7 January 2016 – St Gilgen, Snow and the Salzburg Old Town
After the bus debacle of the previous days trip to Königssee we decided to pre-check the bus schedules for today’s activities and set our alarms to be at the bus stop at the correct time. We had planned a half-day trip to nearby St Gilgen in the Salzkammergut region of the Austrian alps. Of course it was well after 9pm the previous night when the kids were asleep, so having them up at 7am wasn’t great, but our hotel room was still so hot (after 3 days with the heating turned off) that they weren’t sleeping well anyway and waking me up several times a night for water.
We were down at breakfast at 7.30am for our fill of breads, German cakes and occasionally something healthy. We had opted to put the kids in snowsuits again today since it was another visit to alpine snow. This meant going back upstairs and suiting up, and pack the millions of gloves, hats, scarves, snacks and other bits and pieces for a day out. The hotel rooms are so hot that the 10 mins between getting the first person coated up and the last person, seems like an eternity, especially when you are herding the kids around like cats.
Eventually we got out of the hotel in plenty of time to make our bus (even with Soren having a tantrum and about not wanting to go in the ergo, which resulted in him being taken back to the hotel room temporarily until he complied!). We walked to a bus stop in Old Town and were there in plenty of time for our bus to St Gilgen. This trip (like the one the day before to Berechtesgaden) were not covered on our Salzburg cards so we had to pay for the bus separately. In Salzburg, all the tickets are sold on the bus, which you can pay with cash (or sometimes credit), but everyone lining up and buying tickets as they get on slows things down. Not the speed and efficiency we are used to in other cities.
The bus trip to St Gilgen was about 45 minutes long and didn’t have too many stops once we were out of Salzburg, at least not ones where there were huge delays. Again the alpine scenery was stunning. Another day another set of magnificent snow-covered mountains, or so it would seem. After about 35 mins, as we were climbing higher into the peaks, a dense fog rolled in and either side of the bus was white….. it did not bode well for our planned cable car trip!
The kids were fairly well-behaved on the bus, mostly chatting and resting, with some random napping from Astrid. Just before we got to St Gilgen we went past Lake Wolfgangsee which was beautiful …..and the fog had lifted somewhat, making us a little more hopeful it wasn’t going to be a wasted trip.
When we reached St Gilgen, it was foggy, but there were patches of sun. The bus stopped right in front of the cable car and we could see the Zwölferhorn cable car was extending into dense fog about 80 metres in front of us. It also was entirely stationary. Things were not looking hopeful for a scenic cable car ride!
We wandered into the station and were relieved to see the webcam showing it was clear at the top, we weren’t convinced on spending 23 Euro each on seeing white fog up close. We paid for our tickets and we were sure we heard the Austrian equivalent of ‘start ‘er up Jim, there are some tourists ‘ere who want to go to the top’. Ten seconds later the cable car is up and running and we hear the whirl of cable cars rushing around.
Unlike the large cable car of 2 days earlier (my preferred method of cable car torture) these were the small cabins that rock, roll, and generally make me feel ill. I still decided to do it, against all my better judgement. All of us piled into 1 small cabin and they locked us in. The kids had to sit on our laps as there was no additional room. The kind cable car man had sent a couple of empty cars around in front of us to get things rolling, I think we might have been the first victims of the morning, despite it being just after 10am.
Off we went and it was definitely slower than the Untersberg cable car. The views were pretty good though, if snowy at the start. After a few minutes Anto pointed out that the max load sticker on the cabin was 4 people or 320kg. I quickly mentally calculated that the 6 people (even though 2 were kids) were definitely over 320kg, even excluding the mountain of coats and gloves and scarves we were wearing……. and definitely not including the extra weight from pastries and beer while travelling. Anto and Mikl tried to convince me that the 4 people was really 4 average Germans, and to ignore the 320kg bit. Then they tried to convince me that was to spread the load over the entire system, not one car. All of this was not comforting while dangling several hundred metres above ice and snow with no way of communicating with anyone at ground level or above.
I’ll have to admit that despite being in a cold metal box, dangling in the air, the scenery was pretty impressive. There were all the large trees that we skimmed past the tops of, with branches covered in snow. Then you look down and see they are actually 80m tall trees that you are going over the top of. Once through the fog layer we saw mountain peaks spreading out below us.
