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. . . which apparently means "Merry Christmas" in German! We are here in Austria near the picturesque town of Hallstatt for the holiday and we've been having quite the adventure. I'll try to catch you up on the last few days.

Sunday morning started early for us in our hotel in Venice. Austin's flight home left at 6:30 so we all woke up to see him off at five. It was so great that he could come and tour Italy with us and we had so much fun! Even though he had a few glitches, he's home safe and sound now. We went back to bed after seeing him off for another two hours and got up in time for breakfast at the hotel and checked out around 8:30. Then the traveling began. The Hallstatt area is a bit difficult to get to, and required us to take three buses and a train, which stressed me out a bit because we had to purchase the tickets between stops, where we usually had only about 15 minutes. 

The first part of the trip was a bus from Venice to Villach. It was run by OBB which is a train company, so we could use our Eurail pass, but some places they use buses instead. That bus ride was about three hours and for the last hour was very beautiful and picturesque. We also noticed that public transportation in Austria is very different than Italy and Spain, where people talk and laugh loudly. All the trains and buses here are so quite, and even have signs for "silence please" and restrict cell phone usage in train cars. Anyway, after that bus we had about 15 minutes to catch a train which took us two hours further into what appeared to be the middle of nowhere in the alps. At the second station we found another place for a second bus which took us to an even tinier town where we stood in the snow and waited for one last bus. It starts getting dark here about 4:30 because of the mountains so by the time we got to our apartment at five it was so dark. When the lady let us in, we asked if there were any nearby grocery stores where we could grab something to eat, and she said no since it was Sunday. 

It was disappointing, but we enjoyed using the wifi and I got to skype my family for a while and Justin and I enjoyed chatting with them about our adventures. Then we watched a movie and before going to bed tired and hungry with the hope of a quick walk to the grocery store the next morning. Before I continue, here's a few pictures from the train and the first day:

We awoke around 8:30 the next morning, ready to find a grocery store and make breakfast. When I found this apartment as a place to stay, I asked if there was a grocery store within walking distance. Apparently walking-distance means different things to different people, and we walked for about an hour before finding a market. We shopped for about an hour since we didn't want to have to walk all the way back for anything during our two days here. We decided on meals of pasta, beans and rice, scrambled eggs, and the precious veggie-links I'd carried all the way from Spain, sent to me by Union! The problems began right as we left the checkout line. As the lady scanned our foods, everything began piling up very quickly before we could start stuffing it into our grocery bags. Before we could do anything, a carton of eggs fell to the floor and we lost two. Right then we also had to pay and get out of the way with some Austrian ladies giggling about the crazy foreigners who couldn't get it together. We gathered the rest of our food and headed out the doors for the long, long walk home. 

The walk was rather unpleasant since we had so much food and only three pairs of arms to carry everything. But it was about it get a little worse. Arriving home, we discovered that the bottle of yellow liquid with pictures of vegetables on the front was not cooking oil as we had suspected, but vinegar. Frustrated and still hungry from our 24-hour famine, we bitterly discussed the options. Finally we decided that it was Christmas eve and people were probably feeling friendly, so we knocked on the door of the lady who let us in and gave us our key and asked for some cooking oil. She nodded and gave us some in a cup and saved the day. 

Things began looking up and we enjoyed our lunch of scrambled eggs with fries to improvise for a lack of hash-browns in the store. We decided to go on a walk down to the lake and found a small trail near a waterfall in the mountain. It was lovely but began getting chilly and dark so we headed home to do laundry (since our apartment had been advertised with a washer/dryer) and make dinner. 

