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  • Day21

    The Austrian Alps: Atop and Underground

    July 12, 2017 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    We spent our day high above Hallstatt, visiting lookouts and caves. The day started with a cable car ride and 1-mile uphill walk to the Dachstein Ice Caves, where the temperature is always slightly below freezing, so we finally used those warm jackets we've been lugging around Europe all this time. The walk alone was fantastic, because of all of the wildflowers on display and informative signs about the alpine flora, not to mention the views above the valley. In the cave, the water that seeps in makes interesting ice formations, some with blue or gold tints. It's so cold in there that the ice growth in the winter exceeds the melt-off in the summer. In August, they even bring in a piano and hold concerts in one of the larger chambers - brrr!

    After leaving the ice cave, we took another cable car to a lookout point at about 7,000 feet. There is a platform that hangs out over the cliff--overrun with tourists, of course. It's just as easy to sit on the mountainside above the platform and take in the views without the stress.

    Coming down from the Dachstein mountain lookout, we went up the mountain on the other side of the lake to tour the salt mine. Hallstatt means "place of salt," and there has been salt mining here for 7,000 years. Salt obviously was an extremely valuable trade good in those days. While it is still an operating mine, it is a big tourist attraction where they describe the old and new mining techniques and some of the archaeological findings in this prehistoric cave. For example, in 2002 they found a wooden staircase which dates from the 13th century B.C. It is the oldest wooden staircase discovered to date in Europe, maybe even in the world. There are replica wooden slides used by the miners that we tourists get to use for fun to go between cave levels -- they are zippy! By then, we were 2 km deep in the mine, and we exited on a small train in a small, narrow tunnel -- tall people watch out!

    Back down at lake level we finished the day with a walk to a waterfall nearby our pension. It had rained heavily overnight both nights, so the river was running fast and high. Since we couldn't translate their trail markers very well, I'm not sure if we got to the waterfall, or just a really great rapids, but by then it was time to return for dinner. Being in the high mountains (even in the Julian Alps of Slovenia), the weather has been more changeable -- afternoon/evening thunderstorms are common. We've gotten lucky with not getting caught in the rain too much -- we've generally been indoors when it starts up again.

    One last thing about Hallstatt -- because of the sheer cliffs the town is built against, there continues to this day a profession of keeping the stones from falling on the town -- something like "stone sticker."
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