A Travellerspoint blog

Is It Hot Enough For You?

BY MURIEL

sunny 32 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tappenkarsee Lake walk

Tappenkarsee Lake walk

Ben awoke at 6 AM this morning, blaming his early rising on his bedmate’s snoring. I don’t think this can be true. I was there and I don’t recall hearing anything. I think it was because he was very eager to get a jump on the day as we had promised him we would go hiking today...despite the planned alpine route being one that gained 800 meters and regardless of the temperature estimate of thirty-two degrees. The impending temperature was actually why we agreed to get up so early; we knew we would need to get up the mountain early to beat the heat. Therefore, Ben woke Hannah and me at 7 and we were out the door by 7:45, heading off to the start of the path some kilometers away. Meanwhile, Abby elected to dream another dream.
The morning started with a temperature of about fifteen, which was perfect for setting off. The uphill hike took us under the cover of shaded woods, over rocky paths, beside raging waterfalls and through mountain streams and run off until we finally reached the first summit. There, we were treated to the glorious sight of the Tappenkarsee alpine lake, the highest in Austria in fact, with craggy hills rising all around, many with snow still clinging to them. It was absolutely beautiful. We stopped for a while at a well-placed bench, which allowed all of us to appreciate the atmosphere and me, a chance to dry out my wet socks (so much for Gortex boots). We only saw two or three others who had reached the location before us. Surrounding the lake was a level walk so we set off again, passing by two of the seemingly-mandatory ‘hutten,’ rustic restaurants meant to satisfy the thirst and hunger pangs of weary travellers. With such opportunities for repast, Austria makes hiking so very civilized. Many take advantage of the ubiquitous cable cars, network of paths and myriad of huts to make a very nice day of it.

Tappenkarsee Lake snowfields

Tappenkarsee Lake snowfields

The walking is therefore available to anyone really, regardless of fitness level or age. And, as the day progressed, we saw more evidence of just how well used this trail was. People of all ages, shapes and sizes either ascended to the lake via the trail or by way of the cable car. Germans and Austrians sure seem a hearty bunch, hiking well into their advanced decades; we saw one fit couple who looked to be about seventy-five just below the crest of the trail – I thought she was going to kiss Ben when he told her there was only five more minutes of walking. Ben and Hannah elected to forge onto higher ground so I walked back around the lake and waited for them to descend. Their walk took them much higher where they received beautiful views of the lake for their troubles and the opportunity to walk through larger snowdrifts, always a treat on hot days such as this one. We lunched by the lake, taking advantage of the cool breezes off the water as the sun climbed higher. While it did indeed reach that promised temperature, going downhill, and seeking shade from the trees and respite by the waterfalls did a lot to address the heat. Still, once back, we felt it necessary to stop by the store for sufficient lemonade and ice cream supplies to see us through the rest of the day.

The rest of my afternoon was spent getting a spa treatment of sorts. My husband graciously helped to dye my hair while I cashed in birthday gift chits for my youngest to give me a massage and paint my toenails. That, together with the ice cream, capped off a great day.

Posted by KZFamily 13:36 Archived in Austria Tagged lake austria alpine wagrain Comments (2)

Fire and Ice: Ist Gut

by Ben

sunny 28 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

At the Ice Cave

At the Ice Cave

If I were observing Father's day in Germany, I would be looking for a small wagon to fill with all kinds of German fare and significant amounts of alcohol. Then I would be rounding up a group of men and heading out for a hike with wagon in tow sans wife and kids. If I was a successful celebration, by all accounts I would be staggering home drunk and would likely arrange to have the following day off work. Fortunately for my family, we are no longer in Germany and besides that Germans celebrate this man's day on Ascension Day; which is already long past. We are celebrating Father's Day in Austria, although we are following the Canadian calendar; all the Austrian dads had their special day last week.

