We’re now on our “relaxing” part of the trip in Austria, and I’m finally sitting down to try and catch up a bit. We made our flight okay out of Santiago de Compostela, through Palma de Malorca, and into Salzburg. We caught a cab late at night when we arrived to the hotel just down the road that Kat booked before we left. True to their word, the proprietors left us a key in a box outside, and the code worked! We didn’t see much at night arriving in the rain, but wow, what an incredible view the next morning! Salzburg sits in a valley, but our third floor room in a quaint guesthouse south of the city faced the incredible Alps just in the distance. We awoke to somewhat clearing skies and some incredible towering peaks still wreathed in cloud. It’s absolutely amazing how these mountains here rise up so steeply from the valley floors.

We picked up a rental car from the airport the next morning on June 12 and followed the more mountainous route through a small corner of Germany to Maria Alm. I remember one of our German friends (Edgar, I think) saying that the little southern part of Germany was really not part of Germany but some strange Austrian bastardization.

Before we got there, though, we had one of our somewhat disturbingly typical Kat and Sky experiences in the “big city.” We got directions into the center of the city where we hoped to see a few sights before heading south. We ended up driving around yelling at each other, circling the center of the city a couple of times before giving up and deciding we just couldn’t figure out where we needed to go after all. Alas, that’s another lesson we are working to have sink in for this trip – Kat and Sky really aren’t city people. It seems like every time we try to find our way through a city somewhere, we get lost. We both think we know what we need to do and where we need to go. We both think we should be leading, and it ends up being kind of like dancing where both partners try to lead. It simply doesn’t work.

I’m now sitting here in another place entirely (I’ll get to that in a bit), looking out over the Hallstaat See, and reflecting on how much better it feels out here away from that hustle and bustle. We’re about to head down somewhere to dinner, but this is an absolutely marvelous balcony and view out over the lake that I had to mention. I’ll be back in just a bit to finish this off.

We just boarded a train for Munich. After looking at all our options, costs, and timetables, we opted to catch a train out of Salzburg to Munich today (June 18) and a British Airways flight to London Heathrow. I spent a couple hours yesterday trying to figure it all out for trains and various other modes of transport to Calais, France as we’d originally intended. The costs and time spend en route were too much. We’ll end up having two nights at a B&B near Heathrow and a day to spend in London this way. We’ll have to see how Kat and I do with that big city.

So, back to Maria Alm and the Alps. Our first couple of days were right at the end of a long rainy time for the region. We could catch beautiful glimpses of mountain peaks through the clouds, and everything was wonderful verdant. We did a couple of typical tourist things for a couple of days, starting with the ice caves at Eis Riesen Welt. That was pretty cool! We walked through the first kilometer of what is a 43-kilometer long cave system and saw some amazing ice formations. We also visited the Eagle’s Nest and Obersalzburg where Hitler and the Nazi regime “held court” for some time. Eagle’s Nest is a beautiful spot, and the weather was clearing enough by then for some amazing views. The tour through an old bunker and documentation of the Nazi years was very sobering, and it is quite an experience to do that here in Germany where so much of that history took place.

Things cleared up beautifully for a full two days of hiking around Maria Alm. We got ourselves a hiking map and went scouting the night before taking off to make sure we knew where to start for a hike that looked interesting from the map – the 401A trail up the mountain to a distant restaurant. The idea of hiking in the mountains and then sitting down at a restaurant to a meal and a beer was way cool!

The hike to the Rieman Haus turned out to be a bit more difficult than we thought, mostly because we didn’t look at the right map quite close enough. It was pretty much straight up and one of the highest points in the Maria Alm area. We got most of the way before the eyebrow of a trail got the better of Kat’s fear factor. We turned around, and she stopped off at a nice resting point. I continued on to the top. It was truly magnificent and quite amazing to see the way the trail had been built and maintained, at points clinging to the side of the mountain with some well-placed anchors and cables. The Rieman Haus was supplied by way of a small cable car that went back and forth a couple of times while we watched. We thought for sure that the rickety little box swinging under the tiny single wire rope could only be for beer and other supplies, but we saw at least one person riding along in the little thing! The restaurant at the top turned out to be a full-blown hotel as well with 10 rooms, a large kitchen and dining room, and a magnificent deck looking out over the valley far below. I had a beer and some bread, meet, and cheese and then spent some time hiking around and sliding down the snow fields. What a beautiful Alpen experience! Kat had a wonderful time hanging out down below but missed not making it to the top. She really did remarkably well, though, making it past several fairly hair raising twists and turns along rock faces with sheer drops. She could not have done that a few years ago and is making some obvious progress on the fear of heights she developed some years ago after developing an inner ear balance issue at elevation in Colorado.

We did a little more research for the next day, picking a trail that was a little lower down on the mountain that also went by a restaurant or two. That ended up being a little more of the “Sound of Music” type of hike that Kat really wanted. We hiked through beautiful forest and across lush meadows full of wildflowers in all their spring glory. We enjoyed more good German beer and a fine lunch and didn’t challenge our selves with any more trails clinging to the side of mountains. It was another all together glorious day around what has to be one of the most beautiful places either of us has ever seen in person or in pictures.

Having the sun come out after a couple of days in the clouds was brilliant. All the farmers came out and gave real meaning to that “make hay while the sun shines” saying I’ve often appropriated for other purposes. There was cutting and turning and baling of hay all over the farmland we traveled using all manner of implements on tractors and tools worked by hand.

Since we weren’t due to return the car until the 18th but needed to check out of the place in Maria Alm, we asked the folks at the hotel where we should head next. What one other place within a couple hours of Salzburg should we visit? The consensus was Hallstatt, one of the most picturesque places in all Austria.

Hallstaat was indeed gorgeous. The town itself clings to the side of a mountain with a few rows of ancient houses right down to the edge of the lake – Hallstaatersee. The waters were cold, clear glacier melt, and we enjoyed some of the fruits (fish) of those waters last night. We took a wonderful walk in the cool this morning before driving back to Salzburg and boarding this train that is now some distance into southern Germany.

I do have much more to write about from lessons learned in marriage to things I’m pondering about myself and my future. However, I’m going to mosey along now down to the bistro car for an espresso and spend some time looking out the window at the beautiful passing scenery.