I have to admit that since my last post was about our Sucha Bela gorge excursion, I'm feeling sort of like a comic book author. Next up on the Adventures of Merlin and Rebecca: The pair travel inside an ice cave! It's true, though. We did. Digging out the few cold-weather holdovers in our car, we bundled up and visited one of the most important ice caves in the world at Dobšinská.
It was instantly cold and not as far underground as I was expecting. In fact, just a few steps down there was already a coating of ice all around us. The combination of rock and ice crystals made me feel like Polly Pocket, if Polly Pocket lived inside of a geode. I was able to have such inane musings, because the tour was conducted in Slovak and there were no information panels or pamphlets. (Other brilliant observations: it was like a scene from an epic battle between Batman and Mister Freeze). It's not such a bad thing in situations like this, I think, to be left to your own mental devices. The experience is completely sensory while you're there and then you can research what the heck you were looking at online afterwards.
It was amazing to imagine digging this walkway out. Sometimes, we can't help but wonder how people had the audacity to put something so precious at risk for the sake of tourism. However, the cave has been doing just fine since its discovery by miners in 1870 and subsequent opening to the public just a year later. In 1887, it became the very first electrically lit cave in all of Europe. I'm sure a huge amount of its preservation comes from the switch to a non-heating light source.
There are elements of the Slovak language we've come to understand, namely menu items and numbers. We eat out and pay for things a lot. Anyway, the guide pointed to this wall of ice and said 250,000. That happens to be the estimation of the cave's age, so I can only assume that he was pointing out the lines in this wall covering as indicative of that fact. Sort of like tree rings. Before it was officially "discovered," local shepherds and hunters referred to it as "the cold hole."
Apparently, an Olympic figure skater did a short display in the cave in the 1950s, to draw attention to the natural wonder. I'm guessing it took place here, in the largest, flattest space we visited. On each side of the 'rink,' the ice billowed up into rolling waves. My idea of what the surfaces looked like kept changing: foamed tidal tips, hoar frost on firs, enormous melted candles. The age gives the blue and white covering all sorts of wonderful texture.
The centerpiece ice hall reminded me of a cave diorama with stalagmites and stalactites made of blown glass, beautiful in its brilliant translucence. The iron deposits conjured images of a rusty gutter, surrounded by icicles, all hanging from a snow covered garage. Not soon after, the tour abruptly ended. Only about a third of the Dobšinská ice cave is open to the public and it took us all of a half hour to walk through. We emerged thinking, "What an awesome place!" and "So, what the heck forms an ice cave?" In Dobšinská's case, its a sort of cold trap. During the winter, cold air travels in and the warm air rises out of the cave. All full up with cold, the lighter hot air of summer has no room to eek its way in. Thus, the cave maintains a pretty steady temperature of 0°C.
What a sad irony when we still couldn't find any ice to fill our cooler that evening.