Monday, February 23, 2015

Future POIs - Eisriesenwelt [Werfen, Austria]

When you hear about Austria, people probably know it for Salzburg and Vienna, but did you know that Austria has the world's largest ice cave?

From Thousand Wonders
Discovered by Anton von Posselt-Czorich in 1879, but was quickly forgotten and rediscovered in 1913 and has since become a tourist attraction.  Located in Werfen, it is open from May to October and is only available by tour which lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes.  The total suggested visit time is 3 hours though due to the time spent getting to the cave itself (either on foot or by cable car which was built in 1955).  The tour itself is not for everyone since there is an altitude gain of roughly 134 meters (or 440 ft) during the tour.

Do note that photography and videos are prohibited here.  The explanation is due to how tightly packed the tours are, it would cause a huge backlog of people and flash impacts the cave experience.  As of this post, tours are scheduled at least once every full and half hour.  The ticket office is open from 8:00 am - 3:00 pm (for September).  Reservations not available.

For 2015, it costs 22 euros for cave visit + cable car or 11 euros for just cave visit (with an estimated 1.5 hr footpath without cable car).

Tours from Salzburg costs roughly 50 euros per adult and doesn't include the entrance fees.  Distance by car is roughly 1 hour and by train is roughly the same.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 - Arrowhead Provincial Park (Winter)

During wintertime, be sure to head to Arrowhead Provincial Park (roughly 2 hours from Toronto) if you get a chance for a fun day in the park.

From left to right (Ruth, James, Allison, Wai, Seiji, random dude photo-bombing), picture courtesy of Tracey
When I read in the news that Arrowhead Provincial Park had tiki-lit night skating in the forest, I knew I had to come and Seiji having told me about wanting to go, I coordinated with my friends and we ended up going in late February.  If you want to go for tiki-lit night skating, make sure to follow their Twitter (@arropark) because they post the trail's days of operation and hours.  During this trip (we spent one night there), it was with James, Ruth, Seiji, Tracey, Allison, and myself.

What's a waxing hut?
I wanted to go early in order to ensure that we found parking (I was reading reviews and some people complained about 1+ hour wait times), so we aimed to arrive by around 11am.  Any time I visit a new place, I try to visit a restaurant there just to see what their restaurants are like, this time we visited Westside Fish & Chips for breakfast.  I ordered the 'Starved' breakfast which consisted of 3 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 slices of ham, 2 pieces of bacon, bread and home fries which can be substituted for various sides for a price.  Allison got the fish and chips which you have the option of fried or grilled.  I thought the breakfast was okay, I'm not sure why the reviews rave about it (meats are clearly cheap store bought ones, although the home fries I thought were good).

A tree got in the way of this running snowman
After breakfast we arrived at the park at roughly 12pm.  By this time, there were plenty of parking spaces by the ice skating trail, so we could have come later and it would have been okay (mind you, ice skating started 3:30pm today).  My initial plan was we should try to rent some snowshoes but they were out of rentals by noon, and it was probably for the best since all the trails had packed snow, so you could actually just walk them by foot.

Two dudes ice fishing on Mayflower lake
For walking trails, there are only 3 in the wintertime (Stubb's Falls snowshoe trail loop @ 2.6km, Hemlock Ridge Trail @ 1.9km, and Mayflower Lake Trail @ 1.5 - 2 km, so in total, roughly 6.5 km), so do allocate your time accordingly because while the trails aren't very long, they aren't overly difficult either (there are some hills but that just means that during wintertime, I could just bum-slide down afterwards).  While doing the trails, we did see some guys out on Mayflower Lake doing some ice fishing which we wanted to see but without snowshoes, we couldn't make it since we actually hit slushy water.  Do note that they do have a lot of cross country trails if you are interested in those.

Through winter wizardry, here's a snow face!
Be sure to check out the snowtube hill.  If there is a line, check with the front of the line to see how long it will be.  I think in our case, the line was to the parking lot which was roughly 10 - 15 minute wait.  It is well worth it in my opinion.  We could have gone down as a group of 6, but ended up going down as 2 groups of 3 (you can just tie the tubes together).  After the ride, you do need to bring the tubes back up though.  The ride itself it probably 30 - 45 seconds in length but I had a blast doing it and it was free!

What's slowing me down?
After this, we went back to the skate trail and arrived shortly after it opened (around 4pm).  Note that by this time, there was an approximately 8 car wait who were waiting for free parking spaces (not allowed in until another car left).  By this time, the place was pretty packed at the front of the trail since that was where everyone would go in a bit and start taking photos.  If you skate a bit inwards, you will notice that it isn't actually too bad.  The ice conditions aren't great (I don't think they have a zamboni so the ice isn't even) and it accumulates snow since they don't clean it except at the beginning of the day.  So be sure to temper your expectations and you will be fine.

Me on the ice skating trail

Around dusk, the park will light the tiki torches that are all around the ice skating trail and around the parking lot nearest the ice skating trail and this, in my opinion, is when the magic begins.  The ice skating trail is lit along both sides at the front of the trail and only along one side for the rest.  Be sure to check this out if you get a chance.  I thoroughly enjoyed both the day and night skating sessions that I had.

