Hallstatt, Austria. A white wonderland dotted with cream-colored villages and small tendrils of smoke rising from white-topped houses. It was a fever dream the moment I stepped off the train and into a pile of freshly fallen snow. As if a postcard came to life, I stared in awe at the chain of ice-capped mountains that surrounded two small towns and a shimmering lake that rippled along with the wind. The heavy, tranquil blanket of snow that covered the land brought upon a peaceful silence, except for the quiet gurgle of the river that meandered near the tracks. As I continued past the train station, my senses were livid.
It was the sound of the snow crunching under my boots, the whistle of the wind, and the rustle of the everlasting pines that engulfed me into a magical world. It seemed as if every small movement brought a tingle to my ears as I tried to search for the source of the sound. Here and there, the rumble of a car engine and the scrape of a shovel pierced the still air; however, it still seemed to be an art within itself. It was as if nature and humanity met at a crossroad, blending into a circle of life. The sounds, so mundane yet so foreign, seemed to hold such deeper meaning in a place so different from home.
It was the taste of the fresh snow as it fell swiftly from the sky, the smooth creme of the hot chocolate as it warmed my soul, and the impeccable crispness of the glacial water as it cooled in the snowy air that nourished my spirit. As the snow continued to pelt down in silent waves, frosty ice crystals coated my hair and my clothes, leaving a small wet droplet as they melted away. The cold seemed to seep into my bones, and I was grateful to find a small Austrian coffee shop as a quick pitstop for some warm hot chocolate. The sweetness of cocoa and milk created a swirling blend that coated my tongue. Following that, a quick swig of clear glacial water just added to the beauty of the surrounding mountains, which were beginning to peek through the foggy haze that crowned their snowy tops.
It was the fresh smell of timber that wafted through the air as we continued to trek into the forest. Logs upon logs of wood lay in a pile under a light blanket of snow, as if it were to contain the comforting aroma. Upon first glance, it was just like any ordinary sight; however, as I stepped closer, I could smell an earthy sweetness, a deep scent of cedar and pine that engulfed the pile of wood. It instantly brought me a vision of a log cabin, warmed by a crackling fireplace, hidden away from others for miles. It reminded me of Christmas, but this time in a winter wonderland.
It was more so the lack of feeling in my freezing fingers and toes that jolted me from my winter fantasy in my head. As the snow fell upon my hoods and gloved fingers, the cold, dampness of my clothes became a numbing medicine. My feet, nestled between two socks and leather boots, stood no chance in the ice. Hours and hours of trekking forests, climbing mountains, and simply walking down the village streets, became increasingly more painful as each step came with a spiny, prickly sensation in addition to the biting cold.
Finally, it was the sight of the cascading chasms of mountain chains that will forever burn an image into my mind. The snow sitting upon treetops seemed to sharpen the minute details across the land. Despite the lazy blanket of fog that cast a gloomy, gray aura, the bright, glistening layer of snow was a stark contrast. The magnitude of the looming mountains seemed to stretch into the skies until finally, as the train began to depart the station, the clouds split apart, revealing a patch of baby blue skies.