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Wild and without a ticket

We’re on the road to Salzburg area – it’s only our third time hitchhiking and we’re apprehensive – the last time didn’t go so well. We want to get to a campsite on Wolfgangsee, a beautiful lake in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. 

There are two ramps on to the Autobahn in Schladming and we’re not sure which is best to hitchhike from. We decide on the ramp near Spar reasoning that there will be more traffic from the center heading out of town, and while we do get a lot of smiles no one stops to offer us a ride. After around an hour of no luck we consider trying the other location and in this very moment some random man comes over and tells us basically the same – the other ramp has more traffic heading towards Salzburg. Listening to advice from locals didn’t work so well when we were cold and miserable in St. Michael just a few days ago but who are we to hold grudges?

We don our packs and walk about half hour to the other point. It’s not ideal as we have to stand on the opposite side of the road so any car stopping will have to cross the traffic. Linda doesn’t care about ideals and pulls over, and we only waited a few minutes!

To get to Wolfgangsee we decided we would take the Autobahn to Salzburg and then get a ride from there, instead of heading over smaller roads directly to Wolfgangsee. We figured we could get to Salzburg and stay there with less trouble if we got stuck. Lucky for us Linda is going all the way to Salzburg, well just outside of Salzburg but how big can the town be really?

Of course we tell Linda about our mountain rescue ordeal, and low and behold – she is friends with the mountain rescue team. She.went.to.school.with.them. One of them was her primary school teacher. Most of them are her neighbours. Oh how embarrassing – and what a small world. We sink in shame while we tell her our rescue story while she giggles along. Happy to entertain you with our misfortune for a ride, and give our regards to Hans, Karli and all the other badass mountain men!

Linda drops us off near the airport in Salzburg after a beautiful drive through dramatic mountain scenery and fog engulfed valleys with incredible hill top castles protruding above the clouds. It’s pissing it down when we get out so we decide to take the cheap airport bus to Salzburg center – but it takes ages and the day is advancing fast.

When we finally get to the center the drizzle continues to lower the mood. We’re tired and hungry but there is nothing around apart from shit expensive food so we settle for bread and hummus from the supermarket.

We start thinking about possible hitch locations and realise we probably don’t have enough time to walk out of the city and find a ride. Luckily we’re quite under budget (just how exactly this is possible after an unplanned night in a fancy hotel room, we have no idea) and there is another bus going basically direct to our campsite on Wolfgangsee which to our pleasant surprise doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, like most buses in Austria. We hop on and enjoy the ride – chatting along with an old British couple on holiday, sitting in front of us!

Furry friends forever

After we put up our tent on the campsite, there is still a bit of daylight left. We could go to St. Wolfgang but Caroline spotted a petting zoo on Google maps, that supposedly has rabbits so alternative plans don’t really present any competition anymore. We ditch exploring Wolfgangsee and set off to the petting zoo immediately, the urge to hold a bunny is strong (at least for one of us) and leaves no time for other shenanigans. We will spare you the details of just how cute the bunnies were (and the goats, sheep, piggos etc.) but let me just say that they were VERY, VERY CUTE. See for it yourself.

Wok’n’Roll to the Schafbergbahn

After a peaceful night filled with dreams of happily hopping bunnies we’re ready to explore Wolfgangsee and its main village, St. Wolfgang and more importantly take a ride on the Schafbergbahn, a mega cute train going up a steep mountain in Wes Anderson style. But first it’s time to take another adorable transport, a tiny ferry with a capacity of five passengers that takes us on a <10 mins journey across the lake, Wolfgangsee. It costs about one euro per minute but I guess that’s just the first taste of pricey St. Wolfgang.

Caroline on the ferry to St Wolfgang with the Austrian flag blowing in the breeze

Once we arrive, we walk around the picturesque little town and feel vaguely reminded of Hallstatt, especially in terms of food choices. We end up eating at a surprisingly delicious Asian food stand with a name that makes us cringe and nerdily laugh at the same time (Looking at you, Wok’n’Roll!), then buy a pair of badly needed gloves for Aydin because his were collateral damage in the rescue operation and finally head to the Schafbergbahn station.

Ghost train

We’re no friends of getting up early so by the time we get to the station it’s way too late for the hike we had envisaged. We opt for a compromise: take the train to the middle station and then hike back down. We try to combat our disappointment over not getting to the highest point by reasoning that it’s super foggy and grim so we wouldn’t be able to get a view from the top anyway. It’s pretty clear that most people just take the train up and down; after giving us a strange look when we ask for middle station tickets (yes, one way), the sales person tells us to watch out because it will be dark soon and the weather will get worse. Yeah thanks, we learnt our lesson already!

We hop onto the super adorable little mountain train and start our journey which takes us up on a steep railway track. We can only guess how scary/stunning it could be because we’re completely engulfed in fog. It’s like driving through a ghost land!

Suddenly the middle station emerges, we get up, ready to exit the train… but it doesn’t stop. We try to wave to the train conductor but the weather is so bad that he can’t even see into our carriage. Sinking back in our seats, we are utterly flabbergasted and somewhere between joy (we’ll make it to the top after all, and for free!) and frustration (how on earth did no one bother to check if anyone wanted to get out?). We also realise that we won’t be hiking today, by the time the train gets to the top, it’ll be too late and too far to attempt to walk down – actually we can be grateful to even make the last train back down!

The top is ice cold, windy and eerie. The pub and mountain hut already closed down for the winter season and you can’t see two meters in front of you. The wind howls and we have to place each step rather carefully since there are sheer drops and no visibility.

