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October 15th 2009
Published: November 8th 2009
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Day 43
Wednesday 22nd July
Day trip back into Germany to check out the Disney castle




After moving our tents out to another section in the campground (not sure why, we just did as we were told), we hit the road for our day trip back into Germany to check out Schloss Neuschwanstein, the picture-perfect castle made famous, at least to many children around the world, by Disney.



The drive there was just spectacular, with the views as we passed through the Austrian Alps simply breathtaking. The lovely blue skies and warm mid-twenty degree temperatures really enhanced the scenery, with the green of the trees and the blue of the skies overhead both as vibrant in colour as each other. The tunnels cut in through the mountains were also incredible, as well as being incredibly long, with one tunnel alone being about 10km from beginning to end… I don’t normally consider myself to be claustrophobic, but I can tell you that I was glad when we popped out the other end!



We arrived at Neuschwanstein just before midday, and after a quick lunch in the carpark, we walked up
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to check the castle out. The next guided tour wasn’t for another three hours so we explored the grounds of the castle and as much as we could inside the castle with out needing a ticket. Dav, having been there on his last trip and having done the tour then, was my own personal history guide, explaining the background behind the building of the castle, and how King Ludwig II had built it as a personal refuge and didn’t allow any visitors (and so would probably turn in his grave knowing that it is now it is the most photographed building in Germany, with 1.3 million people visiting it each year!).



Behind the castle, the bridge spanning between a rocky gorge, Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge), also gave spectacular views down over Neuschwanstein (although hindered somewhat by scaffolding), as well as of nearby Hohenschwangau Castle, King Ludwig’s childhood home which was built by his father.



Back on the road and back into Austria, we stopped briefly in amongst the Alps at a small town called Fernsteinsee. There Dav and Craig braved the freezing temperatures to have a dip in the picture perfect mountain-top lake - as
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well as interact with some inquisitive local swans who seemed to prefer the taste of hand-picked grass.



From there we drove into Innsbruck to check out the city with the gorgeous backdrop. We found a great park and headed into the old section of town. There Lucretia led us straight to the Swaroski store, a highlight of her previous visit, where we were dazzled by both the exquisite statues and jewellery, and also their astronomical prices!



After a stroll down by the river, it was back in the car and back to our camp. Luckily we were able to find our way back there as we soon realised that we didn’t actually have an address for the campground, having just stumbled upon it the day before by chance… But somehow we were able to find our way home and after the normal evening routine, including a delicious sausage and lentil stew for dinner ah la Davin, and then a few games of cards, we were all off to bed for the night.





Day 44
Thursday 23nd July
Krimml Falls - largest waterfall in Europe


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Packed an on the road by 9am, it was an early start for us as we headed further into Austria towards our destination for the day - Krimml Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe and the 5th largest in the world.



It was a really hot start to the day, with the temperature getting up to 36 degrees, although the scenery was once again spectacular and helped to take away from the torment of being crammed into the hot car.



We arrived at Hohe Tauern National Park deep in the Austrian Alps in the mid-morning, and after parking up, the four of us set in to check out the main attraction. While I was expecting a great view of the cascading waterfall, the view at the bottom of Krimml was just spectacular - a real memory maker. The water hits the bottom with such force that the spray reaches 50 metres above our heads, swirling around and basically drenching everything within a few hundred metres - which definitely made it hard to take a photo!



We then climbed to about half way up the walking path to further admire the
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380m high waterfall. It is formed where the River Krimml meets the Salzach Valley, and pushes an astonishing 177 billion litres over the rocks each year. This is at its fastest in summer, with the water flowing over at an average rate of 57,000 litres per second, but slows right down to 345 litres per second in winter, with much of the waterfall actually freezing over - makes for some absolutely spectacular photos if the postcards are anything to go by!



Back to the car and with our stomaches complaining, we drove on a little further until we could find some shade in which to enjoy a late lunch.



It was then on towards our next destination of Werfen where we hoped to visit one of the largest accessible ice caves in Europe. We didn’t have time to visit the caves that day as we didn’t arrive until about 5pm, but we did manage to find a fantastic campground right on the river with stunning views up towards the mountain - and it was really cheap, free electricity, free internet, a bar and super friendly mother-daughter team manning the place. One of the best
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campsites yet!



We quickly set up camp and changed into our cosies for a dip in the river, a much-needed cool off after an exhaustingly hot day in the car. While the males of our travelling party have been swimming in freezing waters throughout the trip, this was the first time that Lucretia and I had braved the conditions, a showing sign of just how uncomfortably hot it had been. And so after some dramatic entrances, we were in… and it was frreezing! But refreshing! (Freezing may or may not have been an exaggeration given that it was only 14 degrees…)



Refreshed and in much better moods, we all ambled up the river bank to the bar, where we had a drink or two, and played some cards. It was so nice there that we ended up staying there and getting some pizza for dinner… and so were completely oblivious to the crazy storm that was brewing around us. Complete with thunder and lightening and cyclonic winds, it was actually quite spectacular to watch the storm brewing far off in the distance and make its way towards us, squeezing its way through the mountains.
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The bar area in which we were sitting was a gazebo-style building and was in our minds a fairly decently solid structure, although the roof was looking and sounding a little flimsy as the winds were catching it (although not as flimsy as a tent!). And the owner was looking a little freaked out herself which didn’t do much to settle my nerves!



