I really wanted to save this post for last, but thanks to my OCD, I need to write about my holiday in chronological order.
Yes, I went to Hallstatt. Even when I see pictures of it now, I still can’t actually believe that I went there. Just when I thought Neuschwanstein Castle was magical, I got blown even further away when I saw Hallstatt.
I decided in advance to go on a Sunday, simply because I would have a long journey to get through to get to Prague on Tuesday, so I didn’t want 2 consecutive days of travelling.
Hallstatt is a World Heritage site that lies roughly 2 hours south east of Salzburg, and about 3 hours south west of Vienna. It gets its name from the Hallstatt mountains where, some 7000 years ago, the pre-historic humans found a rich salt deposit. It is actually home to the oldest salt mine in the world. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see – the reason why I decided to go in the first place.
Getting there from Salzburg
I consulted with various sources to find out how to get to Hallstatt. The only thing I was certain of was its distance from Salzburg – roughly 2.5 hours. There was no direct train there, which didn’t surprise me. If anything, it only made things more exciting.
The day before, I had a quick chat with one of the staff at the central station to confirm that I were to take bus 150 to Bad Ischl, then a train to Hallstatt Bahnhof. From there, I knew I had to take a ferry for another €2.50 to get across the lake to Hallstatt itself. I was also given a bus timetable (even though I had also printed one before my trip) which I gladly accepted since it would confirm the times I planned for.
I was told which platform to wait at for the bus, and that I could get my tickets to the Hallstatt Bahnhof directly from the bus driver. I arrived at the station at around 7:30, as I wanted to grab Starbucks and some food for the road before leaving. The Salzburg Hbf has several little cafes, as well as a Spar, where you can get whatever you like. I decided to get a sandwich roll and a packet of Oreos from the Spar, since I would be able to munch on a few Oreos whenever I felt like without worrying about them getting stale. Knowing that my eating times had already changed completely (most times I forgot to eat lunch and only realized it after 3pm, which also caused me to skip dinner), Oreos was my best bet.
I was glad to have joined the line when I did, because not long after, there were hoards of Chinese tourists with large suitcases behind me. I was probably the 10th person to board the bus, and knew by then that it cost about €14.50 for the ticket to Hallstatt, €10 of which was for the actual bus ride. I didn’t think it was a bad price considering the journey time, not to mention the convenience.
Due to the number of passengers, it took some time for the bus to actually leave, so we left about 15 minutes later than scheduled. It was still ok, and we got to Bad Ischl at about 10, after driving through some of the most scenic places I had ever seen in my life.
Bad Ischl is a quaint little town that, like most places in Austria, is surrounded my mountains. It is less English-friendly than the bigger cities, but still better than the smaller villages. I knew enough German to understand the signs around the station, most of which weren’t particularly obvious.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, the train towards Obertraun Dachsteinhöhlen Bahnhof arrived at platform 1. I got on it with about 20 other people (all of which were with me on the bus from Austria). Most of the Chinese tourists had gotten off the bus 2 stops before Bad Ischl, so the process of disembarking the bus and getting my bearings around the station was simple.
I cannot really put into words just how beautiful the 30 minute train journey was. It started off going along a river, which quickly turned into Hallstatt Lake. I envied the people who must have been living alongside it.
The train stopped at Hallstatt Bahnhof, the smallest station I have ever been to. There was only one train track, and a small hut with a wooden roof that was clearly marked Hallstatt. The moment I got off the train, I was ecstatic because it was pretty obvious where I needed to go as there was a lone wooden pathway straight down to the lake, where the ferry was waiting. I was nearly there.
After paying and boarding the ferry, I waited about 5 minutes for everyone else. Apart from the soft growl of the engine and the occasional chatter from the other people, there was complete silence. The surroundings were unreal. In fact, the entire experience that day was.
