This post is a continuation of a series documenting our travels in Central Europe. We were now in the Austrian Alps & the twin towns of Zell am See and Kaprun. We had spent the first day here going up to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and it had been the experience of a lifetime! (Zell am see & Kaprun Part 1 – An exhilarating ride up the Kitzsteinhorn)
On our second day in the Austrian alps we had originally planned to go to the Krimml waterfalls which are a train and a short trek away from Kaprun. However those plans were shelved as we got an offer to ride up the Grossglockner high alpine road which had recently reopened for the summer from the better half’s senior and friend from work who was also in the same region at the time.
The Grossglockner High Alpine road is supposed to be one of the most beautiful and scenic stretches of road that criss crosses up the Alps from the Austrian side and descends into Italy. I had seen photos of the same that my dad had taken on his visit here a few years ago in June. While planning the trip I had regretted the fact that the Alpine road would be mostly closed when we visited, as it usually opens mid May and we were here in the beginning of May.
As luck would have it the road opened earlier than scheduled and we also got the chance to ride it with the Thapar – Sanghvis( the T- Ss from now on!). Unlike us public transportation people they were driving their way across Bavaria and Tirol. It was an opportunity that was too good to be true and so we readily jumped at the offer.
The weather predictions were for a rainy day but as I peeked out of the windows on waking up it looked all clear for now! Since we were scheduled to meet the T- Ss at 10 at the hotel they were staying in Zell am See we had some time to wander about in Kaprun. We got ready and had the sumptuous Buffet breakfast at the Das Alpenhaus and set off to roam around the town itself. Kaprun is a modern ski resort and hence is mainly made up of rentals to hire and hotels, no cutesy old town for me and my camera to go trigger happy!
So we just walked along the river, took some photos of the pretty church atop a small hill and the small wooden bridges that spanned the river at regular intervals.
I had read that there was a private castle in Kaprun which was off limits to go into so I had not given it much thought. Now that we had some free time I thought we could go to the castle and take a few photos of the exteriors and enjoy the view from the base. So we set off armed with a map given by the hotel to find the castle.
Luckily there wasn’t much confusion in finding it as the road besides our hotel continued straight on to the castle. We reached the small but impressive looking castle after a few minutes of brisk walking to help digest the heavy breakfast.
We walked right upto the base of the castle where there was a small verandah with a bench overlooking the town below. We sat down and enjoyed the view for a while. The meadows below were a brilliant mixture of yellow and green because of all the flowers that were in bloom. It made the effort of getting there worthwhile.
As we were returning from the castle the meadows looked so beautiful that we just had to venture into one of the dirt roads that went through the centre of a big meadow. We had picked the right season to be here, spring made the meadows brightly coloured and even more beautiful!
After a short walk through the meadows we rejoined the main road and took the bus to Zell am See. Since we were living in Kaprun we had not got the chance to walk around Zell. We took this chance and visited the town church and walked the sleepy streets of this laid back Alpine town.
We then went to the lakeside promenade and enjoyed some time in the sun enjoying the views. There were some swans and mallards at the lake side and since I had carried the 300mm I couldn’t let the magnificent sunlight go waste.
As I was clicking the swans and snoozing mallards I saw something that would break a jinx I had been carrying for the past few years. There were a pair of Crested Grebes floating around the lake. Somehow in all my years of travelling a Crested Grebe only seems to appear when I am not carrying my 300mm. Well! not today and I clicked away to glory.
Finally with the Grebe safely stored on my SD card we left the lakeside as it was now time to meet the T-Ss. We went to their hotel, where we met madam (bvstravels – Check out her blog too!), Sir and their daughter R.
So the three T-Ss and 2 of us went to the parking lot and got into their hired Volkswagen to start our journey towards the High Alpine road. Sir was driving with constant directions from the GPS and madam! Soon we reached the toll gate from where the actual High Alpine road started.
As soon as we started to ascend the beauty of the road became apparent. Tall snow covered peaks touching the clouds all around and the road (which was as smooth as one can’t even think of in our great country!) criss crossing through it – An engineering marvel! At the first place where there was place to stop we stopped, got off and started taking pictures.
As we ascended and the scenery got whiter and whiter we started stopping more and more often it was that beautiful. R was obsessed with petting a marmot so we stopped at a place where the map showed there was a marmot centre. Unluckily for R there were no captive or recuperating marmots there. Luckily for me there were a few wild marmots in the islands of grass peeking out from the snow covered landscape. I captured on camera these European cousins of the marmots I had photographed in Ladakh.
As we got back into the car Sir realised that we didn’t have enough gas to complete the trip. Luckily due to our frequent stops we hadn’t gotten far into the road yet. So we turned back to the toll gate, just beyond which was a gas station where we filled up the tank and started the ascent all over again!
This time we didn’t stop till we reached the highest point of the road which was almost entirely surrounded by snow covered slopes. The T-S father daughter duo had a whale of a time here trying to pelt each other with snowballs.
In all our excitement we had not realised that it was past lunch time. We decided to stop at the next restaurant that came along the way and have lunch. So we sat down in the restaurant ordered food and talked about our respective vacations till then.
The weather had slowly gone from sunny to cloudy to ominously grey over the period of a few hours. So with our tummies full we decided to go as far ahead as possible before it started pouring. In a few minutes we came across a totally snow covered area. Both R and the better half had been wanting to build a snow man since the trip began and there was no place better than this.
We stopped got out and started making our tiny snow midget. We didn’t have the time nor the energy for a full human sized snowman with the grey clouds threatening to burst at any moment!
With small contributions from everyone we had something resembling a snowman ready. The main contributors proudly took photos with their creation before we moved on.
As soon as we got back into the car it started raining and the road ahead was closed due to risk of avalanches. It was as if nature was telling us that our time in this alpine wonderland was over. We turned back and Sir expertly drove the car amidst pouring rain and poor visibility back down to where we had started.
We drove back to Zell am See and it was still raining. As we reached the station we saw a bus about to depart to Kaprun so with a quick goodbye to the Thapar – Sanghvis we ran and caught the bus back.
It poured the whole evening after that so we enjoyed our comfortable warm room and enjoyed our four course meal at a leisurely pace before retiring for the day. Thanks to the Thapar Sanghvis we had enjoyed a memorable and jaw droppingly scenic ride up the Austrian Alps. It had been a day filled with turn after turn of Alpine beauty – memories for a lifetime!
Tomorrow we would be leaving Kaprun for a day in Salzburg. But that is topic for another post another day.