Austria and Switzerland – Melk, Hallstatt and The Swiss Alps

If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1 of this trip before reading on.

After Prague I decided to head back to Austria, to a city called Linz which was situated perfectly to give me relatively quick access to the cities of Melk and Hallstatt. I only spent about 12 hours in Linz, but from what I saw it looked like a very nice city. In 2009 Linz was voted as the Cultural Capital of all of Europe, so apparently it is. When I make it back to Austria someday I’m definitely going to stop by and really check this place out.

These kids were just sitting on the steps with a pile of empty pint-sized bottles in front of them. Keep in mind it was roughly 10 AM at this point.

At the top of the steps was this really cool modern sculpture. I had entertained the idea of sliding down it, but figured there was a pretty good chance I would have regretted that decision pretty fast.

At this point I hopped on the train to Melk for a day trip to see the world-renowned Melk Abbey. It’s basically a gigantic monastery that sits perched atop a hill, overshadowing a town not much bigger than the Abbey itself. First I’ll give you a virtual tour of the exterior of the Abbey, then I’ll take you inside where you really get an idea of how amazing this place really is.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get an aerial view of this gigantic structure to give you an idea of how big it really is, but a bit of Googling should take care of that. Inside this architectural masterpiece were some of the most beautiful, ornate rooms I have ever seen. From the entrance I walked down this long hallway called “The Emperor’s Gallery”.

This hallway led to the Marble Hall. There wasn’t much in the Marble Hall, but it was quite remarkable regardless.

Next up was the reason why I was here, the library. This is listed as one of the top 10 libraries in the entire world, and it’s not hard to see why.

Everything about this library was incredible. The attention to detail was crazy, everything seemed to be covered in gold, and I can only imagine how old and rare all these books are.

I almost didn’t want to leave the library, thinking that it was essentially the reason why I was even here in the first place. Boy was I in for a surprise.

I descended the spiral staircase not knowing what I would find at the bottom..

Somehow, the Melk Abbey was able to outdo itself once again with the most amazing church I have ever seen.

Once again, the attention to detail was simply astonishing.

After touring the Monastary there was a garden off to the side which I decided to check out.

It was the perfect place to relax and enjoy this warm, beautiful day.

After strolling around the gardens for a while for a while I decided to head back into town. The town of Melk itself was a rather small town, and despite the obvious draw of the Abbey, remained relatively free of tourists. This was certainly welcome after my time in Prague, so I spent some time walking around photographing this quaint little stop on my tour through Austria.

The town has a small, lively center full of cafés and stores, and has many bike and walking paths along the Danube River, where it’s situated.

Even though the town had an old, authentic feel to it, just like the rest of Austria there was an eclectic mix of new, modern architecture thrown in.

After Melk I had decided to make my way down to Hallstatt. The Hallstatt train station is actually located on the other side of the lake from the town itself, so upon arrival you have to take a ferry to complete your journey. Unfortunately, the ferry stops running around 7 or so, which meant I wasn’t going to make it that night. I had planned on arriving in nearby Obertraun, spending the night, and then taking a bus or ferry there in the morning.

Well, I arrived in Obertraun just after sunset, and was in the process of finding accommodations when I noticed a sign saying Hallstatt was a mere 5 kilometers away. I had just spent the last 4 or 5 hours on a train, so was eager to stretch my legs and go for a nice, scenic walk along the lake. Unfortunately it was a bit overcast and the sun had already set, so I just left my camera in my bag and soaked in the scenery while making the hour-long trek into town.

Once I got there I spent the next 2 hours trying to find a room. All the hotels were booked so I grabbed a bed at the local hostel for a mere 14 Euros. I then went into town for some dinner and a few drinks, and ended up chatting with a few of the locals at the brat stand. The next morning the weather was absolutely perfect so I got up early, loaded my camera with some Ektar and hit the town.

This is probably the ‘obligatory’ Hallstatt picture, the one found on all the postcards and pamphlets, so I of course had to take one myself.

Navigating through this picturesque hillside town involved going up and down lots and lots of stairs, but afforded me the opportunity to capture some nice aerial shots of the town and surrounding lake and mountains.

The early morning light filtering through the mountains was certainly a beautiful sight.

I normally save my ‘street’ style photography for city shooting, but I couldn’t help myself here.

I had assumed real estate in this town was rather pricey, but seeing this shiny new Ferrari parked in one of the driveways gave me a little bit of perspective.

After shooting that roll of Ektar, I loaded up some high speed black and white to take in the bone house, but I had to wait around for about a half an hour till it opened, so I shot some of it around town in the meantime.

By this time the bone house had finally opened for the day.

Hundreds of years ago the residents of the town of Hallstatt had thought up a way to deal with the problem of not having enough space for a large cemetery. After they had been buried for 10 or 20 years, they would exhume the bodies, clean and bleach the skull and bones, and then decorate them and place them in the bone house. They haven’t placed any new bones in there in roughly 50 years, so nowadays it’s more of a tourist attraction than anything.

Each person’s name was written on his forehead, it was sort of creepy to be honest.

At this point I was deciding whether or not I should spend the day in Hallstatt or start heading out to Switzerland, which is where I would be finishing off my trip. To get to where I was staying in Switzerland from Hallstatt was going to take quite some time, so I had planned on just getting as close as I could that day, getting a room for the night where ever I wound up, and then completing the journey the next morning.

I figured if I left around noon I could make it as far as Bern in Switzerland, and then just take the short train ride and gondola up to Gimmelwald when I woke up, so that was my decision.

