Monday, 17 November 2008

Salzburg, Day 2- Mountains, Lakes & Villages

After the good weather of the first day it was disappointing to wake up the next to lots of cloud and mist and a few dreary spots of rain. The grey clouds were hanging about the valley and congregating at the tops of the mountain and Salzburg didn’t look anywhere near as cheerful as yesterday afternoon.

While we were having breakfast however the day slowly began to improve and by the time we left the hotel the cloud was beginning to lift and the sky was beginning to brighten but it was still a day to take the umbrellas just in case. Today we were going out of the city and visiting the village of Hallstatt, which claims to be the most attractive village in all of Austria. I forgot about reassigning transport responsibilities and marched us the short distance to the railway station and there we purchased what we considered to be quite expensive tickets (compared to Eastern European prices) for the ninety minute train ride.

We were delighted to find that the carriage was one with individual compartments because these are our favourites and we settled in for the ride. There were only six seats in the compartment but this didn’t matter and we took it in turns to either sit or stand in the corridor to enjoy the view. Salzburg is situated just north of the Alps and is relatively low lying and although Halstatt is south east of the city the first part of our journey took us due north east towards the town of Attnang-Puchheim where we were due to change trains when this one continued on to Vienna. There were excellent views from the corridor looking south at the Alps as they rose majestically out of the low lying plain and the peaks were becoming visible as the weather struggled slowly to improve.

At Attnang-Puchheim we left the express train and changed to a slow, stop at all stations, variety that travelled in a southerly direction into the mountains and towards our destination (or so we thought). The lady at the train ticket office in Salzburg had thoughtfully provided us with a timetable that included an explanation that the final part of the journey would be by bus because the line was closed for repairs but as it was in German we hadn’t fully understood the significance of this until it was explained to us by the ticket collector (also in German of course, which didn’t exactly make it a great deal clearer).

The first stop was at a place with the unfortunate name of Wankham and this reminded me that place names in Germany and Austria can be a bit of a challenge and it can be difficult grappling with places that might possibly have been named by somebody suffering from tourettes syndrome; places like Wolfswinkel, Alpfahrt, Fuchs and Koch (all genuine I assure you).

The scenery was spectacular now and as we moved further into the Salzkammergut (see what I mean about a challenge?) the railway line followed the western shore of Lake Traunsee and then followed the River Traun into the Alps. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty that stretches from Salzburg to the Dachstein mountain range and spans the federal states of Upper Austria, Salzburg, and Styria. The name Salzkammergut means ‘Estate of the Salt Chamber’ and derives from the name of the state authority that managed the precious salt mines in the time of the Habsburg Empire.

The journey came to an end at the spa town of Bad Ischl, which is where the Emperor of Austria-Hungary Franz Josef had his summer residence and here we were decanted with some confusion onto a bus for the remainder of the journey. As the bus was replacing a train it did not go directly to Hallstatt but had to detour several times to stations along the way so this journey took longer than might have been reasonably expected.

Finally Lake Halstättersee came into view and it was delightful with a calm, glass like surface and reflections of the autumnal mountains dancing on the water. It was only a narrow road because until as recently as the late nineteenth century it was only possible to reach Hallstatt by boat or by narrow trails. The land between the lake and mountains is sparse and precious and the town itself has exhausted every free patch of it and the first road to Hallstatt was only built in 1890. The bus arrived in the village through tunnels blasted out of the rocks and dropped us off at the southern end of the village. The weather was still disappointing but the village was thoroughly charming and I was immediately prepared to accept its most attractive village in Austria claim.

The village is set on piles driven into the lake with an intricate system of intersecting timber ramps, butresses and ascending terraces like hanging gardens creating an air of mystery and the eeriness of mirage, a village that seems to be almost lost in the middle-mist of folklore and fable. The mountain flanks rise sheer from the lake, leaving no room for a road and all but the smallest of vehicles are prohibited from entering the centre of the village.

The walk into the village along the water’s edge took us past some modern art sculptures floating on the lake that were interesting but seemed out of place and I was pleased that they were only temporary and then we began to climb towards the centre of the village. It seemed quiet and deserted but as we reached the central square it became busier, mostly with children on school visits. It was lunchtime so we were all getting hungry so we choose a cafĂ© and stopped for some refreshment. After soup and cakes we returned to the streets where it started to spit with rain but it blew over quite quickly and the skies started to clear and then we saw the first of the sun beginning to poke through.

We were glad of that and as we walked through the streets and began to climb even higher the weather improved still further. We walked through streets with houses built into the mountain, hanging on to the mountain and on top of the mountain and on the other side they were built right up to the edge of the lake. We were especially impressed by the cat flap about twenty metres off the ground and accessed by an intricate system of ladders.

Although this was October there were still flowers growing in the gardens and by the side of the road but we didn’t see any Lentropodium Alpinium because this is a summer flowering plant. Lentropodium Alpinium? Well, that is Edelweiss to you and me and is considered to be something special in Austria. So special in fact that it is a protected species and picking of Edelweiss is a crime and can result in an on the spot fine if caught. The most reliable place to see it is on the reverse of the Austrian two-cent euro coin.

By the time we returned to the bus stop the sun was shining and there were some great views of the village sitting next to its reflection at the side of the lake and we were all sorry to leave. We boarded the bus that had plenty of spare seats and set off back to Bad Ischl but then at the first stop were ordered off the bus onto another with no spare seats and full of teenage children on the way home. None of had really expected to have to take a ride on a school bus as a part of our excursion and we were glad when we arrived back at the station.

The train was waiting for the bus connection and as soon as everyone was on board it left quickly with some time to make up if it was to make the connection at Attnang-Puchheim. It was a bit late but the Austrian railway system seemed to have all of this under control and the departure of the train for Salzburg was held back for ten minutes so that those who needed to could make the connection. Somewhere along the way Micky, Sue and Christine adopted an orphan Chinese girl who was travelling alone and who seemed completely lost. Micky was doing his best to help her out but his Chinese is worse than his German and he wasn’t doing especially well. We arrived back in Salzburg and we worried that she might be with us for the rest of the holiday but we managed to shake her off and we left the station and walked back to the hotel stopping on the way for a drink at a hotel with pavement tables with an attentive host who was optimistic about tempting us to an evening meal.

It was nice enough but it was a bit too quiet so we declined the invitation, returned to the hotel and after a very short while assembled together again to go out for dinner. After a couple of glasses of wine Kim and I were in reckless recommendation mood again and we took everyone back into the city and to a restaurant called the Goldone Este and we had a nice meal and plenty of wine and beer and then returned to the hotel for a final drink before going to bed. It had been a good day, Hallstatt had been delightful and we had enjoyed our train journeys as usual and we looked forward to tomorrow in Salzburg.

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