Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Salt mines and sunburn in Hallstatt...



Lovely views...

Hallstatt happens to be a great place to kill time.  It's very tourist friendly.  You'll find signs in German, English, and Chinese all over the place.  We happened to be in Hallstatt on the morning of First Communion, so besides all the Asian tourists and Anglo-Saxon thrill seekers, there were many girls dressed in white, a brass band, and many townspeople dressed in traditional Austrian attire.  We also saw a number of Asians clad in lederhosen and dirndls.  I guess they were getting into the spirit of things.  In my previous post, I mentioned that there is a replica of Hallstatt in China, which is probably why so many Asians visit the real Hallstatt in Austria.


A little waterfall across the street from the Landhaus Koller.  


Check out the poster on the house.  They rent dirndls and lederhosen to Asian visitors who want to be especially festive.


A swan boat!


Bill and I watched the parade and I got a charming video which I will probably end up putting on YouTube at some point.  Then we decided to visit Saltzwelten.  I didn't know anything about Saltzwelten before we went there.  We just thought it looked like a fun place to visit.  It was indeed a lot of fun, if not a bit pricey.   For thirty euros a person, we got the full treatment, which included a ride in a funicular up and down a tall mountain, a lovely walk to the museum, and the guided tour.

On the day we decided to visit Saltzwelten, we had perfect weather.  The temperature was about 72 degrees; the sun was out; and lots of people were teeming around the salt mines.  Yes, there were a lot of Asians, but we were also confronted with the people who happened to park next to us in town.  The group consisted of two young guys and two young women.  I'm not sure if they were married, friends, or relatives.  The two guys were pretty cocky and obnoxious.  The ladies seemed to be along for the ride.

Our walk to the museum was absolutely gorgeous.  At the altitude we were at, we were treated to beautiful views of the picturesque town below.  The ride up the mountain was a bit nerve-wracking, mainly because we were all packed in the car like sardines.  But wow... lots of sunshine and views and plenty of toilet facilities.  Free WiFi throughout the entire complex, too, although the EU's recent decision to regulate roaming charges has made this trip a lot easier to use my cell phone for keeping up with friends.



Once we got to the museum, I was a little out of breath.  Some of the walk there was uphill and I haven't been keeping up with my Jazzercise lately.  The young folks who had parked next to us were sitting in the cafe, sipping beer and laughing loudly.  Maybe they were laughing at me?  Who knows?




When we entered the salt mine museum, we were asked to don coveralls.  I give props to the lady for figuring out which sizes we needed without embarrassing us.  I put the coveralls over my clothes, which temporarily made me hot and uncomfortable.  But our group of about 40 people had assembled in the waiting area and we made our way up more steps in the hot coveralls before we were faced with the entrance to the mine.  Our cheerful tour guide's name was Bernie (short for Bernhard).  He was very cute and quite witty, though he lamented that he only speaks German and English.  We learned the catchphrase for Hallstatt miners, Gluck Auf, then started walking in the mine.


Bill dons his coveralls.




Pretty soon, the coveralls weren't so uncomfortable.  The air was much cooler and there was lots of salt on the floor.  We sat through a number of films in German with English subtitles.  Some of our fellow tourists decided they had to have these films recorded for posterity on their cell phones.  I now know why some movie theaters take a hard line with people who text during shows.  It was very distracting and annoying.

I thought the films were fairly interesting, though I have read some reviews in which some people have said the movies were dull.  Most people appreciate the most fun part of the tour, which is going down the miner's slides.  I am ashamed to admit that Bill and I both chickened out on the opportunity to try these super slick slides in the mine.  I probably would have done it had the group been smaller and I could have seen for myself what exactly needed to be done to get down the slide safely.  But I got so exasperated by the group size and not being able to see that I just went down the steps on the side of the slides.  I did get some pictures, though.  On the second one, they take your photo and clock how fast you're going.  Our guide was by far the fastest; he came down the slide at over 43km per hour.  One little girl got upset after the slide and she and her parents had to leave the tour.


The miner's slide.  I really should have tried this.  I need a braver travel partner to goad me into these things.



The last part of the tour involved us riding on a "train" thing... picture a wooden kiddie train that goes super fast.  You sit astride it as if you're on a horse.  It was a lot of fun and I suddenly wished I'd gone down the slides.  I'm becoming terribly wimpy in my old age.

After the tour was over, the guide made us hold hands and yell Gluck Auf again.  I found myself standing next to one of the rude young bucks who had parked next to us.  It was pretty obvious he didn't want to hold hands with me, nor did I with him.  He was saved when some Chinese guy came between us.  Talk about an awkward moment.


View near restaurant.

We enjoyed the Salzwelten tour, though I don't think it's a good activity for anyone who is claustrophobic, has mobility issues, or is afraid of the dark (or going on fast slides).  I think a lot of kids would enjoy the slide, though the several movies in German might bore them.  The tour is pretty long and there are only a couple of chances to sit down; so if you go, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.  Don't forget your sunscreen, either.  I got a mild sunburn in Hallstatt because I didn't remember my sunscreen.  It is possible to just pay for the funicular ride and skip the museum (16 euros round trip).  It's also possible to walk up and down the mountain rather than riding the crowded funicular, though I would not recommend doing that unless you're in very good shape. It's a very steep climb that will probably take at least an hour.


A well deserved beer at Restaurant Rudolfsturm.  It only gets 3.5 stars on TripAdvisor.  I thought the food was a bit pricey, but the views are stellar.  What we had, we enjoyed.


I had trout with potatoes.  This restaurant was a bit pricey, but the beer was cold and the waiter was willing.  It was pretty funny talking to him, though, because Bill kept trying to speak German and the guy was bound and determined to speak English to us.  I finally told Bill to give it up.


Bill had goulash.


So much better to sit and drink beer than wander among the masses of Chinese folk in Austrian attire.

After the tour, we walked back to Restaurant Rudolfsturm, a restaurant in the Salzwelten complex.  It's situated on the mountain side and offers stunning views of Hallstatt Lake and the town.  It's also right by the overlook.  That place was pretty busy, though probably not as busy as Hallstatt itself was.  Our friends from the parking lot showed up just as Bill and I started drinking beer and thinking about what we wanted for lunch.  I watched them wander around in vain hope of scoring a table.  As they were leaving in disgust, I heard "Mr. God's gift to women" make a disparaging comment about Chinese people.

Sometime during the mid afternoon, Bill and I got tired of fighting the crowds.  We enjoyed a blissfully quiet and empty ride on the funicular back down to the town.  We stopped by a grocery store (open on Sunday!) and stocked up on wine, chips, and cookies.  Then we went back to the Landhaus Koller for a rest.  I gave some thought to trying out the pool, but decided I just wanted to enjoy the lovely daybed on the balcony.  We made plans to have dinner at the hotel that night.


The daybed.


Another enchanting photo of our view from the hotel.


Ahh... this is the life.  


The Landhaus Koller is so beautiful!

I'm glad we visited Hallstatt.  It's a very pretty town.  I can see why people like it so much.  However, I am extremely happy that we stayed in quieter Gosau, which is a cute little ski and hiking town.  The scenery is pretty there and there's a lot less chaos to battle.  For those who are thinking of visiting Hallstatt, I highly recommend checking around the area for lodging alternatives to Hallstatt... unless, of course, you like being in the thick of tourists!  Also be prepared to pay for your parking in change.  We paid 1,70 euros per hour in an open lot.  Cards were not accepted.



War memorial.


We bought a Sparschwein to help store the many coins we walk around with in Europe.


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