Caught this nice couple just checking out the scenery on the boat ride out to Obertraun as I was leaving Hallstatt.

This pano is downsized, be sure to check out the larger version by clicking on it.

Now, unfortunately due to a series of train delays and a quick stopover for a meal, I ended up not getting as far as I would have liked. At around 11 PM I made it out to Bregenz in Austria, which is right on the border with Switzerland, but unfortunately there was a festival in town that day so all the hotel rooms were booked. I took the last train of the night headed to a town called Feldkirch in hopes of finding a room there. For some reason the train stopped halfway through its route however, leaving me in a tiny little residential town called Götzis.

With not a hotel in sight and a torrential downpour / thuderstorm outside I had begun mentally preparing myself for an inevitably miserable night’s sleep at the train station. By some stroke of luck however, there was one last unscheduled train that had decided to stop at the station roughly 45 minutes later. I didn’t know where that train was going, nor did I care. Anywhere would be better than where I was. It turns out the train was going to Feldkirch, so I ended up getting a room in an extremely seedy hotel there, all the while wondering if I would have been better off sleeping on a bench back at the station. Everything turned out just fine though, and the next morning I made it to Switzerland in one piece.

When I arrived in Switzerland it was cloudy and overcast. I had a few shots of Portra left in my camera from Hallstatt, so I finished that off and then tossed my red filter on and started shooting some HP5.

There were these little sheds scattered all around the mountainside, with streams and waterfalls every couple hundred meters.

The town I was staying in is called Gimmelwald, which is roughly 4500 feet above sea level. This meant I was way above most of the clouds.

They had these tripod-like contraptions set up along certain stretches of the mountainside, which were used to prevent avalanches.

This was the trail that led from Gimmelwald to Mürren, which I walked each day to go to the grocery store for food and supplies. Although I went on plenty of hikes during my stay in the Alps that spanned much greater elevations, this hike was particularly bad because it was just one steady incline the entire way. A lot of the bigger hikes would go up and down, and would level off at some points so you had a chance to catch your breath and recuperate. There was a gondola that went between the towns but cost 4 Euro each way, so I probably saved about $40 by walking.

At this point I decided to head back to the Hostel and have a few drinks with some of the other travelers I had met earlier in the day. When I woke up the next day it was overcast again, but the next few days were supposed to be beautiful so most of it was spent indoors planning out the hikes I was going to be going on (and of course drinking some more).

I headed out of the Mountain Hostel where I was staying at around 6 in the morning, and made my way down through the Lauterbrunnen Valley up to Wengen, where I would eventually find my way up to Männlichen. Männlichen was a mountain that sits right in between the two valleys in the region, which are both in the shadows of three gigantic Alps, the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. The view from atop this mountain was incredible to say the least.

From there I started the hike down to Kleine Scheidegg, which was just one breathtaking view after another.

There were also a bunch of gigantic cows just grazing all over the mountain.

This is a shot of the other valley, the Grindelwald Valley. I never ended up making it down there, which I would have liked given some better weather, but there’s always next time.

There were a few houses dotting the landscape, I can’t imagine what it would be like living in one of them.

There were some huge clouds rolling into the Grindelwald Valley, which made for some pretty intense scenery.

But the weather changes so fast, as soon as they had arrived they were gone. This is a great shot of the Eiger too, can you imagine people climb that steep, almost vertical north face?

At this point I had made it down to Kleine Scheidegg, which sits at the base of the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. This ‘town’ basically just consists of a hotel, restaurant and a train station. Apparently it’s a popular jumping-off point for a lot of serious mountain climbers.

I decided to hike from here down to Wengen. There were a number of trails, some more scenic than others, so I chose the trail that straddles the base of the 3 mountains.

This turned out to be a great idea, as it presented me with the greatest view of the mountains yet.

This is another one of those downsized panos, you don’t wanna miss the high-res version of this one.

This trail involved a bit of wilderness as well.

The weather on the Lauterbrunnen side of the mountains started off beautiful, perfect for some landscape photography of the mountains. Check out the full-res version of this and the next pic too.

Some clouds started to roll in as my hike went on, but I have to admit, they were looking pretty cool.

After a few more pics I decided to take the train back from the Wengenalp station back to Wengen. The rest of the hike was basically through a forest, and didn’t offer much in the way of scenery.

When I got back to the Hostel I planned on just taking my boots off, having some drinks and lying down for a bit, due to the exhausting nature of all the hiking I had spent my day doing. After about 15 minutes of relaxation, I realized that I was in the Swiss Alps, and every second spent sitting on my ass doing nothing would be regretted, so I was back out the door on another, slightly lower-key hike.

It was getting late by this point, so I didn’t venture too far from where I was staying. Luckily there are tons of hiking trails that start right outside my hostel’s doorstep, one of the main reasons I decided to set up camp in the small town of Gimmelwald. I ended up hiking through Mürren and made my way up to Allmendhubel. I attempted to take the funicular back down, but ended up getting slightly lost due to not bringing a map of all the different hiking trails.

I did end up finding the funicular, but I was already most of the way back down the mountain.

At this point my trip was about done, I had one day left but had to be on my plane home by 3:30 pm, so there wasn’t much time for anything besides getting to the airport which was a good 4 hours away. I was definitely sad to have to go so soon, this vacation was way too short, but I was also excited to get home and go through all my pictures. At the time I’m writing this I have been home for 3 weeks now and am just about to finish up developing and scanning my last 2 rolls of film. Then of course I will have to start developing and scanning the 6 rolls of HP5 I shot in New York City the other day, which will hopefully be another blog post for another day.

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