Sunday 31th July
We spent the entirety of today driving along the 48km Grossglockner High Alpine Road, apparently the highest surfaced mountain pass road in Austria (2504m). And a very scenic one at that. This road is A Thing. In fact, it’s so much of A Thing that the state of Austria sees fit to charge 35 Euros per car, for the privilege of driving on said road.
Despite having spent 60 days (60!) driving 6000 miles across Europe so far, neither of us particularly likes driving. I mean, it’s fine. Driving an automatic car outside of towns is pretty easy going for the most part, and we both agree that having the car has been brilliant for this trip. But neither of us is about to become a petrolhead. I still dream of being able to sell my car and cycle everywhere, preferably with a basket of flowers on my handlebars and long scarf floating behind me in the breeze. But apparently, our grudging acceptance of “driving is fine” now extends to us choosing to spend 35 Euros to drive up a special road as a fun all-day activity. We surprised even ourselves with this!
We were mainly in this thing for the mountain views, which were, in fairness, spectacular.
After paying the toll, we started to wind our way higher and higher up the mountain, crazy motorcyclists overtaking us while we tried to overtake the even crazier lycra-clad cyclists, crawling their way uphill in the 30 degree plus heat. We discussed the cyclist’s possible motivations from the comfort of our air-conditioned Volvo. Not one of them had an ounce of fat on their bodies, but still. At what cost? They certainly didn’t look like they were having any fun.
The highest point on the road was a respectable 2571 metres above sea level, and promised stunning views over the surrounding peaks. But for a chance of getting up there, you needed to endure several circles of car park hell. As we followed the signs upwards, we found ourselves joining a long queue of cars in the middle of a car park.
“Are we… queueing for one of these spaces?” I pondered aloud.
“Nah” Morgan replied, “I think this is where you park if you want to walk to the top.”
We both looked at the steep, winding path ascending the mountain in front of us. Little Lex, with his old man legs, lung condition, and perpetual fur coat would never make it up there in this heat. So we waited, the midday sun heating up the car to a temperature more usually associated with an oven. We looked at the snow covered mountains in longing, not sure if the sight of them was making us feel cooler or hotter.
As we finally approached the front of the queue, we saw not one but two men in reflective jackets directing traffic. We were, incredibly, being directed down the mountain, to join a hidden phase two of the queue! So far, it appeared we’d only been in the pre-queue. There was a one-up-one-down system in place, and by the time we finally crawled our way to the front of the actual queue, all three of us were hot and tired. To cap it all off, when we arrived at the long-awaited top-of-the-mountain car park, it was filled with far more cars than there were spaces – many of them aggressively circling the miniscule carpark like a pack of hungry hyenas. It appeared that the, not one, but two people employed to control the number of cars had seriously lost count, making the one-up-one-down system totally useless. Either that or they were having a jape at our expense.
Still, the views were pretty phenomenal. Morgan took the opportunity to do some droney flying, whilst I basked in the glory of The Giant Babybell.
Giant Babybells are the best. They are, of course, indefinably better than none-giant Babybells in a more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts kind of way. Morgan, being a heathen, suggested it tasted just like a regular Babybell but there was more of it.
Our final stop on the Glossglockner road was the catchily named Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Hohe Glacier, the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps.
You can actually hike right down to this glacier from the road, which we happily started doing without any planning whatsoever. Lex bounded down the mountainside, enjoying the excursion away from The Box.
We got about 15 minutes down the steep track before we stopped to call a quick strategy meeting.
“The people down the bottom… they look like ants.” Morgan noted.
“Oh, I didn’t even see them! How long do you reckon it’ll take to get there?” I replied, slightly concerned.
“Well, I did see one sign saying 2.5 hours” Morgan admitted. “I assumed it was referring to something else though, cos the glacier looked really close. Maybe it’s just… big!”
We did some mental maths. 2.5 hours at a normal pace meant about 4 hours at Lex’s pace, especially on such a steep gradient. Come to think of it, his poor lungs probably wouldn’t hold out for an ascent that steep on the way back up! Even if we made the round trip, it would be dark by the time we got back to the car. I was also wearing flip-flops, a decision I was rapidly regretting as the loose scree moved precariously under my feet with every step. It was time to turn back.
Back at the top, we decided a good alternative activity was to sit around using the free wifi with a cold Almdudler. Morgan got out his zoomy lens to document the glacier up close, even if we couldn’t reach it ourselves:
And we also spotted this little guy, munching on the grass down below!
The sun soon started to drop behind the peaks around us, and the only way to go from here was right back through all those hairpin bends, so we set off down the mountain, with only a slight panic of “will we make it before we run out of petrol” in the back of our minds.
Hot as the daytime was, on top of the mountain there was at least a cool breeze. But as we descended, the temperature started to creep up again. We were in for another hot night, with only dreams of glaciers for comfort.
You might have noticed we’re actually back from our road trip now! But we’re still catching up with our backlog of posts that have been patiently waiting to be published.
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