I was awoken from my slumber by the delicious smell of Hannah's home-baked scones wafting in from the kitchen. It was the beginning of a great day. My kids both had bought me chocolate and Abby supplied me with a small bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream (I am not sure how she sourced that--but I am not asking) and Hannah provided me with a small pill box whose top is emblazoned with the image of Ataturk; something to help me remember our trip to Turkey and remind me of all the back pills I popped when I was there. I am not sure if Hannah was intimating that she was concerned that I might not even remember I was in Turkey because of all the medication I took during my stay.

The weather forecast was for a real scorcher of nearly 30 degrees in the shade. It seemed like excellent planning that we were going to contrast such fiery weather with a visit to the world's largest ice cave a half hour drive away in Wefren. After finding a place in the parking lot we proceeded on a twenty minute hike which included walking through a 250 meter long tunnel to a small cable car that propelled us another 600 meters in altitude up the mountain. From here we hiked another fifteen minutes to the mouth of the ice cave itself.

Ice Cave

Ice Cave

Since the temperature in the cave itself is at the freezing level, it is strongly recommended to bring warm clothing and heavy walking shoes and anyone with health problems is advised to take a pass on the adventure. Partly because of these warnings and partly because of straight defiance of this advice, posted in several languages, the assortment of people on the trail was a spectacle to behold. We saw a Korean family whose kids were in ski jackets, toques, and gloves and a very large Indian family similarly arrayed. Considering it was already 25 degrees outside and they still had 15 minutes of steep walking it seemed unlikely they would live long enough to see the cave entrance. There were others just in flip flops and shorts without even a sign of any sort of bag that might be holding additional clothing. In addition to these stark contrasts there was the totally unexpected. There were several women in burkas and other is expensive saris and at least half a dozen men carrying kids between the ages of six months and one year of age. While I was busy imagining how this menagerie was going to navigate a couple of kilometers of stairways for 75 minutes at freezing temperatures I was further astounded to see an overweight elderly man leaning on two walking poles with an oxygen pack on his back. I was really beginning to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

At the entrance to the cave we quickly donned our fleeces, jackets and hats. The approach to lighting on the tour was decidedly low tech. A number of people were given open flame miner's lanterns to carry into the cave. The cave entrance was sealed with a wall and a barnlike door so when the door was opened the cold air rushed out with such force that half of the lanterns were extinguished upon entry to the cave. Our tour guide then lighted a magnesium wire to illuminate our area and proceeded to relight the lanterns. They don't use any electric lighting in the caves and any large scale illumination is done by the guide lighting magnesium wire. It is a little off putting when he is standing several meters above you and pieces of burning magnesium keep sloughing off his wire coil and drift down towards us poor saps below.

The cave system extends for at least 40 kilometers. Fortunately we only were walking in for one kilometer. Walking is not really an appropriate description. We were climbing an indoor river of ice which was mostly waterfall. In some sections the cave was over 40 meters high and at least 20 meters wide. Seldom did the cave get much lower than a few meters in height and several meters in width. It was difficult to believe that almost a 150 years ago someone had dared scale the 40 meter wall of ice that is located a couple of hundred meters from the entrance to cave. A few hundred meters further into the cave and at least 50 meters higher is a memorial and urn containing the ashes of the cave's most noted explorer who died during the Great War. Those first explorers and ice climbers must have been a crazy lot to have taken such risks.

Walk down from the Ice Cave

Walk down from the Ice Cave

No photography was permitted in the cave, which was a bit disappointing but in hindsight there would have been little hope in documenting the grandeur and beauty by a few snapshots. The inside of the cave is a living ice sculpture. Every year shapes change. Inside the cave are ice columns a meter across that extend from the floor to the ceiling, there are also huge ice formations that look like elephants and pipe organs. These fantastical structures are not numerous; most of the cave that we saw consisted of rivers of ice and walls of ice. The ice walls read like a book recording the amount of snowfall and ice melt each year. Perhaps the most spectacular section we walked through was a descending staircase that went on for a couple of hundred meters through a tunnel of ice. It looked like we were descending down the esophagus of some colossal ice giant. It really is quite impossible to paint a picture of what we saw with words. We all left the cave saying it was unlike anything we had ever seen or experienced before.

