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In which SWMBO discovers an imposter.

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt, Austria

We visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hallstatt.  I now have to clarify that I went to Hallstatt in Austria because I found out yesterday that there is a complete replica of Hallstatt in Guangdong province, China!

Downtown Hallstatt, China from firstpost.com

Downtown Hallstatt, China from firstpost.com

Hallstatt The Second must suck though because Hallstatt The First is still full of Chinese tourists.  You can read all about the bizarre Hallstatt II in a great article written by Wade Shepard of VagabondJourney.  I, on the other hand, will focus on Hallstatt, The Original.

Poster in Hallstatt, Austria marketed to Chinese tourists

Poster in Hallstatt, Austria targeted at Chinese tourists

Hallstatt is a picturesque town of about 900 residents that gets up to 80,000 visitors per year!  I get sad when I see places that have become overrun with tourists but Hallstatt is a special place with an intriguing history and merits a visit.

hallstatt worldview

Onlyboy and Paris check out the World Heritage View

Onlyboy and Paris check out the World Heritage View

They see Hallstatt far below them

They see Hallstatt far below them as well as the path you can climb if you want to save money on the funicular

Hallstatt is old.  So old that it has given its name to an early Iron Age time.  The Hallstatt Period is from 8th-6th centuries BC although it’s history goes back even further, to Neolithic times.

Hallstatt is beautiful.  It really is achingly beautiful.  An old joke goes that there are only two ways to die in Hallstatt – either you drown or you get hit on the head with a rock!  That pretty much sums up this tiny slice of inhabitation wedged between deep lake and towering mountains.

Swan on lake, Hallstatt

Swan on lake, Hallstatt

Hallstatt is interesting.  This area was always a wealthy place owing to the vast stores of salt trapped in the mountain.  In ancient times, hunters came here to hunt animals attracted by the salt.  Men have been mining salt here for thousands of years.  I guess it is fitting that the man behind Hallstatt The Fake is a mining tycoon.  The name of the village comes from the Celtic word for salt – Hal.  I found this interesting because my favourite salt from Wales is Halen Môn (Anglesey Salt).

We opt to take the funicular up and down the mountain

We opt to take the funicular to the mine

Hallstatt is expensive.  Very expensive.  If you are driving, you must park in a lot at the edge of the village (7.50 euro/$11.65).  The Charnel House (see below) cost us 4 euro/$6 for 4 people (2 kids were free).  The Salt Mine tour with funicular cost us 56 euros/$84 and that was a saving of $30 because we used 2 for 1 coupons my friend gave us.  If you were to make purchases in Hallstatt (anything from an ice cream to lunch to a fridge magnet), your daily expenditure would be pretty scary.  We made the mistake of planning to buy groceries in town because we were too rushed to pack a lunch.  The grocery store was teeny, tiny.  The couple working there were so nice though and even suggested that we eat what we wanted from our purchases and then leave the rest behind the counter so we wouldn’t have to carry it with us.

We stop for lunch (i.e. expensive rice cakes) just before it starts to pour

We stop for lunch (i.e. expensive rice cakes) just before it starts to pour.  The kids are sitting on a bench at the Protestant Church across the street from the itsy bitsy Spar grocery store.

We could have saved money on lunch if we had foraged pears...

We could have saved money on lunch if we had foraged pears from this tree right on the main sidewalk…

First we visited the “Charnel House”.  I prefer to call it by its alternate name, the Bone House (a direct translation of the German – Beinhaus).  Because the cemetery at the Catholic church was so small, every 10-20 years, they would dig up the skeletons, let the sun and the moon bleach them for a few weeks, then they would paint the skulls with the names and dates of death and stack them in the bone house.  Although it happens very rarely nowadays, you can still be added to the bone house.  You have to make an express written wish to be placed there, then you have to die, then you have to wait for a decade or two.  The last skull to be added to the bone house was from a lady who died in 1983.

Cemetery, Hallstatt Catholic Church

Cemetery, Hallstatt Catholic Church

Painted skulls in the Bone House

Painted skulls in the Bone House

The entrance to the salt mine is high up on the mountain.  This is the oldest salt mine in the world and is still a working mine.  Even with the funicular, there is still a lot of walking on uneven ground.  Children must be at least 4 years old to visit the mine.  It is a long and at times, steep walk from the upper funicular station to the entrance of the mine.  There are many excellent interpretive panels (in German and English) along the way.  This section is free and if you walked up the mountain and skipped the Bone House (which takes about 2 minutes to see), you could get away with spending less than $10 (parking) in Hallstatt.

hallstatt building2

That would mean not actually going into the mine.  Fahbio was correct in saying that the salt mine tour wasn’t outstanding as a salt mine tour but was fantastic as an experiential outing.  Going into the mine means putting on a special set of coveralls and going on a 70 minute tour in English/German.  It is only 8 degrees Celsius in the mine so warm clothes are a must.  In the mine, you will get to slide down a couple of crazy steep wooden slides from one gallery to another.  You get clocked as you slide down and Onlyboy slid down at an astonishing 31 km/hour.  I leaned back to slow myself down to a still dizzying 23.3 km/hour.  You will also get to ride a little train from deep in the mountain through narrow tunnels back out to sunlight.

Our lovely guide, Sybil

Our lovely guide, Sybil, handing out miniature salt shakers at the end of our tour

I could go either way on this purchase.  We have been to Austria several times with our children but we have never taken them in the mine.  This time, I had budgeted for this outing.  If the weather was nice, you could make a day of walking around Hallstatt and up the mountain.  You would see and learn a lot and get some exercise without breaking the bank.  If the weather was lousy and/or you had a some coupons and/or you wanted to splurge on a different type of museum you couldn’t experience elsewhere, a trip into the salt mine is a good choice.  If you are going into the mine, it probably makes sense to pay a few euros more for the funicular.

hallstatt funicular3

Wild ride down the mountain

Wild ride (300 metres in 3 minutes) down the mountain

Here is a quote from doctor and travel writer Franz Satori in 1813.  I wonder what he would say if he could see Hallstatt II?  Probably, WTF?

I have yet to see a place as strangely situated as Hallstatt.  The houses seem to sit upon each other, built as they are on the sloping, narrow bank, clinging like swallows’ nests and reflected in the enamel green of the lake.

Interesting that the mining dude spent almost 1 billion dollars to create a hollow version of a mulit-faceted treasure that is part of the shared heritage of humankind.  In other words he used his wealth for evil rather than good.  Speaking of improving the world, a few days ago, in Linz, we saw the amazing art that can be created with not that much money.  More on that next time.