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Europe » Austria » Upper Austria » Hallstatt
September 22nd 2010
Published: September 25th 2010
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We woke up early. Jer insisted the night before that we pack up for the next few days. We left a few things at the flat.

Another sunny day greeted us! I still brought my newly purchased raincoat. The forecasters promise rain this weekend. Even though I am dread to have us in a downpour, I’d appreciate a light drizzle—while wearing my raincoat—to justify my bringing it.

We bought more sandwiches for breakfast. This time, I had ham and cheese and Jer had cheese. We settled into our seats for the first leg of our trip and had to transfer a second time to a third train. The journey on the third train was the best, even though we were hot from the sun and the air in the train was stale. The Alps came into view and the river that ran alongside the rail car was so clear it looked lime green. Then the lakes came into view. More pretty sights! And finally, the lake we would call home for the next 24 hours came into view. It was gorgeous!

There’s something wonderful about taking a long journey on train after train and then capping of the travel with a ferry boat ride on a glass-surfaced lake on a sunny day. It made me forget that we must carry our luggage across the quaint little town of Hallstatt to our hotel before venturing out into the Alpine village we’d just stepped into.

To say that Hallstatt is like a fairytale village is an understatement. It’s an Alpine village to the 10th power. It’s so beautiful and quaint that it doesn’t seem like it is real. And realizing how old it is defies imagination.

The village is not big, so despite our hotel being on the opposite end of town the trek to get there was not bad. Jer commented about how nice it would have been to stay on the hillside. I remind him of how nice it would not have been hauling our luggage up the steep staircases. This town is not ADA friendly. At all. But that’s how a lot of old villages are. No one cared about the elderly and disabled when they were built or formed.

The one good thing about our hotel was that it was close to the salt mine. We disposed of our belongings in our room and headed forthwith to the tram. This car makes the one in Salzburg for the fortress look like it was made for the Baby Bear; we were in the Papa Bear version. It carried us up the mountain in quick time. We befriended an older couple from Chicago and chatted with them all the way up. We meandered our way up the trail leading from the tram to the tour. We saw the remains of an old salt mine villager. Then we were encouraged to hurry if we wanted to catch the next tour. We were handed coveralls and were on our way.

One thing about stuff in Europe: whether it be ferris wheel rides at Oktoberfest, climing into Bavaria’s head or touring the salt mines in Hallstatt, I feel like we get our money’s worth. They don’t skimp the way they do in the States. The salt mine tour was one of those activities that could have been a ride down some wooden rails and a little walk through a tunnel which deposits visitors into a neatly stocked gift shop.

In addition to the huge tram, the long meandering trail uphill to the tour’s start, a very long walk into the belly of a mountain, two rail rides into the levels of the mine, a science and history lesson about salt and the history of these particular mines, and—AND!—a ride out to daylight hunched on a mining car with your legs squeezing the stranger in front of you. All of that is worth every penny.

Additionally, once finished with the tour, visitors can enjoy a nice meal or beverage at a beirgarten and café on the edge of the mountain, perched in the trees like a bird’s nest. Our tour was late enough that the café had stopped serving food. We settled with two small beers, presumably Austrian brewed. The older couple met up with us and we visited, exchanged “how we met” stories, and shared the ride back down to the bottom. We bid them adieu, wished them luck on the rest of their vacation, heavily name dropped Andechs as a good option to driving into Munich and finding parking.

Jer and I returned to our hotel briefly. It was a place called “Gastof Pension Gruner Anger.” Once we’d collected ourselves—we’d purposely packed light for the salt mine—we returned to the town square to visit the two churches in town. The church with the tall steeple is protestant. The one hugging the hillside with the frescoes of Jesus is (surprise!) Catholic. We peeked our heads into the Protestant church, I tripped on the ledge of the pews and created a ruckus and so we ran out soon after. The place was empty. It was also pretty modestly decorated, which though appreciated, isn’t much for tourists like us to look at. Jer and I then meandered to the Catholic Church. We’d read about the Church of Bones and were hoping we hadn’t missed seeing them due to the late hour. Our luck held true and our assumption that the place closed at 5pm was incorrect; it was 5pm and the church closes at 6pm. We paid a few Euros to duck our heads in and pay our respects. From the pictures, one might conclude that standing in a small room with hundreds of skulls and femurs would be unsettling. It wasn’t. In fact, it was pretty humbling and peaceful to be in that room.

We viewed the rest of the cemetery and popped into the cathedral before searching for food. Both of us were famished but had no idea of where to eat. We decided on a restaurant nestled right on the square. We sat outside to people watch. The weather was still quite nice. We had beers. Jer ordered venison stew and I ordered pizza and goulash soup. The soup and pizza were incredible. So tasty! We wanted to order apple strudel—we were in Austria, after all—but the restaurant was out. Boo!

Not to be deterred, we wandered the town on a quest for apple strudel. And a bathroom. Then we spied a waterfall—holy crap! A friggin’ waterfall, people! And had to check it out. This involved stairs. Then we noticed the full moon. Wow! This Hallstatt place had everything!

Yes, we were having a good time. Jer and I eventually made our way back to the lakefront and toward our hotel. We settled on a biergarten right on the lake with a prominent claim of having apple strudel. They also had colored lanterns so they had my vote. We split the strudel and another Austrian dessert: chopped up pancake with stewed plums. It was really, really good.

The day was pretty much done after that. The temperature was dropping. Jer suggested we go out in the middle of the night for the stargazing, but once the near full moon came out that idea was scrapped. We were tired, too. And we anticipated the next day would be full.


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