Day 5 The Pinzgauer Lokalbahn Railway and Krimml Falls
Today would have been Grace’s birthday. We often went away for her birthday, especially during the years that she was teaching, because it usually coincided with half term. So I was feeling a bit more contemplative than usual.
Anyhow the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn has connected the small communities of the Upper Salzach valley to Zell am See for over a hundred years. It is a narrow gauge railway and during the summer often runs steam trains pulling the original carriages from Zell to Krimml. Unfortunately during the time I was there the steam trains were out of service because of maintenance and track repair issues. So we had to make do with the modern diesel train instead. The views were just as attractive, the seats were probably more comfortable, and it was quicker. It’s not the same though. The smell is different. To an old marine engineer, there is nothing quite like the perfume that is created when oil and steam come together. Modern diesel locomotives do not make as good photographs either. Hence the fact that there are none.
The train took us up the valley to the Krimml Falls which the website describes as the fifth highest waterfall in the world. Spoiler alert – they are not even the fifth highest in Europe, and depending on how you measure the height of a waterfall, they may not even be the fifth highest in Austria. The websites exaggeration about their height does not detract from the fact that they are very spectacular.
It is about a three kilometres from the railway terminus to the foot of the falls so GRJ arranged for a coach to take us there. On the way there it took us up to a view-point on the opposite side of the valley where we could see the falls from top to bottom.
Having seen the full extent of the falls the next question was did I want to climb up them? What would Grace have done? Well, one of Grace’s favourite tricks was to walk for miles in one direction, until she was exhausted and then wonder how she was going to get back. So obviously she would have aimed for the top. Our guide told us that the most spectacular parts of the falls were the lower two sections, so unless we were feeling particularly masochistic, in his opinion there wasn’t a lot of point in going right to the top. The path follows the falls up the mountain, so is obviously steep. I took his advice. Besides there was a restaurant half way up which did a pretty decent lunch. You can make it out in the photo below.
The walk up to the restaurant was about 2.5 km, with a 250m height gain, and it took me just over an hour, but that included stops to take photographs (and catch my breath). Lunch was a bowl of potato soup flavoured with caraway seeds and a hunk of rye-bread. It was good and worth the effort to get up the hill. Coming back down was quicker, but because the path was so steep, not all that much easier. A different kind of effort was needed.
At the bottom of the falls there is a sort of museum/exhibition called WasserWunderWelt which apparently gives a bit of history of the falls but also explores how water is used. It is also apparently quite good. I say apparently, because I didn’t get to see it. Entry to the falls and the museum are on the same ticket, and somewhere between the entry gate to the falls and coming back down the mountain I lost mine. So I had a coffee and apfelstrudel instead.
We didn’t take the train back, the coach which took us from the station to the falls took us back to Zell am See to dry off. A combination of the spray from the waterfall and the only rain I encountered all holiday meant that I ended up decidedly damp.
Day 6 Schmittenhöhebahn cable car and a walk down the mountain.
Today was another free day when we didn’t have any excursions arranged for us. I thought about getting the train to Vienna until I discovered that getting there and back would have taken almost all day. I would have had about an hour maximum for sightseeing, so decided that it probably wasn’t worth it.
When Grace and I were last in Zell am See we spent quite a lot of time walking around the mountains above the town. We would catch the cable car up to the top and spend most of the day wandering around the paths at the top of the mountain (with Grace occasionally bursting into a chorus of “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music”)finding a mountain restaurant for lunch, then either walking all the way back down (not recommended, it does nasty things to your knees) or getting another cable car down.
That is what I decided to do. There was only one problem. In the intervening 25 years I have developed an aversion to dangling from a length of wire anything up to 500 metres above the ground.
I decided that I was going to do it anyhow. The Schmittenhöhe-Bahn follows the contours of the mountain and so is not too high above the ground, generally only 10 to 20 metres. Unlike some, especially in Switzerland, which can be a few hundred metres. I am also better going up rather than down, because it doesn’t feel as if you are quite as high above the earth when you are going up. I also feel more comfortable enclosed in the cabin of a cable car than exposed to the elements on a chair lift. Having weighed all these factors, I gritted my teeth, paid my € 28.50 and got into the, rather sleek, Porsche designed cabin, planning to keep my eyes closed ’till we got to the top if necessary.
It wasn’t too bad. It took about ten minutes, maybe a bit less to get from the base station in Zell am See to the top of the Schmittenhöhe. It was about eleven, so time for a coffee and a cake, 2000m up. The view from the terrace was quite spectacular, looking back down to the town, the lake and the mountains beyond.
Suitably refreshed, it was time for a walk. There is another cable car terminus called the Sonnkogel about three or four km away along the ridge. It is quite a gentle walk, mainly down hill, but without any really steep up or down hill sections. The plan was to get there about one o’clock and have some lunch.
I could see the hotel so I decided to try out the zoom on my camera to see how well it worked.
I had a pleasant stroll along the ridge passing a couple of art works/installations on the way.
Lunch was fine, if not particularly memorable (I can’t remember what I had, but it was edible). After lunch I found that I had a problem. The first stage of the journey back down to the lake wasn’t in a nice enclosed cable car cabin. It was an open chairlift down a very steep slope to the intermediate station where there was an enclosed cabin cable car.
I looked at it a couple of times and thought about it for the best part of quarter of an hour before deciding that I probably wasn’t going to handle it. So I made the decision to walk down the path to the intermediate station. I was just over three kilometres with an elevation drop of 420m, an average gradient of 12% on the zig-zag path. So I guess that the chair lift, which takes the straight line might have been twice that. Walking down hill when it is very steep, is in my opinion, as hard or even harder than walking uphill. I puts a strain on your knees and calf muscles, in addition your toes tend to get crammed into the toe space of your boot, which can be painful. In addition, because I was now off the ridge and walking down through the wooded part of the mountain, the views while still attractive, were not as spectacular as the views from the top. I was glad when I arrived at the bottom.
The cable car down was fine, I kept looking back up the mountain so that it didn’t feel as far above the ground. In retrospect I would probably have been better doing the trip in reverse. Going up on the chair lift I would probably have been fine. I’ll remember that for when I go back in twenty-five years time.
After I got back down the mountain I had an important task to perform. One of my friends and I have a competition. The idea is to bring back the most undrinkable local hooch that we can find as a “present” for each other. He is currently well in the lead after a holiday to Latvia when he brought me back a bottle of Riga Black Balsam.
I have brought him back this. I’m don’t think that it will beat the Black Balsam, but it might get me back into the competition.
Again, because it was a free day, we were not booked into the hotel restaurant for dinner. Today’s search for dinner was more successful than the last time. I went out a bit earlier, which helped. Opposite the hotel, across the railway tracks is a restaurant/café/bar called Villa Crazy Daisy. I decided to go there for a pre-dinner drink, while I was drinking my beer I had a look at their menu and thought that it looked fine. So I decided that I would eat there. I had not had a Wienerschnitzel so far and thought that I couldn’t leave Austria without having one. I went full Austrian and had a green salad starter and apfelstrudel for pudding accompanied by a glass of Grüner Veltliner (also currently very trendy in London). All good and reasonably priced. The bill, including drinks, came to about €45.
Note: click on any of the photos if you want to see them full size.