This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels to a small corner of Central Europe. We had spent two wonderful days in the Bavarian Capital of Munich. Now we were moving on to the Austrian Alps and the Alpine ski resort town of Kaprun & the lakeside town of Zell am See. My parents had visited this region a few years ago and till date my mother can’t stop raving about it. So when it came to planning a trip of this part of Europe we had to include Zell am See and Kaprun as a part of the itinerary.
We boarded our scheduled train out of Munich Hauptbahnhof (German for main station – Just flaunting my mediocre German!) and searched for a couple of unreserved seats. This was a task as this train ran from Munich through Austria and into Italy, so most people travelling longer distances had reserved their seats. As we were travelling just a few stations down the line on this train we hadn’t done the same. Luckily there were a few seats reserved for the period after our stop and we happily settled into these seats.
We then changed trains at Worgl, a nondescript rail junction just inside the Austrian border and got into the cute little train that took us to Zell am see. The train passed through beautiful alpine scenery with meadows full of yellow flowers in spring alternating with snow capped mountains. Dotted in between were small towns with their typical church steeple standing tall above all other structures. Every few miles the train tracks ran parallel to a stream or rivulet that only added to the beauty of the scene. The better half was busy taking photos of this amazing scenery for the entire journey and before we realised we had reached the lake town of Zell am See.
Initially we had booked a hotel in Zell am See itself, but the better half had found a great deal for the hotel Das Alpenhaus in Kaprun, an Alpine ski resort town a short bus ride away from Zell am See. The bus schedule here is synchronised with the arriving trains, so within no time we were on the bus. I bought a day pass for the bus as it was the same price as a return ticket and we intended to visit the lake side in the evening.
We reached our stop in Kaprun where I used my recently learnt amateurish German to ask for directions to our hotel from a passerby who thankfully understood me & pointed us in the right direction.
We reached the hotel and dumped our bags in the luggage storage area since we were there way before check in time. The reception staff helpfully made out a guest card for us which gave us a 10% discount to the only planned item on the agenda, the Gipfelwelt 3000.
The Gipfelwelt 3000 is the cable car which goes to the highest point in the Austrian Alps on the Kitzsteinhorn mountain. It is the only cable car which runs year round barring stoppages for bad weather. Since we were there in what is the off season for a ski resort, it was the only cable car working in an area that is otherwise chock a block with cable cars running up hills and mountains in all directions from the valley below.
We were also jut before the time that the “Summer card ” for the region came into effect. The summer card is an initiative by the local government to promote tourism in the region in the skiing off season. It allows for free bus rides and free use of the cable cars once in your duration of stay in the summer which officially runs from 15th May to 30th September. Sadly we were 15 days too early and had to pay for our ride up the Kitzsteinhorn.( As a silver lining we got the 10% discount thanks to the hotel guest card!)
We took the next bus to the mountain and bought our cards / tickets for going up the mountain. In off season the Gipfelwelt closes at 4.30 and it was already 1.30 when we got there. The weather was cloudy but it wasn’t scheduled to get any better in the duration of our stay, so we decided to make the most of what we had. At least it wasn’t raining! Also I saw a misleading sign which showed that another cable car called the “Panoramabahn” was closed that day. I thought that part of this cable car series was closed and was sad that we wouldn’t be able to go all the way to the top. Thankfully that turned out to be all in my head & we zoomed up the mountain in a series of 4 cable cars.
As we ascended we crossed the tree line and soon all we could see was snow. Both of us had never seen so much snow before in our lives and we were grinning from ear to ear.
We wanted to reach the top without wasting much time as we didn’t want our time on the top to be curtailed by the scheduled closure timings. So we trampled through the snow in between cable car stations in a mad rush to the top. That was an experience in itself as it was the first time we were walking across a snow covered expanse. We soon learnt by trial and error where to step so that our boots don’t sink into the snow!
We reached the last cable car station and thought that was it, only to realise that there was a long tunnel cut through rock connected the last station to a funicular that took us to the platform advertised as “The Top of Salzburg”.
We reached the top and entered the viewing gallery platform. It was cold but surprisingly inspite of all the snow it wasn’t as cold as it had been on top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix. Then again that was like comparing apples and oranges as we had visited France in Autumn and this was Spring. The view was breath taking, snow covered peaks stretched out into the distance. The white mountains below and the white clouds above made it a nightmare for the camera to get the exposure right though! It was also stressful to my eyes due to all the glare off the snow. I don’t wear sunglasses as it gets in the way of taking photos. Thankfully the cloudy weather saved my eyes. Note to self – Buy a cheap pair for next time !
The platform also had a camera installed where we could take pictures and later download it off the website of the cable car, a neat feature that made for a pretty picture.
We enjoyed the view for a while before we started our descent at a more leisurely pace. We stopped at each station on the way down. We played with the snow, had a snow fight, stared enviously at the skiers zipping down the slopes at us, took a gazillion photos. In short we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly!
We maximised our time at this beautiful place and only descended when the last cable car station was about to close for the day. It had been an alpine experience par excellence and one neither me or the better half will forget soon.
We took the bus back to our hotel where evening snacks served in the restaurant awaited us. This was a welcome sight as in our excitement we had forgotten that we hadn’t had any lunch that day! So we ate the snacks in considerable quantities before actually checking into our room at the Das Alpenhaus.
We then rested for a while before heading out again for an evening stroll by the lake at Zell am See. So utilising our bus day passes to the fullest, we took the bus back to Zell & went to the lake side and just sat on a bench and took in the refreshing alpine air.
Even though it was still quite bright our watches told us that it was dinner time and we reluctantly had to take the bus back.
Coming back to the amazing deal that the better half had discovered at Kaprun. We had booked a half board stay at the Das Alpenhaus which included a four course gourmet dinner and a lavish breakfast. So we went to our reserved table at the restaurant and had a delicious dinner accompanied by a refreshing dark beer. ( They even had 4 courses of vegetarian food – A welcome change from the salad / french fries of Germany for the better half!)
It had been the perfect end to our first day in this beautiful part of Austria. I had enjoyed good food with better beer & the best company in a great atmosphere, what else can a man want!
The next day we had been invited by the Thapar – Sanghvis to join them on a drive up the Grossglockner high alpine road. To quote the Godfather they made an offer that I couldn’t refuse!
But that is topic for another post, another time as I have rambled on far and long in this one.