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Week 58 - St. Gilgen (Austria)

Photos from our two weeks in St. Gilgen are posted here.

Our second week in St. Gilgen was also so special. We spent two more days in Salzburg, hiked around the lake to the village of St. Wolfgang (seen above), hiked twice at a high plateau called the Postalm, and visited the Königssee outside Berchtesgaden. Kelly celebrated her 12th birthday this week-- her second birthday away from home on this trip-- and we had two days of activities in her honor. Kelly and and I did have a major misadventure riding double on a summer toboggan ride, though fortunately neither of us were too seriously hurt.

At the end of the week we did some major repacking, leaving a suitcase and a variety of books, clothes and food behind us in St. Gilgen. This was our last of 20 rentals during our 14 month trip. For the next three weeks we will travel by train and on foot in Germany and Switzerland.

Saturday, July 16

We were up early again today for our second Salzburg day. We started our day just outside the city at Hellbrunn Palace. We’ve just been to the edge of the grounds before (on the Sound of Music tour to see the famous “gazebo” from the movie), and I’ve always wanted to see the palace, especially the trick fountains. This is another place that was free because of our Salzburg cards.

We paused briefly at the Sound of Music gazebo. It was moved here after the movie, and is probably a major tourist destination in Salzburg. Charley and Kelly acted silly and I took pictures. (“I’m eleven, going on twelve….)

Hellbrunn Palace was built as a summer palace—a pleasure palace—for Archbishop Markus Sittkus who lived here from 1612 – 1619. Back then the Archbishops were more royalty than any kind of “spiritual” leader it seems. The palace has beautiful grounds and all the buildings are a vibrant mustard-yellow color. The style seems almost Italian. It’s hard to believe that the buildings are almost 500 years old.

The most famous part of the palace is the trick water gardens. I had read about the gardens, but didn’t tell Charley and Kelly anything because I wanted them to enjoy the surprises in store. We were in a group of about 30 people, and toured the gardens with a guide. She conducted the hour-long tour in both German and English.

The Archbishop constructed the gardens to play practical jokes on his friends and visitors. We must have seen ten different water jokes—from a table that squirts water up from the seats (no one accepted the offer to sit at the table—this one is well known) to a statue that squirted water on unsuspecting passersby. We went into a grotto and were squirted from hidden sprinklers on the way out.

Kelly and I really enjoyed the gardens, but Charley didn’t like it at all. He was quite disgusted that a supposed man of God would have been so silly. Plus I don’t think Charley was at all interested in getting wet. Some of the children in our tour group got quite wet, but then of course they wanted to get wet and always stood right where the water was coming out.

We walked through the beautiful gardens and then did a self-tour through the palace. This was all interesting, but the trick water garden was the show-stopper.

After the palace, we drove over to the Stiegl brewery (called Stiegl’s Brauwelt - World of Beer), another destination included in our Salzburg card. This is supposed to be the largest exhibition on beer in all of Europe. The brewery was also on the outskirts of the city and a little hard to find, but worth our efforts. We did a fun self-tour of the brewery. There was a computer quiz about beer which Kelly took and she was very proud to get a certificate as a “beermeister”. My incredible eleven-year old kid—now a beer expert! At the end of the tour we got to go to a tavern and we each got two free beers and a big soft pretzel. Our nice waiter recommended an Austrian soft drink for Kelly called Almdudler, which she enjoyed. Our admission also included a special gift, and we selected beer glasses that we’ll ship home. There was a big gift shop full of Stiegl logo items, and Kelly bought herself a round plastic tray so she can serve drinks, something she says she’s always wanted.

It started raining while we were in the brewery, and we decided not to go back into Salzburg, which had been our original plan. We had talked about going up to the massive Hohensalzburg Fortress that sits above the city and is really the symbol of Salzburg. The fortress was built in the 11th century and the largest, completely-preserved fortress in central Europe. We had just been there in December 2003 (actually on Christmas Day), and because of the rain we decided to just head back to St. Gilgen. Even though we didn’t do anything else in Salzburg, we still think we got a good deal with our Salzburg cards—probably got 150% value for what we paid for the cards.

The woman at the Stiegl shop suggested a place to stop for lunch, but it was closed and then we couldn’t find another place nearby, so we headed back to the Salzkammergut. We stopped at the big grocery store outside Mondsee and bought a roast chicken from a man in a little truck outside, then took that home for lunch.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading in our little apartment. We’ve been on-the-go pretty aggressively the last couple of days and were happy to just have a lazy afternoon. For dinner we went into St. Gilgen and had dinner again at the Fischer Wirt restaurant on the waterfront. We had another really good meal outside on the terrace. This time I had salmon. We watched the dancers again, most of them the same couples from last Saturday night... some terrific dancers.

