Heiligenblut

After our overly eventful day spent with horses the day before, we departed Maria Lankowitz to drive to one of my most anticipated destinations in all of Austria.  We were headed to the little town of Heiligenblut, nestled at the base of Austria’s highest mountain, at the edge of the massive Hohe Tauern National Park, and at the beginning of the High Alpine Road.  We’ve travelled to a few spots in the Austrian Alps before — Innsbruck, Reutte and Alpbach — but I was particularly excited to see Austria’s tallest mountain, the Großglockner, and to travel along the High Alpine Road.

"We're halfway there!"

“We’re halfway there!”

But our task for this day was to simply get to Heiligenblut, a 3 hour mountainous drive from Maria Lankowitz.  Unlike our first travel day to Maria Lankowitz, the novelty of being in the car had somewhat worn off, and though the kids were remarkably patient, they weren’t quite as enthusiastic as they had been the first day.  It was a beautiful drive, with lots of mountain views, some rain, some sun, and a little getting lost (not too badly, though).We did well.  Road trips in Europe are different than at home.  Every single time we travel in Europe (not counting the UK, which is very slightly more similar to travelling in the US), the most challenging part of our trip is finding a place to eat.  In the U.S., this is not a problem.  Major highways are well populated with fast food drive through restaurants and rest areas to stop.  Large and medium sized towns can also be counted on to be full of drive through fast food, or at least quick-service chain restaurants.  None of that exists here.  (There are drive through fast food restaurants in Austria, but they are extremely rare and I’ve never been through one.  We did go to one in Germany, once, and we were so excited about it.)  When it’s time for lunch on the road, we have to figure out which local Gasthaus we’d like to stop at.  Inevitably, even a “simple” lunch will take an hour (more likely two) and there’s very little way to tell, before we stop, whether the meal will be any good (though most are).  Seriously, I love the fact that Austrians are less obsessed with fast food than Americans are . . . except when we’re on a road trip.

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265269277By the time we had gotten ourselves some lunch, and taken a trip through some very long tunnels through the mountains (the longest one we went through, the Oswaldiberg tunnel, was over 4km — about 2.5 miles — which is long enough to be a bit disconcerting), we were almost there.  We started to see snow-covered mountaintops nearby (even though it was July 1), and we impulsively stopped at a beautiful waterfall just a few miles from our destination.  THIS is the kind of thing I was excited to go see!  Waterfalls and snow in the mountains in July!

299But, even given the amazing scenery along the way, Heiligenblut managed to be even more beautiful than I had expected.  It looked exactly like every single postcard I’d ever seen (or even imagined) from the Austrian Alps.  The little town is loosely arranged around a 600 year old church, with ski lifts and cow fields peppered on the hillsides.  The Großglockner iteself stands imposing and snow covered just behind the town.  I was instantly in love, and only happier to find that our hotel (Hotel Kaiservilla) was gorgeous and run by a very kind and friendly Dutch couple who absolutely adore kids.  Even better — the hotel was to be nearly empty for the days we were staying there, and they had given us a huge room with the best view in the place.  It was everything I wanted it to be!

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After getting settled and enjoying the view for a bit (the kids got out their binoculars to give it a closer inspection), we headed out for dinner (getting slightly lost along the way — Heiligenblut is a tiny town, but there are lots of equally tiny mountain roads winding through and around the area . . . and very few of them have signs . . . and several didn’t exist according to our GPS).  We ate in a little restaurant/hotel combination across the valley from where we were staying.  We had a lovely, simple Austrian meal, and while we waited for the food to arrive (and then after we had finished) the boys played outside in the playground on the edge of the forest, and visited with the resident bunny rabbit.  As they were finishing their playtime, I noticed some animals grazing high up on the steep mountainside.  I watched them, trying to figure out what they might be (remembering our wild mountain goat experience from last fall) when I finally realized that they were horses!  I was trying to imagine how anyone ever got up there to get them down when they suddenly decided to make their way down the mountain and into the neighboring field.  (Looks like a pretty great place to be a horse, but I wouldn’t want the job of bringing one in that didn’t want to be caught!)

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It was a great day.  I was so excited to get on with exploring this part of Austria, and so thrilled to be exactly where I was.  (Unfortunately, we finished our evening out by attempting . . . and failing . . . to remove a splinter from poor Liam’s finger.  That’s the down side to all of the great, rustic, wooden playground equipment in Austria.)

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