Austria – Summer 2018

June 12. I slept in as late as I could. Repacking the tiny Citroen took two hours. It’s amazing how much longer it takes when you have a small space. Everything has to be just so, otherwise you’ll lose something. It was noon when I pulled out of Bratislava, and I stopped for soup on the outskirts of town. Somewhere along the way, I lost 5 Euro. Having grown up with frugality, I felt bereaved and double checked to see if I’d dropped it where I’d been eating. Without success, I headed towards Sopron along Neusiedl am See. By the time I reached the outskirts of Sopron, it was pouring. I decided to head toward the Austrian Alps, and for close to two hours got nailed by a deluge so powerful I thought the windshield would crack. Not just rain, but hail! The thermometer had plummeted from 86 to 61 in a matter of minutes. I had the brilliant idea of hiding under an overpass until the tumult had subsided, but unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. So I continued driving and managed not to hit anything.

I stopped at Brick an Der Our, a small walled city in the mountains of central Austria near Grüner See. The town had been an important medieval trade center specializing in iron work. I spied a castle on the hill and walked up to investigate. The castle of Landskron burned in the great fire of 1792, after which just two of 166 houses were left standing. Having had a nice break, I continued driving to Schlossberg, then to Judenburg, Klagenfurt, and finally stopped at some lovely ruins of a castle and church outside of Friesach. I wanted to camp there but the roads were narrow and there was nowhere to pull over on the road, let alone a campground. I drove back to Klangenfurt which seemed very industrial and not my kind of place, as I have a predilection for quaint towns filled with lovely architecture not far from nature. I drove to the outskirts of town in the woods near the Klangenfurt botanic garden. It was a magical spot filled with fireflies. On my travels abroad I rarely find ideal places like this to camp. More often I camp in places that people avoid: cemeteries, garbage dumps, alleys. I have found that places people like are often under close scrutiny. I was afraid I’d get in trouble if I was found out. I slept lightly and kept one ear cocked.

June 13. Not surprisingly, I was woken at 6am by a guy saying “bonjour” and a dog barking. The rain was already coming down as I packed my tent and found a parking place in town. I walked through lovely neighborhoods built in the 1800s, and lucked out to find a lovely coffee place. I asked about use of the internet, but was told it wasn’t any available. I mentioned my stolen 2018 MacBook Pro and the barista lent me his MacBook Air. What a nice guy! I spent the next four hours pounding out a blog entry about the beginning of my trip in Toulouse like my life depended on, since I didn’t know when I’d next have access to a computer. I felt so comfortable there and really appreciated his confidence. He recommended that I visit Europapark on the eastern shore of Wörthersee just outside of town. Apparently, the lake shore was home to a handful of poor families in the early 19th century. This changed with the opening of the Austrian Southern Railway line (Südbahn) to Klagenfurt in 1863 and to Villach along the northern shore, which turned the Wörthersee into an exclusive summer retreat for Vienna’s nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie.

I arrived at the lakeshore just as huge clouds, like those you’d see in a cartoon following the unlucky protagonist, broke open and spilled their contents. I had hung my rainfly over an open car door for a few minutes hoping to dry it out, but no dice. I had gotten used to rain by now, and set off on a path around the lake with only a small jacket. From the lake I headed toward Bad Gastein, and on the way stopped at Obervellach, a gold and silver mining region beginning in the 12th century. It had been in possession of the comital House of Gorizia (Görz) who made their residence at Falkenstein Castle high above the valley. In the 17th century, gold and silver deposits were depleted and replaced by copper mines.

As I explored the town I came upon the Mining Authority building, which contained exhibits and stories about life in the mines and regional traditions. Outside of the town, I had pulled over on the side of the road trying to figure out how to get to Bad Gastein. A nice guy, Markus, part time painter and student, stopped and told me to head to Mallnitz. I discovered that Mallnitz was the end of the line, unless I wanted to put my car on a train for 17 Euros that went through a tunnel to the other side of the mountain. I wouldn’t see anything and would be out 17 Euros. I contemplated my next move over potato pork goulash in a Hungarian-owned inn. I decided to drive back in the direction I’d come, but ended up returning twice because the GPS said there was a road to Bad Gastein. As I wanted to see the countryside, I decided to head to Salzburg via Spittal an der Drau. It was pure blackness when I decided to pull off at the exit for St. Michael im Lungau. As was often the case, I couldn’t see my hand in front of me as I searched for a place to park for the night. I found an out of the way place at the base of a ski lift in a deserted parking lot next to a bar. Ideal cover.

