Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

Distance ridden 303 Kilometres

When I woke up, around five in the morning, it had obviously been raining and everywhere was really damp. Nevertheless, I went out for my usual walk and managed to find a previously undiscovered (by me !) route up to a higher level of the town. I passed an imposing “calvary” style monument beside the Kapuzinerkloster (Kapuzinerberg 6, 5020 Salzburg).

I then walked for quite a long way along a footpath that ran high above the houses. This afforded me a nice view of both the old town, the Salzach river and its bridges and the distinctive Fortress Hohensalzburg, high on the other bank. Sadly, the path did not, as Google Maps appeared to indicate, allow me to get down to the river and I had to retrace most of my original route.

It began to drizzle and, before I got to the hotel to provide Lucie with her coffee at seven, it was absolutely pelting down with rain. Lucie had, of course, checked all the forecasts the night before and assured me that it would stop. Sometime. Fortunately, when we went down to breakfast at eight it was starting to clear and by the time we finished, around nine, the sky was already quite blue.

In as much as we had a plan for the day, it included a visit to an ice cave whilst en-route to Slovenia. This was always considered negotiable if the weather was bad but, by the time we left the hotel, the sun was out so we decided to go there.

We were soon on the motorway, which is really the only way to make any serious progress in those mountains.

We we covered the ninety or so kilometres to the town of Werfen in about an hour. We had previously noticed the somewhat imposing castle of Hohenwerfen, which sits high on a rocky hill, several times in the past as we had sped by on the highway. On this occasion, we turned off of the motorway and down into the town.

Our destination was the Eisriesenwelt ice cave (Eishöhlenstraße 30, 5450 Werfen, Austria) which, it turned out, was high up on the mountainside. This necessitated a ride up a narrow, serpentine road until we were high above the valley. The castle, on its rocky mound, was first level with us – and then soon a little white dot, far, far below us. 

I had heard of the cave, but I had not really researched it. When we parked in front of the ticket office, I erroneously supposed that we would just walk into the cave, look around and then be on our way. Wrong !! I really should have looked at the map ….

As we approached the ticket office we saw that, to reach the cave, we would first walk uphill for about twenty minutes, then travel about 10 minutes by cable car and then go again for about 20 minutes uphill before we even reached the cave. Still, we were committed now. After waiting quite a while while a bus full of Indian tourists milled around trying to get organised and buy their tickets, we paid (67 EUR for a young girl and a pensioner !) and set off up the hill. Suffice it to say that the timings on the sign were completely accurate.

At the cable-car cabin, we talked to a German student, Sophia, who was next to us in the queue. She was on a short holiday of her own wandering around the mountains. Her English was excellent and we took the whole tour together (she chose ours over the German language one).

It was only at the entrance to the cave we learned another fact that had NOT been mentioned on the information board. This was that the circuit around the cave would take at least seventy minutes and would involve and ascent of about a hundred metres (with some seven hundred steps) followed by an equal descent. A bit like, someone remarked, an indoor skyscraper. It did not bother us, we have no lift in our house and we live on the top floor, neither did it bother Sophia. Once inside though, some of our party made very hard work of it indeed.

At the very front of the cave, which was sealed by a door, we were warned to take care. Such is the temperature differential between the inside of the cave and the outside that when the door opens, air rushes out of the cave at almost hurricane force. I am certain that it would put an unwary person flat upon their back in an instant. Some of us, including me, had been issued with old carbide lanterns to light the way and these have a naked flame. With my record of clumsiness, Lucie was a bit worried that either she, Sophia or some unwary and unsuspecting other person would end up incinerated. Luckily, I got away with it.

Of course, the icy blast at the entrance blew out everybody’s lantern and there was a pause whilst these were relit before the tour began in earnest. The guide was both cheerful and informative and explained to us how the ice in the cave is created, melted and re-formed thanks to the exchange of warm air from outside and the cold air inside. It was quite fascinating and some of the ice formations were quite spectacular. These have names relating to their shapes, one was called “The Elephant” and by using your imagination, you might just have been able to tell why. Of course, the continuous melting and refreezing changes them constantly. The guide said that each Spring, when the cave reopens, almost everything is different.

It might be worth mentioning that despite the icy environment, I wore only my HOG vest over my shirt and I was never remotely cold. Most people did wear winter coats.

Of course, I could only wonder why anyone who was in their right mind would ever have thought “I am right at the top of a mountain so I think I will explore this dark, dangerous cave full of ice” – but I am glad they did and the visit WAS worth the walk and the slightly steep price of admission.