We were greeted by a fiery furnace we call the sun when we emerged from the cave. We couldn't get rid of all our layers soon enough. We briefly explored a trail that branched off from near the entrance of the cave. The cave itself is two thirds of the way up a mountain face and the main approach is a path that has been blasted into the side of the mountain with a concrete roof to protect walkers from falling debris and a sturdy railing to stop anyone from falling the countless meters to the ground below. The branch path was a mere ledge with a steel cable attached to the cliff face that you can hold onto for dear life if there were any hint of a breeze that might upset your balance. It was definitely mountain hiking Austrian style, no place for anyone in a burka or carrying an oxygen tank.

Flirting with death helped us work up an appetite. We headed back to the cable car station which also happened to have a patio and Austrian style chalet nearby which served up local fare. The view from the patio was world class. We ordered schnitzel, rouladen, beef soup with cheese dupplings and an Austrian version of mac and cheese. I of course also had a wonderful glass of refreshing beer. As our German server would soon ask, Ist gut? I could honestly say ist very gut indeed.

Weiner schnitzel

Weiner schnitzel

After lunch we headed down to the parking lot, but not via the cable car. We decided to get a one way ticket up and hike down for a bit of an adventure (the savings also helped pay for half of our lunch--I guess my Dutch heritage is showing). The descent was on a trail that was a marvel of engineering in itself. It was a very tightly switch-backed path that offered mostly unobstructed vistas of the valley below and the mountains opposite. It took an hour to get down, we couldn't imagine how long it would have taken to get up. Twice we had to traverse a very steep slope of scree that looked more like the remnants of an avalanche. The view was great but the stability of the slope we crossed looked extremely questionable.

At home I took the time honored Father's Day nap and spent a great evening with the family having more classic Austrian/German food. This I washed down with another new drink, lemonade beer. It is a low alcohol beer beverage consisting of 60 percent lemonade and 40 percent beer. By the amount of shelf space dedicated to this kind of beverage and other citrus fruit combinations in stores it must be a popular summer drink in these parts. I am surprised I liked it and even Abby seems to have developed a taste for it.

It was a Father's day I will never forget. Dar gut!

Posted by KZFamily 12:49 Archived in Austria Tagged austria ice_cave wagrain wefren Comments (4)

On Hiking and Home

By Hannah


View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Now THAT'S a picnic table

Now THAT'S a picnic table

Austria is pretty much all about the outdoors for us. Today was no exception. We took a cable car called the "Flying Mozart" up the side of a mountain in order to hike one of the trails recommended to us at the tourist office. We were as motivated to do this trail by the recommendation as by the need to use the six euro map that Mom had convinced herself to buy. The walk was much easier than the hike we'd been expecting, and as we ambled through the woods, it felt exactly like walking around a campground in BC. It wasn't exactly filled with breathtaking views of mountains and valleys, but I think that the woods were a nice change, and they provided some relief from the muggy heat. On a related note, it's possible we prayed a little too hard to the sun gods, as we're expecting 25 °C+ weather for the rest of our stay here.

We met a few tourists from Germany, and Mom and Dad were able to have a conversation with one of them, despite there being about ten mutually understood words between the three. It involved a lot of improvised sign language, but was still very impressive. Dad received a genuine "gesundheit" from one of the other Germans, which seems much more likely to grant good health when spoken by someone in their mother tongue. We also met a friendly lady who pointed us in the right direction after we'd gotten lost (or "turned around", as my parents put it). Austrians and Germans seem to be an amicable bunch, especially the trekkers.

Wagrain walk

Wagrain walk

We have just a month and a half left in our trip, which is a fact that all of us are reacting to differently. Abby is very, VERY excited to go back home. Not to say that she isn't enjoying the trip, but home is something that's been in the forefront of her mind ever since we left the UK. Dad, on the other hand, is dreading our return. Well, perhaps that's a bit hyperbolic, but I think he'd like at least another year of travelling. Mom is looking forward to coming back, but is definitely savouring the last weeks of the trip.

