Monday 14th July:

We had a lie-in and caught up on some of the sleep we had lost at Marina de Venezia. It was cool, and peaceful, apart from the odd rumble of thunder, and I was feeling much more comfortable.

We set off for Eisriesenwelt, the ice caves just south of Salzburg. We followed the signs and found ourselves being swept into a car park at the foot of the mountain. We then had to pay for the bus, which took us halfway up the mountain (€17! But I could never have walked it!), and from there we had to hoof it for about 20 minutes up a mountain track.

This brought us to the queue! Became quite familiar with the umbrella, coats, trousers and cigarettes of the family in front of us, as we spent an hour behind them waiting for our turn at the Kassa and cable car. Only two cars, so progress was slow. €57 for cable car and caves. There was a shop and cafe, but they were hideously pricey. Even a Twix was about £1!

Finally got on to the cable car, and for a while I wished I was back in the queue. I have a feeling the cable car was rising vertically at one point, but I couldn't swear to it as I had my eyes shut. Though Mark's helpful comments about the rapidly disappearing landscape below, and the rather unpleasant notion that my breakfast may be about to revisit, led me to believe that we were ascending at some rate.

I stepped gingerly out at the top, never so grateful to feel good solid rock beneath my feet, and deciding not to think about the return trip until it happened. It was then that we realised we had to hoof it for a further 20 minutes to get to the caves. It was extremely soggy, and very high, and my foot was hurting. Sorry, that's about all I remember of that hike!

Enduring faith was rewarded when we finally reached the cave mouth. My heart sank a little when a guide bounded up and started prattling on in German. I understood about 50% of the words individually, but all put together and fired off at that rate rendered them gibberish, and I knew I would have some difficulty translating for Mark and Stef. Thankfully, he then asked who needed to hear it all English, and a large contingent of the multi nationality crowd raised their hands.

We were then directed down towards a slightly inadequate looking door, where we were handed Davy lamps. As the door opened, a great rush of wind greeted us and blew out Stef's lamp. The wind stopped as soon as we were through the door, and the guide relit all the lamps that had succumbed.

Inside is a labyrinth 42km of caves, so cold that the water flowing into them freezes. The sight we were greeted by was awesome and eery in the glow of our Davy lamps, for no electric lighting is permitted within the caves.

All around was the sight of great flows of ice, waterfalls in freeze frame, and great ice stalactites and stalagmites rising and falling to meet each other. With each year, the scene adapts, melting some, growing some. In places, such as the Ice Wall, the ice is a staggering 25m thick!

It was so cold in there, and we were glad of our coats. I only wish I had thought to pack gloves! You always forget something, don't you!

We spent roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes in the caves, climbing steps and ramps, and frantically trying to avoid a huge man with a vast backpack who kept threatening to knock us all back to the bottom.

At the end of the tour, we staggered out into the comparative blinding daylight, tired and cold, and not at all pleased by the prospect of the long walk back down! But it was worth it, and as so often happens, the return journey was much quicker, and we were soon back at the cable car, in a thankfully smaller queue.

I did open my eyes briefly on the way down, but my brain rejected the view, so I calmed it by making a careful study of the stitching on the backpack of the lady in front of me. All around me people were looking out of the windows, gasping and exclaiming! Either their brains are wired wrong, or mine is. All I know is, I can't do that!

The queue to go up was still almost as long as when we had joined it in the morning, and more were filing up the hill to join it. By this time it was almost 3:30pm, and we wondered if they would all get to see the ice caves that day. We caught the bus back down to Wombat, and then returned to Bruck.

We stopped at a Billa supermarket for supplies, then back to camp for a coffee, dinner and a warm up!

Tuesday 15th July:

Another lie-in, then walked into Bruck along the footpath by the railroad. We were hoping for a few gifts, but there was only a very small shopping area. We did, however, have a lovely coffee in a rather nice Bakerei.

The owner of the shop stopped and had a long chat with us about travelling etc. He seemed to like Italy, and Scotland, and believes the English to be very friendly and helpful. I'd second the the last two points!

He told us that tomorrow would be good for the Gross Glockner Pass. The weather forecast was good, and he advised us to get up early, “Get up at 6 o'clock!” We thanked him for his advice, then bought some bread and cakes for our lunch, and walked back to the campsite wishing we had a bakery like that in our village!

We made our packed lunches, then set off in Wombat for Brixen-im-Thale , where I had stayed as a child with my school, more years ago than is sensible to write here! It was a beautiful drive through the mountain valleys, though I barely recognised those places I had visited so long ago, as they have been developed considerably in the intervening years.

However, when we got to Brixen, there stood Pension Rosenhof, the guesthouse we had stayed at, and I was able to show a probably rather bemused Mark and Stef the room I had used, with its balcony, and the restaurant we had our evening meals in.