The Village of Hallstatt
I had a few things planned for my day in Hallstatt, like visiting the Ice Caves and 5 Fingers, but I was just so thrilled to be in Hallstatt itself that I didn’t want to waste any precious time trying to get to those places. I was also scared that I’d spend so much time travelling in and out of Hallstatt that I wouldn’t be able to get back on time to get back to Salzburg. I pacified myself by thinking, “It’s fine, I’ll be back here again some day. I’ll do it then”.
When the ferry docked, we were let loose. I took a quick glance around the area and figured that the centre of town was to the left, so went in that direction first. Of course I was going to find the viewpoint where I could get my very own postcard picture of the place, but I knew that was to the right, so decided to save it for later.
If I could describe Hallstatt in one word, it would be ‘surreal’. There seems to be one of everything – one church, one market square, and even one ski shop. With a population of barely 1000, it is without a doubt the smallest place I’ve ever been to, and I was in complete and utter awe of the place.
I had at least 5 hours to kill there, but because of how tiny it was, I was forced to take the most leisurely stroll I could possibly take, and it was simply marvelous.
Things you can’t miss (cos it’s not physically possible to miss them)
The free WiFi
The moment you step off the ferry, you will be able to access the open network. It is quite strong considering how many people use it; I was even able to upload some pictures to Facebook without any delays.
The scented soap shops
They have soap in every scent imaginable, and they’re sold by weight. I was not curious enough to smell the one called “man soap”, though.
The Ski Shop
I have never been to a ski shop so was thrilled to walk through it. It had everything from climbing equipment to gloves to embroidered placemats and even salt gift packs. It was quite a large shop that looked like a giant log cabin inside. It is definitely worth a look. I would have definitely made a few purchases if I had any use for ski equipment.
The Lakeside restaurant
I would have died to have lunch there, but I since I had brought lunch with me, I decided to save my cash for the journey home.
As you walk through the village, you’re bound to hear the sound of running water. That is because there is a stream running through Hallstatt that comes directly from the mountains. The buildings are built in such a way so as to not obstruct the natural flow of the water.
The tetris layout of the homes
In case you haven’t already seen pictures of Hallstatt, it is built against a mountain. This means that space is very limited, so homes have to be built on different levels on the gradient of the hill. It also means that very few of the homes can have car garages. I saw more homes with boat houses than car garages, something which was a first for me.
Taking a hike up the south side of town
When I say ‘hike’, I mean climbing hundreds of steps. I was on a mission to get my postcard picture of Hallstatt, and all I knew was the general direction I needed to walk in. But after walking uphill and up hundreds of stairs (at least, that’s what it felt like), I knew that I was not going in the right direction because the village got smaller and smaller, and the lake got bigger and bigger. As I got higher, the staircases got narrower with more uneven steps, and only one person could utilize them at a time. So now and again I had to wait for someone to pass before using them.
I can complain about the stairs because I felt like dying, but I can’t complain about the view.
After going as far up as I possibly could and spending some time absorbing the views, I descended and went further south towards the place I thought most likely to be the viewpoint I was looking for.
It took barely 5 minutes of me reaching the bottom of my unplanned climb to get to the viewpoint, and it was exactly what I expected.
I knew from the moment I stepped onto that ferry that I was in love with Hallstatt, but being able to see it with my own eyes rather than on a photograph was on a whole new level. To say I was happy would be an understatement, even though it took me at least 20 minutes to get someone to take a decent picture of me. After I got 3 different people to help me out, I finally got the picture I wanted (well, sort of).
Getting back to Salzburg
After I was satisfied with the walk I had done, I decided to head back to Salzburg, since it was just after 3pm. But before that, I grabbed a bite from the little takeaway just next to where the ferry would arrive. I misread the timetable, so missed the ferry when it came by the first time. I knew it would be back in 10 to 15 minutes so it didn’t bother me much. I sat patiently on one of the benches on the lakeside, wondering why on earth I didn’t spend the night there – not because I ran out of time, but because I just wanted more time to absorb the beauty of the place. Even though the weather was overcast and a bit chilly, it was still like something out of a fairytale.
