Sunday, September 27, 2015

Day 45: Salt Mine Dürnberg

Breakfast area in the hotel.

Today's goal, the salt mines in Hallein.

I purchased tickets online (they are supposedly cheaper online and you are guaranteed a spot on a tour), while Chris checked out the bus schedule. It seems, the buses right out of Salzburg are frequent, but the ones going to and from the salt mine are much more infrequent (such as returning at 5pm or 7pm... we want the 5pm!) We do our best to schedule the tour tickets to when we think we'll arrive via bus.

The time we need to travel and the time we do the tour, leaves little time for lunch at a "normal" hour. So we know we need to fuel up the kids early. We headed out to the fair for "easy-to-find-economical" food. How nice for us!

When we arrive at the fair, the main "beer tent" is mostly empty and finding a table is super easy. Chris orders sausage and french fries for Xander (the hungriest in the bunch). But as we sit and watch him eat, we realise the rest of us could use some food too, so Chris orders more and, by this time, all the tables are filled up. We timed it, unknowingly, perfectly.

The small ferris wheel from the other day (left), Xander eating at the fair (middle-left)
The empty beer tent area (middle-right). and my favourite new word Zukerwatte (Cotton Candy) (right)

After pit-stops at the hotel, we head out to the bus stop. The buses here in Salzburg make me wonder in comparison to Berlin's buses. From our limited exposure, there seem to be tons and tons of buses. For example, one stop might have 7 different buses stopping there. Tons! And yet, our bus stop, was 30 ft from a bus stop that has 7 different buses scheduled. The big bus stop has an overhang to sit under, a big giant sign with digital readouts telling you what buses are scheduled, etc. Our bus stop, 30 ft farther, is a small sign on the wall (you could easily walk past it without knowing it was even there) with a few words written on it (no digital display). The big bus stop has an "indent" in the curb for the bus to pull over and out of traffic. Our bus stop has cars parked all along the narrow street, so when the bus stops, it will block traffic and we'll have to weave through parked cars to get to the bus.

Or not!

Our bus came and pulled over into the big bus stop area. So, those of us waiting for this bus hustled back up the street to get on. Why not just put the bus at the same stop? I don't get it.

And now we have to converse with the bus driver to buy our tickets. No automated machine where we can press "English" instructions. Chris does really well talking with the driver saying we're going to the salt mines in Hallein, that we are four (Venice often counts as an adult, but sometimes is a child, so we have to always figure that out) and we want both directions (or all day tickets). We pay. We think we did it. It's about €30 for our family. We are really hoping this is round-trip. And, unlike Berlin, there is no automatic machine that validates your ticket, it seems you just show it to the driver as you get on, which means you have to get on at the front of the bus. In Berlin, there are always multiple entrances and exits, you do not have to get on at the front. Also, different, the buses in Salzburg are more like "Luxury Coach" buses than city buses. So, we ride in comfort on our way to Hallein.

Ok, another difference? The buses here in Salzburg drive like Mario Andretti would hug the corners of a race track. So, hold on. AND, they do NOT stop unless you press the "Stop" button. Berlin also has the "stop" buttons, but they seem to always stop. I'm not sure if this is something the Berlin drivers just do, or if it's because we're in a big city and so there is usually always someone wanting to get off or on. But, here in Salzburg, if you don't press the button and there is no one waiting for the bus, the drive will just whiz by at a million miles per hour. What does this mean for us? Chris is VERY vigilant to read the signs of the stops as they blur by the window. Some are easier than others. Some are large and printed above the bus stop alcove, others are tiny on a small sign. Some of the buses have digital read outs at the front of the bus where you can watch the stops listed, other have none and you have to be watching all the time or else you miss your stop.

Thanks to Chris' eagle eyes, we know our stop is next and we press the stop button. In Berlin, the stop button seems to just light up on the screen. Here, it makes an amazingly loud buzzing sound by the driver. So I am careful to warn the kids to NOT ring it more than once, lest we piss off the driver or cause him to drive off course.

