Published on June 28th, 20172
Skipping Through The Balkans: #2 Austria
These first 2 countries (Germany and Austria) in my 8 country marathon last fall were only ever meant to be convenient embarkation hops. Munich because it met the “American metal” airport requirement of my generous “buddy pass” gift from my Seattle chum Peter (a veteran American Airlines pilot who visited me here in Cuenca last year). And Austria – simply because it was an easy detour en route to my more ambitious quarry: the string of Balkan countries to the south.
Nonetheless, I did manage to get a glimpse of two very different Austrian locales (the fairytale village of Hallstatt nestled amid the “…hills are alive with music”, and the beautiful city of Salzburg). And though it’s been more than 6 months now, I must say… I’m truly enjoying cobbling together these little TL walks-down-memory-lane. Indeed, earnestly scouring my many photos of Austria (and selecting the 30+ most representative of my visit) truly brings back most every nuanced moment of…
- catching first sight of the fairytale village of Hallstatt as the ferry glided across the river at dusk…
- sipping the most *divine* “pine” flavored Austrian schnapps…
- trudging amid the cobbled streets of Hallstatt after dark for HOURS in (vain) search of a bed to lay my weary head (um, not so fun)…
- sliding my first luscious bite of “cremeschnitte” across my tongue at a pastry shop in Salzburg…
- locking my own little red heart “love lock” on the Makartsteg bridge.
And to top it off, there’s this final pic of my “Traveln Toes” whilst whizzing on the train from Salzburg to Lake Bled in Slovenia. Of all my “toes” pics (I’ve been snapping them in most every new country I visit for many years now) this one honestly epitomizes my love of…
Ever moving, moving, moving to the next wondrous corner of this amazing globe.
Oh and as long as we’re on the subject of moving, moving, moving – before we go much further in this 8 country backpacking marathon – how ’bout we take a peek at the humongous (NOT) baggage that I traveled hither ‘n yon with for 43 continuous days?
Yesiree, now *that’s* what you call “Traveling LIGHT!” 😉
Ah but back to Austria – definitely some highlights. Along with a couple of lowlights.
For starters, it took me the better part of a full day (and no less than 4 different transport modes) just to get there. First a 1.5 hour whiz on a train from Munich to Salzburg. Then a bus, followed by another train, and finally that ferry gliding across the river as the sun sank below the horizon (which, admittedly was pretty high – a gorgeous 360 degree landscape of the surrounding lofty “Sound of Music” mountains).
And yes, yes – gazing at the gingerbread village nestled amid those mountains was truly a fairytale sight to behold. Verily took my breath away, and I had to pinch myself to believe it was real.
But as I walked through the darkening streets of this fairytale, I soon discovered a serious errr… miscalculation on my part. Silly me, I’d not reserved a hotel in advance (a habit that had never before proved a problem in 4 dozen other countries), and… though I traipsed high and low dragging my rollie over those
wicked ̶charming cobblestones, there was NOT.A.SINGLE.BED (at ANY price) to be had in all of Hallstatt!
Worse. Hallstatt is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere (not to mention – reachable only by ferry or a single road around a very large lake). Long (sad, expensive) story short? I *finally* found verily the last room, at the LAST hotel – not in Hallstatt, but in Obertraun, an even tinier nearby town. And the tab for my piss-poor travel folly? $20 for the taxi to Obertraun plus $157 to sleep for 7 short hours in a (“meh” at best) 4 pax family suite with lousy wifi. Yup, a nearly 200 buck mistake. And I hadn’t even seen Hallstatt in the daylight yet!
Happily (after a near $30 per *hour* rest), I was able to (cheaply) take the train and ferry back to Hallstatt early the next morning, and was able to at least see a few of the sights.
Sights which… (enter the 2nd smallish lowlight) Hallstatt (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is (understandably) a tad touristy – apparently especially among the Chinese (throngs of them, at every turn!) Indeed, come to find out, the Chinese love Hallstatt so much that they actually built an entire, full-size REPLICA of it in a province of Guangdong, China!)
Nonetheless (a twinge of Disney-esque notwithstanding), set amid the breathtaking Austrian Alps, the gingerbread village truly is magical. And I’m grateful (even at the hefty hotel tab = to nearly an entire WEEK of lodging on my travel budget) that I got to see it with my own baby-blues.
Among the highlights (in addition to the privilege of tiptoeing through arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth) was sampling the local moonshine (a.k.a. the schnapps that Austria is famous for). Apparently they distill the stuff from any and all manner of fruits, herbs, even *pine needles* (which turned out be my favorite). In short – trust that I dutifully fulfilled my obligation to sample my fair share of the local potables.
The “Beinhous” (Bone House)
The existence of this famed attraction in Hallstatt turns out to be simply a creative solution to a most practical human matter. Also known as the “Charnel House”, the term “charnel” means “place of 2nd burial”. And indeed, this beautiful (if somber) collection of human skulls and assortment of tangled tibias, femurs, et al, is the answer to a lack of space in Hallstatt’s small village cemetery (dating from the 12th century AD). In such a steeply elevated locale with precious little flat ground to spare, graves were necessarily reopened after 10-15 years and the skeletal remains were moved to the charnel house to make room for the burial of the newly deceased.
And the beautifully unique paintings on 600+ of the 1200-odd skulls? I leave it to a quote from chirurgeonsapprentice.com website:
|“Beginning in 1720, villagers began bleaching the disinterred skulls of their predecessors by placing the heads outside in the sun for weeks at a time. In addition to the names of the departed, townspeople would paint elaborate floral patterns on the skulls in the way that one might decorate a grave with flowers today.”
“…flowers and roses on their temples and crowns if the skull belonged to a woman or girl…wreaths of oak or ivy if the deceased were a man.”
And a most interesting sociological note from the hallstattaustria.net website:
|“The skulls are grouped by family, many of these families still live in Hallstatt and neighboring communities. More importantly, the skulls represent the entire communities through the ages. Although in the graveyard Protestants have their own area and Catholics have the rest, there is no such separation in the Bone House. Catholics and Protestants sit side by side, as they have done in real life.
There is also no social stratification. Although Mayors and Priests occupy prominent positions, as they did in their community, bankers and paupers, gravediggers and miners, all share a resting place in the Bone House.”
And finally – the same hallstattaustria.net site most perfectly expresses my own sentiments upon the privilege of stepping into this dim, candlelit chapel located more than 10,000 km from my “home” in Ecuador:
“Far from being creepy, I believe it is a place of beauty; a place of peace; a place of reflection.”
No, I didn’t opt for a “Sound of Music” tour, as I had but a single night and not even a full day in Salzburg (though trust that on every corner “the streets were alive” with calls to join one). So I settled for humming a round or two of “Do Re Mi” to myself, and instead headed into the “Getreidegasse” (the heart of Salzburg’s “Old Market”, circa 1280) to wander aimlessly about (as is my usual most pleasurable wont in my travels) amid the uber-charming “guild” signs hung above the door of every shop facade. I eventually stumbled upon the birthplace of Salzburg’s most renowned musical prodigy – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the bright yellow building was hard to miss).
And indeed, the lad seemed to be everywhere as I wheeled my little rollie about (for I was headed for an afternoon train to Slovenia). Everywhere – including his costumed look-alike, thoughtfully posing with his smartphone and selfie-stick!
Note that I seriously pondered just what message to write on my precious little red heart lock. I finally opted for my one great wish “Gesundheit” (good health), along with a bold “Solo Travel ROCKS!” on the back.
(Next up? Stay tuned for details of my adventures in my new European bff: Slovenia!)
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