About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Salt in the Mountain

First off, there was a sign in our hotel that we spotted last night and it made us really laugh. I don't know if its because we live here and understand it a little more, or if its just funny in general:

Heaven is where -
The police are British
The cooks are French
The mechanics are German
The lovers are Italian
and all is organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where -
The cooks are British
The mechanics are French
The lovers are Swiss
The police are German
and all is organized by the Italians.

We are heading to Slovenia today, via Hallstatt. We got ready, ate breakfast in the hotel and hit the road. Our route initially took us through farm country with mountains in the distance. This quickly changed to mountains and highway tunnels.

Our first destination, Hallstatt Austria. Halstatt is a tiny town nestled on the shores of Hallstattersee Lake and a steep mountainside. The town can be toured in 15 minutes, its that small. It is one of the oldest towns in all of Europe, dating back centuries before Christ. The symbol of Hallstatt is two adjacent spirals, a design based on jewelry found in Bronze Age Celtic graves high in the nearby mountains. Hallstatt's charm is its village and lake. Tourists go there to eat, wander and paddle. The lake is famous for good fishing and pure water.

Extra tidbit: We learned that 80% of Austria's waters are drinkable 'as is'. They have some of the purest water in Europe.

One of our goals while driving to Hallstatt was to find an alpine slide. We read about them in the Rick Steve's book and saw brochures for them in our hotel. Brandon really wanted to find one.

About 20km before Hallstatt I spotted one. We pulled in, bought our tickets and rode the tram to the top. This alpine slide boasts one of the longer tracks in the area - 2 km. It looked steep and fast! I was a little nervous about Brandon. He can tend to be cautious with many new activities. He seemed fine, but I was nervous for him. The rules state that you should not stop on the track or use your break very much. I could just see him riding his break all the way down.

After checking out the view at the top, we got in line for boarding. Me first, then Brandon and Katrina. We had to wait for about 10 minutes, inching up slowly to the stoplight they used to spread out the riders.

Views from the top.

Brandon gets buckled in for the ride.

Ready for some high speed fun.

Finally it was my turn. The light turned green and I was off. What a thrill. At first you start heading downhill and around the first curve and realize just how steep the mountain is. Then you relax and just go for it.

Near the bottom I got stuck behind a family taking it slow. The next thing I know Brandon is speeding up behind me. He loved it and is a little speed racer.

We all had a great time. We wanted to do it again, but it was a bit expensive and we needed to get to Hallstatt. We promised Brandon we would try it again if we passed another one.

Many of the Alps look like this - folded rock.

We drove on into Hallstatt and found some parking near the salt mine. Hallstatt is famous for its salt mining. There are indications that salt was mined here as far back as centuries before Christ.

The salt mine claims to be the oldest in the world. To get there, we first had to ride a steep funicular high above the town. Then we hiked 10 minutes to the mine, past excavation sites of many prehistoric tombs and a glass case of 2500 year old bones. Once our tour was called, we put on miner's clothes then hike another 200 yards higher to meet our guide.

The steepest funicular we have ridden so far.

The guide then escorted the group down a tunnel dug in 1719. Inside the mountain we walked through several salt caverns, watched a slide show, learned about salt mining techniques over the last 7000 years, watched a cheesy laser show, saw some early miner 'scenes' and rode a mine train back out of the mountain.

Tunnel from 1719.


The highlight of the tour is sliding down two banisters to lower levels. This was a blast. The second slide actually clocked out speed. I hit 30kph. Brandon hit 29kph. Katrina hit 27kph.

The mine train followed a very narrow and low tunnel.

View of the lake from the salt mine.

After the tour we headed back down the mountain in search of lunch. We found a little Italian cafe. We had a nice lunch outside, although it was threatening rain.

The skies were getting darker as we finished lunch, but we decided to walk around town a bit anyway. We walked through a couple lanes with homes, Katrina taking lots of pictures. When we got to the main part of town, we only made it about 100 meters before the skies opened up and we got dumped on. Everyone was scrambling for cover. It even began to hail a little bit. We skipped back and forth down the street, running for different covered locations as we headed back towards our car. Finally, we ended up under an awning near the traffic zone. I decided to go get the car and come back to pickup up Katrina and Brandon.


Rain and hail

By the time I arrive with the car, the rain had stopped, at least temporarily.

We were now heading for Bled Slovenia. The drive took about 3 hours and we arrived at our hotel, the Pension Kovac, a little after 8pm.

What a wonderful room. This was definitely the best of the trip. Big and roomy, nice and modern...and also the cheapest of the trip.

We were tired and ready for bed. Tomorrow we go into Bled for the day.

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