Salzkammergut Lake District

October 3, 2011


              view from B&B in Ramsau  It’s all about beautiful scenery and personal connections.  Those are what make traveling so memorable for us.  This was made even more apparent today…

                Our B&B for these days in Ramsau is the Mayringerlehen.  Sabine, our hostess, gave us our breakfast orientation this morning.  In addition to what we’ve come to know as the usual B&B fare, there were two kinds of cheeses made from the milk of Johann and Sabine’s cows.  There was a more dense cheese that was made by the man who tends their cattle during the Almabtrieb.  Sabine said she didn’t know an English word for this but that it was a 3 month period when their cows were grazing in the high country.  “Yes!”  I said we knew about this because we’d just come from an Almabtrieb festival in Mayrhofen.  And the dots continue to connect…  The other cheese, soaking in olive oil and garlic, had been made by her husband, Johann.  And then there was the fresh, unpasteurized milk for cereal and what she called blue water from a spring or well in their yard.  Everything was delicious.  Johann, dressed in his lederhosen, tended the tables while Sabine began cleaning the rooms.  In fact, Johann offered to fix us an egg and I suspect that would have come from the chickens just outside our balcony.laundry day

                For some reason I had really left this part of our trip loose.  I wasn’t sure what the weather would be and boy, has that surprised us!  Or perhaps I wanted to prove that I am not completely anal retentive.  I’m not sure, but there are so many things close to us here I figured we could kind of wing it.  On the way to winging it is the Salzkammergut Lake District of Austria (think “Sound of Music”).  We had to drive around Salzburg to get there but it was another absolutely beautiful day so off we went.  We drove along the Fuschlsee and made note of the absence of motorboat everywhere we had been in Germany and Austria.  This was a beautiful drive especially with the fall colors just beginning to play.  St. Gilgen in AustriaAs we approached the town of St. Gilgen, we observed a large herd of deer grazing on a hillside right off the road. It took my brain a while to register that these were deer since they were the first we’d seen here.  Unlike Ireland, it is not so easy to pull off the road to take pictures so we drove on with only the imprint in our brains.

                the Little Engine that CouldWe drove around the Wolfgangsee and took a turn to check out the city of St. Wolfgang.  In spite of the fact this was a Monday there were lots of people around.  It was confirmed for us later that this was indeed a holiday in Germany; hence there were plenty of Germans who had the same idea that we did for such a glorious day.  We located the Schafberg Bahn; a cog-wheel train that takes folks all the way up the Schafbergspitze.  This pinnacle is visible from miles away and is said to afford some great views of the Lake District. We purchased our tickets at 29 Euro each for a round trip and waited only 20 minutes for the next train up.going up

                We were the first in line when our train was boarded.  We were able to sit right up front with almost unobstructed views.  The train is actually pushed up the cogged track by a little steam engine, almost all the way to the top of the little mountain.  Although there were 5 seats facing us, no one else boarded until the very last passenger. 

                I observed this person to be quite old; at least in the late 80s and I wasn’t quite sure if it was a he or a she.  First a cushioned pad was removed from a plastic bag and placed on the seat.  Then, knitted gloves were removed and relocated to the bag.  Then the sweater came off and was carefully folded and placed into the bag.  Every movement seemed to be done with great intention.  Hat removed and folded.  Everything in its place.  There was a sizeable bandaged on the right arm and it looked as though it was due for a change as dried blood was evident from the outside.  The person wore large sunglasses and did not immediately engage in any way.At the Schafbergspitze

                As we traveled about 40 minutes to the top, I was busy gawking out of the window at the approximate 35 degree angle of the train when I registered that Bill was having a conversation with our traveling companion.  She patted a black satchel she had placed in the seat next to her and said, “Mine mann.”  Bill immediately assumed she meant her husband was in the bag and asked, “Your husband?”  I was thinking they were both completely messed up on the German to English translation deal when she nodded “yes”.  She held up her hands to display 10 digits and said in German, “Ten years.”  Again, still not believing the conversation I asked, “Ten years alone?” in my best German.  She nodded yes.  Between gestures and “lacking” second language skills (ours and hers) she conveyed to us that she was carrying his ashes up with her in the black satchel.  I wasn’t sure if she was going to toss him over, or if she just took him along as a loving gesture but it didn’t matter.  We enjoyed talking with her as much as we could.  When she asked where we were from we answered as we’d been taught on our CDs, “America”.  She said (in German) America is very big; North or South?  Touché!  Point well made.  I showed her a small map of the USA  I carry in a 4 x 6” photo book to which she nodded and said, “Oo-es-ah”.  Yes, USA.  I also asked her about her bandaged and she motioned to describe a skin tear; a hazard for the very old when their skin becomes so paper thin.  As much as I love The Story, and as much as I love telling any story; it was evident that she too appreciated her story being heard; whether or not we completely understood.  When the train arrived we parted and I knew that this was what we were supposed to have done on this day.Bill and Kelly in the Salzkammergut

