Day 67 - Thu Jun 9 Prague, to Hallstatt, Austria (Hall-schtatt!)
(Chris) This is one of those big train days that neither Jen nor I look forward to. A few hours on the train every now and then is nice, but today we have 10 hours with 4 changes if everything goes well. Those 5-minute train changes (arrive at station, jump off train A, find appropriate track, jump onto train B in 5 min or less) stress me out a bit, though Jen seems not to worry at all. (Jen) Prague is not covered by out Eurail pass (I don't know why...) so we had to pay "supplements" to get in and out of Prague via train. Interestingly, even though our Eurail and our supplements are first class (and we paid more for them), most of the trains only have second class cars.
(Chris) We were going to have PB&J for lunch (our train standard now), but I accidentally bought rye bread at the Czech grocery. Gross!
We did some more trip planning, and a lot of reading. I finished the latest Nelson DeMille today, and it was a great book with lousy ending. About 20 pages from the end, bam! Cheesy, non-fulfilling ending. Oh well he's usually quite good.
About halfway through our trip we had a long chat with a nice Austrian train conductor Tom. He was coaching us on where to go in Austria... I wish we had more time here. He strongly recommended the Koflach mountains, just like the ski boot brand.
The final leg of our train travel was odd... apparently the track was damaged enough in one section due to a flood that trains weren't running there. So there was a bus instead for that section. But the buses weren't labeled, so we missed one set, which delayed us by 45 min and put us in a dilemma, because Hallstatt is on the far side of a lake from the train station, and the last ferry leaves at 6:30pm. We'll have to let you know how it pans out!
(Jen) Ok so it all worked out, we caught the bus, hopped the train, and made the very last ferry from the Hallstatt train station across the lake to Hallstatt proper. The town looks super cute nestled in between mountains and the lake. It was raining when we arrived and we were bushed so we had dinner in the hotel restaurant and turned in. We'll investigate the town tomorrow.
Chris is still pretty darn sick - coughing a lot especially at night - which means neither of us is getting much sleep. I think tomorrow we'll visit the TI and see if there is an English speaking doctor nearby. I don't know how it is that I haven't caught whatever he has - we joke sometimes that I received a good immune system as a consolation prize for having migraines.
Our hotel room in Hallstatt is quite large with an extra bed, I think they only had a triple left when we called so they gave it to us for the price of a double. It looks like there is a Rick Steves tour staying here too because 4 of the 10 rooms were booked by "Rick Steves" according to the chalkboard at reception. I would imagine in a small town like this the tour group has to be spread around among small hotels. Our bed is a double, but it has two sets of single size blankets (and no flat sheet, only a fitted sheet). We've seen this a few times now. It makes snuggling a bit more difficult, but I do think it keeps me from stealing Chris covers all the time (and in truth, I don't steal them, he gets hot and gives them to me in his sleep, honest).
Day 68 - Fri Jun 10 Hallstatt
(Chris) Hallstatt is super-cute, that's for sure (see photos). Today I got to sleep in a bit, and then we went and had the hotel breakfast. The hostess is very nice, but the breakfast is European. There was a toaster though which is a rare luxury, so we ate quite a lot of toast. And I've been drinking a lot of tea lately to help soothe my throat.
After breakfast we went to the TI and she helped us find a doctor, who turned out to be super-nice and let me get in right after she closed. She listened to my chest, heard my story and diagnosed that I had a viral cold, and then got a bacterial infection after the first one didn't go away. So I got some antibiotics and some codeine to help me sleep. I did get a handwritten receipt though so I wonder what my chances are for getting reimbursed by insurance. Slim to none I bet!
We started our tour of Hallstatt by checking out the only major site in the town, other than the beauty of the town and surroundings (it was overcast and dry today), by visiting the Catholic Church. The main draw there is that they have a really cool little cemetery, but it was too little for all the dead over a number of years. So what they did is after 10 years they would dig up the previously buried, clean off all the bones, and put them in a chapel. And they would decorate the skulls, with the name of the deceased and some other symbols to indicate what they were like (or perhaps what the artist wished they'd been like). So there are like 600 painted skulls (+600 unpainted) neatly arranged in this little building next to the church and the cemetery. I guess most of the bones were put in there from the 12th-19th centuries, and now it's only done rarely, on request of the deceased. I thought it'd be sorta spooky in there, but it turned out to be dignified and okay. Maybe one day Jen can put my skull on her mantle-piece someday.
After lunch we took a tour up to an old (yet active) salt mine. I guess in pre-historic times, salt was one of the most valuable things around. And on the inside, this mountain is 70% salt, made from previous oceans that had evaporated away and been covered over. So anyway, we took a tram to the shoulder of the mountain, donned jumpsuits, and walked inside. I think we both agree that while the tour was good in concept, in execution it was too gimmicky, with lots of Disney-esque features (a talking mannequin miner, for instance -- I was singing "It's a Salt World After All" under my breath) and a very unenthusiastic guide (think Ferris Buhler's teacher). We hiked down from the peak into town and it was pretty.
Before dinner we met 4 young women from Minnesota who were nearing the end of a month-long trip. They were super-friendly, and apparently headed to Romania to do some volunteer work building playgrounds. They had dinner in our hotel, so we chatted afterwards for a bit about the ins & outs of traveling Europe. As summer approaches, the average age of the American traveler is decreasing... lots more students than back in April.
We had a cheap pizza dinner in a hostel and it was very good.