Hallstatt – where beauty meets adventure

On a cloudy Easter Sunday morning, we began our short drive to Hallstatt. As we drove out of Salzburg, we were met with pouring rain. The snow-speckled alpine mountains surrounding Salzburg were completely hidden from view and dark clouds hung low. Several minutes into our drive, we move off the expressway and pass thru pretty little villages nestled at the foot of lush green hills. We drive past these villages and on to windy roads with the hills on one side and the gushing stream on the other. The rain had slowed down to a drizzle, the clouds were receding and finally, some spring sunshine filters thru the sky as we arrive in Hallstatt.

Our first stop in Hallstatt was the Dachstein Ice Caves and 5 Fingers Lookout. Unfortunately, this was still closed due to the cold weather (Austria was still getting its last snowfall in April!) We were a bit disappointed as the views from the 5 Fingers looked stunning and the ice caves looked simply fascinating from the pictures we’d seen. But, we knew we were not going to be able to explore some of the sights as we were still traveling during the winter period and most of the attractions would reopen only around the end of April. We didn’t despair though as we had quite an exciting adventure waiting for us!

We pulled into the parking area at the Salzwelten Hallstatt and made our way to the funicular that would take us up to the Salzberg (Salt Mountain). It’s a short scenic ride offering beautiful views of the Hallstatt lake and the Alps.

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Once you are off the funicular, you have a few things to do on the Salzberg – head up to the Skywalk or World Heritage View – it’s a viewing platform 350 metres above the Hallstatt village. Take the lookout bridge towards the Rudolf Tower to get to the Skywalk. The views from here are just jaw-dropping. You can see the Hallstatt village right below you and the nearby Obertraun village as well. The Hallstattersee looks quite magnificient from this height. Although we visited on a cloudy day and the alps were mostly hidden from view, the moody clouds added a certain charm to the views.

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And the main attraction on this Salt Mountain is the Salt Mine of course. If you’re feeling peckish before you head on over to the Salt Mine, you can grab a bite at the restaurant in the Rudolf Tower. They have a lovely patio which is right above the Skywalk deck so you can grab a pint and a bite while enjoying the beautiful views. Make sure you head on over to the salt mine in time for your tour. The walk to the Salt Mine is short but beautiful.

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Look back and you can see the Rudolf Tower in the distance..

The Salt Mine tour was the highlight of our Hallstatt trip. This is hands down one of our best tours and most fascinating experiences ever. Not only was it well-organized with informative and friendly guides but it was filled with a lot of high-tech entertainment and adventure! Before we set off on our tour through the oldest salt mine in the world, we had to don a miner’s suit which was just the beginning of making this a very real experience. We then walked thru long tunnels that had been dug up by miners a few thousands of years ago to get to the salt mine.

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And, then, it was time to take a mindblowing ride down a very long, ancient wooden miner’s slide to go further down into the mine. As you can tell from the picture, I was a bit nervous as is usually the case with rides but Steve just loves them! You could take the flight of stairs next to the slide if you don’t feel up to it. But, you really should do the slide – it’s a lot of fun! It’s quite safe for the young and old (just don’t put your arms out and follow the directions given).

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They also capture your embarassing but fun moment to take back as a prized souvenir

Once you’re further down in the mine, you’ll find lots of rock salt – on the ceiling, on the walls, everywhere… you can just pinch some off for a taste – it’s delicious!

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The tour guides are great – they give you excellent background on the salt mine and its significance. Here are some tidbits that we remember – Apparently, 250 million years ago, the entire salt mine area was covered by the ocean. The village of Hallstatt came into existence when the salt mine was discovered during the pre-historic times. And today, the Hallstatt salt mine produces 750,000 tonnes of salt per year. It is one of the first known salt mines in the world that helped uncover valuable information on the pre-historic era.

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In the salt mine, you’ll go thru several diferent sections – some like the one above where you’ll find salt blocks and some others where they display valuable finds from the pre-historic times. There’s also a little cinema room – appearing very rustic but built with advanced technology. The tour also includes a few short, interesting videos that take you deeper into the history of the salt mine and the remarkable discoveries that were made including the oldest wooden staircase in Europe and the Man in Salt (the body of a former miner was discovered in an astonishingly well-preserved condition due to all the salt he was buried under!)

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No, this isn’t him – this is just Sepp, a miner who tells the story of the Man in Salt

At the last level in the mine, you are 400 metres underground and there is a mysterious little lake that reflects an amazing light show – spectacular effects and very nicely done! The light show depicts pre-historic times and a day in the life of the miners.

And, finally, it’s time for the last ride through the mine… We hop on a miner’s railway and take another exhilirating ride thru the narrow tunnels of the mine.