                Upon arriving it is suggested that reservations are made immediately for the trip back down.  The soonest we could return would be at 2:40 p.m.  We had over an hour and a half to kill at the top.  I had read someone’s review of this experience who had complained of being “held hostage” at the top until she could get a train back down.  Too bad for her.  Instead, we climbed a bit higher to the ever-present beer location, obtained our liquid bread lunch and enjoyed the views.  And the views were more than I had anticipated.  From our perch atop the Schafbergspitze we could see St. Gilgen, the Wolfgangsee, the Mondsee, and the Attersee.  We looked around for a while and then settled into a picnic table to nurse our beers and enjoy the moment.  A German couple with whom we shared the table engaged in some conversation and I was again able to pull out the handy picture book to help describe where we were from.  After a while a young couple behind us joined in the conversation.  As our older associates got up to catch their train, we continued in conversation with Theresa and Fred until we had to hustle to catch ours.  A lovely afternoon

                Theresa and Fred were from Germany and visiting here on their holiday.  They can actually see this peak from their home but had never taken the train up.  Fred worked for a robotics company that had recently moved one of their plants from Illinois to Mobile, Alabama.  He had been there several times and both spoke very good English.  Fred also drives a Big Dog Harley Chopper.  He explained that they were quite expensive to obtain in Europe, around $45,000.  We exchanged email addresses and invitations to visit if ever our paths crossed again.

                The trip back down the mountain was unremarkable.  We were some of the last people loaded and I acknowledge our lady at the front of the train as we passed by.  What a special afternoon.  I just sat there and appreciated so much the privilege of making connections with the other people we had met on the journey.

               Hallstatt at sunset Did we have time to get to Hallstatt and at least make a perfunctory look around?  Well, of course.  Hallstatt is a very popular town in the Lake District.  In fact, it’s a biggie for Rick Steves.  I knew we wouldn’t have much time there, but I did want to see at least a couple things while we could.  It took perhaps 40 minutes to reach Hallstatt and the sun was already slipping behind the mountains.  Hallstatt is crowded into a small space between mountain and lake.  Hallstatt at exitingIt is a unique and beautifully bedecked little village.  We wandered around and through the town square in search of the Catholic Church.  

                Space was limited in Hallstatt and not until the 1960s did the Catholic Church permit cremation.  As a result, the tiny cemetery would quickly overfill.  The dead could spend 12 years in the cemetery until such time that their bones were exhumed to make way for others.  The Hallstatt Bone HouseThe Beinhaus or charnel house behind the church was actually built in the 12th century, before the church itself.  It now houses the skulls of over 600 people.  After exhumation the skulls were painted; often with garlands or flowers; and the name of the deceased and pertinent dates; were also added.  This practice continued to be popular until the 1960s; however, the most recent skull was deposited there in 1995.  Oddly enough, this didn’t seem like a creepy place to me.  Skulls painted in loving gesture by familylPerhaps I once inhabited one of those skulls; who knows right?  Upon exiting we walked through the lovely little cemetery in which space continues to be very limited.  Folks who are buried there now get 10 years of peaceful slumber before they are exhumed and their remains stacked sideways to enable someone else to join them later.

                We grabbed a pizza in the town square and enjoyed people-watching until we were ready to head back to Ramsau bei Berchestgaden.  As I drove away it began to get dark.  I was mildly apprehensive about trusting our GPS in the dark as well as driving down the winding roads after dark, but it was really not much different than driving in the states.  One exception: the roads are exceptionally maintained.  Hallstatt and reflection

                We twisted along the dark roads until suddenly two cars ahead hit the brakes hard and came to a stop.  In the lights ahead I could see a small deer flopping about in the road.  This was awful to see.  The deer’s back appeared to be broken as it struggled to right itself.  Traffic halted from both directions.  The man in the car in front of us, fiddled around in his trunk; I assumed to get a tire iron to put the creature out of its misery.  No, he got out a walking pole to attempt to pull it off the road.  Eventually the two men ahead grabbed the deer by its legs and tossed it into the ditch.  They remained there talking on a cell phone as the traffic began to pull by.  I was hoping that the call was to the police who would arrive to put the animal down.  Of course, I’ll never know.

                As we arrived to our B&B we were both quieted by the deer incident.  I thought to myself how sad it was that this was our final memory of the day.  We climbed the stairs and trudged the hallway to our room and noticed a piece of paper stuck in our door.  Our TripAdvisor “friend” Paul and his wife Diane had sent a wonderful email with some final suggestions to us via Sabine.  I know they have been following our trip and someday will know how much their little note lifted our spirits.



Bone House in Hallstatt
A lovely afternoon
A tree growing against a house
Bill and Kelly in the Salzkammergut

1 Comment

October 9, 2011
Just wanted to say thanks again for the pics and stories. i enjoy following you on your trip! Looks like a lot of adventure and great memories for you and Bill.
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