2 July ’04, Friday. Hallstatt, Austria Off to the Salt mine. There are many salt mines in Austria to tour but the salt mine in Hallstat is the world’s oldest so naturally it’s a must. After a short walk through town (any walk through this town is short) we arrived at our starting point. A short ride up the steep hill in a funicular saved us a lot of time and energy. Upon departing you take a brisk walk up a well marked trail for about 15 minutes and find yourself at the visitor center where you are given a pants and a shirt.
On our tour we are joined but 30 kids on a field trip. Our guide is a nice but to the point lady in her 20’s. Dressed in her uniform (of which historical reference I have no idea) she get us organized quickly – English speaking people will stay to the back in a group – which makes it easy for her to talk to us once she is finished with the German speaking school kids. She explains the tour will take an hour and if you suffer from claustrophobia let her know. Before you can rethink, you are heading down a narrow tunnel that is 3’ wide and 6’ height.
You walk for a ¼ mile – constantly reminded of her claustrophobic comment. We arrive at a wooden slide. Our guide first speaks to the kids in German and then turns to the English speakers. She tells us to straddle the slide (like riding a horse) and lean back.
As she is speaking English, the kids start talking – she turns to them and in German tells them if they talk again she will march them out of the mine immediately. This quiets the kids for the rest of the tour (this has nothing to do with the tour but it was funny). We slid and survived. At the bottom is a video that explains the mine. 250 millions years ago most of the Alps were covered by the sea. As the water level lowered a lake formed in the valley. Over the years the lake dried leaving salt from the water. Over the next millions of years the mountains shifted and the salt became covered. Over 4500 years ago when humans arrived in the area, they followed the animals to the creeks. When they tasted the water they could taste the salt. They followed the creeks up the mountain and discovered the salt deposits. Back then there was no way to preserve meat except with salt. This made salt literally worth its weight in gold. Since then and until today people have been mining salt in the area. There’s one tunnel over 25 miles long. Our tour moves on to another slide and we are informed that toward the bottom your picture will be taken (just like the rides at Disneyland!) so you want to be sure you have your “I’m not scared” smile on as you are trying to keep you balance. The rest of the tour is about mining technology and more history of the mine. At the end you ride a little train out of the mine.
It takes a while to finish. The kids loved it but the adults probably wondered if the ride was ever going to end. Descending you can either take a nice trail back to town or the funicular. Since we had the kids and it was raining, we chose the easy way down. After lunch, Joel, Rick and the kids hopped in Bumble Bee and drove the 3 kilometers to take on a new adventure – the Giant Ice Caves.
This time we took a gondola. This ride is longer and more exciting. At the end, we get our tickets stamped for a tour and are told if we hurry we can catch the English speaking tour. Without hesitation we find the trail and start walking up a steep trail. We walk and walk and walk. Burning the equivalent calories of an hour of aerobics it takes us 15 minutes to arrive with 5 minutes to spare. We enter the cave and descend quite a bit. The cave is well lit and spacious. After a couple of moderate interesting comments from our tour guide we are deep in the cave and begin to ascend a steep staircase. After approximately 150 steps and a few turns through a narrow passage, we begin to see plenty of ice.
On a boardwalk you enter a large cavern.