Germany Austria May 2018: The mirror lakes Konigssee and Obersee

Our original German road trip was to cover the Romantic Road, the German Alpine road and end in Berchtesgaden, at the border of Germany and Austria. When the Grossglockner high alpine road and Salzburg entered our plans, we had to tweak our route a bit. Finally, we drove down the Romantic Road (Germany Austria May 2018-The unromantic Romantic Road with the very romantic towns), down south to Mittenwald and into Austria, before reentering Germany to drop off our car and hence avoid huge surcharges. As a bonus, we got to visit Berchtesgaden that had gotten cruelly pushed off the itinerary.

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Our trusted car Volkswagen Golf from Sixt rentals

Alright, we really went there because I was desperate to see the stunning mirror lake Obersee, that the hubby had heard rave reviews about from a friend (lucky for me, as I didn’t have to persuade him to go here!) We did have to drop the car off at Freilassing, across the border from Salzburg, and then we took a regional train to Berchtesgaden. Unfortunately, we were used to the extreme convenience of the car and hadn’t realised the difficulty of public transport, which is really what spoiled the day for us.

Getting to Lake Konigssee involved a train and bus change and long waits for both, which translated to 3 hours to reach the much desired lake. Once at the beautiful lake (the most beautiful of all those we visited), worried by the pace of Berchtesgaden and the long wait-times everywhere, we didn’t bother to grab lunch, but hopped onto the first boat we saw.

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This turned out to be a bad move because the boat took a good hour one-way, which meant that we stayed hungry for very long. But we were not to know that. At that moment, we were very happy to get onto anything that was waiting for us instead of the other way round.

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The pier with the wooden boats

Despite the heat and the sun, and the hunger, the stunning lake with brilliantly green and turquoise coloured water, surrounded by towering cliffs was enough to lift everyone’s mood.

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Rows of boat houses lined the lake, that reflected the deep green of the trees

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A duck accompanied us for a short part of our journey

Lake Konigssee is a glacial lake at one end of the Berchtesgaden national park. It’s different from most lakes of the region as it’s surrounded by tall fjord like mountains that seem to rise almost vertically from the lake. The lake itself is narrow and long and there is little wind as it’s all so tightly locked in. This makes for beautiful reflections of the surroundings onto the water.

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Only electric boats are allowed in these waters. The entire perimeter of the lake is the national park and mountains so there is no walking track or habitation around the lake. There are only 2 stops on the lake, from where people can hike into the park. Naturally, one would expect complete peace. Instead, we had a boat full of yakking tourists and this “peace-loving” man!

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As we went deeper into the lake, there was nothing to be seen but the mountains and the waters. Soon the snow-covered peaks came into view, forming one distant edge of the lakes.

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It was too stunning to describe, too stunning to capture on camera. But sadly the peace was broken by the boatman starting a commentary in German. It must have been amusing, because everyone who could understand it was laughing away, but for me, it was an intrusion into my mental space. So I drowned out the noises and concentrated on the locales around me instead.

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What a place to unwind

At some point of the way to the first stop, we were completely surrounded by mountains. Here, the boatman took us closer to one side and stilled the motor. He clambered out onto the steps we’d used to get onto the ship. The kid was petrified looking at him. He then picked up a flugelhorn (trumpet) and played a few notes. The same notes echoed back. Perfectly. He continued playing, a tougher set of notes progressively and the echo would mirror it perfectly. It was like listening to a beautiful song where one verse was loud and the next soft. It was the most amazing part of the day. When he finished, I’m sure that no one wanted him to stop. It was so magical that I didn’t even record it, I just sat transfixed. That lilting melody is still playing in my head as I write today. These few minutes were worth the entire day trip.

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That wonderful fuzzy feeling stayed with all of us for a very long time there onSuddenly there came a gasp from all the people in the front. The onion domed red-roofed church of St Bartholomew came into view. 

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The famous pilgrimage church is where the bulk of the passengers got off. We didn’t disembark as we wanted to reach the last stop before the predicted rain, but we ended up missing an important lunch stop.

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Looking back to the church as we moved ahead

The boat moved deeper towards the end. The mountains were less green here, steeper, taller and the sky bluer. A waterfall could be seen at one side. This area was wider but the water stiller, brilliantly mirroring the mountains and skies. Since the boatman was no longer talking, it was very enjoyable and we loved this portion of the ride.

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Soon, we reached Salet, the last stop. The waters were crystal clear, a few children were feeding fish and the boats were anchored to the pier.

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We saw lots of families with small kids and dogs walking to lake Obersee, a 20 minute walk from the boat dock. I was surprised by the huge numbers of people in this tiny place. People were resting on the grass or sitting on rocks. There was a general cheer in the atmosphere. I think the weather that we found hot, sunny and unbearable was pleasant and wonderful to the locals and they were having a blast.

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We crossed over this little stream, hoping the lake was worth the “trek”, not realising that hunger and thirst contributed in a huge way to our exhaustion. And then, we just stopped in our tracks as we came upon Lake Obersee.

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The still lake completely mirrored the surroundings. The famous wooden chalet on the lake made me wish I could break in and stay here. It was totally shaded and very very pretty.

But very tragically, Instagram had made this quiet abode of nature a selfie paradise. This tiny, really tough-to-reach lake was packed with tourists, yakking away. The line to get onto the little wooden path to the chalet was crazily long. Disgusted, we walked a little further, on the trek towards the waterfall, till we were adequately far away from the madding crowd. Here we stood in a few minutes of silence, trying to enjoy the atmosphere.

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A pair of ducks swam by as we stood there alone. The kid clambered onto a rock jutting out from the water and enjoyed the calm. However, even this moment of peace was short-lived. Some people saw her perched on the rock and rushed here, making us rush off. We walked on towards the waterfall, but it was a long way off and we were too hungry to walk on further, so we turned back.

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We walked back to the ferry pier with ice creams to help us along. But the German eis had spoiled us and the Magnum bars we got here just didn’t live up to the brilliant eis we’d had elsewhere. Back on the ferry, the kid was very disappointed to see a muzzled dog. What with the horse-carriages and the muzzled dogs, our animal rights activist was on a roll.

I wanted to get off at the stop of the church but the kid was very hungry so we simply continued back. As the boat pushed away from the pier, the reflection of the onion domed church in the water glittered in the lake.