June 14. I woke up to lots of traffic. I had parked on Katschberg Pass, and had decided to sleep in the car. As I drove the UNESCO Biosphärenpark Salzburger Lungau in Mauterndorf, I saw two men driving cows on the highway, and recognized one of them from yesterday at the entrance to the Mallnitz tunnel. I drove to Tamsweg via Unternberg and stopped to explore at Moosham castle, built on the foundations of a Roman castrum or fortress in 1191. It was seized by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg about 1285 was an important source of arsenic for gold extraction. I liked hiking up the steep mountains surrounding the castle. In Tamsweg I hit tourist information for maps and then had a leisurely coffee with pastries gazing out the window at a lovely park. From there I drove tiny backroads above the town to a dead end, then headed to Ramingstein and explored the remains of a Protestant kids camp nestled in the mountains.

I hiked some of the silver mining trails on other side of Mur River, then headed to Thomatal. I wanted to visit the Bundschuh Blast Furnace Museum to learn how pig iron production and smelting were done in the 16th century. It is set in an actual blast furnace and shows the blower house, staff house, coal ingots, and a look at the life and work of the miners.  Sadly it was closed. I found a lovely outdoor krippe on the mountainside, then drove on to Mauterndorf, a picturesque town. Unfortunately the Mauterndorf castle was closed so I headed up into the moutains via Mariapfarr to Göriach where I found a quiet spot to park. Within minutes my car was surrounded by cows who proceeded to lick it. Maybe it was salty :>

These cows reminded me of a hike I’d made to the 7 sacred pools above Hana in Maui. My boyfriend and I got stranded on our way down because he felt unsafe climbing down precipitous cliffs in the dark. We slept under giant mango trees with only a towel for a blanket and shoes for a pillow. Throughout the night, aggressive cows approached us, threatening us with cow saliva. I was the designated whisperer, attempting to convince them since we were vegetarians and didn’t eat cow, we were safe. They seemed intent on harvesting mangos, and spent the night knocking shaking these giant trees. We were almost hit by mango torpedos on several occasions, and I finally suggested we move to a spot between the trees for safety.  

But back to Göriach. The picturesque village had an array of sleeping huts, but none were available, and it was too cold to sleep in a tent. Since lower elevations tend to be warmer, I headed down the hill and parked my car near a field in the small town of Lasa.

June 15. I woke to a frosty morning and drove half an hour to Lessach. I parked near an inn and walked up into the mountains. Trails leading into glacial valleys criss-crossed the mountains, and I walked about an hour along a turbulent river, then back to my car. I headed back to Tamsweg and found a great ice cream shop (eiss is very popular in Germany and Austria). A farmer selling his wares grabbed his accordion and started a lively phrase. I was enamored and recorded the tunes as a Voice Memo. I went to a coffee house and indulged in a latte, and made a new friend. Wegner Wegl was born in Munich, lived in Prague, and now lives in Vienna, with a winter house in Ramingstein. He was very interesting and engaging. I headed back to Mauterndorf to try my hand again at touring the castle, and found the audio guide very informative.

From there I drove through flower-studded Alpen meadows to Zell am See, a lovely but highly touristy lake that reminded me of Lake Como. It was a popular spot for Arabic speakers who may have come from oil rich countries with money to burn. But where there is Arabic, there is tahini! I love tahini and found a small Middle Eastern market that carried it. It’s like peanut butter for me. Very satisfying. I tried to find my way from the hotels and glitz to the lake and more natural surroundings, but gave up after a while and headed toward Bad Gastein, a ski and spa town high in the Gastein Valley. But curiosity got the better of me and I turned right towards the valley to Rauris in the valley before Gastein. It’s a much smaller town, and I walked around the old town for an hour, admiring the half timber frame traditional Austrian architecture which reminded me of that in the Bavarian Alps. I wrote a bit then drove to the end of the paved road in search of a camp site but the cows scared me. I was now officially in the Kolm Saigurn National Park and was in my happy place high up in the mountains with only the sound of rushing water. I found a parking area for tractors and parked there for the night.

June 16. I found a lovely inn and ate a hearty breakfast: 3 eggs, bread, apricot cake, and a latte. I had a nice chat with a young Slovak female employee who had studied German and English in Salzburg then walked into the lovely morning and hiked along a trail to a pond. I met a lovely German couple who greeted me with a warm welcome. I headed back down to the main valley that Zell am See is in, stopping at an old church in Bucheben where newlyweds were getting into a Tesla. Further down the road, I encountered the house of a Schnapps maker in the business since 1700. Actually, the latest family had only been making it 40 years. They were selling Gentian flower, pear, and other unique flavors. Their lovely roadside chalet also provided information on the raptors in Kolm Saigurn National Park, including golden eagles and bearded buzzards, the latter of which had been reintroduced into Europe. I bought some Gentian flower Schnapps, and left my car to walk up a side valley. The air smelled so fresh, and the wildflowers were just beginning to pop.

