I have found a new candidate for the most beautiful place in the world, Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut of Austria.
Luckily I arrived in brilliant sunshine. Usually you have to travel to the town by ferry from the railway station but due to trackwork (doesn't that sound like home) we had to alight at an earlier station and travel by bus for about 10 minutes through a gigantic tunnel which cuts into the mountain behind the town. It was a fairly easy walk to the BrauGasthof where I was staying. This hotel has been built in the old brewery and had some strange knooks and corners and rather treacherous stairs. I had booked a single room but due to some mixup, the room was occupied and so Frau Lobisser gave me the double room next door with a tiny balcony at the same price. You can see my balcony in the middle. The view was to die for.
I spent the afternoon snapping photos in all directions thankful for digital cameras, as I am sure I often took the same photo twice just to be sure.
After a lunch of wurst and wine, I went on the ferry round trip and while I was waiting heard that distinctive accent and was able to enjoy the trip with a couple from Austinmer (just south of Sydney).
After we returned to the town, we went up to the Catholic church with its unique graveyard. Every 15 to 20 years, the bones are dug up, labelled and stored in the Beinhaus at the back of the yard. The ferry captain told us this custom has been discontinued but it was still being done in the 1990's. I will spare you the photos of the skulls. The graves are well decorated and cared for.
Luckily I took lots of photos as Friday soon turned grey and drizzling. I thought it was clearing a little and bought some fruit juice, fruit and chocolate and set off to hike up into the hills behind the town. However I was wrong and by the time I had returned 3 hours later, my trousers and shoes were soaked but the Kathmandu jacket I purchased before leaving Sydney protected the top half of my body. I was a little nervous as some of the path was slippery and there were no other silly fools to be seen but the scenery continued to astound especially a gorge into which several waterfalls came crashing down.
I returned to my hotel for a hot chocolate then to my room to change and eat the fruit in some comfort. After a rest I went to the town museum and discovered this small town has given its name Hallstatter era to a whole period of pre-historic culture. While salt mining, a huge gravesite was discovered with thousands of bodies interred with many artefacts that archaeologists are still studying. The museum is fairly new and one experiences the fire of 1750 and the landslide that destroyed the town.
That evening I had some of the Lake trout for dinner and again met some Australians from north of Sydney (Bateau Bay) who were staying one night in the BrauGasthof and so I also joined them at breakfast.
Saturday was still very overcast but there was little rain. It was the first day of the tourist season and the Seilbahn (cable car) began to run. I was in the third trip up and walked along an information path to the Salt Works. These are still in operation but some of the worked out levels are open to tourists and I joined 2 Korean girls and an Israeli couple for the first tour of the season. We had to wear overalls, walked through hundreds of metres of narrow tunnels, down two wooden slides (on the second we were photographed and clocked - I reached 28.4km/hr, faster than the others but they went in tandem, the guides clocked in the 30's.) I did buy the photo but it is hardly flattering. The processes of mining salt were explained both in history and today. Finally we boarded a little train in which we sat astraddle and were whizzed through the tunnel (the roof seemed to be just above my head) to the entrance.
I did not go down the cable car but walked down a zig zag path to the town.
The sun came out about 4.30pm but by that time the town was in shadow. However the next morning was clear blue sky again and as the trackwork was complete, I boarded the ferry to cross the lake to the station and travelled by train back through Salzburg to Munich and of course took a few last photos.
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