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The journey back seemed faster and very different. Dark clouds rolled in and I was surprised to see waves in the waters. The lake seemed to mirror the darker skies.

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We were so hungry by the time we reached the shore that we hurriedly downed our food without bothering to take pictures. A light rain fell, bringing much needed respite from the sun and made the long wait for the bus (es) back more bearable.

Undoubtedly, Lake Koniggsee and Obersee were the most beautiful lakes we saw on this trip. It was sad that local transport was so challenging here, which really spoilt our day. I’m sure we would have been better off driving here and dropping the car off on our way back, or staying in Berchtesgaden, which certainly looked like a small charming town.

Yet, I can’t complain. I got to see the lake that I badly had wanted to, and this image will stay imprinted on my mind forever.

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Germany Austria May 2018: An evening in Salzburg

Despite spending 3 nights in Salzburg, we had spent 2 days on trips outside the town, so this last day at Salzbug was the marathon Salzburg sightseeing day. We’d already roamed the old town in the morning (Germany Austria May 2018: Salzburg) and gone on the Panorama Sound of music tour in the afternoon (Germany Austria May 2018: Revisiting the Sound of Music in Salzburg). We finished the tour at Mirabell gardens, where we roamed about for a tiny bit and then headed straight to our hotel, as the hubby and kid were tired. I was keen on seeing the city by night, so I quickly freshened up and headed out alone to the old town. Big mistake. I should have set off from Mirabell itself to save some time and a long walk.

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This time I crossed the first bridge near my hotel so as to avoid the delinquents lolling about on our side near the river. The sun was lower now, a cool breeze was blowing and the unbearable heat of the afternoon was gone. Families were out and children were playing in a small park. Houses were built into the mountainside, the mountain itself being a back wall. 

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The opposite bank had a larger walking path and many more people. The setting sun lent a golden glow to the whole place.

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I walked over my beloved love lock bridge and (naturally) took lots of pictures.

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Walking along without much of a plan, I stumbled into a quaint square that led me into the old town.

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It opened straight onto the well-lit Getreidegasse. With more time at hand, I enjoyed looking at the beautiful wrought iron signs above the shops.

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Apparently, in the middle ages, people were fairly illiterate, so signboards had to represent what the shop sold. The street has maintained the same rule even in the 21st century!

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Surprisingly, this was a clothing store. How can one guess this?

 

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Some signs were remarkably ornate

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Church of St Blaise at one end of the street

I suddenly remembered that I had to see Salzburg in the setting sun from the Monchsberg elevator. I followed the walking route of Google maps but it didn’t show me anything. I hunted about the empty alley but found no signboards or people to talk to. I was about to give up when I saw a shady doner shop, and rushed in, but the counter guy didn’t understand the words elevator, top of mountain or museum of modern art. Finally, in despair, I asked if he knew the lift and he grinned and pointed the way to a glistening shiny building. I found it! I quickly bought a ticket and rushed up the lift to the terrace and this stunning view of Salzburg in the twilight.

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The viewing terrace is a very narrow small platform outside the museum of modern art and there were very few people up here. The view of the entire town with the sun illuminating the fortress was well worth the effort to get here. The restaurant at a higher level was so tempting, but I was too full with the apple strudel.

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Reflection of the fortress in the glass walls of the restaurant

I waited for the colours of the sky to change  and just enjoyed the breeze ruffling my hair.

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My heart satisfied, I went back down to walk through old town. It looked so different from the morning. There were a handful of people about, it was very quiet. A golden glow had settled over the town.

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Quaint cafes along small roads

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I wanted to visit the cathedral at leisure, but sadly, it was already shut.

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Residenz square with the Triton fountain was the only place well lit

Salzburg wasn’t a well illuminated town. Nor were there many people about. So, I started walking back out of the old town, towards my hotel.

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I got a little lost trying to get out, so I took longer than I’d anticipated and it was fairly dark by the time I got out of the old town.

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Last glance at the fortress and old town Salzburg

I knew that the path beside the river wouldn’t be safe anymore, so I chose to walk down a large road. Even that was empty and quiet, especially as I walked further away from the central area.

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Once again, I felt unsafe, despite the numbers of cars whizzing by. I sped up and hurriedly reached the hotel, and admired the Salzach river and the reflections of the opposite bank in it.

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Beautiful, yes. Scary, yes. Worth the walk, certainly. Yet, Salzburg somehow disappointed me. I found it a town more photogenic in the pictures than in reality. I can’t explain why, but that’s how I felt. But that night, I really couldn’t dwell on this, as we had to pack and leave for Munich the next day.

P.S. Salzburg is one of the safest cities in the world. It’s crime rate is very very low. It’s possible that my paranoia stems from the fact that I live in Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, and am used to a constant hustle and bustle. That can be the reason why I don’t enjoy European towns by night, they are way too empty for my comfort.

Germany Austria May 2018: Revisiting the Sound of Music in Salzburg

“The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears”

I grew up with the Sound of Music, like almost all 70’s kids (and 80’s and 90’s). I fell in love with Austria, music, songs, Captain von Trapp, Maria and Gretl, but most of all, with the romance of the entire movie. My teenage idea of love were Maria’s implausible story. So naturally, when we suddenly slotted in Salzburg, we had to book a Sound of Music guided tour (SoM from now on) through Panorama tours.

Most outdoor scenes were shot in and around Salzburg, but the guided tour didn’t cover Salzburg old town. The Aldstadt sights we saw by ourselves. As we hadn’t seen the movie before going, there were quite a few areas that we didn’t recognize, but we saw the movie after coming back and revisited our trip with a lot of “oohs”, “aahs”, and “that’s where this was shot” squeals.

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For example, we encountered this horse bath during our mad dash from the Monschberg ridge to Mirabell gardens, and just liked what we saw, but realised that Maria and the children had danced about it in “My favorite things.”

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The mint colored domes as Maria runs through Salzburg

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The Alte Residenz is where the Nazi flag flutters once the Anscluss (German possession of Austria) occurs

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“I have confidence in confidence alone!
Besides, which you see, I have confidence in me!”

Words to form the backbone of years to come rang through my mind as I saw this fountain where Maria regains her confidence.

