Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Flag of Austria  , Upper Austria,
Thursday, October 25, 2012

We drove from Salzburg to Hallstatt today, which is located in the lake district of Austria. We had been thinking of staying in a B&B there and spending more than half a day to visit the town if the weather looked promising. However, it was very cloudy and even fogged in in places so we decided to just visit the town and camp nearby before heading on. Hallstatt is a picture-perfect town situated right on the edge of lake, squished between the lake on one side, the cliffs on the other. It is located on the site of an old Roman town and was a popular spot for archaeological digs. It was also very popular with royalty, artists, writers and vacationers in general because of its picturesque setting. In its heyday, Hallstatt was a major trading port because of the nearby salt mines. Today, it is mostly sustained by tourism and is a cute, little town to explore.

We followed a short walking tour that was laid out in our guide book and our first stop was the main square. It is a really charming little square with a small fountain in the center, colourful facades and is framed by a waterfall and forest in the background, up near the cliffs. The neatest part for me was the facades of the houses, especially with the one that has a pear tree espaliered up three storeys! From the square we continued walking through to the edge of town where we got some great views back on the main part of town itself. Megs had been very attentive and had noticed that several brochures and postcards had the same view of town and she made an educated guess of where this might be from. We often keep track of potential photographic vantage points as we browse brochures and postcards. We then backtracked a few hundred meters and climbed up a few flights of narrow, stone staircases that led us between houses that are nearly built on top of each other – real estate is at a prime here. A few minutes later, we were at Charnel house, which has existed since the 12th century.

It is crammed with 1200 skulls about half of which are elaborately painted and marked with the family name and the date of death. The last skull to be placed here was in 1995 on special request. They don't get many requests from people to have their remains placed in the Charnel house as cremations have become much more popular. Back in the day, the charnel house was created out of necessity as the neighbouring graveyard is extremely limited in size and so to accommodate everyone, the largest bones, including the skull, was removed from the grave 10-20 years after burial. It was then cleaned, bleached and set out to dry by sun and moonlight for three to four weeks. After which, it was painted and marked. The decorations are symbolic: oak for glory, laurel for victory, ivy for life, roses for love. We didn’t linger too long once we’d gotten our photos as it was honestly speaking, kind of creepy in there and definitely not for anyone that’s claustrophobic.

From just outside the chapel next to the Charnel house, we got some really nice views of the lake and of the town below. We returned to the main square and continued on our walking tour. The next stop was a sports store. You might be wondering what could be worth seeing in a sports store. This store was unique in that its foundations are actually built over Roman ruins and its basement, is the site of an archaeological dig which now serves as a mini-museum. So in we went and then down the stairs into the "basement" where we saw displays of artefacts found in the area such as spearheads, pottery, coins, etc. We could also see where a Roman bath would have existed at one point. Exiting the store, we continued walking through the narrow streets that work their way up the cliffside, offering us more viewpoints and a glimpse at the facades of houses dating back as far as 1597.

It was late afternoon by this point and we decided to go for some coffee/cake, partially so we could use a washroom and partially to warm up – it was only around 7 degrees out and we had been walking around for a couple hours now. We wandered back to the main square and found a café that looked inviting but when we poked our heads in, there were people smoking inside so we immediately nixed that option. Austria still seems to allow smoking indoors as opposed to neighbouring countries like Germany and Switzerland, as far as we can tell. So we went across the square and we were glad that we had been forced to switch. Megs found an absolutely delicious apfel strudel, served with whipped cream and vanilla custard sauce and I had a fancy cappuccino with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. This was the best apfel strudel that she’d had so far and would be the one to beat. When we came out of the café, it had cleared up partially and the sun was shining. It was ideal as we finished the last part of our walking tour which took us past yet some more great viewpoints over the town and the lake. We walked back to the parking lot soon after as it was nearing sunset and we still had about half an hour to drive to get to our campsite by Wolfgangsee. We arrived in camp in the dark but were able to find it without any issues and settled in for the night. 
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Mike J on

I feel like I am on a strudel-fest across Europe - and I love strudel!

Mom on

You kids could market those fall colour and lake shots for puzzles. Just spectacular. Thanks!

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