03.10.2015 5 °C
Situated in the heart of the Austrian lake country, Hallstatt is the crown jewel of the Salzkammergut area and is home to the view that adorns every calendar or postcard featuring the Austrian Alps. Most people who visit Hallstatt make it a day trip from Salzburg as it is easily accessible by both the bus and the train. The buses take you directly to the village (after a change in Bad Ischl) whereas, the trains drops you off at the Hallstatt railway station, from where you can catch one of the the frequent ferries to the village.
This remote village with its 7000 year old history dates back to a time in the past when salt was the most important of commodities, due to its use as a preservative and has an entire era dedicated to it in Austrian history. Its a small village nestled between the Austrian alps and the lakes and takes approximately 15 minutes to cover from one end to the other on foot, but can take a lifetime if you stop to explore its alleys and pathways that it has hidden within itself over many a millennium. When it is bathed in sunlight, Hallstatt resembles the elven cities described in "The Lord of the Rings" (or rather how they have been imagined within the confines of my imagination while reading "The Lord of the Rings").
On a beautiful warm sunny day - like the one I chose to pay a visit, the blue sky seems to perfectly compliment the cleanest blue lake imaginable. The air was a joy to breathe and I could almost feel my health being enhanced with each breath. The lake is filled with noisy ducks and a few elegant (but hungry) swans that keep you company and entertain you while you sit by the lake.
The view from the water is something that can be only experienced and I don't think I'll do justice by even attempting to frame sentences to describe the experience. However, I highly recommend that you hire a boat and get on the lake by yourself for a bit for a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the perfect panorama view of the lake, the mountains and the village. There are electric or paddle boats for hire all around the place, that cost approximately 14 euros per hour.
You can pay a visit to the salt mine that involves almost an hour and a half of hiking up a hill and walking through tunnels. You can slide down a 60 meter wooden slide in a manner by which blocks of ice were transported through the ages once you finish the tour. I am slightly claustrophobic and decided to give this entire experience a pass.
There seemed to be thousands of people about when I paid a visit in the later part of September, that it came as a shock when I learnt that the original population of this town is less than a 1000. It gets tricky to walk around or even take photographs because of the tourists taking pictures everywhere and of everything or brandishing those repulsive selfie sticks. If it was this crowded in the early part of fall, I cannot imagine the volume of the crowd thronging these narrow streets during the summer months of June, July and August.
All that walking helped build a world class appetite and I paid a visit to a lakeside restaurant to try the local fare. The salmon caught from the lake was fantastic and it was served with some baked and buttered potatoes on the side - a perfect meal for when the temperatures dips below 5 degrees celsius. Also tried the traditional potato soup which came in a super-sized bowl but was a bit too salty for my liking.
The last of the ferries and the tour buses leave the village by 5:30 in the evening and Hallstatt emerges in all of its original splendor, as it falls back into its quiet and breathtaking ways. My taxi driver who also is an inn owner mentioned that even though she has lived here her entire life, she wouldn't live any place else.
Attended the morning service at church and while leaving noticed what a happy place they've made the final resting place of many. With flowers and names engraved beautifully on tombstones, the cemetery makes for a wonderful space for people to visit the final resting place of a loved one. The Ossuary of Hallstatt stores the skulls and bones of the departed inhabitants of this lovely little town. Because the cemetery was too small, the old graves are reopened and old bones exhumed to make way for the new ones. These bones are placed in the Ossuary, where they are painted with their names to mark their identity. The painted skulls were done beautifully, and it makes for a pretty unusual site.
There is a square in middle of the town area complete with a fountain in the middle and a waterfall in the background. The old quaint buildings surrounding the square are adorned with flowers on the balconies, each building different from the next. There are many cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels on this square, so during the day it's packed with people and gets quite busy.
As I made my way back to the edge of the lake, I impulsively gave in to the temptation of getting on the lake again. Spent hours on the lake making pictures all the time wondering if all of this was a dream or did I just get that lucky.
I am writing this sitting on a pier with my toes touching the lake water and I almost feel like I'm leaving my heart back here. A visit here has turned out to be many parts fantasy intermingled with some small parts of reality.
So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good night.
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight. Good Bye.
- Sowmya CJ