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Maria and the kids rode a horse carriage through the pretty streets of Salzburg while learning Do-re-mi but my considerate kid was appalled by the misuse of animals. Proud of her!

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Nonnberg abbey, where Maria was training to be a nun is the red domed building. It’s still an abbey and no one can enter it

Panorama’s original SoM tour took us to see the less accessible locations of shooting. My last post ended with our running to Mirabell gardens where the tour was to start (Germany Austria May 2018: Salzburg) and we just reached the Panorama tours spot in the nick of time, when we realised that the entire area was cordoned off because of the marathon. No vehicles were allowed here, no instructions were posted on the Panorama board, no one picked up at the Panorama phone center as it was a Sunday. I was heartbroken and had almost given up when the hubby saw the bright red bus far off and we rushed there.

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There were 4 busl oads that sunny afternoon. Panorama makes huge money for sure! We hadn’t had lunch and armed with some (lousy) bakery stuff, we plonked ourselves in the bus, relieved to have air-conditioning and some rest for our tired calves.

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The lonely goatherd and Lisa (our pretty guide) drove us out of Salzburg towards the living hills. Considering that half the roads were blocked, the driver did an amazing job of maneuvering the huge bus through the narrow claustrophobic lanes. I felt relieved once he was out of the town. We drove straight to the Leopoldskrunn palace, where the captain sees his children in the boat and they all fall into the lake. It was so perfect a sight, the large man-made lake with tall trees around, the fortress far behind and the perfectly white palace reflected in the lake. I could have happily sat on a picnic bench here for hours doing nothing but taking in the view.

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All the scenes on the terrace between captain, Maria and the kids were shot on the outdoor veranda of this beautiful house, which is now a hotel. Even the grand ballroom has been inspired by an actual room in the palace.

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Note the two lions at the edge of the water, near the fence. That’s where all those scenes were shot, especially when the boat capsizes. The amazing thing about the scene that follows is that it’s a continuous conversation between Maria and the captain. The scenes of the captain were shot in this palace and the scenes worth Maria were shot in a yellow building 10 km away and then they were put together. Ah the magic of film making.

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The von Trapp house was a canary yellow villa 10 kilometres away. It is now a music school and we only drove past it, we couldn’t even run down the long driveway and pretend to be the “urchins” hanging out of the trees.

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The budding romance between Liesl and Rolf was very charming, but for me, the love story between the Captain and Maria was infinitely better. So I was thrilled to see the gazebo where both couples professed their love, singing, “16 going on 17” and “Something good”.

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“So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good”

It would be so gorgeous in the moonlight, especially if it were still in the lawns of the white lakeside palace where it was during the actual shooting. It has been moved to Hellbrunn palace, the summer residence of the Archbishop of Salzburg. . On this bright sunny Sunday it seemed as though the whole of Salzburg had accumulated here. Kids were running about, parents were pushing their strollers, dogs were panting in the heat and flowers bloomed everywhere.

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It also housed the trick fountains, a naughty entertainment for the archbishop. He’d invite prominent people for lunch and had water outlets below their chairs that would be intermittently turned on during the meal. Not to let his highness down, the palace now had a huge trick fountains section to spray unsuspecting visitors.

From here, we drove out to the Salzkammergut, with rolling hills, meadows as far as the eye can see, lakes surrounded by quaint towns and the alps rising majestically are all around. It’s actually a place where one can stay for a week, cycle about and chill. To help enjoy the ride and loosen up for the “merry singing” bit of the tour, the driver had beer, chilled water and a yodelling drink for the self-conscious.

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We were lucky enough to have driven through a small part of it on a rainy day from Hallstatt to Salzburg. I could totally understand how the composer thought of the song, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

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The lakes of the Salzkammergut are the biggest draw. We drove past Lake Fuschl, the lake of the rich and famous, where the Austrian celebrities and who’s who owned properties.

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This bright sunny day of the SoM tour, we drove past this lake, which looked so different in the sunshine.

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Since we were not the ones driving, I actually enjoyed this drive more. The tiny villages and pretty houses looked so alluring and I felt so bad about the fleeting visit.

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While I spent my time looking around me, enjoying the environs of the beautiful land, the hubby spent his drive-free time enjoying the environs of the bus.

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While the hubby slept blissfully, Lisa (bored of the trivia maybe) played track after track of the movie, urging us to sing along while she didn’t. Apparently, SoM is not a huge sensation in Austria, just good money for the tour. So we should pardon Lisa for not sharing our enthusiasm.

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Shortly, we drove up to Lake Wolfgangsee, a huge lake nestled amidst the mountains. People were out in hordes at the lake front, yachts were sailing on the lake and paragliders were enjoying the respite from the rain.

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This looked like such a wonderful place to stay, the houses sloping upwards from the lake up to the road itself, all looking onto the lake. There are 2 towns on this lake, St Wolfgang itself and St Gilgen, both of which looked like wonderful places to stay at and I had strongly considered staying here and day tripping to Salzburg, instead of the other way round.

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As we drove on, Lisa pointed out the super glamorous Red Bull headquarters to us. While we all sighed in unison, the kid piped up, “Mummy this is where I’m going to work.” Kids today are too smart. We chose our profession first and then everything just happened. Today’s generation chooses the destination first and then works towards it. 

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As we drove on singing along softly to the songs, I really wished we had a more enthusiastic bunch of people on the bus. They were all prim and proper and no one was hollering along. Even when the lonely goatherd played, no one yodelled. I think they all needed more of the yodelling ale.

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A pretty villa owned by a man who bought the entire area, and then the adjoining little lake as well

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We passed by fields of green with yellow wildflowers.

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And admired the brilliantly blue lakes with boats bobbing on them.

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And then, finally, we reached Lake Mondsee, the longest halt, to see the cathedral where Maria and the Captain were married.

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In the movie, Maria gets married in the abbey, but the actual wedding scene was inside this cathedral. The exterior was never seen.

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Remember Maria walking down in the floaty white dress and long veil. It was shot right here, without the pews.

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I could picture Maria gliding up the steps and kneeling before the priest with the Captain. This was my favorite scene after the Ländler dance where Maria dances with the Captain.

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The old town pedestrian-only part of Mondsee was charming as could be with a lane of multi coloured buildings and gorgeous shop windows.

