Austria September 2013
After our very enjoyable trip to Switzerland in April we wanted to visit some other equally as scenic parts of Europe and Austria was one such place. As an add on to that I soon became aware, through my research, of an impending disaster; whereby the Mariazellerbahn, which operated their train service would 100 year old electric locomotives, would soon replace their 100 year old 1099 locomotives with brand spanking new EMUs to operate the St. Pölten – Mariazell line. This then moved Austria up the pecking order and rather than go in the middle of Winter we decided to go before Winter set in instead.
Booked through Opodo, out with Austrian Airlines back with Lufthansa £146.45 each
OS452 0915 Heathrow – Vienna
LH2478 1525 Munich – Heathrow
St Pölten – Hotel-Gasthof Graf (2 minutes from station entrance) €110 per night for a double room
Zell am See – Hotel Feinschmeck (5 minute walk from station) €130 per night for a double room
InterRail Single Country Pass for Austria (5 Days in 10) (booked through www.interrail.eu) – £245
Advance single ticket from Zell am See to Munich Airport (booked through DB online) – €19 each
Wednesday 11th September 2013
Having stayed at the Heathrow Ibis the night before we flew it made the getting up for our 0915 flight a little easier and we were at the airport by 0800, already having checked in the day before and having our electronic boarding passes on our phones. The flight itself was harmless and on time.
Getting from Vienna Airport to town is easy enough and depending on where you’re going there are plenty of options via either OBB S-bahn or City Airport Train (CAT) and U-bahn. The CAT train is a lot heavier on the pocket than the normal OBB S-bahn and is only slightly quicker, however as we had Interrail tickets we didn’t need to worry about that although we did try and get on the CAT but were politely told that our Interrail tickets were not valid; something we already knew but if you don’t try, you don’t get……
Rather than rush about to get to St Pölten a more leisurely approach was taken rather than dashing around on train/u-bahn & foot. Our option was train to Wien Meidling then another EMU round the corner to Hütteldorf and then into Westbahnhof; where lunch was served from one of the many fast food restaurants at the station.
Our conveyance to St Pölten was a RJ168 1536 Wien Westbahnhof – Zurich HB Railjet service and what a mighty fine train service they operate. The sets are clean, very fast, smooth, have free WiFi throughout and electronic displays on board showing connections, the platforms they depart from and the real-time speed the train is travelling at; never mind the rubbish our Government is having built for the ECML to replace the 91s & Mk 4s, the Railjet sets and Taurus locos would have been ideal! We covered the 60km in 25 minutes, reaching speeds of 140mph (225kmph); very impressed I was!
The Hotel Graf is a two minute walk away from the station entrance and we were checked in within minutes. The place has a restaurant & bar and nice clean room with a very modern look about them, including the corridors of the hotel itself. Breakfast was included and we never had any issues to complain about at all during our stay. We did use the restaurant one night too, the schnitzel being excellent.
Rather than eat in St Pölten, which didn’t look to have much going for it other than the hotel restaurant, we opted to head into Vienna, which was only a 30 minute journey on most express trains. Our conveyance to town being IC867 1011 Bregenz – Wien Westbahnhof.
From Westbahnhof we took the U-bahn to Stephansplatz. There are day tickets, which are actually valid for 24 hours after validity that are worth the money if you’re going to use them all day. However it actually turned out cheaper for us to buy a single ticket in each direction.
The very imposing St Stephens Cathedral hits you the moment you walk out from the U-bahn station and there are plenty of places scattered about to eat at. Having done the window shopping for food places we settled on the Italian Ristorante Fratelli, which also seemed to be the busiest place we’d seen. The food was excellent, the service good and our food arrived in no time at all.
Ready for a relaxing evening in the hotel we headed back to St Pölten via the U-bahn to Westbahnhof and then EN490 2000 Wien Westbahnhof – Hamburg Altona. This train didn’t use the high speed line via Tulnerfeld and took a little longer to reach St Pölten but the journey was comfortable in the empty compartments and we were relaxing in no time.
