Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Austria – by Gary

Austria was the briefest taste with just two items on the menu; the city of Salzburg and the Grossglockner High Alpine Road across the alps into Italy – both are places that Mum and I visited on our European trip.

The city’s favourite son, Mozart, figures hugely in the tourism image and hype for the town.  And its true that we were treated to several wonderful busking performances in the old town - we reckon they were almost certainly students at the Mozarteum; the city’s prestigious music school.  It gave our stroll through this beautiful old city a wonderful ambiance.  But our children had their sight set higher... that is, higher up the hill on the old castle.

To further indulge in the ambiance you can take a buggy ride, which takes you past a statue of .... well you can probably guess who?

The city has many fine fountains with a strong (wow - non-Mozartium) horse theme – but I also liked the two girls, busy socialising.

But as I said, it was the castle that held the strongest appeal- so up the hill we trudged.  This is the Hohensalzburg Fortress and we’ve since discovered it is Austria’s third most important tourist attraction. What can I say – our kids have good taste!

The walk up went through some interesting ‘defendable’ spaces.  Zeke speculated that the holes in the vaulted ceiling on the right were for pouring the boiling oil and other ‘goodies’.

And the castle courtyard is a fascinating medieval space.

The castle museum was pretty boring, but we liked these two exhibits.

But my favourite sight in all of Salzburg was the golden arches of Maccas – crikey, the company really can be tamed and brought to order!

The Grossglockner High Alpine Road
In Australia the Great Depression saw the construction of several projects with a mountain/tourism theme, the road up to Mt Wellington and the road up to Kosciuszko to name two.  But it was still a surprise to learn that the road across this marvelous mountain pass from Austria into Italy was a massive Austrian depression project specifically aiming at fostering tourism.  I guess few politicians have truly original ideas – particularly the Australian of the species.

Designed as a “picturesque high road for increasing tourism, to put all other high alpine roads technically in the shade”  - by 2005 the number of private vehicles using the pass had reached 3.5 million annually.  It is Austria’s second most important tourist attraction!

3,200 blokes worked on the road, suffering gales, ice and snow for 5 long years to put the road across the Hochtor.  Hochtor is German for ‘high-pass’ and at 2504 metres above sea level it’s a passage that a Roman writer described as “more strenuous than a war”.

Yet for me the most surprising aspect of our visit was the change in the Pasterze Glacier, the glacier that flows down from Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner (3,798m). Mum and I view this glacier in 1993 and we were both awed by its enourmity.  I gave it a big build up for the kids – only to once again be awed – but this time by its tiny-ness.  The Austrians are quick to tell us it has been shrinking pretty much ever since the last major ice-age (12,000 years ago) and we shouldn’t worry.

View of the mighty Pasterze, 1936
View of the mighty Pasterze, 2000.

View of the mighty Pasterze, 2013.
The interpretation doesn’t mention the words ‘climate change’ but you don’t need to be that good with figures to work out that the rate of ice loss has been dramatically accelerating in recent years.

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