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We were so terribly hungry that we had to eat something here, pizza for the kid, the famed apple strudel for me.

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It was truly the best apple strudel I’ve had so far, made even better by the fact that I had to share it with no one! While the kid finished her pizza, I strolled about the pretty town.

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We’d seen a huge line of people outside an icecream store, both on our way to and back from the town and we wondered if he was doling it out for free.

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Of all the towns I’d seen in Austria, Hallstatt and Mondsee stole my heart the most. I will certainly return to the Salzkammergut someday.

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As we walked back to the bus, we came across an Indian couple posing in a grass meadow like Rose and Dawson in the Titanic. I wanted to take pictures but the “nice” kid stopped me. We got into the bus and set back for Salzburg, with a last look at lake Mondsee.

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The drive back to Salzburg was not through the hills but on the autobahn, a terrible disappointment for me. Lisa played a short movie about the filming of SoM in Salzburg narrated by Liesl. Swiftly, we reached Mirabell gardens, a palace with large lawns built by the Archbishop for his wife.

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We stood at the entrance to the gardens on the Do-Re-Mi steps where Maria and the kids sing and dance, but it was so crowded that we could only take one picture of the beautifully designed garden lawns with the green domes of the old town and the fortress in the background.

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Apparently, the gardeners change the floral patterns and the flowers that they plant all the time so none of the pictures look identical.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, shot just 15 days after my visit

Since we were completing the SoM tour, we had to walk on the parapet of the Pegasus fountain (where Maria and the kids dance).

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And run and jump through the vine-covered tunnels.

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Jump about a fountain surrounded by statues.

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Pat a dwarf or two.

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Or simply admire the pretty flowers.

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Just a fortnight later, my brother-in-law was greeted by a garden of brilliantly red roses.

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Despite the obvious beauty of these places, I didn’t love the SoM tour. Maybe the guide and group weren’t engaging enough, maybe the hot day and lack of food put me off. Most of all, I think it was the cast that made the film so wonderful, and that’s what was missing; the handsome Captain, the bubbly Maria and the adorable kids. That’s what I missed the most, the magic of Hollywood.

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye”

Germany Austria May 2018: Salzburg

Salzburg wasn’t on my original itinerary. We were supposed to go to Berlin from Munich. Somewhere during the planning stages, my brother-in-law waxed eloquent about Salzburg, Yogesh pointed out that Salzburg was much closer, and hubby loved the idea of nature over history. That’s how we ended up spending 3 nights in Salzburg.

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We stayed at a hotel right at the river Salzach 20 minutes from the old town, yet spent only one day and evening seeing the town itself, the other 2 days were busy on day trips to Hallstatt and Berchtesgaden. Whilst this wasn’t a good move, Salzburg didn’t enthrall us enough to need longer. Was I wrong about that? Maybe.

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Stepping out of the hotel to this view

The day we toured Salzburg was the day of the Salzburg marathon. A lot of streets were cordoned off, police and volunteers lined the roads, and locals were out in full form to support the runners. We’d seen a few runners in the morning from our bedroom window but it was much more exciting to be down on the road amidst the fun. A band was playing on the porch of our hotel and mothers with children were lined up. The kids  were super enthusiastic and hopping up and down, cheering and clapping as the runners passed by. They held out their arms to high-five the runners too.

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We walked along the Salzach river towards the old town, with the towering Festung Hohensalzburg (Salzburg Fortress) as our guide. The roads were filled with supporters and the atmosphere was electric. The kid and I danced along as we took in the sight of the pretty pastel houses lining the riverfront.

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Many bridges crossed over the river that was once an important trade route for salt, mined in the many mines around Salzburg. In fact that’s what the town was named after, the fortress of salt. To reach there, we crossed over the padlocked Makartsteg bridge that seemed to sparkle under the bright sunlight.

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I love bridges with locks, j’adore. So it’s natural that I spent maximum time on the bridge where locking your lock and throwing away the key ensures a lifetime of happiness together. I thought that walking over this bridge was truly a romantic start to touring a romantic town.

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On the new town side of Salzburg stood the famous hotel Sacher, inventor of the Sacher torte. Unfortunately, the iconic hotel was under renovation, but it sure summed up my ideology in life.

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We crossed the bridge and passed through an archway between the pastel buildings to come upon the iconic Mozarts Geburtshaus, the birthplace of the legendary Wolfgang Mozart.

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We chose not to tour the inside (much to the hubby’s relief) and turned our attention to the narrow and crowded main alley of Salzburg, the Getreidegasse.

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The most famous shopping lane of Salzburg, the Getreidegasse houses international fashion chains, coffee shops, traditional stores and even bakeries. However, it wasn’t this high-end street in the olden days. It was initially a Trabe-gasse (for trotting along).

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My sister would have loved this street

Typically, these buildings had narrow houses with windows that became smaller as the floors got higher. Arched pathways connected the front and back of the houses to different buildings and courtyards. These archways and courtyards are the main charm of old town Salzburg, as are the wrought iron signs of the stores.

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Not to forget to mention the shoes. The poor husband had to tear the two women away from this store. Only to see them get stuck at a charming stall and drool over every cute thing present.

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The buildings were ornately decorated in very pleasing colors. I loved this part of Salzburg. Once again, I was impressed by the good-looking pharmacies.

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All lanes lead into one another, and while it’s easy to walk about in circles, getting a little lost is always part of the fun. Though we had the downloaded Rick Steves Salzburg audio tour (since I had so intelligently lost my guide-book on the second day of our trip), Salzburg was just as enjoyable to walk about, come out onto a square and then wonder, “Where are we?”

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Café Tomaselli, the oldest café of Salzburg, frequented by Mozart

And to gawk at gorgeous souvenir shops.

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We walked straight to the main square, the Residenzplatz, that was sadly under restoration. A huge open space, lined by long elaborate buildings, lost a lot of its beauty by cranes and construction material, not to mention the swirls of dust rising up. Despite that, the grandeur of the buildings was not diminished. This main square was once the seat of all power in Salzburg, surrounded by the old and the huge new Residenz and Salzburg cathedral, with the beautiful Horse fountain in the center.

