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.