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The Hallstatt Salt Mine is a sensational experience – filled with non-stop adventure from start to finish. We highy recommend a visit to the Salzberg / Salt Mountain – it takes about 3 hours to do the salt mine tour and the skywalk. If there’s only one thing you have time for in Hallstatt, do this. It’s an unforgettable, thrilling adventure! If you have more time to spare and love a hike, Salzberg offers a couple of lovely hiking options as well.

We had just a couple more hours to spare in Hallstatt and decided to ride the funicular back down and check out the little village.

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We took a stroll thru the village market place. (See how deserted it is? Definitely one of the greatest advantages of traveling off-season is to be able to explore a place without bumping shoulder to shoulder. It is just the kind of holiday we like.)

The Hallstatt village center is filled with colorful little buildings and the Evangelical Church dominates most of this little center.

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It has an impressive spire
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This other church you see perched on the hill is Hallstatt’s catholic church – St. Michael’s Chapel

This 12th century church is most popular for its Charnel House (or Bone House). The Ossuary boasts a collection of over 600 skulls, all adorned with artistic designs. Unfortunately, we got there only to find that we’d arrived a few minutes too late. The place had just been closed!

We took a walk around the lovely little cemetery at the back of the church. Much like the rest of Austria, the graves are beautifully decorated with personal effects adorning the graves. The view from the top of the church is lovely.

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We then walked up to the classic village viewpoint at the Gosaumühlstraße. This is where you can get the famous postcard view of Hallstatt.

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Although it was about 7 PM, there was still plenty of daylight and we headed down to the lake for a stroll. The views of the Hallstätter See are just delightful. We grabbed a coupla beers, plonked down on one of the benches by the lake, and sat admiring the alpine wonder that surrounds this little Austrian village.

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Of course you could do a boat tour as well and get up close to these gorgeous mountains
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It was nearing sundown and we were just content to sit there and watch the swans swim by..

There’s unbelievable beauty everywhere in this little village!

Although it can get quite crowded, just take a walk thru the village and its surounding area and you can find a cosy quiet little spot to admire the beauty that this small place packs in.

We spent a short day in Hallstatt. If you do choose to stay overnight, you could stay at the nearby, less touristy Gosau or Obertraun. They are just 10 minutes away from Hallstatt. We spent a short while in Obertraun – it’s a tiny village on the other side of this bridge.

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With it being Easter sunday, the locals were nowhere to be seen and the tourists were thronging little Hallstatt. We seemed to be the only souls in this sleepy village and it was lovely to walk through the quiet little lanes and sit by the lake.

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The beauty of Austria is in its little alpine villages – each one as breathtaking as the next. We had visited St. Gilgen and Mondsee the previous day and continued to be amazed by this incredibly beautiful country. The Salzkammergut region where all these little villages are has some of Austria’s prettiest lakes and most charming villages, all surrounded by the majestic Alps.

We plan on going back to Austria again, maybe in winter – we’d love to try some skiing and snowboarding!

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While we dream of that day and hope it comes sooner than later, here’s the ‘Salt Man’ wishing you Glück Auf or Good Luck for your Hallstatt trip!

Bali – a cultural wonder

Our trip to Bali was a memorable one. It reminds us of some fun times, great food, beautiful sights, and a rich cultural experience.

Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia and rightly so. In Bali, you’ll find a varied mix of areas – some like Ubud that are steeped in mythical traditions with beautiful temples, artisans displaying their meticulously crafted ware, and talented artists putting up great performances in mythical plays. And then some others like Seminyak (part of Kuta) where you’ll find the hip and happening beaches and bars. We stayed at Seminyak as we wanted to be close to the places playing live music and pouring out the good brews.

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Gorgeous sit-outs by the beach at Seminyak

We started out by watching the Barong dance, a very popular Balinese dance. Barong is a lion-like creature who represents all things good and the dance features the battle between Barong and Rangda, a demon queen that represents all things evil.

The music and the depiction of these mythical characters in an enthralling dance was a great start to our journey into the rich cultural wonders of Bali.

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Meet Rangda, the white-haired evil queen

Our next stop was the Kopi Luwak Plantation. This was an interesting and somewhat amusing experience.  We witnessed the making of the world’s most expensive coffee (aka Kopi). The Luwak, this cat-like creature eats the coffee cherries and then of course poops it out. This poop is then collected, the coffee beans separated from the crap, cleansed and sun-dried, fried well, and hand pounded to produce the supposedly wonderful coffee. Sorry for the sarcasm here but well, I tried the coffee and while it was decent, it was in no way remarkable to pay the high price it demands. And, I am a coffee lover just like many of you out there but just didn’t understand what the fuss was about. This turned out to be an interesting experience nonetheless and was worth the visit.

The plantation is beautiful and you should definitely take a short walk through it to see the lovely coffee plants, cocoa trees and fruit trees. Oh, and the tea lovers needn’t despair, there’s also a wide variety of interesting teas to be tried as well, which incidentally I enjoyed more than the coffee!

