Before leaving, we had breakfast in a fancy dining area. There was a wide assortment of different types of foods. I took a few things from the buffet and went back to my table. We ordered some tea as we are all accustomed to drinking tea in the morning. The waiter brought us Earl Grey and was confused when we asked for milk and sugar. I learnt a valuable lesson; earl grey is not supposed to be used as an ingredient for Indian Chai. While leaving, I took one last look at the hotel, standing in all its glory.
We went to the Hauptebahnof and took our train. The train was amazing. We were told that we could occupy any seat which did not have ‘reserved’ written on the screen on top of it. We took a seat across a sweet old lady. As the train started moving, we could see the beautiful scenery outside the windows. Exactly what you might see in an old Bollywood song. Green hills and valleys, flowery fields, small streams that seemed to spout from seemingly nowhere, a few grazing cows and occasionally a quaint little hut or cabin in the middle of the field. The seats were extremely comfortable and the train had a dining cart – basically an entire compartment dedicated to food and drinks. Eurail’s fame is quite well-deserved.
My mom asked a few questions to the sweet lady siting across us, which lead to them talking. Soon they got along like a house on fire. I was listening to songs and looking out of the window, trying to retain with me a little of the enchanting nature outside. Moments like these are things that I like to treasure in my memory forever. We also saw a lot of lakes on our way. Salzkammergut was quite famous for the innumerable lakes that dot its heavenly landscape.
After a few hours filled with scenes of endless green fields and lakes, we reached Salzkammergut. As soon as I stepped out of the train, a cold gust of wind was the first to greet us. A man named Francis had come to pick us up. He escorted us to a car and we drove for about five minutes to small wooden lodge. I was relieved, thinking that it was an inn where we might be able to keep our luggage and have lunch, as it was nearly two in the afternoon. To my dismay, I found out that it was not an inn but in fact the Salzkammergut Information Centre.
We went inside and were immediately greeted with great warmth. The thermostat had warmed up the temperature in the lodge. We were welcomed by a lady called Bridget who papa had corresponded with regarding Salzkammergut and another lady named Lucia, who was supposed to be our tour guide during our stay. We sat there for some time, drinking coffee and planning the activities for the following days. I wanted to rest but we didn’t have time. So we set off immediately.
First we went to see a glacier . Now, the slight chill in the air had turned into a rushing gale. My hair was flying all around, getting even more tangled than usual. I had started to regret my decision of wearing a dress. My fashion choice had resulted in chattering teeth and knocking knees. I couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty of the glacier because I was too busy trying to keep my hair out of my face, which had miraculously escaped from the clip that held my ponytail. Fortunately, I had tights in my bag which I pulled up quickly. As I took off my shoes and put my feet on the ground, I nearly yelped. It felt like stepping into snow, barefoot. The tights didn’t really help much, but they were better than nothing.
We got three sandwiches for lunch. I kept it away after a few small bites. I do not like sandwiches.
Soon we started towards the salt mines. Lucia told us that Salzkammergut is famous for its salt mines. (Salz means salt). According to geologists, millions of years ago there used to be an ocean where there are mountains now. The ocean gradually receded but left behind rich resources of salt and other minerals. Few of the lakes were salty too. Unfortunately we arrived late and therefore were not able to visit the mines.
Halstatt is said to be a town which existed around 17,000 years ago! That was our next destination, a UNESCO world heritage sight. We went up riding a vehicle, sort of a cart. It was like an enclosed roller coaster and it was fun.
The place was kind of a platform jutting out from the mountain. Did I mention that Salzkammergut was situated on mountains? The wind was very strong. I had become accustomed to the weather but the wind was still cold enough to make me shiver. Standing at that point felt like standing at the edge of the world. We could see lakes and trees going on for miles. We could see the Alps in all their glory. The town of Halstatt was spread out beneath us. It was an ethereal feeling, being up so high and being surrounded by such beauty. People were clicking pictures standing at the very edge. Many people had fastened padlocks around the railing. These locks, we learnt, had been put there by couples who thought that by locking them around the railing, they were also binding their love together forever. I wonder how they are doing now!!
As we made our way to the cart, I could see the slopes of the mountains covered with colourful flowers. The tiniest of butterflies sat down on a flower near me. It flew off when I tried to click a picture of it. On reaching the base of the mountain, we came across a wishing well. I could see coins and notes of different currencies lying at the bottom. We threw down a few coins too. We went to a small souvenir shop which sold jewellery and other knick knacks made of minerals found in the salt mines. I wanted to buy something but decided against it because I know myself; whatever I buy will end up in a musty drawer, catching dust.
We went down the same path and travelled around the small town for a little while. It was a quaint old town with a population of around 800-900. It was like how a typical small town is – small houses, with shared fences, people cycling or walking everywhere, small plants, ferns or flowers growing in cracks of the walls and on the sidewalks. Lucia even met a friend while walking on the streets. I often think that living in such a place would be so beautiful, but I know if I had been born in a small town or village, I would have dreamt of living in a big city. The grass is always greener on the other side.
We went down to another beautiful lake. I was busy paying attention to a cat that had just walked out of a nearby house. The owner of the house had been repairing his roof and the cat had come to check it out. I let out a loud gasp, attracting the attention of the people around. The owner didn’t look very happy at my gasp so I just moved away, but kept on looking at the cat until it vanished somewhere.
We had dinner at a restaurant that served typical Austrian food. I was excited to try out a new cuisine but my excitement was short-lived. The food was quite bland compared to the Indian dishes I am used to. We had soufflé for dessert. I had read about it in books, but had never tasted it until that day. It was nice, sweet and simple. I am not much of a sweet tooth, so I didn’t like it all that much. I went to check out the dessert and had my heart set on a packet of truffles. I changed my mind after a look at the price. Normal chocolates would just be as good! Twelve Euros for five truffles was a tad bit too much.
We finally started towards our hotel. We travelled by a long roundabout road through mountains and fields to a pretty little wooden lodge in the middle of nowhere. It was very cozy albeit a little creepy. A young girl sat at the reception. She helped us carry the luggage up to our room. There seemed to be no one else in the lodge and the staircase was decorated with small knick-knacks like an old painting of an Indian King, a garden gnome and the creepiest of all – a smiling, blue-eyed doll. It seemed like the perfect setting for a horror movie.
I shot up to my room and snuggled in my bed. I had cup noodles (as I said before, the Austrian meal was not very fulfilling), while my parents went for a walk. I locked the room and then explored the mini apartment.
It had a fridge, a stove, an electric kettle, a grinder, lots of cutlery, many small cupboards and two small balconies. I had a small room all to myself with a small window on the bottom of the wall which didn’t open. It lead to the second balcony and a few bigger windows opening to a magnificent view of the mountains and fields. A small chest contained blankets, pillows, an extension board and a used packet of snickers.
Mumma Papa came back from their walk. Our phones couldn’t connect to the WiFi of the inn. We fell asleep almost immediately, dreaming of the day ahead.
Photographs by Insha Faridoon