Leaving Heiligenblut

Back to our adventures from our summer vacation

We had spent 4 lovely days in Heiligenblut.  We had ridden on cable cars, seen Austria’s tallest mountain, visited a shrinking glacier, had several snowball fights, driven through the high Alps and generally fallen in love with the beautiful town.  We were sad to be leaving, but excited to go to one of our favorite vacation spots in Austria — a tranquil mountainside farm, just outside of Salzburg.  Besides, to get there, we’d have to drive on the High Alpine Road one more time.


We finished packing, said goodbye to an overcast Heiligenblut, and headed up the mountain once more.  But, what started as a cloudy morning in the valley became an intensely foggy one up in the higher elevations.  Like, “I really hope there’s a road out there somewhere” foggy.  So, we weren’t treated to any of the spectacular views we’d enjoyed earlier in the week, but we did discover our favorite playground ever (well, my favorite, at least) when we were almost down the other side.




It had swings, climbing ropes and other normal stuff, but it also had stuff to dig and “pan for gold” (something that the area is known for) and, in one corner of the playground, a little spring-fed mountain stream trickled in.  The playground had all of these great basins, drains, chutes and canals to contain, redirect and channel the water.  The boys and I spent a few hours sending the water through a house, under a bridge and through a water wheel.  It was a ton of fun, and the whole setup encouraged the boys to plan and strategize, and then to be patient as the water filled up the basins enough to follow whatever route they had chosen.  I absolutely loved it.  (And, like everything in that area, the view was amazing.)




After finally getting under way again, and stopping for lunch at the only food truck I’ve ever seen in Austria (Der Burger Baron), we made our way though the mountains towards Salzburg.  The mountains, though still large and imposing, looked different from those we’d grown accustomed to in our few days along the High Alpine Road — as B said, “If there’s no snow, it’s not a mountain.”  (Even though it was early July!  Our perspective had definitely been altered.)


We finally made our way to Sankt Koloman, our destination.  We had made it back to one of our favorite spots in all of Austria, and we were truly happy to be there again.  (I even got to see a fireworks display down in the valley that night, like a slightly delayed July 4th celebration!)


High Alpine Road — day 1

Our next morning in Heiligenblut started out with sunshine instead of rain, so we decided it was finally time to finally drive up the High Alpine Road, to see what there was to see.  Since the first time I’d heard about this place, I was eager to check it out — 30 miles through the high Alps, with information stops, playground, restaurants, overlooks, and even a glacier!  We truly didn’t know how it was going to go, though — how many spots along the road would we want to stop at, how long would we visit the various sites, how much would we really enjoy it, would there be fun stuff for the kids?

We headed out to find out.  The High Alpine Road is only open for a few months every year, because keeping it free of snow would be an impossible task, though some parts are accessible to skiers through the winter.  In the summer, you pay a fee to drive along the road, unless you have a Kärtnen card (which we did, thanks to our hotel) which makes entrance to the road, the cable cars, and lots of other things completely free.


Right away, we knew we were not going to be disappointed.  The views along the road were beautiful.  We passed through mountain meadows and along steep cliff faces.  We passed under the cable car we’d ridden in the day before and saw several gorgeous waterfalls.  It was spectacular.


525Our first actual stop was at the Pasterze glacier.  We had heard, from our hosts at the hotel, that the glacier had really melted a lot in recent years.  They weren’t kidding.  Although the view of the top of the Großglockner was truly impressive (as were the tracks we could see in the snow from the brave people who had climbed to the summit recently), seeing the size of the glacier, and beginning to understand the volume of ice that has been lost, was shocking and very sad.  Back in the 1960s, a funicular was constructed to allow tourists easy access to the actual glacier — you could take the funicular down from the parking lot area off of the High Alpine Road and actually walk right up to the glacier.  We only hiked down a little way, but a lot has changed in the last 50+ years.  Now, it takes a couple of hours of hiking from the end of the funicular in order to reach the actual glacier.  This little bit of ice, off in the distance, reached to where I was standing to take this picture only 44 years ago.  It used to fill up the entire valley, and now it has retreated to just one end.  The loss of ice and water in this one spot is absolutely stunning.  (And the pictures don’t even really convey the scope of the situation.  This valley is HUGE.  The little “puddle” down in the bottom is a massive lake.  I invite anyone who disbelieves human-cased climate change to visit a place like this, see the extent of ice loss, and see if it doesn’t change your mind.)