When I got back to the train station after taking the ferry, there were a few other people waiting for the train too. When the train arrived, it was going in the same direction as when I arrived earlier that day. Seeing that everyone else (tourists, that is) was getting on that train, I got on it too. However, the moment I put my foot on that step, my gut feeling told me that it was the wrong train.
The reason I got on that train was because I thought that since there was a single track, trains only ever went in one direction. And since the region was so small, I thought that they possibly go around the lake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the train progressed, I became more aware that I was indeed going in the wrong direction, and that I was too far out from Hallstatt to be going anywhere near it again.
I got off at the 3rd stop at a tiny village called Bad Aussee. I had never been to a more deserted station; it was far more empty that Bad Ischl was. There were no staff present, and no sign of any tourists either.
I went into the station and saw 4 elderly local women that looked like they had just been hiking. They were at the ticket machine, babbling to each other about how to use it. I peered over the shoulder of the one who was operating it, and saw that she had selected Bad Ischl as her destination. I couldn’t have been more relieved. I mean, what were the odds?
I quickly got myself a ticket once they were done, and followed them outside. I made sure to stay as close to them as possible, without being creepy of course. A young Chinese guy came to ask them if they knew how to call a taxi, and it was then that I discovered that they did not speak a word of English. Luckily for him, he was staying in the village, so he didn’t have far to go, unlike me.
According to the station’s timetable, the next train to Bad Ischl was going to arrive only at about 8pm, so I was freaking out slightly because I wondered if I might have to spend the night in Bad Aussee, and how I would do that. However, I knew that there was no way in hell that 60-something year old women would wait for 4 hours at a train station, which is why I stayed close to them. After about 30 minutes of sitting on the bench, they got up and walked towards the platform. I was so relieved, so went with them. We stood for another 15 minutes or so, and I decided to ask the friendliest looking one, in some sort of retarded sign language, if they were indeed going to Bad Ischl. She said yes and pointed to the platform I should be standing on.
When the train arrived, the same woman I had asked gestured for me to get onto the train with them. I was very grateful for that. I also sat close to them on the train and when we arrived in Bad Ischl, she again gestured for me to exit the train with them. She once again proved how wonderful the locals are, and that they will always help you when they can.
When I got back to Bad Ischl, I realized that I had totally forgotten that it was a Sunday which meant that the busses came only every 2 hours, and I had just missed the previous bus by about 20 minutes. It meant I had to wait until 6:30pm for the next bus to arrive, more than 1.5 hours more. I was totally fine with it though, because not only was it still broad daylight, but I was sure that the bus would take me directly to Salzburg.
There were a handful of other tourists that were waiting at the station too, so I at least had some company. I met 3 other Indian girls there too, who were very friendly, so we chatted a little. I should have asked them where they were from because it was evident that they weren’t from India, but their accents were difficult to make out.
We all got on the same bus, including some other people who were on the bus with me from Salzburg in the morning. Clearly they spent the day in Bad Ischl and not Hallstatt, which explained why I boarded the train to Hallstatt with so few people. When I saw them, I was even more relieved because I knew they were also going back to Salzburg.
That day, although I was a little scared, I was thankful for the new experience of not only seeing a place I had dreamed about for years, but for the humanity of others and the comfort of the company of strangers, even if we didn’t say a word to each other. When you’re alone, you have to be aware of your surroundings. You also learn to read people, which can prove extremely valuable. The journey to Hallstatt not only taught me that, but also to never doubt my gut instincts. Had I not gotten off that train in Bad Aussee, who knows where I would have ended up that night.Hallstatt, I will most definitely see you again. Next time, I’m going to spend at least 2 nights in your little paradise because you were like something I had read out of a storybook, and I still can’t believe that you are actually real.
If Hallstatt had a theme song, it would be something by Enya.