HALLSTATT, Austria  

  Debra's Diary ~ June 2005          We arrived at Hallstatt the traditional way, by bus & train from Salzburg and rolled our cases down the path to the jetty to find the ferry just gliding towards us.  It gave us time to catch our breath - the view of Hallstatt across the water had well and truly taken it away.  It really is picture perfect; nary a ripple on the pristine lake, the spire of the Protestant church narrow and dark above its white body.  The ferry drops you at the jetty which is close to the main market square of Hallstatt, which is pretty and traditional with wooden houses and a fountain in the centre.  There are few cars in Hallstatt - the town is so lovely they want to keep it that way.  If you come by road to Hallstatt - and there are excellent links - you have to leave your vehicle at the car park outside the town.  Only a few tourist coaches or local traffic is allowed to come down the tunnel into the town itself.  And I prefer it that way.  There are also few hotels; ours (the Hirlatz) was owned and managed by the Höll family and was a 15 minute drag of the case or a very short taxi ride from the main square. 

Kätte Höll was in charge, a charming and lively woman who instantly made us feel welcome.  Once we were introduced to her father, Herr Höll, and saw the family photographs of him with his dog and walking stick high up on alms or snowline, we realised we had found a fellow walker.  And what a walker he was!  If he felt inclined, he would take parties of guests out on guided walks into the Dachstein mountains, and I had no doubt whatsoever that he would easily outstrip most of them and barely miss a breath either.  He used to take Kätte hunting, and his pride in her was very evident.  It required no discussion; we must have him in our film and we feel his interview was a great contribution to it.

The local tourist office were more than helpful, and provided us with introductions to the famous Salt Mine and also the Dachstein Caves.  Claudia introduced us to Ulrike, a town guide, and we had such a good time with her.  Her sense of humour was mischievous, which suits mine, so we got on like a house on fire, which I suppose is bit of a non-pc thing to say as 35 houses were destroyed in the village in their Great Fire.  Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed walking and talking with her.  They all know each other, it's such a small place, and Mia was another guide at the Salt Mine, who was very good.  The Salt Mine really is a 'great day out' - Mia didn't rush us along, we all had time to lick the walls and touch and poke things, and the slides were of course the main event.  It is unnerving just launching yourself on these things; it's been such a long time since I went down a slide on the 'recreation ground' (they've all got worthy names now, haven't they?  They're not the 'reccy' anymore.) with my little son clamped firmly between my knees.  But you can't get out of it - be warned - and it isn't that bad, you can go down in tandem if you want, but of course, we couldn't do that because Dave needed to film.  The little train that brought us out was sweet, and as I'm partial to any kind of train, it was a fun way to end the visit.  

You really do need several days in Hallstatt to do it justice.  If you just wander around the pretty squares, admire the houses and do a little meander along the upper old route you will only skim the surface.  The Hallstatt museum is very good, but all the information boards in and out of the cases were in German only when we went, which rather lessens the effect because you only then get an impression from the artifacts instead of an in-depth version.  I speak German, but it's rusty and you don't have the time to stand and translate it in your head and then repeat it for your partner's benefit.  Shame, I think so many more people would benefit from other languages being available.  There are so many walks for all kinds of abilities that it really is hard to choose which ones to take. Our walks were of necessity circular and as we really do walk every step, the weather is what it is, and mountain weather is so unpredictable.  The Dachstein caves really are worth visiting, the Eishöll in particular, is quite spectacular, and the other villages are pleasant to visit, although very quiet.  Hallstatt is the main attraction at the lake and everyone knows it.  Strolling about in the evening is very relaxing with so few tourists around, and one evening we met Claudia from the tourist office out on her bike.  There is no nightlife in Hallstatt, so the young people have to go further afield, although on our last night there was a lake cruise for young singles that specially permitted us to sit quietly in the corner and just enjoy the evening on the water.

I like the slight sloppiness of Austria versus the rigid perfection of Switzerland; the waymarking signs were rustic and sometimes nailed up anyhow, and although the houses were all neat and tidy, there were untidy bits or less perfect parts that endeared you rather more to their ways.  I love Switzerland, no error, but Austria is somehow more comfortable, for me.  The food in Hallstatt is authentic and very good, but also be warned that the guesthouses and hotels and restaurants within Hallstatt all have a night off, so finding a meal last minute is a fraught exercise.  During our visit it was a Tuesday night, and we had been so busy filming that we actually forgot, and strode from one shut restaurant to another in slightly panicked mode until we found the big hotel in Marktplatz, which was open and serving.  The dining room wasn't huge, and a large party of Austrians from another city were celebrating a family birthday - it made the whole atmosphere very jolly and we were soon laughing and raising our glasses with them.  As soon as they discovered we were English they immediately switched to our language, and we spent a very pleasant evening meeting lovely people in a rustic restaurant, surrounded by country artifacts, with some awfully good schnapps and a roaring fire.

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