5 December - Krampus Paradise

We were up in the middle of the night again, and up a little after 09:00 again.  We hoped this wouldn’t be a recurring issue for much longer.  Since we had a decent amount of time left before our train to Hallstatt, Justin went to the church to take some photos, whilst Crystal got packed.  On Justin’s walk back from the cathedral he spotted a person in a giant bee costume skating on the ice rink in front of the Mozart statue - not something you see every day.  We finished packing and headed downstairs to meet Dewey and Clarita and to check out.  Dewey asked if they’d put together a birthday present for him, and perhaps not knowing he was joking, the woman at the desk gave him two bags of nuts.

Getting to the train station from our hotel in a vehicle was about as circuitous as we’d imagined, almost like in Bruges last year.  Between the one-way streets, the bridges, and the river we had to make about 20 turns to head due north by about a mile.  At the train station we didn’t have as much extra time as we’d envisioned, so Crystal quickly bought train provisions for all of us.  The train was almost completely empty.  We were in a car for families, and there was some sort of little kids TV show playing near us, despite there being no kids on the train.  Crystal did some Hungarian homework, and occasionally Dewey (who is also learning Hungarian) would join in.  Justin smiled and told Clarita “this is your payback for talking about them in Tagalog all these years.”

To get to Hallstatt we headed east to Attnang, then changed trains to head south to Hallstatt.  The views on the trains were of sprawling green fields, occasional houses, and random trees.  It was still very gray, but not quite raining.  At Hallstatt, we technically got off the train in Obertraun, but then took a short ferry (maybe 5 minutes total) across a lake to arrive in Hallstatt proper.  Apparently the Hallstatt train station is on the other side of the lake because Hallstatt is hemmed in by mountains (almost straight up from town) and the lake, so there is no room for any tracks.  From where we disembarked the ferry, it was just a 2 minute walk to the hotel, I Da Mitt.

Our two rooms were on the floor above the ground floor (1st floor in Europe, 2nd floor in US).  Dewey and Clarita kindly gave us our choice of rooms, and our room faced out over the town square, and was right above the bar.  The room was very spacious, but the hotel operator warned Justin to watch his head inside, both on the entry door but especially on a crossbeam that was about 6’0 off the ground.  Outside the hotel, we noticed people were setting up a bunch of stuff for what we assumed was the Krampus event tonight.  It looked fairly extravagant, with video and audio, so we wondered what all we were in for.

We went exploring a bit, walking south from the hotel on the “high road” (which was far less busy).  We spotted one restaurant that didn’t look especially touristy, inside the Gasthof Weisses Lamm, and made a mental note of it for a late lunch/early dinner possibility.  We walked as far south as the area where people take funiculars up to the salt mine and viewpoint.  Basically the town appeared to be just one upper road, one lower road.  We wondered how many people are full-time residents [Google says 859], and what they do when tourists aren’t around.  Most people come to Hallstatt on day tours from Salzburg or Vienna, so the town is fairly dead after about 17:00.  

We walked on the low road back to the north end of town, to the famous lookout that is in all sorts of travel brochures, Instagram posts, etc.  The view was nice, but we wished it wasn’t so cloudy and that a crane wasn’t there to interfere with the view.  We walked back to the hotel and got Dewey and Clarita a little after 15:00.  We did end up eating at the Gasthof Weisses Lamm restaurant, and we were glad to see that they didn’t close between lunch and dinner.  We couldn’t place the accent from our waiter, but eventually we determined he was Hungarian, to the surprise of Dewey and Crystal.  Crystal and Dewey got lamb cutlets, Clarita got some sort of fried fish, and Justin got cordon bleu since he’d had that on Heidi’s birthday in Switzerland in 2019.  Everything was very good, and we were happy we’d found something tasty since, in our research prior to going on the trip, Hallstatt wasn’t exactly renowned for its culinary offerings.

