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Linz, Hallstatt & Werfen, Austria

Our last day at the caravan park in Vienna and we wanted to do our washing before we left. In the laundry I piled all our clothes in a spare machine, inserted the token but nothing happened. I attempted everything I could think of to figure out what was wrong but nothing worked. I asked the man at the front desk for help and his response was to read the instructions and try again. I informed him (with gritted teeth) that I had tried that, so with a sigh he came to have a look himself. He couldn't get it working either. There was already another machine out of order and the other two machines were being used, so I had no choice but to wait. And wait. And wait. Half an hour after the two loads had finished a woman, who was using both machines, came to take her clothes out. She saw me waiting and told me she had another two loads to put on. I replied (as politely as I could) that I had been waiting for an hour and the other machines were broken. She just said sorry (she wasn't sorry) and returned to her washing. I stormed off, saying something she probably didn't understand (I think she was Spanish). We wouldn't have had enough time to do our washing by the time her four loads had finished so we gave up and left. The annoying part was that there were free clothes dryers, which we had never come across before and would have been handy. So not a great start to the day.

In our frustrated state we drove to Linz, three hours away. The scenery was beautiful, with castles and palaces looking over the Danube, and it distracted us from the morning's events. The weather was also on our side, sunny and hot, which we hadn't experienced in a while.

 

Unfortunately Linz was not as pretty as the countryside, looking mostly industrial as we were driving into it. We found a car park right near the museum we wanted to visit: Ars Electronica. It was basically a technology museum but, as we discovered, almost anything can come under the term "technology". There was an abundance of machines built purely for the purpose of building a machine. Many didn't do anything other than move around and look cool. Interactive displays maintained our attention for a while, including a computerised eye gaze system that is used in speech pathology (although rarely because it cost upwards of $30,000). Danny had a go at this while I watched his eye movements on a huge screen, which was fascinating. Another machine turned our fingerprints into cities that we could "walk" through virtually. We watched a 3D Deep Space film, and it ended up being one of the best 3D films I had ever seen. The audience was all sitting in one row with the screen on the wall and floor in front of us, and it felt like we were actually in space. The whole presentation was in German so we didn't learn anything, but visually it was spectacular. 

After leaving the museum we walked through the centre of Linz, which was much prettier than the outskirts of town. We visited a couple of op shops where Danny finally found a cheap wine glass to replace the one he broke. Outside the op shops there were purchases of ice cream, groceries and an Austrian sparkling wine, then it was back to the car for dinner.

 

We took a walk after dinner back to the Ars Electronica to see the building at night. A huge light and sound show was on display, with crazy colours and patterns travelling in all directions over the surface of the building while electronic music was blaring out of the speakers. Very cool. 

The next morning we visited the Linz art gallery. It was organised into 11 rooms, each room covering a decade between 1900 and 2010. There was also a booklet (in English) explaining the style of art and inspirations during the particular decade, which was helpful for more ignorant art appreciators like me. One series of more modern paintings were so lifelike I could have sworn they were photos, until I walked up close and could see the brushstrokes. Overall I thought the gallery was fantastic, an unexpected highlight in this less touristy city. 

We left Linz and headed for Hallstatt, a town south of Salzburg. The drive was mostly along a large lake, with the towering Alps providing a grand backdrop. Hallstatt was a tiny town but extremely photogenic, situated on a mountainside with old-fashioned cottages overlooking the lake. I think the place only made money through tourism, given the number of souvenir shops and the busloads of tourists we encountered. We walked through the town and along the lake at a leisurely pace, picking up a blueberry liqueur at one of the tourist traps.

 

Not long after we arrived we saw a storm coming over the mountain towards us: lightning, thunder, the works. We quickly walked back towards the car but decided we could risk stopping in at a Catholic church on the way. The church contained a chapel out the back housing hundreds of human skulls. Each skull was decorated with a painted cross, the date of death and one of four flowers/leaves which signified glory, victory, life or love. The latest skull was added in 1995; apparently you can request it in your will. It was eerie to say the least. 

After Hallstatt it was on to Werfen, with the rain easing by the time we arrived. We meandered along the short main (and only) road, then up a steep hill to a castle. The castle was closed when we arrived so it was a bit of a waste of time, although the stunning mountain scenery surrounding us was captivating.

 

Danny cooked up an amazing cheesy pesto risotto for dinner. The only problem with Danny creating these wonderful meals was that I was responsible for the washing up. Cheesy pesto risotto, as incredible as it tasted, is now banned due to the excessive time and energy required to clean the dishes.

Our plan for Werfen was to visit Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in the world. We drove out of town and followed the signs to the tourist attraction not far away. On route we turned down a road and were met with a sign that we always dreaded seeing: steep incline, 21%. No way in a million years could our van go up a hill that steep. Luckily where we saw the sign there was a bus stop purposely for the ice cave (how did a bus get up there?). We couldn't believe our good fortune.

 

At the entrance we bought our tickets, then had to walk 20 minutes uphill to reach the cable car to take us further up the mountain. From there it was another 20 minute hike up a steep ascent to finally make it to the start of the cave. It wasn't over: once inside we then had to climb 700 steps to get up to the main part of the cave. I wasn't prepared for a workout.

 

On our tour inside the cave we had to carry handheld gas lamps as there was no electricity inside, giving it a slightly spooky atmosphere. The cave was huge, obviously full of ice, and we passed dozens of ice sculptures that were lit up from behind by our guide. Overall it wasn't as impressive as we were expecting. The tour lasted 40 minutes and as it was 0ºC inside, I'm glad it didn't last any longer. Despite having gloves, beanie and a scarf I was freezing by the end. 

Once outside we had to make our way down to the bus stop (walk, cable car, walk) but then discovered there was a 50 minute wait for the bus. As the walk was only 5 km (and downhill) we decided that walking back would be quicker. It was quicker, but not easy. The road was extremely steep, and the paths cutting through between the twists of the road were through scrubland along uneven rocks. Exhaustion and dehydration had overcome us by the time we reached the bottom, and we were not sure it was worth it.