Last time we reported on our upcoming route, we were in the middle of trying to decide whether to go south to see a couple castles in Tirol or briefly east to Salzburg Austria before crossing into Italia. We decided to go East. We may have time to swing by the castles on our way back to Frankfurt, but if not we’ll add them to our growing list of places we’d love to come back to.
On Thursday afternoon, we caught a train west to Salzburg. On the way, we decided to pass right through to a town called Hallstatt, where they’ve been mining salt since since 800bc.
Upon arrival in Salzburg, we rushed to buy tickets to Hallstatt, as it can be stressful finding a last-minute place to stay in a new place after dark in a foreign language. Perhaps we rushed too much, because after we couldn’t find a train or platform number on our surprisingly cheap tickets, we were informed that they were not train tickets, but bus tickets. Huh.
So we took the bus to Bad Ischl, where we then were able to catch the train to Hallstatt. On the way, we fell in love with Austria a bit. Most of the scenery was mountains, farms, gondolas, but somehow it all looked so… Austrian. I can’t explain. The fog that had settled over us in Rothenburg never lifted, and as we travelled through the Austrian countryside among the clouds, all the scenery faded to gray in the most surreal way.
As the train pulled away after we got off at Hallstatt, we noticed that there was no train station… Or town. Just a little wooden staircase down to a dock on a lake. A little panic would have settled in if we were the only ones who got off the train. As luck would have it, there were a few others.
Across the lake, there was a town. Steep roofs, crowded onto the shore, and two steeples poking through the fog. As Brian and I aimed and shot several dozen photos of what may be the most beautiful scene I’ve ever witnessed, the clouds opened up and it started to rain.
Before long, a little white boat named Stefanie came along. We paid two Euros each (just over three Canadian dollars) to climb aboard.
By the time we got to the little town across the lake, it was absolutely POURING rain. The little town looked like a painting – steep little houses stacked against a steep mountainside. Cobble-stone streets and steps trickling between the buildings were covered in thick green moss, and curling clouds lay in the trees just above. The roofs seemed suited to protect against heavy snow, but all we could see was rain. Rivers poured off the roofs, into the narrow streets. Soaked to the bone, we grinned and said, “this is such a beautiful place, we don’t mind.” At least we weren’t terribly cold. Yet.
The hotel we were hoping to stay at was full. As we sloshed down the street looking for a “zimmer frei” (room available) sign, we started to fear the worst. This is obviously a tiny town. There are a limited number of beds. What if you really do have to book in advance here?
Then we spotted a tiny white house with a zimmer frei sign in the garden. We rang the doorbell and a little old woman answered.
She smiled and nodded. Put on her slippers and picked up her umbrella. She led us around the outside of her house and up the stairs to a tiny room to which we smiled and nodded and said, “Ja, ja!”, so glad to have found a dry bed to sleep in! The price was good, included breakfast, and oh yeah – it didn’t have a heater. We thought this may be the last bed in town, and were too cold and wet to be picky.
We hung some of our wet clothes to dry, but when backpacking, one doesn’t carry many sweaters. We had no choice but to keep wearing some of our dripping wet clothes. We went out in search of dinner with the idea that if we drink enough we won’t feel cold anymore. We didn’t wind up drinking much, so we made a blanket cucoon in bed and were warm enough to sleep, but not much.
The next day we wandered all over town taking pictures (which you’ll see on flickr when we get home), and took a tour of the salt mine. In Order to get up the mountain, we rode a funicular – which is like a gondola on tracks – a tiny car runs straight up the side of the mountain at a terrifying angle. The track is behind me in the photo above.
While in Hallstatt, we read more and became more enamoured with Austria. There have been a few moments where I’ve said “forget Italy, let’s just stay in Austria and Germany.”
By the time we left Hallstatt, we knew we had to see Vienna. It was never part of the plan – it was out of our way. But we had to.
So on Friday afternoon we caught Stephanie out of Hallstatt and a train to Vienna.
Vienna was as amazing as we thought it would be – so much of me wants to babble on about it as well.
However, it is currently twenty past midnight on Sunday, and I am typing this one letter at a time from Brian’s iPhone in a sleeper cabin on a train to Venice. We left Vienna at 8:40pm Saturday and will arrive in Venice at 8:45am on Sunday.
We can type these blog postings anywhere along the way, but can only post when we find wi-fi. We miss you all terribly, and dad – please tell our kitties we love them and we’ll be home to give them scritches and cuddles before too long. We hope all is well back home, and we’ll post more as soon as we can!