Laura & Hjalte’s Interrail: Part 2 – Lago di Braies, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Brno

After enjoying the sun, the charming South European atmosphere, and a daily temperature of 30-34 degrees Celsius for about two weeks, we needed a climate change. We got up early and walked to Verona train station. The train headed north through a fantastic landscape while we were eating our breakfast. Then, the train doors opened, and suddenly we were in South Tyrol.

In the beginning, we were quite confused about the name of the village where we had arrived. Some places it was called one thing – other places it was called another. When we found the explanation, it finally made sense. In South Tyrol, many cities (if not every city) has a German and an Italian name because of the German minority. The German name of the village is Toblach, while the Italian name is Dobbiaco. Even though it is a part of Italy, we had the experience that German was the most dominant language.

Even though, Toblach is a very small village, especially compared to the previous cities we had visited, we have a very clear memory of this place. From the train station we had to find the campsite, where we had made sure there was a spot for us beforehand. Apparently, the campsite was a couple of kilometres outside the village, and when we could not find any buses from the train station, we decided to walk. It was a bit tough walking 3 kilometres with 18+ kilos on our backs after waking up early, but we made it to the campsite with a big smile. The temperature was only 13ºC, and we could see on the weather forecast that the rain was coming soon. We quickly put up our tent and washed our dirty clothes, while getting used to the new atmosphere. The rain started to drop, so we decided to have a nap in the tent and eat some leftovers from the day before. It seemed that the rain would pass in a few hours. Suddenly, it was starting to get dark. Still raining. We had dinner eating the rest of the leftovers. Still raining. We decided to brush our teeth and go to bed. Heavy rain…

About midnight we woke up. Crash. The thunder was just above us. A lightning struck every third second and the rain was very heavy – and our tent was not the best. Later, the rain switched to sleet and from sleet to snow. It was about freezing-point. We had to shake the snow off the tent in the middle of the night.

The next day we woke up still freezing and tired. It was no longer funny. In spite of the most awful night of our lives so far, it may be all worth it in the end. The scenery outside the tent was so enthralling. It was cold, but the air was very fresh. The clouds were hanging a few meters above our heads, hiding the snow-covered mountains around us. We still had a big smile on, which only grew bigger during the day. Finding a hotel (where we got the last room available) made things much easier for us. We did not want a bad night to stop us from doing what we came to visit: Lago di Braies. So, we bought two pizzas and jumped on the bus to the lake.

Lago di Braies is undoubtedly in the top 3 (maybe top 1) of the most beautiful lakes that we have ever seen. It is actually hard to describe how beautiful it is. You have to go and see it for yourself. Not only the lake, but the entire area around it. The walk around the lake is only 3.5 kilometres long, so it is easy for everyone. And you must do it!

The next day it was time for a new country. We left the hotel after an amazing breakfast enjoying the morning sun. The train ride was once again beautiful. Before going on an Interrail trip we thought that it would be boring to spend so much time on the train. But every train ride was so truly stunning. We arrived in Salzburg and left our bags at the youth hostel (a great place) before exploring the Austrian city.

Salzburg is a lovely and cosy city. You do not find as many attractions as in many other big cities, but you can easily spend a day or two walking the streets. If you like shopping though, there are a lot of options. If not, there is still so much do. For example, you can see Residenzplatz, where you sometimes can see the Austrians in their national dress on their way to a concert. You can also visit Mozartplatz, Mozart’s birthplace, Festungberg, Christian Doppler’s birthplace, and so much more. We were only staying for one night, because we had planned to go to Hallstatt the next day.

Hallstatt is also a city in Austria. The population only consists of about 800 people, so it is very small. What makes this village so special is that it is one of the oldest villages in Austria dated back to 800-450 BC. Hallstatt is also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is known for its production of salt.

To reach Hallstatt, we took the train through a typical Austrian landscape all the way to the second last stop. We got off the train with lots of other tourists. We headed downhill and to our big surprise, we could suddenly see Hallstatt on the other side of a lake. Apparently, we had to go the last part with a small ferry. Our budget was a little tight, but luckily the tickets were not very expensive.

On the boat, we sat together with a lot of Asian people. Almost all of them were very eager to take photos of the small village on the entire trip. At that time, we did not really understand why it was so special. Of course, Hallstatt is beautiful from the seaward side with its old-fashioned Austrian houses and churches, but that many photos?

We stepped off the little ferry with our heavy backpacks and had a look around, while we headed to a campsite in the other end of the village. The majority of all the people we met on the way were Asian and mostly Chinese. We passed a little shop selling Asian-style cup noodles and green tea. A few metres later, we saw a warning sign also written in Chinese. We wondered if perhaps the village just wanted to satisfy and attract more Chinese people by doing this. Maybe this is correct to some extent, but it is not the underlying reason. Apparently, a replica of Hallstatt has been built in China. The Chinese mining company China Minmetals Corporation actually decided to build it full-scale in Huizhou, Guangdong province. Therefore, many Chinese people find it attractive to visit the original village.

We went to the campsite and put up our tent in the back, where a small area looking like a previous fold had been designated to smaller tents and backpackers. We had a nice view from the bottom of a valley.