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The square was commissioned by the Archbishop of Salzburg in the 16th century, who had a huge Italian hangover. The fountain has four horses snorting out water, giants and dolphins and is topped by a Triton spewing out water. It was very hot and sunny now, so we rested in a patch of shade while I read aloud from the tour to a disinterested audience. Frustrated by the inattention, I strode off to the next square, Mozartplatz.

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The birthplace of a man who achieved as much as Mozart, for the world and for Salzburg, must have an outstanding monument to commemorate the great man, and we were lucky to see him without the crowds.

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Sadly, in this square of reverence, my pop-addled brain could only sing, “Amadeus, Amadeus, Come and rock me Amadeus” by Falco. Poor Mozart must be turning in his grave. This was pure blasphemy. Then I looked about at the square lined by souvenir shops and Mozart chocolates and thought that there was enough blasphemy around anyways.

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Mozart-balls, chocolates named after Mozart, an Austrian speciality

I saw a building with a large mural that resembled the sign of a pharmacy and thought it was yet another decorated pharmacy. However, it was a huge sundial on the first drinker’s room in the city.

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The spires of the Salzburg cathedral beckoned and I was keen on seeing the mightiest Romanesque cathedral north of the Alps. The Archbishops of Salzburg wanted to make it Rome of the North, which explains 27 churches in just old town and more than 35 in Salzburg. The Salzburg Dom was the grandest of them all, sitting pretty in a corner of Domplatz lined by elegant buildings and filled with horse carriages.

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The Virgin Mary statue seemed to face away from the cathedral. It was only when I read the guidebook that I went to the far end of the square and stood facing the statue in front of the cathedral and saw the brilliant placement of the statue. The angels seem to be placing the crown on her head. What precise engineering!

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Virgin Mary is surrounded by allegoric figures representing angels, the devil, wisdom, and the Church.

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We entered the church in silence, in reverence for the greatness of the builders, who rebuilt it twice, once after a fire, and again after bombing in World War II, and yet constructed such a masterpiece.

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The service was on and beautiful music filled the church and our hearts and drove Amadeus and Falco out.

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Stunning ceiling art

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Taking photographs and wandering about the church seemed inappropriate, so we sat there quietly, away from the madding crowds outside and simply enjoyed ourselves. Sadly, I never got to go back to this church and I begged my brother-in-law to take lots of pictures for me on his trip, which he certainly did.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, the far end of the cathedral

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, the majestic dome

Lovely candles, my favorite part of churches.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar

Music was ringing in our ears as we stepped out and admired the square when a commotion disturbed us. A huge group of Veena world was trying to negotiate past a huge group of Kesari tours without ending up in the rival group. I sighed a sigh of relief in not being with them, the hubby sighed a sigh of longing.

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We hurriedly rushed into the next square, the Kapitelplatz, with a giant chessboard and a huge golden globe with a man on it. Modern art smack in the center of Baroque Salzburg!

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Look who’s carrying the weight of the world on her dainty hands!

At the other end of the square was a beautiful fountain with Poseidon, the Greek God of the sea, with the fortress towering over it. Such a contrasting view this was!

DSC_3873We turned into yet another narrow alley past some souvenir stalls to reach St Peter’s cemetery to see graves studded with beautiful flowers.

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Edelweiss socks, so cute

Instead, we found ourselves climbing up a steep slope. Without intending to, we were climbing up to the Salzburg fortress, that wasn’t part of the plan. The views as we climbed were certainly worth the tachycardia and the dyspnea.

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See the square with the golden globe and the spires of the cathedral

We weren’t planning to go to the fortress so we walked down from it on the Monschberg ridge to reach the viewing platform over the city near the Monschberg elevator.

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It was so steep that I had to hold the railing on the way down. We walked along the top of the mountain which was a lovely green path with tall trees on both sides. There were very few people on this path but I wanted to reach the famous terrace so I dragged the hubby and the kid along. Enroute, I found many other viewing points with beautiful views over Salzburg.

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This was from a small garden looking onto the other side of Salzburg. For miles ahead stretched green meadows with small pretty houses and the grand Untersberg mountain in the distance.

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People were sitting on benches and the grass, with books or their dogs and just relaxing, sunning themselves. However, we walked on and on, hunting for the terrace. Though there was a lot of tree cover, it was still very hot and sunny. We were hungry and pressed for time as we had to reach the sound of music tour by 2pm (and it was 1pm and we were miles away). The stress was mounting and we were panting while walking at a great speed. The kid was terribly unhappy because she wanted lunch before the tour but now I was worried that we’d miss the tour itself. Suddenly, we came upon a terrace with a beautiful view over Salzburg.

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New town Salzburg across the river with the Sacher hotel under renovation

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The charming old town of Salzburg

This still wasn’t the terrace I was looking for and there were no signboards or people to help. The hubby used Google and found a walking running route to the other side of the Monschberg mountain and through the tunnel to re-enter the old town, cross the bridge and race down to Mirabell gardens to catch our Sound of Music tour.

Thus ended our entertaining morning of sightseeing in Salzburg, in a mad dash. I’m sure we’d have liked it a lot more if it hadn’t been so hot and we hadn’t had to rush through. I did come back later in the evening to see the lit up town but that needs another post as does the sound of music tour, so stay tuned.

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The fairytale town of Hallstatt

“The loveliest lake village in the world is Hallstatt,” 

Alexander Humbolt, 18th century explorer

My agreement with Mr Humbolt resulted in 2 blog posts about “the loveliest”. I think this little town of 1000-strong local population, 2 main streets and walkable from end to end in half hour took up THE maximum camera space, on my camera and the hubby’s phone. And that’s saying something.

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We had parked in the parking lot at one end of the town and walked down to the lake to see the most stunning spectacle. The tiny town sandwiched between the lake and the mountains just took our breath away and we were speechless for a while.

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On this cloudy day, the beautiful blue of the lake contrasted sharply with the dark green trees and the wooden roofs of the houses. Part of the town jutted out into the lake, while the bulk of the town rose upwards along the mountain’s edge.

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Plaque describing doctor and travel writer Franz Satori’s impression of Hallstatt. The town is named after the Celtic word for salt, ‘hal’

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Swans gently swam along the edge, hoping maybe for a crumb of food or just enjoying their time in the water.

