Week 57 - St. Gilgen (Austria)
Photos from our two weeks in St. Gilgen are posted here. When you see the photos you will know why we love this area so much.
After 11 weeks in six different parts of Italy, we drove 500 miles north to very familiar territory in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This is a very lush Alpine region of mountains and lakes, about 30 minutes from the beautiful city of Salzburg. Our family has visited Salzburg three times before, including Christmas trips in 1999 and 2003. This time we shifted our base out of the city to the village of St. Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee, one of many lakes in this region. We also traveled back across the border to Germany and spend some time in the area near Berchtesgaden.
After a slow start due to bad weather, our first week was filled with outdoor activities. We were so busy and had such a great time that we managed not to think too much about going home in just a month.
Saturday, July 9
Today was one of the longest drives of our trip—just over 500 miles. We left our old stone house in Umbria in central Italy about 8:30 am and got to our apartment in St. Gilgen, Austria just after 7:00 pm. We made one major stop at a rest area just north of Venice… very crowded with holiday travelers this time of year. We ate in a self-service cafeteria with great looking food, but Kelly wanted a pizza that was made to order and the whole process took a long time. This stop chewed up about an hour.
The trip was mostly on really good freeways, though we ran into slow traffic when we had a stretch of non-highway driving north of Ravenna. We passed right along the coast of the Adriatic Sea; unfortunately, it wasn’t as scenic as I had expected. It was an interesting drive, and I enjoyed watching the scenery as we traveled up into Northern Italy, then into the Alps, and finally crossing the border into Austria. We stopped just across the border to buy a sticker for the Austrian highways. The traffic slowed down again as we merged into one lane to travel through a long tunnel at Katschberg, north of Villach. This was all new territory for us, and we enjoyed seeing another part of the Alps.
The change in the landscape during our 500 mile trip was astonishing. Yesterday we were living in a rugged environment of scrubby mountains covered with olive trees, looking out over fields of sunflowers, living outside a village of crumbling stone houses. Today we are living in a lush and green land of mountains and lakes, in a village of wooden chalets with flower boxes overflowing with bright red geraniums. Yesterday we were eating pasta, drinking red wine, and saying “Buona sera”. Today we are eating sausages, drinking beer, and saying “Guten abend”. I love both environments, but I find myself shaking my head in astonishment at how quickly the culture changes: architecture, food, language, style. The mountains really did once provide a strong barricade that enabled totally different cultures to develop just miles apart. And the nature of the physical surroundings provided building materials and food that have also created such distinct cultures within the various European regions. Even the dramatically different weather patterns make things different. It was hot summer in Umbria… in the 90’s. Here in the Salzkammergut, it’s cool again and I need my sweater.
When we left America over a year ago, I left the last five weeks of our trip unplanned. The rental of Roccia Viva in Umbria was the last arrangement I made. We knew we wanted to spend some time in or near Salzburg, but I had a terrible time finding a place to rent. This area doesn’t really market rental places to English-speaking tourists, so there weren’t lots of listings to look at or places to choose from. I don’t think there are many rental properties at all in the city of Salzburg. Finally, I just gave up. I had too many things to do to get ready for our trip to spend any more time fussing over arrangements more than a year in the future. I decided to work out the last few weeks while we were living in Provence.
Salzburg, Austria is one of our very favorite places, a city we’ve come back to several times on our European travels. I first visited Salzburg in 1991, on my first-ever European trip with two girlfriends. I brought Charley and Kelly to Salzburg for three days in October 1997, and then we came back for Christmas 1999. Salzburg is an absolutely wonderful place to spend Christmas. We were back again for Christmas 2003—just a year and a half ago. In the past we’ve always stayed in the city of Salzburg, though we’ve done some day-trips out into the countryside to the lake district outside Salzburg called the Salzkammergut. When I couldn’t seem to find a rental right in the city, Charley and I talked about the possibility of staying in the Salzkammergut instead… or maybe in Berchtesgaden, Germany, just 30 minutes from Salzburg in the other direction.
I finally realized that most of the rental properties around Salzburg were marketed to German-speaking people, and I learned how to find German websites for “ferienwohnungen” (holiday apartments) and then which keywords in German would help me identify possible properties. I focused on properties where there was some English information or where the owner spoke some English. That just made communication so much easier.
Eventually I found an apartment in the village of St. Gilgen, a village on the Wolfgangsee, about 30 minutes from Salzburg. We had visited St. Gilgen briefly a couple of times and thought it would be an ideal location. The owner was British and good to work with through e-mail. She gave me a discount for a two week rental, and I was even able to send a check in US dollars. And so now, here we are.
The apartment is just across the main road from the village, in group of modern chalet buildings. Our apartment is on the ground floor with a terrace looking out toward the lake. We have a nice view of the lake and the mountains on the opposite side of the lake, and can watch the cable car go past us to the top of the mountain behind us.
The apartment is smaller than I thought from the pictures on the website, really the only “modern” place we’ve stayed our entire trip. We have a small entrance foyer; the bathroom is off the foyer. Then there’s a living/dining room with glass doors opening out to the terrace, and a very small kitchen. At first we didn’t know what happened to the bedrooms, since the door is built into a big wall unit. Charley and I have a double bedroom on the other side of the wall unit, and Kelly’s room is adjacent to ours. Her room is very, very small with two bunk beds. There is just room for the door to open without hitting the beds. But the apartment is clean and bright and a great location. Kelly is excited that there is a VCR and a couple of movies. There are even a few books that Charley and I want to read.
Laundry equipment in Europe is very different than what we are used to in America, and we’ve got a machine here that is the most unique we’ve seen this past year. When I first communicated with Catherine, the owner, she told me there wasn’t a washing machine in the apartment. Later she wrote me that they had purchased a unit. Well, there is a washing machine, but it is the smallest washing machine I’ve ever seen—actually a portable washing machine! Fortunately the owner’s manual is in English, so Charley can try to figure this out.
The keys were left in the mailbox for us. We carried our bags in and did just a little unpacking, then walked down to the village for dinner. We decided to eat at a big new place right on the waterfront called the Fischer Wirt, painted a pretty yellow. We sat on the outdoor terrace looking out over the Wolfgansee and the mountains. Charley loves the environment of the German/Austrian Alps… well, we all do. This was a great spot to begin our two-week stay. Our meal was very good. We all had our favorite goulash soup, then I had fish (trout from the lake), Charley had wiener schnitzel, and Kelly had pasta. We immediately switched from our Italian beverage of choice (red wine) to our Austrian beverage of choice (beer), though I’m having a much harder time switching to my limited German vocabulary. The restaurant had a live band tonight, and we enjoyed listening to the music and watching people dance. There were some very good dancers.
After dinner we took a late-night stroll around the village. We found a bakery where Charley can go in the morning to get our breakfast. We’re excited about the prospect of Austrian breads for breakfast.