Sunday, July 17

We had another really good day today. The weather was good again, so we decided to do a long hike and walked around the lake (probably seven or eight miles) to the village of St. Wolfgang. Most of our trail was on an old pilgrimage route that hugged the end of the lake and then made quite a steep ascent around the back of the Falkenstein, passing the stations of the cross. Eventually we reached a little pilgrimage church built into the cliff. The church was built in 1626.

Because it was Sunday, there were quite a few people walking today as well as people on mountain bikes. Several people—like me—struggled on the ascent. We chatted with a couple from England while we were resting on the way up. We got a chance to practice using our two walking sticks today, which I decided I like a lot. You can use them to get into a nice rhythm on the flat sections and then they help you on the way up and down.

There were also a lot of people out today because the Red Bull company is sponsoring a cliff diving contest off the steep cliffs of the Falkenstein. Red Bull is headquartered not far from St. Gilgen and there were thousands of people gathering in a big viewing area and in boats out in the lake to watch the diving. We didn’t get to see the diving, as our route circled around the back of the Falkenstein peak. Then we walked down through a quiet village called Ried and eventually reached busy St. Wolfgang.

We got to St. Wolfgang just about lunchtime. I had wanted to eat at Im Weissen Rössl (The White Horse Inn), a very famous hotel and restaurant where we had a very good lunch in 1999 while the regular gas was eating up our diesel engine. But today we didn’t really like the posted menu and it was very expensive. Instead we ate on the big outdoor terrace of a neighboring restaurant (Hotel Schwarzes Rossl or The Black Horse Inn) that was less expensive and had a menu that worked better for us.

After lunch we walked around St. Wolfgang. It’s a busy and crowded place—especially on this Sunday in July—with lots of tourist shops. The church is especially beautiful though, because it was a very important pilgrimage church at one time. We learned that St. Wolfgang was the bishop of Regensburg who came to Mondsee in 976. He built the first chapel in St. Wolfgang, which later became a pilgrimage center for up to 70,000 pilgrims a year. The current church has sections dating from 15th to the 18th century. There’s an absolutely beautiful wood altar.

We took a boat back to St. Gilgen. Our boat was over 100 years old, named the Franz Joseph after the Austrian emperor who had his summer palace down at Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut. Charley and Kelly sat inside the cabin out of the sun, but I sat upstairs and chatted with English couple we had met on the walk, then we all struck up a conversation with another Englishman who was doing a house exchange in Salzburg. It was interesting to learn about the house exchange.

For dinner tonight I fixed pasta bolognaise. It wasn’t one of my better meals. Then we sat down for what has become our nightly game of Scrabble. We’re having a good time with the game, though Kelly gets quite frustrated when she doesn’t win. We’re proud of how good she is at the game, but she wants to be an “equal” to Charley and me.

Monday, July 18

We seem to be putting together a long string of very good days. Although our apartment is a bit cramped and not particularly interesting, we all agree that St. Gilgen is one of the best places we’ve stayed in our 13 months in Europe. There is so much to do here, and we are here at the perfect time of the year for a real outdoor vacation. And on top of that, the surroundings are absolutely beautiful. I love the combination of the lakes and the mountains and the Alpine villages.

Today we drove down to Strobl and then took a little private toll road 12 kilometers up to an area called the Postalm. The little road went along a river, then up into the mountains. The Postalm is the largest high plateau in Austria… about 40 square kilometers. Like many of the mountains here, in the summer it’s a hiking area and in the winter it’s a ski area. There are many mountain huts scattered around the area where you can have lunch or other refreshments. We did hike up to a pretty little chapel that seats only a few people.

There are several very well-marked circular walks on the Postalm, and there were quite a few people of all ages out walking today. I had a trail map in German, and we picked one of the longer routes; it was very scenic but also somewhat strenuous. I’ve gotten out of shape since our final hiking days in Provence and find myself struggling on the uphill sections. I just had too much good food in Italy, I guess. I hope I can get in better shape before our hike in Switzerland… where there will be many uphill (up-mountain) sections.

Charley had made some sandwiches, and we had a picnic on some rocks by the side of the path looking across a beautiful green field. Cows and quite a few horses were grazing nearby, and as we ate, a young colt came walking down the path. Kelly was delighted. She got up and interacted with the colt for several minutes. He had no fear of her whatsoever.

We really really liked the Postalm. We all want to come back again later in the week.

