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We awoke to 34 degrees Fahrenheit and looked down from our hotel room balcony on a clear glassy blue lake whose shores licked the base of tall mountain peaks. Swans swam the shores. We got back under our warm down duvets and snoozed again. Eating a late breakfast, we determined to spend the day leisurely in Hallstatt and not slide down the shoots into the world’s oldest salt mine, or take the cable car up to see the peaks of the Tyrol and a mountain glacier or visit the skull cemetery, but rather just soak in the beauty of the town on the cliffs by the lake. And soak it up we did. God willing, we can return for the other activities another time.
I discovered Hallstatt by searching the internet about Europe’s prettiest villages or Top 10 things to see in Europe or Austria and such, and the name Hallstatt, Austria, appeared often. So onto the itinerary it went. We soon knew why so many love the city and the surrounding lake and mountains. While the main street is relatively flat as it runs along the lake, the village reaches up the cliffs for businesses and homes. Stone or wooden staircases cling to rock cliffs or tunnel into the rock for upward mobility. Homes and shops are built on solid rock foundations, and boulders protrude through some. The buildings and homes have thick wooden shingles and are painted in pastels. Gardens are planted wherever possible and flower boxes with flowers blooming profusely adorn almost every building. Thick green moss clings to walkways and railings and roof shingles. The “white gold” salt made the region wealthy, and while the mines are no longer major producers, salt in one form or another is found in most shops. Two beautiful churches adorn the city’s skyline, one Lutheran/Protestant and the other Roman Catholic. A waterfall drops into the mid- point of the city, and the lake and mountains are always in view. We walked the narrow lanes and dropped into shops that caught our attention. We watched a wood craftsman at work on his lathe. Later in the day, we dined in a lakeside restaurant under a huge tree whose leaves were now turning yellow as the fall approaches–lake fish soup and cheese dumpling soup, beef goulash with spaetzle and roast breast of duck with red cabbage and cranberries and, of course, the local beer. As usual, mine was weis (blond or light colored) and Kathy’s dunkel (dark). As they say, opposites attract.
As the evening approached we headed back to our hotel, relaxed and refreshed on a day when the sun shone brightly and the temperature was a mild 64F. WEG – Monday, September 21, 2015
Almost immediately after we left Munich for Austria via train we began an upward ascent. It took some doing, however. Germany closed its border both from and to Austria due to the crisis of refugee/immigrants, which the European media is now reporting is less than 20% from Syria’s war-torn provinces and mostly people (young men) seeking better opportunity in the west, meaning northern Europe and mainly Germany. Our train was cancelled, and after standing in an information line in the Hauptbahnhof (main or central train station) for awhile, we were reassigned a new route which could get us into Austria. The rub was that now we had to make four transfers and add another five hours to our travel. At least we were able to use our original tickets “no questions asked” even if we were now on different trains and times than the original tickets stated. So off to the new train we went, and soon found that all the first class seats were pre-reserved (we had reserved seats on our original schedule which did not work on the new train) and the tourist class was standing room only. Kathy noticed that the train had a dining car and immediately went for a table. We stuffed our luggage behind our seats and sat down to a linen covered table with comfortable chairs and ordered breakfast as the train began an ascent into the German highlands. No room in first class soon meant nothing.
Upward and upward we went as our trains eventually took us into the Austrian Tyrol. Amazing sights unfolded before our eyes: mountains of raw timber covering acre upon acre ready for some application to industry or home use; tidy farms with cattle grazing on the hillside–how do those cattle seem to stand so effortlessly on such steep hills; corn fields almost ready for harvest; bright yellow fields with some crop of which I have yet to discover the name; neatly stacked cords of wood by barns and homes ready for winter fires; dark thick forests extending into the horizon; mountain lakes with cozy villages with tall-steepled or onion-domed churches, usually white or yellow, nudging against the waters. Gradually, as we ascended higher and higher, the steep green hills and farms disappeared and the forests receded, roof pitches on buildings became steeper and jagged mountain peaks appeared. We had moved into the high mountain Tyrol, and it was awesome!
Both sides of the train held extraordinary views. I was almost dizzy from going back and forth. Then, amidst all that beauty, came something even more beautiful. On our car was a pretty Austrian mother, cradling her infant daughter in her lap, with a three-year-old son as blond as blond can be and big blue eyes looking on as she read a children’s story book in German and softly sang while caressing her daughter’s cheek. Time both stood still and warped–what my mother did for me and Kathy did for our children and they for theirs, as I am sure is also true for you, and as it was being done before me then and there as the train moved past one mountain peak to another and across rivers and by lakes until we arrived at our destination high in the Tyrol. WEG – Sunday, September 20, 2015
A postscript – As we post this blog, our travel companions, Rhonda & Allen Krahn, have returned safely home to Texas, and Dan & Charlotte Berg are flying over the East Coast of the continental United States on their way back to Houston.
What a day in Munich! Saturday, September 19, was the opening day of Munich’s 2015 Oktoberfest that will last through October 3. Since we were told the crowds were humongous, we opted to go later in the day and use a secondary train stop rather than the popular Theresienwiesen stop. It was a good choice.
