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Slovakia: Dobšinska Ice Cave

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Dobšinska Ice Cave | Slovakia | Europe

[Visited: May 2011]

When I read about the Dobšinska Ice Cave while researching my trip to Slovakia, I knew I had to see the place. It sounded very special, and I had never been to anything similar. In fact, my planned visit to the Dobšinska Ice Cave was the prime reason for me to decide to rent a car instead of using public transportation, as I normally do, as the spot is not very easily reached, and I was short on time. So it was that, instead of a comfy train ride east from Bratislava, that I found myself taking a bus to the airport in the morning, because the offices there are the first to open. Soon thereafter, I found myself on the highway to the east. I knew that the cave closed at 2pm, and I did not want to miss the visit of course. It seemed I had plenty of time, and driving proved surprisingly easy: no traffic jams, good road conditions, good car... until, that is, I reached Poprad where I was supposed to turn south. I duly followed the signs to the right road, and complimented myself for having always taken the right turns. Alas - just when I was leaving the city, there was a big sign on the road, and crosses through the names that just before had been on the signs that I had followed. To my surprise, there were no indications of any alternative route, so I went to a parking lot at a supermarket and asked a local girl. She advised me to continue east, and then drive a parallel road south and west again. Driving east proved easy, but the inner roads leading back to the main road, while very rural and beautiful, meandering through green and yellow landscapes, were not straightforward at all. Moreover, I did not know until where the road would be blocked. I was very happy when I reached the turnoff and I could finally drive in the right direction.

Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Underground scenery of ice formations in Dobšinska Ice Cave

An attractive road through thick forest, a small mountain pass, and virtually no traffic, eventually took me to a small parking lot and a sign in Slovak indicating that I had arrived at the Dobšinska Ice Cave. Two ladies charged a hefty parking fee, without promising to look after my belongings that I had to leave behind. They did not speak English, and I had no other choice than to try my luck. It was only 50 minutes before the cave would close; I had lost some 45 minutes with all the road confusion in Poprad, and I did not know how things would work. I hiked up as fast as I could, but that proved a little unnecessary. I saw on an electronic board next to the entrance that the previous group had left just minutes before, and that the next one was scheduled for 2 - being the last one. I bought my ticket, and after an inspection of the information boards, decided that the only thing left to do would be to lie down and soak up the sun. I closed my eyes, and felt the sun burn my skin; I soon felt perfectly calm. Then, as I heard a group of kids approaching, I felt a cloud of cold air enveloping me. I opened my eyes, and realized that the entrance door had been opened: the group was returning from their underground adventure, and seemed engulfed in a bubble of cold air. It reminded me of the reality of the ice cave: the permanently frozen ice underground obviously implied low temperatures. I looked at all the kids, and they all wore sweaters and jackets. I observed one common thing with all the people who would accompany me on my tour of the Dobšinska Ice Cave: they all had warm clothes. Suddenly, I felt like a fool. It had been so warm all day, that I had never even considered taking additional clothes for my visit. They were in the car, and I quickly calculated that no matter how fast I would climb, I would never make it to be back in time for the last tour of the day. My sweaty shirt was still wet from my fast climb here, and certainly would not help me protect against the cold down there. I started to seriously worry. Not going was never an option, but I tried to image how much time I would probably feel comfortable - and I figured that I would stop to feel good well before we had been exploring for more than half an hour.

Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Ice tunnel and stairs deep down in Dobšinska Ice Cave

When it was finally 2pm, and the gate opened to let us in, I was seriously worried. I tried to ask the guy who checked our tickets, who was wearing a thick coat himself. He merely shrugged his shoulders, and mumbled something about the duration being only half an hour. I tried to lag behind, to save time, and let the excited kids go ahead. As soon as we passed the gate, it felt like we descended into a freezer, and I saw solid ice in several places at the entrance already. I had read that the temperature in the cave should be a few degrees above freezing, but would find out that the temperature is actually around or under zero the entire year. Soon, however, the beauty of the fantastic ice formations, and the special, isolated world we were exploring, made me forget all my worries. I saw new ice that had frozen to the metal rails, I saw stalagmites and stalagtites - of solid ice, I saw a thick layer of ice in several places. The thickest layer has been calculated to be over 26 metres. At several points, the visitor trail leads through a tunnel in the ice, which makes you better realize the solid mass of frozen water. The colours of the ice varied: not just white, but also shades of blue and grey. In places, it looks like a glacier, with centuries-old layers of packed ice of different colours. The Dobšinska Ice Cave was known by locals for centuries, and known simply as the Cold Hole, but it was really explored for the first time in 1870; already the next year, the first visitors were welcomed, and in 1887 the Dobšinska Ice Cave was the first in the world to be electrically lit. Its location is such that cold air comes in from a northern entrance in winter, and gets trapped inside, ensuring a continuos sub-zero condition even in summer. Basically, an enormous natural fridge! I was so excited about the fantastic ice formations, the colours, and the sight of the thick layer of ice, that I totally forgot about my own body temperature. It was only when I was out in the sun again, under the warm sun, that I realized I felt cold. It would take quite a while before I was warmed up - but the experience and memories of the cave more than compensated for that small inconvenience.

Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Undulating ice floor under the rocky ceiling of Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Ice and rock wall on both sides of the trail
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Trail leading straight through the ice layer of Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Ice floor and icy stalagmites in the Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): The icy environment of Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Water seeping in from above freezes and forms icicles in Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Stalactites and stalagmites in the Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Detail of the ice floor of the Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Stalagmites of ice in the Dobšinska Ice Cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Bluish ice formation on an ice wall in the cave
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Detail of a cave with ice formations
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Icicles hanging from the ceiling of the cave like stalagmites
Picture of Dobšinska Ice Cave (Slovakia): Unesco World Heritage sign - in ice

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