I love researching and planning for our trips — it’s half the fun for me. I always read The Lonely Planet’s version of wherever we’re going cover to cover to get an idea of what we’ll see and do. In 2014 when we went on our Megatrip2 to Europe, I bought The Lonely Planet’s “Europe on a shoestring” collection of information about each country. It’s the same book we used for this trip. It’s been a good book, but it’s time to be retired. While the sights stayed the same, lots of the information had changed — like cost, opening hours etc.
With that being said, while reading about Austria I came across some ice caves in Werfen — a 45 minute or so drive from Salzburg. Apparently they are the world’s largest accessible ice caves, and are described as a “once seen never forgotten” type of experience. It piqued my interest but I wasn’t committed (too many extra warm clothes to pack). Nonetheless, I shared the idea with Lance and he was excitedly, whole-heartedly, 100 percent in. Ha!
We woke up Sunday morning and got ready for church, only to miss the bus that would take us there. The branch in Salzburg was far from where our rental was, and without easy access to our car, we were slow going. Our confidence that we could make it in time wavered in the beginning, which I think affected the overall motivation of working hard to do so. We had packed what we needed for the ice caves so we could change after church, so instead of going back to the rental, we just hopped on the bus that would take us to our car.
After going in the wrong direction for awhile (and ending up in Germany!) we finally made it to Werfen. Ha. There was no place to turn around on the freeway, which was frustrating, and when I suggested we turn around right before or in the middle of the Germany checkpoint, Lance got scared the Germans would find us suspicious and pull us over with their guns! So we drove on. The whole thing set us back about an hour, but because we had missed church, we were fine on time.
We made it to the ice caves and changed into warm clothing, which was worth it more for the walk to the caves than in the actual caves! It was crazy just how long it took to get from the parking lot to the ticket booth, and then from the ticket booth to get to the cable car, and then from the cable car to get to the actual entrance of the ice caves. At least an hour of walking gradually up hill. And in the rain. It wore me out! Luckily we had our rain coats and one of the many umbrellas I snagged while on this trip. In total I found three — one in a trash can at Schloss Mirabell, one in the parking lot of the ice caves (after we had already completed our tour) and one in the Park and Ride parking lot the day we left Salzburg. Note to self: pack an umbrella next time — it’ll be worth it!
Because Lance was chasing Lila, I bought our ice cave tour tickets and round trip use of the cable car tickets. Usually Lance holds onto important things like this because I have a history of losing them, but I told myself that’s only happened once or twice and wouldn’t happen again. Wrong. At the entrance of the ice caves I couldn’t find the tickets! Luckily we were the very last people to enter the English tour, and the 20-something year old guide pitied us and let us tag along. I thought we had dodged a bullet, and didn’t think much about it while on our tour.
The ice caves themselves were not nearly as impressive as I’d expected or hoped. But, it was a neat experience and I’m glad we did it. I somehow expected the cave to be made out of ice, but instead it was a normal rock cave that also had ice in it. There was a part at the end where we walked through a tunnel completely made up of ice and that made it worth it. Lila slept strapped to Lance the entire time, which was nice because she stayed warm and got a good nap. Poor Lance, though — there were so many stairs and she’s heavy!
After exiting the caves, we stopped at a hilltop restaurant to get out of the rain, warm up and eat a hot meal. It was one of our favorite meals of the trip! The setting was quaint and yet busy — tables were full of mixed parties who all dined together despite not knowing each other. Luckily we snagged a table for two that fit our family just fine. Lance ordered a traditional, delicious potatoes and sausage combo, and I got a grilled ham and cheese with tomato soup. We basked in the success of our tour, laughed at me losing the tickets, and enjoyed a sweet Lila who woke up and wanted to play.
As we walked down to the entrance of the cable car, I began to panic as I realized everyone else in line was pulling out their tickets. I then saw a sign that we could buy tickets if we didn’t have any. Uh oh. We had no other choice, so we decided to play dumb. As we were boarding, the worker asked me for my ticket and I acted like I didn’t know what he wanted. I then pretended to search my pockets and then ask Lance to search his. Then I told the man we must’ve lost them because we didn’t have them (and it’s true!) he asked to see a receipt, which I also didn’t have (I had wrapped it around the tickets.. grr). I looked him right in the eye and told him we had already paid, and he scoffed a bit and then ushered us on. Relief!
Later I told Lance not only did we look innocent, because we were, but he had to know that a pregnant woman with a 2-year-old baby didn’t walk three hours up the mountain in the rain, right!? Who does that? There was snow! We had to have taken the cable car up, which meant we had paid to take it down. I’m so glad he let us go down without buying tickets again. They were $50 or so (for the combo) and it would’ve pained me to pay for something twice.
Back at our car, we decided to try to catch the final tour of Burg Hohenwerfen, a clifftop fortress dating back to 1077 in town. Wandering it was enjoyable, but a bit crazy with Lila who wanted to run and scream and climb and overall be hard to contain. We must’ve gone through three or more bags of fruit snacks on that tour. Sometimes I felt bad for the other tourists, but mostly I felt bad for us, haha! Lance was a gem and let me listen while he chased Lila. He was so good about that the entire trip, which really made it feel like a vacation for me to have his constant help. The fortress itself wasn’t that special, in my opinion, but the views from it were spectacular — the best we saw on the entire trip.