Ice skating trail at night time
I spent a lot of time looking for a cottage nearby, but if you are okay with the resort fees ($30 at the time of this posting), Deerhurst Resort is a good choice.  It is roughly 15 minutes away from Arrowhead and for $420 (after tax/resort fee) for the night, we got a 2 room condo (1 master bedroom with jacuzzi and king bed, 1 room with a double and single bed, and a sofabed in the living room) with lake view, and fully equipped kitchen.  The resort fee does include a good amount of amenities (winter equipment rentals, rock climbing wall, swimming pool, hot tub, among other things, check their site for details).  James coordinated dinner (garlic toast, homemade lasagna, tiramisu) and breakfast (mini chocolate croissants, eggs, sausages, and garlic toast), great job!

On location made lasagna!

Total costs was gas (roughly 200km from Toronto, so 400km roundtrip), accommodations (Deerhurst was $420 for one night divided by 6 people), food (since our place at Deerhurst has a full kitchen, we just brought food there), and park expenses (in our case, $16 for a day permit for the car, equipment rentals would be extra which we didn't need).

I met my snow brother!
While I don't expect to redo this trip anytime soon, I would recommend doing it (even if you don't skate, there were quite a few people that just walked the trail).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Future POIs - Neuschwanstein [Munich, Germany]

I initially thought that I would keep the posts without pictures, but it doesn't seem to give you much besides whatever details I decide to write.  So, I'm just going to post one or two pictures based on the POI and just reference where I got the picture (unless I'm told to take it down).

From Wikipedia
Neuschwanstein (originally named New Hohenschwangau but renamed after King Ludwig II's death) is a famous castle in Munich, Germany which is said to have been the inspiration behind the Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle.  The castle itself was built by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat castle.

The castle wasn't actually complete since King Ludwig II had to take out massive loans to build (the exterior is complete but the interior is not).  It actually got to the point where he was trying to borrow more money but was ousted by the government.  Shortly after he was ousted, he was found died.  After he died, the palace was open to the public to paying visitors in order to pay off the construction loans.  It took 13 years (1886 - 1899) before this happened.

Here are some interesting stats on this castle.  It took almost 15 years to build (1869 - 1884), and was built on the ruins of two previous castles.  It was expected to have over 200 interior rooms but in the end, only 15 rooms and halls were completed.  In total, there is a total floor space of 65,000 sq. ft.  Opened to the public since 1886, over 61 million people have visited the castle.  More than 1.3 million annually and as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.

Operating hours and admission prices are subject to change, but for when we expect to go this September, it will be 12 euros and it includes a guided tour of the castle (35 minutes).

Be sure to visit Marienbr├╝cke for a photo-op of the castle and landscape.  It is a bridge built in the 1850s as a birthday gift to Maximillian II's consort Marie.  Built high above the P├Âllat Gorge.

From Wikipedia
No photographs allowed instead the castle.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Future POIs - Arrowhead Provincial Park [Huntsville, Ontario]

Later this month, we will be heading up to Arrowhead Provincial Park to go skating.  Yes, it is a long drive to just go skating, but in the wintertime they freeze a section of the park so that you can go skating through the forest in a roughly 1.5km skating loop.  As a bonus, during some Fridays/Saturdays, you can do night skating where the path is lit by tiki lanterns.  Sounds like it will be interesting.

Along with this, they also have free snowtubing (at least for winter 2014/2015), snowshoe trails and cross country skiing.  Don't worry if you don't have equipment because they provide rentals for all the activities listed.

In the summertime, they have canoe, kayak, and mountain bike rentals!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Future POIs - Marienplatz [Munich, Germany]

I haven't done a lot of traveling and when I do, while it is interesting to see sites, I have a feeling that I would better understand and appreciate them if I did some prior research to get an idea of what makes the site so important and why should people visit them.

Later this year we will be going to Europe to visit Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic and I thought I would begin with some points of interest here.

Marienplatz is a central square in Munich Germany and has been the city's main square since 1158.  In this central square, there is a Marian column which was built in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation and the end of the plague (which is commonly why these columns were built).

Besides the column, there is both the New City Hall (Neues Rathaus) on the north and the Old City Hall on the east (Altes Rathaus).  The New City Hall was build between 1867 and 1908 and contains 400 rooms!  Be sure to take the lift to the top of the tower for a nice view of the surrounding area.  You will notice that there are two tunnels that go through the Old City Hall.  This was a renovation that occurred due to increased road traffic in 1877 which completed destroyed the original ground level of the building.

Be sure to visit at 11:00am daily.  A Rathaus-Glockenspiel is part of New City Hall and every day at 11:00am, there is a show that re-enacts two stories from the 16th century which consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures!  The show is approximately 12 - 15 minutes in length.  It looks like something you would see in a music box or some cuckoo clocks.

Along with the historic buildings, there a lot of shops and restaurants where you can sit down and just watch tourists and locals alike just walking around.

Be sure to come back every Monday when I talk another future point of interest.