Monday, 23 August 2010

Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Germany, and Slovenia, oh my

Some mountains in Slovenia.

One of the great views from the trail that went up and beyond the Neuschanstein Castle (Austria)

Switzerland near Atzmannig.

The Rope course. Brianna is on the zip line. Carey is in the background on the platform. Judging by her hieight you can see how high up we are.

Hollgrotten Caves. The walls and features look slimey but they are just wet smooth limestone deposits.
If you are on facebook, go to Carey's page and like all the other trips, there are about 70 more pics and a video of the toboggan run.

This was a great trip. We wanted to get in one more big trip prior to the kids starting school. We did… Carey has already posted a bunch of pictures to facebook.
We decided to rent a car for the trip. All the activities were spread out, we were going through 5 different countries, and we didn’t want to put the extra miles on the Jetta. At the last minute (really within hours) we cancelled our original rental because the trunk was to small (we were able to see the car we were going to get on base). I found a bigger car, still a Fiat, online that we went with. After I booked it and we cancelled the first, Carey got a call saying the car wasn’t available. Carey told the guy she was going to go try get our original rental back. That car was already gone (within 45 minutes). But wait. The guy called back while she was gone and said they worked something out! So we go to the airport to get our car, still thinking it’s a Fiat. The guy tells me, “We didn’t have the car you booked so we gave you a free upgrade.” I said, “Great.” Then he looks at what he is giving us and starts to ask where we were going and making sure we were going to have secure parking. I laughed a little and assured him we were not staying in Naples so everything should be fine. Come to find out, we got upgraded to a new BMW 320. Not a bad start.
Saturday morning we got up early and were on the rode by 6 AM. We drove all the way through to Zurich, Switzerland. Long day…
Sunday we slept in a little bit because it was raining. We changed our plans a bit and went to Höllgrotten caves. The caves were found around 1863 by people mining tufa rock for building material. The website I’m looking at is translated from German and the signs at the caves that gave a good history were in German so the best I can come up with is this. After the last ice age as the ice melted the caves were carved out because of the different densities of the rock layers. Same idea of ground water and underground reservoirs. The area is rich in lime stone though so lots of stalactites and stalagmites, along with features I thought looked like a brains were formed. Some of the areas were wide open and very colorful. After we were done in the caves we hiked up along the river for quite a ways. The rain had stopped earlier so it was a nice, cool, hike. At one point we passed a small hydroelectric plant. Did you know Switzerland makes 99% of its electric power without oil? Nuclear and hydroelectric. Also, the Swiss really don’t have their own language. They speak the language of the country the border is closest to (Italy, Germany, or France).
Monday. This was supposed to be the nicer of the days… Not so much. We drove out to Atzmannig (another area in Switzerland) anyway. When we got there it was still raining so we drove a little bit more. Even though it was raining the area is still very beautiful so the drive was nice. We stopped for lunch hoping the rain would stop. It mostly did… After talking about it we decided even if it meant getting wet we were going to Aztmannig and doing the high rope park. What is a high rope park you may ask. I had to ask… It is awesome is what it is! So you have a few acres of land with some really big pine trees. Build ladders and platforms 20 to 40 feet up on these trees. Then connect the platforms with cable, zip-lines, and various daggling objects. You now have a high rope park. You get a harness, really a belt with straps that also go around your legs. Attached to that are a couple cable lanyards and a zip-line roller. You get a quick demonstration and a practice run on a real small, low, course and then you are off to the trees. You always have at least one cable connected to a guide/ safety cable but it is still a bit of a rush being up to 40 feet above the ground trying to balance and step from daggling stump to dangling stump or tight rope from platform to platform… The rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise. At first we were bummed that it was a rainy day but after all was said and done the rain kept everyone else away so, in total there were less than 20 people at this place and we never had to wait to do anything. AND it stopped raining by the time we got our gear on… My Aunt and Uncle like to say we Stacks can fall into poo and come out smelling like roses… So far between the car and the rope park we were smelling good! Three hours later we were worn out and ready to go.