Thursday 12th September 2013
To make sure there were no unwanted mishaps with the days plan on the Mariazllerbahn I nipped out before breakfast to make sure the 0730 St Pölten – Mariazell was hauled and not randomly an EMU or even DMU. I found 1099016 sat in with the stock, waiting to go; not a 100 year old 1099, which I’d really wanted, but still it was hauled and that was a bonus.
The 0830 St Pölten – Mariazell was formed of its booked Ötscherland set of brown coaches and 1099013 in the same livery. Again though unfortunately ‘013 wasn’t a 100 year old 1099 so it seemed my quest may well have failed in getting one in. Still we were on board and settled in to the very empty set, right behind the guards’ compartment at the front, with plenty of time to spare.
There couldn’t have been any more than half a dozen folk on board at any one time throughout our journey to Mitterbach, the last station before Mariazell. The narrow gauge stock was interesting in its own right with a slightly claustrophobic feel. The heating worked well when cranked up full, which it needed to be as it wasn’t a warm morning at all, and the windows all came down appropriately to allow for photos when required. The guard on board was sociable and had no problem with accepting our Interrail passes, which are valid on the Mariazellerbahn; the details confirming which are on their website. The guard also confirmed to me at Gösing that we’d be ok running through to Mitterbach to do the leap as the trains crossed. I’d been expecting a little more in the way of reality from some of the main stations, at least somewhere to get a drink or something but it became clear that there was absolutely nothing, anywhere, hence the move to Mitterbach really.
The line isn’t that scenic in terms of mountains and runs through some very open areas, mainly surrounded by fields, as it twists, turns and climbs to Mariazell. The best of the scenery is between Gösing & Mitterbach where the line climbs the most and there are mountains to view. Some of the best sights on our journey however were provided by the ever changing sky and the cloud formations within; from sunny with white fluffy clouds to dark with black clouds and sun rays piercing through, and back again. It was very atmospheric.
1099016 was already sat in waiting for us as we arrived off the single line into Mitterbach. Despite the guard shouting across to his counterpart that we would be returning with the opposing train, there was no rush as the crew on 1099016 had to get the right of way first and confirm they had the section ahead; this is the same at every non-request stop on the line.
The return journey to St Pölten took a bit longer than going out, mainly because 1099013 had been delayed by a DMU en-route and in turn that delayed 1099016 and train, which ultimately had to wait for the 1235 St Pölten – Frankenfels at Hofstetten-Grünau vice Ober Grafendorf, resulting in us being about 20 late back into St Pölten.
Due to our lack of forward thinking and the fact that there was nothing en-route we were desperately in need of a drink and something to eat by the time we got back and as we’d missed the train we’d expected to make at St Pölten we ended up taking a punt for the Chinese Restaurant over the road from the station. This turned out to be a decent plan, the buffet having a decent selection of food, most of which was fresh, and it wasn’t full and rowdy, allowing a leisurely lunch instead of a rushed affair.
Having suitable pigged out we were a little more prepared for our afternoon run back up the Mariazell line to Frankenfells; than we had been for our morning adventure!
At St Polten in the evening, with the day all but over, a quick run into Wien Westbahnhof, more to get supplies for the following day than anything else, resulted in just that. It had been a long day, and hadn’t quite gone the way I’d either originally planned, or expected on the day. Dinner was served in the hotel restaurant that night; my first ever schnitzel, accompanied by a beer.
Friday 13th September 2013
Our original plans for the day had been to go into Vienna and do the tourist bits and then make our way to Graz that evening, which was conveniently situated for our plan to cover the Breitenauerbahn at Mixnitz the following day (Sat) where the line was celebrating its 100th anniversary. However having got wind of the fact that the Növog run Wachaubahn from Krems to Emmersdorf was hauled daily I managed to cancel the hotel in Graz and book another night in the Graf at St Pölten instead. This would allow us to cover the Wachaubahn, then make our way into Vienna and not have to rush away anywhere that afternoon, or evening for that matter.
