“The hills are alive with the sound of music…la,la,la,la,la…” Yes, that’s the one!
If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Sound of Music, I have to say that as beautiful as Austria is depicted in the movie, it just doesn’t do it justice. It is absolutely breathtaking! Now, if you have never seen the movie, shame on you! Go immediately and rent it! It is a classic!
Austria is a country in central Europe, neighboring Germany, which is probably why there are so many similarities to the German culture there. In Austria, you can drive for hours and see nothing but hills and beautiful meadows. Of course, there are occasional castles and villages here and there, but for the most part, Austria is gloriously green and absent of the overrated shopping malls and liquor stores (At least from what I could tell of the region we visited) you see everywhere in America.
It was the summer of 2005 and we had just completed 10 days of intense construction and missions work in Romania. Our missions team was wore out to say the least. Thankfully, we had made arrangements to depart from Germany and since we were so close to Austria, we took a couple of days off to relax and enjoy the sights. We lodged in the heart of Vienna and spent a couple of hours scouting the beautiful city. Austrians from what I could tell are very quiet and serious in that part of town. The city was quite clean for an urban area and absolutely beautiful. Most locals walk or ride their bicycles to move around the city (they do drive cars, but I just didn’t see many).
We didn’t have much time for shopping as our schedule was tight (yes, even on days off) but we took a few hours to check out the local marketplace and small shops. Mozart paraphernalia can be found everywhere in Vienna, his birth place. Another thing you’ll find plenty of, is beautiful lace tablecloths, and linen. For some reason, these seemed very popular among tourists there. The shops were busy with tourists and locals and the weather was perfectly cool and sunny.
We had reserved the rest of the day to travel away from the city and into the countryside of Salzburg, in order to make a stop at the world’s largest ice cave, Eisriesenwelt Werfen". We drove for hours just to get to see this marvel of nature. The drive was long, but once there, getting to the top of the mountain and into the cave was an adventure in itself. First, we drove half way up the mountain, after parking our vehicle, we had to hike a little under a mile, then we mounted a cable car that took us higher still. We were so high up, you could see the villages below beginning to look like an ant hill. There we made a stop for lunch at a cafe. We had Austrian macaroni and cheese -I’ve never tasted anything like it! It was heavy with white cheese and probably heavy cream, they added grilled onions and chunks of real bacon. Fattening? You bet! Delicious, Absolutely!
After a hearty (and I mean that) lunch, we continued our hike another half a mile (or maybe it was a mile-it certainly felt like a mile!) uphill, mind you. finally, we made it to the top of the mountain and to the entrance of the cave where we waited for our tour guide to lead us into this magical Ice Cave. Not before our oh-so handsome, 20 year old guide announced, we would be going up about 700 steps and then down the same amount. Yikes!
(Did I fail to mention that while we were climbing/hiking uphill the road was super narrow with mountain on one side and super steep cliffs on the other-without a fence or safety net? Yeah…Have you ever heard of prayer walking? We invented it that day.)
This was a beautiful cool and sunny, summer day, until we went inside the cave….The temperature dropped to a freezing point and all I had was a jean jacket, sneakers and most importantly, no gloves! Our group had about 15 people and some of us were given lanterns to hold as our guide would lead the way and do his facts, questions and answers thing. I was the last person in our group and so I was given a lantern to hold. Yea, I felt pretty powerful holding that lamp. It was the only thing keeping my hands warm.
Side note: As Johnny Cochran used to say; prepare, prepare, prepare!
About half way up, one of the people in our team (an older lady) gave out. Her legs could go no more, so she decided to stay behind and make her way back down to the beginning. What she didn’t count on, was the fact that she had no lantern and without one of those, it is peach black and scary as heck! Somehow she made it out alive but she was shaken pretty bad. The rest of us did enjoy the tour. The ice formations inside the cave were beautiful and unique. And our eye candy tour guide kept the females quite interested in everything he had to say.(oh- to be 20 again!)
By the end of the tour we were exhausted from all the walking, hiking,climbing, praying and freezing, so we napped during the drive back to Vienna. I believe it was a 3 hour drive, but this was a one time deal for many of us, so we didn’t complain. I remember closing my sleepy eyes only to open them again and again because I didn’t want to miss anything. My mind started revisiting scenes from The Sound of Music while I gazed at those beautiful green hills, before long, I was humming the tune and like a chain reaction others joined in on an impromptu rendition. What a way to end the adventure!