physicist for whom the Doppler Effect was named. I honored Doppler the best way I knew how.
(If this doesn’t make sense to you, as your nerdiest friend.) We soon reached the fountain, where Maria stared down and splashed one of the horse-headed statues.
Many of the girls in our party did the same, including Cassie. Perhaps all the contemptuous starting from visitors is why the horse looks so unhappy.
For dinner, we ate at a nearby outdoor restaurant, where the girls had yet another pizza. It was starting to get late, and we still had to drive back to Munich. The sunset was beautiful as we drove back into Germany.
Satisfied and exhausted, my family slept, as I checked one more item off my Germany list, quietly edging my speed over 100 mph. It was another amazing day. Like me on the autobahn, it had all gone by too fast.