Monday, February 25, 2013

The Hills Are Alive... - Austria

Every time I mentioned to someone that we were going to Austria or that we had gone to Austria, they responded with "The hillllls are aliiiiive, with the Sound of Muuuuuusic." 

So if you must, do it now. "With the songs they have suuuung for a thousand years!"

Do you have it out of your system yet?

We decided to travel to Austria only a few days before the New Year's holiday Matt had off from from work. When we searched the internet for somewhere to stay near Salzburg, Austria we came up empty handed. Matt went to the local ADAC office (ADAC is a German company similiar to AAA but with more benefits) and they had listings of places. We found a guesthouse in the tiny town of Oberhofen am Irrsee which lies in the hills of the Austrian Alps. 

This is the lake of Irrsee near where we stayed. Not a bad view, huh?

Getting there was a bit of a challenge. As we drove on the small highway that ran through the middle of town, we could not seem to find the guesthouse. It often seems here in Europe that the GPS will take you in the vicinity of the address, but not right to it. We found a restaurant and Matt went in to ask for directions. A sweet Austrian man explained to Matt how to get there, but then decided he wouldn't let us just drive around Austria in the dark. He got in his car and led us there himself. How is that for kindness?

The guesthouse was run by a little, old Austrian woman in her mid-70's who was born and raised in that house and then went on to get married and raise her four children there. She didn't speak one word of English other than hello. Luckily Matt was able to talk to her. I loved her German with her soft lilting Austrian accent. Every morning she made us an Austrian breakfast which consisted of fresh baked rolls, jam, soft cheese, tomatoes, and cured meats. She made the kids hot chocolate, but it was out of European milk. European milk is very different from American milk. It doesn't need refrigeration and has a shelf life of 4-5 months. We just can't bring ourselves to drink it yet. 

Our youngest was a bit shy around her and would lean in to whisper things to us. She then said to my husband in German to tell us not to bother to whisper because she couldn't understand one thing we said. We did, however, succeed in teaching her "Good Morning" and she said it to us no matter what time of day it was. 

Our sweet Austrian proprietor suggested we visit the nearby town of St. Gilgen. Oberhofen am Irrsee is in hilly terrain, but St. Gilgen is up in the mountains. 

This area of Austria is called the Salzkammergut which means "Estate of the Salt Chamber". This area is full of breath-taking beauty. Tall alpine mountains surrounded by crystal clear lakes. 

Here you can ski and sled in the winter, and hike, swim, and water ski in the summer. The snow levels were low for this time of year but we didn't mind. We enjoyed the blue skies and crisp mountain air. Beautiful St. Gilgen.

Across the lake you can see our next destination. St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut. 

The town of St. Wolfgang is built in the typical Bavarian-style common for the region. It was still decorated for Christmas and the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) was bustling with activity.

They even had a life-size Nativity.

A Nativity complete with characters in typical Bavarian dress there to witness the birth of Christ.

After standing around in the snow, I decided that my sock-wear choices were not going to be adequate and we made a quick stop off at the local sock shop for some wool socks that were much warmer.

We found a little open-air pretzel stand that sold the most delicious pretzels. She had cinnamon and sugar covered pretzels, and cheese covered pretzels, and almond glaze covered pretzels. We only went back two more times.

As we walked around, Alexander started to narrow his eyes and exclaimed, "Hey, Austria is just like Germany. They speak German, the food is German. These are just a bunch of Germans." 

He had a good point.

It did look a lot like Germany. Austria in German is Österreich which means eastern kingdom. This area of Austria declared their independence from the duchy of Bavaria in the late 14th century. The region then bounced back and forth between Bavaria and Austria  three times and then Germany and Austria until 1955 when the United States declared this area part of Austria.  

I can see why they all wanted a piece of it. It is gorgeous.

This little town even had swans swimming in the lake. Swans are everywhere in Europe. I think they have been planted there to make it seem more storybook like. It's all for the tourists.

We walked around the Weihnachtsmarkt and got our kinderpunsch. Ashlenne had to have a hat that said AUSTRIA on it. 

All you can see is the S, T, and part of the R because AUSTRIA wraps all around her head.

The sun was out, the kinderpunsch was warm, but we still got cold.

Lucky for us there were fire-pits scattered through the main streets where you could take a minute, or two minutes, or 15, to warm up. 

We stopped for some apfelstrudel or apple strudel. 

Strudel is actually an Austrian, not German, cuisine. All thanks to those Habsburgs who made it popular back in the 1700's. You can now find it throughout the former Austro-Hungarian empire which is basically half of Europe.

After walking around St. Wolfgang all day surrounded by these mountains, Matt and I could take it no more. We loaded up the kids and started driving to the outskirts of town. We followed the road up and up some more until the pavement ended and it turned to dirt. After about five kilometers it got too narrow for our Volvo to drive on, so we got out and hiked. 

We saw things like this.

And this.

We finally decided to halt our upward ascent because it was getting dark. And because we passed a marker that memorialized someone's death right there on the road 15 years earlier. When we turned around and hiked back to our car, we got to see this.

And so we checked off another little corner of the world.

To see where we were, click the location link St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, Austria in the white bar below for the Google map.


  1. Great photos! I like how the swans were planted there to make it more storybook like! My favorite pix is the one of you & the kids on the balcony. So beautiful!

  2. What a fun experience!

  3. Love those photos! We used to live in Stuttgart when I was growing up (military family) and Austria has always been one of my favourite places. Have you tried Germknödel yet? I just found your blog off of the Expat Blog site. If you have time check out my blog at: A Compass Rose

    1. That's a real compliment coming from a photographer! Thank you!


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