Weekend Jaunt to Europe, Part V: Spontaneity (St. Gilgen, Austria)

I generally pride myself on being a solid speller and grammaristicianizationer.  I will happily admit, however, that ‘spontaneity’ is one of those words that just never looks quite right, no matter if it’s spelled correctly or not.

Whenever I plan trips, there needs to be an element of “epicness” to them, or else I won’t go.  There has to be something that compels me to either the journey or the destination.  Spontaneity can be very compelling, especially to a place that has your heart.

The Sound of Music Tour
Let’s rewind the clock a few years, to the summer of 2010.  My sweet mother and I were taking a grand tour of Europe.  We started in Frankfurt, hit the Nurburgring, Munich, Fussen, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Prague, and London.  It was a special trip with a lady that is very special to me.  One of the things we did in Salzburg was the Sound of Music tour.  I happened to be in my high school’s production of it my senior year, so I’ve always enjoyed the music and beautiful setting of the film.  The Sound of Music tour is hard to beat, and you don’t have to be a fan of the music to enjoy it.  It was largely filmed in Salzburg and the surrounding Salzkammergut area, so whether or not you’re a fan of the movie you will absolutely love the scenery.

On the tour you take a large touring coach up a windy road into the Salzkammergut/Lake District.  You pass teal blue lakes that are gorgeous, randomly see the international headquarters for Red Bull on your right, then all of a sudden you’re confronted with a mountain lake village called St. Gilgen, which is across the Wolfgangsee from the more well-known St. Wolfgang.  When I saw it for the first time, my heart exploded in wonder and awe.  I had never seen such a perfect place in my life!  My mom even commented that she could tell my breath was taken away when I saw it.

This is the picture I took that day

This is the picture I took that day

From the greenness of the grass to the onion-domed steeple, not to mention the beautiful alpine lake scenery, I was stunned.  We were overlooking the town but for a few moments before we had to get back on the bus and depart, so, oddly enough, I never actually got to go into the town that I loved so much.

Back to the Weekend Jaunt
I landed in Munich (from Barcelona) not content with the idea of staying in Munich and just going to the Hoffbrauhaus (although that’s never a bad plan).  I had to see if I could make it back to St. Gilgen.  I had two chances to make it happen (a fat chance and a slim chance) but I knew I could report back to you that the attempt would be epic either way!  My original plan was to rent a car Saturday morning and drive from Munich to Berlin in time to check into a hostel and head out for the CrossFit Invitational.  So basically, be in Berlin by 4PM.  My go-to rental company in Europe is Sixt, on account that I’ve always experienced flawless customer service and an easy experience renting high-quality vehicles, so I sauntered down to the Sixt desk and spoke with a lovely German girl.  The way the reservation turned out working was I made a 24hr reservation and wasn’t actually going to pick it up until well into the 24hr period.  My flight landed in Munich at about 4:30pm on Friday.  You see where I’m going, right?  I explained my situation to the Sixt agent and asked if she couldn’t might possibly help me make just a little change to my reservation and pick it up now?  Her response, “Of course.  Zere will be no charge, and I hope you make it in time to enjoy it!”  There’s no way it could be that easy, could it?

It was.  She handed me the keys to an Audi A3 and I made a beeline for the rental car garage.  The person who had it before me had very selfishly left the satnav system in German, so it took me a good 10 minutes to hit enough random buttons until I found the setting that switched everything to English and hit the road!  I’ve actually driven from Munich into Austria three times now, enough that parts of it began to look familiar, which made me really thankful for the blessings to experience this multiple times.

As a friendly reminder, I’m from Texas, where it is typically quite hot.  We don’t really have seasons that gradually change into each other, rather it will be a balmy thirteen billion degrees and then the next week winter will punch us right in the weather and it’ll be freezing or below.  We don’t really have that really incredible and colorful Changing of the Leaves that’s enjoyed by, well, most of the rest of the world.  Kind of here one day and the next they’re all in everyone’s gutters.  So the excitement of driving on the autobahn toward St. Gilgen was only enhanced by some of the views along the road.

The leaves changing colors

The leaves changing color

More leaves

More leaves

I also made a little Instagram video of it here.  I was trying to outrun the sun in order to get to St. Gilgen before it was completely dark and had a very enjoyable trip down through Bavaria into Austria.  I eventually passed by the Red Bull headquarters, and I knew I was close.  The anticipation was palpable as the moment approached.  I came over a small hill and saw the roadside stop from which I took the picture in 2010.  At that very moment, one of my favorite songs of all time came on from my phone (have a listen here, it’s epic) and a tear rolled down my cheek to the huge smile on my face.  I didn’t quite beat the darkness, but I could tell, in the silence and serenity of that hill, that St. Gilgen hadn’t changed a bit.