Our journey to Krems was on board 6031 0831 St Pölten – Krems, one of the few morning hauled trains on the line. From Krems we boarded the Wachaubahn’s 1000 to Emmersdorf, formed of loco 2143021 and three coaches. It was freezing on board and without any heat made for a cold journey indeed. It was a far cry from the warmth that the Mariazellerbahn had offered the previous morning. Unfortunately the weather had turned miserable and not only was it cold but it had started to rain as well. I’m sure the journey down the Danube is usually a lot nicer than we experienced but unfortunately both the cold stock and the dismal weather outside didn’t allow for much enjoyment. Thankfully though the journey cost us nothing, the guard allowing us to use our Interrail passes on board, something which I hadn’t expected and it didn’t say they were valid anywhere on the Wachaubahn website; unlike the Mariazellerbahn website. Rather than do the train back to Krems and head to Vienna from there we opted to do the connecting bus to Melk and head into Vienna from there; saving quite a bit of time. The bus stop is just outside the station building and wasn’t actually a bus at all the day we used it; the service was provided by a taxi, which had a notice in the window to confirm it was running the Postbus connecting service to Melk. There were only 4 passengers on board and we even managed to blag our way out of paying for that journey too, the taxi driver accepting our Interrail passes after a bit of deliberation with himself.
Melk looked like a decent enough, sleepy, town to visit with its prominent Abbey overlooking its church and everything else below it. We had a quick walk round while waiting for our train then headed for Wien Westbahnhof via a change of trains at St Polten, into a nice comfy Railjet train. Having had a quick bite to eat we watched the train we’d got off at St Polten arrive into Wien Westbahnhof before heading off to do some sightseeing.
The afternoon seemed to be brightening up a little so we picked our top choice of attractions, Schönbrunn Palace, and off we set. Firstly via Hütteldorf by train. From Hütteldorf we bought ourselves a 24 hour U-bahn ticket and took U4 to Schönbrunn for the short walk to the palace gates. The rain having passed for the moment it looked like we’d picked about the best part of the day to visit; and we made the most of it. Not wanting to walk round the inside of the Palace itself we opted to just wonder through its gardens, which costs nothing. The costs for anything involving the inside of the Palace are displayed all around and the helpful information desk will guide you in the right direction for what you want to do.
The gardens are massive, as is the Palace itself. They’re very well laid out with the Neptunbrunen (Neptune Fountain) nestled at the bottom of the hill in the centre of the grounds, atop of which is the Gloriette, the views from which, back across the stunning Palace with Vienna in the background, are fantastic. Don’t underestimate the walk from Palace entrance to Gloriette, it takes longer than it might seem; a reason we opted to walk from the Gloriette to Meidling direct rather than return to Schönbrunn U-bahn station, via the Palace entrance. And all would have worked out just nicely had we turned the right way at the top and headed towards Meidling, instead of in completely the opposite direction! Thanks to the offline Vienna map I’d downloaded to my tablet I soon corrected my mistake once we found a road name but by that time it had started to rain and we were very grateful to get to Hietzing U-bahn station before we were totally drenched. Ironically getting on a train at this stop took us back through Schönbrunn station on our way to Meidling.
Any plans we had of visiting Belvedere Palace were out of the window as the rain got heavier and looked set in for the rest of the afternoon.
The rain resulted in the Ristorante Fratelli being full inside, with a few daft folk braving the cold, trying not to get wet as they did so, outside under the cover of the table umbrellas. As luck had it a table became available the moment we walked through the door; which was good news for us but not for others who had to wait quite a while for tables to become available.
Evening over, and still raining, we made our way to Westbahnhof to view what had become our “usual” two trains IC746 1956 to Salzburg & EN490 2000 to Hamburg Altona and ended up on the latter to St Pölten; where we’d be packing our bags in readiness for our departure the following morning.
