June 28, 2002  |  Salzburg

This small hometown of Mozart's is a beautiful jewel of a city. A river runs through it, a castle overlooks it, baraque ornamentation in layers and layers like icing, the city is simply a storybook setting. Some building facades seem to be leaning against granite hillsides like stage backdrop, but the catacombs in the same hills prove they're indeed hollowed out many centuries ago. Baroque style is not my favorite but it absolutely works here, and the Austrian work ethic kept everything well-maintained and prestine. I stand in the cathedral square watching a large-scale chess game and am enchanted.

The next day I chose to go an hour outside of town in place of the ubiqitous Sound of Music tours. My destination are some ice caves high in the Austrian Alps; I know what I like. After train, bus, walking, funicular, more walking, I leave the heat and enter the caves where it's 0 degrees inside. It's hard to imagine the mountains being hollow inside (though a week later I went spelunking under Budapest) and house a kingdom of ice. In places the ice have thin layers that can be read like the annual rings of trees... it's estimated the ice in the cave is more than 1,000 years old. A blink in any geological measurement of time, but puts human history into perspective.

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