Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hallstatt: An Austrian Love Affair

It's true that I was on foot.  It's true that I stayed in Pauline's attic and picked at runny eggs three mornings in a row. It's true that I rented a bike from an extraordinarily crass bike rental guy named Eddie.

Despite all of these things, it's true that I fell head over heels for Hallstatt, Austria.

Nestled in the Austrian Alps, right on the lake, is fairytale land, otherwise known as Hallstatt. And if this is what the "end of the world" looks like, as dubbed by a few locals, then, well, I'll take it.

I fell hard for Hallstatt. Here's 14 reasons why:

1. It looks stellar from any angle:

Taking in the view from above
2. Because...fairytales

3. It glows at dusk

4. Hotdog paninis


5. Sausage


6. Impromptu Oompa concerts on balconies

7. Swan staring contests

8. Boat rides across the lake

9. Street wanderings



11. This

12. And this

Because no fairytale is complete without a swan...

13. Oh, and this

14. Bam. 

Alas, Hallstatt, how I love thee.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Don't F Up the Bikes

We awoke in the attic to the alarm I set specifically for breakfast, because something told me Pauline expected us to be prompt. And I didn't want to piss her off.

Rightly so because in the next few minutes Pauline became my hero. My pitcher of coffee hero. Her quickly acquired hero status was just as swiftly destroyed when the coffee induced euphoria cleared and revealed the breakfast before us. Promising at first glance, the hard boiled egg was in fact, not hard. The little packaged tin was not jelly, but liver spread. LIVER. 

Across the room was a jar of Nutella. So close, but out of reach as it was not for us, but the family's Nutella jar. We had plans to wait for Pauline to leave the room and sneak some of the chocolate hazelnut goodness in lieu of the liver spread. But, we were afraid of getting caught.

There it is. The elusive nutella jar.
Alas, there was the pitcher of coffee. And we didn't know it yet, but we would need it for our hike to our hike.

I cracked, okay, attempted to crack the egg open and it's guts spilled out over the fancy holder Pauline had chosen for this uncooked egg. It was amazingly unsalvageable. Wait until she got a load of the mess I made. I picked at some cheese and mystery meat, careful to steer clear of the glistening liver tin, and drank every drop of my allotted half of coffee pitcher.

We were ready for our hike.

But first, I e-mailed every place I could find that might have a way for me to try fly fishing. Fingers crossed that someone would write me back and I'd be able to check off my first item here in Austria!

Ok, NOW we were ready for our hike.

Since we were on foot in Obertraun, our hike began with a hike, up to the cable car. A cable car that went up (obviously), but seemingly up into the sky for infinity. Seriously though, this shit was high. And it was swingy. Super swingy.

The only thing worse than being in a swinging cable car is being in a swinging cable car packed to the brim with people.

I burst from the cable car letting out the unintentional breath I was holding relieved to be out of there. We made our way to a viewpoint creepily called "The Five Fingers" which delivered on views high, high above Hallstatt, and I forgot all about the scary cable car.

Pretty nice lil Sunday

We began our hike on the Heilbronner Circular trail with a quick sheep encounter. It was quick because as soon as I tried to get up close and personal Mr. Sheep gave me a warning nod like "you've got 3.5 seconds to scram" before coming at me. So I did. Scram, that is.

The hike was pretty freaking gorgeous. End of summer flowers still hanging onto the last bit of warmth, sheer mountain backdrops, abundant sunshine, and a giant metal shark. Yep, it was glorious.

Too big for a walking stick?

OBVIOUSLY had to climb up it

We finished the hike hours later, and boy were our dogs barkin. But we still had to walk back to Pauline's. Ugh. On our way down we had a bright idea to rent bikes. Only thing was the bike rental was all the way down by the lake. So we reluctantly made our way, hoping that our reward would be in the form of two bikes.

The bike shop was closed. Or at least that's what the 12 year old captain (who was wearing lederhosen) from the previous day informed us...that is, until we met Eddie.

