Wish you were all here!

It was Sunday afternoon when we arrived in the heart of Vienna (Wein), Austria and easily found a park for the Trusty. Still fairly worn out, we decided to have wonder around town for an hour or so. Vienna was beautiful and we decided to come back the following day, after a good nights sleep, for another look.

We headed to the nearby campground to be told it would be 26 Euros for the night, so instead we had a drive around, saw some amazing lakeside properties and found ourselves a perfect free camp spot overlooking the Danube and the lights of Vienna

We drove back into town the following morning again easily found a carpark and spent several hours walking around this beautiful city, most of the time not knowing which way to walk as it seemed every where we looked was some amazing bit of architecture .

It was a pretty magical place. Much to our delight we even found a place serving VB beer, something we hadn’t had for close to 18 months. We indulged in a stubby each, but at 13.50 $Aus a shout, one was plenty.

From the heart of Vienna we headed to the gorgeous mountains tucked in behind this lovely city to partake in a Austrian tradition particular  to this region.  When taverns are serving the first white wine of the season they hang the branch of a evergreen over their front door. We found a town with a selection of taverns, located one to our liking and partook.

The taverns are stunning, you enter through a front door into a large courtyard, full of beautiful gardens that opens out onto the rolling hills behind which are adorned with grape vines. It was a pretty neat. From there we headed to a small town on the Danube called Melk, with a huge monastery, where we free camped over looking the river again.

The next morning we headed into the Czech Republic to Prague and managed a park not more than a few  hundred meters from the city square, this so far is our favorite city. It was  an amazing some. Prague was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. ‘Let’s Go Europe’  states the cities “… maze of alleys spawned legends of demons and occult forces giving this city this city of dreams the dark mystique that inspired Frank Kafka’s paranoid tales.” It also states “in summer tourists pack streets so tightly the crowd surfing seems a viable method of transportation.”

It was crowded, but rather than detract from the flair of the place it seemed to add to the bubbly lively atmosphere. It wasn’t to difficult to escape the crowds either, by walking to some of the out of the way streets which were just as rewarding as the city square. The city managed to survive through WWI and WWII without being bombed, consequently most of the original architecture and buildings are intact.

Prague was on the cheaper end as well, so shouted ourselves to a meal. Goulash and Dumplings each with a beer to wash it down for a total cost of less then ten euros. This city definitely is on our highly recommend list.

We hung around till about 8.30 and then headed out of town about 30kms to a campground for the night, before heading into Germany. Before crossing the border the sky started to darken and the rain started to tumble down, there was thunder bolts and lightening, mud started to wash across the road and we started to see fallen pine trees, oh o, not again.

Hail started to pelt the car and we had to pull over. Fortunately roads and towns were better designed then in previous countries and we had no problems, other than the German guy on the border crossing who wanted to search our Van for Hashish and smuggled cigarettes. After previous border crossings we were only too happy to give him the grand tour of the Van.

He didn’t spent to much time looking as he was so tall he spend the whole time uncomfortably hunched over. When we reached the hills on the German side there was so much hail on the sides of the roads it looked like it had been snowing, it was pretty cool.

Our first stop in Germany was Passau a town where the Danube and Inn Rivers meet. The Van had taken a hammering driving through Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania and was in desperate need of some TLC and a new CV joint. We found ourselves a friendly mechanic who agreed to work on the Van for us but it would require an overnight stay the following night.

Looking for somewhere to free camp that night we followed a German van to a great location in the hills overlooking Passau then they kindly shouted us a beer at the local pub. So far we were liking Germany. The next afternoon we dropped our Trusty of and headed to the local hostel overlooking the Danube. It was the weirdest looking place, from across the river it was designed to look like a sleeping man.

The room was not much bigger then the Van with bathrooms across the hall, but it was clean and comfortable and for one night and only 30 euros, not much more than a lot of campgrounds we had stayed in. We planned to catch up with a German friend of Mum and Dad’s, Hermann.

He picked us up from the hostel and drove us just over the border into Austria for a hearty meal and a variety of local beers at a busy Austrian Beer-garden, it was also in another set of hills overlooking passau and with an amazing view of the sunset. Hermann dropped us back at the hostel after having a great night, but not before informing us of a worrisome little critter that eats the electronics in cars, to the point that he has had to have an electronic security fence device fitted under his bonnet.

We had a fretful night sleep worrying about how our poor Trusty was coping without us, we realised we were probably becoming abnormally attached to our car. The following day we caught up on some sleep. Hermann kindly picked us up again and gave us a tour of passau and drove us to a fantastic lookout point where you could clearly see where the Danube and Inn rivers meet, he then dropped us back at the Reno, which wasn’t ready yet, so we had a few lazy hours wondering around Passua, before heading to another of Mum and Dad’s friends in a town called Rohrdolf, which is between Salzberg and Munich in the Bavarian region of Germany.

We chose the scenic route and were very taken by the beautiful country side,  every small town was like a postcard picture, with quaint little houses. Balconies were adorned with colourful flowers and it seemed every garden was perfect and large lush, green pastures surrounded every town.

We reached Teena and Martins in Rohrdolf to find it just as beautiful and quaint as most of the towns we had driven through.Teena is an Aussie girl who landed herself a lovely German bloke and they have two little girls 11 and 7. Alexandra the eldest kindly let us use her room and she shared with her younger sister Nadia. The weather was perfect so they put on a BBQ for us, we had a great night drinking beer and wine catching up on news from home.

The following morning we gave the van a desperately needed clean before heading up into the hills to Martins family hut. It was amazing!! We felt like we had stepped right into a postcard or a scene out of Heidi or The Sound of Music.  We drove most of the way up into the mountains and hiked the last half hour Martin carrying up lunch. The hut was perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Austrian Alps at around 1400m, with surrounding hills full of wildflowers and cows meandering around with their bells tinkling away.