Saturday 14th September 2013
Breakfast over, we bode farewell to St Pölten and made the late running EN491 2020 (13/09) Hamburg Altona – Wien Westbahnhof. Unfortunately I forgot that EN491 would take the chutney route into town and thus boarding it resulted in us actually arriving into Westbahnhof 15 minutes later than we would have waiting the 8 minutes or so at St Pölten for the IC we’d originally planned to do. What it meant was the likelihood of making EC71 0439 Prague – Wiener Neustadt was quite slim; however perseverance paid off and having used our 24 hour U-bahn ticket that we’d bought the previous day we were instantly on a train to Meidling and no sooner had we managed to make it up the steps and onto the train did it depart. If only all moves were like that eh?
After half an hour of relaxing on the empty station that was Wiener Neustadt we were on board RJ557 1003 Meidling – Graz, forward to Bruck a. d. Mur. The journey to Bruck is slow but understandably so given the terrain the train negotiates. The mountains spring up one by one until all that’s visible outside both sides of the train is rugged mountains. The downtime on board allowed for some much needed use of the free WiFi and Bruck seemed to come around all too quickly, where did a connecting train forward to Mixnitz.
Arriving into Mixnitz the Breitenauerbahn is visible, coming in from the left, the line running into the small yard complex that the railway owns. There were plenty of people about and within 5 minutes of arriving we were among those plenty of people having walked out of the station and down the yard area to the only place it seemed sensible to depart trains from. The rules about walking on tracks were pretty relaxed and it was a bit of a free for all. I’d been told via e-mail prior to our trip that the railway intended to use two of their locos on trains during the day and have two on display, the former being E3 & E4, however E1, E2 & E3 were all in the shed, out of sight which could only mean E4 was out with the train somewhere.
We were soon accosted for a ticket and handed over €20 for two tickets on the 1240 train to St Erhard. I’d actually expected more folk to be around than there were although there was some kind of food type tent going off over the way and the odd stall in the train shed. Of course I had no clue how busy it was on a normal day. Once the train arrived in though, the place seemed to bustle a little more and sure enough E4 was the loco, complete with celebratory headboard at one end.
The load three set consisted of two small coaches with seating and an open but roofed coach with standing room only. There were no toilets on board so the public toilets outside were busy before departure, quite a few folk having “had a few” as well.
The afternoon was quite warm, when the sun was out, and the run along the line was quite nice. All the while we were followed by a couple of sets of photographers following the train with their cameras out at every possible point they could. Thankfully for them the road followed the line for most of the way and they were way faster than the train. They could have been a bit luckier with the sun to cloud ratio though!
At St Erhard, only 11km away from Mixnitz, its evident why the railway operates and what it transports, the termination point being at a big works. E4 was off in no time and once it had run round we were away on our way back towards Mixnitz; photographers in tow. This time they had a little more luck with the sun on the way back.
Back at Mixnitz there was a celebratory lining up of all 4 Breitenauerbahn locos, E4, E3 & E2 looking serviceable with E1 not even managing to get its pantograph to touch the wires. After a token run-by in the station area E4 was hooked off to work the 1420 departure while E3 shunted the lot back into the shed and put everything away again. As E3 wasn’t coming out to play we weren’t doing a second trip, which actually looked like a relief with the amount of people that had loaded themselves into the train. Before the train departed the guy who seemed to be running the show took great delight in announcing over his PA system, and he really liked the sound of his own voice, that two English folk had turned up to join in their 100th anniversary celebrations, while pointing in our direction; there’s nothing like being singled out…….
Having photted E4 depart towards St Erhard again we did the next train to Bruck and consumed lunch, courtesy of the station buffet, on the empty station, in the glorious afternoon sunshine. From there we were Zell am See bound, via EC103 to Leoben, IC610 for the bulk of the journey to Bischofshofen, IC692 to Schwarzach St Veit and then an connecting train forward to Zell am See. Arrival into Zell am See was just before 2000 and we were at our hotel, the Hotel Feinschmeck 10 minutes after arrival.