Eddie was a bit rough around the edges. A bit of a scraggly mulleted rebel. A bit more than a bit rough around the edges, actually.

Our feet hurt we said. We were staying so far away in Pauline's attic we said. We needed bikes we said. We begged.

"I give you the bikes." Eddie relented as he tuned up a rather iffy looking bike. 

KJ and I secretly celebrated with eyebrow raises.

It was then that Eddie decided to become extremely comfortable with us and let his true self shine. 

He proceeded to share his entire life story, inserting the word "fuck" about five times per sentence as he readied our wheels.

"I fucking want to go to America man. That would be a f*cking awesome trip. F*ck." 

KJ and I nodded. Just give us the bikes.

"I want to f*ck my wife in Arizona." Eddie told us.

I looked at his ring finger. No ring. 

"Did he mean find?" I mouthed to KJ who was just as confused.

Is it even possible to accidentally mix up the words "f*ck" and "find"?

"HA!" we laughed nervously. Eddie was a real character. 

"This f*cking job man. Don't f*ck up these bikes. My f*cking boss will go nuts. Here's the f*cking lock." Eddie kept going; f*ck happy as he was.

He presented us with the most wildly amazing bike lock that could ever be. A cross between Rainbow Brite and Fisher Price bike lock circa 1982.

"What's the key?" I asked.

"F*cking sailboats." 

Right. As if it was the most obvious of choices.

We paid for our new transportation and thanked Eddie.

"Since you leave me no tip we have beer together." Eddie so plainly informed us.

Negotiation at it's finest. 

And so that's how we ended up hearing about Eddie's life in Slovenia, his stage fright playing bass guitar from a bathroom during concerts, and the word "f*ck" about 23723748 more times. Then as an added bonus, the lederhosen wearing 12 year old captain joined us, since he was friends with Eddie, naturally. His name was Bernie and blushed just about as often as Eddie employed his favorite word. 

I decided this would be a great time to ask about fly fishing. 

"F*ck. Fly fishing at the end of the world? Bernie'll take you. He's f*cking good."

Bernie blushed.

"Would you? We have one more day here." I pleaded.

Bernie had to work. 12 year old captains don't get much time off it turns out.

Back to the drawing board. Would I ever check something off? At least we had bikes to get back to Pauline's attic. So there was that.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pauline's Attic

I knew getting ourselves to Austria wasn’t going to be an easy feat in any sense of the word. But in order to make the journey on time, some things had to be rearranged. We found ourselves getting on a bus from Plitvice a day early and heading to Zagreb where we’d sleep a bit before the giant trek to far away Austrian lands.  We crossed the border from Croatia to Austria, stopping at customs where the customs dude inspected my passport a little too long.

“Nevada? Las Vegas?” he inquired with a smirk on his face.

“Yes, I was born there.”

He produced a brief nod that I wasn’t sure was approval, amusement, or both. And that was all. I decided in that moment my passport must’ve made him recall a crazy weekend in Vegas or something.

We were in Austria! Nevermind that we still had a long way to go. Not only that, but every train and bus transfer needed to line up perfectly for us to make the next one. We literally had a one minute transfer between train and bus halfway through.  

We sat on the last train bewildered by how all four transfers had been seemingly seamless.

“Thank you Austria, for making today possible.” I said.

KJ agreed.

“I feel energized by Austria!” I declared with a minor movement resembling a cross between a fist pump and a popeye arm swing.

Just then I spotted something out the train window that halted my popeye-pump hybrid right in it's tracks. A stream/river thing. A fisherman. Fly fishing.

“THEY HAVE FLY FISHING HERE! I HAVE TO CHECK OFF ‘TRY FLY FISHING’ IN AUSTRIA!” I all but yelled with robust excitement. I didn’t know how but I knew I needed to start checking shit off my list, and this was where I would start. By fly fishing in Austria. Genius.