After a nice hike, I drove back to Rauris where I encountered a funeral procession with everyone in Austrian black formal wear. I observed from a respectful distance, contemplating the significance of this person’s passing and how tradition is respected here. I wanted to see Bad Gastein, which I had intended to visit days before but had been deterred by the 17 Euro fee to go via train through the mountain tunnel. I drove to Klamm and up the next road into Gastein Valley, a toll road charging 36 Euros. I have been spoiled in the Western US to rarely if ever pay a toll except for bridge crossings. I had gotten used to it in Europe. After short drive, I arrived in the lovely spa and ski town known for belle epoque hotels and villas built on steep, forested slopes. I talked to Shawn as I walked the Wasserfallweg trail, with a view of the Gasteiner Waterfall as it plummets to the valley floor. On the way back, I admired the Gothic frescoes in St. Nicholas Church.

I walked around for another hour, noting the preciousness of the place. It was a little too much for me. I don’t remember how I decided where to go, but I next headed north 1 1/2 hours across the German border to Berchtesgaden. This lovely old town, with a 500 year history of salt mining, is nestled in the Bavarian Alps. Ironically, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat, the Kehlsteinhaus, is just south of town. How could such a regime coexist with this charming village? The ironies of life. I drove to Eagle’s Nest, taking in the sweeping alpine views. I wanted to see Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden, a museum about the salt mine’s 500-year history, but it was closed, so I took a tram to the Obersalzberg and Rossfeld ski areas, walking in the rarified air next to patches of snow. Later in the day, I walked the path above Berchtesgaden that salt miners had trod for centuries, then headed toward Berchtesgaden National Park, where I searched for a place to park and camp near the river.

June 17. I woke and decided to hike in the national park. I got a hiking map and headed up the gorge toward Wimbachklamm. The steady incline reminded me of hiking at Franconia gorge/notch in New Hampshire. I gained 1300 feet elevation over 2 miles, stopping at a stream to drink since I hadn’t brought any water. I hadn’t planned to walk long. Story of my life. I passed a beer hut and many hardy elderly hikers bearing hiking poles. After 2 hours I decided to turn back. I was impressed by all the kids and families out for a hike. I drove toward the end of the valley and stopped in Zauberwald, walking the beautiful forested trail along a creek. Then on to Hintersee, which reflected the clouds in its clear, aqua blue water. I found a Gasthaus that made their own cake, and I indulged with a huge yogurt Becher and 4 pieces of homemade tort.

I really wanted to see Königssee, and headed back toward Berchtesgaden. I had seen the long lake and iconic St. Bartholomew church the day before and was mesmerized by its beauty and clarity. Turns out parking is quite dear as it’s a popular spot, but I lucked out and a German couple gave me their parking day pass. I walked as far as I could along the water’s edge and got a nice view of the lake and dipped my feet in. I was wearing my flip flops and had wished I’d worn my tennis shoes instead because I couldn’t use rope trail that skirted the lake. I took a selfie there, one of the rare few that I took the whole summer, then headed back to Berchtesgaden, where I walked around for a few hours. I walked into all the churches I could, as it was Sunday, even during mass, including a Protestant church that was very plain inside. I checked out graveyards, a grand building that had been the Augustinian’s palace, sat and watched a bit of the World Cup, then ducked into the car just as it started raining. It rained for over an hour while I drove two hours to Amstetten, Austria. I was heading back to Budapest for a dental appointment the next day. I parked near a timber harvest area and slept in the car.


5 responses to “Austria – Summer 2018

  1. Thank you Geri. I really appreciate your comment as I’ve been writing non stop for days and didn’t think anyone had read my posts. I write for myself, but I also write that others may enjoy.


  2. What a trip! Thank you for taking us with you, Lisa. Your descriptions are marvelous, and your stories are so entertaining. I loved the mango-eating cows! Travel opens us not just to other people and other places, but to ourselves. It’s amazing how our travels outside can also be travels inside too. You’re definitely a curious and intrepid traveler!


  3. Dear Lisa, I just read your post about Austria.  It was great, of course!  I tried to leave a comment (did the log-in and such), but can’t see that it “took”.  If it didn’t, let me know so I can re-do it.  Keep up the good work! Best,Nancy


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