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The kid was enthralled by this swan and made all sorts of clicking noises to entice it to come our way. Swans are not native to Hallstattersee, they were brought in to satisfy the whim of Empress Sisi in the late 19th century. The next one to be enamored by these unfriendly birds was my daughter!

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The gentle breeze and the overcast sky and the huge expanse of water ahead of us created the most tranquil surroundings. The only noise at this far end of town was the gentle lapping of water against the shore. This made me regret terribly that I hadn’t stayed at Hallstatt, because this was the last moment of peace we had.

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After taking a gazillion pictures, and then just leaning against the railing and taking in the atmosphere, we were finally ready to enter the fairy land of the actual town. We walked past beautiful houses with stunning flowerbeds in their balconies.

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Spring had certainly arrived in Hallstatt!

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I had been hoping to see studded windowsills throughout Bavaria, but hadn’t seen too many, and so, was naturally thrilled in Hallstatt. The kid was thrilled too and we had a good many fights over the camera, which I’m happy to say that I frequently lost.

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We passed by some random sculptures and I had to grab the camera back.

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However, the minute we walked through the bars marking the pedestrian-only zone, we were shocked. The sheer numbers of people were more than we saw anywhere on this trip. There flew away the peace and tranquility, and we needed to escape the yakking tourists. So, we walked in the lane just behind the promenade and came upon a huge row of wooden houses. The first souvenir shop we saw got us all going trigger-crazy.

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The kid went crazy too. She wanted to buy everything in the shop. Not like I didn’t!

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“Can we have a bicycle Mommy? Or a ducky, an owl?” she pleaded.

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“We’ll look ahead,” I told her, as we turned towards the lake and she promptly rushed down to a pier to be closer to the waters.

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The most charming way to see Hallstatt is by boat, but the only ones we could find were one hour ferries and we just didn’t have the time. Next trip maybe?

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Swanspired paddle boats

Walking along the lake promenade instantly transported us to another world. It was like touching a portkey and reaching a fairytale land at the top of the magic faraway tree. Lining the promenade were quaint wooden houses.

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Souvenir shops with charms, wooden toys and dolls, stuffed toys and other wooden handicrafts studded the road.

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Restaurants extended over the lake, providing traditional Austrian fare (including fish from the same lake) with a great view. This restaurant dates back to 1472, where it was a salt manufacturing center apart from being a guesthouse.

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When we visited in early May, the flowers were just blooming. just a fortnight later, they were in full bloom.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, 15 days after my trip

Just then, we heard a loud flapping sound and turned swiftly to see a pair of swans taking off powerfully from their gliding spot on the lake. I’d never seen swans fly before and was quite amazed that these large birds could fly so well.

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We reached another pier from where we could see a large group of people sitting down at the same Gastof Brauhas we’d clicked minutes ago and the ascending town of Hallstatt.

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Hungry people reminded us of our own hunger and a dessert shop advertising fresh crepes and scones was very tempting indeed.

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Before we could choose anything, the kid saw something and ran off. Frightened of losing her amidst the crowds, we rushed after her, only to see her calling out to her new bff, a swan, posing merrily for the onlookers.

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We dragged her off with difficulty, and then we saw a narrow alleyway with colourful buildings. It was irresistible to dive right in.

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Suddenly, we came upon the charming central market square of Hallstatt. The square was really important in the 14th century when Hallstatt was granted market rights.

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It was too charming for words and surprisingly, very empty, which added to the charm for me for sure. Buildings of different colors surrounded the large open space, at the center of which was a decorative statue of the Holy Trinity.

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This square had been destroyed in a fire in 1750, after which the buildings were built using colored stone instead of wood, which is why it looks so different from the rest of the town.

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We rested there for a while, just soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the relative peace. The kid loved this square and once she was done running about, she wanted the camera to take her set of pictures.

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Finally, we got up and went out towards the lake, intending to climb on towards the other end of Hallstatt town to reach the classic viewpoint. But every footstep showed us beautiful scenery.

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I looked longingly at the ferry, wanting to take time out for a boat ride. I love being out on the lake and Hallstatt is supposed to be even more scenic from the lake, but that will have to wait another day.

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We had to walk on a path above that of the lake now to reach the famous viewing point. The kid and hubby were getting frustrated with me and my list of viewing points of Hallstatt.

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But no one complained when we reached a spot with loads of “selfie-obsessed people” and turned around to look at the lake and gasped.

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The classic “stock photo” of Hallstatt was certainly worth the long walk up the slope (note how far the ferry is). So were the reflections on the lake.

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I think we’d have stood here forever, staring at the view, but we were rudely elbowed out by the rudest community of tourists on the planet. Honestly, they beat the Gujjus hands down, make them look like cute, fluffy bunnies. The nonstop chatter irritated the kid so much that she went and stood against a sign labelled “Point of Silence.”

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I do feel the kid missed the point too. You can’t have silence amidst groups, whatever community they be from. This is probably the most important reason to stay over in Hallstatt, to roam the town without the day-tripping crowds.

We walked back to the market square because we wanted to walk to a waterfall that the hubby had seen as soon as we entered Hallstatt. Yet, we took ages because the camera couldn’t control itself.

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The view of the lake between the houses was too beautiful for words.

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Some of the houses were too pretty not to photograph and I murmured an apology for invasion of their privacy.

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This sign leads up to a small pedestrian staircase to the higher level of Hallstatt.

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We wanted to see Hallstatt’s pretty roofs so we climbed up some steps, and then lots and lots of steps. I concluded that no one in Hallstatt could ever get osteoarthritis of the knees.

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It was just as picturesque as the lower level, maybe more, as it was less crowded. Narrow cobblestoned streets were lined by wooden houses with a characteristic triangular roof. All were decorated with charms, lovely knockers, vines and flowers.

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I loved the houses with the vines and trees as their façade

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Just outside a pizzeria

All along the climb, we could hear the rushing gurgling of water and kept wondering if we were near the waterfall. Then we found the source of the noise, a small mountain stream was rushing along with great force towards the lake, possibly arising from the waterfall.

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We climbed more and more steps, falling behind in our quest for pictures. But honestly, there was too much quaintness on display.

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Classy vase!

We were plodding along when the hubby called out to us, “Hurry up, the view is gorgeous!”

