Monday, November 3, 2008

Heavenly Hallstatt

I had this picture of Hallstatt on my Windows wall paper and every single time I would look at it, I would say to myself "Man!! this place is beautiful. I should go there". It is funny how life works out. Hallstatt was not on our plan for this trip, but we had a couple of open days on our itinerary and were talking to a backpacker we met in Czech Republic and he was headed there. He had done all the research on how to get there, so on a sudden whim we decided to head there and I am so glad we did. A lot of times what we see in pictures is so different than reality and vice-versa. In this case, the town was just what I imagined and more. I had Saru take the exact same picture (see below) as what I had on my screen-saver. 

Hallstatt is a place you go to when you need a vacation from a vacation! Most of us approach a vacation, the same way as we do work. There is always an agenda and a checklist. In our hurry to check all the items, we forget to relax. So, for this trip, I decided to leave the last week open. No plans, no reservations. We would go and do whatever we felt like. We had a flight back from Vienna, so i thought we would end up spending the last 4 days in Vienna. We decided to go to Hallstatt on a sudden whim and that was one of the best decisions of our trip. Hallstatt was this incredibly beautiful place with not much to do other than relax and enjoy. We must have relaxed too much because I cant remember what we did in 3 days.

We took a mini bus from Cesky Krumlov to Vienna. The bus driver, a Czech guy in his late thirties was very chatty. Next to him sat a young couple from Sydney. The driver has been to Sydney and was telling them how much he loved Australia. He went on to say that he take vacations EVERY winter when there are no tourists in Cesky Krumlov and he loves going to warm places. He went to Bahamas one year and Virgin Islands another year and is planning another trip that winter!
It is good to meet such people to put things in perspective. Most of us work really hard to earn our six figure salaries, but think so hard before we take vacations. We are so caught up in the cycle of earning and saving money that we fail to see time fly by.
We got off at Vienna train station and took a train to Hallstatt. It was a 2 hour journey on one of those slower local trains. Beautiful is too simple a word to describe this place that was so gorgeous and spectacular. Saru and I were in Austria at the right time. We saw snow peaked mountains, alpine lakes, wildflowers and lush greenery that you can only see in early spring. 10 minutes after we left Vienna station, the scenery changed to beautiful poppy fields and mountain homes. I opened my camera, lifted the glass of the window and just kept clicking.

Then the scenery on the other side changed and there was this huge lake, so I squeezed by Saru’s seat, literally stamping him and ran to the opposite window with my camera. The window was jammed, so I tried two more before settling down. Some locals in the train were very amused and Saru tried to pretend that he was not related to me. He covered his head with a cap and pretended to sleep. But the scenery was too beautiful and I could see the look on Saru’s face change from “I-grew-up-in-Ooty-so-this-is-no-big-deal” to “Man this is too good, but can’t let the wife think I like it”.
The train was moving and I was stuck to the window taking pictures. Saru was like “No point taking pictures, they will all shake, don’t bother” I bothered and here is the result.

We reached Hallstatt station around 3:00 PM. There was nothing other than a tiny station. The town was across this beautiful sea green lake. We took a boat and landed on the other side.

Vam: Man!!…It is such a gorgeous day!
aru: Gorgeous??? It is HOT!
Vam: NO, it is warm and gorgeous.
Saru: I am from Ooty. This is considered HOT. I am getting a headache from the heat.
Vam: Loser!
Saru: I am NOT a loser!
The weather was in the eighties, a little warm to walk in direct sun, but quite pleasant to walk in the shade. The husband lived in Ooty twenty years back and still uses the excuse.
We didn't have hotel reservations and the tourist office was closed. We walked to the nearest inn and asked the innkeeper about vacancies. She told us that it was a holiday weekend and it would be impossible to find accommodation. We started walking on the main street and were greeted with “No vacancies” signs. We walked some more and I saw a ‘Zimmer” sign on the top of a hill. Zimmer, pronounced as “Timmer” (whatever!) means a room. I hiked up to check it out. The home belonged to an 80 something old couple. It was 50E, but dirty as hell. I politely declined and continued the walk. We came to a nice mid-size inn. Saru wanted to go in and enquire, but I thought it looked too expensive. Saru walked in to find out and came out smiling. For 100E they had a bed and breakfast. It was expensive, but we took it. We climbed three floors on a rickety staircase to our room with a window overlooking the lake. We freshened up and I was ready to rock and roll. I wanted to hike up the hill and come down in the funicular. The Ooty-born-constantly-hot husband wanted to do the opposite. After a little bit of heckling and me calling him a “whuss”, he agreed to hike. Views from the top showed a serene lake and the green mountains.

