Sunday, May 15, 2011

Europe Vacation, Part 3: Hallstatt

The train ride to Hallstatt was beautiful. They call the Salzkammergut area “Sound of Music” country – very pretty lakes and lovely hills.

The train station at Hallstatt is across the lake from the town and it is so picturesque. A boat comes to pick you up and deliver you to the dock in town. A short walk later and we were at our hotel.

The hotel owner was so friendly and he gave us an apartment for the same price as a normal room. We had a nice living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and balcony. The view from the balcony was great!

We walked around town a bit to get the lay of the land and then we ate dinner at a nice lakeside restaurant. Chris claimed that they served him the best fish he’s ever eaten – it was trout caught in the lake that day.

After dinner we headed over to the May Day festivities. We just missed the raising of the maypole but we were able to enjoy the great beer, music, and dancing. Everyone in town was out having fun. There were a lot of lederhosen, dirndls, and folk music.

When we went inside to get our beer, the woman informed us that “in Austria, we drink the beer from the bottle. You try it?” She assumed that we wanted a glass in which to pour our beer – we had to inform her that we drink beer out of bottles in America too. She also offered us a meat sandwich – the meat looked like a big loaf of bologna. Since we were still full from dinner, we declined.

The little boys in the town were dressed up in their lederhosen and did a nice dance to the accordion music. The funniest part was when they would kick each other in the pants while turning in a circle.

The next day was officially May Day. We were awoken at 6 to the sounds of cannons firing and a band playing. The cannons were fired near the maypole and the band walked from there to the end of town and back.

Since it was Sunday, we headed over to the Catholic church after breakfast. Of course the whole mass was in German but we were able to pick up a few words: Jesus, Amen, Halleluiah, and understand (from the two phrases we learned before our trip). I was also able to sing along with the songs – it wasn’t much different than when they sign Latin in church back home.

After mass, we headed over to the cemetery and the bone chapel. The cemetery was similar to the one we saw in Salzburg – each grave has a lovely little garden in front.

The bone chapel is filled with skulls and large bones from long ago. The cemetery is so small, that they would remove bones from the graves after about 12 years of being buried. The skulls would be painted with the name, date, and symbols (these would be crosses, tree leaves, flowers, etc.). The practice of moving the bones was discontinued after the church started allowing cremation.

To celebrate May Day, Hallstatt holds a half marathon on May 1. The first runners were just about ready to finish in the market square when we were leaving the bone chapel. We stood at the finish line to cheer for the runners.

After lunch, we started hiking up the hill to the salt mine. The trail to the top had a lot of signs with information about the area (and some enormous snails!).

People have been living in this area for thousands of years. It is believed that the animals were attracted to the salty water and humans followed. We didn’t actually go into the operational salt mine but we did spend time looking at the information and exhibits on the ancient necropolis. It is believed that there are over 5000 graves on the top of the hill (over 1500 graves have already been discovered).

After dinner, we went into the sports shop – the basement is an archeological dig. The earliest finding is a Roman bath. The bath had radiant heat in the floor and walls – they found a lot of the tiles that were used to move the heat in these areas. Those Romans sure were smart!

We took another long walk around the town before heading off to bed. The next morning, we caught the boat back to the train station for the next part of our journey.

Next up…Lake Bled!

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