Thursday, December 6, 2012

Munich & Austria - Part 4 of 5

Ughghghg. On our first day in Austria, I woke up feeling like absolute crap. The cold/bronchitis that I had been trying to get over for a couple weeks felt like it was back in full force. The dust in the air from the construction set up camp in my lungs, and I had a massive headache.

Oh, and our hosts decided it would be a good idea to start up construction again at 7:00am!!! So, we all woke up to the sounds of power tools. It was NOT fun.

But, when you're on vacation, you just have to power through. Our first destination of the day was to Hohenwerfen Fortress. The fortress was nestled amongst the Alps, in a very pretty location. Although, we were in the Alps, so pretty much EVERYTHING was in a very pretty location.

The tickets to get into the fortress are actually pretty expensive. €10.50 to walk up, or €14.00 to take the funicular up. We all chose to take the funicular.

The main reason for us to visit Hohenwerfen was for us to see the falconry show. But, we had some time to kill before it started, so we explored the fortress a little bit. There were different sections set up into different museums. The weaponry museum seemed to be the biggest (and my Dad would have loved it). All in all, I have to say....Hohenwerfen was pretty disappointing. It was expensive to get into, a lot smaller than it looked, and it just wasn't that spectacular. But, I also felt like cow poop, so that may have had something to do with it.

Finally, it was time for the falconry show to start. I’ve never been to one, so I was pretty excited about it. At this point, I should mention that I’m more than a little terrified of birds flying overhead of me. It’s not that I’m scared of birds...I’m not! But, I am utterly terrified of getting shat on by a bird. It’s never happened (yet), so I don’t really know where the fear comes from. All I know is that I HATE when birds fly over me. I can totally see myself becoming one of those people that carries around a parasol on nice days. Not to protect myself from the sun, but to protect myself from bird poop.

So, even though I was excited to see the falconry show, I was more than a little nervous about all the birds that were flying over me. But, it ended up ok. No one got shat on, so I was happy.

But the falconry was pretty amazing. They had several types of birds - eagles, falcons, even vultures. It seemed like the birds were really taken care of, and you could tell the handlers really loved their birds.

After the show, the handlers let their falcons fly around, just to stretch their wings. They went FAR. But, they always came back. It was really neat to see these huge birds soaring over the castle, amongst the mountains. One thing I noticed - there were absolutely NO wild birds in the area. No little song birds in the trees, no little finches anywhere. It makes sense, but it was still kind of surreal.

After the falconry show, it was time to go to the next place - Liechtensteinklamm. Yes, that’s a mouth full. Liechtensteinklamm is the deepest ravine/gorge in the Alps. For a small fee (€4), you walk through the ravine and end up at a waterfall. The walk was pretty fun - there were several bridges, and tunnels going through the rock. We were constantly dripped on, but it wasn't bad. I'd love to go back. If you've ever been to Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado - it is SO MUCH like that. Although, I think the Liechtensteinklamm footpath is much longer than the path in Box Canyon.

Once we were done with Liechtensteinklamm, we went on to the next destination. The Ice Caves. The ice caves we went to are the biggest ice caves in the world.

Unfortunately, yours truly did not get to partake. :/

To get to the caves, first we had to drive up a mountain. Which was fine, except our car really didn’t like it. Didn’t help that the Mr. doesn’t really know how to drive on mountainous roads (pretty sure our brakes almost caught fire on the way down - next time, I’ll do the mountain driving). Once at the visitor’s center, you have to do a 20 minute hike up to the gondola. Then, the gondola takes you up to the start of another hike. From there, you do another 20 minute hike up to the entrance of the Ice Caves. The Ice Caves themselves were full of steps - 750 up, and 750 down. My ankle was NOT about to go through that mess. Based on the hike I did the next day (I'll get to that) I totally could have done it - but, we were in a time crunch. There was only one more tour left in the day, and there is no way I would have been able to make the hike in as fast a time as the others had to.

So, I stayed behind while the rest of them did the Ice Caves. And you know what? As much as I would have liked to see them, I had a pretty nice time all to myself. I walked around the visitor center, took in the sites of the surrounding mountains, had myself a few drinks (Well, there was a bottle of bourbon in the trunk & a bottle of coke. How was I NOT going to have a few drinks?) and played on the iPod. They were gone a couple of hours, but time seemed to fly for me. :)

The other three had a great time, though. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the caves. So, I got nothin' to share here. But, check out the link I provided above, and you can see some of the stuff Josh & the cousins saw.

