Yes, I realize this is all backwards as I already posted about the end of the International Congress of Speleology, but I took a long time going through all the pictures so I’m catching up still.
We arrived in the morning as the day was starting to get pretty warm. Then I found out just how large the setting for the congress was. Trudging across the fairgrounds to get to registration with my heavy bags it seemed really big. I wasn’t particularly pleased to learn the “nearby” dormitory I was staying in was nearly 1/2mile away and uphill. At least the registration lady offered to watch one of my bags so I didn’t have to try hauling them all up the hill at once. The dorm itself was pretty decent. I didn’t even have to share the room which had two beds, bathroom and even a small kitchen with hotplate and fridge. No air conditioning but I had a balcony which made drying my wet cave gear easy. That night there was a welcome party at the Congress grounds with lots of food, beer and traditional dancers and musicians.
The following day I wandered around the congress checking out the vendors and looking at the schedule for the rest of the week. I stopped by the vendors from Britain as I had torn holes in both my boots and my coveralls while caving in Moravia. They had some excellent rubber caving boots that laced up so I bought a pair and some of the classic red coveralls.
Since I didn’t see any session I had to attend that first day I bought myself a ticket for the local transit and rode a train into downtown to pick up some supplies for the week. I had checked with information at the congress and knew I would need a ticket for the train from Ternopil (not to be confused with Chernobyl, they sound similar)back to Budapest after the caving in the Ukraine. This was an overnight trip so not only did I need a regular ticket, I also needed a reservation for a sleeper. There are only so many of these in each train so its best to book as soon as possible. I wandered around downtown till I found the train station then headed inside to buy a ticket. The first window I went up to was apparently for local tickets only as the lady at the window brusquely pointed down the hall. I managed to find another ticket window and here the lady set to work on her computer. Apparently European train schedules are fairly complex as it took awhile for her to pull up one that went from Ternopil to Budapest on my return dates but she persisted and finally I had a set of tickets that I tucked away safely. I also took the opportunity to do some sight seeing since I bought a 24 hour pass for the transit. I made it back in time to meet up with several cavers for drinks and dinner at a small cafe near the dormitories though. In the warm weather I particularly enjoyed the cold mug of beer they served.
The second day of the congress I spent mostly attending various sessions. I particularly enjoyed exploration talks and a great video that showed a 3d model of the cave systems that lie beneath Budapest. The video even overlay-ed the map with a 3d model of the city, making for a very impressive display. As the evening neared it was time to cool off with some more cold beer this time at the speleobar right there on the convention grounds.
For Wednesday I had signed up for the Punkva cave trip. This was the tour cave that we had gone past during the Moravian karst caving as it was in the same canyon as some of the other caves I had already visited. This one was set up for commercial tours with a trail and lighting. It was a beautiful cave with numerous formations that made it well worth a visit but what really interested me was the second part of the trip were after passing through the large collapse opening referred to as the Machoca abys, its walls are over 138meters high so just that was impressive, but after that you descend back into the cave down to the water level were a river flows underground through the cave and here we boarded boats for the rest of our cave tour. It felt a little like being on a ride at Disney land as we drifted through sections of fantastic formations followed by tunnels carved into the rock to allow the boats to fit. My only complaint was that it was over all to soon. Then we got to ride the cable car up to the top where we had dinner and a delicious cold beer.
I had seen most of the sights downtown, the famed Brno dragon (a stuffed crocodile) the market, townhall etc but had not found the ossuary. While wondering around downtown I ran into Jenny from SFBC and Johnny from Puerto Rico who were going to see it so I tagged along. Turned out the reason I missed it was there was no sign. I had walked right past. It was just a set of steps going into the basement beneath a church where for years they had stored human bones. The common practice was to bury someone for 7 to 10 years then dig up the remains and store them here thus freeing up limited cemetery space for the next person.
Thursday it was back to sessions and I once more sat in on the exploration section for a bit, then headed over to watch some of the speleolympics, they had set up some impressive courses which cavers were tackling with enthusiasm. After watching that I felt tiered enough I decided to go watch some of the multimedia presentations.There were some great cave videos , though one of my favorites was outside a cave were they were setting up a huge tyrolean that was several hundred meters across.After a full day of wandering the congress and attending sessions it was time to find some dinner, Mary Rose joined me for the train ride downtown where we found an excellent Indian restaurant. Then we wandered through town checking out some of the sights.
Friday was another morning of sessions and I was eagerly awaiting the afternoon when the 3d video and slideshows were to be presented. I was not disappointed this years presentations had some very impressive HD video shot in 3d as well as fantastic slideshows. I enjoyed it so much I mad an effort to return on Saturday to watch some of them again. That night was the banquet dinner which was impressive just for the number of tables they had to have set up let alone the amounts of food. Unfortunately the ventilation was able to keep the building cool with that many people in there, so we had to have more cold beer, and then some more. After dinner and the presentation of awards there was a brief interlude where we all went outside to watch a very impressive fireworks display. Then it was back inside for a night of dancing.
This was a fantastic Congress and I had a great time, I was sad that it was coming to an end but at least I had another adventure to look forward to as on Sunday morning I would be boarding a train to the Ukraine.