Monday, August 2

Hallstatt, Austria

Hello, Beautiful!

We took a day trip to Hallstatt (it's the small town on the left) wondering if the forecasters had lost their minds predicting rain all day! Anywhere you are on this hillside town holds a gorgeous view in every direction.

Hallstatt claims to be the oldest salt mine in the world. The population has always been between a thousand or two at the most. It is an adorable little town hugging the mountain against a glassy still lake. Only quiet electric boats or manually oared boats break the stillness, all others exceed the noise law. Ryan couldn't help wish for a boat and some skis to get out there with!

We parked above the town and began our little walk down the mountain steps and I tried not to think about walking up them at the end of the day with tired kids. This is not a stroller town if you want the freedom to explore. And it's all about choosing a path and following it up or down and around the corners. Fantastic views!

We came down some stairs and around a corner to land right in the town square! The kids began running circles on a wooden stage platform here. Their happy squeals and pounding feet were not welcome by at least one very vocal local. I think they take noise quite seriously here!

First we went into the Protestant church. It is very simple and light and I don't have a picture because the kids were restless. The church is only a century and a half old because Martin Luther’s inspired Reformation was not welcome in Austria – land of the Habsbourgs and the seat of their Holy Roman Empire. While the working class miners here tended to be Protestant after the Reformation, the nearby Salzburg bishop often sent soldiers out to stem the tide. There’s a plaque outside the door of this church citing that it falls under the UN Hague Convention protecting church structures. How much I often take for granted my religious freedom!

Next we went up some windy and tunneled stairs to see the beautiful Catholic church that is perched above the town. You can see the spire and the church's placement seems to infer how it oversaw the little town in its shadow. Inside the church, there are two side-by-side beautifully ornate altars. One was made by artists from the town in 1897 while the other, more ornate, was made in 1515 and dedicated to Mary. She is flanked by St. Barbara (patron saint of miners) and St. Catherine (patron saint of foresters) – very important to a mining town that used the wood to tunnel into the mountain and boil the salt and distill it. Salt was big money for any empire.

Ryan was eager to see the Bone Chapel behind the church with over 600 painted skulls. For centuries, because there isn’t much space for burials, bodies would be buried for 12 years and then dug up. The skulls were often painted to show respect and love – laurel leaves, olive, and others symbolizing well-wishes by family and friends. This stopped in the 1960s as cremation became more customary but the last person placed in here was in 1995 at her own wish. The skulls on the bibles were priests.

After the boneses, we were hungry! Not because of the bones, it was just that time of day, I promise! We had a great lakeside lunch while the kids dug in the dirt and gravel or squawked at the ducks. We’re so refined, don’t ya know!

Ahhh! It was such a nice place to eat on the river surrounded by all this!

After lunch we split up. The boys then went up the funicular to see the salt mine but Morgan was too young. The boys had a great time!

A view from the top.

The boys look like they're in straight jackets!

Or like crazy chefs in need of those tall hats!

But here's the mine's entrance and then their guide.

[Hurray! Our scanner finally works!]

The girls had a great time too. First we snuggled in the shade watching ducks and tourists. Then we headed into a grocery store where Morgan pushed a kid cart to her heart’s content. She finally requested mini crescent rolls and strawberry yogurt. We enjoyed our spoils lakeside and fed the ducks. Morgan loved this as any kid does and any parent loves to watch!

I was curious to see the town’s swimming park so we headed down the road. What a cute place, but Ryan had the camera! A manmade island with fresh mown grass spread the size of a small soccer field stood twenty yards from the park and was connected by a sturdy walking bridge. Classic playground toys you can’t find in the states anymore were along the shore with lots of nice soft grass and shade trees. Morgan spent the majority of her time on a little lady bug shaped baby slide. She also learned the hard way how to share the slide, or sit in time out. She’d holler “Nein!” to another little girl who wanted to slide. It took five or so time outs for Morgan to back down and share. We’re getting there and I can see her wheels turning more often about this sharing concept but she'll still test the limits to see what she can get away with.