Hallstatt is a very charming place. It only has one shopping street with small shops, restaurants, a supermarket, cafés and a catholic church. Apart from the main streets, there are a few narrow, cosy streets. All of them are connected to a square in the town centre. It is possible to walk upstairs to a church, from where you will have a tremendous view.

Not only the village itself but the location of it plays a major role in the atmosphere. The landscape is dominated by lots of mountains and the calm, clear, and mirror-like lake. It is so tempting to just jump into the water, so we did. It was quite cold, but the sun was shining and warming up the air. It was rather comfortable. After swimming, we just sat on the grass enjoying the scenery. Everything was just so peaceful (except from 5 minutes where a helicopter landed 20 metres from us to pick up a police officer). It was actually romantic just sitting between the mountains with the sun in the back, just looking over the lake while having a snack.

The next day it was time to find the train once again. The original plan was to stay in Hallstatt for one or two more nights. But when we saw on the weather forecast that it would be raining during the night (even the next couple of days), and we had already enjoyed the village, we decided to find another place. Before leaving Hallstatt, we just wanted to spend the morning very peacefully without rushing. We packed our bags and hung our tent to dry on a little fence. The sun was shining on the little green spot that we had been sitting on the day before. We had breakfast on a small bench and continued with the peaceful and semi-romantic style as the day before.

Due to the coming rain and dropping temperatures in Hallstatt, we obviously wanted to find a place where the weather was a bit more desirable. We had planned to visit Vienna later on our Interrail trip, so we looked for places near the capital. But the closer we got, the more rain. Finally, we found a city of a proper size on the map: Brno, Czech Republic. We looked it up on Google to consider, if it would be a waste of time to go there. It seemed to be worth a visit considering that it is the second largest city in the country and with lots of young people studying. To get there, we had to change trains several times and two times we only had a few minutes to do so. Still, we got on every train in time.

The last train journey may be the most unpleasant on the entire trip through Europe. We were tired and sat in a narrow coupé. The landscape outside the window was just the opposite of what we came from. It was just enormous fields with nothing but soil, some pumpkin fields, a few tiny clumps of trees, and a decrepit house from time to time. A young guy came into our coupé asking for money. He seemed a bit frustrated and sneaky, so it was very uncomfortable when he tried to persuade us into giving him some money. It was not easy to judge if he was trustworthy or not. We did not fully believe his story, and we did not give him any money, because of our tight budget and lack of trust. Later, when we met the young guy on the way out of the train, he said in an apologetic way that he had found a solution on his minor economic issue. So, in the end, everything was okay.

When we finally arrived in Brno, it was getting dark. We had to use public transport to get to our apartment that we had rented on Airbnb. It was a bit difficult to orientate in the dark in a completely different city. With guidance from a local student we found the right place and bought a ticket to the tram. The apartment was relatively cheap, so we did not really know how much to expect. But when we met the host and saw the private apartment, we could breathe a sigh of relief. Wonderful!

In many ways, Brno seems as a bit poor and worn city, especially in the night time. Several buildings need to get their facades repaired and renovated. Groups of homeless people were sitting in the streets and may be a bit vociferous. That was our first impression when arriving late in the evening. From the apartment we walked a few hundred metres to a supermarket, but when we were at the door it was closed. We had walked past the shop about an hour earlier where the door was open. A note in Czech was put up, and we did not understand a single word. Two young people about our age stood next to us and said something; first in Czech, then in broken English. The only word we understood was “hospital”. Based on this, we concluded that the shop owner all of a sudden had been compelled to go to the hospital. It must have been quite important considering the peculiar handwriting on the note.

Every other supermarket nearby was closed, so we chose to try the local shawarma. It turned out to be a good deal, because the man behind the desk had had a Danish girlfriend once and was very happy to meet some Danish people again. In the end, we only paid about half the price and had enough food for lunch the next day.

When we saw the city in daylight, it was not as sombre as we had assumed. The homeless people just seemed friendly and peaceful, and the buildings were not in such a bad state neither. We walked for about 5 minutes before we were in the city centre. Most of the attractions are placed in the city centre and the old town, so in about 2-3 hours we had seen the main part. Brno is an exceedingly cosy city. You find many wonderful squares with markets, cafés and restaurants. The prices are in general much lower than in other European countries, so you can easily have a cheap meal. For example, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant that evening only paying less than half the price compared to Denmark. We tried some kind of dessert/snack called a “Czech funnel cake” for the first time. Very delicious!

In Brno you can also find some architectonic attractions. Villa Tugendhat may be the most famous building. It costs a small fee (about 2 euros per person) to get into its garden and see the building from the outside, which we found adequate. The house is very modern, especially compared to its age. It was built between 1928-1930 (it has been rebuilt later) and is said to be the beginning of modern architecture in Europe.

Another must-see in Brno is a kind of modern water fountain called “the curtain. It is placed in front of the Janáček Theatre. In the evening and night-time, the fountain is very cool and beautiful. It makes many different patterns of the water falling in different colours. Sometimes it even writes the city’s name, the temperature, the time, and much more. We sat down and watched the water show for about 30 minutes. We found it really impressive, but we could not stay there all night. We had to be ready for new adventures the next day. Vienna was waiting…