With an open schedule in the morning, we visited the Schloss Nymphenburg, the Baroque palace on the outskirts of Munich that was the main summer residence of the former rulers of Bavaria, and is now a state historical site. The grounds were impressive; flowers surrounded man-made lakes where swans and wild geese swam above and large carp swam below. The palace was designed in an impressive array of inter-connected buildings that formed an oval, enclosing a beautiful park festooned with colorful floral plantings. The main entry gallery, the Great Hall, was stunning with its pastel-colored fresco paintings encased in elaborate baroque frames of gold and white. Huge crystal chandeliers hung from the frescoed ceiling. Ludwig II, “the mad King,” was baptized in this Great Hall. The rear gardens were even more impressive than the front gardens since clipped hedges, mass flower plantings in full bloom, statuary and fountains stretched as far as the eye could see.
As we wandered the palace, we stumbled upon the rooms that contained the royal carriages through the centuries. The Marstallmuseum (Museum of Carriages and Sleighs in the former Royal Stables) houses a collection of historic state coaches, ceremonial sleighs and riding equipment. The carriage of Emperor Charles VII was gold and massive, exuding strength while the golden carriage of Ludwig II was ornate and whimsical, portraying his love of opera. What surprised us most, however, was the collection of horse-drawn sleighs. Some were constructed of ornate wood with Bavarian paintings on the side. Others were gold with elaborate golden decorations and lamps. The seats were fur-lined. We were able to observe archivists meticulously restoring one sleigh. After walking through the porcelain gallery containing the table settings and decorative arts that surrounded the royalty on a daily basis, we headed off to the Oktoberfest grounds, the Theresienwiesen.
It was easy to know where to go since thousands were headed in the same direction. The vast majority of folks were wearing the lederhosen (men) or dirndls (women) that is traditional Bavarian dress. The Oktoberfest was boisterous and packed with people. We went into a couple of the tents (that hold up to ten thousand people) to hear the bands playing “oompa” music and watch the “Gemütlichkeit” (camaraderie, fellowship, warmth and friendship) of the singing crowds. “Ein prosit, ein prosit, Gemütlichkeit” and our day at the Oktoberfest was done. We spent the evening at the famous beer and Bavarian food house, the Hofbrauhaus eating crisp pork shank and potato dumplings along with the smooth Hofbrau beer (HB). We sat in the rustically ornate and huge upper dining room, as the beer garden and lower rustic rooms were packed. The band, dressed in Bavarian clothing, played as we ate. It was early to bed since the Bergs are flying to Rome early in the morning to catch their scheduled plane home. And, good news, Allen is out of the hospital, and plans are being made for Allen and Rhonda’s return home. WEG – Saturday, September 19, 2015
Taking the ferry out of Lerici along the Mediterranean coast to the Cinque Terra (five lands/cities that time forgot) we were immediately impressed with how clear and clean and blue the waters of the sea were. The five cities with their pastel buildings scrunched together along the crags of the cliffs above the water stood out like jewels above the deep blue. The water was calm and the ferry could dock at port–not always a possibility. We were blessed.
The day was one of relaxing. We took time to eat our wonderful breakfast at our hotel before heading out. It was a bountiful buffet, displayed with elegance. My favorites were the salamis and cheeses and the puff pastry filled with Nutella. I took time to use the unusual orange juice machine that was filled with fresh oranges that rolled down a shoot to be squeezed automatically–truly a work of mechanical expertise, and the fresh juice was fantastic. The tables were covered with linen and fine utensils and the balcony looked over the bay that was bobbing with sail boats. Lunch was taken at our favorite Cinque Terra restaurant, the Belvedere, in the village of Monterroso. Because we had eaten there previously on other visits, the waitress recognized me. That was cool! We ordered our favorite, pesto fettuccine–it is still fabulous!
One of the reasons we return here and to Italy, in fact, is that friends want to go, and they know we “know the ropes” and the sites. We enjoy seeing sites we love through the eyes of others. Today, the Berg’s and the Krahn’s declared it to be a grand day! WEG – September 7, 2015
This was cooking class day in Tuscany for the six travelers from Tomball, Texas. We took a morning stroll through Florence learning about the food history and food traditions in Tuscany. Our American stereotypes are so wrong. “Less is more” is the Italian thinking when it comes to food ingredients. Oregano is rarely used in Italian cuisine. Rosemary is more prevalent. Chicken is not used with pasta, ever. Coffee is not “to go” since you are served a small amount in a glass cup strongly brewed, and you drink it at the counter. Mozzarella that is sold in America grated in a bag is not Italian mozzarella and is a fake reproduction, since real mozzarella is fresh and too soft to be grated. Pumpkin and zucchini flowers are used in many Italian food preparations. We walked the central market and learned about Italian cuts of meat and why rabbit is preferred to chicken on menus.
Later, we took a bus to a beautiful Tuscan hillside and entered a wonderful professional kitchen–the entire cookstove had the burners over a well, in which hot water could flow to keep it clean while cooking and to prevent spills and burning that needed to be cleaned later–all the mess simply washed away down a drain in the rear. We all helped prepare our meal from the food purchased on our tour of the market–bruschetta (pronounced broo-skett-uh); pizza cooked in a large outdoor oven for 90 seconds at 800 degrees F; the correct dough for ovens that heat to 500 degrees; tagliatelle with ragu–no salt on the meat until the end and the holy trilogy of onion, celery and carrot sautéed in extra virgin olive oil as the foundation base; Tuscan potatoes and two desserts that we also made–tiramisu and gelato.
We ate our meal overlooking the Tuscan hills chatting with the new acquaintances we had made from Australia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Maryland. It was a great experience, and we have recipes. — September 3, 2015 — WEG