The next morning, bright and sunny, I scaled Dachstein up to the Rieseneishöhle (ice caves), which consisted of... well... ice. They could have done a lot more with the lighting – I get a better show at home if I build a cave out of couch cushions leading up to the freezer, and at least then I get some ice cream at the end. Fortunately, the views from Dachstein over Obertraun were spectacular – it was well worth the effort of getting there. Going down was much easier on the now-calloused but weary feet.
Next I traversed about 2 miles west to Hallstatt, the town on the west side of the lake. First I took the funicular up to the Salzbergwerk (salt mine) above the town. The hike from the lift terminus to the mine itself was grueling considering the energy spent that morning at Dachstein. Fortunately, it only took about 10 minutes. Looking back, however, I now realise that this hike was a breeze compared to later hikes in Switzerland. The tour of the mine was ho-hum: its really no different from any other cavern except that the walls here taste of salt. I know: every mother reading this is thinking about the countless other people who have tasted the wall... but seriously, how often are you encouraged by a tour guide to lick the cave's wall? I hate the taste of salt, but the sheer novelty of it just cannot be passed up.
The tour had fun wooden slides which made the tour oh so worth it, even if the slides lasted far too short. I was clocked at about 24.8 km per hr (if I recall) on my way down, earning the high-speed of my group; and I made sure to take a video of the ride. No free souvenir splinters, sorry: they dress you up in a faux miner’s uniform which has slick padding on the rear-end. The train ride out of the mountain (train being similar to the kind of train for kids at a town fair, where you just straddle on top of it) was entertaining solely because of the blatant disregard for safety. The thing I love about being outside of America is that you have to think quickly because no one baby-sits you through everything you do, and if I didn’t duck the whole way along the train ride: I'd likely be treating a nice blow to the noggin right now (that's putting it nicely – I would have more than likely had something in common with Anne Boleyn). The "train ride for kids" got more adrenaline pumping than the vertigo-inducing wooden slides did.
After the salt mine I opted to walk back downhill. Just as well, seeing as the last descending funicular was scheduled to depart right about that minute and I had no desire to rush for it. Besides, going down is much easier. The path ends in Hallstatt proper, which up to this point I hadn’t seen. The lift I took up is located on the fringe of Hallstatt, only maybe 100 meters away, but still far enough so you cant see the historic portion of Hallstatt. So with my first glimpse of the small village... well... to put it simply, this town is so pretty that it hurts: I never thought a town could ever be as beautiful as this. Once again: everyone MUST make a pilgrimage to the Hallstattersee at some point in his or her lifetime.
After snapping a mass of photos I sat myself in a church for an hour and listened to a teenaged organist practice on the floor above. He was practicing Beethoven's 5th when I arrived and was having trouble with the part just after the 4 introductory phrases. He eventually got it and pulled off the rest without a hitch. He proceeded into a Bach piece I had never heard before. Then did some Frank Sinatra... that was the icing on the cake. He was clearly still learning, but I felt like the imperfections actually made each piece even better. With great timing, he closed up just as my stomach started begging for sustenance. I made sure to thank him and offered some words of encouragement, then made my way off to find food, where I would rendezvous with some Penn State students I met at the Salt Mine -- both grad students in Landscape Architecture, one of which I recall seeing during my time in State College. My dinner was massive and gave me the energy needed to bolt back the now approx. 3 miles to my gasthof in the face of fast-approaching rain clouds. In the Alps, weather can change in minutes. It started raining with a mile to spare, but by that point it felt good to cool off. Sure I was soaked, but that's one of many reasons why one packs extra clothes.
By the end of today, I hit 4 GB of photos. That was 50% of my supply and I was not even through week 1.