It was beyond our energy and ability to hike down to the glacier with the kids (actually, I think we could have hiked DOWN just fine, but getting back might have been a challenge, because I think we would have had to carry them most of the way back up), so we satisfied ourselves with a quick walk down to get a good view of the glacier, and then we moved on along down the road.


Our next stop for the day was at a great Alpine playground (which was co-located with a lovely restaurant, where we had lunch).  It was everything I love about Austrian playgrounds — lots of physical challenges for the boys, like zip lines, rope bridges and slides — but with an amazing view (we seem to find a lot of playgrounds with great views in our travels)!



After wearing ourselves out for a few hours at the beautiful playground, we made a stop by our favorite snow spot (the same one from the day before, but this time we reached it by car) for another snowball fight.


We drove on a bit further (as far as the kids’ patience allowed — it had already been a long day) and got the chance to stop at some overlooks and scenic viewpoints with absolutely unbelievable vistas.  It was an amazing place.  Everywhere we looked, there was another beautiful view that didn’t quite seem real.




After a bit, we headed back to Heiligenblut, and then back out, far up the side of the valley, for a wonderful dinner (the best meal we had on our whole trip) with an amazing view of the town and the mountains.  After our first day on the High Alpine Road, I was thrilled with what we’d seen . . . and we’d only seen about 12 miles of the road so far!




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.





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!


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!)


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.)

Maria Lankowitz

We got back from our summer vacation nearly 4 weeks ago.  Since then, we’ve had a family-wide bout of miserable stomach illness and 3 of the 4 of us have had birthdays.  We’ve been busy.  But here I am, less than a month later, writing my first post about our trip.  Based on my track record (I still have posts to write about last year’s summer vacation — more from that trip soon), this is pretty great.


So, it was the last Sunday in June, we had just had B’s birthday party the day before and we were ready to embark on our 2 week Austrian vacation.  The plan was to see some parts of Austria that we hadn’t yet seen, and to visit some of our favorites again.  We opted to take this trip by car.  Our first stop was the tiny town of Maria Lankowitz in Styria (Steiermark).


The main purpose of going to that particular piece of Austria was to visit the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber, the neighboring town (get it . . . NEIGHboring???).  But, on the way, we got to drive into the beginnings of the southern Austrian mountains, which was just lovely.  My kids, who love car trips (since we don’t have a car and only ride in cars when we’re traveling) spent the first bit of the nearly 3 hour trip happily looking out of the windows.  But after about an hour, they resorted to frequently asking their own adaptation of every kid’s favorite road trip question (in our case, they went with “When will we be there?” instead of “Are we there yet?”, which at least allowed our answers to change as we got closer and closer).  We did finally arrive in the cute but VERY tiny town of Maria Lankowitz.


We got settled in to our apartment and went for a stroll around the town . . . which took about 10 minutes (20, if you count the run the boys took through a field).  Then, we went to find a place for dinner.  We were lucky enough to find a great place, with seating outdoors so we could enjoy the lovely evening and the scenery of the cute town.  The absolute best part for the boys was that there was a little plastic picnic table just for kids, and they decided they were going to eat their meal there (it didn’t last though the whole meal — it was a nice idea, but they needed help cutting their schnitzel).  I tried a “radler” for the first time (a mix of beer and soda — the type of soda varies by region) which is a brilliant invention, and we all had a nice meal and finished up our great evening by walking back to the apartment and listening to the cowbells from the cows grazing on the mountainside.  Our Austrian road trip had begun!




