On my second day in Austria I decided to leave town and head to a place I have always desired to visit, that place is nothing other than the beautiful village of Hallstatt. Hallstatt is about an hour and a half drive from Salzburg and roughly two hours by train. Since I wasn’t planning on driving, train it was for me. I checked the timetable online beforehand so I would know when to start the day and how much time I will have on me, me being over-prepared as a certain friend would say 😀 In the morning of my day trip, I picked some breakfast up from SPAR at the train station and headed to the ticketing machine to have my ticket booked. Using the ticketing machines is the easiest thing ever, how hard could it be, right? Been there, done that, so? Well, I kind of struggled a little and why? Because I was using the DB machine and not the ÖBB! DUH! Same language, different railway companies Marwa 😀
As I was trying to get those train tickets booked, not realizing still what the problem was, a nice gentleman came to the rescue and only then I understood what was causing the problem. How smart Marwa! I told him I was going to Hallstatt and he was nice enough to make sure I got the right ticket for my trip. I was overwhelmed by the nice gesture, he just came to me and told me wait I will book my ticket and give you a hand without me even asking. Considering how I have been alienated the previous few days, I was really moved by his action. That one small act of kindness was enough to get my day started off on the “right” foot. Thank you sir wherever you are 🙂
After a scenic and comfortable train trip, I reached the Alpine village of Hallstatt which lies comfortably between the edges of Lake Hallstatt and the Dachstein Mountains. To reach the village itself, I needed to take a ferry from the dock near the train station and the view that saluted me once at the lake was jaw-dropping. The word beautiful doesn’t do Hallstatt justice, seeing it for real was something. Oh my josh, it is such a gorgeous little town with those 16th century Alpine houses and tiny winding alleyways.
I crossed Lake Hallstatt to the village in awe of the picture-perfect scene I was delving into. I was still in denial and couldn’t believe I was actually there. Once I touched ground, I did what I like doing the most, to wander around. I marveled at the centuries old gorgeous flowers-decorated wooden houses, at the village reflected on the blue waters of the lake, and at all those green bergs encircling the landscape. My wanderings took me to the Catholic Parish Church which dates back to 1181 and was built on a vertical rock with a steep drop allowing it to provide its visitors with beautiful views of the village and the lake.
While I was walking the premises I attempted to take a selfie with the view I had from up there and at my apparent failures, a gentleman approached me wondering if I would like him to take a picture of me. I welcomed his gentle offer and while we were discussing which view is better for the shot, he confessed that he has been wanting to offer me help with that picture for quite some time but he was reluctant to do so because he assumed I don’t speak English. I just smiled at him and then he simply expressed regret over making such an assumption saying that he shouldn’t have done so. Actually the fact that despite his doubts he still approached me, told me what he was thinking to my face realizing his bad judgment over my looks, and apologizing for it leaves me with nothing but respect for him.
His wife was silently monitoring the whole encounter from afar but she eventually asked me curiously where I’m from. She was astonished at my reply, perfect English she said with quite a loud laugh. I wouldn’t have thought you are from Egypt, she then recommenced. I can imagine that to some people this encounter might be provoking, experiencing the typical stereotyping towards us Arabs precisely veiled Arab women in such a way. I honestly think it was enlightening especially if it helped in bringing down a barrier for the elderly couple. Which is one of the great consequences of traveling and meeting people from around the globe I always believe.
After roaming about for a while I decided to hike the Welterbe Rundweg or the World Heritage Trail to the world’s oldest salt mine. The trail starts somewhere behind the cemetery of the Catholic Church, there is a sign so no worries. And according to a map I passed by while walking around, it should take one hour but it took me almost two. Now apparently, there are more than one trail in that area and I tried to figure out which one I went on exactly but I was unsuccessful! I just followed the sign that said Welterbe Rundweg and kept on going up that zigzagged trail.
TIP: the trail is a graveled forest path and a sturdy pair of shoes is recommended.
The trail is steep and the more I went up the more out-of-breath I became. So with that sharp incline, I had to stop and rest at every bend. I get heated up fast, unlucky me, and after a couple of steps up the hill I broke into a sweat. My scarf and shirt were all wet and to make it worse, the sun shone so hard making it hotter just by the time when I ran out of water. BUMMER!
I kept on going on taking my time and promising myself a nice bottle of water once I’m up wherever that “up” might have been. I previously went on a 3 hours hike while fasting in Ramadan during August so what’s an extra few minutes, right? Not that I would want to do it again just for the record. At just what happened to be the last bend in the road, I ran into a mom and her daughter on their way down. They both assured me that I was almost there and generously presented me with the water they had remaining on them. I was so moved by their gesture as I was dying for a sip of water and I just couldn’t thank them enough for it. God bless you ladies ❤
Leaving the “drama” aside, the views along the way up were breathtaking. And when I was finally “there”, I walked myself to the Hallstatt Skywalk which is a viewing platform built over the Salzberg. I can’t really articulate into words the beauty I witnessed during that hike so I will just bombard you with pictures in the hope of showing you a fraction of the prettiness of that UNESCO World Heritage site.