As we get off the bus, we quickly begin scanning the bus stop sign to see if we can see our connecting bus on it and confirm what Google has said to us (when to expect it to arrive). Our driver, opens the door and tells us, "No" and points. He is indicating that the bus we want (direction) is on the other side of the street! Oh my gosh. Remember when we did this in Prague? It's definitely confusing when you are going one direction, and in your mind you want to keep going that direction, but in fact, you may need to back track or turn... but it's unclear. I'd like to think we would have figured it out on our own (maybe by the bus sign having the wrong "destinations) but I don't know that we would have. So I am very grateful to our bus driver for helping us out. Because the number of riders is less here (than Berlin), perhaps, or perhaps because they are more engaged (who knows), the bus drivers have been very helpful to us, thus far.

Waiting for the bus transfer (left x 2), View out the bus (middle-right)
Xander on a "high chair" on the bus (right)

So, we cross the street and wait for our connecting bus there for our next accelerated ride on the windy country roads.

The grounds at Salt Mine Dürnberg

Maybe because the buses drive so fast, or because we miscalculated our travel time, we arrived a lot earlier than planned. It's 1pm and our tour is scheduled for 2:30 or something. Gah. Waiting is not what any of us want and 90 minutes is a long time to kill in the middle of nowhere. Chris (yay, Chris!) asks if we can change to an earlier tour even though our tickets say no (yes, we can!) and while he's got an English speaking person, he asks if our bus tickets appear to be all day tickets (yes, the worker, after a long inspection, thinks so).

Now that our tour is now, we are hurried down into the preparation area. We knew ahead of time (from watching an online video from the salt mine's website) that we would have to wear pants and a jacket over our street clothes. Xander was unhappy about this, but rallied and was willing to wear the bulky clothes. We also knew that "sturdy shoes are recommended". What we didn't know is if "recommended" was a suggestion or a rule. We had not packed sneakers for the kids. We figure Xander's Keens are ok, they cover his toes and have full straps. But Venice only has her flip flops. I only brought one pair of sneakers and two different pairs of "Oktoberfest" shoes (one has the heels and gave me the 5 blisters, the other are more "flats" but with lots and lots of sparkles on them). We came prepared to either split up if we needed to do two different tours, and I also brought the sparkly flats, just in case those would work.

Well, first thing we hear when we get into the dressing area, is, "Are those the only shoes you have?" our tour guide asks pointing to Venice's feet. I ask, "Are they not acceptable?" She replied, "No! They are not safe!" So, I say I have flats that might work. She nodded vigorously and tried to shoo me out the door to go get them, "Hurry, hurry!" I say that I have them with me, here, not in the parking lot. She is VERY relieved. So, as pre-planned, in case this happened, Venice put on my sneakers, which are a little too big for her, but not too bad and I put on the flats, which aren't too bad. Other than they sparkle and call attention to my feet. I want to hide. And really, they are not very sturdy, they are a little loose on me, in addition to not being completely flat (a very small heel), but, assuming our guide saw them, they pass inspection and we are all ready to go.

Glück Auf! (Good luck!)

We head outside and down some stairs to prepare for our "exciting train ride" included in the tour. It's a small train you straddle and are supposed to hold onto the person in front of you. No one wants to hold a stranger, so I am (by creative positioning of my family) elected to sit in the front of our group, designating me to be the one who has to hold onto a stranger. Good thing our group isn't too big, I am able to sit with space behind the family in front of us and I do NOT have to hold onto their dad. Instead, I hold onto the train "bar-seat" we're straddling. Awkward crises averted.

Us on the "exciting train" ride back (left)
A top-down photo of the train, you can see where we straddled (right)

Our tour guide proved to be cantankerous. As she was giving her opening speech, a young child was talking to his parents. The guide stopped, and in that "teacherly" manner, waited for all to be quiet and gave some sort of chiding. She really didn't seem very happy to be a salt mine guide. She had the air and tone of boredom. And to top it off, she didn't even have to give too many talks, there were buttons with videos throughout the tour that showed clips of an on-going movie about the Prince Archbishop, his workers, and such of olden days. The movie explained the historic riches of the salt mines, the wars over the salt mines, and the Archbishop's 14 (no, on his dying bed, he says 15) bastard children and the Castle and gardens he had built for his love Salome (he says, she's the one he really loves). The castle? Schloss Mirabell, where we were yesterday!