After eating, Crystal and her parents went to the grocery store, and got two bottles of wine and a giant bottle of water, and Justin looked for his gloves, which were thankfully in our hotel room.  There wasn’t much to do in town, so we just killed time until 19:00, when the Krampusnacht was due to begin.  Justin got on the wi-fi, VPN, and then got Fox Sports working on his computer in order to watch Croatia v Japan.  It was a great ending, with the Croatia goalie saving 3 of the 4 penalty kicks that Japan took.  As we were hanging around the room, we saw (well, first heard) some Krampi walking by.  We also saw some people testing pyrotechnics, which made us really wonder what was going on.  We wondered if this was going to resemble the batshit insane Bad Goisern video we’d seen - and attempted unsuccessfully to visit - last year.  Our room - just above the green awning in the photo above - had three sets of windows that opened, so we figured out how to open them (making the room quite cold, but well worth it), and hoped that the 3 windows would suffice for the 4 of us.  Justin sat in the window sill (window seat?) of the middle window, and Crystal grabbed her parents.  Downstairs in the town square, a couple hundred people had assembled for whatever was about to happen.

The show started promptly at 19:00.  It began with a video of the Krampi rampaging through snowy forests and then making their way from the forest into town.  Then there were some explosions and 3-4 Krampi smashed their way out of a box in the middle of the square.  Then others came out on ramps from windows of some of the other buildings around the square, with red flares everywhere.  Then others came out on the rooftops of some of the buildings, with even more flares, all with music blaring the entire time.  Some started dancing in a circle at the front of the square, then started parading through the throngs of people, whipping some of them (usually adolescent boys, but not always) and getting screams from everyone.  Soon there were “tracks” where the Krampi had opened up lanes through the crowd, and they just sort of meandered through the crowd for over an hour, to the delight/horror of everyone.

We were all mesmerized, staring intently out the window.  Justin actually lost feeling in his right leg from his sitting position, but he didn’t want to move and miss anything.  When he did come down from the window sill, he smacked Crystal on the back of the leg as she stared out the window, just to give her some of the Krampus experience.  [We’d debated whether to lock the door to keep the Krampi out, just in case they got into the hotel.]  It had started raining outside, but no one seemed to mind; everyone had missed the event in 2020, and the 2021 event got canceled because of the lockdown just prior to Krampusnacht, so everyone had waited 3 years for this - and it showed.  We told Dewey we arranged all of this for his birthday; we don’t think he fully believed us.

After about 45 minutes, the two of us plus Dewey went down to the ground level, because the Krampi seemed to have mellowed a bit, and were (occasionally) taking photos with others.  We tried our best to avoid getting whipped tonight, as we had not succeeded in that endeavor in Salzburg.  Justin got a photo of Crystal and Dewey with a Krampus, and Dewey got a photo of the two of us.  After that, we called it an evening and went back to our rooms.  Inside our room, we realized it had been raining harder than we thought, and while we weren’t soaked we were whatever level is just before that.  Dewey went back to his room, with the open bottle of wine (we then opened the second bottle).  

It had been roughly an hour, far longer than we expected, particularly given how small Hallstatt is.  We were copying photos and videos over to the computer when all of a sudden there was a grand finale, so we re-opened the windows and watched that.  Justin had to grab a different camera, since the card for the camera he’d been using was actually in the computer - thank goodness for multiple cameras.  This trip he brought two nearly identical cameras, different models of the Sony RX100.  One had better range (both wide angle and also zoom), but the other had a faster lens that made it easier to use in low light and at night.  From experience, December in Central Europe had a lot of that, so this year he brought the low light camera as well.

As part of the grand finale, there were more flares, then the Krampi climbing up a ladder onto a balcony at a building to our right, then singing songs.  After the music stopped and the confetti was launched and the Krampus masks were removed, we figured it was safe to assume the event was actually over.  When it was all said and done, it went probably 100 minutes from beginning to end, and was absolutely spectacular.  The only thing that would have made it better is if the rain had been snow.  Because of how long the Krampus run went, Justin missed the first half of the Brazil match, and their 4 goals against Korea.  Still on a high, we kept drinking our bottle of wine, looking at photos and videos and watching the second half of Brazil (Justin) and reading a book (Crystal).  There were a ton of videos from the evening, and Justin narrowed it down to several that added up to about 15 minutes total, far and away the longest video he’s ever attempted to produce [it's the one above].

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