If Venice is the most beautiful city in the world, then Hallstatt is the most serene.
We said goodbye to Italy, and headed to Russbach, Austria, a town about 15 miles from Halstatt.
Russbach turned out to have more to offer than just a bed for the night!
It had a creek running down the mountain and through town.
The water had been diverted to make the coolest city park ever!
So many water activities!
But the girls' favorite?
There was a large oval course,
complete with a few "rapids"!
The girls had never been in a kayak - mini or otherwise.
The current on the corner got Maddie!
She survived, so Bo decided to give it a go!
Dessert and cappuccinos on the patio.
Then off to bed!
Hallstatt is a tiny little town wedged between a mountain (where salt has been mined since 7,000 BC) and a swan filled lake. It takes up a grand total of 23.1 square miles and has less than 1,000 year-round residents. We had seen it on several travel videos and wanted to check it out. The plan was to spend the night in Russbach, tour Hallstatt the next morning, and still be home by dinnertime. We could see it in an afternoon, no problem.
The problem isn't seeing it in a day.
The problem is leaving. Ever!
There's only one main street.
It follows the lakeshore through town.
All of the shops, restaurants, and public buildings are on this main level.
The town square is a wide spot in the road. Mountain to the back, lake to the front.
The rest is residential, and the best way I know to describe it is a split-level house gone crazy!
There are dozens of staircases, ramps, tunnels, etc. leading from the main level to a terrace.
Take a path, any path, and you'll discover porches overflowing with flowers, tiny little hidden yards, front doors tucked in here and there. . .and more stairs.
You follow those stairs until they split in different directions. Take any path you want, you'll end up with more ramps, cobblestone tunnels, front door stoops... beautiful surprises around every turn.
Then, of course, the girls had to feed the swans.
Just off of the square, a chess board was all set up just begging to be played!
A couple of beautiful old churches.
The graveyard at the upper church was amazing.
Level ground is scarce, as it would be at a church built into the side of a mountain.
Until recent centuries, the dead would be buried for 15 to 20 years, at which time they would be disinterred to make room for someone else.
The bones would be cleaned and sun bleached by surviving family members.
Then the skulls were lovingly painted with symbols of life, hope and peace.
All bones were at last placed in the charnel house at the rear of the cemetery.
The families considered it a great honor to have their loved ones resting here.
It was actually quite beautiful, in it's own way.
The front of this church was a balcony overlooking the town.
Before the day was spent, we wanted to get out on the water!
We rented an electric boat (they take noise pollution very seriously here)
and headed out on the most serene, peaceful, perfect lake ever.
It was almost as if Joey and I had been holding our breathes for 6 months.
That's what this place felt like.
One.looooong.exhale. . . . . .
Total and complete serenity.
Joey booked a room, and we stayed through the weekend.
Time for more exploring,
getting to know the locals,
perfect food in the perfect setting,
an epic re-match,
and Maddie even received a "blessing" from the local pigeon delegation!
We thought that was pretty funny - until Shelby was greeted by an entirely different kind of delegation the next afternoon!
It had been a full morning. We had rested for a while in the rooms before heading out to dinner.
Maddie said she was more tired than hungry, and decided to stay. Shelby came with me and Joe.
We were passing through the square and came upon this scene.
(Lederhosen and dirndl dresses are to Austria what tuxedos and formals are to the States.)
This wedding was just finishing, and everyone was heading out for the reception/party.
We snapped a few pics, then headed on to the restaurant. We were trying a new place on the terrace of one of the hotels.
There was a dock just off to one side.
That's where I first noticed something . . . strange.
We were already mid-meal when I looked up and saw the groomsmen from the wedding party heading down the path towards the dock. They stopped several yards out.
One of them stripped, yelled something, then ran towards the dock.
I looked at Joe.
"Naked guy on your six."
He whirled around, but the offender had already taken the plunge.
Shelby, though, was focused on the rest of the party.
She mumbled, "don't do it, Don't Do It, DON'T DO IT!"
They did it.
She dropped her fork, said, "I'm out." and moved to the other side of the table.
Joey laughed and said, "Don't look, Ethel!"
(If you are unfamiliar with the southern-fried comedy of Ray Stevens, that reference will be totally lost on you.)
Seven more men strutted their stuff down the path and off the end of the dock.
We thought the whole thing was funny, until Joey noticed the lady behind me pulling out a telephoto lens for her camera! Now that was stinkin' hilarious!
Joey asked the waiter if naked guys jumping in icy cold water was a wedding tradition in those parts.
He said no, but admitted that Schnapps was probably involved.
One last morning. We pretty much had the town to ourselves.
From the Dolomites, to Venice, to Hallstatt.
It was an incredible vacation.
Bavaria is finally feeling like home.
We are so blessed.