Walking through the tunnels (left and middle-left)
The salt water brine available to taste, Chris and Venice giving it a go (middle-right and right)

Then onto a boat to cross the salt water lake. OMG, the lights were turning colours, the music dramatic, and it was a very "Disneyland" ride across this lake (going 1 mile per 5 hours for 30 yards). And, just like at Disneyland, everyone was taking flash photos, ruining the drama created by the disco lights.

The salt lake

One of the coolest things (for me) was that we crossed the border from Austria to Germany, and then back again. The first time, I was taken by surprise, so I didn't have enough time to snap a picture. But knowing we'd have to cross again (and our lovely guide warned us of the re-crossing), I was prepared for the cross back.

Crossing the border back into Austria (left) and the recreation of the "Man in the salt" (right)

And that's about it for our tour! The kids are glad they went, but admitted it was scary to be so far underground. I'm sure it doesn't help that there is a cardboard (paper mâché?) recreation of one of the two guys buried alive in an old collapse. It was a very "cheesy" adventure, but something to add to our list of things we've done, I suppose! And, we did get to go down a wooden slide (more straddling involved and perhaps the "real" reason to wear the weird clothing... to avoid chafing?)

You can see from the lower right corners, Chris got the fasted time!

We checked on our bus schedule, and it seems that we either have 15 minutes to catch a bus, or we wait 2 hours until the next one... So, we speed through the gift shop (picking up a little... salt... and then later we wonder where did the salt come from as this mine hasn't been mined for salt in many, many years...) and run to the bus stop... and of course, it's late, so we wait... and wait...

When this bus driver (it's the same one who drove us on our connecting bus ride from Hallein) drops us off at the stop we're going to transfer to our bus back to Salzburg. He stops us in the aisle, and says that our bus, back to Salzburg, comes in 40 minutes (and he points to the correct side to wait on). Again, so helpful! I'm impressed, that I was able to understand what he was saying (granted, I thought he said 20 minutes and not 40, but I got the gist). But, what my limited German has me missing out on are the nuances. I understood that our bus would come on that side and in 40 minutes. But what was he trying to say, really? Just that, or did he also want to add that we should go into town, or there's a better way? Was he implying something else or wanting to hint at another tip? Or was he just giving us info? That's what's missed by not speaking the language better.

40 minutes is a long time to wait for a bus. So, we wander around. Only, we're not really in the town of Hallein. Well, we are, but not the main part, mostly the industrial part. There is a lot of construction, water ducts, fire house, and such. But no coffee shops (sorely missed right now), restaurants, or snacks. But, it's nice to wander outside, above ground, and enjoy the warm sunshine.

Sites around the outskirts of Hallein.

Back to Salzburg (and counting bus stops as we go).

The Salzach river. Another view of the craft tents.
We asked the hotel to make a reservation for us at a local "authentic" Austrian restaurant. The concierge wasn't sure he could do it... it is Sunday during a very busy time. But, he did it! Again, eating at 6pm is early, so not so hard! And we wanted it a little earlier than normal tonight, just in case we can see some fireworks, scheduled to go off at 8:30pm. You might think 2.5 hours for dinner is plenty, but you'd be wrong. The courses take a while, and remember, sometimes it takes a very long time to catch a waiter's eye to ask for the check. AND, if you want dessert, that adds another 30 minutes to your experience. So, 2.5 hours is going to be tight, we think. We just have time for a quick rest (and coffee for Chris and myself at a local coffee bar) before heading out to the restaurant.

A view of the buildings and mountains from our coffee spot (left)
A bus going VERY slowly through a narrow tunnel so as not to shear off its mirrors (middle)
A street that only allows local cars through, using cool electronic barriers (right)

Dinner was fantastic. And, guess what? Our reservation was on the second floor, again. What does go on at the first floor? I want to know! We did opt for dessert. Good news, they were incredible. Bad news, I forgot to take a photo. Venice's Black Forest ice cream... was more like a volcano of of a sundae (giant proportions) and Chris' berry strudel was very tasty.

But, it's time to run back home. We were just in time for the fireworks. And actually, early, since they started about15 minutes late. And the best news? We COULD see them from our hotel room as suspected. So, while everyone else was out freezing in the cold, we were able to watch through our windows while wearing our PJs.

Good night, Salzburg!

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