Europe #5: Austria, the Best Country for Looking Ridiculous

The trip really is continuing! I may have spoiled everyone with four straight days of posts. Well, I moved to a new city and things got kind of thrown into disarray for a few days, but now! on! to! Austria!

We left Munich early the next morning and Giovanni drove us into Austria. I hadn’t spent a lot of time studying this portion of our itinerary so I really didn’t know what to expect in Austria. I knew there would be some kind of resort, and maybe hiking. We started our morning visiting the Salzburg salt mines in Berchtesgarden. No one seemed to have any idea what this tour was supposed to be and no one seemed particularly excited to learn about salt mining, but we arrived and everyone was handed black jumpsuits to put on. We looked mostly ridiculous, but looking ridiculous is kind of fun, so it was starting off well.

After the jumpsuits we were herded together for a group photo and then got on this little train where we sat single file on benches with a rail to hang onto. The train took off down a narrow tunnel leading into the mine. Once in the mine we came to a large cavern with two sets of polished wooden rails mounted on a steep incline. They didn’t look like any slides I had ever seen, but we were supposed to straddle them in groups of four and slide down, holding on to each others shoulders. It was so fun. We got to go down two of these slides during our tour, and while the rest of the tour was interesting, I think all of us would have been happy to just ride the slides the whole time instead. I guess growing up is a myth.

Group picture that I thought was going to be terrible that actually turned out kind of awesome.

Group picture that I thought was going to be terrible that actually turned out kind of awesome.

This is a picture I found online, but here's what the "slides" look like.

This is a picture I found online, but here’s what the “slides” look like.

At the end of the mine tour, the little train took us out of the mine through a tunnel that led outside the visitor center building. So we rode out into the light, squinting, and realized that people were walking down the street staring at us in our ridiculous outfits. I think the embarrassment factor was intentional. Jumpsuits were discarded, souvenir photos were purchased and we got back on the bus to ride into the town of Salzburg for a couple of hours.

Salzburg is Mozart’s birthplace and they’re really into Mozart there. It’s their thing and they seem pretty proud of it. They sell these little round chocolates with marzipan and nougat inside and they are called “Mozart’s Balls.” Is this supposed to be funny? It wasn’t clear. Anyway, I bought a couple and ate them. Not bad. Anna and I stopped for lunch at a restaurant along one of the shopping streets that looked like it would have good German/Austrian food. She got schnitzel and I got sausages and sauerkraut. We both got  beer. It was delicious. Simple, but delicious.

Sometimes you just want a plate of sausages and a mug of beer.

Sometimes you just want a plate of sausages and a mug of bee

After Salzburg, Giovanni drove us to our resort in Wagrain, a ski area in the Austrian Alps. After a week and a half of staying in relatively small city hotels, being told we were going someplace with a sauna and pools was like winning the lotto. Our rooms were huge and the resort, which is more geared to winter activities, was nearly vacant so we had most of the place to ourselves. Most of us headed to the spa after we got our bags in our rooms. There were two dry saunas and one of them contained a few naked older men (I know that’s a normal thing…but I’m not about to get into a sauna naked in public and neither was anyone in our group…we’re so American…yadda yadda), so we loaded into the other. After the sauna we crowded into the outdoor pool, which was hexagonal with benches inside, so I think it is used as a hot tub in the winter, but while we were there it was just a warm pool.

Dinner was at the resort restaurant at 7:30 and we arrived to find the most spectacular salad and appetizer bar I had ever seen. Meats, smoked fish, a huge salad bar, a cheese bar, breads, oils, everything. This could have easily been the whole meal and no one would have complained. But on top of that we had three plated meals to choose from. I got the fish and it was one of the best fish meals I’ve ever eaten. Everything was perfect. Then a plated desert. Oh and did I mention they also had an ice cream bar? Just in case you wanted two desserts (and we did). That night there was an impromptu roof party since about four of the group’s hotel room windows opened onto a roof patio. And if there’s an opportunity to climb out your window and drink with 40 of your closest friends, why wouldn’t you do it?

I like to believe this is what heaven looks like.

I like to believe this is what heaven looks like.

The next morning almost everyone got up to hike trails on the Alps near our resort. Some people got up quite early to see the sun rise and attempt to reach one of the summits. My goals were more modest. I left the resort at 9 after breakfast and a short workout in the fitness room and made my way up one of the trails, intending to make it to the first stop of the Flying Mozart chair lift and then come back down. I walked by myself for most of the journey but came upon some other trip-mates when I neared the Mozart. We took pictures and walked back down together. It was a beautiful morning and just the right amount of exertion for Vacation Steph.

The view from the Flying Mozart and me doing the standard "my vacation is awesome and the world is my oyster" pose that everyone was doing on the trip.

The view from the Flying Mozart, left, and right, me doing the standard “my vacation is awesome and the world is my oyster” pose that everyone was doing on the trip.

After the hike I spent a little time in the sun at the pool before heading out with the group for our white water rafting excursion. Rafting through the Alps was as pretty as anyone might guess. We were about eight to a raft and wearing wet suits, life jackets and helmets. Austria was the winning country for looking ridiculous. The rapids themselves were pretty tame. I would count this as more of a sightseeing tour than a white-knuckled ride, but there were a few rapid-y parts and a little waterfall that were pretty fun. There were also a few raft wars that involved lots of paddle splashing and hard paddling to keep the first place position (my raft was in first for most of the trip but we eventually lost to another raft). The biggest insight I gained from this tour was that I do not enjoy wearing a wetsuit. Having my entire body covered in a tight, moist piece of neoprene is not something I need to do again. Next rafting experience: warm water.

Janelle, Katie, Olivia and me in the bus on our way to the river.

Janelle, Olivia, Katie and me in the bus on our way to the river.

After rafting we returned to the hotel for more sauna-ing, pooling and to-die-for dinner eating before another roof party on our last night in Austria. The next morning we were off to Italy. And I will finish the travel posts NEXT time, when I tell you about the country shaped like a boot.

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