By the time we finally arrived back at where we had parked the Harley we were quite tired. It turned out that, in what was now a surprisingly full car park, we were parked only two spaces away from Sophia. Lucie produced a couple of bananas from the pannier – and Sophia took a sandwich from her glovebox – great minds, as they say ! Sophia said she would have a rest in her car for a while, but we had no such luxury, we had been there for over three hours when we had budgeted for only one ! We needed to be on our way because the forecast still said that rain was coming.

We made our way back down the serpentine which, as always, seemed far more precipitous in the down hill direction than it had coming up and hit the motorway.

There is an additional toll on the stretches of motorway through the mountains where the carriageway either swoops high above the valley floor or bores its way through the solid rock, sometimes for more than a kilometre. It is well worth it. The tiny roads would be more immediately picturesque, but you would be seeing them at a far lower speed and for a far longer period of time.

We crossed into Slovenia at Jesenice without incident and soon left the motorway in the direction of the country’s two major lakes, Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj. Surprisingly, our navigation chose a totally different route towards the first, Lake Bled, than it had selected on our previous visit – and we were soon in the traffic jam that seems to be a permanent feature of those surroundings. Luckily, on the Harley, we could cruise majestically up the outside of the line and were soon circumnavigating the lake on our way to Lake Bohinj which lies about thirty kilometres further west. The countryside was a lovely green and there was a proliferation of wild flowers on the verge of what was a very well surfaced road. The sky was darkening progressively as the threatened rain approached, but I resisted the temptation to hustle. The way must be very popular with the sports biking fraternity and there were a large number of fairly graphic traffic signs showing motorcycles, bicycles and even caravans upside down as a warning not to push it too seriously.

Finally, we came to the village of Ribčev Laz and there, as we left it again was Lake Bohinj, a dark green mirror in the rapidly failing sunshine. We rode for a couple of kilometres along the shore and easily located our hostel which was right beside the lake. We stayed in the Hostel Pod Voglom (Ribčev Laz 60, 4265 Bohinjsko jezero, Slovenia), which was a socialist-type hostel built right on the water, about equidistant from the two villages, Ribčev Laz and Ukanc, that lie at either end of the lake.

Almost before we had checked in and been directed to our room, it began to rain quite heavily.

The staff were very friendly and a number of them spoke English. The fabric was slightly faded but there had obviously been a lot of effort put in to keep everything nice and in working order. It appeared to be also some kind of outdoor school and there were several groups of young athletes and non-athletes as well as casual travellers like us. Our room was comfortable, but decorated in what we thought was a slightly strange manner. More about that later. We had a small balcony and our room looked directly across the road to the lake. When it got dark, the absence of a moon meant that the darkness was total and it was almost eerily quiet. These are things that city dwellers like us forget all about until we experience them again.

We waited for it to stop raining but, by the time it did, we were past the urge to ride somewhere for a meal. Food was available on-site, in the bar and restaurant, so we opted for that. It was simple fare that was obviously prepared in bulk for the majority of the guests which were, essentially schoolchildren and only cost seven Euros each. Whilst it was almost certainly guaranteed to be nutritionally balanced, it was not exactly inspiring, I am spoiled by Lucie’s cooking at home. The starter was a soup of the kind you get if you drop an Oxo or Masox cube into hot water and I could hear my brain saying “MSG is good for ME” as I ate it. This was followed by pasta carbonara about which the phrase “perfectly digestible” is the kindest thing I can think of to write. Lucie said that I ate it without any enthusiasm, but that is, of course, her fault for being such a good cook. The dessert was a kind of banana flavoured porridge and finally two chocolate balls which we took back to our room for “emergencies”. Some emergency must have occurred while I was asleep as they had disappeared by morning ! The beers, from the Leško and Union breweries, which we could have (even if most of the younger guests could not), was very good in both their “real” and non-alchoholic incarnations.

By the time we had finished eating it had stopped raining so we walked along the lake shore to the cable car we would need the next day to ascend the mountain. There was a quaint little church almost next to the hostel.

It was actually a longer walk than it seemed on the map, probably half an hour each way, but it did allow us to “time” the journey.

It was still quite early when we returned, so we had another beer each but then retired to bed. Apparently, the peace and quiet of the night was disturbed by a thunderstorm and very heavy rain, but how would I know ? I simply had to take Lucie’s word for it ..