Martina in the hotel’s reception had been expecting us and it looked like she’d kept the reception desk open just for us to arrive. I’d had to e-mail to confirm our arrival would be after 1800 so was guessing the reception closed at 1800 under normal circumstances. Bless the woman, she couldn’t have been more pleasant & helpful, handing us maps of the surrounding area and most importantly printing out our Zell am See / Kaprun Card, which allowed for massive discounts in the local area, on buses, cable cars and a whole host of other things. These cards were only available to hotel residents at participating hotels in the Zell am See / Kaprun area, which for example allow for unlimited travel on the cable cars to Kitzsteinhorn & Schmittenhöhe at this time of year, with instant savings of over €70.
Pleasantries done we were in the room about 10 minutes after walking through the door. It was a large, clean room with complimentary bath robes and slippers along with the usual toiletries. Unfortunately that night we were woken by the locals leaving the night club down the street; it was a Saturday night though. Yet the following night there was no excuse for the racket the amorous couple were making in the room next door. Of course neither incident is a reflection on the hotel at all, which provided an excellent service, had ample choice at breakfast and of course had the delightful Martina in reception, who was only too pleased to help out with any directions, bus times, or maps we needed.
A good meal was needed and we’d already decided on Ristorante Giuseppe, which we’d found in Lonely Planet, and only happened to be a 2 minute walk from the hotel. As it was Saturday the place was quite well packed but it didn’t stop the staff from messing around with our pizza order to give us what we wanted, rather than what was on their menu; and cracking pizzas they were too.
All in all a long, but enjoyable day. I was ready for bed that night though…….
Sunday 15th September 2013
Not an early start, thankfully, after the noise from the nightclub kicking out at various points in the night. The plan for the day was to do Krimml Waterfalls; and what better way to get there than by the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn (PLB) to Krimml then connecting bus forward to the Falls.
Beforehand we had a little time to enjoy the tranquility of Zell am See & Lake Zell before having to board our train. It was a peaceful yet slightly dull morning but thankfully the sun did seem to be wanting to at least attempt to break through the low laying cloud.
The two coach train, with van for bicycles, was empty virtually all the way to Krimml, which allowed me the luxury of picking any window I wanted to point my camera out of. Having had success the previous day on the Wachaubahn at Krems we just had to try our luck again with the Interrail passes but this time they weren’t accepted, neither was our Zell am See / Kaprun card; you just never know what you might get away with as a tourist! The ticket price in the end cost €19 and it was a ticket that is valid all weekend for up to three people for unlimited travel on the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn; which is cracking value.
The engine might well have been dull but the scenery en-route to Krimml was anything but, made all the more interesting by the cloud hanging around in the valley as though it just couldn’t quite make it to the tops of the surrounding mountains, over the edge and away. Between which every now and again tallest of snow sprinkled mountains was revealed with the sun glimmering off their white peaks; a sign of what was around the corner for these parts, while the valley floor made the best of its current alpine greenness.
The journey was booked to take 1h23m and that’s exactly how long it took. The little loco delivering us to Krimml station, right next to the Postbus bus stop where the number 671 connects both into departing trains and out of arriving trains to ferry people the 3km to the Falls entrance. Bus tickets were €3.80 return, per person, and we actually bought ours on board the train on the journey up to Krimml. The bus was prompt enough and ferried us up the winding hill to the falls in no time.
From where the bus drops off part of the falls are visible, they don’t look far away at all; trust me they are. Entrance to the falls was free with our Kaprun Card, although it only saved us €2 each but its better than nothing. Then began our climb and little did we realise that from point of entry it would take us 2 hours to reach the top of the falls; which has three sections to its descent. The pathways up twist and turn with varying degrees of steepness and camber all the way up. There are rest areas, with benches, all along the route and more importantly areas where the falls can be best viewed. During our walk up, and back down again, we saw people of varying degrees of fitness, mobility and age, some of whom were clearly struggling quite badly with the walking; so be prepared, take something to drink, something to eat and make sure you use the toilets at the bottom as the next one is at least an hours walk, uphill!
