there is nothing prettier in the whole wide world as a girl in love with every breath she takes.
— atticus —
while the quote above rings true, especially for me, unfortunately poor atticus never saw hallstatt…..
after i finished up my short trip to russia, i had one other new country left to visit on this european adventure and that was slovakia. if you remember from one of my previous blogs i missed my train to bratislava from vienna back in february due to one too many stiegl (austria’s best beer and one of my favorites) so this was my second attempt at this allusive country. this time i decided to rent a car (and to only have one beer the night before) and drive from vienna, where i was staying, to bratislava in the morning and then take a road trip halfway across austria in the opposite direction to hallstatt. a little business and pleasure on this trip because that’s how i roll. so without further ado….
only 35 miles separate vienna and bratislava, two of the closest capital cities in the world. the drive took me about 40 minutes and was pretty much uneventful. nicely paved roads, german radio stations, super fast drivers, and haribo to keep me company, all the makings of a great road trip. and bonus, this time i even figured out how to start my car without delay (blonde car moment), something i like to think of as real personal growth. i was particularly excited to see bratislava because the only real information i had on the city was from the movie eurotrip and lets just say it wasn’t the most flattering of descriptions….but you gotta love that exchange rate (just kidding, they use the euro now so i missed out on a five star hotel, lobster dinner, massage and wild night at the club for five american cents).
getting to the capital city from vienna was easy enough and so was finding center city parking. i should mention that driving into the city over the novy most bridge was an interesting visual experience. while the bridge itself was just a normal bridge, i was immediately distracted by the tall ufo-looking structure straddling the four lanes of the bridge. i tried to take a picture from my window but the roads were busy and the lanes were small, and i’m sure taking pictures for your blog while driving is frowned upon, so you’ll have to trust me (or google) on this one. weird structures aside, after crossing the danube river i was immediately greeted by bratislava castle, the remnants of the medieval city wall and mini urban sprawl complete with slovakian billboards selling a little bit of everything. it had bits of old and new sprinkled throughout the city from the second you approached it, a sight to behold.
after i parked, got lost trying to exit the parking garage on foot, and left my wallet in the car, i made my way towards bratislava castle. along the way i strolled around the streets of the old town, saw priests walking into their churches for morning service, shop owners gearing up for the day’s crowds and people commuting here, there and everywhere via the local tram. from a tourist’s perspective, it was relatively quiet and i felt as though i had the whole city to myself. it was a brisk, sunny morning but i made the most of my time wandering around the empty charming cobblestone streets.
i particularly enjoyed the pops of color that were on the buildings, the red tiled rooftops and the beautifully planted flowers still blooming away in mid-september. because i arrived so early in the morning, i wasn’t able to fully experience the shops and restaurants in the city, which ended up being quite a disappointment because i would have really enjoyed sitting outside day drinking local beer while people watching all afternoon (the drawbacks of driving and early sightseeing) but the upside was that i was literally the only tourist around that morning so most of my pictures were unobstructed by humans. i did speak to a few locals in the very few shops i did go into (i had to restock my supplies for my trip to hallstatt: hairbo, coke zero and paprika chips, the best road trip buddies) and they all insisted i come back in the summer to have a real taste of the city and nightlife, which i promised i would do and fully intend on doing. i really enjoyed my morning in bratislava and while it often gets overlooked for its big city austrian neighbor, it has the charm and warm hospitality that can be difficult to find in a larger city. so do yourself a favor, cut back on the stiegl in vienna and get on that train to bratislava, you won’t regret it.
i read something many years ago about this dreamy village on the hallstätter sea in the middle of austria called hallstatt and i immediately knew i had to visit this place at some point in my life. as excited as i was to visit country number 45, i had an unexpected half day open and decided to make the most of it. i had already been to vienna a few times and while i do enjoy spending some of my travel time in bigger cities across europe, i was ready to get some fresh mountain air, so after my trip to bratislava, i did a u-turn and drove four hours in the opposite direction to what would be one of the prettiest places i have ever seen.
because i don’t own a car and absolutely love road trips (especially through europe), i was actually pretty excited about the long ride through austria. the weather was fantastic, i had german music blasting and a passenger seat full of snacks (told you i stocked up in bratislava), so not much was going to ruin my day. the drive was beautiful, but unadventurous until my gps told me to take a right turn on a two lane mountain road that apparently was blocked off and closed (missed that road sign, oops) due to falling rocks and trees. when i say this road was empty, i mean it was e.m.p.t.y. zero cars, zero human life, zero anything. i was surrounded by giant tree covered mountains and was hoping the entire drive that my car wouldn’t breakdown somewhere along the way because i was pretty sure i would die here if that was the case. fears aside, i kept driving, stopped for a quick scenic picture and minutes later encountered my first human lifeform. he definitely was not impressed with seeing a blonde girl zipping around windy austrian roads that were full of danger because when i slowed down as i approached him, he yelled at me in pretty aggressive german for driving on a hazardous closed road. luckily i know enough german to apologize profusely and look like the confused tourist that i was. we ended our “conversation” with him saying in a very firm threatening way, “do not return on this road under any circumstances” and me shaking my head in terror in response. note to self, austrians take their road closures very seriously.
15km later i finally turned off the above mentioned treacherous road and made it to where i was meant to be. because they close traffic through the actual town, there are a few parking lots right before you enter the village, which makes for a nice walk into the heart of hallstatt. i first pulled off onto a lookout area where people were picnicking in the grass and playing with their dogs for my first view of hallstatt and the crystal clear waters of the sea. even from a distance it was breathtaking. i was giddy. for someone who loves the mountains and villages built on their sides, this was like my christmas day.
after a few minutes of pure mountain bliss (i wish i could describe the air, it was so fresh and crisp, i wanted to bottle it up), i drove on to a closer parking lot and was able to secure the last parking spot (one cool thing they do with these parking lots is to tell you how many parking spots are available so you know what you’re up against and what your level of annoyance will be) and began my walk into the village. i stopped at yet another lookout point before i actually began my journey because i got distracted and soon realized that hallstatt is definitely best seen from every viewpoint you can find. and believe me, there are plenty.
after a short walk through the outskirts of the village, i was beginning to understand why hallstatt has become somewhat of an instagram darling. it was absolutely gorgeous. i was instantly in love. it reminded me of being in a real life fairytale. the clear blue sea, the beautiful mountains, charming village houses with flower boxes and brightly colored shutters….swoon. i cannot even believe a place like this exists. might be time to apply for austrian citizenship, ja?
i spent my entire day wandering through the inviting shops stocked full of local goods made of everything from soap to wood to lace (fun fact, they mine a lot of salt out of the mountain here so you can buy locally sourced salt and also take a tour of the salt mines, if you so desire), finding little corners to see the sea flanked by the mountains, and hiking up the winding trails that lead up to stunning views of the village below. it was magic.
while i am typically good with words, unfortunately there are’t enough good ones to describe how amazing this place was. it just made me so happy and i felt beyond grateful that my travels led me here. it’s such a fantastic experience crossing something off your travel list and knowing that it was worth the extra effort it took to get you there. i could have stayed in vienna for the rest of my day after bratislava and i am sure i would have enjoyed it, but that would have been the easy way out. you never know if you’ll get another chance to be where you are and to be doing what you’re doing so make the extra effort, hop in a car and drive the extra distance to see something magical because life is short and if not now, then when?