The cable car ride took about 15 minutes and we seemed to be going up and up and up. The total height we reached was just under 1500m, starting at about 500m at the station. When we got up to the top station it looked like we were close to the first up the Zwölferhorn for the day.
We mittened up and headed out onto the fresh snow and to take in the beautiful views spread out below us. In case it isn’t obvious the Zwölferhorn (12 peaks in German) is named after the 12 mountain peaks you can see surrounding the mountain. On such a clear day you could see all 12 mountain peaks.
We were immediately glad we had decided to take the risk and go up the Cable car, it was clear, sunny and just amazingly beautiful at the top of the mountain. It was stunning alpine vistas in every direction and it almost looked fake, I can assure you it was very real (and cold) but even these photos don’t do it justice.
Despite the gorgeous scenery, the kids just wanted to play in the snow. We went for a wander around, it was slightly more kid friendly than the Untersberg mountain we had visited a couple of days earlier. There were a few sheer drop-offs but wider paths and shorter drops down in most areas so the kids wouldn’t have necessarily plummeted to their deaths if they let go of our hands.
We headed up to the viewing area for views over the back of the mountain and took it in turns to walk up to the cross. It was a bit icy walking up to the cross so we elected not to take the kids, they were happy making snowballs and playing with sheets of ice. The adults were equally as impressed with the dry snow that made snowball throwing challenging. Oh and yes, we were a LONG way from home, well over 16,000km in case the signs didn’t remind us!
We frolicked in the snow and took in the views. after a while more tourists appeared, somewhat spoiling our private mountain top, but still wasn’t too busy. The cable car was now running pretty much non-stop, as we weren’t the only ones who had figured out it was a beautiful day to be up the mountain. There was even free wifi aat the top of the mountain that actually worked!
After a good play in the snow we were in need of warming up and headed to the Franzl’s Hutte cafe and decided to have an early lunch. It was your typical mountain top restaurant – lots of wood, hearty food and beautiful views. As usual the boys had beer, I had gluhwein, and the kids have hot chocolate. I had a vegetarian ‘donut’ with sauerkraut, it was a bit like a bagel. The kids have cheese filled sausage, potato salad and bread. Anto had schnitzel with fries. Mikl had schnitzel with boiled potatoes (since the only real choice is which form of potato you have with your schnitzel!). Alan had goulash with bread.
Lunch was fun with excellent views and we really didn’t want to leave. To the kids delight we discovered the cafe cat who was very friendly but eventually escaped Soren’s enthusiastic patting. We managed to get the kids outside when they spied the Alaskan malamutes whose owner was in having a hot drink. The kids really wanted to pat them! We later saw them taking their human for a ski down the almost vertical sections of mountain.
The kids had another play in snow, involving them being human sleds and being covered in the waist-deep snow, which is apparently hilarious. The fog has cleared and we could now see over lake Wolfgangsee from the top of the mountain. The views are pretty spectacular.
We convince the kids we have to go down in cable car. They are now running pretty frequently, with lots of people coming and up down. For the trip down we decide to split into 2 cabins, yes I was paranoid – Astrid goes into a car with Mikl and Alan and ahead of us. I go with Soren and Anto.
It was a very scenic trip down with great views down across the lake, interspersed with watching all the hikers and skiers heading down the slopes below our cable car.
When we get back to St Gilgen, a bus is waiting, but we decide to wait the hour until the next one and explore a bit of the town. Soren desperately needed to nap so was happy to have a ride around in the ergo. We wandered down to lake and past a snowy playground and let Astrid and Mikl loose on the flying fox.
It was at this point that Anto realises that we are missing his and Soren’s gloves and his hat, all of which he took off on the cable car and were left on the seat in our rush to get bags and small people out. The cable car was probably most of the way up the mountain by now.
While Anto went back to the cable car station to try and retrieve the items, the rest of us wander to Lake Wolfgangsee and visit the resident swans (who thought we should feed them), and take in the beautiful lake views. The lake seemed more set up for Summer tourism, most things were closed over Winter!
Soren was now well and truly asleep and Astrid getting tired but picked up a huge slab of ice that she claimed was her ‘map’. It had invisible writing but was telling her where to walk. All was good until she fell over and smashed it! St Gilgen was a very pretty village, lots of painted houses and a love of Mozart (his Grandfather had worked there and his mother was born there). It was definitely a town that we could visit again or stay in.
