We arrived in the small town of Hopfgarten, Austria in the early evening. We stayed at a small guest house/hotel called Haus Lukas which is operated by Contiki. This was a nice change from regular hotels, because it was just us staying there. We were the only ones who used the lounge, dining room and bar, so that was fun.
Before dinner, a group of us walked a bit through the town and found a big field of buttercups and “frolicked” around and took pictures. It really does look like the scenery in The Sound of Music.
The staff cooked us a delicious dinner of honey roasted pork, peas, carrots and potatoes. We learned that Schnapps are very popular in Austria, and the bar had at least 15 different flavours. I had a few good cocktails that night, and we took turns for buying rounds of the many flavours. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I tried almost every flavour… In my defense, and others will back me up on this, they did not seem strong whatsoever. I started to question whether they contained any alcohol at all. They were very tasty, though! I enjoyed the classic peach schnapps the best. I also tried some Austrian beer. We all had a very fun night hanging out, dancing and listening to music and playing games.
Jacinda and I opted not to do the mountain biking optional activity (this is the only one we chose not to do). As you saw in my last post, I had only just ridden a bike at a very beginner level for essentially the first time the day before in Munich, and knew I wouldn’t be able to handle or feel comfortable with a 20 km mountain biking excursion. Jacinda didn’t feel up to it either, so we had a free morning to explore the town. It was overcast and a bit chilly. Hopfgarten is small with not much to do in first place (unless you’re there for the adventure sports!), but it was a Sunday and everything was closed. We went in to the big church in town. It is a big, beautiful, baroque style church, built between 1759 and 1764. It was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous decor and a beautiful ceiling. There was so much ornate detail and lots of beautiful colours.
We went back to the buttercup field to walk through it, and at this point I couldn’t resist running through it and singing “The Hills are Alive.” I just had to. We needed to get lunch, and we finally found the only restaurant that was open in town. It was called Salvena’s. No one in there spoke any English, it was a small town in rural Austria after all, and we only knew the most basic German words (things like please and thank you, etc.). We felt like such ignorant tourists at this point, but we tried our very best, saying “Danke schon” often. We didn’t even know how to order water to drink. This is a mistake that I will not make again. I made sure that I knew how to say “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Please,” and “Thank you,” everywhere we went, but in the future, I need to make sure that I have “water” on that list. This was the only time we were in a small town and without our group though, and we had Alex to help us everywhere else.
We also wished that we knew how to ask to be seated outside, because lots of people were smoking inside, but beggars can’t be choosers. The menu happened to have some English on it, so we knew what we were ordering thankfully. I got the goulash soup and it was delicious and hearty. It had a beefy-tomato base with veggies, beef and potatoes and it was only 4 euros! It is definitely a recipe I would like to recreate.
We were supposed to go paragliding in the afternoon (another optional excursion) but it got cancelled due to weather conditions. I was really disappointed about this because I was so looking forward to it. It is better to be safe than sorry, but I still wish I’d had a chance to para-glide over the beautiful Austrian valleys. I guess the one good thing is that it was our most expensive excursion at 123 euros, so that was refunded and made me hate myself a little less.
We now didn’t have anything to do for the afternoon so we (our Canadian crew) did what any young travelers in a small town with nothing to do would do–we bought cheap wine and chips at the gas station (or the “servo” as the Aussies all called them) and went back to the hotel to play cards. We noticed that paprika is a popular flavour for chips in Europe. Jacinda bought an unidentifiable bag of chips that I think we originally thought would be some type of onion flavour, but after opening the bag it smelled unmistakably of tuna. That bag didn’t get eaten.
It was raining at this point so we couldn’t really explore the town any more. For dinner we had delicious turkey schnitzel and then we got ready for a tight and bright party at the Contiki “camp site” (more like a dorm style accommodations place) down the road that we were invited to. They had a really cool bar there with black lights, glow paint and cheap drinks. They did a battle of the sexes kind of thing, played good music and we got to meet the other contiki group. It was a fun night.
We left Hopfgarten and headed to the Swarovski Crystal World museum in Wattens, Austria. Swarovski was started in Austria and they built it in 1995 for the 100 year anniversary of the company. It’s kind of like an art gallery, but almost everything is made with Swarovski crystals. It was pretty cool, but also kind of weird at points. It had the world’s largest crystal with over 100 faces and weighed in excess of 60 kg. There was also a big crystal dome that was all mirrors and when you stood in the center, your voice went all funny and high pitched.
They had a huge Swarovski store at the end (of course) and for my souvenir from Austria I bought a stretchy crystal tennis bracelet that I really love. After this, we started the drive to Venice, which I will write about in my next post!