Hallstatt ...Heaven Meets Hell

Trip Start Sep 21, 2012
Trip End Oct 05, 2012

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Flag of Austria  , Upper Austria,
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hallstatt = Heaven
Ice Caves in Hallstatt = Hell

First and foremost, we have learned our lesson when it comes to night trains…always always always spend the extra money to get a private sleeping cabin. We boarded our night train in Venice and made our way to our sleeping cabin. We had booked the 2 bottom bunks in a 4 couchette cabin, which is essentially 2 bunk beds.  When we found it, there was a German couple with a young child sitting on both bottom bunks. As soon as they realized that they were on our seats/beds, they requested that we ask to change cabins. Once we showed reluctance because the train was packed (after all, we had already booked our seats, THEY were in the wrong), they asked if we would at least be okay with one of us sleeping on top, and one of us on the bottom since they had a young child and did not want to sleep on both top bunks. We agreed and started to get settled in to sleep. Meanwhile, the couple had already taken over control of the cabin controls, and had the heat cranked up so it was like a sauna in the cabin. Add to that the fact that Patrick and I were both sick, and it made for a miserable sleeping situation. Patrick slept on the top bunk since he knew he would snore and he didn't want to keep their baby awake on the bottom bunk, but that meant he had to sleep in awkward situations and once he fell asleep, he was definitely snoring. Poor thing couldn’t help it because he was sick, but it kept the rest of us awake in the cabin. After about 7 hours on the train, and after I poked him a couple of times, we decided to get up so that our cabinmates could get some sleep. I slept maybe an hour tops, Patrick got a few hours, but it certainly wasn’t restful. We walked around a bit, and then went back to our cabin to just sit on the bottom bunk and wait for our destination. About 20 minutes later, a cabin assistant knocked on our door to inform us that our breakfast was ready and waiting for us in the hall. Breakfast was an interesting adventure. You had to eat standing up in the hallway on a little table that folded out. Keep in mind that the hallway was about 2 feet wide, the train was moving, and we were both extremely tired. We managed to finish breakfast (only spilling a little coffee) and grabbed our belongings. We got off the night train, knowing that we would have to sprint to our next train which was on the other side of the station with only 8 minutes and all of our baggage in tow. Somehow we managed to do it, and an hour later, we arrived in Hallstatt at about 7:30 am.

The sun was just coming up, and this village that I had dreamed about for months took my breath away. The place was SO beautiful, that the pictures I had seen weren’t nearly accurate in depicting the awe you feel when it’s right in front of you. We took the ferry across the lake, and sat near the water for a while taking pictures and watching the sun rise over the mountains, while the huge swans swam by. We knew that we were in love with Hallstatt already. We wandered to our hotel (which was absolutely stunning), and were welcomed by the best check-in experience that we have ever had. The person at the reception desk was so friendly, answered all of our questions without us even asking, and even said we could come back around 12 to check-in, rather than the normal 3pm. We knew we wanted to go to the ice cave, so we dropped our bags and headed to the bus stop. The bus dropped us at the cable car, and once up the cable car we had a 20 minute hike up the mountain to the entrance of the ice caves. The hike was difficult, and even people who were in good shape were struggling, so you can imagine our level of exhaustion once we reached the top, especially with both of us being sick, and barely any sleep. Add the thin mountain air, and it made for a bad situation. We had about a 10 minute wait until our group’s tour began, so we hung out and caught our breath.

When researching the ice caves, I knew there would be some steps, but nothing had prepared me for the hour of torture that was ahead of us. I can’t even begin to explain the 500+ , nearly vertical steps that caused me to nearly have an asthma attack. I almost stopped in the middle and asked to leave, but I knew that there was no way out anyway, so I might as well finish. Patrick was struggling too, and both of us were prepared to give up. Somehow, someway, we found the strength to finish the tour, but didn’t take nearly enough pictures because our legs were shaking and we could barely breathe. We took our time with the walk down since we didn’t have a deadline. We then made our way back to the hotel and took a nap. Neither one of us had really slept, and we were completely exhausted. After about 2 hours, we got up and got ready for dinner at the hotel. Patrick was so exhausted he fell asleep in the tub! (Of course I had to take a picture haha)

Dinner was amazing, and as always the service was impeccable. It’s going to be really hard to go back to American cuisine and service after being pampered here in Europe. After dinner we strolled around the town a bit and headed back to the hotel for bed. We woke up the next morning, and it was drizzling. We took our time getting ready, ate some breakfast, and then checked-out of the hotel. We left our bags there while we walked around a bit more and visited the Catholic Church where the Bone House was located. Many many years ago, there was no room left in the cemeteries. So to improvise, Hallstatt dug up the bodies of the dead, and moved the bones into a room off of the Catholic Church. They painted the skulls, which is a symbol of respect. Although it was eerie, it was absolutely beautiful the way that each skull was painted with meaning and dignity.

We walked up to the waterfall, and then made our way back to the ferry. We waved goodbye to Hallstatt, the most beautiful place on earth, and hopped on a train to Salzburg.

Lots of pictures for this one…I couldn’t take enough of this beautiful place!

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