I moved on after the Skywalk to the salt mine thinking I can just have a quick look then leave only to find out that there is an actual tour which takes you inside the mine itself and the one that was coming up next was bound to take place within 15 minutes. It sounded fun and I decided to book myself a ticket. And so it was, I left my backpack in the luggage room, got all dressed up like a miner, took my GoPro and went on the tour without any considerations to the time remaining till my train back to Salzburg.
The tour was actually interesting. It took us through the underground tunnels of the mine and offered a lot of information about the salt mining history in Austria. But most importantly it allowed us to glide down a 64-meters-long wooden slide that was once used by the miners. That was FUN you guys 😀 I have been into caves before but not one that produced salt and some of the formations and colors I have seen down there were simply beautiful. I got carried away with the tour not minding the time at all thinking it all should end soon only to know that the whole thing takes around 2 hours! DARN! The ferry, my train, and the time I will need to hike all the way down!!
I kind of freaked out because I have booked the last train heading to Salzburg and I couldn’t afford to miss it!! I conveyed my worries to the tour guide when I inquired about when we should be expected to be back and shockingly he was quite rude saying it was my fault that I didn’t ask about the duration of the tour before going on it and that he can’t do anything to help with the situation! Well yeah I agree, I should have asked, my bad, but I was like come on you can be more accommodating or even comforting. Unfortunately he wasn’t and I had to anxiously accept the fact that I might end up not being able to catch the train and I didn’t even want to consider my options if that happened!
During my hike up the Salzberg I saw a funicular at a distance and at that stressful moment during the tour I decided on taking it on my way down to save time. And while I didn’t have any idea where its platform was or anything, it was still the best option to try out at the time and I had to remain hopeful. I continued the tour absent-minded and all I was thinking of was when we will be back so I can run to the train station by means of a funicular and a ferry! A while after our encounter, the tour guide and I, he approached me during yet another projection to inform me that that slideshow was our last stop in the tour and all should be over in 10 minutes or something. PHEW!
Actually, the tour guide was quite a good one. He added a nice sense-of-humor to the tour and I liked that so this is why I found his reaction to be a little peculiar. But it was hard not to give him a break after what he did. He did not only inform me when the tour was about to end but also told me everything I needed to know about taking the funicular down. He did all of that with a sincere apologetic manner and as I was rushing out he made sure to greet me, nice to meet you he said, before he wished me good luck.
TIP: if you are limited on time, you can take the funicular on a round-trip to/from the skywalk and the salt mine. That short hike offers amazing scenery though if you have the time for it.
I still needed to hurtle to the funicular platform because I had no idea how frequent it was hoping to be able to catch the soonest one. There was quite a line when I reached the platform and everyone was trying to catch the one about to depart. I was panting, all sweaty, and worried about not being able to catch it. A nice American family allowed me to step in front of them when they heard me telling the lady at the ticketing window that I have a ferry to catch hence I absolutely needed to catch that one. I was a little frantic as I had around 15 minutes to the ferry. The funicular took a couple of minutes to take us down and I kept on thinking about the time I could have saved if I took it on my way up.
The American family wished me luck with catching my train up as I rushed out once the doors were opened. And the nice employee at the exit gate was kind enough to walk me out and direct me on the right way to the port. I only had 10 minutes and I needed to be fast and fast I was. I would have loved to take my time doing that walk to tell you the truth as that part of the village was absolutely gorgeous. One of the regrets I had regarding not taking the funicular on my way up but no crying over spilt milk alas. I was so hungry and thirsty but couldn’t stop to grab anything; I just rushed myself to the ferry. I managed to be on time thank God and made it to the train station platform only to find out that my train was an HOUR later and that was just because I’m not used to the 24-hours clock which led me to misread the time on my ticket!
I was so pissed off at myself at that moment! I could have enjoyed strolling around the village from the funicular platform, I could have been more at ease during the salt mine tour, I could have had a proper meal, …. Hunger got the best of me back then pushing me to take the ferry back to town since there was absolutely nothing to eat at the humble train station. The ferry operator was shocked at my decision and I could tell he disapproved it greatly as I would end up having less than an hour on the other side he said! I was driven by my growling stomach at the time and all I wanted was to feed myself so I jumped back in the ferry despite of his disapproval.
I had around 35 minutes to spend by the time I took the ferry back to the village and all I was thinking of was to find something “fast” to eat. I found a food stall near the port and it seemed like the best option considering the limited time I had on my hands. The place offered schnitzel and that was just perfect, I had myself one with fries and an ice tea then headed to the Market Square to enjoy my meal amidst the beauty of that charming little Alpine village. I devoured my delicious schnitzel savoring the scenery I was part of, took few picture, bade Hallstatt adieu, and walked myself back to the port but not before thanking the food vendor for the delicious meal which kind of pleased the people who queued for their food.
The last ferry of the day took me back to the station to catch the “right” train this time and my heart sank as I was taking one last look at Hallstatt. The tiny village that is sandwiched between greenery and the blue “see” just captured my heart. The views from the train window as I headed back to Salzburg weren’t nothing but beautiful. I passed by huge rocks with trees decorating their rooftops and patches of green scattered on their surfaces making them look like a 3D printout of a mountain. The weather forecast for that day wasn’t promising but it turned out to be amazing and the sunset colors at the end were just lovely. I wouldn’t have asked for a better ending to such a wonderful day 🙂