Can I cook you a good fish?

I discovered many of my favorite “back doors” thirty years ago. Back in the 1970s, places like Hallstatt (south of Salzburg, the gem town on the gem lake in a region of Austria where lakes and Alps are shuffled together like a game of 52 card pick up) were truly “Back Doors” – untouristed. Today, many have become not only touristy…but economically addicted to tourism. I’ve noticed, more than ever, they appreciate the business my guidebooks generate. In Paris, the mayor of my favorite Rue Cler neighborhood threw me a party in the local palace – all the hoteliers, restaurateurs, and shop keepers were there…best macaroons ever. In the Cinque Terre this spring, I was hanging out on the Vernazza harbor-front listening to the town troubadour sing a folk song – not knowing I was in the lyrics. When my name came around he turned to me and cranked up the volume. In Reutte, just over the border from Bavaria’s fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein, I was recently invited into the local knighthood. (You must be present to be knighted…so it’ll have to wait.) And yesterday, here in little Hallstatt, another of my headliner “discoveries,” my friend who runs a restaurant there welcomed me with Hallstatt’s standard “let me cook you a fish” greeting.

I sat under his wall full of big fish heads mounted like deer – gills spread like antlers. I stared at a tour group from Yokohama which filled a restaurant that once fed only locals. As the group headed out (they’ll be in Vienna in 4 hours), the waiter – in his ancient lederhosen – (which always remind me of a permanent wedgie) said “Japanese groups are very big this year.”

My challenge these days, along with finding untouristed places, is to find vivid cultural traditions that survive in places now well-discovered…like Hallstatt.

The next morning, as the sun rose late over the Alps towering above Hallstatt, the guy in the nearly rotten leather shorts took me for a spin in his classic boat. It was a ‘fuhr,’ a centuries-old boat design – made wide and flat for shipping heavy bushels of salt mined here across shallow waters. As he lunged rhythmically on the single oar, he said “an hour on the lake is like a day of vacation.” I asked about the oar lock, which looked like a skinny dog chew doughnut. He said “it’s made of the gut of a bull…not of cow…but a bull.”

Returning to the weathered timber boat house, we passed a teenage boy rhythmically grabbing trout from the fishermen’s pen and killing them one by one with a stern whack to the noggin. Another guy carried them to the tiny fishery where they were gutted by a guy who, forty years ago, did the stern whacking. A cat waits outside the door, confident his breakfast will be a good one. And restaurateurs and home-makers alike – whose dining rooms are decorated with trophies of big ones that didn’t get away – line up to buy fresh trout to feed the hungry tourists, and a good fish to cook for a special friend.

Comments

20 Replies to “Can I cook you a good fish?”

  1. Rick:
    I am enjoying your new blog. I followed Andrew’s trip last year. We’re never too old to learn new ways to communicate with each other. Keep up the blog, it’s fun to follow along day to day. I have started my own little travel blog.
    d1Carter Travels

  2. Finding the untouristy can be a challenge, but it is certainly a worthy one. Participating in a local celebration can feel untouristy, even in Paris. Last Friday we celebrated Bastille Day in France. Between the gallant fully decked out soldiers on horses in the parade, to 3 tons of fireworks choreographed to Mozart at the Eiffel tower, it was fantastic.

    Paris Plage starts next week, for several weeks the road next to the Seine is turned into a beach with areas to picnic, a swimming pool, and a place to play pentaque.

  3. Hi Rick – really enjoy reading the blog. Your books have been with me for a half dozen trips to Europe and it’s funny that no matter where one goes one runs into someone else toting a book of yours. Good conversation starter. I will be in the Cinque Terre in a couple of months. If I hear your name in a song, I’ll let you know!!

  4. Dear Rick,
    I didn’t know what a blog was but I think I figured it out by reading yours the last two days.
    I noticed you will be in Ireland on this trip. We went on the Ireland trip with Stephen starting June 11.
    When we were in Westport we were told of Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants, etc. We wanted Irish food, but not the fish and chips. We followed your suggestion and asked a local shop owner where a good restaurant was.
    After discussing it quickly with his wife, they both recommended the Lemon Peel restaurant. We went there and really had a treat.
    Please try to get there if you are in Westport on this trip. It is worth it!
    I am really enjoying this blog you have. Thanks for all you do and have taught me over the years.