As we were heading back towards the cable car, we heard from Anto that they had recovered the gloves at the top of the mountain and he just had to wait for them on the return journey back down. Once they were down we met up and had a snack on left over breakfast items (that we had ‘procured’ from the buffet that morning) before getting on the bus back to Salzburg. Soren slept through most of bus ride and Astrid napped for part of it.
The original plan for the afternoon was to try to visit one of the other salt mines but we knew we weren’t going to make it back there in time. Again we had to be there before 3pm and the bus transfers back out of Salzburg were going to take forever. We decided to change our plans. Anto and Mikl decided to do yet another brewery tour and the kids, Gramps and I would wander the Old Town of Salzburg and see the other sights on our list we hadn’t got to in the prior few days.
We were back in Salzburg and off the bus about 3pm and split into our 2 groups. The kids, Alan and I go for our wander through the Old Town, starting with the Mirabell gardens, which had been entirely under snow 3 days earlier! The gardens amazingly still had flowers that had survived the snow cover, although much of the gardens were blocked off for Winter. We also walked past the Palace (Shloss) but decided not to go in (Astrid was ‘over’ Palaces!).
We then wandered back over the Salzach river. The banks had been entirely snow-covered 3 days earlier and now looked rather different.
Next on the agenda was checking out the Residenz, which was more understated than many we had seen, and walking the back streets of the Old Town. We found lots of streets we hadn’t yet explored, with cute shops, Christmas lights, and lots of statues, and fountains. Most had their ‘Winter covers’ on, so looked a little ridiculous. The kids were most amused by the constant stream of horses and carriages. We pretty much followed the horse and carriage route and found more churches, cemeteries and statues than you could poke a stick at.
There were still plenty of iced over ponds, and an amazing Christmas decoration shop that seemed a little dangerous to go in with Soren! Astrid spied an ice skating rink, but I figured that it was Anto’s job to take her skating so promised we’d try to find one in Munich, which was where we were headed the next day.
After a full two hours of wandering, we’d had enough and headed towards our dinner location. The kids had walked their little legs off and to be rewarded with a dinner at ‘the fox restaurant’. Now realising it’s popularity, we had prebooked a table for 5pm, both ensuring a table and doing our best to facilitate an early night for the kids.
After leaving the others, Mikl and Anto had wandered around and found the number 10 bus out to the Stiegl factory for a beer tour (yes another one), where a scanning of our Salzburg cards was rewarded with not only entry to the museum, but also a show bag containing important beer related items – and a free beer. The museum was fairly well done, with a fair amount of the original factory equipment still in place, and accessible. While the exhibits were probably more impressive than the Carlsberg ones (visited during our earlier stay in Copenhagen), their beer collection was much smaller – although arranged in an attractive 3 story high pyramid. We fairly quickly finished with the tour, and decided not to replicate the group in-front of us by managing to drink the free beer before getting to the end of the first block of the 5 minute walk back to the bus. We managed to find the rest of the group back at the Fox restaurant where we’d planned to meet for dinner. With all the beer-y excitement we forgot to take photos!
We beat the boys to Alter Fuchs, but kept the kids amused with drinks and menu perusing and Gramps and I warmed up with some gluhwein. Once they arrived the boys had their usual beer, and it was time to order. Anto and Mikl had the pork knuckle they had eyed off on the previous visit with, dumpling and radish salad. Alan has his pork knuckles and butter vegies. I have spinach dumplings with butter sauce and salad, which were enormous, but very tasty. The kids requested kinder schnitzel with cranberry. Despite our desire to try the strudel, we were all too full for dessert.
It was back to the hotel and the kids off to bed before we had to pack up for our morning train to Munich. We’d had another fabulous day in the snow, but were all a bit weary (and very full of dumpling!).
Statistics for the 7th of January 2016 in Salzburg Austria – the temperature was minus 3 to 6 degrees, with a mean temperature of 2 degrees (we feared there would be no snow left by the next day!) St Gilgen was the same temperature but it was around minus 5 up Zwölferhorn. The total walking for the day was 12.5km. Again Astrid walked all bar the last kilometre back to the hotel, a pretty good effort!