Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eisriesenwelt & Hohenwerfern Castle, Werfen, Austria

About 40 minutes away from Salzburg, Austria is a little town hidden in the Berchesgaden Alps called Werfen. It is famous for 2 reasons. Hohenwerfen castle,(Hohenwerfen Castle served as the main backdrop for the song "Do-Re-Mi" in The Sound of Music) and the Eisriesenwelt (World of the Ice Giants in German), the world's largest Ice Caves.

The Eisriesenwelt is a natural limestone ice cave located in Werfen, Austria, about 40 km south of Salzburg. The cave is inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps. It is the largest ice cave in the world! It is more than 42 km and visited by about 200,000 tourists every year. There you'll see ice palaces of crystal-clear beauty, taking you into a wintry world of ice, even on hot summer days. The mighty entrance to the caves, measuring 20 m wide and 18 m high, can be seen from afar. The system of caverns stretches over 42 km, the first kilometer featuring gigantic ice formations. This part is open to the public and can be viewed on a guided tour. The caves have an average temperature of 0° C throughout the summer months. 
The entrance was all the way up there!

We were only 1/3 up the mountain!

For the longest time we have been wanting to go to Salzburg, it was only 4 hours away from us. We like to try to take the pups with us as much as possible, especially when we drive to places. Salzburg seemed like the best choice, especially since it was Drew's birthday weekend. Drew is an outdoor person, he grew up camping, hiking, getting dirty (Things little boys are supposed to know), I didn't grow up that way. Camping is not a thing people do in Hawaii, the only people who camp out on the beach are usually homeless. I may just be a girly girl but I don't like to sweat and I definitely don't like to hike.  But after doing some research on things to do near Salzburg, and hearing about this world famous Ice Cave that was near Salzburg, (even though no one has ever heard of it!) Drew had his heart set on going, especially after we found out we could take the dogs! Since it was his birthday vacation, I caved and decided that we should go to the Ice Caves (Looking back I should have put up a better fight)

Getting to the Ice Caves from Salzburg was easy enough (Thanks to our handy GPS), it is about a 40 minute drive from the city of Salzburg. What the Eisriesenwelt website doesn't tell you is that you need to be prepared for a hike. Their website tells you that the hike requires you to be in good physical condition, what they forget to mention is that you are literally climbing up the Alps to get into the cave, where you have to climb more! The webiste tell you that "You will need walking shoes, warm clothes and should be prepared for uphill walking. The climb to the ice caves is 134 meters." I guess the first time around I missed that part. The site says that it takes about 3 hours to get up to the cave, tour the caves, then walk back down, I would suggest 4.
I'll admit I am not in the best physical condition and if it were my choice I would sit on my comfy couch and watch TV all day, but I love my husband. He does things I like to make me happy, so it's only fair that I do things that'll make him happy.
We were sooo close!!

The view of the last 1/3 of the climb!
After leaving the parking lot, you walk 1/3 up the mountain, and take the cable cart another 1/3 up the mountain,  For about 35 years, the cave could only be accessed on foot. Starting in 1953, an initially unpaved, single-lane road provided vehicle access under rather adventurous conditions; this was followed by an aerial cable car in 1955 that could traverse the steepest part of the footpath (from 1084 m to 1586 m) in just a few minutes. I am so thankful for the cable cart. By the time we made it to the cable cart I thought I was going to die!
But then we had another 1/3 hike up the mountain. Luckily Rylie likes to pull a head and Drew let me take her, so she pulled me up the mountain. Haha.
The cost to use the cable cart and have a tour is 22 euros per person. That was the most we've ever spent on an attraction, but it made Drew happy so it was money well spent. Just to use the cable cart RT is 13 euros, but I wouldn't hike up to the top and not go in. So if you ever get the chance and think this is something you want to do, I would highly encourage you to pay the extra and go inside the caves.
The view from inside the cave

Getting bundled up to go inside the cave

When we finally made it to the entrance of the caves we had 10 minutes before the English tour started. So we put on our winter gear, made sure Seamus & Rylie had their coats on (everyone loved them!) and took pictures outside. The guide had told us we weren't able to take pictures so we could put our camera away if we wanted to. I was pretty bummed that we didn't get to take pictures inside, but they have pictures on their website that I borrowed and it's another memory I get to have.

(These photos are taken from the Eisriesenwelt website)

There are man made walkways inside, they are very slippery though

Yes you climb all those steps!

Before you head into the caves for your 1 ¼ hour tour, lamps are handed out to the visitors. The first stop is the Poselt Hall, with the magnificent Posselt Tower stalagmite. Marvel at the greatest area of ice growth, the Great Ice Embankment, a massive formation rising up to over 75 feet. Stalactites in Hymir’s Castle created the so called ice organ. For an even more stunning effect, the ice formations are sometimes highlighted with magnesium lighting. From there one can see the Great Ice Embankment, a massive formation that rises to a height of 25 metres and represents the area of greatest ice growth. Next is Hymir's Castle, named after a giant in Norse mythology. Here stalactites create a formation called Frigga's Veil, or the Ice Organ.
Next on the tour is the Alexander von Mörk Cathedral, one of the largest rooms in the cave and the final resting place of von Mörk's ashes. The final stop on the tour is the Ice Palace, a kilometer into the cave and 400 meters underground. From here, visitors must turn around and walk back through the caves to reach the entrance. The round-trip tour through the cave takes around one hour and 15 minutes.
The pups did fantastic on the tour. They climbed stairs and only tired to kill us a handful of times. It was probably very selfish of us to take them, it was cold but we wanted to be able to experience it with them. (If your dog doesn't do well in the cold or small spaces, I would not suggest bringing him/her.)  Also for those with kids, I wouldn't suggest bringing your children if they cannot walk on their own. The Ice Caves are NOT stroller friendly.
What a view of the Alps!

The hike down was the easiest part of the whole tour. The views were absolutely breath taking!
On our way down at the drop off point for the cable cart is a little restaurant, we decided to stop there for lunch. The food was amazing, the staff was very kind to us and the pups (they brought the pups out a water bowl for both of them) and they had the best Raddler I've ever tasted! It was a Grapefruit Raddler, (I'm not a beer fan, and the German's mix beer with lemonade, it sounds like a weird combination but its amazing!)
Austrian Cuisine, perfect after that long hike.

Once we finally made it to the car all I wanted to do was head back to the hotel to relax, but on our way down, we spotted a castle on top of a hill with the Alps in the background and I wanted to check it out. (Castle's are my thing) It was the Hohenwerfen Castle! The castle of Hohenwerfen has towered over the 155 metre high craggy rock pillar above the Salzachtal valley for more than 900 years.

Look at that view!

The car took the pic for us! haha

It was our first road trip with our new car! Of course it needed a pic too.

The powerful fortifications were built at the same time as Hohensalzburg Fortress and are some of the best preserved late medieval defenses and rooms on the continent. Because the castle is located on a hill you have the option of walking up the hill or taking a cable cart, we chose to take the cable cart, it was just like riding an elevator, you pressed a button to summon the cart down, and pushed another button to take you up to the fortress. It was about 10 euros per person and it included a tour of the castle, but since we had the dogs we decided not to go on the tour, instead we took our own tour, some times it's the best way to explore. We found the castle's extensive weapons collection, the historical Salzburg Falconry with the falconry museum as well as a fortress tavern. We even picked up some homemade liquor that is made from the flowers grown in the courtyard!

It was a busy day. I'm glad the weather cooperated with us. Needless to say when we finally made it back to our apartment in Salzburg every single one of us passed out until morning.