Oh, the laundry. We'd planned on doing it this week at the halfway point of our trip and had plenty from the three of us. Something went wrong in the first load and it never got to the spin cycle to wring them out as much as they should have. Then the drier didn't seem to work at all and only made our clothes very steamy but still wet. So we hung up everything on every surface of the apartment which made me a bit peeved since I just wanted to be able to get it done and enjoy Christmas eve. After Skyping with Mikey I went to bed, determined that Christmas would be more of a success. And it was!
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Our plan for Christmas day was to take the train into the town of Hallstatt and have a look around. W got up this morning and Justin cooked eggs while I folded all the clothes that had dried during the night and tried to clean up for Christmas. After a filling and tasty breakfast we caught the 11:20 train to the Hallstatt stop where we boarded a small boat with several other tourists. Soon we were on the other side, stepping off into the tiny town. We began walking up the road and continued into some smaller trails on the mountainside. We kept going and realized that we were in a full-on hike. It was so beautiful! The very first photo on this blogpost is of a small look-out point on the trail. As we walked we discovered signs with historic information in English and German. There used to be salt mines in the mountain behind Hallstatt and every so often was an informative sign with history and photos. Justin and I both commented that our dads would have loved it. The historic background, the lovely hike, everything made me think of my dad. Everything in the town below, all the tiny, cute houses, reminded me of my mom. It was lovely and I know my family would have loved every minute. 

We hiked along, gaining altitude as the trains began to be more and more covered in snow. My ten-dollar boots from Target were not up to the task in the least, but I didn't care. It was about 50º F today so it wasn't that cold, even with my feet totally soaked. As we neared the top, we heard water rushing, and to our delight found that we were about to walk over a bridge spanning a rather large mountain waterfall. Beyond that was a lookout point for the top of the train where the salt mine museum was (although it was closed for Christmas of course). The view was breathtaking!

At the top, we thought we would go down the mountain a different way, but saw a sign that said there was a "danger of death" so we decided to stay safe and go down the same way we came up. It took less than half the time going downhill especially since we didn't stop to rest or take pictures. Back in town, we walked around and visited the church of Hallstatt with the ossuary and 600 skulls. We walked through the downtown and peeked inside two gift shops that were actually open for Christmas. The town is so cute and I loved seeing all the buildings and houses. Finally we rode the boat to the other side and waiting an hour for the train while I warmed my frozen feet on a radiator in the small waiting room. We got back to the apartment around 4:30 and cooked Christmas dinner, skyped friends and family, and now are settling in with another movie. Christmas abroad isn't the same as Christmas at home. We've all discussed that it really doesn't feel like Christmas here, even though we are in one of the most Christmas-y looking places I've been. Still, everything is beautiful and we had such a wonderful day together. Tomorrow we're off to a new city and more adventures to come!
grandma
12/25/2012 03:51:58 pm

Your pictures are great, Shelby, much better than the ones on the website for Hallstatt! Oh, it sounds so exciting. Your walk up the mountain was quite a walk sounds like. Sorry about the eggs dropping on the floor at the grocery. I bet you wouldn't have had enough, had Austin still been with you. I know your Christmas was different but sounds like it was a good one. Keep those blogs coming and don't forget---I love you real good

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Grandpa and Sue
12/25/2012 06:48:46 pm

Hey there, you lovely photojournalist! What a wonderful adventure! ...Complete with the highs and lows that make for exciting reading, though not so exciting to experience! We are so proud and happy that you all pressed on and refused to let some unfortunate knocks dampen your spirits. I'm sure that your perseverance will be rewarded by the many colorful stories you'll have to tell your friends and relatives for all of the years to come! Poor Austin...missed the long, LONG walk, wet feet, broken eggs, and the vinegar! Poor guy!
It's obvious to me that this is a very special Christmas for you three.
Merry Merry Christmas, and lots of love from two of your admirers!
(Can't wait til the next chapter...meanwhile...sleep tight!)
Grandpa Clyde and Sue

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Sheri Seibold
12/25/2012 07:43:37 pm

This all looks so beautiful, what a setting for Christmas. I love the details of your days there, the good, the bad and the lovely!

I like the setting of this less landmarks are more. What a peaceful setting.

We love you good, missing you on this holiday! Mom and fan

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Geni and Judi
12/25/2012 08:20:53 pm

Shelby, we sat around on Christmas eve at our folks' and all enjoyed reading the Christmas break portion of your blog out loud. Then we just read this latest installment on our way home and laughed so hard we cried. Thanks for the merry. Love you!

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