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September 30, 2016
The Tyrolian village of Hallstatt draws one quickly into its charm. The narrow cobblestone streets reveal mountain gingerbread-style houses stacked above each other on the mountainside with the clear and clean lake shimmering on the other side. A waterfall falls in the middle of the city just above the cozy village square. A Lutheran church with a beautiful steeple commands the square, and a Catholic church sits majestically on the hill above. “Picturesque” does not describe the scene adequately enough.
Our group explored the city; yet, other activities also beckoned. Mike and Sandra went to the unique ice caves high above the mountain lake. Not only did they do the remaining strenuous climb after the bus dropped them off, but braved over 500 steps inside the cave to see the ice formations that were like stalactites and stalagmites in regular caves, but made of ice in this cave. Wayne and Kathy took the funicular (a cross between an elevator and cog train) up the mountain to the world’s oldest salt mine. 7,000 years of production have brought wealth through the ages to Hallstatt and still today, 300,000 tons of salt are produced annually. Riding a run-away salt mine train inside the cave and sliding down steep 100 yard slicker slides into the mine depths were exciting parts of the journey. We did not know we had bought tickets for amusement park rides, but in reality, these activities were a part of the miners’ everyday existence. Allen, Rhonda and Sherlene went to the Bone Museum, where they viewed old skulls, displayed with the name of each deceased carefully inscribed for public view. Because usable land is scarce in Hallstatt, those who have been dead the longest are dug up, the bones dried and sculls inscribed, in order to make room for new bodies in the grave site. Sherlene took one look and fled the site. Allen took pictures and Rhonda looked for long lost relatives.
It was a fascinating day in one of the prettiest places on this planet. WEG
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