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So we rushed up to a platform with this view of the outstanding Hallstattersee.

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The sun was out, pushing away the clouds and we could see the snow-capped Dachstein mountains. And of course, the much desired waterfall.

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It was very picturesque but hunger beckoned strongly, so we rushed down towards the lake for lunch. Not really rushed, we couldn’t run about in Hallstatt even if we wanted, we had to stop and stare at houses this charming.

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And views like this.

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Back at the lake, the hubby was very tempted to try the local fish, but there were very poor vegetarian options at those restaurants. Despite my telling him that we’d quickly finish a pizza at the nearby store, and then join him,  he wouldn’t hear of it and so we settled down at the lake side with pizza, ice cream and nutella waffle, and watched the world walk past.

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Shortly, a gentle drizzle fell over the lake. Safe under the cover of the awning of the store, we watched people scurry about and umbrellas go up. The gentle drops on the lake, creating small ripples, the swans ruffling their feathers, the sudden emptying of the promenade and the lovely view of Hallstatt made me love Hallstatt even more. 

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A pair of swans enjoying the gentle rainfall

Done with our meal, we rose to walk back through the town, passing by salt souvenir shops with my favorite flowers.

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The souvenir shop displays caught my eyes, in particular, this pair of dolls, but I didn’t have time to stop and buy them.

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I know I should have gotten them. Some things should’t be put off till later.We never saw anything like them again. So the photographs are now the biggest souvenir. We walked out of the pedestrian zone and were once more bowled over by the beautiful spring flowers.

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Hallstatt enamored us so much that when we returned, we urged my brother-in-law to stay at Hallstatt, unlike us. He had already paid at his apartments and couldn’t change either, but he agreed whole-heartedly with us once he was back.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar, on a cloudier but stiller evening

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar

I reluctantly left Hallstatt that day. I honestly wished I could have stayed the night there and seen more of this picture-perfect town, especially when the lights went down at night. Yet, it was such a perfect day that I left with very happy memories and gorgeous pictures.

I will surely be back to visit Hallstatt. Maybe in the fall, maybe in the winter, but I’ll be back.

PS: My apologies for such a photo-heavy post. I found it very difficult not to put up each photo that we’ve clicked.

 

 

Germany Austria May 2018: Fairytale Hallstatt from above and Hallstatt salt mines

After an exhilarating drive on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, we retired early in preparation for another day of “heavy sightseeing”, for we were to leave Zell am see and drive to Salzburg via Hallstatt, the beautiful lakeside town. Thanks to some poor planning, we couldn’t stay the night in Hallstatt, which turned out to be a really bad move, because a day trip just doesn’t cover the place well enough.

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We left Zell am see on a very cloudy morning after a hearty breakfast. The drive through Austria was scenic as could be, with lush green meadows and beautiful mountains around us and with clouds as our constant companions.

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The train tracks and a small river ran parallel to us as we drove. I could imagine my friends Neha and Yogesh enjoying the same scenery in their train to Salzburg.

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Our spirits were high, we sang along as we drove through the lovely countryside. For a while, we drove on the autobahn, the best bit for the hubby, wherein we came upon the famous Hohenwerfen castle, picturized in the Bond film “Where eagles dare.”

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It was a beautiful castle, perched high up, but sadly we didn’t have time for it.

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Our drive on the highway was for a short while only, and soon we turned off onto smaller (read: more picturesque) roads. A while later, Google Maps took us off the main road on to a very small and narrow road amidst the forests.

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It was very narrow and I was worried about how we’d manage if another car came from the opposite side, but no one came. The road seemed to exist for us alone. Deeper into the forest we drove, surrounded by the tall conifers. A small stream bubbled besides us and every now and then, we crossed over small wooden bridges over it. A few scattered wooden houses dotted the area, pretty as could be.

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“What a fabulous place to stay!” I exclaimed, picturing myself resting on a hammock with a book. “It’s scary mum, there’s no one around,” said the kid. She was correct. There were areas with just one house and nothing else for the next 5 kilometers. “The solitude would still be worth it,” I thought. Just before we joined the main road, we passed by a series of houses so beautiful that the hubby and I would happily have given up our jobs and migrated there.

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As we drove into Austria’s famed lake district, the Salzkammergut with 76 Alpine lakes, tall mountains, hiking trails and tiny villages, the views got better and better. We drove up and down small hills with trees all around.

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The entire Salzkammergut is stunning as we discovered over the next 3 days. But today was set aside for the “Pearl of the Salzkammergut”, Hallstatt. This tiny village is probably the most photographed place in all of Austria. It’s an old settlement, more than 1000 years old, thanks to the salt found deep in the mountains around it. “Salt? In a land-locked country? Where did the sea reach there?” asked the smart hubby. “For that, we have to visit the salt mines,” I answered.

Hallstatt is hemmed in by the tall Dachstein mountains and the area has enough to offer for at least 3 days worth of sightseeing. Since we had 8 hours, we had to pick and choose. We saw just the town of Hallstatt and the salt mines, whilst my brother-in-law chose to take the cable car up the Dachstein mountains to see the aerial view of Hallstatt.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: View from the five fingers lookout at Dachstein (2108m), see the tiny town of Hallstat projecting into the lake

He also visited the ice caves that we didn’t see as we’d already seen the stunning karst caves of Slovenia (Postojna Caves, Slovenia), but he really enjoyed the trip and it will be on my radar for the future.

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Picture courtesy Ravi Thapar: Dachstein ice caves

As we approached the town, we first caught a glimmer of Lake Hallstatt through the trees. The lake is huge (as seen in the aerial picture) and we drove parallel to it for quite a distance before reaching the town.

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The main town area is pedestrian only (thankfully) and there are 3 huge parking lots for vehicles. We parked in one near the salt mines, after driving through the tunnel that runs through the Hallstatt mountain.

As soon as we walked outside the parking lot, the magic of Hallstatt seemed to descend. It was a cool and cloudy day, very very pleasant indeed. Beautiful flowers and trees filled the roadside and we didn’t know where to look.

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Beautiful gastehaus (guesthouses) lined the roads. Typically made of dark wood with coloured window shutters and flowers at their window sills, I couldn’t stop taking pictures till the hubby gently nudged me and said, “Leave some camera space for the actual town.”

