Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Zell am See

  Last weekend I went to a town called Zell am See with a bunch of other YSSPers.  This is touristy resort town, busier in winter than in summer because of the surrounding mountains, but fairly busy in the summer as well due to water sports on the lake (Zeller See), hiking, and just generally being a beautiful place.  We started out with a bus ride of a couple of hours:

  This was on a bus that IIASA chartered for our group.  Our friendly bus driver stayed with us (and played bad movies for us) all weekend long.  We had some nice views from the bus, including a famous monastery that we may return to at a later date:

  We also stopped at an absolutely astounding rest stop along the way and had lunch.  Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of any of the food there (the waffles with whipped cream and strawberries that Glenn got was sumptuous beyond belief, and actually tasted as good as it looked!), but this photo taken from their patio gives a sense of it:

  Not your typical American roadside rest area.  Then we got to Zell am See.  I'm only going to put up a few photos of it, because it was unceasingly rainy and cold; these are the best views we got of it, actually.

  That foggy stratus layer just never lifted.  We had been planning to go on some hikes in the surrounding mountains, but that didn't make any sense given the weather, so instead we piled back on the bus the next morning and went adventuring.  The first spot we went was a river gorge called Sigmund-Thun Klamm.  It had a wooden walkway from bottom to top that wound around the rocks.  It felt quite a bit like Watkins Glen, in New York, near where I grew up.  The first photo is an attempt at a group photo, but it proved impossible to coordinate the group because the thundering of the water drowned out all attempts at communication.

  When we got to the top, we had a very nice view of a lake at the upper end of the gorge, the consequence of a hydroelectric dam situated there:

  After about thirty seconds at the lake, we charged off towards the bus again, taking a different route down, outside the gorge:

  Next we drove higher up into the Alps, eventually becoming completely enveloped in fog.  You can see here what we should have been able to see, as compared to what we actually could see:

  Undeterred, our fearless leader Sheila took us onwards, through a pass to the other side of that chain of mountains, and it was somewhat clearer there:

  From there it was only a bit further to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, where an enormous glacier, the Pasterze Glacier, descends from the Alps in a vast river of ice:

  Photos can't even begin to convey its immensity.  It's a lot smaller than it used to be, though.  We walked a trail down from the rim towards the glacier (which we didn't have time to reach), and along the trail we passed signs as we descended: here's where the glacier used to be in 1960, in 1970, in 1980:

  You can see that even as recently as 1980, just 30 years ago, the glacier was much larger and deeper than it is now; it's still very far below us in this photo.  It was a visceral experience, walking this trail and seeing the signs separated by just a few years but by such large vertical distances.  This glacier is not just shrinkingly slightly; it is ceasing to exist, before our very eyes.  Will we do anything about it before it's gone?
  We hiked partway back up again, and then took a funicular up from there.  They built the funicular to go right down to the glacier, but the recession of the glacier has left the funicular ending at an arbitrary spot far above the valley floor.

  Some silly tourist shots back at the top:

  A last parting look at the glacier:

  And we were back in the bus.  Oh, except that there were some ibexes grazing just a stone's throw from the parking lot:

  We went home after this, ate and drank and were merry, and got up the next morning to go to Salzwelten, a retired salt mine near Salzburg (http://www.salzwelten.at/salz_en/).  They had us put on silly white suits so we wouldn't get dirty in the mine, which prompted a lot of silly pictures:

  Then we all piled onto a sort of railway car and trundled down some narrow tracks into the heart of the mountain:

  After this rather wobbly but level ride, we needed to go downward, so we straddled a ramp made of polished wooden rails, and slid on our behinds further into the depths.  This is the view from the bottom of the slide:

  It was a fairly fast ride, but not fast enough to be really scary.  Next came a very cheesy boat that took us across a shallow lake, accompanied by bad pop music blaring from speakers, and a colored light extravaganza.  I got only a blurry photo of the lights; everything else (like the boat) was too dark to photograph at all:

  Imagine this set to something by, say, Journey, while sitting on a boat moving at two miles an hour pulled along rails by underwater cables, and you'll have the picture.  Another slide on our behinds (this view is from the top):

  And now we were at our deepest point in the tour.  I should mention that at many points along the way, we stopped to watch segments of a very hokey video about the history of the mine, done as a historical documentary about some of the major players.  This mine and others were extremely important in the history of Salzburg (which means "salt town," more or less, I gather).  I'm sure you can read more about this on Wikipedia and such if you're interested, so I won't attempt to summarize it here.  I will show you a carved crest from deep in the mine, though:

  Control of salt was the essence of political power in Salzburg for centuries.  It was important earlier, too, however; the Celts mined salt in the area many centuries prior, and it was just as economically important to them as it was to the later inhabitants.  Our next stop, just a short walk from the salt mine, was a facsimile Celtic village with various historical plaques and dioramas and such.  It was not particularly amazing, but I was impressed by the close agreement with the Asterix comics on many details.  A few photos of that Celtic village (which was just downhill from the local church seen here):

  The most interesting blurb at this village described the ecological problems faced by the Celts.  They used timber to build houses, as fuel for fires, and in the mining of salt (as shaft timbers and such).  All this demand for wood led to extensive deforestation, which reached the level of complete clear-cutting in some areas.  They also had waste disposal problems, and the unsanitary conditions led to epidemics that often caused the extinction of entire tribes.  Their average life expectancy was about 40 years.  A good reminder that sustainability and environmentalism are our only path forward, lest we pollute and ruin our land in this manner.
  Back to the bus, back to Zell am See, dinner, and a late night snack provided unexpectedly to us by the hostel, which apparently wants IIASA's return business:

  The next day we bid auf wiedersehen to Zell am See, and went to Salzburg for a workshop and some sightseeing.  That tale will have to wait until tomorrow, however; tonight, I need to get some sleep!

1 comment:

  1. Mark Kurlansky wrote Salt: A World History, published in 2003 (nonfiction), which spins the entertaining tale of salt in human culture.