Our two days and nights parked-up at Gastof Friedburg in Neukirchen were spent charging all things electrical, catching-up on washing and walking (in between the downpours and thunderstorms which have made an appearance every late afternoon and evening for the past umpteen days!). We had a fab view from our sleepy spot, overlooking the Wildkogel mountains and took a stroll down to the small but pretty villages of Wald and Neukirchen on Tuesday morning – a nice easy meander with not too much in the way of height to gain – just as well as it was scorchingly hot, only cooling down later in the day with the rain and thunder. We availed of the Gasthof restaurant on Tuesday night – three course menu for €16.90 – very tasty it was too! Plus they knocked a fiver off the cost of our parking as a “thank you”. Quite an enterprising family run the Gasthof – great facilities for children with a play park, a small playhouse with all kinds of games, a small petting farm (goats etc) and, curiously, a “Gnome Trail” – a series of more than forty garden gnomes laid out in the woodlands surrounding the property, with what we assumed was a bit of a story attached but, since it was all in German, we couldn’t make out more than a few words! I would imagine kids love it!
On Wednesday morning, we headed for Bruck Am Der Grossglocknerstrasse, with the aim of making an early start on Thursday morning to drive The Grossglockner HochAlpenstrasse. The toll charge/entrance fee for this is €35.50 for a daily ticket so we intended spending the entire day driving the Alpine Road both ways and taking an obscene amount of photos of the awesome views we’d be treated to. Hmmmm, how wrong could we have been! Heavy rain for most of the day and night on Wednesday had, thankfully, all but passed when we woke up on Thursday but it still looked pretty cloudy, especially over the mountains. We ummed and aaaahed over breakfast but, a check of the weather forecast revealed that today was to be the best of a bad bunch for several days so we left our Bruck free sleepy spot and headed for the Toll Booth at Fusch, whilst trying not to keep looking up at the cloudy skies! This was to have been one of the highlights of our entire trip – it’s reputed to be THE best Alpine drive in Europe, 48km in length, climbing steadily up to a high point of 2,504m, around 36 bends, with a number of panoramic viewpoints, museums, nature trails etc etc. Unfortunately, as we parted with our dosh and headed upwards, by the time we reached the first Nature trail and “panoramic viewpoint”, the cloud cover had lowered and the rain returned, and, instead of mountains, we could see no further than the trees lining the car park! The word “disappointed” would be a massive understatement! We were gutted! Onwards and upwards we trundled, with visibility reducing to the point where we could barely see the road in front of us and it became an Endurance Test – desperately trying to see the contours of the road whilst dodging the oncoming traffic (which loomed out of the gloom all too frequently) and a constant succession of unlit cyclists battling their way to the top. By the time we finally reached the highest point, we were somewhat despondent and, to lift our spirits, cooked up some of our rapidly dwindling stores of Irish bacon and tucked into bacon and eggs whilst hoping fervently that the cloud would lift.
Needless to say, it didn’t – not until we started to descend towards the end of the road at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe where the skies were, miraculously, much clearer and the sun was actually shining! We parked-up and went for a stroll around the Swarovski Observatory and the Glacier Info Centre – the glacier is, like most others, receding at an alarming rate and, unless things change, it’ll be gone in a very short space of time. We DID manage to spot (and get photos of!) some of the wildlife – marmots and ibex, living quite happily together on these high alpine pastures. I make ni apology for the sheer number of photos we did actually manage to take – think yourselves lucky the weather was bad – you would have been subjected to a helluva lot more otherwise!
We treated ourselves to an ice cream before trundling back up the road – hoping that the cloud would finally have lifted at the higher altitudes so that we could, at least, benefit from the 360 Panorama at Eidelweiss Spitze on the way back over. Unfortunately, this proved to be a hope that wasn’t to be fulfilled and we were back driving in thick fog yet again until we dropped down lower. As if things weren’t bad enough, our descent was accompanied by the unmistakable whiff of burning brake pads and the warning light made another appearance on Sebo’s dashboard! Dammit! Back to yet another garage to get the back ones changed now! Grrrrr. Needless to say, it was a very disheartened Team Sebo that made their way back down to Bruck – very slowly and making full use of engine braking, hazards flashing, with Harley retreating under the table due to the hellish noise from the engine, until we reached level ground. At least we weren’t the only ones – we actually overtook an old Lithuanian camper doing the same thing!
Once back in Bruck, we headed for last night’s sleepy spot – Roy had spotted a water tap as we were leaving so we thought we’d pop back there for the night and top-off Sebo’s water tank before leaving on Friday morning, Whaddya know, the village centre was closed to traffic on account of a Summer Concert taking place in the main square later that evening! We couldn’t see another way of reaching the car park and ended-up parking up for the night in, of all places, a small industrial estate. In fairness, it was amazingly quiet and we did manage to get a good night’s kip! When we awoke on Friday morning, the weather was even worse – lashing rain and total cloud cover so we consoled ourselves with the thought that we’d made the right decision in not leaving The Grossglockner until today! We also managed to fill up with water at the previous car park so that was one good thing!
Friday’s drive took us through The Gastein Valley to Bad Gastein. We parked-up on the cable car car park, had lunch whilst waiting for the rain to stop then took ourselves off for a stroll around the town. A strange kind of town, we thought – more a collection of Victorian era hotels, built on either side of the Gastein waterfalls – a hugely impressive waterfall which, following the recent rainfall, was plundering through the gorge as a deafeningly loud, angry torrent. Bad Gastein, along with it’s neighbouring towns of Bad Hofgastein and Dorfgastein, became famous for their thermal springs which, apparently, are laced with radon and offer untold therapeutic benefits! Really? I was always under the impression that radon was, actually, quite harmful. Anyhow, the towns became popular because of these radon-laced-healthy-waters back in the 19th Century although I get the impression they are more popular now for their excellent winter sports facilities. We took a walk along Kaiser Wilhelm’s Promenade- Kaiser Wilhelm I was a big fan of the town and was a regular visitor, according to the memorial to him which lies at the end of his promenade. It was a pleasant enough stroll, in between showers, which took us along the course of the waterfalls and back into “town” – for the life of us, we couldn’t actually see a town centre, just a couple of souvenir shops and a handful of restaurants amongst the plethora of huge hotels, many of which appeared to have lain derelict for a considerable length of time! Maybe the place would look less drab on a bright sunny day or when there’s a couple of metres of snow on the ground but, somehow, I doubt it.
Not wishing to spend the night in Bad Gastein, we drove to the small village of Goldegg (what a fabulous name for a village!) and parked up on what we thought was the Lake car park. It was raining again so we sat, like The Prisoners of Zenda, desperately peering up at the sky for a sliver of brightness which might signal a break in the rain for long enough to let us get out for a stroll. At this point, we realised we were parked-up in some kind of Residents’ parking! Oooops! Not to worry, Schloss Goldegg turned-out to have a free car park, with no sign of any restrictions, so we relocated before we were nicked! The rain persisted for most of the evening and the next morning so we didn’t even get chance to walk around the lake OR the pretty-looking Schloss before we decamped on Saturday morning for Salzburg! Shame, as it really did look like a nice wee village, with lots of walking trails marked from the centre. One thing really strikes us here in Austria – everywhere we go, we find absolutely pristine houses, gardens, villages, roads and public places. Even the graveyards here are immaculately kept! Either The Austrians are exceptionally proud of their country or they really are a nation of extreme OCD sufferers – we’d like to think it’s the former!