Tuesday. We drove from Zurich to Garmisch, Germany via Lichtenstein. We stopped in a small town in Lichtenstein and just walked around for a while. Just to say we did. For a small fee Carey and the kids got their passports stamped with a Lichtenstein stamp. Nice little town. The whole drive was beautiful. Again, cloudy but nice.
We got into Garmisch and Edelweiss (the US Army’s MWR hotel and resort) and enjoyed the indoor pool and giant hot-tub. They also have a good buffet so dinners were cheap and good.
Wednesday. We drove around a loop of roads into Austria that linked up several of King Ludwig’s castles. We didn’t go into a single one. We did however walk through some of the grounds and hiked to the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles. Above Neuschwanstein castle there is a bridge high above a small river. The bridge is narrow. The floor is wood. There are a ton of tourists on it. You can’t help but think, “I wonder what the weight limit is…” Beyond the bridge is a nice short hike up a bit more. The views from there were great.
Thursday. We went to Area 47. It is at the 47th parallel. It is labeled as the ultimate outdoor adventure. It was awesome. We went white water rafting in the morning. Again, all the rain helped. The water was cold, 7 degrees (about 45F), but they provide nice, new wet suits. There were several spots were it got deep and slower so we could just jump in. Not bad in the wetsuit. Your fingers and head take the shock though! A bunch of nice rapids, just right for beginners and Austin and Brianna. After that we went to their water park. There is a descent size lake, that I couldn’t really tell if it is man made or just a convenient shape. Water slides; come-alongs stretched tight as tight ropes; a ten meter diving platform; another platform that was 27 meters (over 75 feet) high (adjustable down to about 15 meters); giant ramps into the water that people went off on sleds, snowboards, and skis; and a human water cannon. All under a beautiful Austrian sun. The lake itself was about 20 degrees (~69 F). Cold, but not bad since it really was a nice day.
Friday. We drove to Slovenia via Salzburg, Austria. Near Salzburg we found a toboggan run. Totally not planned, we had talked about it because it sounded cool. It was. You take a ski lift up the mountain and then you ride a light weight plastic cart, just big enough for an average adult, down a metal track. The cart is locked into the track kinda like a roller coaster. It isn’t real fast but the combination of the size of the cart, only being held in by a seatbelt, and the jerky turns, it is plenty fast! Carey has a full run video that she took with the camera on facebook. It really was a blast!
We got into our hotel in Slovenia and had a nice dinner. Out front there was a small stage set up and singing groups of Slovenians singing what I can only guess were kinda like folk songs. They were all decked out in old traditional outfits and all.
Saturday. We got up early because our horseback riding appointment was at 9 AM and it was at least an hour away. Slovenians are not afraid to build steep (18% grade at a couple points) and banked roads through the mountain passes. The BMW handled it great. A white knuckle ride later we got to the horse back riding place. At first the guide looked at Austin and said he couldn’t do the planned ride because he was to small. After Carey and I looked at each other and basically said we weren’t going to just ride around a pasture he conceded to using a guide rope from is horse to Austin’s. It was probably a legitimate concern. Horses are strong and if it had started to go its own way I’m not sure Austin would have the weight to change its mind (truthfully I’m the one with the most riding experience and that was a camp in Davie over 20 years ago, so I am pretty sure if the horse really felt froggy or got spooked I would have problems too). All the horses were good though. Carey’s was the one that wanted to do its own thing every now and then. Pretty funny watching her try to pull its head up from eating grass… It was a nice 1 ½ to 2 hour ride through some trails in the hills.
This area of Europe is beautiful. Its kinda a mix between where my parents live (at least when they first moved there) where there are older homes/ farmhouses wide spread on farms/ ranches and then out west where there are real mountains (yes mom I still think you just live on a really big hill). Average peaks were probably 5-6 thousand feet but many were 8, 9000, and Zugspitze is just short of 10,000 feet. They can build some tunnels too. 16 km (10 miles) was the longest we were in. There were several others in the 3 – 5 mile range. The whole area is super clean. You struggle to find an accidental piece of trash on the road. The great thing about all these places… The Europeans aren’t sue happy. They will look at you and say, “This could be dangerous. If you break something it’s your fault. You shouldn’t have done it.” And it’s true. I wouldn’t consider anything we did to be life threatening (I don’t care where you are, a business doesn’t stay open killing its customers) but there was potential for a lot of bumps and bruises… But that’s life and that’s what made it so much fun.