Best, today, to keep the write-up short and enjoy a whiskey – tea – port – whiskey. .. repeat.
Intended to stop over in Slovenia at the huge national park at Kranjska Gora, enjoy the park & lakes, and continue our new-found interest in caves.
Not to be. Snow simply got heavier, with the Wurzen Pass, our intended route, closed (no warning until arriving at the pass). Nice guy at the garage pointed out that when they have 5cm of snow the pass has 10 x more. So, 40km detour to bring us around on the other side … snow getting heavier, road getting narrower, 9km of climb still to go, van starting to slide as the snow compacted and began to freeze, and with the forecast predicting -9° overnight, we bailed, almost getting stuck, and headed down to Trieste.
Currently staying in the most expensive camping park we’ve yet had. €18 overnight, €4 electricity, €12 for toilets … and it’s just a carpark. Welcome to Italy.
Sigh – some days are just like that 🙂
The slide show below is from Niki’s view of the day – enjoy.
We’ve had a day of brilliant sunshine, no wind, blue skies and oodles of snow. Up at the crack of dawn (7 o’ Clock) for tea and biscuits, then off to Hallstatt to catch the funicular to the salt mines up the mountain – really pleased that the walkway was still 1 ½ meters under snow thereby preventing Niki from dragging me up a 30% climb. With hardly anyone else around, apart from some bleary-eyed service personnel, we took our time and made full use of the audio tour – some fascinating stuff.
Steepest funicular ever!!
Lots we couldn’t see…
This is the oldest salt mine in the world, worked pretty continuously since 7000BC. Rich archaeological finds include the world’s oldest staircase (maybe), some 6 500 graves and a very wide range of Celtic artefacts and trading goods. The salt miners were trading across the known world long before the foundation of Rome (which reminds me of a book written by the Monty Python crew member Palin, who described the devastation wrought by Rome, particularly on the Celts both here and in Britain). One interesting section of the tour included uses the miners wooden slides to descend into lower levels:
Amazingly sophisticated clothing, jewellery etc although exhibited, is a little sparse and I would have liked to see more.
The tour through the mine sort of just scratched at possibilities – although thoroughly enjoyable we left with a sense of wanting more. Still, getting to know about the formation of the rock salt etc as always, leaves me wondering how the ‘Young Earth’ creationists respond to hearing of ages mentioned in millions of years …
… and the sedimentary layers above
We are still in our car park which has proven to be very quiet and, until 10 minutes ago, very sunny. Weather forecast for tonight is rain/snow with temperatures coming down from today’s high of 17°C (in the sun!!) to 3° on Tuesday. We are going to settle back and enjoy the good weather, and leave tomorrow. For where? No idea yet as Niki hums and haws about options and possibilities….
48 hours of non-stop rain and sleet finally came to an end as we began packing up to move on from our unexpectedly amazing campstop at Allweglehen. Interesting to note that high season prices are €43 per night, or €15 per night for campervans parked at their bottom parking area. €12 off season was just fantastic and goes some way to explaining why we stayed 2 nights.
Heading off to Hallstatt our not-so-reliable GPS pointed us at the narrowest, most winding road possible. One immediate multi-point turn saw us again on the freeway, feeling safer, travelling faster, and for the loss of 5 minutes. I’m a big fan of GPS …
The drive to Hallstatt took us along a winding road that climbed steadily to around 1500m. I’d heard that the Austrian Alps had a good dumping of snow over winter, but in many areas it was still meters thick. That, together with blue skies and steadily increasing temperatures made for a great drive – and at little less than 90 minutes on the road was well within my current capabilities. Where are the days of 800km a stretch – well gone, that’s where!
Hallstatt looks gorgeous. Settled for over 7000 years and the site of the world’s oldest salt mines – which we are visiting tomorrow – the area is rich in history. The town itself is tiny, and unbelievably packed with tourists, even though tourist season is months off. Again glad to be doing this in March!
We wound our way through one-way streets (2 way traffic, but really, only 0ne-way!) looking for an overnight stop – no luck. The campground in town looked like this:
So we’ve ended up in a parking area for busses outside town. No complaints, it’s free, 20 minutes walk to town, off the road, is actually signposted as a parking area for busses and campervans (it does indicate no camping, but I think that means tents …). The very calm lake is just behind us with a flotilla od ducks passing by, a wall of cliff in front, sun setting behind red-tinged mountains, moon rising in a crystal blue sky … ahhhhh!
