While this visual story can be viewed on any device, I highly recommend viewing on a laptop or larger screen to get the full experience of the media. The details are in the pixels.
Where the fixation began
More than two decades ago, I saw an HBO mini series that changed my life. Band of Brothers, a ten-part series about WWII, is still one of the most realistic and terrifying depictions of the second great war ever made.
If you haven’t yet seen it, just know I’m disappointed in you.
However, as a recap, the series follows Easy Company of the American 101st Airborne Division as they drop into Europe and fight the German war machine from the beaches of France, into Holland, Belgium, and eventually making their way into Germany and Austria—through to the end of the European Theater portion of the war.
In the final episode of the series, you can catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is Austria. The entire episode was filmed around Zell am See in the western part of the country.
When I initially saw this series, I was 15 and had never really traveled anywhere—not even within the USA. However, I was absolutely infatuated with the depth of the region and tried to learn as much as I could about this topographic Elysium. Visiting Austria was something I knew I had to do, since the entire country looked like an alpine paradise. One town in particular caught my attention—a quaint little mountain town called Hallstatt.
After 20 years, I finally had the opportunity to adventure there.
A quick teaser
The story within offers many details of my travels from Vienna to Hallstatt via many still images and video clips. If you prefer a brief visual synopsis, I offer you a video that documents the entire trip in a mere 4.5 minutes.
The Best Journeys Begin with A Good Friend & a Train
My pal Filipe, whom I’ve worked with for nearly 9 years, fell victim to my pleas for an adventure companion. Even though we’re each native to countries divided by the Atlantic, I’m fairly convinced we were separated at birth. In addition, Filipe is an expert navigator of the world, which you can read about in his blog at Mutelife.com. In his previous life, he was probably a cartographer.
So anyway, Filipe being the fantastic human that he is, agreed to fly in for a weekend trip to Hallstatt with me, immediately following an international holiday with his family. (Lena, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I stole your husband, but we have to share.)
Vienna to Hallstatt
Initially, I thought that travel to Hallstatt was going to be more difficult than it was. Turns out, the journey from Vienna to Hallstatt was a mere ~4 hours via train with one connection and a short bus or taxi ride to Hallstatt from Obertraun, Austria on the other side of the lake.
Since I was in Vienna for a work conference, there weren’t any viable excuses prohibiting me from visiting my childhood dream.
3 Easy Steps to Traverse Austria:
- Take a train West from Vienna to Attnang-Puchheim station.
- Take a second regional train South from Attnang-Puchheim station to Obertraun, Austria.
- Take a quick bus West from Obertraun to Halstatt.
- At just 3km, you could walk this last part if you’re feeling silly.
- Alternatively, jump off the train at the Steeg-Gosau station north of Hallstatt Lake (Hallstätter See) and take a longer bus ride South to Hallstatt.
Shout out to the folks who designed the transit system in Austria. Finding our train and specific car was extremely easy thanks to a great UI. The trains are also extremely well designed and very clean. ❤️
The Charming town of Hallstatt
I’ve heard from friends in Europe that Hallstatt gets overrun by tourists every year. Enough for the locals to erect no trespassing signs in many languages that can be seen all over the town’s private parts. Even a replica of Hallstatt was built in China about a decade ago—that’s how beloved this place is.
However, when Filipe and I soared into town on on the backs of the lack-of-sleep gods, there was practically no other humans there. You’ll see in the media below that there were only a handful of people within the town during our stay.
By the grace of the universe, we found a sensational private cottage nestled in the village. This gemstone of a shelter was called Hallstatt Hideaway, and they just so happened to have our selected night unaccounted for.
The folks at Hallstatt Hideaway were incredibly warm and the place was beautiful. It even offered a brilliant little wood stove to help keep the place extra cozy. And no, this is not a sponsored blog post, we actually paid them for the room. I’m bad at business, what can I say?
Hallstatt was even more majestic than I imagined. Every centimeter of the town was unique. Expanded upon over centuries, even the moss on the stone walls were elder to the country I call home. The snow dusting the architecture made this quaint hamlet look like a Disney film.
Hallstatt in the shadows
Later that evening, we ventured back out to photograph the night life. By nightlife, I mean empty streets and glowing mountain views. Did I mention nobody was there?
Combined with the light of Hallstatt, the nearby town of Obertraun illuminated the entire valley and mountainscape. Into the night, trains could be seen zipping around the curves of the stone giants towering over these villages.
This is Jerry the cat. He was a jerk on a mission and ignored us. In a town that sees nearly 1 million tourists a year, can you blame him?
What a better way to end a full day of shooting than with a good beer and a schnitzel? By the way, the restaurant was also empty.
We ended the night with a fire, a makeshift charcuterie board, and a couple of episodes of a wonderful travel show: Booze Traveler with Jack Maxwell. Jack is one of my idols who led me to a life of wanderlust. Right up there next to Anthony Bourdain.
The salt mines & a view from the peaks
The next morning, we set out to take the funicular (cable tram) up the side of the mountain and explore Salzwelten, a local active salt mine.
In the Salzwelten, there are a few slides in the facility that used to help expedite miner travel throughout the caverns. Apparently, when I go down these aforementioned slides, I look like a deceased human traveling at a rate of 20.5 kilometers per hour. Fastest cadaver in Austria. That’s got to be a Guinness world record, right?
The view of Hallstatt from above
Since our scheduled train departure time was fast approaching, we beat the other tourists out of the salt mine. We were then gifted with a striking view of the town and lake below.
Shortly after seeing God, we descended the mountain on the funicular, grabbed our bus to Obertraun, and before long we were back on the train to Vienna.
24 hours in Hallstatt was one hell of an experience.
Until next time my friends. Thanks for following the journey.
ps. It took me about 8 hours to assemble this story. Let me know what you think of the format in the comments below, I’d love to hear from ya.
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