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We crossed over a tiny stream, wondering where it came from, wishing we had time to follow it upstream.

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We saw that it bubbled away into the lake.

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“Gasp, ooh, ahh!” was our state in Hallstatt from the time we got out of the parking lot, to the time we returned. Hallstatt was such a fairytale town that it just belonged within the pages of an Enid Blyton storybook. But first, we had to figure out how salt was mined in Hallstatt.

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The salt mines are at an elevation from the town so they can be reached by a steep walk through the forest or a quick funicular. No prizes for guessing what we did.

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The funicular was so well designed that we didn’t realise how steep the slope was. And I am so glad that we didn’t walk up or down till the mines as it would have been a crazy long walk, and there was lots more walking up ahead!

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The best part about the mines was the view from the top. Looking down to the newer part of Hallstatt, near the mines and the parking lots and trying to identify our car kept us totally busy.

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The most amazing view was once we got off at the top and looked out from where we stood. It was so beautiful that we couldn’t tear ourselves away and missed most of the people who were on the funicular with us.

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The actual mines were located at a 20 minute walk from the funicular, but we first walked over to the viewing platform “World Heritage View” for the stunning views over the Hallstatt-Dachstein region by crossing over the pretty panorama bridge.

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It led us to Rudolfstrum, a restaurant housed in a defense tower built in ancient times to protect the mines, with the Hallstatt skywalk jutting out below it.

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The steel platform projects out from the cliff 360 meters above sea level, to provide a vantage viewing point over Hallstatt town, the lake and the mountains.

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Unfortunately, it was packed with tourists (as was all of Hallstatt) of a community that believes in clicking 100 selfies at every viewpoint without much concern for others. After waiting patiently in a line with no order and movement, I gave up and walked along the edges of the platform for the same stunning view.

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The sunlight seemed to filter through the clouds on to the small town of Obertraun directly opposite Hallstatt, the access point for the cable car to the Dachstein ice caves and the five fingers look out.

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While I stood there mesmerized, the hubby urged me on, knowing that the entire salt mines tour would take another 3 hours to complete and we needed to reach Salzburg before night. Reluctantly, I left the pretty view for the 20 minute steady uphill climb to the entrance to the mines.

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The long walk to the actual mines, as seen from the panorama bridge

To make the long walk more interesting, there were several boards along the way about the history of the mines and even the body of a mummy preserved in salt. We were mean enough to leave the kid in that scary room and run off, but she’s become smarter now and was expecting it.

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Gorgeous reflection of the panorama bridge and Rudolfstrum

All along were posters of the “miner man” pointing out the way. Finally the hubby grew tired of the man.

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When we reached the entrance to the caves, we had to deposit our belongings and wear very unflattering miner’s clothes to make us feel like miners and to protect us on the slides and then we reached the entrance to the mines.

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Right from the bright sunlight, we entered a dark and narrow tunnel, wide enough for maximum 2 people side by side, with the tracks of the mining wagons below us. The tunnels grew narrower and shorter as we went in deeper and we could only walk in a single file.

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As it grew narrower and darker, the kid grew more and more frightened and wanted to leave. But the only way was onwards, deeper into the mountains. There was no turning back. She was so scared that we had to put on the torch-light, but fortunately, the area widened a little ahead and she could relax and look around.

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We could see the old salt pipelines that carried the brine and the salt. Salt was considered white gold and it’s discovery led to the rise of Hallstatt as an important town. In fact the era 800 to 400 BC is referred to as the Hallstatt period. But that’s not what we were interested in. We were interested in sliding down the long wooden slides that miners used to enter the mines.

DSC_3474It’s really very simple, you sit on a small wooden area and put both your legs on the side, then gravity does the rest. Naturally everyone was apprehensive at the start. There were steps to climb down and I was thinking about taking them when a couple of brave people took the plunge and then, so did the hubby with the kid. He just grabbed her, plonked her in front of him and kicked off, despite her protests. And from the bottom came a very happy squeal, “Mummy it’s awesome!” So, I got on too and reached the bottom, flying down, screaming at the top of my lungs.DSC_3463

 

Now that people understood that no one was going to die, the “selfie community” picked up their guts and dashed down the slides, mobiles in hand. We moved on to see some salt crystals and the history of salt mining in Hallstatt.

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We reached a large area where they beamed a movie which explained how salt reached this town hundreds of miles away from any ocean or sea. Apparently, way back in the prehistoric age, when the continents were forming and the earth plates moving about, some portion of the sea got trapped below the mountain and then rose with the mountain shelf.  

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So apparently, salt was mined here as long back as 7000 years ago. Surprising! They showed us several videos about how they discovered the timeline of the mining and lots of ghastly stories about the loads of people who died, when we came upon the best part of the mines, the 64 meter long wooden slide. The hubby and kid, now seasoned, quickly hopped on and slid away.

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This surely looks steep and scary

There was nothing for it. I got on and slid down, so fast, that I started falling off and dumbly, put out my hand to correct my position (despite clear instructions from the guide NOT to do so) and got a wonderful friction burn.

 

Off the slide, we found ourselves at the edge of a small lake. A lake in the centre of the mountain, with salt at the bottom of it!

 

 

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This show and another where they projected the life and times of a typical miner family were the only two entertaining shows. The rest bored me terribly and I was itching to be out in the daylight in the pretty lanes of Hallstatt, instead of listening to this guy drone on.

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Yet, they took us deeper and deeper inside and showed us the discovery of the world’s oldest staircase, dated to 13th century BC, that is now kept in a museum at Vienna. It’s been perfectly preserved by the salt.

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Finally, the tour ended. I was worried about climbing up lots of stairs as we had descended quite a bit, but luckily, they bundled us onto a miner’s train and took us up and out through narrow tunnels.

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Happy to be back out, we walked down a lot faster than on the way up, passing by these pretty rivulets.

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Riding the funicular down, I couldn’t help but take another picture of the beautiful town of Hallstatt from up above.

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The walk to the car was scenic, but I had to steal a quick look at the lake at the place with the most beautiful view of Hallstatt.

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“Wow,” is all I could think. I couldn’t even speak aloud at this moment because I was too spellbound and dumbstruck. But this view is only a teaser of things to come, both when you walk through Hallstatt and when you read the blog.