Our trek including no less than another two buses, 3 trains, and an unexpected 1.5 kilometer walk with our bags to our accommodations in the town across the lake from Hallstatt… Obertraun.  At least we’d finally be out of the scorching heat. At least it would be cool there.

We exited the train in the Hallstatt area to unseasonably warm weather. Warm as in 92 degrees. This wasn’t right. It was supposed to be high 60’s! The typical profuse sweating while trekking our to place of stay occurred. 

We finally arrived at our guesthouse; greeted by an older woman with full on hair curlers in.

She showed us up, up, up stairs to our room. Each floor was noticeably warmer than the last. We arrived. In the attic.

“I don’t suppose there’s air conditioning?” 

Pauline looked disappointed in me. 

“Or a fan?”

“No.” she shook her curlers. “Keep the curtains closed. It will be cool later.”


“What time do you want breakfast.”  Pauline asked. But it was 4:00.

“Umm” KJ and I looked at each other. We didn’t even know what we’d do for dinner yet. But at least there was going to be breakfast, so with that we silently agreed to 8:30.


And with that Pauline and her curlers were gone.

We were exhausted. And sweltering. Being in the attic wasn’t helping. I wanted to see the lake. Badly. I had many ants in my pants about seeing Hallstatt in person too.

So we went. We started the long walk back the way we had just come, but this time free of our backpacks and Lil Bea. We walked past the train station to the Lake just as the sun was starting to drop behind the towering mountains.

We jumped on a boat inquiring about halfway across about our return trip to Obertraun, after partaking in a sausage and beer fest of our own making.

“The bus runs late.” The young boat driver assured us.  He was a strapping young boy of at least 12 so it seemed like legit information.

Great, we were good to go. Sausages here we come.

A ten minute boat jaunt across the lake and we were in fairy tale land. Even in the early evening shadow cast by the surrounding Austrian Alps, Hallstatt managed to twinkle. Forgive my cliché, but it was, actually, enchanting.

We wound ourselves around the streets until our stomachs would allow no more wandering. We needed food and beer. Lots of beer was required after our long journey.  Also, I had to pee.

We stopped at a cute corner spot (despite the warning about the "vicious" cat) and agreed to start inside and snag an outside table as soon as one freed up.  

Cat looks super tough.
The waiter showed me to the bathroom, explaining that the men were on the left and the women on the right.

“Because women are always right.”

“Ha” I laughed. Now let me pee, kind sir.

Our first sips of cold, crisp beer was fantastic and super refreshing.

A nearby table became occupied by a group of four Asians who, seemingly, were in a rush of some sort. They approached the counter for the third time when the waiter quickly scolded them.

“You need to slow down! Take your time!” he was exasperated by them. I was thoroughly amused.

The waiter was quite sassy. I liked it. More entertainment for us.

“We need to stay on his good side.” I told KJ as we moved to our promised table outside.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle on the streets, packed with people dressed in lederhosen, about to attend some concert we saw being set up when we arrived on the boat.

“Who is singing?” we asked the sassy waiter.

“A stupid guy, he is not good, and everyone goes.” He explains loudly, while walking over to a table with a group of girls decked out in lederhosen, clearly going to the concert.

Maybe sassy waiter knew what time the buses ran until. 

"What time is the last bus?"

"About an hour ago"

"Oh. Really?"

"There's no late buses here. Not here, at the end of the world!"


So we weren't on a schedule to be on a bus anymore and even though we weren't quite sure how we'd get back to the attic, it didn't much matter while we wandered the streets of Hallstatt as dusk fell and the "bad singer" began to play. Even in the dark, Hallstatt held it's fairy tale status.

We were wiped. It was time to make our way back to Pauline's somehow. Luckily we found some very unbusy taxi drivers and one was willing to deliver us back to Pauline's. 

We returned to the attic filled with dread at the sauna that surely awaited to engulf us. But it had cooled off considerably. Well damnit. Pauline was right.

I finally drifted off to sleep wondering what Pauline would be serving us for breakfast the next morning...and, of course, what her curls would look like once unleashed.