It’s a stark contrast to the pictures we’ve seen from warmer times where it’s bustling with tourists and you can see for miles and enjoy the stunning view over Wolfgangsee and the other beautiful lakes. Nonetheless we enjoy it, it’s an adventure. It’s a special feeling and if it wasn’t for the other train passengers, we could easily imagine that we were the only people in the world. Luckily that’s not the case and the last train down comes to mind – We’re late again of course so we gallop to the station, hop onto the train and wait to see what will happen since we don’t have a return ticket and can’t see any staff anywhere.

Well, the train starts moving and we enjoy the ride down and exit the station without anyone asking for our ticket. Guess no one could be bothered to check the last ride of the day which we don’t mind at all. The train is beautiful but expensive, so in the end we didn’t get our hike but at least we didn’t have to pay for something we didn’t want in the first place. Success.

Boardwalk bozos

It might have been the last train of the day but there’s still time before darkness sets in and we feel queasy after just sitting on our bums all day long. To get a bit of movement we set out to walk along the shores of Wolfgangsee back to the campsite. The first part is pretty disappointing, we have to walk next to the busy road that separates us from the lake. Once we get to the actual nice bit, a big fat sign obstructs the access to the path, instructing us to continue on the road instead. Hell no, we’ve had enough of inhaling fumes and the path looks fine, besides, you can always turn around, right?

We jump over the barrier and stroll on, followed by another couple who seemed to have been reassured by our decision (HAHAHA, PLS DON’T DO THAT). Not long after, we reach a delightful boardwalk weaving around the cliffs that line Wolfgangsee. We’re half expecting to land in the water any minute now due to a massive hole in the wood or something (the sign must have been there for a reason right) but soon reach solid ground again and realise that the sign has been there for no reason. Just as we step onto the promenade of Strobl, we see a cyclist lifting his bike over the barrier on this side which 100% convinces us that no one adheres to the rules here. Badass.

Pizza and a pawdyguard

We were already hungry an hour ago as we passed a delicious looking pizza sign and now that we arrived in the tiny town Strobl we won’t settle for anything less. It’s a weird atmosphere here too, lovely promenade and old houses combined with a massive abandoned hotel right at the lake front. You always get the best impressions of touristy places when you visit off season, which we tend to do quite a lot. It comes with benefits such as saving money and having fewer people in your photos but also with a big downside: It’s cold and lots of places are closed. After walking around in the freezing cold we find an open Italian restaurant (we’re the only guests of course), devour another average pizza (many more of them to come) and head on back to the campsite. It’s a long way, it’s chilly and getting dark.

As we leave the town a little furry fella joins us and decides to guide us through the dark forest and as if that wouldn’t be magical enough already, the kitty shows us the way to a secret beach where the three of us enjoy a crazy sunset together, right before a dog comes and scares our little friend away.

Wolfgangsee sunset panorama from a secret beach
Click that badboy and immerse yourself in the beauty

All by ourselves we walk through the darkness until we reach the street our campsite is on. We’re not even tired and the prospect of our cold tent is daunting (We already established how depressing cold nights without a drink on a lake can be) so we head to the local Gasthaus where we get the usual stares but also free sweets with our pints. Eventually we get in our sleeping bags. Tomorrow we want to hitchhike to Salzburg where we managed to get a Couchsurfing place, and Aydin has ambitious plans for the morning!

Accidentally Wes Anderson in St. Gilgen

On our bus journey to Wolfgangsee I saw some cute cable cars near St. Gilgen that I wanted to photograph so on the last day before we plan on heading to Salzburg I get up early and borrow a bike from the campsite – it is about 6KM, a half hour ride, which is pretty wonderful considering the surroundings.

When I arrive I lock up the bike and snap a few shots, but it’s not good enough, not close enough. I have a quick look on maps.me and there seems to be a hiking trail that looks like it crosses under the cable cars – so off I go. Even if I don’t get a good shot the views across Wolfgangsee are incredible regardless, so it’s all in good fun. The path rises quickly and I hurry along getting very sweaty. I pass Gasthaus Weißwand and then follow the path for a little longer – I’m now directly under the cable cars. There is a gate and a sign stating not to cross when the cars are approaching – I look left and right, wait for my opportunity and hop across, ducking my head just in case. It is the perfect spot!

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

A lot of tour providers provide day trips from Salzburg to St. Wolfgang but we prefer the cheaper option! Bus 150 goes to Wolfgangsee from Salzburg main station every half an hour. Fun fact: Our campsite on the lake was in Gschwandt. Right next to it starts a village called Gschwand. The next one is Gschwendt. And our bus stop was called… none of the three but SCHWAND! Good thing we’re here to make it easier for you. If you stay at one of the campsites, get off at Schwand. If you’re on a day trip, we advise two ways to St. Wolfgang: 1. Get off at St. Gilgen Busbahnhof (Raiffeisenplatz) and take the ferry to St. Wolfgang, 2. Get off at Strobl Busbahnhof and take another short bus ride on the 546 line to St. Wolfgang.

Accommodation

It’s a pricey area. We opted for one of the many campsites around Abersee, just opposite St. Wolfgang. There’s a little ferry boat going to St. Wolfgang quite frequently, the camp grounds all look decent and most of them accept the ACSI Camping Card which means we paid about EUR 20,–/night for two people and one tent including taxes. Camping in Austria is not cheap!

Hikes

We didn’t get to do the hike we wanted to, but we will be back, for sure. If you are interested in hiking to the top of Schafberg then take a look on the Schafbergbahn website. Route number 5 goes from Wolfgang to the summit of Schafberg.

Pro Tip

Go to the secret beach, take a beer and watch the sunset. When the sun goes down St Wolfgang will begin to light up and the reflections will alluringly glimmer in the lake.

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