It was quite late when we finally left Cesky Krumlov – and we were paying for parking by the hour, too. I was a little worried about the road into Austria, as it wasn’t the main highway. It was exceptionally dark, which was a little concerning at times with all the narrow winding roads we had to travel along. There were some signs indicating that the road was closed ahead, but fortunately it wasn’t our road.
We made it as far as Linz and crashed in a giant car park for a lake/sports area on the outskirts of town. It was dark and quiet, but I was so tired I probably could have slept on the side of a busy motorway.
I pushed last night to make sure that I was here in Linz this morning to visit a museum that really caught my attention. It sounded like a Science Museum, but aimed at adults – and tech literate adults at that. There is a free park for the museum in the nearby market – however, it was also Linz’s home of their Oktoberfest celebrations, so we, and hundreds of others, had to find other parking spaces. It was a major annoyance, as most parking was a 90-minute limit.
We found a park and set about exploring. There were a few cool little displays on the ground floor, including a tele-presence connected to a rope and a giant servo, which allowed for remote tug-of-war competitions. Sadly the remote end wasn’t working, but it did let us test our strength solo.
Downstairs was a rather complete, and surprisingly nostalgic history of the Internet. The timeline rapidly spread through the early years, but ballooned from the late 90s as the Internet itself exploded. It was interesting to see each decade listing the time it took to brute-force crack an 8-character password, starting in the realm of eons, and finishing in the realm of seconds…
Which brought us to our next exhibit space, which featured a machine that attempted to crack your supplied password – thankfully neither mine nor Risa’s were cracked in the several minutes that the program ran. There was also a small ‘man in the middle’ proof of concept to show why open WiFi can be bad (it manipulated HTTP pages prior to them being served). I was loving it, but Risa quickly lost enthusiasm.
The next piece shocked me, even though it was information that I already knew. It showed how much information Facebook has (and tracks) on each user. There was something about seeing it all (in bare and raw glory) on a giant wall that made it feel much creepier than just knowing they have tentacles into everything on a smartphone.
There was also a big VR Lab, but it ended up being a little underwhelming for us – mostly because we’ve spent time playing with the HTC Vive in my old office. I was hoping that they’d have some Augmented Reality hardware, like the Microsoft Hololense, or Google Glasses, as I’d really like to experience that.
There was an AV Lab, which played with things like green-screen, as well as some funky electronics and drum machines. We killed a little time playing with the stop motion terminal they had set up – but with our limited motivation, we managed only a few seconds worth of (terribly jerky) footage before moving on.
Deep Space 8K. Now, this was one of the main drawcards here. There is a large cinema decked out with a heap of projectors, allowing for full 8k cinema on the walls and floors – and in 3D. It was a shaky start, with the backend server not sharing all displays – thankfully a trusty old ‘turning it off and back on again’ fixed it for them. It was funny seeing Windows 7 boot on such a huge set of screens.
There were a few amazing tech demos, including one of the world’s most expensive rugs, but eventually we went into deep space. We watched the sun’s coronas up close, which was truly incredible. It felt like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, standing and observing the sun from so close – thankfully no one went a little crazy and tried to kill us all. We zoomed in and out of the universe, and it never fails to impress to see the scale of our tiny little planet compared to what else is out there.
The DNA and body exhibits confused me as much as ever. I still don’t understand how DNA can be manipulated the way it does. It’s all broken down into simple steps, but I still find it magic. I even got a scan of my retina – which is both awesome and creepy.
The Fabrication lab was a dream, but we were there at the wrong time – and couldn’t wait around much longer. We made some cool little objects that they were able to 3D print for us if we had the time. They were also busy making 3D scans of guests, which were then being printed out for them. I didn’t realise how much I wanted a 3D printer until now.
There was a whole heap more to see on the other upper floors, including a large geographical exhibit. We started playing with them, but a power cut crashed many of the exhibits – and we didn’t have time to wait for it to be corrected – probably with another ‘turn it off and back on again’.
There was a final section that had some small Innovation projects, and the one that stood out to me mapped my hands to some blocks on actuators. The overhead camera captured my hands, and in the areas it detected my hand, would activate the pixel blocks. It’s a terrible description for something that is so intuitive when seen. I had great fun playing with the blocks, working out to control them to move a small ball around. It felt powerful to have such control over a machine.
We’d taken our time, but we’d been here for nearly six-hours, and it was most certainly time to leave. We had a long drive towards Munich for Oktoberfest still this evening!
Confusing the timeline and continuation, we were back in Austria, which we’d skipped over to be in Munich for Oktoberfest celebrations. Thankfully the drinking yesterday finished early, but even so, we were quite late getting on the road towards Salzburg. We stopped in a factory outlet mall just before the Austrian border, though no luck finding new fashion.