The storm did eventually blow over, although once we deemed it safe to venture back to our tents, we passed a solid tree that had actually been blown over in the storm. It fell in perhaps the best way imaginable, hitting an empty tent and a car, but with the main weight of the tree being supported by its branches, the car was only scratched and no one was hurt. So between the storm and then the firies coming to clean up the mess, it definitely added a little excitement to the night before bed!





Day 45
Friday 24th July
Eisriesen welt - Werfen ice caves - one of the largest accessible ice caves in Europe




After our normal morning chores, we set
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off for the ice caves, getting a little lost on the way and not arriving until about 11.30am. From the car, our journey up to the opening of the cave took longer then expected - a 10 minute walk up to the ticket office, a 20 minutes waiting inline to buy tickets (where Lucretia and Davin somehow managed to offend one of the workers…), a 20 minute walk to the cable car, a 30 minute wait in line for the cable car, a 2 minute cable car ride, a 20 minute walk from cable car to cave opening, and lastly a 15 minute wait for next tour… Luckily the journey up into the mountains was rather scenic, with spectacular views down to the towns below.



The tour started with every second person being handed a ‘Davy’ torch, a handheld open flame lantern that was used as a light source in the cave. Ironically I was handed one to carry throughout the tour, and yet Dav didn’t…



We had felt the drop in temperature the higher we walked up the mountain, but even all our extra layers didn’t keep the cold out as we entered the caves, with a strong blast of cold air escaping every time a tour group entered, the freezing air rushing out when hitting the hot summer winds outside.



Inside the caves was amazing, with our tour taking us 1km into the 43km long cave system that runs through the mountain, although the first 1km is the only section that filled with ice. And so we looped in the front icy section of the cave system, walking some 1,200 steps in total, taking us an extra 100m up to approximately 1,700m above sea level. The temperature was freezing (literally zero degrees), although it does get down to negative 15 and 20 degrees in winter. The structures in the cave our constantly changing as the ice melts in summer and re-freezes in winter, as well as being reshaped by the strong winds blowing through the cave system. The whole tour was really interesting and a definite highlight of our trip.



Back down to the campsite at about 5pm, we had a fish curry for dinner before returning back to the camp bar for some more cards. We then braved the rain which had set in and headed back to our tents for some sleep.





Day 46
Saturday 25th July
Hallstat




The rain continued overnight which, as always, made packing up sooo much fun. We were eventually on the road by 10am, heading the one and a half hours towards the small town called Hallstat in what is often referred to as the Austrian lakes district.



We left the car in a ‘park&ride’ and caught the shuttle bus into Hallstat, which turned out to be a sweet little town right on the waters edge, with lovely little gift and craft shops edging the lake.



We wound our way through the streets, somehow ending up at the local graveyard, which along with spectacular views down over the lake, also had the Hallstat Charnel House, a small building housing 1,200 human skulls, 600 of which are painted and displayed. Because the graveyard is so small, people were only buried there for ten to twenty years before their graves were reopened, the skulls taken and all other bones removed (to where I have no idea). The skulls were then cleaned and bleached, and painted with the person’s name as well as floral motifs, and placed inside the Charnel House. And then the grave site was free for use by someone else, basically recycling at its extreme... They don’t need to do this anymore since cremations have become more popular, although the last skull was placed in the Charnel House only 12 years ago in 1995.



From our interesting but slightly spooky visit, we took a cable car up the mountain to visit their salt mine, called Salz Welten. The ten minute walk from the cable car to the opening of mine was only about 300 metres long but approx 1,500 graves were uncovered there from the 8th to 4th centuries BC. Hallstat was a wealthy community during this period due to the mining of salt and the subsequent trade abilities with as far as Africa and the Baltic Coast, and hence had quite a population in the surrounding areas. The archaeological significance of the area is so great that a period of time has been named after it - the Hallstat period.



The actual tour in the salt mine went for just over an hour and
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was pretty tacky unfortunately. The main highlights were our uniforms (prison issue shapeless scrubs), two slides down between levels of the mine, an underground salt lake, a short train ride on the way out.



We spent the night at the campground in town, where we met some Australians, Nick and Carly, from Brisbane. They have been away from home for three years and are travelling around Europe for six months but in the opposite direction to us. And so we spent the night picking each other’s travel experiences for our respective adventures ahead. We finally got to bed about 11pm, retiring to the tent for the extra warmth it provided as much as anything, with the night being the chilliest one so far.





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