High Alpine Road — day 2

It was our last full day in Heiligenblut, and since Liam had been the one steering our plans on the day of the “Cable car!” ride, and Dan & I had pretty much called the shots on the first day that we toured the High Alpine Road, we wanted to give B a chance to decide what we would do with our day.  And he had no doubts — he wanted to go back to the same playground we’d played at the day before.


And so, we did.  We started our day out with a few hours at the same playground, with the great stuff to play on and the amazing view.  The boys climbed and slid and ziplined into a very happy state (and, unfortunately, into a few more splinters — there were a lot of splinters on this vacation).  Dan and I played alongside both of them, and we all enjoyed the gorgeous sights and the sounds of distant cowbells from the herds of cattle grazing on the side of the mountain.



And then, since there were still many hours left in the day, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and see if we could get another (clearer) view from Schareck at the top of the cable car line.



982And we certainly did!  It was cool but sunny, and the boys entertained themselves by putting out sun chairs and resting with their stuffed animals in the mountaintop sunshine.  We hung out at the top and enjoyed the amazing scenery.  We had planned to take the cable car up to the top, and then to hike back down to where the car was parked along the High Alpine Road — it was supposed to be about an hour to an hour and a quarter hike, and all downhill and on well maintained paths.  But, we couldn’t — on our way up the mountain, we looked down at the path below us and realized that it was so snow covered at some points that we weren’t sure we’d be able to safely make it through without ending up knee-deep (or deeper, for the boys) in wet snow on the side of a windy mountain a few hours before sunset . . . never mind that it was July 4.  Upon further reflection, we decided to just take the cable car back down.



But, we had the fun experience of riding the very last cable car back across the mountainside, and we hung out at the bottom to watch the process of collecting up the cable cars all up at the summit.  It was pretty neat.

Though the cable cars were closed for the night, there were still a few hours until sunset, so we decided to continue on down the High Alpine Road, in the hopes of checking out some of the road we hadn’t yet explored.  We made it all the way down to the Edelweissspitze, the highest overlook point on the whole of the High Alpine Road.  The view was fantastic . . . but the wind was so intense that B wouldn’t linger outside of the car for more than a few minutes (and Liam wouldn’t get out at all).  The wind was so strong that we struggled to make it back to the car when it was time to go.  It was intimidating and amazing.


1099We headed back to our hotel to finish up our last evening in Heiligenblut, and as we were chatting with our hotel hosts, they complimented the boys on what great guests they’d been.  It was wonderful to hear.  As a family that travels a fair bit, we do our best to be good guests, wherever we go — we keep the noise down, try to use our best manners and try to always be considerate of the other visitors and of our hosts.  But, kids are kids, and things don’t always go as planned.  (We spent at least 15 minutes of our first evening at the hotel with Liam shrieking as we tried to get a splinter out of his finger.  So much for keeping the noise down.)  It was nice to hear that the boys had made a good impression.

Our time in Heiligenblut was just all around amazing.  The place was beautiful, the people were friendly, and there were so many fun things to see and to do.  (And, because we had the Kärtnen card, so much of what we did was FREE.  The card was included in our hotel stay, and apparently typically is included in summertime hotel visits throughout the region.  It was amazing.)  If the opportunity ever comes for us to go back, we will.

THIS is a Spielplatz!

010I’ve talked a lot about how much I appreciate the playgrounds here.  They’re less safe, undoubtedly, than those back home, but the ones here provide much more opportunity for my kids to challenge themselves physically and mentally, to accomplish things they didn’t think that they could, and to sometimes make the choice to back down from a challenge that is too great for them.  Sometimes the ladders are too high, the ropes too wobbly, the slides too steep.  I like seeing them make their own choices about what is a reasonable amount of risk to take on.  (After all, aren’t we faced with choices like that our whole lives?)



078I forget sometimes that however challenging and extreme our neighborhood playgrounds seem by my American standards, they are nothing in the overall scheme of Austrian playgrounds.  Two weekends ago, Liam wanted to visit a playground that we’ve been to before, out in the western outskirts of Vienna (at Am Himmel).  Since we’d last been in the fall, they’ve updated a lot of the equipment, making this one of the most challenging playgrounds the kids have ever been to.  Liam remembered it for the “giant slide” — a 10-12′ tall slide (with no railings) that gives me butterflies every time either of my kids climbs it.  After the update, that is now seriously one of the tamer elements.


My kids had a blast, and I survived (just barely … just kidding).  I think these places to play are fantastic.  Yes, I bet kids get hurt here all the time.  I imagine that teeth get chipped, arms get broken.  And I know if something like that happened to one of my kids, I’d be likely to beat myself up over having allowed them to take those risks.  But it is truly amazing to watch them in this environment, pushing their limits, accomplishing difficult things, working out solutions, and sometimes deciding that a challenge is too ambitious.  In this moment, I do believe it’s wort the risk … and it’s also an absolute ton of fun, for all of us.


Playing in Vienna

002Much (if not most) of the playground equipment in Vienna would never exist these days in the US.  It would either be outlawed by lawsuit-fearing local regulators or dismantled in the dark of night by overprotective soccer moms.  A lot of it is reminiscent of the playgrounds I played on as a kid:  the equipment is made of metal and wood, it’s too high, there aren’t guardrails, the ground is sometimes just ground or wood chips (not cushy recycled rubber), there are uncovered sandboxes, the swings still hang from chains and the slides probably get very hot in the summer time.  But, they go beyond that, too.  They have tables and planks set on springs, which are designed to be unstable and to be fun to balance on (but also challenging for a little kid).  There was an actual zip line in a park we went to last week — no signs or fences or anything to prevent a kid walking under it from getting clobbered by the kid on the zip line.  Several of the parks we’ve been to even have some kind of running water feature.

The one we went to today had a water pump (complete with pinching hazard!) that poured water onto large rocks.  Actual rocks.  Big, hard, jaggedy rocks — larger than basketballs — which were part of the sandbox area .  It is a huge culture shock for me.  I can’t help it — I’m a product of my socialization.  All I could think of was how I needed to prevent Benjamin from pinching his fingers in the pump, or hitting himself or another kid in the head with the pump handle, and then, once the water was running, make sure he didn’t slip on the (now wet) large, jaggedy rocks and crack his head open or knock out some teeth.  So, of course, I did all of those things.  But I can tell the Austrians are rubbing off on me, at least a little.  Because although I had a strong desire to protect my child from all of these perceived dangers, I also realize that we’ve been here 3+ weeks, and we’ve been to a lot of playgrounds and I’ve seen a lot of kids playing on what are (to my American sensibilities) complete deathtraps of playground equipment.  And I have yet to witness a single injury.

007I’m not blind to the fact that they could still get hurt (and probably do).  But I’m beginning to remember that with proper guidance and supervision, a child can actually play in a world that is not completely bubble wrapped for the sake of their protection.  (My father will read this and be horrified that it took a move to Europe to remind me of an idea he raised me with — and one that still exists in his backyard.)  I’ve known it, intellectually, but it’s been a rare event that I’ve had to use my own judgement on whether a piece of playground equipment is safe for Benjamin back in the states (other than maybe not being age appropriate).

Today, Benjamin made a friend at the playground, whose name is Alex.  They played in the sandbox with Alex’s truck and shovels, used the water pump, played on the swings and the slide and the see-saw.  They were very well supervised my us and by Alex’s grandma.  I did not hover, or hold his hand 100% of the time, and still, no one got hurt.  (Benjamin was even willing to give Alex back his dumptruck before we left the park.  Success!)