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!)



Other than the few weeks that we spent taking turns being sick around here, I’ve really loved the way we’ve spent our summer.  (And, even though I didn’t love being sick, I suppose the summer isn’t a particularly unpleasant time to be sick.)  Lately, I wake up in the mornings, at a leisurely hour of about 7:00, and I’m full of enthusiasm to start our day.

018Mostly, our days start with a relatively slow morning of breakfast and playing.  I might build some paper airplanes, wash a little laundry, or help to track down a missing toy.  Then, we go out for a walk, and usually end up at the playground for an hour or so.  As the weeks have gone on, the playground has become more and more shaded.  We’ve had more frequent rainy days, and the temperature has started to drop.  The ground has become gradually covered with a layer of leaves.  Yesterday, we spotted a mouse running across the playground, and we discovered him primarily because we heard him scurry across the fallen leaves.

034Most days, we don’t worry too much if the laundry all gets folded, if baths get done each day, or if we manage to get to bed at a “normal” hour every night.  We’ve let go of a lot of our schedule, relaxed a lot, and enjoyed the summer.  I’ve been having a great time.

Our summer started at the beginning of July with 2 weeks of vacation, and we followed that with about 2 weeks of being sick.  Then, it took me a few weeks to settle into this routine, so I feel like I’m just now getting the hang of this summer.  And it’s about to be over — school starts for Liam in 10 days, and for B in 11.  I can’t believe it went so fast.

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!



Playground Olympics

Living in Vienna is my first experience of living in any kind of big city.  When we lived in Virginia in the US, we lived in a very busy and crowded suburb, but it wasn’t the same as living in an actual city.  In a lot of ways, I think that particular suburb had a lot of the worst characteristics of city life (traffic, tons of people, noise, expensive housing) with very few of the redeeming qualities (walkability, sense of neighborhood, culture on your doorstep).

I have, however, both where I grew up and then living in Virginia as an adult, been fortunate to live in very culturally diverse places.  Living near Washington, DC does that — with so many people from international diplomatic services, as well as DC being the heart of the American government, there is an environment of cultural and ethnic diversity from around the world and throughout the US itself that’s pretty impressive.  Vienna has much the same situation — home to a main office of the UN, there is, by requirement, a vast international community, and, since we live in the very heart of the city, we get to experience the international feeling of a major city that is then amplified by the UN’s existence here.

As such, my kids are growing up in a very international environment.  Benjamin’s kindergarten class has kids from at least 5 different countries and Liam’s class has at least 6 nations represented — and each class only has 20 kids.

But school isn’t the only place we see this dynamic.  Living in Vienna’s 1st district (the central and oldest part of the city) we encounter this international feeling all the time.  It’s entirely common to take a trip to the playground and meet children from all over the world.  On one particularly frustrating occasion, B tried repeatedly, in increasingly slow and precise German, to ask another child their name and age.  He finally came to me in exasperation, asking why he wasn’t being understood, and after inquiring, it turned out that the child was Russian and spoke no German.  (And since we speak no Russian, they were able to play together, but not talk much.)  Another time, my two boys befriended two boys of similar age, finally settling on French as their most common language (in which Benjamin can only say “Bonjour” and “Je m’appelle Benjamin” … but it worked).

This weekend, I looked around the playground and realized that there were four families and four different languages and nationalities represented — American, Spanish, Russian and Austrian.  This is perfectly normal at our local playground.  We’re almost never the only “imported” family there.  Watching my kids play with and around other children from all over the world makes me appreciate that of all the international cities we could have ended up in, Vienna is one of the best.  My kids are used to hearing other languages all the time, they have the experience of finding a common language and sharing common interests with kids from all over the world.  Plus, it’s so much easier to be “foreign” and “different” when you aren’t the only one.  I love the international feeling in Vienna, and the variety of kids my boys are exposed to.  Every trip to the playground is like our own little kindergarten Olympics.

Hello, I Liam!

Last week, on one of the few spring-like days we’ve had (and that was back when it was actually still winter), Liam and I went to the playground while B was at school.  We were happy and excited to be outdoors, playing in the sunshine and fresh air.  It was a relief for the cabin fever I hadn’t even realized we’d been feeling.

