Day 6 - Wednesday, September 21, 2005 Cont'd...
The Eagle's Nest was a gift given to Hitler by Bormann which is kind of ironic because Hitler was afraid of heights and in the end, only used it about a dozen times. This was my father's favorite and most anticipated excursion.
The Eagle's Nest is in Germany, but still close to the Austrian border. It is located at the top of one of the surrounding mountains. As we drove along, the tour guide pointed out that now we could see it. So I peer out the window of the bus up at the cloud ringed mountain. At the very peak, I thought I could see something that didn't look natural, but it was so tiny and so high up I thought that it wasn't possible to build anything up there. Figured I must have missed seeing the place, I must have been looking too high.
The bus groans as it drives us up and up till finally we reach a kind of plateau where a tourist center now exists. Already at this height, the temperature had dropped from the low 20's in Salzburg to about 10. We spend a little bit of time in the gift shop while we wait for the special bus to take us all the way up. A special bus is required because a normal bus doesn't have the power, of the extra special brakes needed for the steep slopes.
Finally, our bus comes back down to pick us up. Rolff takes this opportunity to become a tourist himself. I find it kind of funny as he sits down next to me that not only is he not driving the bus, but he's got a video camera with him. But as I had mentioned before, he'd never done this trip with Trafalgar before, and the very reason he became a driver was to travel and see things. So he was getting his chance. He had a second, important role, but I'll get to that in a bit.
We now start the climb up the side of the mountain. I'm sitting on the side that's up against the mountain, so I don't get much impression of the height, all I see is a bunch of trees. Then suddenly, about half way up, the bus makes a U-turn, and suddenly everyone that had this great view of trees found themselves staring out into space. As this turn occurred quickly and without warning it was very disorienting and you could hear groans and cries from the people in the back of the bus. It was like the whole world just suddenly fell away before your eyes.
Looking down (and it was a long way down) you could see a lake (Konigsee), and forests, and looking outwards, could see little villages. And then the clouds move in and you can't see anything...which didn't make one feel any better. By the side of the road (narrow I may add) was this skinny little guard rail. The bus moves at a fair clip too! Anyway, we do make it to the top in one piece and pour out of the bus. Remember I mentioned it was 10 degrees at the lower level? Well it was 3 up here. A couple of days ago it had been snowing, and there was still a pile of the white stuff pushed to one side.
Ok, lied. We weren't at the top *yet*. From this lower level one could look up and see the Eagle's Nest itself. Turns out that odd little shape I saw on the mountain's peak was indeed our destination.
At the bottom middle of the above picture you can see some rock formation that appears to be perfectly straight. Well, that's not a rock formation, its the top of a man-made tunnel right into the heart of the mountain peak. We go through this tunnel which must have been another 5 degrees colder than outside (was I ever glad I had gloves and a scarf with me). This tunnel was large, long, and kind of dark and creepy. At the far end there is an elevator, a huge brass thing. This is where the bus driver played his second role. He was to be the last of our group to get on and ensure not only that no one be left behind, but that no one else got on....not that they could. With 44 people on the tour, plus a guide, plus a driver, plus an elevator operator, we could barely breathe. I've been on packed buses, but nothing like this. Good thing this was several days into the trip and we'd kind of gotten to know these people a little bit! Even so, it was very close and personal in there.
With a big breath, we burst out from the elevator into the Eagle's Nest itself. We dash through a couple rooms to a final room where the tour guide shows us some pictures and gives us some history. Many things were gifted to Hitler by his allies. The fireplace was a gift from Mussolini, the carpet a gift from the Japanese, and so on. This little room leads to the outside, and sometimes people not from our group stops to watch the demonstration. The tour guide kept shooing these people through.
Finally we were set free to explore on our own. So out we go to see the views. Here is the door through which we exited.
It opens onto a kind of balcony/deck from where you can stare out into nothingness when the clouds pass by. When they clear, you realized how very high you are indeed. I'm also somewhat afraid of heights, and find this part to be quite dizzying. The world just drops off in all directions, you're literally standing on a very small patch of level ground very high up. Although it does go a little bit higher, a few steps up to the very peak where a cross is located. I managed to get up a few of those stairs then chickened out.
Below you can see a hotel complex.
A small village nestled amongst the mountains, and possibly Salzburg waaaay in the distance. When it was clear of clouds both at the Eagle's Nest and at Salzburg, one could make out the bright whiteness of the Hohensalzburg.
And some more sceneries, villages. Nothing much we could do about the cloud cover, though we were pretty lucky in that we could see as well as we could. Sometimes it can be completely enshrouded, as it was for brief moments while we were there. Made you feel like you were completely cut off from everything, just floating in the middle of nowhere.
It was pretty incredible, though completely impossible to explain in words or pictures.
And so we left, going back down with the elevator (this time not all together, so we could actually breathe), back down the tunnel, to wait at the base for the bus to take us down. Picked up a hot chocolate after a while as we started to freeze standing there. We might be Canadians and used to winter, but it was only September, and we had just come off a really hot summer, and it wasn't as if we'd dressed for snow weather.
Finally the bus came to bring us back down. We saw some people along the way walking down a path just for that purpose. About halfway down our bus had to pull over into this special spot and waited until a group of buses going up to the Eagle's Nest went by. The road wasn't wide enough for both to pass at the same time. We get off at the base, look at a few more things in the gift shop, get on our tour bus and return to the hotel where we have our second dinner with the pancake-noodle soup.