Closing the loop

I’m picking up again on the missing pieces of last year’s summer vacation (my goal is to finish these stories before this year’s summer vacation … which is in 2 1/2 weeks, so I wouldn’t count on it).  The next major part of our trip was our time in Ireland (including one of my favorite days ever in my life so far), but there are two little pieces of the trip in England that I’ve missed, so I’ll share them here.  (Looking back, I realize that there are actually LOTS of little pieces that I missed — the day we spent in England getting lost on purpose, dipping our feet in a lake and wandering through an unfenced field of free range sheep; the sheer entertainment of literally not being able to understand anything a native Glasgowian said at full speed; the pleasant afternoon we spent wandering around Fort William in Scotland and shopping for Scottish shortbread.  I’m sure there are more.  I’m a little horrified at how many little moments never made it to the blog, and which now probably won’t because I’m already struggling to catch up on this trip . . . 10 months after we took it.  I think I’m going to have to rethink this idea of not blogging on vacation.)




I don’t know how I missed writing about these particular moments.  (Chronologically, this piece goes between here and here, more or less.)  Our first time in the Lake District, we had an unfortunately early end to a drive we were taking when we got a flat tire.  We’d been in the process of driving a long loop through parts of the less crowded 20140528-154917-56957688.jpgnorth and west of the Lake District (the route came from Rick Steves’ UK guidebook).  I really wanted to continue and finish the tour, since we’d loved the first part (pre-flat) so much.  The landscape was just beautiful, and we’d had great fun making an impromptu stop along a lake.  So on this second trip, we bravely set off again.  This time, instead of stopping for a wade in a lake, we stopped for a quick hike at the top of the Newlands Pass.  We worked our way up the narrow track until it became too muddy and slippery, and we had to turn back.  The boys were impressively enthusiastic about it, though — I think they would have climbed to the top of the waterfall if we’d let them!  We continued our drive around the loop, passing (with crossed fingers) the scene of our flat tire last time, and found ourselves a little place to stop for lunch, with a yard full of toys for the kids.  It was one of the few times I can ever think of that we’ve been able to sit outside in the shade and enjoy a meal while the kids played mostly independently.  The boys stopped by every so often for a quick bite of a sandwich, and then were off again to play some more.


After lunch, we diverted from the path to try and find a river swimming/wading/splashing spot recommended by our innkeepers.  We did find it, eventually, after driving down a muddy and rutted path that may not have been intended for cars and which was well marked with “no trespassing” (the problem was that once we started down, there was nothing to do but continue), and at whose end Benjamin refused to leave the car (Liam and Dan did enjoy a bit of splashing time, though).  After that, though, we were all very worn out, so rather than finish the loop, we returned by the direct route to the inn for a nap, some tea, and a walk to feed the resident donkeys (which ended in a sprint home to beat the impending rain storm).


If at all possible, though, I really wanted to finish the loop, because we’d so enjoyed all the pieces we’d explored so far.  But, we were fast running out of time in England.  On our last full day in England before we drove north to Scotland, it was rainy and chilly and kind of dreary.  In the morning, we’d been to the Castlerigg Stone Circle (so, chronologically, this bit should go between here and here).  But it was still early in the day and we wanted to explore a bit more.  So, we drove out and again picked up the loop roughly where we had left off, and continued our exploration.  We took a side trip up the “hill” (they have impressive hills in this part of the world) away from the lake.  It was a steep and narrow journey which first brought us to a tiny stone bridge over a roaring creek and then, suddenly, around a corner to an amazing view of the lake (Derwent Water) below.  That vista alone was well worth the journey.


We continued on to the surprisingly remote and tiny town of Watendlath, high up in the hills, but with a lake of its own.  After our journey up into the hills and then back down to the lakeside, we did, finally, finish the loop we’d been working on over two summers. We finally finished the whole “hour-long” drive.  It only took us a year.


The Wild, Hairy Haggises and the Hogwarts Express

And now another installment in my much overdue recounting of our vacation to the UK last summer . . .

Our first day through Scotland last August was a little insane.  We took a 2-3 hour drive and made it into an 8 hour drive.  We drove through or stopped by at least a half dozen places I’d like to go back and see again.  But we were only just beginning.