We definitely weren’t alone in that idea — the playground was overrun with kids.  There were a few mothers there with their little ones, but there were also two separate kindergarten classes there to play.  It was a zoo.  Kids everywhere, running, climbing, screaming, playing, falling down.

009Liam took it in stride and leapt into the fray.  He didn’t hesitate, just climbed the ladder to the slide, investigated the status of the baby swing (occupied), and ran off to play on some of the bouncing/rocking animals.

One little girl, a few years older than Liam (also probably older than B) saw him and wanted to play.  She followed him for a moment, and then invited him to ride on the seesaw with her.  He did.  They both smiled.  He grinned and said, “Hi!  I Liam!”  She giggled and looked at me, so I encouraged him to introduce himself in German, so he smiled again and turned to her to say, “Heisse Liam!”

010She didn’t respond, but they smiled and giggled and played for a few minutes, until she ran off to join another friend from her school group.  We wandered off to swing in the baby swing (now unoccupied) until we had to go home.

I am always so thrilled to experience Liam’s enthusiasm for life, his boldness, his confidence.  He is so brave, so open and easygoing.  He loves to connect with people, and is unfazed by bumps in the road.  It’s shocking and amazing to see him use German, although he’s yet to actually be taught.  (He seems to absorb it straight out of the air, by osmosis, although I imagine it’s more likely true that he’s picking it up from Benjamin . . . which is actually equally cool.)  He’s such a great little guy.  He inspires me.  I learn from him to embrace more and worry less . . . except when I’m worrying exactly about him being so fearless.

Toddling around the playground

Pam & Joshua must have brought the good weather with them from the States — it almost could have passed for springtime here in Vienna.  The 40 degree temperature felt quite warm after weeks where we never got above (or even very near) freezing for a high temperature.  This morning, the sun came out from behind the clouds and filled our apartment with light.  (Benjamin declared that since the sun was so bright, it must be very hot outside.)  The boys took one look at the blue skies and decided they wanted to go to the playground, so off we went.  (Which makes it sound very easy, while in reality the logistics of coordinating the preparatino of 3 adults and 3 children, along with a grocery store trip and a broken elevator, are very complicated, and although we started getting ready to leave the house around 9:30 this morning, it was after 2:00 when we actually left.)

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Perfect moments

010Every so often, I’m fortunate enough to have a moment where the people, the place, the circumstances all come together in just the right way.  I try to hold on to the way these feel — it’s my goal to live my life such that I experience them more and more.  (I don’t know if it’s “reality” or my perspective, but I do feel like I’m having them more often.)  Today was a great day — I had more than one of these.

This morning, I went to the “big park” with my mom and the boys.  We watched B play on the trampoline, took the train ride around the park, played at the playground and watched B ride on a variety of large mechanical animals.  We had a wonderful time.  The boys enjoyed themselves so much, the weather was lovely and I could not have asked for better company.  At one point, my mom and I, together, were 015pushing both boys together on the swings.  Benjamin had waited while another girl had her turn because he really wanted to swing with Liam.  Liam just laughed and laughed on the swings.  And, I got to be there with my mom.  The sun was shining, there was a nice breeze — I just wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Shortly after that, Benjamin was riding on a large mechanical polar bear with his Grandma walking alongside.  I was holding a fussy Liam and I sought refuge from the mid-day sun under the umbrella of an unused mechanical dinosaur.  (There’s a sentence I never could have guessed I’d write.)  While watching B and Grandma enjoy steering the polar bear around the park, Liam curled up in my arms and dozed off.  Pure happiness.


055After a morning of fun at the park, we headed home and got on with our afternoon.  Then, this evening, Dan & I went out to a movie, just the two of us.  It was really nice to be out, as a couple, and we enjoyed our time.  Coming home, it was raining and chilly.  We walked cozily together under the umbrella and talked about the movie.  Vienna is so beautiful, and the rain and the mist and the evening light, along with the company of my husband, combined to make another perfect moment.

Then, I got to come home, snuggle my kids, and visit with my mom for one last evening before she heads home.  It was a good day.