On the way back to St. Gilgen we stopped in Strobl to do the toboggan ride again. This time Charley and I both rode double with Kelly in a bigger sled. Some parents ride double with a small child who is too young to ride alone. But when two adult-sized people go down together, the sled goes much faster. Kelly was excited, but I was really scared. It was really too fast for me, and I felt totally out of control since she was in front holding the brake stick. I must have spent half the ride shouting, “slow down, slow down,” while Kelly laughed hysterically.

I fixed teriyaki chicken for dinner, using a little kit I found at the Billa grocery store. Charley loved it, but I think he may have had too much wine while he was sitting outside reading before dinner. I didn’t think it was all that good. He probably would have loved anything.

Tuesday, July 19

So much for the string of great days. Today it was rainy, so we shifted to Plan B and drove back into Salzburg about 11:00 am. We parked at the garage off the Linzergasse again; it is such an easy drive in from St. Gilgen. We wanted to eat at one of our favorite restaurants in Salzburg—the Hotel Stadtkrug on the Linzergasse—but it was closed today. Darn! We did a little shopping, stopping in several bookstores to try to find an English version of the new Harry Potter book for Kelly. The book was released on July 16, so we are just a few days late. We finally found it in the fourth shop we checked—the last English copy. It was 25 euro, and we told Kelly that this was definitely an early birthday present, since I know we could find it a lot cheaper if we were willing to hold off a bit longer. She started reading almost immediately.

We ended up having lunch at another one of our favorite places, a little café at the Goldener Hirsch hotel called Herzl. We’ve had our Christmas Eve lunch here twice, and it’s a comfortable place, especially on a drizzly day. Today I had goulash soup (that I shared with Kelly) and then wiener schnitzel. Charley had the daily special of cordon bleu with soup, and Kelly had beef goulash. I like the food in Austria.

After lunch we went back to the Bignet internet café on Judengasse, where I worked for about three hours. They had a couple stations upstairs where you could download from a CD, so I was able to post my last Tuscany blog. I have fallen several weeks behind on my blog work. It’s been difficult these last few months without easy internet access. Kelly worked on the computer about an hour, and then she and Charley went out exploring.

We drove on back to St. Gilgen. At Kelly’s request I fixed a dish I created in Tuscany—chicken and pasta with cream sauce. And then—of course—a couple more games of Scrabble.

Wednesday, July 20

The weather was better today. We drove back to Berchtesgaden, this time to Lake Königssee. We went to the Königsee on our October 1997 trip, but we didn’t have enough German marks to do the full boat ride and it’s been one of those things I’ve thought about ever since—kind of like Jane Austen’s house when we arrived after closing time.

At this time of year, the village of Königssee is a very busy place. The same parking lot serves people coming for both the Jenner mountain cable car and the Königsee boat. The village of Königsee is a long and very busy street of tourist shops selling various German souvenirs and clothes. We dawdled down the street looking at the various shops, focusing our search on the cropped hiking pants. We found Kelly an inexpensive pair that she liked, but I couldn’t find pants that fit me right at that store. Then we found a “real” outdoor shop. I ended up getting somewhat more expensive cropped pants and then Kelly and I both got new hiking shirts. I may struggle up the mountains, but at least I will have the right kind of outfit and two hiking poles!

We had lunch at an outdoor café right down by the boat launch. Charley and I had big plates of sausages and big beers. Kelly had pasta, so she was happy. She ordered another Almdudler soft drink. Waiters seem impressed that our American child knows this drink. Most of the time we were at the restaurant, Kelly had her nose buried in her thick Harry Potter book. She barely looked at the scenery on the drive here from St. Gilgen… too intent on her book!

We got tickets for a boat leaving at 2:20 pm. The Königssee (the Kings Lake) is almost 2,000 feet above sea level, and the water is crystal clear—the cleanest lake in Germany. Only electric boats, canoes and rowboats are allowed. The boats glide along the beautiful and peaceful lake, totally surrounded by mountains, including the Watzmann and the Jenner. The Watzmann is one of the most important mountains in Germany and is actually the highest mountain (8,900 feet) located solely in Germany. According to the legend, the highest peak represents the evil King Watzmann and the other peaks represent his wife and seven children. The whole family turned to stone because of king’s cruelty. Kelly was fascinated by this story when we visited in 1997 when she was 4. From the lake we could also see the Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) at 1843m (over 6000 feet). This was Hitler’s former diplomatic house. A visit to Eagle’s Nest was on our list of things to do, but we’ve had to drop a few activities due to a few days of bad weather, so it looks like we will save this for another time. We know we will come back to this area again.