The hut itself was in a fenced in yard and consisted of a cosy living room / kitchen a large in the middle a large walking pantry at one end and a small bedroom on the other end. In the roof was a loft with a huge mattress that could sleep about 10 people. Below the hut was the most important part, the musty, dark and dingy cellar full of local beers.

The ‘dunny’ was a good ole’ drop loo out the side. There was another small cabin, in the same building but  it was mostly made up of the cow shed out the back, which he cows would dutifully bring themselves in at the end of the day. The inside of the cabin was decorated with bits and pieces collected over the years and had an old wood fired stove, a healthy collection of beer steins, and remarkably we felt we were stepping right into the old log cabin from Metung.

We arrived and started preparing lunch while Teena poured the biggest beer / lemonade we had ever laid eyes on. Apparently a tradition at the hut. Lunch was a simple German feast called broadside, cold cuts of salamis, spicy sausages, cheeses, liverwurst, egg, salads and bread, set outside on a lovely old timber table and bench seats.

After lunch we lay on comfy cushions in the grass dozing of listening to the cows tinkling away. To walk the beer and food of later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of the mountain behind the hut which was at a height of 1514m, the view was amazing. Before walking back to the car at about 7pm we finished the afternoon of with a barely drinkable schnapps.

We continued the eating and drinking late into the night back at Teena and Martin’s and sadly fare-welled them the following morning, carrying the slightest hint of a hangover. We’d tested the local Rohrdolf schnapps late in the evening as well.

We headed to  campground in Salzberg, with plans of tackling the city the next day. Salzberg is another wonderful central European city surround by rolling hills and mountains and we enjoyed wondering around and taking in the sites.

The following day we headed to Untersberg not far from Salizberg and took the cable car to just below the peak and walked the 30 mins to the top some 1853m high to be rewarded with another amazing view. We easily spotted the only other Aussie on the mountain as he like us was the only other person wearing thongs. Probably not the most appropriate footwear for mountain climbing.

We then headed to an area not far away, Bergthesgaden to visit one of the local underground salt mines. It involved dressing up in protective clothing complete with a leather  bum padding for sliding down timber slides in the mine. We travelled deep underground on trains through tunnels which seemed barely big enough. It was a fascinating and interesting experience.

We then travelled further south to an area called Werfen to go ice caving. Not arriving in time, we chose to stay overnight and tackle the caves in the morning. The road to the ice caves were as steep as any we had driven and  the Renault barely made it up in first and second gear.

We arrived early and managed a park close to the first part of the experience about a 20 – 30 minute walk up the side of the mountain to the cable car, we then took a short cable car ride and then another 20-30 min walk further up the side of the mountain. The ice caves themselves were amazing, awe inspiring, breathtaking and all those other cliches, they were also freezing.

As part of a group we toured about 1km and 700 steps into the cave to be rewarded with some of the most beautiful ice formations. We were informed the the ice had been increasing over the last 85 years and was continuing to do so while constantly changing.

The ‘younger formations’ were like crystals hanging from the ceiling of the cave, it really was very beautiful. We spent about 1 1/2 hours in the cave and by the end the feeling had gone from our fingers and toes, even though we had on our snugs and polar fleece jumpers.

The temperature inside was around 0 degrees C. The entrance to the cave was about the size of a large door and is the place where all the cold air escapes into the open, consequently for the first two – 3 meters before entering the cave winds can get up to around 100kms an hour an extremely hot doors. It was a pretty funky experience walking into the cave being blastered by freezing cold air that you were barely able to walk through.

The cave isn’t lit either so about every third to forth person carries a small lamp which adds to the whole atmosphere. Walking back down the hill it took some time for the toes to start to feel normal again. It was around 11.30 and the day had heated up to about 30 degrees, people were struggling up the hill in a major way, some had a 20-30 minute walk in the heat before they even made it to where our Van was parked, we offered encouragement as much as possible, as it really was worth the hike to experience the caves.Half way down we stopped and rewarded ourselves with a cold beer.

The afternoon was spent driving back to Italy for our last stop in that country Venice. The Italians we met in Istanbul had told us about a freecamp opportunity on the point opposite Venice at Punta Del Sabiarno, which was a boat ride to San Marco Square. There was a squillion camp grounds charging up to 30 euros per site and 10 euros per person, which to us was like paying $Aus 100, to simply park the Van overnight, way to much.

The free camping although not perfect, it was free and that made us happy. We caught the ferry into Venice and it was pretty surreal, and also another opportunity to take up crowd surfing as a method of transport. To be fair, if you took the time to wander around some of the outer streets it was easy to become the only people around. We really enjoyed ourselves, wondering  around and marveling at how many of the buildings haven’t yet fallen into the extensive canal systems. We even lashed out on some famous Murano glass.

From Venice the next stop – Switzerland, what a beautiful, marvelous, awe-inspiring country, the mountains are nothing short of spectacular. It is a glorious place and although it has a reputation for being expensive we were enormously pleased to discover that petrol was cheaper here than Italy.

We free camped our first night at about 1700m with a amazing view of a mountain being enveloped be clouds. The following day we drove up a set of switchbacks to around 2160m to be blown away by a lake perched between the mountains. We continued onto Interlaken which overlooks the famous snowcapped mountain the Jungfrau which is over 4000m high, very awesome.

We had a drive around two of the valleys which head up towards the Jungfrau, the valley which heads towards a town called Grimwald has a massive glacier that is moving at around 80cm a day into the valley, pretty big news around here. We then went and booked ourselves in on the most extreme cannyoning trip we could find for the following morning.

To find out more tune in next time.

David & Mel