Wednesday, July 23, 2008


A couple of hours out of Salzburg is a little lakeside village called
Hallstatt, which European travel guru Rick Steves lists as one of his
favourite little towns in Europe. Wooden houses cling like barnacles to the
side of a mountain as it descends into the water, strung together by
rolling, narrow footpaths and stone stairways. From the bathroom window of
the private room we rented at the top of a tight, winding staircase in Frau
Gummerer's house we could reach out to touch the rocks and plants of the
vertical mountainside. From the room itself the view was a bit less
claustrophobic: a vast and uninterrupted vista of the lake, looking across
to the little unmanned railway station in the distance where we lit from
the train to board the waiting ferry to the village.

There are two small chapels in Hallstatt: the simple Protestant church with
its tall spire and clock tower is the most prominent central feature of the
village; and the Catholic church with an elaborate interior, small cemetary
and beinhaus ("bone house") where, because of the lack of real estate in
the graveyard, bodies were disinterred after ten years, the bones then
bleached in the sun and scraped of any "remains of decay," and the skulls
painted with symbols and the names of the deceased and arranged in the

The single cobblestone road in Hallstatt runs along the lake and is shared
by both cars and pedestrians, most of whom are tourists. Quirky art
installations are moored in the water, such as a wooden table and chairs on
a floating platform. At night, what may be old boardwalk pylons appear
beneath the surface in the gloom of the water like spectral fingers.

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