Despite the hard work we had to put in to climb to the top of the falls, it was well worth it, and while it had been a cool start the sun came out and made for quite a pleasant late morning. The views over the valley below as we climbed higher became increasingly scenic, especially when the sun shone down it. The roar of the falls could be heard all the way up, in varying degrees of magnitude dependant on which section of it was closest to your earshot. When close to it the force behind the water as it rushed down could really be appreciated and the spray from it formed brightly coloured rainbows; in some cases so bright they made double rainbows, when viewed from the correct angle.
As you emerge at the top of the falls it opens out into a nice area of relative tranquillity, the noise of rushing water all but disappearing. Peering over the edge of the upper level, down to where we’d come from, gave the impression that it was an even shorter distance from bottom to top than the eyes had actually perceived before we’d made the trek; the walk wasn’t any quicker going back down though!
We were on the 1433 train back from Krimml. Back in Zell am See I’d concocted a plan to do an afternoon trip to Saalfelden and back but that went down the pan when the outbound was 10 late so we went for an early-ish evening meal, having only really eaten breakfast all day anyway. We opted to try the Indian Restaurant on Bahnhof Strasse, near the church, and were slightly disappointed with the food; it smelling a lot nicer than it actually tasted. Not that it wasn’t nice, it just wasn’t tasty, neither the pasta nor the curry.
The highlight of the evening was to be the “not to be missed” Magic on the Lake, water/light show. Martina in the hotel reception had enlightened us of the fact that the show on Sunday 15th September would be the last of the Summer Season and wasn’t to be missed; so we were going to make sure we didn’t miss it. It didn’t start until 2130 but the floating stage was being set up and the water jets being tested with their lighting not long after we arrived back at the station; so we went to investigate. It looked pretty impressive and once set-up was complete the lights went out, the jets went off and the Lake returned to a mass of blackness; until 2130.
Having passed the evening away we made it back to the lakes edge with enough time to find a nice fence post to rest the camera on and get some cracking images of the display, that commenced bang on the dot at 2130. The whole thing went on for 20 minutes and yet it seemed like 2. The photos I got were well worth the 20 minutes of our time though.
That really was it for the evening and bed followed shortly afterwards, to be woken only once by the headboard of the bed next door banging against our wall; shortly before a rather loud climax! Then it went silent; thank god!
Monday 16th September 2013
Having admired the different face that Lake Zell had to offer on this cold morning, we then waited patiently at the bus stop opposite the train station; where our journey to Kitzsteinhorn would commence.
Today would be my first ever ride on a cable car, other than at Alton Towers, which doesn’t really count! To get to Kitzsteinhorn we first had to take the No. 660 Postbus to Kaprun, and the Panoramabahn stop. The bus only cost €1 with the Kaprun Card and took about 40 minutes to get there, once it had ambled round the village that is Kaprun. There wasn’t any need to worry about making sure we got off at the correct stop either as the bus had an electronic display telling you what the next stop was.
It was a cloudy morning but the panoramic webcams at the base of Panoramabahn showed that there was sunshine at Kitzsteinhorn. The cable cars on the Panoramabahn ran steeply up the mountain side and were swallowed up by the first layer of cloud as they did so. There weren’t many people about due to the time of year and we were soon at the entrance, ready to go; unfortunately Panoramabahn weren’t. There was a 30 minute delay due to technical problems and repairs having to be carrier out; just what someone that had never been on a cable car before wanted to hear.
After watching the cable cars start and stop numerous times, and even watching a freight car take something up to the summit, the doors were opened and the dozen or so people who’d been waiting patiently could begin their assent. Due to the small amount of people it at least meant each group could have their own car. I gingerly stepped into ours, initially not wanting to move at all so as not to move the car itself but once I’d realised it wasn’t going to fall off the wires I could relax a little and enjoy the journey and the complete and utter tranquillity that came with it; the only noise being the cables and runners themselves, it was like being in another world.
It wasn’t a warm ride, especially once we entered the cloud, but it was about as atmospheric as they come when the sun managed to break through some of the cloud and light up the barren green landscape as we sailed over it in our stealth cable car. Panoramabahn took about 10 minutes to reach its summit at 1976m, at which it was very evident that it was off-season with all the maintenance work and shoring up of the mountain sides taking place. It was only a short walk from Panoramabahn to Langweidbahn, across the way, which would take us up to 2452m.