Saru’s headache persisted and he decided to call it a day at 6:00 PM. I had way too much energy to sit in the room, so went for a long walk from one end of the town to the other checking menus of all the restaurants on the road and picked an Italian restaurant with enticing aromas. Came back to the room to get the husband’s order, but he was fast asleep. I hate sitting in a restaurant alone, but the sun was setting and it was beautiful outside, so I went out and had a long dinner by myself by the lakeside in one restaurant and then could not resist having crepes with ice cream in another. I read a book by the lamp side and slept in late.
After sleeping for 11 hours, Saru woke up bright and early when it was still dark outside. I was unceremoniously woken up and talked into going for a morning walk. I was not happy walking while my head still in a state of slumber, but the minute cold air hit my face and I saw the views outside, I regained my enthusiasm. The town looked amazing in the soft early morning light. We walked up to a vantage point and took these breathtaking pictures of the town. I refused to have my picture taken before brushing my teeth, but the husband didn't have any qualms about it and actually looked very handsome as you can see.

We came back just in time for breakfast buffet and for the first time in the last 10 days, they had bottomless coffee!! I love cappuccinos, don’t get me wrong, but I like mine in extra large sizes. The cappuccinos they serve in little white cups last only for one gulp and I need multiple gulps. I am a “wrap the palm around the coffee mug to feel the warmth and sip it slowly” kind of a person. Forget wrapping the cup around your palm, you cant even fit your little finger into the cup holder here. So, yes, we drank and ate a lot at the buffet. Those Viennese pastries are to die for! Breakfast was over and we took the funicular to the top. Views were simply too good.

The rest of the day was a blur. I honestly don't remember what we did...not even what we ate, which is very unlike me. I always remember what we ate on vacations. Chicken Marsala - Paris., June 1999,Thai green curry in an organic coffee shop in Brisbane (sucked) - July 2001, cat fish in creole sauce (heavenly) - Baton Rouge, April 2003, Greek pizza with Tzatziki sauce (wierd) in Seward, Alaska -May 2004, Tagliatelle pasta in tomato cream sauce, Rome-October 2005....I can go on and on. I am quite freakish with my memory.
After lunch we went to the Dachstein Ice and limestone Caves. We took a city bus that dropped us off at the bottom of the cliff. From there, we had to take a cable car up to the middle of the hill and a steep hike to the entrance of the caves. We had some great views of the snow peaked mountains and the towns of Hallstatt and their neighbor Obertraun. The ice caves were very impressive.

We got back to the town, and took a bus to the Obertraun train station to go to Vienna. The tiny train station did not have an ATM and we were completely out of cash to purchase tickets and for some weird reason, our credit cards didn't work. The nice station manager got on the train with us and explained our situation to the conductor and told us to withdraw cash in Attnang Puchheim where we had to transfer to another train to get to Vienna. We only had 1/2 hour between trains and our train was delayed, so we reached AT 5 minutes before the Vienna train. Saru and I played tag team and he ran with the luggage to the next platform and I ran to the main terminal to get cash. Halfway through I heard the announcement for our train. This was the last train to Vienna! I had two options - travel ticket less or spend the night in a train station. Ran back to the terminal to see Saru heave a sigh of relief. We got into the train hoping for another nice conductor. Spent the next two hours very nervous, but no conductor came. Just when we were patting our backs for a nice getaway and saving 100E, the conductor came. We told him our story and without batting an eyelid he pulled out his credit card machine . Our card worked! All that nervousness for no reason!! Reached Vienna on time and took the local train to our hotel.


  1. Lovely pictures, I can see why you say it is a very beautiful place.

  2. nice blog, I could just visualize Saru saying things like "its hot" and "now i have to pass the test"...
    keep writing:)

  3. Thanks Mridula. This was one of those places you visit where you don't get bored saying "This is too beautiful"

  4. Hey Shree,
    I finally got you to comment on my blog. Yay! Saru is funny!

  5. Awesome pictures. It does seem heavenly !!!

  6. How is that I hadn't hit upon your blog all these days?!! Last week when I happened to return home early, all I did was to go through the entire archive. :-) I now have a easy reference to most of my travel plans on the Anvil.

  7. beautiful..Europe is really beautiful.. and very nice pics.. I am adding this place to must-see-place in Europe list :D

  8. Amazing pictures and awesome writing as usual.Whenever I read your travel blogs, it makes my day full of happiness.

  9. Thank you for your post is really important to me ... it is very good information about
    this topic ...

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  13. Awesome Vamsi what a beautiful place indeed!! Always enjoy reading your blogs makes me want to travel more.

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