We headed out to Hallstatt, Austria this morning with an unfortunate prediction of a 100% chance of rain all day. After a couple hours on the train we arrived at the Hallstatt station, but not the town. Hallstatt doesn’t allow any trams or trains, so you get off the train across the lake and then take a ferry over. Even though it was pouring and cloudy the town was still majestic, set against the lush green mountains dotted with rock cliffs.
Hallstatt is in existence because of the salt mine at the top of the mountain. The town was built around the mine and the families that moved there to work. It’s so tiny, the population is under a thousand people! The mine is considered to be the worlds first salt mine. Besides the jaw-dropping landscape, touring the mine is the main attraction. Grace and I first hiked up to a church to explore. It was small but beautiful, and something that grabbed my attention was the graveyard. On each grave there was a marker but then there were tons of flowers and plants over the grave. I loved how they would always have fresh flowers on them, instead of someone constantly replacing bouquets on them.
We asked for directions to the salt mine and everyone pointed us to the right and then up. Our plan was to take the cable car up the mountain, do the tour and then be on our way to Vienna. But plans change so we soon realized we were hiking straight up the mountain, in the pouring rain with our packs on. Now I’m not going to lie, at first I was not a happy camper. I was soaked and absolutely freezing, despite the layers I was wearing, water had seeped in everywhere and I couldn’t warm up. Also not helpful that we didn’t have hats, gloves or anything in the like. However, I knew Grace really wanted to hike and we already were there so I went for it. Glad I did, but I definitely needed some convincing.
The hike up the mountain took over an hour and it was tough. The rain and our packs didn’t make it any easier but we wanted to stick it out. Even with the crappy weather the views were awesome on the trail. The woods were such a vibrant green, huge leafs, moss and plants growing everywhere. The rain was relentless but hiking such a steep path helped us not to freeze. When we finally made it to the top we were completely soaked- rain and sweat but felt pretty accomplished, looking down to the town from where we hiked up. At the top there is an UNESCO World Heritage viewing site of the Alps. I really really wished the sun was out, but we made the best of it.
We finally made it to the salt mine tour, leaving huge puddles everywhere we went. This sweet lady gave us a student discount and we were ushered into a room where we had to put on these baggy, scrub like clothes to go into the mine. Hilarious but we were both thankful for an extra layer of dry clothes.
The tour was great! We walked through the tunnels, stopping at various points to learn about the history of salt-mining and the evolution of the mine in Hallstatt. The tour was in both German and English, there even was a school field trip there. However they always talked way more in German so Grace and I had fun pretending to understand what they were saying and entertained our tour guide. In the mine there was a salt pool which was super cool and it is where the worlds oldest staircase was discovered. The whole tour was interesting and fun, we got to go down a couple slides inside the mine and ride a train. Fun fact, the mine is still active today and is operated four days a week. Another cool/weird feeling to know you were walking where thousands have before you and for hundreds of years!
We took the cable car down, short on time and way too cold to make the hike. It took all of three minutes…crazy. Desperate to warm up and eat we went in the first restaurant we saw near the ferry. I ordered an Austrian gulash dish, aka beef stew and homemade noodles. SO GOOD. I know I was starving now and freezing but it was wonderful. The view from our table wasn’t so bad either.
After lunch we caught the ferry to the station and made our way to Vienna. Our second train ride was over two hours so I snuck in a nap. It wasn’t raining when we got off the train and we easily found our hostel, a really nice place in the heart of the city. We relaxed, finally dried out and hung out with some people in the hostel. It was another great day, major props to Gracie for putting up with me and my reluctance with the cold and rainy weather. Gray skies can’t hold us back!