The sun was more-or-less set by the time we’d arrived and parked in town. We were lucky to have found our (expensive) park in the centre of town, as there were huge Oktoberfest celebrations taking place here, too. I got the feeling from the people as we were walking through town that we were not welcome – the stares were much frostier than usual. I did my best to ignore it, and enjoy the city.
I didn’t think there was much point in stopping here on our travels, and was originally happy to blast straight past – and once again, I was happy that we didn’t. I admired how generally pretty the town is, but the castle high up above dominated the views of the town. It was mesmerising, and almost visible from anywhere in town.
I’m not sure if it’s a regular occurrence, but the cannons in the castle started firing blanks. Initially they were quite slow, but over time, they started getting faster and faster, until they eventually fired all 14 near synchronously.
We started on the path up towards the castle, but stopped around half-way – it was closed, so no point going all the way up. We had great views of the town below, well worth the moderate effort it took to walk this far up.
Mindful that we were paying for our parking by the hour, we didn’t waste time. We continued to walk through the streets of town, looking for things that caught our interest – like the high street, with the beautiful shop fronts and signs. Mozart’s house was a little un-exciting (at least from the outside). It was now too dark to really enjoy the scenery in town, so we made a move, just before starting our third hour of parking.
We drove for quite some time last night after Salzburg, which meant we were slow to rise and get moving this morning. The generally grey skies (again) didn’t do much to motivate us into action any quicker.
Translated to us as Ice Giant’s World, it is said to be the world’s largest ice cave. We thought that this meant that the cave itself was made of ice, but we learnt later that it’s basically an enormous cave, with ice inside.
It was a steep drive from the valley, with Gunter alternating between first and second gears, much to the irritation to the capable cars behind us – we pulled over when possible to let them past. We had two options to reach the ice cave from the car park – either a 90-minute trek, or a 5-minute gondola ride. While we hadn’t really exercised in some time (and therefore were overdue for some exertion), we weren’t sure about the weather, so used that as an excuse to justify catching a gondola up. Still, it was a moderate amount of walking from the car park to the gondola station – and then further walking from the upper station to the mouth of the cave. I thoroughly enjoyed overtaking those that had overtaken us on the drive up.
We’d narrowly missed one of the (compulsory) guided tours, so waited in near-zero temperatures for the next to begin. We were quite warm after the walk, and at first it was amusing to see the steam from our bodies. After a while, we’d cooled, and were more interested in starting the tour then seeing our breath.
We waited for the large group of German-speaking tourists to depart before our tour guide collected us all. It was his last tour of the season, and he acted every bit of the Maverick – the tour started with him telling us he doesn’t care what we do, and to ignore the no photography signs. Right on!
Less impressive was the low tech used for the tour, with selected individuals given small kerosene lamps for illumination – at least it provided a glimmer of warmth to those desperate for it. We stepped through the door, and was greeted with a roar of wind – and amazingly the torches flickered, but didn’t extinguish. Our guide raced past, and periodically lit strips of magnesium, which burnt with such brilliance, and then left us in the darkness again.
It was hard to make out much with the extremely dim light given off from the small lamps, but we could see giant ice flows coming from above.
The wooden path went around ice, and with the help of the brilliance of magnesium, we got brief glimpses of their shapes – some were giant columns that had come from the ceiling, others were yet to touch, and remained stalagmite and stalactites. But, the biggest was a giant tongue that snaked its way along the floor of the cave.
The exceptionally dim light did make the cave feel larger than it was, as we never truly grasped the extent of the interior spaces. Sometimes it felt quite tight, others it ballooned with what looked like large frozen lakes.
In all we traversed several kilometres, and climbed over 700 steps before returning more-or-less the same way we came up. There was one exception – we returned through an actual ice cave, which was awesome.
It wasn’t a cheap excursion, and it was hard to see much inside, but we still had a good time and enjoyed what we did see. We just had to climb back down now.
Directly across from Eisrisenweld was this truly arresting castle perched on a small mountain. If I’d received a €1 for every hilltop castle we’d seen in the past six-months, then we could probably continue travelling a little longer – like a week or two. But, we both agreed how truly stunning this one was – even more so than Neuschwanstein Castle.
We had a quick lunch below, then hiked up to visit. I knew that it was a little expensive to visit (€13), but I thought that we could at least see the gardens. It turns out that you need a ticket (€7) for them, too – so we had to turn around and hike back through the forest, slightly disappointed.
We had more amazing views of the castle as we made our way towards Slovenia, so it wasn’t a complete loss!