After the Ice Caves, it was probably around 5pm so we decided to drive into Salzburg to eat dinner. We drove to Old Town, and found a garage. Unfortunately it was drizzling, but we all came prepared with umbrellas! One thing we DIDN'T realize was happening, was Salzburg's city fest. When we were in Munich, it was a few days before Oktoberfest started (we purposefully went there before Oktoberfest, so we could miss out on all that crap). But, Salzburg was a party! Old Town was filled with tents & biergartens. But, it really wasn't that bad. Old Town was a lot smaller than we were expecting, so it wasn't like there were massive amounts of tents, anyway. And, the drizzle seemed to keep the crowds away.

But, first things first - dinner! Karen & Curtis read about an Indian restaurant in Rick Steves, so that's where they wanted to go. Josh & I are NOT Indian fans, so we parted ways at dinner. We walked around until we found a Mexican steak restaurant, called Maredo. Josh is pretty sure that the restaurant we found was actually a European chain restaurant, and I'm thinking he was right. I know I've mentioned it before, but Josh and I are on a mission to find good Mexican food in Europe.

We haven't succeeded yet.

Maredo wasn't horrible. Josh had a steak, and I had the veggie fajitas. It was fine. I had a margarita - WHICH WAS NOT FINE. It was served in a martini glass, with no ice. I'm not really sure what it was, but it tasted more like a lemon drop made with tequila. Very very interesting take on the margarita. :/ But, we were really hungry, and we ate everything on our plates - so it had to be at least somewhat successful.

Apparently Karen & Curtis' Indian restaurant was really really good, so I'm glad they went there. :)

After dinner, we walked through the town again, and back to the car. We had all decided to try and break our reservation with the apartment we had. We were supposed to stay there 4 nights, but it just wasn't a good place to stay. So, when we got back to the apartment, we talked with our hostess, and found another place in Salzburg. It ended up being a big stress headache through Airbnb, though. But, it didn't turn into a headache until AFTER the trip, when Karen got home & tried to deal with weird credit card charges.

But, at the time, we were able to cancel our reservation for the Construction Zone apartment, and book another apartment on Airbnb.

However, at this point it was almost 10pm at night, so we did stay a 2nd night at the Construction Zone. At least we didn't wake up to the sounds of power tools again.

The next day, we packed all of our stuff, and headed out to Königssee, just over the border in Germany. As we were driving across the border, we noticed an Austrian checkpoint with several police pulling cars over. They were checking for vignettes.

We still hadn't bought one. Crap! But, we were in Germany again, so - haha!! Although, it spooked us, so we ended up buying one in Germany that day, before crossing back into Austria.

Anywho - Königssee is a lake nestled in the German Alps. The lake is the cleanest lake in Germany - the boats used to ferry people across are all electric.

At the head of the lake is a little craft village, full of souvenirs & shops & crap like that. Königssee seemed to be a very popular destination for Germans, but there were NOT that many English speakers around. But, the area was AWESOME!

Königssee has a bunch of hiking trails around it, and a pilgrimage church built halfway down the lake shore. To get to the trails & the church, you have to take one of the electric boats. They definitely packed us all in! It was around €11, I think, to take the boat there & back.

The trip took 35 minutes to go 5km. It was the longest, slowest boat ride EVER. It was ridiculous how irritating it was. On the way there, the boat captain gave a spiel about all the sites along the way. Of course, it was all in German, but apparently our captain was the funniest guy ever, because the other passengers were almost peeing themselves with laughter. It got to where the four of us were laughing along with them, because it was so funny how funny they thought everything was. At least we had an English brochure to point out the sites along the way. There was a spot on the rocks where something like 40 pilgrims died in a boat wreck during a thunderstorm a few hundred years ago. How 40 people died on that lake, I will NEVER know. The only thing I could think of is hypothermia, but even then - the lake is not that big, and they should have been able to swim to shore. :/ Dumb pilgrims.

We finally made it to the church, and got off the boat. There is a longer ticket you could by, and the boat would take you to the end of the lake. But, we just did the half ticket.

Here's the church.

Man, this place was GORGEOUS!

I probably could have stayed here for days. It was awesome. The church was there, as well as a restaurant and bakery. There were so many trails all around. But the one that caught our eye was the Ice Dome trail. Of course it was one of the longest, most strenuous trails. But, there was an Ice Chapel at the end! How could we pass that up?


