If I was able to visit two cities without planning in advance, I thought why don’t I plan visiting two cities in the first place? After researching where to visit within Austria, I made my decision to go to Hallstatt and Melk for my third trip! The entire route from Vienna-Hallstatt-Melk-Vienna was about 590 km in which I had to change 2- 3 different trains to each destinations. Nevertheless, it was do-able since the trains were on time.
The moment I reached Hallstatt, I knew this was one of the top touristy places. Even though it was 7am on a Saturday morning, there were already about 7 people who got off the train with me at that stop. If you drive or take the bus down from Salzburg, you can reach Hallstatt city directly. But if your coming via train, like myself, you would be on the opposite side of the city, and will need to take a short boat trip to get to the other side. This boat ride itself, turned out to be fun because you can really sense how beautiful the view of the city is as you reach the city closer and closer..!
The city was a little cloudy because of the rain and because it was still early in the morning. But as you drew nearer, you could still get a good sense of the beauty of this city.
Despite its small size, this small town that overlooks the Hallstättersee (Hallstatt Lake) in the Salzkammergut Lake District of Austria is one of the world’s most famous touristy sites. As of 2001, about 946 inhabitants reside in Hallstatt, and almost all residences have a Bed and Breakfast business since there are so many tourists who visit here. Since 1997 December, the Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut area has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Considering Hallstatt’s fame in its prehistoric times with the salt deposits, early Iron Age culture from 800 to 400 BC, and its spectacularly picturesque due to its location on a narrow rocky west bank of the Hallstatt Lake, the UNESCO’s decision seems fair. Hallstatt is also considered to be one of the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe. In fact, this very same day on June 2, 2012, China officially announced its world ever first cloned city in southern province of Guangdong (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18327751).
I was lucky on this trip. When I got off the boat, I noticed a group of American tourist following a guide in English. I haven’t heard good English in so long, so I decided to join the team for a bit – which turned out to be great because I got to hear a bit of history and visit the Catholic Parish Church and the Bone House in which Hallstatt is very famous for.
The small Catholic Parish Church dates back to 1811, but its tower dates far back as the 12th century. While the original church started small, as the number of protestant and believers grew, the church was extended. Its renovation was completed in 2002. But in addition to the actual church history, there are four highlights that one must not miss visiting here: (1) the wood carved masterpiece (photo below), (2) its flowered cemetery beds, (3) the Beinhaus (the bone house), and (4) the beautiful city view of Hallstatt from the top of the church.
While its hard to see, every single part of this art piece was carved in wood and has sustained for couple centuries. It’s showing gold because its painted gold on top of the wood to preserve. Yes, wood carving is one of the special skills Hallstatt artisans pride on and when you walk the streets there are many stores that sell special wood artcrafts.
The flowerbed cemeteries are also famous in Hallstatt. Though each one is small, its so lovely how each one is full of flowers. Apparently, the family is in charge of taking care of the deceased one’s grave and families usually pride in taking good care of their family grave to show how much they are loved after death.
The Beinhause (bone house) dates back to 12th cenutry AC. There are over 1200 skulls and 610 of them have been painted in flowery designed, and have the name, date of birth, and date of deceased written on the skulls. While the idea sounds scary, to draw on a dead person’s skull, this was the Hallstatts community way of expressing love to the deceased one. This tradition began in 1720 AD and the last skull to go into the Bone House was in 1995 due to the cemetery’s small size. The Bone house used to be open to all, but after undergoing some thieves who stole the skulls, (I don’t understand why someone would want to steal someone else’s skull even if it had such a culture and tradition) it is now open for certain hours and require an entry fee to protect it from thieves.
And lastly, but not the least, is the pretty city view you could get from the Church! Words are unncessary to explain its beauty.
(I now split this trip report into two since there is so much to share. Check my Melk story on the next post.)