  5. I really enjoy reading your blog, and all the responses. Please keep on blogging! After returning from 3 weeks of vacation in Europe, I am still on my “Europe mode” , my unforgetable friends and family who treated us so grantly, and with deeper connection ( we visited them 5 years ago ) , the home cooked meals they served , perhaps most of all, their love of life: relish each and every moment during meal times, savor each sip of coffee while taking an afternoon break. This is by far my most memorable trip, I know that I will go back again and again with my family.
    Keep on traveling, as you always say, thanks Rick.

  6. You’re hilarious and it’s extremely fun to read your blogs!
    Suggestion for Spain: Try the two-star hotel Penelope (hostel). Smack dab in the middle of Grenada and full of fun and local flavor at night! All kinds of wonderful food along that street, which is supposedly the longest. We visited there during the week before Easter this year and had a marvelous time! Good luck on your travels!
    An American Military Spouse in Germany….

  7. Rick,
    We took your advice last year and visited Hallstatt as part of our annual European vacation. There in the outdoor restaurant on the edge of the lake my family and I spent one of the most perfect and idylic evenings we have ever had. Great food, beautiful views and complete relaxation as we talked, read, and took pictures of the swan and other denizens of the lake. This year we just returned from Eastern Europe where we enjoyed similarly beautiful destinations thanks to your guidance. Thanks for leadings us in the right directions.

  8. Rick,
    What a great way to travel along with you. I have worn out several of your books visting various parts of Europe. I love Europe history and seeing it in person is the best. My favorite city is Vienna, so you can see I love hearing where you are and what you are doing.

    Keep up the great work and keep passing it along to us. I look forward to seeing your new shows.

  9. Hello Rick,

    Just wanted to thank you for your blog.When schedules
    don’t permit time to travel to Europe our family turns to
    your website and DVD’s for our dose travel adventures.

    How are prices in Europe now? Are there any bargains
    left in the major cities?

    Hope your journey is happy and safe. Keep Blogging!

    John Kopson

    p.s. our family owns a luxury villa in Cat Island , Bahamas
    (you can see it at: bahamasweb.com just look under
    Cat Island . Our Villa is called “Shining Star”.

    Let us know if you and your family want to visit and
    get permanent”sand in your shoes”. You could gladly be our guest.

  10. Thank you Rick for making Europe so accessible for your readers. My daughter and I traveled for 7 weeks last year and our trip could not have been better, thanks to your excellent advice! I tell all of my friends, “Rick Steves is right!!!” Loved Hallstatt, Vernazza, and Gimmelwald. We were fortunate to have the serene “dining on the lake experience” mentioned on the blog in Hallstatt and we never saw any tour groups. We are looking forward to returning with the rest of the family next week. Happy travels to you!

  11. Thanks for the blog. My husband and I visited Hallstatt 3 years ago because of your suggestion. We were there the end of July and it wasn’t very crowded at all. We stayed at a B&B you suggested at the top of the town. It was absolutely wonderful!! We visited the salt mine, rented a boat for an hour, then went on a hike to one of the local waterfalls which was beautiful!

    During our trip that year we also visited Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck in Austria, also Budapest and Prague. Although the big cities are beautiful and we enjoyed them a lot, my husband and I both agreed that the beauty of Hallstatt was absolutely amazing. And staying at a B&B high up on the hillside really added to our enjoyment.

    One final note on Hallstatt, it was the only place we could find Baunersmouss (I can’t remember how it’s spelled). We read that this was a traditional old Austrian dish which consisted of a couple different types of sausage on top of sauerkraut. My husband absolutely loved it!

  12. I’ve been to Salzburg, but not Hallstatt. Last year at Denver’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival I purchased an 8×10 photo print taken along the shore at Hallstatt. The couple running the business had large pictures displayed of both Hallstatt and Vernazza but I was surprised to learn that they were not ‘Rick-niks’.