I joyously drove into a mostly closed town.  It wasn’t the tourist season (St. Gilgen doesn’t get incredibly busy even during the tourist seasons, unlike St. Wolfgang across the lake) so I figured it’d be easy to find a room, and indeed it was.  There were quite a few B&Bs with signs saying Zimmer Frei on them, which my knowledge of German (I know six words) told me that meant “rooms available”.  I went and met the owner of the establishment, was quoted a very reasonable 65EUR for the night, and went up to my room.  It was a pretty massive building that was not very crowded, so it kind of felt eery, the silence, but the room was exactly what you’d expect from a B&B like this: nice clean sheets, comfortable bed, free wifi, decent TV, and not much else.  I immediately called my mom via FaceTime to tell her where I was (she was so happy for me, you should’ve seen her smile!).

I walked around the village with an enormous smile on my face.  It was a sleepy little town with loads of Austrian charm.

Town Hall

Town Hall

After a lovely walk through the crisp mountain air, I went back to the B&B’s restaurant to enjoy a classic Austrian meal: wurst, bier, and schnitzel.  I then went back to my room to face the reality of the next day.

Distances and Hours
You’ll recall that my rental car was due in Berlin the next day at 4pm.  This was easily doable from Munich.

Munich to Berlin

Munich to Berlin

Plotting backward from Berlin, that’d put me about a 10am departure.  The only problem was that I had just driven about 2 hours in the wrong direction earlier, so my route would be a little longer from St. Gilgen.

St. Gilgen to Berlin

St. Gilgen to Berlin

This put my departure time from the B&B at about 8am, to be safe.  Sunrise the next morning was scheduled for: 7:42am.  Not much time to see this city of which I’ve dreamt.  I honestly wasn’t sure it’d be enough time, but I was sure it’d be an epic attempt!

Beauty
The next morning I arose at 5:45am with a start.  I showered and made preparations for the journey ahead (read: drank a BUNCH of coffee).  Already resigned to not much time with sunlight for pictures, I ate my breakfast early and then went out to the lake to catch the first glimpses of sunlight.  The pre-dawn stillness provided a nice (if not melancholy) background for some pictures.

Leaf-strewn pathway

Leaf-strewn pathway

Austria-1

Local schoolhouse

As sunrise got closer and closer, I made my way down to the shore of Wolfgangsee (Lake Wolfgang, in German), hoping for some good water shots.  It was one of those mornings that no photographer could screw up!  As the sun exploded over the surrounding mountains, autumn colors burst across the water and hilltops!

Sunrise over Wolfgangsee

Sunrise over Wolfgangsee

St. Gilgen

St. Gilgen

St. Gilgen

St. Gilgen

I made my way from the waterfront and turned my lens towards the town itself.

The onion-domed cathedral from the very first picture

The onion-domed cathedral from the very first picture

Up close

Up close

Cemetery with autumnal colors in the background

Cemetery with autumnal colors in the background

Lakeside street (hope you like orange!)

Lakeside street (hope you like orange!)

My phone’s alarm went off and I looked down.  It was 8:30am.  That only put me about 30 minutes behind.  I hurried back to the B&B.

Gasthof Kendler

Gasthof Kendler

I hopped into the A3, set the destination for the Sixt office in Berlin, laughed when I saw the estimated arrival time (5:38pm), and put my foot down as I scampered out of town.  But not before visiting my favorite hillside one more time.

St. Gilgen, Austria

St. Gilgen, Austria

To Berlin
You may wonder why there are no pictures of the drive to Berlin.  There wasn’t enough time!  I had time to stop for Red Bulls and restroom breaks, that was it.  I took advantage of the speed delimited portions of the autobahn, pushing the spunky little A3 to speeds of over 200km/h (120mph+) at times!  I safely screamed into Berlin and was able to get the keys to the desk at exactly just slightly a bit after 4pm.  It wasn’t a worry, however, no late charges or anything were charged when I told them about my journey (and complimented their English).  I then got directions to my hostel, checked in, and grabbed a quick nap before the CrossFit Invitational began!

St. Gilgen
You know, I’m not so sure what it is I love about St. Gilgen.  To me it just fits.  I really can’t explain it.  It was my favorite city in the world before I had ever been there, and my visit only confirmed it more.  I can’t wait to make it back, and encourage all of you to pay it a visit if you’re close by!

6 Comments

  1. That is a wonderful story Andy. Thank you for sharing it and congratulations on realizing another dream.

    Reply
  2. Beautiful pictures! Your trips are just awesome!

    Reply
  3. hi!
    may i know what camera were you using and which month of the year were you travelling in as im hoping to catch the fall foliage!

    grace

    Reply
    • These were shot with a Fuji X10 point and shoot, I need to go back again with my nice camera!

      Reply
      • which month did you travel?
        im headed there next week and hoping to catch the fall foliage ..u reckon i could get lucky?

        Reply
        • You might be ok, I think my trip was about a week or two later

          Reply

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