Sunday, March 31, 2013

In the Wienerwald

With these writings I try and stay away from the "take this train to get to this place" kind of travel writing you can find nearly everywhere. Why bother with that, if you really want to find out how to get someplace there are tons of sources available on the internet.
That being said, I also realize that there are a whole lot of places that are a bit less traveled and might take a little work to find. I think my trip to Hinterbrühl outside of Vienna is such a place. Rather than only write about my experience in Hinterbrühl, I'm going to tell you how I traveled there too.
My main goal was to visit Seegrotte, Europe's largest subterranean lake. I guess you could call it a man-made lake, since it is in an old gypsum mine and there would not have been space for the water if people had not removed the gypsum. Also, there was some sort of explosion or something that caused the mine to flood. There were too many man-made causes for this lake to call it "natural."
The Seegrotte was also a manufacturing facility for the Heinkel HE 162 Salamander Volksjäger jet fighter. The Germans used the mine to build parts of the plane and assembled it someplace else. The Allies tried to bomb the facility, but didn't have any success. When the Germans left they destroyed it and it was restored to be a tourist attraction. Tours run all year long.
I started from Vienna and my first step was to make my way to the Bahnhof Meidling train station and catch an S-Bahn commuter train to Mödling (pronounced something like moodling). The ticket cost me €2, not bad for a 15 minute ride out of town. The S-Bahn trains to Mödling leave about every half hour or so for most of the day. Once you get to the station you will want to look for the bus stops for the 364 or 365 bus to Hinterbrühl Seegrotte. The bus stops are the closest ones to the station and have the numbers of the busses that stop there right at the top. You buy a ticket from the bus driver, so don't worry about trying to get one from the ticket counter. The guys at the counter don't speak any English anyway, so it was a bit of a struggle for me to figure out I could just pay the driver on the bus. The bus ticket is €2.
I honestly don't remember how many stops it is from the Mödling station to the Hinterbrühl Seegrotte bus stop, but the signs for the busses will tell you, just count. The busses aren't like the ones in Prague which announce the name of each stop before you get to it, so if you are like me and forgot to count how many stops you were suppose to look for you need to keep an eye out. The trip takes about 15 minutes or so and the name of the stop is Seegrotte. When you get off the bus you will be in Hinterbrühl.
After you get off the bus keep walking in the same direction as the bus. You will cross a river and come to a street going right. There will be the Seegrotte Cafe across the street from you. Turn right on that street and walk a little ways and you will see the Seegrotte entrance on the left.
Tickets for the tour, there is no other way to get in, are €9 which is a pretty good deal. The tour takes about 45 minutes and includes a boat ride on the lake at the end. My guide gave the tour in German and English, he was a nice guy.
The film The Three Musketeers shot a few scenes in Seegrotte and they seem to be pretty proud of it. A few of the set pieces are still there.
If you go in the summer time take a jacket. The temperature in the mine is a consistant 9 degrees Celsius, which was nice for me because it was warmer than the snowy Hinterbrühl day outside. Another thing to take along is something to wipe your camera lens with. The mine is fairly humid and it can fog up a lens pretty fast. I had a few problems with this and finally removed my haze filter and kept wiping my lens down with the bag for my sunglasses.

This is the entrance to the mine. You have to walk about 500 meters down this to get into the place. Be warned the ceiling for this tunnel is about six feet high, so if you're like me you will have to duck for the walk in. After you get into the mine though the ceiling opens up.

Here is a shot of the tunnel from inside the mine. Looks pretty much like an old drift mine. There really isn't anything ground breaking about it, pun completely intended.

One of the first things you get to see is a mock-up display of a miner from the early 1900s. It was just too cheesy not to photograph. I'm also not certain miners in the early 1900s wore hard hats, I think what they had was more like baseball caps you could attach a lantern to.

The next thing you can peek at is the miner's gallery. This is where they took their breaks and stuff. I don't know why they just didn't go outside, the gallery is only about 600 meters from the exit. This room, we were told, is a balmy 12 degrees Celsius all the time.

There is a lot more to this mine than you will be allowed to see on the tour. It's for the best really, getting lost in a mine is no pic-nik and is really quite dangerous. Still it was neat to see all these other doors into darkness.

The mine includes a shrine gallery with shrines to the patron saint of miners as well as a few memorials to deceased miners. As you can see the roof opens up quite a bit after you get inside.

Here is a better photo of one of the shrines.

This is the mine's chapel. It's called Santa Barbara's Tunnel and is pretty large. According to the tour guide there are services here from time to time which are lit entirely by candle light. Seems like it would be pretty cool to see.

Before you get to the lake there is a display showing some of the parts for the HE 162. There is also this old model of one on a stick.

This isn't the lake. This is actually a small pond about 14 meters above where the lake is. They have it well lit and it's pretty so here's a photo.

To get to the lake you have to descend these stairs. The rails in the middle were used to haul the fuselage for the planes out. The rails didn't exist before the Germans arrived to make planes. At the end of the stairs there you can see the lake. If you look at the top of the photo you can see the HE 162 display. It gives you a good sense of how far below, or not far below the lake is.

When you first get to the lake you are greeted by this set piece from the Three Musketeers movie. It's a movie I have not seen, but I trust them. Why would the guide lie about that?

You get on a boat and the guide steams you around the lake. It's a pretty short trip, but still pretty cool. The boat is electric and doesn't make any noise, which is nice. The guide turns lights on and off as you travel along and is very nice to point out the "beautiful water reflections." The reflections make the water seem a lot deeper than it is and at first it was a menacing site until you figured out what it was. The guide also mentioned several times that the level of the water is 1.2 meters. No one should drown if they accidentally fall in. I bet you'd get hypothermia in a heartbeat though.

Here you can see the factory floor under the water. It's just like any other flat, concrete factory floor. It is still pretty impressive to think airplane were made in here.

After the tour I wandered around the town for a little while and took a look at just how small it is. There really isn't much there. It is in the heart of the Vienna Woods though and is quite pretty. It also seems there aren't a whole lot of poor people living in the village. After my wander I decided to visit the Seegrotte Cafe. This was a great idea. I had a HUGE latte and the largest plate of schnitzel on earth for something like €10. It was a really nice cafe with a great staff. There were locals coming and going the whole time I was there and I'm guessing it was pretty much the only game in town. People would just pop in, have a coffee or a beer and split. It was a really homey feeling place.
From the cafe it's a sort walk down the road you walked in on to get back to the bus stop. I timed it just right, completely by accident, and bus 364 pulled up right when I got there. I paid the driver €2 again and then caught the train back to Vienna for €2 and still had time for more sightseeing in town.
So there you have it: an easy trip to a great part of the country and the whole thing, transport, meal and tour cost less than €30. I think there is some good hiking around the Vienna woods in the summer, so if you go then you could make a whole day of it.

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