If we were cold on the Panoramabahn then we were freezing on the Langweidbahn, it was worth it though. While Panoramabahn is cable cars, Langweidbahn is more like chair lifts where your legs dangle out of the bottom. Its like boarding a ride at a Theme Park with a pull down safety rig, however there’s then an option to pull down a protective outer, plastic, shell to protect you from the elements; we opted to leave this open to take photos and enjoy the experience, while getting a little cold in the process! Unlike the Panoramabahn, Langweidbahn doesn’t climb steeply and isn’t as high off the ground as its counterpart either.
The final stage of the assent to Kitzsteinhorn is the Gipfelbahn, which takes you to 3029m; the top of the world. Gipfelbahn uses large cable cars capable of holding masses of folk, there is a limit of course. Luckily it wasn’t too full when we joined the next available assent. Gipfelbahn is piloted by an operator with all sorts of gadgetry like buttons to closes the doors and stuff, who gives some spiel about the surrounding mountains during the assent; in German. However he does thank everyone as they alight, in both German and English. The assent doesn’t take long but does climb steeply and a long way off the ground. It does have the highest cable car mast in the world; so our “pilot” informed us en-route.
Kitzsteinhorn, how to describe it? Breathtaking, fascinating and freezing! Come prepared, it was -2 when we were there. The viewing platform at 3029m offers such spectacular views that I had to make a mental note to stop photographing and enjoy the view with my eyes. As it was quite a cloudy day, yet the sun was intermittently breaking through the higher cloud, it really was like being on top of the world; looking down from above the clouds as they drifted speedily through the air. There was a chilling wind on the viewing platform which made standing outside for more than a few minutes not a sensible thing to do. However once back through the doors the heat hit instantly and the hand dryers in the toilets make for a good way to thaw your hands out.
There are plenty of facilities on top of the world should you need food, or just somewhere to relax. Unfortunately the Gletscherjet, which runs down to the Gletscher Plateau at 2900m, wasn’t running and looked like it was undergoing maintenance prior to the Winter season. However the tunnel through the mountain itself was open and wasn’t busy with foot traffic at all so we literally walked through the heart of the cold, wet mountain, to the other side. On which there is a second viewing platform which offers yet more breathtaking views of the snow covered mountains. The howling wind on this side was colder, fiercer and more chilling than the other side and it wasn’t long before a hand dryer was put to good use again.
Viewing done we rode back down to Kaprun, at our own pace, on very empty cable cars all the way, then took Bus No. 660 back to Zell am See Postplatz, where we only had to wait a few minutes before boarding the last No. 71 bus of the afternoon up the hill to the cable car station where the Trassxpress would then take us up Schmittenhöhe.
Trassxpress is a cable car assent from 940m to the 2000m peak of Schmittenhöhe, running above the tops of the pine trees below, offering excellent views of Zell am See and Lake Zell as it climbs. Another tranquil journey, it drops you off at its destination after a 10 minute journey.
At Schmittenhöhe you are 1029m lower than at Kitzsteinhorn and on our visit the snow hadn’t commenced its Winter takeover yet, which made getting around quite easy, although the climb from where Trassxpress drops off to the summit it quite steep. The views towards Saalfelden & Lake Zell are fantastic though, as are the views over the opposite side of the peak towards Mittersill, which is en-route to Krimml. Unfortunately the cloud cover was now above us and we couldn’t actually see Kitzsteinhorn throughout our time on Schmittenhöhe. Again there are plenty of facilities and the food is actually reasonably priced.