I wasn’t sure if I could finish the trail, so I just decided to walk until I didn’t want to walk anymore. Then, I’d turn around and come back. The sign on the trail head stated that it would take 1.5 hours to get up to the Ice Dome, and you needed proper footwear, because the end of the trail wasn’t kept up by the parks department - it was just a lot of rocks to clamber over.

So, Josh loves to hike. I always THINK I love to hike, until I'm actually doing it. It's the same thing every damn time. I start bitching and moaning almost immediately, then Josh starts his annoying pep talks (they're really quite helpful, but when I'm bitching about hiking, all I can think of is how annoying he's being - sorry, babe!).

What I didn't know until later is that the Ice Chapel hike was 6km up. If I had known that, I probably wouldn't have done it. But, I did. It was miserable, and after every switchback, I was cursing myself & telling anyone within earshot that I was going back down.

Then, we got to the sign that said "15 more minutes". Ok, I guess I can do this. Of course, this is where the trail ended, and the rocks began. This is the stuff that literally *hurt* my ankle, because I kept rolling it on rocks. We made it most of the way up, but then when we were maybe 10 minutes away, Karen & Curtis came back down (I had told them to go ahead & not wait for us, since I tend to be the slowest hiker ever, and wasn't even sure I was going to make it up anyway). They didn't even go completely up to the Ice Chapel. You know why? Because it was just a freakin' glacier. It was a small little snow blip at the base of a mountain. CRAP!!

So, we walked until we could see it, and then I decided I could consider the hike "completed". We still had 10-15 more minutes of hiking through the rocks, but I was done. And, everyone was proud that I made it up that far, including me. So, I was happy.

Really, though, it wasn’t THAT great of a hike. The majority of it was in the trees, so you couldn’t really see much of the scenery. The only time we got a good look at the surrounding mountains was at the top. But, if hiking is your thing, you’ll love it.

We finally made it back down the mountain, and stopped at the restaurant. We were all really hungry (and thirsty). We sat in the outdoor seating, but it took forever to find an open table. And of course we sat in the section with the world’s worst waiter (it took FOREVER to get served). And, we were ALSO lucky enough to sit next to a guy who thought it was awesome to smoke a cigar and blow the smoke directly into our faces.


But, the beer was cold & the french fries were hot, so we were good. It was really nice to sit outside & enjoy the lake and the mountains.

After our snack, we walked around the lake a little (well, I legs were SORE) and decided to get back on the boat.

Unfortunately, everyone else thought it was time to get back on the boat. Germans don’t really believe in standing in line and “waiting your turn”, so there were quite a few line jumpers. We were all standing in line, when I decided to use the restroom. When I got back from the restroom, I noticed that we had moved WAAAAAY up in the line. Apparently the guys figured since other people were cutting ahead, we may as well too. Not exactly something I’m proud of, but we only had to wait in line for about 20 minutes.

Of course, we were in line next to the 2 Drunk Grannies, but they just made the wait slightly entertaining.

It was the loooooongest boat ride back. 35 minutes is not that long, really. But, when it’s taking you 35 minutes to go 5km, it seems like FOREVER.

We were finally back to the little craft village. Apparently, we had completely forgot about getting a parking pass for our car, and we didn’t realize it until we got BACK to the car. Thankfully, nobody noticed, and there was no ticket on our car. Phew! We were all still kind of hungry, so we ran to McDonald’s. I know, not the classiest place to eat, but it was there! Besides, European McDonald’s are much nicer than the US versions.

Our plan was to go to the Eagle's Nest, but we just ran out of time. The last bus up was at 4:30pm, and there was no way we were going to make it. We were able to see the Eagle's Nest from the parking lot, though, if that counts for anything. :/

So, we just called it an early night & drove to our NEW Airbnb apartment. It was only about 10 minutes from downtown Salzburg, but on the OPPOSITE side from where we were, so it took a little while to get there. But, this place was SO much nicer. Each couple had their own bedroom, and there was NO CONSTRUCTION! It was lovely.

We were actually in the town of Hof Bei Salzburg, which is close to Lake Fuschl, so we decided to drive down to the lake & hang out there for awhile.

Once it got too dark, we ran and got some takeout pizza and headed back to the apartment. We had to watch the last half of the Sound of Music, because the NEXT day was when we did our Sound of Music tour! (I was more than a little excited about that).

I could live in Austria and be really happy. Although, I live in Germany and I’m really happy, so I guess life is good. :)

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