6 December - Black Swan Event

We woke up a tiny bit earlier today, before 09:00.  Looking at our phones, we saw that Heidi had tested positive for Covid - thankfully she had 8 days before her flight to Europe to fully recover.  Justin went to the viewpoint really early and got some photos just seconds before the clouds rolled in to obscure the mountaintops.  He went back to the room to grab Crystal, and we went to a Konditorei, then the grocery store to get some soda, plus some provisions for the long train ride the next day.

Back at the hotel, there was lots of (de)construction in the main square, attempting to clean up from the night before.  There was still confetti everywhere on the pavement, and people were taking down some of the ramps and scaffolding related to the show.  We gave some thought regarding what to do today, since there wasn’t much to do in town besides the salt mine, viewpoint, and - in our case - Krampusnacht.  We thought about maybe going to the museum, but nothing about it really jumped out at us.  Indeed, everyone in our group was ambivalent.

In the hallway outside our rooms, a woman from the hotel came up to ask the 4 of us if we wanted fresh towels, but her English wasn’t good, our German wasn’t good, so she and Crystal spoke in Hungarian to translate - go figure.  Along those lines, Crystal had a Hungarian class at 11:00.  Dewey and Clarita were walking around town, and messaged us that the sun was out and the mountains were visible, so Justin went out to take some more photos.  Nearby the viewpoint he saw some alpacas, and he also met 4 Spanish women, getting to practice some Spanish, including “buen suerte a Espana hoy” (Spain had a World Cup game later in the day).  So now we’d all used our second language(s) in the past 24 hours.

We finally decided on visiting the Salt Mine.  Since there weren’t many great restaurant options, we decided to go up funicular early, then eat afterwards, kind of like yesterday.  We had some nice weather, finally - the clouds had largely dissipated.  It was fairly obvious to us that overnight snow had fallen to roughly 100 feet elevation above town, so we just missed getting snowed on at Krampusnacht.  We walked down to the ticket office at the south end of town, right along the lake.  There was a black swan swimming around the lake; we can’t recall if this was the first one we’d seen or not.  On the short walk from the ticket office to the funicular there was a cute English bulldog walking with its owner, and in fact it went up the funicular with us.

It was a little cloudy at the top of the funicular, but the clouds were very thin.  There was a ton of snow, and it was very cool to see frosted trees everywhere, perhaps for the first time since Ferrier in 2008.  We took a short walk up a cleared road to the entrance to the salt mine.  We had to put special clothes on over our clothes, and we weren’t sure why.  We started the tour by walking through a tunnel for 650 meters, one with tracks.  Our guide told us that the salt mine is still in active use, in addition to being a tourist attraction in certain areas as well.

We saw a video on why/how there is so much salt in the mountains in Austria.  At a 30,000 foot level, there used to be an inland sea in the area that dried up (like Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia), but later that salt flat was tossed around and mixed in with other soil from volcanic activity and plate tectonics, somewhat akin to how a layer of cinnamon gets mixed around in a cinnamon roll.  Our guide told us that this mine is the oldest salt mine in the world.  We eventually figured out why we were wearing special clothes - we needed them as protection for going down wooden slides.  The slides are used for the workers to descend from one level to another in the mine.  Other sites on the tour included a large brine water pond, examples of salt from around the world (including from Hawaii, go figure), a reconstructed 3000 year old staircase, and a shoe from probably that same time period.  The tour was much more interesting than we expected, similar to our lava tube tour in Tenerife in 2019.

The weather looked spectacular when we left the mine, so Justin quickly made his way down the mountain to head back towards the famous lookout point in town.  He’d noticed some clouds rolling in and didn’t want to miss anything.  The skies were fortunately still clear when he arrived.  Crystal and her parents got there maybe 20 minutes later, give or take.  We all got some good shots of the mountains and the lake (which was very still), then headed off to eat.  We went to eat at the same place as the day before.  When we arrived the server - a different guy from yesterday - was having an animated conversation with one of the other tables, where we overheard something like “where do you see milk on the menu??!!”  We wanted to ensure we didn’t draw any ire, so we made sure we figured out what we wanted.

Crystal got the smoked pork with sauerkraut, Justin got the venison goulash (they had it today; yesterday they were out), Clarita got the bratwurst, and Dewey got the cordon bleu.  We got the server in a better mood by asking him about his day and smiling a lot.  We found out that he was originally from Romania, but he spoke Spanish, German, English, Italian, Russian, Romanian, and a bit of Chinese - all self taught.  Because of this we kept talking to him in different languages just to mix things up.

After dinner Crystal and Clarita each got some house socks, and we also got a gift for Olivia - something that immediately jumped out at us as being something she’d appreciate.  We then proceeded to the ferry location to ask about train tickets for tomorrow, and the guy recommended going online since there was no ticket office between here and Bad Ischl (several stops to the north).  Back in the room Crystal took care of the train tickets whilst Justin watched the surprising end of Spain v Morocco (Spain lost after missing several penalty kicks).  

After that we went to a nearby bar for one drink, some punsch.  The proprietor told us that Hallstatt basically does all its business between 10:00-17:00, and that almost nothing is open for dinner; he was in fact about to close for the evening.  We told him we were headed to Italy tomorrow, and he told us that Prego is Italian for please, in addition to thank you.  We came back to the room with our blood orange punsches, and Crystal read whilst Justin watched Portugal v Switzerland (with no Ronaldo until the waning moments).  Both of us packed so we could sleep in a bit later in the morning, and then went to sleep. 

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