Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ice Caves

We chose our second day in Salzburg to take a day trip to visit the Eisriesenwelt ice caves. The caves are near Werfen, a little town about 45 minutes' train ride from Salzburg. So we got a bus to the train station in Salzburg and hopped on a train to Werfen. From the train station we walked about ten minutes to the car park where the shuttle bus to the caves picks you up. The bus wasn't too expensive, 6 euros each for the return trip.

But the trip doesn't end at the end of the bus ride. It drops you at the visitor centre where you buy your tickets, and from there, it's a 15 to 20 minute walk, uphill, to the bottom of the cable car. If you're super keen you can skip the cable car and hike up, but it's your choice between a three minute cable car ride or an extra two to three hours of walking. Literally. I know what I'd choose. Because then, at the top of the cable car, you have another 10 to 15 minute walk. Still uphill. We stopped at the top of the cable car for lunch (Austrian Mac and cheese for André and toasted sandwiches with side salads for me and Michelle) before continuing up to the caves.

They warn you that it's zero degrees inside the caves regardless of the outside temperature, so we came prepared. We emptied out my backpack (easy when you have packing cubes!) and André carried it for the day with our jackets, scarves, beanies and gloves in it. At the entrance to the cave we put the extra layers on except for the gloves. Disappointingly we discovered the tours were only in German with a printed English translation on a piece of paper. This can be difficult to read when there is no electrical lighting in the caves, only the gas- yes, gas- lanterns they gave us to carry. What is this, the 1800s? Do they not have head lamps or at least battery operated hand held torches? Nothing on the website suggests you should bring your own torches either.

You are also not allowed to take photos in the caves. According to the website it's so that guides don't get 'blinded by flashes' (which wouldn't be necessary if the place was lit better) and so nobody slows the tour down because tours leave 'every six minutes' - they don't, they leave every half hour. So by ten minutes into the tour, we were not very impressed- no electric lighting so we couldn't even appreciate the ice formations properly (could just see them via our lanterns and the magnesium flares the guide lit), hand-held gas lanterns, no English speaking guide and no photos. However a bit further into the caves the pace slowed a bit and the guide climbed in behind many ice formations to light longer-lasting flares. Permanent electrical lights still would have been more effective, but we were able to see things better. André also managed to get some video on his phone but got told off about half way through the tour! I started reading the translation but was also carrying a lantern so passed the translation to Michelle to read. So I basically went through it without any commentary, but it was still interesting and very different to anything I've seen before. Everything its covered in ice. In many places you can see the rock through the ice- it's so clear it's like looking through water. There are enormous frozen waterfalls, some 'pouring' down through holes in the ceiling to form ice columns, others 'flowing' down through the cave. Some tunnels were so low even I had to duck my head. And because it's ice and re-forms every year, nobody cares much if you touch it either (although there are large long-lasting formations that do break over time). We went about a kilometre into the cave network, which extends a further 41km into the mountain.

If you have the opportunity to see other ice caves that are better set up it probably isn't worth the cost and effort to get to Eisriesenwelt, but as we'll probably never have the opportunity to see something similar again, it still ended up being a good experience.

1 comment:

  1. I'd have been busting to take photos of the ice formations!