Now that the length of time until we come home is short enough that I can wrap my head around it, I don't find myself as homesick. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks, and while the thought of home is always in my head, I try not to let it overshadow the happenings of here and now. I feel comfortable travelling, happy to be in Europe, and am anticipating great experiences both east and west of the pond.

Posted by KZFamily 12:45 Archived in Austria Tagged home austria walk hike gesundheit Comments (1)

Those Little Annoyances

BY MURIEL

sunny 21 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Wagrain walk

Wagrain walk

Today was quite lackadaisical. In turns, we took various walks about the town, often stopping at the grocery store as it seemed we kept thinking of more items we needed once home. In all, we went to the store a total of four times; I’m sure the townspeople are now familiar with the family of four who seem to like spending their vacation time cooped up in the local Spar store. We also stopped at the tourist bureau in town, where we collected various walking maps and ideas for our stay. As we seem to be in line for a stretch of very warm weather, I asked about swimming lakes nearby. The guide cautiously gave me the information but warned that they would be pretty cold as yesterday was their first warm day. I didn`t want to brag that Canadians could handle any lake temperature so kept quiet. She offered us the alternative of a `water world` nearby but the kids thought the pictures looked like it was more suitable for younger children. Maybe we`ll send Ben there instead. The walks about town afforded us lots of views of beautiful Austrian homes, with large carved wooden balconies, blooming flower boxes, and tidy lawns. This country sure impresses us with its neat and traditional-looking towns. Later in the day, Ben and I went for a walk along the river that goes through town, noting the aftermath of flooding in some fields. Haying is in full swing, with many needing to hay various steep portions of their land by hand. More walks are planned for tomorrow...when in Austria, do as the Austrians do...

As all four of us were sitting around having a nice intimate family moment the other day, my youngest said to us “Does anyone else notice that when we’ve been travelling together as closely as we have, people’s annoying habits become more noticeable?” Unthinkingly, I asked her to elaborate. She immediately said, “Well, you know, like the way you chew, for instance.” So glad I asked. Others got into the conversation and in no time, we had compiled a list of annoyances –repeatedly asking what time it is, going around pantless, taking forever doing one`s face washing routine, heavy iPod usage, etc. It seems that, yes, we had all noticed this, even if we hadn`t voiced it yet. It appears to come in waves, the awkward part being that the four of us don`t coordinate our feelings. So, some days, only one person finds the others incredibly annoying and other days, we are all very much annoyed. (And, yes, there are even times when all four of us are happy with our companions.) We try to combat the various feelings of angst, irritation, impatience, and sullenness with time outs, usually self imposed; they often take the form of going out, plugging in, sleeping, closeting oneself in a small, dark room or reading. And then there`s always talking, trying to work it out, painfully walking through the incidents and issues, revisiting and analyzing, and finally coming out the other side, relatively whole again. Sometime, the situation doesn`t allow for that so we just seek reconciliation through ice cream, knowing Magnum bars and gelato can put things in a different perspective. At times, unhealthily, we don`t sequester ourselves early enough and things implode. I have to remind myself that it is not the trip itself that causes these moments – they would have occurred with similar frequency back in Victoria. But, when you put two pubescent girls, a premenopausal woman, a luckless male and a quirky GPS into a Renault, stuff happens. (And as for the male, what`s his excuse for his behaviour, I`d like to know.)

For a fun party game, try to pair the behaviour with the person:

Sniffling
Not listening well enough
Leaving wrappers around
Not charging the laptop
Acknowledging in the affirmative even when not hearing
Pointing out my annoying habits
Distracting talking when there`s work to be done
Making puns
Stealing others' computer cords
Singing inappropriately
Being embarrassing

Posted by KZFamily 12:43 Archived in Austria Comments (2)

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