  13. Rick, I’m gladdened that you are finally seeing the DAMAGE you have done over the years to your favorite European haunts by naming these villages, hotels, and restaurants in your shows (books are OK). You have ruined them for “Backdoor” travelers by making them “Frontdoor” attractions for thousands. I suggest you refrain from naming these places, and encourage travelers to find their own, with your assistance in the form of showing “typical” places and naming regions only. Maybe it’s not too late to save the precious locales and locals from your “discoveries”.

  14. I couldn’t agree less with the previous commenter. I’m thankful for the “DAMAGE” Rick has done — without his books, TV shows, and website, I would never have found many of my very favorite places in Europe. Moreover, the skills I’ve learned from Rick have allowed me to branch out and find “back doors” of my own. Sure, sometimes it would be great to see Rothenburg or stroll through the Rue Cler neighborhood without being surrounded by Rick’s readers, or even to visit Paola’s taverna in Rome without an hourlong line full of…Rick’s readers, but I’d rather see them en masse than miss them entirely because nobody told me they were there! Thanks, Rick. Love the blog.

  15. Jack and John’s comments made us snicker because without Rick’s suggestions over the year’s we would have never even left the couch to make the trip to Europe for the 3rd time.
    Yes, it’s sad to see the world getting smaller, less original, and spoiled but we would not have experienced the best times we had (and they appreciate the ecomonic help).
    Of course we would all like to keep all these treasures “our secret” so that they don’t turn into another tee-shirt vendor-stand like the former artist-street in Rockport.

    Next time you are in Cologne Germany visit the church’s basement with the treasures and relics and riches in this new museum/vault…there is also an old Roman aqueduct down there when the city was much lower…it’s not the usual place tourists find either…and we had the entire museum to ourselves, as the tour groups knew nothing about it.

    So thanks to Rick, we’ve become confident to travel, to try speaking the local language, and to meet th

  16. Rick,

    What I found most humorous – was seeing same people in different locations all armed with your guidebooks. It was like I was on tour with your readers – disturbing yet fun at the same time. This experience was very typical in many Western European countries.

    In Eastern Europe (Croatia, Hungary, Poland), many of these areas are still “off the beaten path” and your guidebook reader numbers are still low.

    Chris

  17. Thank you for your books, tv show and website. We took our 3 teens to Europe in June, our first trip. We had 2 weeks to see as much as possible. With the help of your books we saw Rome, Siena, Florence, Salzburg, Halltat, Vienna, and Budapest. We used a travel agent for part of the vacation (won’t do that again)but booked a zimmer in Hallstat from your book. It was our nicest accomodation and right at the base of the salt mine. We had a great time in the lake and hiking to the waterfall. The family liked Rome best for a man-created destination but Hallstat was our favorite God-created place!
    In Salzburg we really enjoyed your walking tour and discovering the student monk’s dorm. In Florence we attended the St. John the Baptist Festival and watched fireworks with most of Firenze! We were lucky to be in Europe during the World Cup, celebrating was contagious! We found traveling in Europe was easier than expected with the great public transportation-especially the train system.

  18. Hey Rick! Guess what? I SAW you in Hallstatt! Crazy, huh? You were with two camera guys feeding the swans as you were eating dinner. You might have noticed the two blonde girls with their “Opa” staring at you. haha We finally figured out it WAS you and we’ve been using your book our whole trip! Thanks for the good tips!

  19. Dear Rick,
    I just had to make a comment after reading several of your blog pages (I am now a dedicated reader!) and the comments posted by others. I participated in your 14-day tour of Europe last August and it was one of the best trips I have ever taken. And it truly changed my life! While in Gimmelwald (sp?), staying in the lovely hotel right under the incomparable Swiss Alps, I was inspired to find a permanent home for myself in the mountains in California once I returned from Europe. It took a few months to get my small business up and running, but by February I had quit my job, and in the spring of this year I bought a beautiful house in Idyllwild, California right on the National Forest.
    I have never been happier with a life choice, and I have you to thank! If I had not taken the trip to Europe and experienced the beauty of the Swiss Alps, I might never have had the courage to let go of the steady paycheck in favor of my new life of adventure. Thanks so much, Rick! I owe you one!

  20. Love the blog of yours. I have it on Yahoo alert so I don’t miss any and I read them everyday. VERY interesting and full of useful ideas. I can smell the fish frying now!!!

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