At one point on the Königssee the boat stops so the pilot can play a horn called a flügelhorn; the sound echoes off the mountain wall. The entire ride—there and back down the five mile lake—was about two hours, but it was longer for us because we got off twice. Our first stop was the little peninsula at St. Bartholomä, distinguished by its tiny 12th century chapel with three red-tipped onion domes. Next to the little chapel is a large inn that was once the hunting lodge of the Bavarian kings. We took a path out into the woods and then along the side of the Watzmann before doubling back to the inn. There were several hundred people out in the beer garden, and we joined them for beer and ice cream… what a combination!

St. Bartholomä was the end of our boat ride in 1997. This time we waited for the next boat to go to a tiny outpost and inn at the very end of the lake called Salet. Then we walked about 15 minutes to another small lake surrounded by mountains—very beautiful—called the Obersee. The Obersee can only be reached on foot. Suddenly the crowds were gone. The Obersee is less than a mile long and only a third of a mile wide, with a 1300 foot waterfall called the Röthbach. This is a great area for hiking. I wish we had come out much earlier in the day so we could have done some serious hiking. We caught one of the last boats back, and it was a long ride on a crowded boat. I was glad we had caught the boat at Salet. The lines at St. Bartholomä were incredibly long.

Just outside Königssee Charley and I had spotted a large McDonalds restaurant. We don’t really eat at McDonalds at home (Kelly prefers Burger King for her fast food hamburgers), but we surprised her today and asked if she wanted dinner at McDonalds. She instantly said yes, and actually we all enjoyed our meal. We’ve only had a handful of American-style fast food meals in the last year. After dinner we headed back to St. Gilgen, a drive of about an hour. Home to more Scrabble!

Thursday, July 21

Kelly’s 12th birthday is not until tomorrow, but she suggested we do her birthday activities today in case it rains tomorrow. (If we were to get rained out tomorrow—our last day here—we wouldn’t get to do her activities at all.) This is her second birthday on our trip. Last year we were in Yorkshire in England. As the birthday girl, she gets to pick all the activities for the day, including the meals. She planned a full schedule. Today was a nice day, but a bit too cool for one of her potential activities—swimming down at the beach in St. Gilgen.

After a late breakfast, we walked down to the St. Gilgen waterfront and rented one of the red electric boats for an hour. The boat was very quiet and not very fast, but it was a good way to cruise around the lake, and Kelly really seemed to enjoy it. Charley let her steer the boat most of the time.

We went back to our place for lunch and some quiet time, and then headed off for another birthday activity: the summer toboggan ride in Strobl. Kelly has become totally infatuated with this ride. She rode a couple of times by herself, and then begged for the two of us to ride double again. After the last experience—which I found quite terrifying—I really didn’t want to go again. But she begged and begged and promised she wouldn’t go fast…. plus it was her birthday… so I finally said yes.

This was a big mistake. About half-way down the mountain we had a terrible crash—actually flew off the track. It all happened so fast. One minute we were flying down the mountain, me shouting “slow down, slow down,” and Kelly laughing as we went into a curve. We must have been going too fast and perhaps with the two of us, we didn’t lean exactly the right way going through the curve. The next thing I knew we were both on the side of the track. Kelly was screaming, “my ear, my ear!!” I managed to pull the sled off the side of the track, unsure if anyone was behind us coming down the hill, which would have been an even worse situation. I tried to look at Kelly’s ear, which she was holding while she was screaming. I had no idea if she had possibly ripped her ear off and if blood would come pouring out when she moved her hand. She wouldn’t let me touch her, just kept screaming that it was all my fault for not leaning correctly. (Of course, I was equally convinced it was all her fault for going too fast and that she shouldn’t have begged me to go double against my better judgment.) This was not one of our better mother-daughter moments… actually maybe one of our very worst.

I tried to scream for Charley—who was waiting for us down below, ready to take our picture at the very end—but we were fairly high up on the hill and not at all visible from below. Fortunately no one was right behind us. Finally a small Indian girl came down the hill going very slowly and just waved at us, no idea that we were crash victims.

I got Kelly to move her hand, and fortunately there wasn’t any blood on her ear. She did have a little scratch on her cheek and both of us hurt badly, but we managed to get the sled back on the track and both of us on it, and then cruised slowly to the bottom. There was Charley, taking our picture, wondering what had taken us so long but totally oblivious that we’d had any kind of accident.

Kelly had one more ride left on the toboggan and she did go again, but I was shell-shocked. What if one of our hands had ended up underneath a runner of the sled? What if someone had come down behind us while we were still sprawled half-on and half-off the track? I realized how badly we could have been hurt, and suddenly I had a view of how a victim of a car accident must feel. Everything just happens so quickly… one second things are fine, and the next second the world changes.

