Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 3 - Hallstatt

In the morning, while the boys embarked on a long, manly, strenuous bike ride, we girls decided to sample the culture. Which meant museum, shops and bakeries. Here are some of my favourite finds and shops:
("capitalist pig", "petrol money", "my last money")
Below is the floor of the largest souvenir shop. While digging for the foundation of the building, they came across important archeological finds. So they left them there, built around them and displayed them as best they could. I found this to be the most important aspect of the culture in this part of the world. They disturb as little as they can of nature, even if it means sacrificing some of their own comfort.
The train station is on the other side of the lake, and you can only reach it by boat. They did it that way instead of drilling through the mountain to make more room. And some houses are buit straddling the stream that falls right in the town centre, instead of diverting its course.
And the dead are dug up every 10 years to...but that's another story. Here are my favourite museum pieces:
a celt's hat
animal figurines:
bronze fibula (must replicate in textile form):
the birthing chair: (yes, this is what it says, a chair that moved around from family to family as needed, and onto which generations of hallstatt women gave birth)
a medieval kitchen:
and some medieval ice skates:
An illustration of the big fire of 1750. The negligence of the baker's wife started it, and 35 houses were destroyed.
The houses at the two extremities of the fire are now painted red and stand as reminder. This is the one where the fire started. I couldn't find the other one.

A fun cube of mirrors in the museum:
After an intense session of sightseeing and shopping in the b;azing heat, there was only one thing on my mind. And I offered it to myself freely: bathing in that cool, wonderfully clear lake. This time it was sunny and there were no waves, so I lasted for waay longer than 10 minutes:
I think I'd choose this any time over sandy beaches in exotic locations.
But my moments of relaxation were cut short by a spur-of-the-moment decision to circle the lake on bikeback. And a great decision it proved to be, as it is now my most vivid memory of the entire trip. It was already late in the afternoon, the sun wasn't blazing anymore, and on those wide and safe bicycle lanes, it was sheer delight.
We took a wrong turn, but the view proved to be anything but wrong:
Back onto the right route, my delight soon faded when forced to pedal up some steep hills.
Smiling for the camera:
...and how I was actually feeling:
But we were only half way and the big challenge was still to come. A long narrow and (of course) see-though floored path, made by man in order to compensate for the lack of room for a proper path on that side of the mountain. And it gets worse when the steel path becomes a squeaky, wobbly and transparent-floored bridge over the deep green lake. It was interesting to bike while people canoed beneath you. And it took me a lot of nerve to not give up and cross the bridge on foot. But I did it!
The sun was starting to go behind the mountains when we realised that in our enthusiasm we had forgotten to take with us anything that would have been useful: a watch, the gps, a phone... With no way to tell how long we had till dark, we decided to turn back.
I huffed and puffed up those hills again, and then enjoyed the steep, speedy descent. Wind in my face, lake at my side, I felt such joy and gratitude for the chance to experience this, that I felt I had to express it somehow. So I hugged the Austrian land and took my bike along with me. I totally deformed one of the pedals and got meself a nice bruise. I was lucky it wasn't worse, but now I have something to be teased about.
Finally returning to the camping ground, we landed in the middle of some folk party, with people dressed in traditional costumes, singing and dancing. It didn't seem planned or professional, since most people didn't even seem to know the words to the songs very well. But I later noticed how casually and happily everybody wears their traditional costumes, without needing the excuse of some holiday.

And that was the end of day 3. I really wanted to go join the folk party, but I fell flat on my face in the tent, fully dressed, and woke up the next morning.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 2 - Hallstatt

Day 2 saw a pressing desire to reach new heights. So we decided to see the peak called Krippenstein.
Not my usual mountain hike, since everything is designed for maximum comfort and easy access. So the only effort involved in making it to 2100m was a financial one. The cableway trip was equivalent to a ride in an amusement park for me: all glass around you, the trees and houses getting smaller and smaller, the occasional jerk and sudden change in height... quite thrilling.
Very very small fir trees:
Once up there, the view is breathtaking. Peaks and glaciers and rock and snow wherever you look, with the Dachstein standing imposingly in the distance:
Seen from this point, the height we had walked to with so much sweating the previous day seemed like a stroll in the park.
A hike around to the other side of the peak takes you to the "5fingers", one of the main tourist attractions. They are what their name says: 5 miraculously engineered fingers of steel extending over the edge of the cliff and scaring you with their transparent floor.

One of the fingers has a gilded frame fixed to a pole, which is meant for framing the beautiful scenery. ... Right
After doing the compulsory tourist things, we scattered all over the mountain top and took to all kinds of siliness.

I'm particularly proud of this pic:
And this one's funny, it looks like we're pasted onto a poster:
After we were done with the silliness, we descended to about halfway down the mountain, where the caves were. There are tens and tens of caves in these mountains, some are for tourists, some are meant for professionals and some are totally off bounds. Unfortunately I had put my camera away since the sign said no photos, but it turned put the guide did allow you to take pics. The ice cave was awesome, I wish I could have stayed there a lot longer than the tour allowed. It was beauty I cannot compare to anything else I've seen. You could try going here for some pics.

These little houses below are all little museum, each concerning a different aspect of the Dachstein: plants, animals, history, exploration etc.
The day ended with a brave attempt to bathe in the lake. It had gone cloudy and windy in the meantime, and there were big (and cold!) waves. So I lasted for about 10 minutes in knee deep water before I fled to the comfort of polar fleece.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm back

Dear hypothetical readers,

I'm back from one of the best holidays of my life, in the pretty little town of Hallstatt, Austria. It was quite possibly also the most physically-intensive holiday of my adult life. I wish I had a week to recover now.

Up at dawn and sleeping whenever done with nighttime photography, not a minute of that sunny week was wasted: walking, climbing, cycling, sightseeing, more walking, even more walking, omg not walking again...

I think this is how life should be spent: as if you only had 5 summer days left until hell. In this case hell being work, bills and a poorly managed country with no bicycle lanes. :)

In the following days, I will give you several posts with pics carefully selected to make you very, very envious. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hallstatt - day1

Day 1 began in a way that was to set the tone for the rest of the week. Too excited to sleep , we got up at 6:30. We soon realized that meant 5:30am local time. Oh well, at least there was nobody on the playground at that time. So the obvious choice was to sample swings from yet another country.

Ahh, nothing like swinging in your pjs at 5am!
Especially when you have this view:

With that crossed off the list, breakfast was carefully avoided so as not to rouse the other inhabitants of the camping ground, and an orientation walk through the town was also crossed off the list. Come to think of it, the catchphrase of the entire holiday was "nevermind, we'll eat when we come back".

The town looks like this. I'm pretty sure in months to come I will spend many motionless minutes staring at this picture.
It was great to walk around at that time, there was complete silence and not a tourist in sight.
Later that morning the sleepyheads joined the group and we went on the first trek, on a path above the town, following the course of a very long waterfall all the way up to the historic salt mine.

This is just a segment of the waterfall that starts 1600m up the mountain and falls in the town centre.
The town from above:
The trek leads you to the site of the Hallstatt necropolis. It always fascinates me to be in a place where the presence of ancient peoples is so strongly felt. The spot where the first grave (of over 2000) was found now holds a reconstruction of that grave, inside a small black boxy building.
On the ceiling, a movie was projected, enabling you to see through the eyes of that skeleton: the burial, and later, in the 1800s, the archaeological discovery.
The necropolis site is now shaded by this bridge, built for the sole purpose of offering tourists a better view of the lake. Of course it had to have a glass elevator! And of course they made me go in it twice!

~To be continued, in a logical sequence, with day 2 ~