My main reason for wanting to come to that particular piece of Scotland, both on this trip and on our previous one (where it didn’t work out) was Harry Potter.  Or, more specifically, the Hogwarts Express.  Harry’s journey to Hogwarts in the movies was mostly filmed along an actual train line in western Scotland.  It’s possible to actually ride a steam train along the route they used for filming, but we knew we’d want to explore along the way, so we drove the (theoretical) hour each way.  (Of course, it took us much longer, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!)


We started our day with a trip to the grocery store to pick out a picnic lunch.  (Wherever in the world we are, grocery shopping is always an adventure.)  Once we had managed that, we got on our way.  From the very beginning of the journey, we’d catch snips of views and vistas that were familiar from the movies, but a lot of the scenery was obscured by trees.  No worries, it was still beautiful.  Our first real stop along the way was one of the most iconic images from the movies — the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  It was pretty cool to stop and see it, and a nice piece of our ongoing collection of visits to Harry Potter places.


We walked around a bit, and the boys really wanted to cross the road to check out the loch across the way.  While Dan and the kids began their explorations, I explored the gift shop.  I’d been looking for something small, kid-friendly and iconic to get them as souvenirs, and I found exactly what I was looking for: the “Wild, Hairy Haggis“.

401Most people have heard of the traditional Scottish dish called haggis (which Dan tried on this trip and which I tasted … REALLY not my thing) but the Haggis creature is not as well known (mostly because it’s entirely made up).  They are sweet little stuffed animals with a cute story, so I got one for each of the boys.  It was love at first sight, and our new Haggises were excellent companions for the rest of our trip, immediately befriending Ignis, who was also journeying with us.  (Dragons feel very much at home in Scotland, as it turns out.)

I am so glad that the boys were dying to play at the loch, because it would up being not only one of the most beautiful spots we visited in all of Scotland (which is truly saying something) but also another staple from the Harry Potter movies — this lake, Loch Shiel, across from Glenfinnan Viaduct, is known as the Black Lake at the foot of Hogwarts Castle in the movies.  And it was absolutely stunning.  (I love Scotland.)





438As we trekked on, we again found many places worth stopping for a look.  (Did I mention that I love Scotland?)  And we caught many views of the train line we were following.  The further north we got, the more rugged, and the more coastal, things became.  We eventually started looking for a place to picnic, and found a beach on a river that looked public and promising.  We ate our sandwiches and played in the sand.  B bravely waded into the frigid (even in August) water.  We watched people play with their dogs and saw a big group of kayakers arrive along the beach.  We got a bit chilled and very sandy, but it was a great picnic.




We continued on to our “destination” (pretty much as far as you can go in that direction without catching the ferry to the Isle of Skye, which, incidentally, I wish we’d done) — Mallaig, a tiny fishing town, and the farthest north I’ve ever been in my life.  We stopped for an ice cream and then turned around to repeat the beautiful journey back in the other direction.  It was another amazing, beautiful day in a stunningly gorgeous place.  We chose this place to see where the Hogwarts Express made its trip, but that had almost nothing to do with how much we loved our time there.


Never to be seen again

A few weeks ago, I said I was going to spend a day each week catching up on old things I meant to write but never did.  I haven’t.  But today I shall!  I have a ton of notes and memories jotted down from our summer trip to the UK last year.  Already, some of the details are starting to fade, which makes writing about it daunting … but I also know that my memory is only going to get worse as time goes on, so I’d better get on with it!

When last I wrote about our trip to England, I was explaining about how welcome we all feel when we visit our favorite place in the Lake District.  It’s beautiful and charming with gracious hosts, fantastic food and stunning views.  Plus, it’s in at least one of Beatrix Potter’s stories, so it’s a definite win across the board.  (Go there and stay.  Eat scones.  You’re welcome.)


After a few days, though, our lovely time in the Lake District was at and end.  We took a short journey up to the unintelligible city of Glasgow (seriously, I had no idea what anyone was saying — I do better in Austria).  Glasgow was just an overnight stop on our way further into Scotland, though.


On our last trip, the Scotland piece of our journey got seriously truncated because first B, and then Liam, got sick.  So last time, instead of venturing up into the Highlands, we stopped at Lockerbie (which I think may actually be the first exit off the highway upon entering Scotland) and, from there only got as far as Edinburgh, once we were all (mostly) feeling better.  This time, I was absolutely set on seeing more of Scotland … and I was in no way disappointed.


