Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hallstatt, Austria (and the way there)

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We left Ljubljana for Hallstatt at mid-morning, stopping at McDonald's on the way out for breakfast food, which they turned out not to have. Filet-o-fish for breakfast, oh yeah! We'd read that Lake Bled, not far from the road back to Austria, was really pretty, so we made a quick stop there on our way out. I really mean quick - maybe 10 minutes max!

Lake Bled + Road to Austria Okt 09

It was long enough to appreciate the view and get totally messed up on the little tiny roads. It looks like a lot of tourism comes through the area. It's worth at least a quick stop just to see the lake!

Not far north, we passed back into Austria, paying all the exorbitant tunnel tolls all over again. As we ascended into the mountains, it went back and forth between rain and snow. A friend had warned me to take my boots and I didn't. I really should listen to her more often.

Just when we could barely stand another little twisty road, we arrived in Hallstatt. The town clings to the side of a mountain right on a huge lake. The road there comes in via a tunnel under the mountain - you suddenly pop out right in town! If you take the train to Hallstatt, you actually arrive across the lake from town and have to take a ferry the rest of the way. There is no train station in Hallstatt!

Hallstatt is a mining town - salt mining! On the mountain is the oldest known salt mine in the world, where salt has been mined since prehistoric times. They still mine salt there and will continue to mine it for at least another one hundred years or so. But, the town's main income source now is tourism. Almost everyone living there runs a Ferienwohnung; we stayed in Ferienwohnung Kerschbaumer and I can heartily recommend it. We got a whole floor of the house complete with a huge kitchen and bedrooms with views over the lake. The town is, sort of like Heidelberg, particularly jam-packed with Asian tourists - it must be especially emphasized in guide books there! (When Damon mentioned in his lab that we were going to Hallstatt, none of the people there had heard of it except the Taiwanese guy!) It, along with the rest of the area known as the Salzkammergut, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The weather was absolutely unpleasant, but wow. The setting is really beautiful, and probably would be in any weather. So, we wandered out anyway, with lots of stops at restaurants and cafes to warm up! Check out the pictures to see everything - I tried to put in a fair bit of explanation there too.

Hallstatt Okt 09

Didn't expect skulls? ;) Hallstatt definitely has some interesting quirks.

Halfway up the mountain, you can visit the salt mine for a hefty entry fee of 20 EUR per person. We really hemmed and hawed over whether to do it, but finally decided to go - first, because the mines are the reason the area has UNESCO status, and second, we had heard salt mines were worth visiting.

I'm not sure it is worth 20 EUR. I guess it really depends on how you see everything there, and what you're expecting. The first step is putting on protective clothing over your regular clothes. Everyone gets to look super-dumpy but feel they are doing something special. Then, into the mines. First, the whole thing was rather rushed. Our guide clearly hated her job, and explained almost nothing. (The tour was in both English and German.) Really, the whole thing would not have needed to actually take place in the mine, because we mostly just went from one display to the next that could have been set up anywhere, we had 3 seconds to look at them, and then we were hurried along. The highlights:

* An underwater lake. I don't think she said much about why it was there but it looked neat for the 2 seconds we saw it.
* A laser show which is in some ways worth the money just for the laughs. On the wall of the mine, accompanied only by music, they just showed pictures reminiscent of cave art, with a big chunk of salt (represented by a bunch of cubes) appearing again and again much like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a riot.
* Slides - they have two long slides that you take from one level down to the next. On the second, longer slide they actually use a speed radar and everyone can see how fast they went down. (Lighter = faster - my short mother-in-law blew us away, and my tall husband was super-slow.) But again, it's like an amusement park, not something you really visit a UNESCO site for. So, while that was fun, it wasn't what I was really looking for.

The sun didn't come out until the last day of our stay, right before we left for our next destination. We managed to get a photo or two where it was shining, and the clouds were gone long enough to show all the frosty pine trees up on the mountains. Awesome.

3 comments:

  1. Wow, nice shots. I have a feeling I'll be mining your experiences for inspiration at a later date.

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  2. HallStatt was one of our favorite places when we were traveling through that area!! Just found your blog and I'm loving reading many of your posts.

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