Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Angelus on Top of the World

It was my fourth weekend in Austria, just before Valentine's Day, and I went to the village of Hallstatt. This was better than my Vienna weekend, better than Salzburg, better even than creek-jumping with Hungarians.

Friday morning, my friends Brian and Emily and I planned to catch a bus that left at 4:37am from the Karthause bus stop. I went to bed early the night before, setting my alarm for 4:00am. I woke at four twenty-five in the morning, just twelve minutes before the bus was to leave. Somehow I had switched off my alarm in my sleep. In a panic, I launched myself out of bed, threw my clothes on, thanked heaven that I had packed my bag the night before, and ran out into the corridor and down the three flights of stairs. We made it to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare.

We rode a network of buses and trains to reach Hallstatt, which is a small village in Salzkammergut. It sits on the western shore of the Hallst├Ąttersee, surrounded by a ring of towering Alps. The town itself was built into the side of the mountain, and until the last century was accessible only by boat or mountain paths. It is one of the loveliest and most remote places in all Austria.

The sky was gray when we arrived, although the rain had stopped. We each paid three euro for the boat ride across the lake. Almost as soon as we set foot in town, we walked to the church. Alright: if you ever look at a picture of Hallstatt, you will undoubtably see the steeple of a grey church near the docks. FYI- that's the Protestant church. After discovering this, we noticed an onion-shaped steeple farther up on the mountain side, and there on the wall was a mural of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child. Bingo!

The church was very small, and cold, and was designed and decorated in the Germanic style that is now so familiar to me. And our Lord was there: unlike us, the Europeans think it acceptable to leave Him alone. Next to the doorway was a shelf full of hymnals similiar to the one the Frau lent me last semester. I suggest that, since no one was around, we could sing a hymn. I felt Mr. Schafer would approve. We flipped through the pages and found Godhead Here in Hiding, which we had sung in the crypt church in Salzburg. So Emily, Brian and I sang this hymn together in the tiny church. This is now one of my favorite memories.

 Then we ventured outside to the ancient cemetery, where we stumbled upon a narrow path zig-zagging up the steep mountain. We did not know where it led, but sometimes the best adventures are the ones you find by accident! On a whim we decided to see where the path led- and ended up climbing (almost) to the very top.

It was a quarter before noon when we reached the top, and then the sun came out. We beheld the towering Alps circling around the black lake far below. I could see tiny white specks circling high above it- the seagulls. Above us was a fresh blue sky with swiftly-moving clouds. It was so quiet, and the air was the purest I have ever breathed. We marveled at the sights around us, took victory pictures of ourselves, and marveled some more. The greatness of the mountains caused us to be quiet. Then, from far below, the noon bell of the church sounded, and we said the Angelus softly in the utter quiet.

View from the Top

Then we talked about our friends, our travels, our plans, the beauty of nature, and our beloved John Paul II. We stayed there a while, but I was reluctant to leave when the time came. Dark clouds were coming back: it was as if God had given us an hour of sunlight at the summit. The climb down was more fun than the climb up had been- Brian and I ran down the narrow, winding, ice-and-snow-covered path, pausing now and again to wait for Emily, who (wisely) exercised more caution. In retrospect, it was a bit risky to run like that with a sheer drop to the side, but that made it all the more fun. We had a snowball fight, too, and I ended up with snow in my pocket, and down my back. I think I lost. Finally, we reached the bottom.

The rest of the day we spent touring the town. I bought a spoon; my collection is growing nicely. I also caused an embarrassing situation when I ran out of money and had to walk into the bank to exchange more. The only problem was- all my money was in my waist pack, underneath all my clothes, and I had to extract it in public. Future travellers, don't let this be you. Anyways, after a bit of awkwardness, the money was exchanged and all was well. We bought some bread and meat at the local store for the journey home, and off we went back to the docks, across the lake, into the train, and home.

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