To the history buffs out there, we are just past the Eagles’ Nest having done a 20 minute drive from Salzburg (arriving back in Germany 4 minutes later) and camped out at the most amazing campsite – but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Firstly, in the interests of fairness and not aiming to offend any particular nationality I’ve tried to be even-handed. So it is with no particular malice that I note that Austria is the place to which Germans without a sense of humour are exiled. Of course that excludes the Schwartz’s!! It’s been a long time since the person behind the till greets you and your order with ‘Ja?` Nevertheless, a great morning spent at Austria’s premier tourist venue, the Festung Hohensalzburg. And quite spectacular it was too, in good tourist-type condition, audio-tour provided with the entrance ticket, and lots of non-smiling guides preventing you from wandering off their beaten track.
The morning started with Niki, having set her Google Maps setting to ‘Athletic’, completely missed the great funicular trip from the Dom (Cathedral) to the top of the fortress. Instead we huffed and puffed up a winding path. All that was missing were the kids doing an ‘are we there yet’ kind of whine. Layers were removed until the daypack was filled to overflowing and finally we arrived to a gorgeous view over the old town. Quick point: the last section of the path must be a 30% incline.
We remember that salt really was white gold, and life, in high densities, was simply not possible without it. The fortress suitably encapsulates the sense of wealth, power and, yes, the oppression it brings with it. My heart always goes out to the doomed Peasant Rebellions!
We followed that with a walk through the Cathedral – well worth the visit (and, Norway, filled with interesting things and FREE). The original church was built in 774, rebuilt in 1181, and then again in its Baroque glory in the 17th C. The baptismal font used For Mozart’s baptism is still there. Walking through the crypt was equally interesting as you can see parts of previous churches – and recognise how the current edifice has overgrown its past. The original church is now smaller than the nave, for example
A walk through the small, but well-preserved old town led us to a bar and lunch, before heading back to the van. Some shops just proved to be really interesting: This shop sold dirndl and lederhosen. I was reminded on Niki’s dad telling me a story from his school days in Port Elizabeth, when he was caned, but wearing his lederhosen, was the envy of all boys undergoing similar punishment (seriously, let’s name it for what it was, abusive torture).
Around the corner, a bespoke knife maker. Now I don’t really like jewellery, but watches and knives are what I find beautiful – and this was simply stunning. I was quite speechless, and had a little quiver when picking up one of the mid-range knives (€6000). Top of the range knives were €18000 each. You can, of course, get a complete kitchen set …
And where would we be without the cuckoo clock!!! And tin cars!!
We had planned on a camperstop for around €8 overnight. A slow ascent up a 14% incline, and narrow turns that just took the van, got us to a …CLOSED sign. Ah well, the joys of winter camping in Europe – no crowds, but also no facilities. Or..
On the road again and 5 minutes later we turn into a 5 star campsite overlooking stunning valleys and snow covered peaks. In fact, the campsite itself is pretty snow covered. For €12 we now have: Electricity, fresh water, heated outside pool looking off into the Alps, a stone throw (literally) away, TWO saunas, wellness rooms, fantastic restaurant, unbelievably good ablutions (the shower is about half the size of our van – that is, each individual cubicle!). The underfloor heating is on, all our electrical goodies are charging, rain is pattering down (soon to turn to snow?) and it’s only snacks for dinner, having filled up at lunch. Not a bad day, all in all!
A wonderful and stress free day spent travelling under a blue sky, no wind, great roads (albeit very busy), with fantastic views of the approaching Austrian Alps – enjoyed more by the Navigator than me. Hmmm, trying to overtake slower trucks (yes, there are slower vehicles on the road, Devon) while keeping an eye on the rearview mirror for cars coming up behind at 200km/h does make for a need to keep focused. In any case, passing by beautiful scenery, all while the GPS was actually positively engaged , made for a change from some previous days.
Not much time to do anything else today as we had a pretty late start. Ahhh – I really do enjoy lying in bed as the traffic builds after 5:00am 🙂 We are currently parked in a municipal parking lot behind Salzburg’s sport arena and next to a supermarket. Free Wi-Fi in the town! Honestly, why can’t everyone get this right (here’s looking at you, Taunton!) This will make life so much easier tomorrow when Niki has (another) Skype interview with her new school as they have encouraged her to apply for a team leadership position. This gives her a morning to get her head back into the classroom, lunchtime interview, and then we’ll take a slow walk into the old town 3km away. Really looking forward to visiting the salt mines – If you have an opportunity to read Salt by Mark Kurlansky it will make you want to visit every salt production area possible.
So, settling in for the evening, Nachos on the menu together with more wine – eventually have to die from something – and then settling in to watch one of the many downloaded series we haven’t gotten round to watching. Oh, and hoping the Austrians don’t arrive at shopping malls too early in the morning. However, at €2.50 for 24 hours we will not be complaining!