We drove home quietly, the excitement of the birthday celebration definitely dampened. We poked around at the apartment… we all have books going. Kelly is nearing the end of Harry Potter and Charley and I both have quite a few books left from our last purchase at the Paperback Exchange in Florence. Charley really enjoys sitting out on the little terrace. For dinner we walked down to the village to the Chinese restaurant. This was Kelly’s choice for her birthday dinner. We were surprised to find a Chinese restaurant in St. Gilgen, run by a Chinese family. It was actually very good, though not exactly cheap. The restaurant wasn’t doing a booming business, but there were several other customers and it was a pleasant environment with friendly service.

Kelly’s last request for the day was to play a couple of games of Scrabble. We’ve really enjoyed the Scrabble games here… a nice change from the Rummikub game that we’ve had with us the past year.

Friday, July 22

Today is Kelly’s real birthday—our little girl is now 12 years old and not little any more. We had her wrapped gifts at the breakfast table: two candy bars, a stuffed hedgehog, and the beautiful bound journal that she had picked out at a paper shop in Assisi. This year because of our traveling schedule, there aren’t any gifts or cards from anyone else but us, but Kelly doesn’t seem to mind this and is enjoying her second birthday away from home. Her Harry Potter book was another big present, which she’s now already finished.

Today we went back to the Postalm for another hike. I was surprised that Kelly actually agreed to go hiking on her real birthday, as she claims to not enjoy the hiking. But we all enjoyed the environment of the Postalm, and of course this was our only chance to go back.

We hiked off in another direction today… maybe six miles… and saw a different part of the plateau. I love the Postalm—what a find! It’s absolutely beautiful up there… totally surrounded by mountains and so very green with lots of wildflowers this time of year. In one spot the ground was covered with what seemed to be wild roses.

We had a picnic lunch again. Kelly wanted to eat five minutes after we set out on the hike. Rather than argue about it, we just found some rocks on the side of the path and lightened our load. Later we also stopped at one of the mountain huts for a snack. I had goulash soup, which was quite good. I ended up sharing my bowl with Kelly, who has become quite fond of goulash soup, though she doesn’t like potatoes if those are included in the recipe.

On the way back home, Charley and I decided to stop at the toboggan ride again to give Kelly one last ride. Despite yesterday’s fall, Kelly is still very positive about the toboggan, though I will certainly never ride double again. I did decide to ride one time—kind of getting back on the horse after a bad fall—though I went extremely slow and all of a sudden felt very middle-aged. It turns out that I was actually quite injured in our little accident, though I didn’t realize it at the time because I was so worried about Kelly’s ear. Today about 50% of my left arm is black and blue (mostly black), with a huge knot on it and I’m also very sore. Kelly has a bruise on her cheek.

We had dinner at the house tonight. Kelly picked her favorite menu: fried chicken (seasoned with our Tuscan spices and cooked in olive oil), risotto Milanese, and fresh green beans. I did the best I could in our tiny kitchen. It’s actually quite amazing what I have been able to cook there with about one foot of counter space. We have also been working on laundry the last few days, as this is our last chance to have a washing machine for a while. Charley has done several small loads in the little machine, and we then hang our clothes on a drying rack on the terrace outside.

After dinner we worked on our packing. Charley and Kelly took a box down to the post office this morning to ship a few things home, and we had some difficult decisions today. We are turning in our rental car tomorrow in Munich, so we have to reduce our luggage considerably as the rest of our travel will be on foot or by train. For the Swiss walk, we are limited to one suitcase each, and they need to be of moderate size. We sent one big duffel bag home with Scott from Umbria and bought a carry-on suitcase outside the train station in Florence as a replacement. Now we'll leave the old black rolling suitcase here in St. Gilgen, along with quite a few other items: a lot of food and all of our spices (this is our last kitchen), a few kitchen items, books, some clothes, and my old hiking boots. (I have inherited Kelly’s boots which she had outgrown—half-size larger than mine—since she had to get new hiking boots in Umbria.) We are even leaving the Rummikub game. The caretaker Theo said he will get the food and clothes to a needy family, and we have doubled the size of the apartment library.

We've really loved our two weeks in St. Gilgen. We all agree that this would have been a great place to stay a full month. After 11 weeks of major sightseeing in Italy, we've enjoyed more of a focus on hiking and other outdoor activities. It’s hard to believe this is the last rental of our long trip… our 20th rental. We’re staying in hotels for the rest of our trip, and in less than three weeks we’ll be home in Knoxville.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 13, 2005 8:36 PM.

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