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Erasmus Shenanigans "Not all those who wander are lost"

Hello Hallstatt!

AUSTRIA | Monday, 24 April 2017 | Views [483] | Comments [1]

Hallstatt (8th April 2017) 

I'd seen Erasbus trips pop-up on my Facebook news feed ever since I arrived in Brno. When I attempted to book a trip, however, there was a problem with the payment. This time, Dilshad offered to pay the €55 for my seat (I paid her back of course!) and so there was nothing stopping me from going on a day trip to Hallstatt (Hal-shtat), Austria. Otherwise known as the 'Pearl of Austria', it is considered to be the most beautiful lake village in the country. The Erasbus trips always start from Vienna, which meant we had to take a 5.10 am coach from Brno to reach Vienna in time for the 8 am start. Groggy, cold and hungry, we boarded the Erasbus coach and waited until we received our free bagel and juice before we fell asleep for the next 4 hours. Approaching our destination, I noticed the scenery change from green fields and isolated houses into snow-topped mountains and still lakes. The drive alongside the lake took me back seven years ago, when we drove on California State Route 1, the most scenic route in California. It was stunning. A quarter of an hour later, and we were pulling up right next to Lake Hallstatt. We were surrounded by the Dachstein mountains, the highest peak of which stood 2295 m tall, making it the highest mountain in upper Austria. 75 km further West or a 4-hour hike later and we would find ourselves in Salzburg. But that trip is destined for another time. 

On the coach, they told us that there would be a one and a half hour walking tour, after which we had the next three and a half hours to ourselves. As we walked through narrow pathways that separated wooden houses on different levels of the mountain, our guide informed us that Hallstatt had been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997, the year I was born! However, the village has 7000 years of history, including a 4000-year old salt mine which is the oldest salt mine in the world. Superlative- check! We walked through a closed passageway until we reached what looked like a very old stone building indeed, 700 years old to be exact. Upon hearing it was a 4 star hotel, I was surprised. The inside must be the total opposite of the outside.  Our guide told us a fire in 1750 destroyed all the wooden houses in the centre, after which the village was rebuilt using stone rather than timber. A more recent natural disaster occurred in June 2013, when the river Mühle, which we now walked over, overflowed. She showed us a photograph of the street we were standing on gushing with muddy water. It was hard to believe because the river today resembled more of a stream.  

On the way up to the Catholic church, we stopped by a wooden bench that was formerly used by women to unload up to 70 kg of rock salt from the Salzwelten mine. They would go up and down the mountain, twice a day, even when pregnant! Today a funicular provides a shortcut to the mine, but at a cost of €16. Visiting the salt mine would take around 3 hours so we decided against it with our limited time. We now stood outside the entrance of the Catholic church, which stood pompously above the Protestant church a few metres below. This was no coincidence, as the Catholic Habsburg monarchy who ruled the area, made sure that the Catholic church was the biggest and most beautiful one in Hallstatt. Along came Martin Luther, head of the Protestant Reformation, who abolished the idea of paying to confess sins. The people were poor and many openly accepted this new division of Christianity that preached that your belief was enough. Today, Hallstatt is 60% Catholic and 40% Protestant and our guide proudly told us that there many 'mixed' couples. I smirked at this, finding it hard to imagine conflict within the same religion. Yes, I know how wrong I am about that. Moving on! 

We sat inside the Gothic church as the guide showed us an altar with a grand painting inside that was only opened during special occasions, such as Easter. We then saw a strange altar; it had black and white images on the four smaller outer panels and a large colourful image in the centre. The guide told us that thieves had stolen the outer panels many years ago but low and behold, they had been found just two weeks ago in Italy! Just behind the Catholic church is the famous Beinhaus, or Bone House. Inside is a room full of painted skulls on wooden shelves supported by arm and leg bones. Until this day, the residents of Hallstatt can request for their skulls to be put on display after death. The last request was in 1997 from an old woman, whose skull lies slap bang in the middle of the room. The top of her skull has a black snake painted on it, a symbol of evil. Usually the family members choose the image to be painted on it, so I wonder what her character was in real life! The skull contrasted with all the other skulls painted with flowers and more attractive decorations.  

The tour ended in the main square of Hallstatt. The guide told us that the city gets at least 1 million visitors a year! These visitors are mainly Chinese, as there is an actual replica of Hallstatt in China. Now you can imagine how beautiful Hallstatt is- another country copied it! We said our goodbyes and shared a pizza in one of the restaurants in the square. Finding a cheap meal was difficult, as the entire village was overpriced since 80% of the inhabitants depend on tourism for an income. Sharing half a pizza (plus the tap water they charged us for!) came to about 6 each. Our guide told us there was a famous viewpoint to the East, so we wandered in that direction, briefly popping inside the Protestant church on the way. It was true what she said about it being less grand than the Catholic church; it had plain wooden benches and simple decorations. We came to one of the boat stops and saw a sign advertising a 20-minute boat ride for 5. The view from the middle of the lake put in perspective how miniscule Hallstatt was. Only the very base of the mountains was covered in small, colourful houses. The boat took us to the railway station on the other side where we took millions of photos. There really isn’t much else you’d think about doing in such a picturesque corner of the Earth 

After being totally engrossed in posing for our photoshoot, we almost missed the boat back. Once on the other side, we followed the Chinese tourists as our guide had recommended (no joke), since they were likely to know where the famous viewpoint was. To our great fortune, the sun had decided to come out on our side of the mountain which lit up the entire village. More motor-boats and row-boats ventured into the lake, even the swans and ducks seemed lively. It was a glorious view! We stripped off our outer layer and acted like we were on some Mediterranean island rather than thousands of metres up in the mountains. Slowly, we walked back to the car park where our coach awaited. On the way, we heard a choir singing in the Protestant church, and crossed many souvenir stalls. There is not a street in Hallstatt where the surrounding view is less than magnificent. Our last walk was on the lakeside, an isolated white church shining under the setting sun on the opposite bank. With great hesitation, we forced ourselves to board the coach and braced ourselves for the 4 hour 15 minute ride back to Vienna. We arrived at 10 pm and ran from the metro station Schwedenplatz to Stadion, where we hoped we could change our 11.55 pm coach to the one leaving at 10.30 pm. Success! We were back in Brno by 12.10 am, really tired but satisfied that we managed to complete the 20 hour day trip successfully. I must thank Erasbus (and Dilshad) for making this trip possible! 

Posing at the viewpoint!

Posing at the viewpoint!

Tags: austria, hallstatt, lake, mountains, village

 

Comments

1

My kind of day ! :)

  poongothai Apr 29, 2017 1:10 AM

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