My editors most recently sent me on a three-day trip to Hallstatt, a charming lakeside village in the Austrian mountains. The only problem? Hallstatt is 1.5km long and has one street.
Needless to say, I traversed the entire town, toured the museum, hit all five landmarks, and ate lunch in just under 3 hours. So, what was I to do with my remaining time in this petite, picturesque nook of the world?
As a native Floridian, my first thought was “Beach Day!” Unfortunately, I arrived during a rainy cold snap, and was not about to don my bikini in 50° F, cloudy weather. Naturally, I did a complete 180 and decided to buy a bus ticket to Obertraun, where I could tour the Dachstein Ice Caves and test my nerves on the Five Fingers lookout point, which juts out from the peak of one of the tallest mountains in the region. I knew it would be chilly – brainy little scientist I am, I recalled that water freezes at 32° F, and given that I was touring ice caves, I figured it had to be at least a touch colder than that. Boy, oh boy was I right. Without further ado, I present to you the mid-morning musings of a frozen Floridian.
10:10am: What the heck, I thought the €45 I forked over included the cable car to this dang ice cave. Why am I hiking another 15 minutes at a 50-degree incline to get to this place? It better be worth it.
10:25am: Alright, got here 15 minutes early. No problem. I’ll just sit and wait a bit, look out at the gorgeous view and try to imprint the mountains into my memory.
10:30am: Well, people are finally arriving, and they definitely look more prepared for touring the ice caves than me. Why are they gearing up like a Boston winter storm is arriving? Seriously, that tour group is bundled up as if a major storm is about to hit. Like, Harvard-cancels-classes-for-only-the-7th-time-in-history level of layering. At least I wore two pairs of socks? Although they are just my thin, Under Armour no-show socks that I wear when working out…
10:33am: Do I get up and walk around to try to raise my heart rate? Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. Don’t want to look like a fool in front of the entire group even though I’ll never see any of these people again…just going to walk up and down the incline for a bit. At least now I know the reason they make you hike to the tour at such a steep angle!
10:34am: I don’t think this whole heart rate idea is going to work. Definitely not feeling warmed up at all. Hopefully my light windbreaker and fashion sweater prevent frostbite. Thank god I remembered to grab my summer scarf, though when I packed it, I intended to wear it around my waist so I could enter strict European cathedrals. Those darn dress codes and fancy officials with all their “modesty.” Hey, I guess I should be thanking them since their rules are probably going to be my saving grace.
10:41am: The tour is supposed to last 50 minutes. It’s been 50 seconds and I’m already shivering. Maybe if I huddle in the middle of the pack like a penguin, the body heat from the group will save me?
10:45am: Stop three on the tour: tighten up the hatches. I remembered that I had fashionably rolled up the sleeves on my raincoat yesterday. Let me pull those suckers down and Velcro them as tight as possible, so I basically have T-rex claws. Oh well. At least my wrists will be safe from the frigid cave air. Now cinch that hood tight. Yeah, real tight. My dad is always going on and on with advice to “cover your head, trap in the heat, blah blah blah.” Let me tell ya Dad, that nagging advice finally came in handy. Trust me, I spent a solid 40% of my time in the ice caves thinking, “Well, what would Dad say I should do now?”
10:49am: The tour guide just mentioned that cave bears used to travel up to Hallstatt’s mountains and hibernate in the ice caves for the winter. Are they crazy? What animal willingly puts themselves through this misery for months? It’s the middle of summer and I’m pretty sure they’re going to have to carry my frozen corpse out.
10:58am: Maybe I’m a dweeb, but why does it seem like I’m the only one taking pictures and videos of this neat light show? And that pond! How is there a pond in the ice cave?? This place is crazy…maybe I just can’t see that they’re taking pictures since I have my hood cinched so tightly around my face. After all, I feel like I’m clocking in at about 60% visibility.
11:05am: Fingers are officially numb. I can’t move them to type notes into my phone anymore. Is this how it ends? Goodbye, cruel world.
11:27am: The door! I see the light! Of course, I’m stumbling out into cold mountain air. Where’s a sunny Florida beach when you need it? What I wouldn’t give for the feeling of walking from the frigid AC into the heat of the Florida summer. That’s seriously one of the best feelings in the world. Oh well. On to the Five Fingers lookout point!
I managed to make it up to the Five Fingers lookout point, which WAS SOMEHOW EVEN COLDER THAN THE ICE CAVES. I finally left after about 40 minutes because my phone shut off from the cold. No phone = no pictures = time for hot chocolate and soup down at base camp. So, there you have it, folks! The story of how I almost froze to death in the middle of summer at a lakeside village in Austria.
Healthy base tan, courtesy of the unyielding sun in Megan’s hometown in southwest Florida? Check. An insistence that gallivanting through Germany and Austria all summer does, in fact, count as exercise – after all, those cathedral steps aren’t going to climb themselves! Definitely. A command of the native languages and the confidence that one mere backpack will get her through two months abroad? Now slow down there, she didn’t say she was Wonder Woman. While neuroscience and chemistry may be this coffee-loving, beach-bumming, fashion-adoring springboard diver’s forte, Megan is hoping to expand her appreciation for the finer things in life (beer, currywurst, schnitzel, melange…) before returning to the reality that all good things must come to an end, as evidenced by her impending senior year.