So the saga continues…
Firstly if you are ever planning on visiting Hallstatt and on a budget, cheap accommodation is impossible to find. Instead I stayed across the lake in the small village of Obertraun. Whilst not especially rural there were no Supermärkte or Bäckereien open by the time I’d arrived (or even in the morning) although luckily I’d stocked up on snacks in Salzburg. I then spent the evening walking through the village before sitting by the lake, letting the exhaustion of being up since one in the morning to catch my flight, wash over me in peaceful surroundings.
Obertraun is about an hours walk from Hallstatt itself around the edge of the lake, so early in the morning I strolled there hoping to arrive before the busloads of tourists arrive and have what is in fact a small village to myself despite visiting during peak tourist system. The village is so beloved of Chinese tourists for its picturesque nature they’ve even created a mirror copy of it in Huizhou city in the south of the country.
In the village itself there is little to do except admire the pictureskew nature of the surroundings and if you are not of a squeamish nature visit the Catholic church (up a steep flight of stairs around the back of many of the houses). Here, whilst the church itself is undeniably attractive, it is a small building at the end of the graveyard that contains the best surprise – skulls and lots of them. When the local population run out of room in their small hillside graveyard, the dead are exhumed and the skulls intricately painted. It might seem a morbid tradition at first however with the village wedged between the hill and the lake the only other option would be to simply dispose of the bodies entirely so the skull painting serves as an unorthodox memorial to the local dead, many of whom still have relatives living in the village.
After this I took a cable car up the hill to the salt mines that for centuries employed the village and explain its unusual location. A tour round the salt mines is rather action packed – to get from level to level the miners used slides which you also use to access the mines. Some of these slides are up to 60m long and you reach some serious speed! The area is also notable for the eponymous Hallstatt culture, with the salt mine being in continuous use since the Iron Age so the area has been found to be rich with early burials and amazing “Celtic” art. Also the shop has every kind of salt imaginable (paprika salt is a personal favourite) and great penknives (best one I’ve ever had and I’ve got through a bizarre amount).
I spent the afternoon lounging around swimming in an open air pool half-way round the lake, relaxing before a day of hiking tomorrow. On this day I took a cable car up to the Dachstein Ice Cave. Thermals were very definitely necessary as despite the sweltering heat outside, the temperature in this cave was still -10ºC. As you can see from size of the people in the image below – the levels of ice even in August are pretty impressive!
After the caves, I followed the footpath up to the next cable car station, and the view from my lunch spot was absolutely majestic. However by this point despite plenty of water and shade, I had started to suffer from severe heatstroke in the obscenely hot weather. By afternoon the local hospital had unfortunately beckoned.
Although personally I felt relatively alright after a good dose of magnesium, the doctor made me stay overnight for a check up. At this point I recommend always fully checking your health insurance because otherwise you do end up being charged €17 for a plaster if your EHIC card has accidently gone and expired! Anyway, mild drama over, eventually I headed back to Obertraun and pick up my belongings to catch a train to Vienna for what would be a thoroughly enjoyable week (this time thankfully no heatstroke in sight).