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Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple

We then headed over to the Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple located in Batur, Kintamani. This is one of the second most important temples to the Balinese people. It is a huge temple complex and in fact consists of nine different temples that includes ~300 shrines of gods and goddesses. One of these nine temples is actually a Chinese temple and I was a bit surprised to see it there but it was apparently built to pay homage to Ida Ratu Ayu Subandar, the patron saint of commerce and the ‘administrator’ of the gods. The story goes that, back in the days, the king used to appoint a harbor master, usually Chinese, who was responsible for the storage and protection of valuable objects.

Hinduism is the majority religion in Bali and being a Hindu (by birth but not by choice) and being aware of some of the Hindu customs and gods/goddesses – it was pretty amazing to see how similar Indian Hindu rituals was to that of the Balinese Hindu rituals. It was also amazing to note the differences in the way they represent the same gods and rituals. The architecture of this whole temple complex is just mind-blowing! We unfortunately went there on a misty day and there was lots of fog which made for a slightly blurry view… despite this, the temple was simply marvelous. By the way, in almost all Bali temples you will need to wear a sarong, both the male and female.. this is not that bad a deal really.. you can rent one or buy one.. but what’s bad is the locals ripping you off by charging as much as 50 USD just to rent one! This is not so bad in all temples and we were shocked when it happened to us in this Batur temple. It’s best to just buy one and use it for all the temples you plan to visit. It’s much cheaper and stress-free!

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Mount Batur, Kintamani

Mount Batur is an active volcano visible from Kintamani. Its last eruption was in 2000. The mountain is surrounded by the crater lake, Danau Batur, Bali’s largest lake. As I mentioned, it was a misty day and we waited several hours for the view you see in this image. When we got there, there was nothing but thick mist making the entire mountain and its surrounding area altogether invisible. We sat in this little cafe sipping on some lovely coffee and munching on some delicious cakes and waited for the mist to lift. It was worth the wait.

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Royal tombs at Gunung Kawi

We drove down through a different route and stopped over at the Gunung Kawi temple. The main attraction of the temple complex is the royal tombs. These tombs are dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favorite queens.. This image above features the tombs of the king, his ‘major’ queen and their three sons. On the other side of this are the tombs of the ‘minor’ queens.

It’s a beautiful walk through the temple complex with little streams flowing through and beautiful rice terraces along the way. Ubud is filled with these gorgeous rice terraces.

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The rice terraces of Bali

This was the end of our Day 1 in Bali. Boy! we did see a lot and it was such a beautiful day! We then headed back to Seminyak to unwind with some chilled beers and listen to a fun, local rock band. The next day we just chilled out in our lovely villa and swam and drank lots more beers.

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A typical pils (nothing special) – seemed to be the most popular local beer

In the evening, we stepped out to see Tanah Lot, a temple built in a spectacular rock formation – this is one of the most photographed places in Bali. Just behind the temple, you can find a quiet little rock for yourself, away from the maddening crowd, and sit there mesmerized by the beauty and the power of the sea.

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Tanah Lot, approaching dusk

On our last day, we visited Nusa Dua, part of the Kuta area in the south of Bali, that is well known for its water sports. We had a whole adventure-packed day and indulged in a variety of water sports from parasailing to sea walking to doing the flying fish. We immensely enjoyed them all.

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The blue parasail is me taking off

It was my first time parasailing and after much trepidation, I mustered the courage to do it and I was so thrilled when I did it. The insane rush of adrenaline as you take off, the child-like glee that surges within you as you soar high and admire the vast expanse of water, and finally, the urge to do it all over again as you descend to the shore — was simply wonderful. We also visited the Turtle Island which I don’t think is worth the time, money, and effort – it’s sad to see the turtles kept (trapped really) in such enclosed dirty conditions.

We wrapped up the day at the Pura Luhur UluWatu temple, which is perched at the edge of a steep cliff that is surrounded by the Indian ocean. The views from here are breath-taking! We also watched the fascinating Kecak dance here – the performance takes place every evening against the backdrop of the ocean.

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Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple

The music for this dance is produced by the performers you see in this image incessantly chanting ‘Cak’. The dance is a depiction of one of the primary plots in the Ramayana where Sita, the wife of Lord Rama is abducted by the demon king Ravana and then the performance goes on to show how Rama (with the help of the monkey god Hanuman) kills Ravana and brings back Sita safely. The entire performance is filled with unbelievable energy and is a brilliant one to watch – and the twilight views of the vast Indian ocean make it all the more special. We then headed off to grab a lovely dinner in a restaurant situated on the other side of the cliff. The food in Bali is delicious no matter where you go with a wide array of choices. Eating mouth-watering satays, listening to the local band play some lovely Balinese music, and looking out at the ocean – this is how we finished off our last day in Bali.

That’s what makes Bali so memorable for us – the amazing views, the scrumptious food, the rich culture, and the varied experiences you can get in this lovely little city. There’s something for everyone.