Our plan for that first day was to journey from Glasgow up to Fort William in the Western Highlands.  It SHOULD have been a 2-3 hour drive plus stops for lunch, leg stretching and appreciating the scenery.  It took us over 8.  Scotland is amazing and beautiful and we could not resist stopping constantly and taking tons of “optional” detours.

20140430-152958.jpgWe played at a playground next to Loch Lomond.  We stopped and got suddenly and thoroughly drenched at the “Rest and Be Thankful” pass (we had hot chocolate there, too).  We drove alongside the ocean to Inveraray where we had lunch and played on the slippery shore of the sea (take a look at a map … it was NOT at all “on the way”).  We spent 10 miles driving through beautiful and rugged Scottish countryside along a raging whitewater river on a single lane gravel road.  (The GPS sent us that way, and every time we had to pass another car I was sure we were about to end up IN the raging river.  I was also absolutely sure we were going to end up as one of those apocryphal stories about “the dumb and fatal things people do because their SatNav says to”.  But we didn’t and it was beautiful.  I’m glad Dan made the decision to continue on that way . . . against my objections.  It sure beat the motorway!)  We took an essential potty break (a new, but important part of travel for us — on our last road trip, it was just the adults using the bathrooms, so there were many fewer bathroom stops) at the Glencoe Mountain Resort, which feels like it actually might be on another planet, at the top of the world, or perhaps straight from the Hobbit.


Scotland — you are beautiful.  The parts of Scotland that we saw (and this was all just our first day!) were stunning, vast, and wildly beautiful.  I don’t know exactly what I expected Scotland to be like, but it wasn’t whatever I expected.  It’s really … big … open … mountainous … and it’s also mostly by the sea.  It is not just like Ireland, nor like England.  It is wonderful in its own right.


And that is why it took us almost 4 times as long as it was supposed to — because we fell in love and could not tear ourselves away.  August 3, 2013 was the day I fell in love with Scotland.  It was worth every single minute of that 8 hour “2 hour drive”, and I would do it all again, anytime.  (Though maybe not in the winter, because those roads were treacherous enough in summer!)





For our last full day in the Alps south of Salzburg, we decided to drive up a mountain close to the farm where we were staying.  Twice before, we’ve stayed at this farm, and each time, we’ve attempted to drive up this mountain.  Both times before, we were thwarted by snow.

108The first time (last October), what was a gentle drizzle at the farm became an icy mess and furious flurries with seriously obscured visibility as we made our way almost to the top.  The second time (late last March), the road was simply impassable due to heavy amounts of snow.  But, the third time is theoretically the charm, so we decided to try again.  The weather was relatively warm (nearly 60 at the farm — closer to 40 at the top) and although there had been snow several days before, the forecast was for clear skies.  We went to the grocery store, selected picnic items, and set off.


Unlike our previous attempts, this time the visibility was good, and we got to enjoy the view.  Every time we go up into the Alps, I’m amazed by the vastness of the expanse of peaks we can see marching off into the distance — although the valleys in between are cozy, with tiny towns, the mountains are jagged and gray and, even in mid-October, mostly snow covered.  They are intimidating, they are wild, and we were driving up the side of one of them.


In addition to a criss-cross of stone, wood and wire fencing used to section off cattle who graze up here in the summer, Trattbergalm has lots of hiking/cross country skiing trails (all marked as “moderate” or “significant” challenges — in other words, not for hiking with the kids), several parking areas, and even a few mountain hut restaurants.  We found a parking area with a scenic spot nearby (with extra credit for the fences situated between us and the edge) and enjoyed our picnic overlooking a stretch of the central Austrian Alps.

131On our way back to the car, we were intrigued by a large-ish, furry looking, black and white shape coming down from the peak behind a couple of hikers.  Was it a dog?  It looked too big.  Was it a cow?  It moved pretty quickly for a cow on the kind of slope, and besides, they would have all gone back down to their valley or mountainside farms at the end of the summer.  Honestly, I was thinking it was a pony or maybe a small donkey, until it came farther down the slope and we saw that it was a (for real) mountain goat, with a black front half, a white back half and massive horns.