The cable car that we had ridden is still there, although it has had a facelift, and instead of rising from what was little more than a gravel car park, it now has a plush base station. A new cable car is being built on the other side of the road, so I guess the ski business is booming in the area. I was quite sad to see it had changed so much though. Silly really, nowhere could have stayed the same, but my memory had it frozen in time. Perhaps it should have stayed there.

We found Westendorf, the village we had walked to, but that too was unrecognisable, although the path through the meadow was still there. So Mark drove on into the foothills and found us a very pretty picnic spot, far away from all the people.

After lunch, we turned for home, stopping at Kabrun for souvenir shopping, and the Maxi Mart for dinner and diesel. The Maxi Mart was an excellent supermarket, but why is it that it's so hard to find food on the continent. Continental supermarkets seem to sell so little food compared to those in the UK. Is it me, or is it just that I'm too used to Sainsbury?

Had word from Mum that Dad continues to make slow but steady progress, a little better each day. It may be slow, but as long as it's progress, that's all that matters. Rounded the day off with a lakeside stroll, and then drink and puzzles.

Wednesday 16th July:

Up early, didn't quite manage the 6 o'clock the baker had suggested, but we had breakfasted, made lunch and were out of the camp quite by 8am. Bruck lies at the gateway to the Gross Glockner pass, so in no time at all we were on our way to the toll.

There was very little traffic, the sky was clear blue, and the scenery was already fantastic, so we stopped a few times to get photos. There were some intrepid or insane folk setting off on bicycles. A group of even more intrepid and very definitely insane folk were pushing their way up the road on cross-country inline skates!

The early stages of the pass were awesome, but what follows defies description. However, mad impetuous fool that I am, I will try! €28 buys you the right to travel the pass as many times as you like on that day. As we began the journey in the foothills we stared up at ancient mountains, some still capped with snow. Then the climb really began, with the road snaking its way up in graceful sweeps. There are plenty of stopping places, all with lovely clean facilities, and early in the morning they weren't busy.

Knowing the hordes would not be far behind us, however, we pushed on, stopping only for brief photo opportunities, and we arrived at the top of the pass and the glacier plenty early enough. We parked with no trouble, and had a quick look around the souvenir shop. At this time, there were still very few people around.

We then walked a little way up the hill, where we saw some Marmots! Oh yes, and the view was pretty good too! But the Marmots were so sweet! We had seen a couple on the way up, well, we'd seen their rear ends as they'd scarpered away from us, but the ones at the top were the professionals! They put on a brilliant display, sometimes posing, sometimes playing, sometimes sitting up scrunching on alpine flowers, but always maintaining 100% cute! Such troupers! Many, many photos taken!

Had a coffee, then decided that we really ought to get photos of the incredible scenery, and not go home with nothing but Marmots to show of the Gross Glockner! By this time, the coaches were rolling in, and the footpaths were jammed.

So, we took a few more pics, and admired the glacier a while longer. I should have liked to have gone down to it, but even looking at the path made my ankle hurt, so instead we made our way back to Wombat, and set off back down the pass to find a quieter picnic spot.

And what a spot we found! We were right next to a corrie, with waterfalls cascading down, and little patches of snow holding steadfastly to the hillsides. We explored a little, and took more photos, and then got back on the road.

As we approached the wide point in the road, we realised that there were rows and rows of cars parked up. They were all waiting to be allowed up to the top! Not for the first time we offered thanks to the kind baker who had given us such good advice! If we had left 1 or 2 hours later, we would have been sat, in the heat, in that queue. I think that might have coloured our experience of the Gross Glockner somewhat.

At one point on the pass we parked up, and climbed a small hill to get a look at the glorious panoramic view of near and distant mountain ranges. Words could never do the scene justice, and a photo only hints at its full glory.

The Eidelweiss Sptiz, which offers 360 views, was by this time hellishly busy, but knowing that we wouldn't be back here in the foreseeable future, we decided to give it ago. Once again, our luck held, and a car pulled out of a space just in front of us! We climbed the tower and took a few more photos, but by now we were all tired, and the crowds were just too much.

So, we carried on down, with me snapping photos out of the window as we went. It was a long slow haul down, as we had caught up with one of the numerous coaches, and he had to negotiate the turns fairly carefully.

By the time we got back to the camp we were hot, thirsty and my ankle was giving me serious gip, so I stayed on the deck while Mark and Stef went for a swim in the lake. Dinner was, once again, from the snack van. It was only now that we remembered that despite the cooler weather here, we had been considerably closer to the sun, and Stef, who had survived the roasting of Italy, was now sporting an extremely rosy hue! I dug out the savlon and advised her to apply it liberally, mentally berating myself for being a terrible mother for not thinking of protecting my poor red haired daughter from the sun.

Next Stage: The Journey Home