Having been dropped off back at the foot of Schmittenhöhe, by the Trassxpress, we walked back down the hill into Zell am See, it only took about 20 minutes and was definitely a walk better done in the downhill direction. The late afternoon was then spent doing a some train related stuff and soon enough our long day was over back at Zell am See. We’d done as many different cable cars as trains, two buses, a considerable amount of walking both on and through mountains, and we were more than ready for a meal and relaxing evening. Not wanting to make the same mistake we had the previous day we opted for Ristorante Giuseppe, where we knew the food was good; and it was. Afterwards we thanked Martina in reception for all her help and I took the opportunity to pay the bill at the same time. It was a good job I had as well, as the reception wasn’t open the following morning when we actually departed. Then it was packing time……….
Tuesday 17th September 2013 (Show me the way to go home….)
It’s always a chore going home, especially when you’ve had such a good time and don’t really want to leave; but hometime it was. After a quick breakfast, despite the breakfast room not actually being open, we bode farewell to the Hotel Feinschmeck for the last time and headed for the station. The local weather forecast that morning had warned of snow above 1500m and it was very evident on the surrounding mountains that it had already started to fall; it was as though someone had started painting at the top and was working their way down but got stuck at 1500m. An almost perfect white vale covered the mountain sides; confirming that Winter was on its way. It was damn unfortunate that we had to leave as a return to both Kitzsteinhorn & Schmittenhöhe would have been an excellent day out and very different to the previous days’ visits.
Our journey would be a simple one, Zell am See to Salzburg, Salzburg to Munich Ost, Munich Ost to the airport; or that’s how it should have been anyway. Even though it was quite a miserable morning, weather wise, mountainous terrain can never be boring, and it wasn’t.
On arrival into Salzburg a lot of what the city has to offer can be seen, perched on various hillocks, overlooking the city below. We’d not had time to fit Salzburg into our plans but were quite impressed with what we’d seen both on the way in and as we departed for Germany on board DB train EC218 0554 Graz – Frankfurt. This could only mean we’d have to return and do what we hadn’t had time to in the first place…..
We alighted at Munich Ost as per plan, but that’s where the plan ended as my train head took over and ultimately resulted in us missing our train back from Munich HB to Ost; leading to an endurance in trying to find the S-bahn platforms, which for reference are downstairs and not very well signposted, to board the same train we would have at Munich Ost anyway, to the airport. Lines S1 & S8 both run to Munich Airport and both run via different routes and just to confuse you even more each runs through Munich HB S-bahn platforms in the opposite direction to the other; so in simple terms you can get from Munich HB to the airport by boarding trains on either platform, which both go in different directions!
Munich airport is a breeze and the plus 1h20m, if we’d done the 218 move from Salzburg, would have allowed ample time; especially as we’d already checked in and downloaded our electronic boarding passes through Lufthansa’s app. The only downfall of the aiport is its lack of room for passengers to wait at the departure gates.
Even though our plane was late away, and we had to watch passengers board the adjacent Manchester & Birmingham departures, we into Heathrow only 30m late, through customs with ease, onto a tube within no time at all and at Kings Cross for our booked train to Doncaster with plenty of time to spare. The long journey home almost over………
What an excellent country, the scenery, the people, the scenery, the people and did I mention the scenery? Even though it had been a bit of a washout in Vienna, the change of climate in Zell am See more than made up for it and would probably have still been ok even if it had been raining. It had actually been like being in two different worlds; maybe next time though we’d visit either mid Summer or mid Winter to avoid the “miserable” weather. We left Austria already looking forward to a return trip so it must have left a lasting impression on us both.
As the sole purpose railway-wise had been to travel on some 100 year old 1099’s in on the Mariazellerbahn, the trip had achieved its purpose. Despite the poor weather and lack of food/drink when we travelled the line, it was still a good day out and i’d recommend it.
The Wachaubahn is probably best enjoyed on a warmer and sunnier day than it had been when we’d done it and the Breitenauerbahn is just a treat to behold with it’s tinpot toy train and bizarre electrics.
Zell am See really made the trip for me though it had the lot, a balance of normal things and the added bonus of being able to do train related things at any point during the day really. The run out to Krimml on the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn was a very scenic journey; with empty trains and at a decent price. And to think most people we spoke to had suggested the bus; more fool them, surely the trains actually made less noise than the bus and offered far more comfortable seating?