After watching it descend the hill and wander towards the parking lot, we retreated to the car, but kept watching.  (None of my many pictures came out very well — I felt like I was trying to photograph the Loch Ness Monster.)  It wandered around the parking area for a bit, and then walked off down the road.  According to the hikers we saw coming down with it, they had climbed to the top of the mountain, and started back down when they suddenly realized there was this sizable goat following right behind them.  (That must have been pretty nerve-wracking!)


After a bit, and a short way (away from the goat), we got back in the car and drove on (after the goat) and eventually came to end of the road.  We parked again and followed the path (and some signs) to a mountain restaurant where we enjoyed mugs of hot 148chocolate while the kids played on the playground and washed their hands in mountain spring water.  It had gotten quite chilly as the sun set behind the peak, and we soon headed back to the car to warm up.

We had a great day — and I’m glad we finally made it up the mountain as far as we could drive.  So many of the things we’ve seen on these adventures seem so perfect, so lovely and exactly what we’d wish to see, that it’s hard to remember at times that they aren’t just a put on for the tourists.  The mountain goat, the Alpine view, the hot chocolate from the hut at the top of the snow-dotted mountain, the fresh mountain spring, the cattle grids for the cows that spend the hot summers on the top of the cool mountain … that’s just how it is there.  You start to 158wonder if there isn’t someone in the background saying, “Cue the goat!”, but it’s really just life in this part of the world.  We just happened to visit and get to enjoy it on a (relatively) warm Monday in October.

On the way back to the farm, we drove through a tiny town whose church bells were ringing the hour and past a pair of deer grazing along the side of the road without concern, neither of which did anything to erase the impression of too-perfectness.  But that’s how it was.  Just almost too perfect, and a wonderful end to this adventure in the mountains.


After our chaotic first day of our most recent trip to the Salzburg area, I was really looking forward to doing something fun.  Our plan for the second day was to visit Hallstatt, a tiny, ancient town in the Salzkammergut.


Golling, on the way to Hallstatt from Sankt Koloman

Hallstatt has been on my list of places to visit since we first began to even consider a move to Austria.  One of the first things we did when we started pondering our relocation was to watch Rick Steves’ program about Austria.  That first information inspired many of our early explorations here (including our bike trip along the Danube last year).  I came away truly charmed by the idea of Hallstatt, and I knew we’d want to go while we were here.  So far, it was the last remaining place on that first list we made of places to see, and it was actually the main inspiration behind this particular weekend away.  I didn’t want to risk NOT seeing it while we live in Austria, especially since I’ve truly been looking forward to it from the beginning.

074It lived up to every expectation.

We were in the mountains, to be sure.  It was several degrees colder when we got out of the car than it had been when we got in, and the height of the peaks, coupled with the already decreasing height of the sun’s arc through the sky meant that the sun set and rose again several times during our visit.

We started (as we so often do) with a stop in the playground in the neighboring town of Lahn.  Vehicular traffic is severely limited within Hallstatt, so you have to park in the next town over and walk.  Along the way, we were greeted by swans, and we were completely charmed by our lakeside stroll to a town that looks more genuinely “Austrian” than any we’ve seen.


It’s not hard to believe that Hallstatt has been there a long time.  As Rick Steves points out, “There was a Hallstatt before there was a Rome”, although train service there didn’t begin until the late 1800s.  The labyrinth of winding, narrow streets, lined by gabled r087oofs and wooden-shuttered windows fronted by flower boxes full of pink, purple, white and red, and nearly absent of cars, made us feel like we’d stepped into another time.  Walking along the lake edge (there are only two streets that really cut lengthwise through the town — one along the lake, one up on the hillside) we were followed by hopeful swans, and we ended up in the main square, which was probably the most picturesque we’ve found in all of our travels.

I absolutely loved Hallstatt.  I loved the smell of the wood smoke, the gurgle of the waterfall the falls from the mountaintop behind the town, the rush of the crystal clear streams that rush through the town (and beneath many of the houses).  We spent a beautiful day there.  I’m so 091glad we went.

We ended our day at the docks, looking back over the town and dangling our (booted) feet in the water (trying to convince the ducks and swans that our rubber boots were not good to eat).  The moon rose over the mountain, and it got very chilly as the autumn evening fell, but it was perfect, beautiful and peaceful in Hallstatt.  (Of course, my phone ran out of battery about halfway through the day, so I don’t have nearly as many pictures as I’d like.  That’s ok.  I don’t think I’ll forget.)


The lost day

I had a plan.  (I always have a plan.)  The dog sitter was coming at 8:30 to pick up Bailey, Dan needed to pick up the car, we would have some last-minute packing to do, we all needed to have breakfast, and Dan and I each needed a shower.  I set my alarm for 7:30, with a goal of leaving the house at 10:00, but I really wanted to be on the road to Salzburg by 11:00.  We’d have a busy morning, but not a crazy one.

But, things did not go according to plan.  Dan, who was in charge of packing for this trip, left everything until the last minute.  The morning became a flurry of tracking down boots (Dan had packed two right foot boots in two different sizes for Liam), finding winter clothes and accessories not yet unearthed from last winter, and keeping the kids out of piles of semi-organized but as yet unpacked clothes.  But the last-minute packing was to be the smallest of our delays for the day.

Running only a little late (the 10:00 departure time was now impossible, but leaving at 11:00 was still a reasonable goal), Dan left to pick up the rental car from the other side of central Vienna.  And then he came right back, because he realized that he had booked the car for the wrong dates.  A somewhat frantic Germenglish phone call to the rental car company later, and he was off again, with a new car reserved.  Except that when he got there, it wasn’t there.  They had arranged to have the car brought over from another location (at the airport) but it wouldn’t be there … until noon.

Our schedule was quickly slipping away.  But Dan managed to get the car, install the two rented car seats, and get back to us by shortly after 12:30.  We were late, but it was still manageable.  We could still arrive by late afternoon, with time to relax before dinner.  We gathered up our things, got the shoes on the kids and went downstairs to pack the car … only to discover we had the wrong car seat for Benjamin.

We’ve run into this before.  B is quite small and light for his age, so when we reserve the correct seat for him and also provide his age, they second-guess us and provide him with a booster (appropriate for a bigger child, but also technically ok for a 5 year old).  Of course, he saw it and was so excited to have a “big kid” seat, so I was the most unpopular mommy (and wife) when I insisted we take it back and switch it for a regular car seat.

Of course, the original rental place didn’t have an appropriate seat, so we had to pick it up at yet another rental location.  The one *they* had was too small for B, though, so we had to switch Liam to the new seat and put B in the one that had been “Liam’s”.  Sigh.

At this point, we were exhausted, starving, and still in Vienna.  What’s another 40 minutes, though?  So we stopped for lunch.

At 3:45, we were finally all in the car, strapped into appropriate seats, fed, and on our way.  Nearly 6 hours after we had planned to leave.  6 hours late for a just-over-3-hour trip (really, closer to 4 hours with several bathroom breaks).  We could have almost driven to Salzburg and back in the time it took us to get out the door.

In all, it felt like the day that we didn’t have on our trip.  Instead of a leisurely drive, stopping as we liked along the way, we instead started out tired and wishing we were already at our destination.  Instead of having time to play and shop for groceries when we arrived, it was a stop at McDonald’s for dinner and then nearly straight to bed.

This was a hard one.  I try to be flexible.  I try not to let circumstances, mistakes or other frustrations take away from my experience of the moment.  I try to stay mindful of the fact that although our day did not go as intended, nothing actually bad happened.  I try to remember that we will remember this as a great, fun, relaxing trip, and that if remember the day spent watching tv and wandering through Vienna at all, it will probably be with humor.  It truly was a fine day.  At the end, we were safe and happy and where we wanted to be.  But this was a tough one for me in terms of staying positive and choosing to be happy.  I managed, but it wasn’t easy.