Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Austria, Part I: Oh, Tirol, you have found our hearts...

There is quite frankly no other way to put it. The Tirolean Alps have fully and completely found our hearts. Visiting the mountains during the winter for a skier's paradise never disappoints, but I can't recommend enough how amazing it can be to explore the same mountains during the summer. The experience is fabulous and reviving.

So, from my introduction, you can probably gather that we had a great time in Austria. Man, did we EVER! We enjoyed our time skiing in Alpbachtal so much that we knew it was a place we had to experience in the summer months. I booked our room far in advance - in fact, I think I reserved it within weeks of our ski vacation there. We stayed at the same barn in Reith im Alpbach, Neubauhof, and enjoyed a week with the Larch family on their farm.

Such a perfect place, and the price couldn't be better. Less than 170 EUR for four nights, including a simple breakfast every morning, and the Seenland Card, which is the regional card that buys you not only free bus rides, but free rides on the gondolas and chair lifts, and free entrance to the swimming lake. It is unreal how little money we spent on this fabulous week. For those of our friends in Europe that are looking for an adventure in the Alps, let me know and I'll tell you some of our secrets. And for those that are back in the U.S., it's worth the trip and more to fly over just to see Tyrol.

One of the things we like about this location for a getaway, aside from the beauty of the region, is how close it is to us. It's a simple drive or train ride away. Because of that, we put aside our usual pre-trip frenzy and took our time getting up and packing things into the car. I thought I needed a break from my typical packing anxiety, and I saved it all for the morning we left (although, you know me and I had packed most things in my mind already). Let me just say that it's probably better for me to stick to my manic side because I forgot far too many important things without the frenzied panic mode coursing through my veins. (I even forgot our passports and my international driver's license, which I didn't realize until I got home - Yikes!)

Despite our leisurely preparations, we were still in Reith before 2:00 p.m. leaving plenty of time for an afternoon of swimming and sauntering through the town to take in the mountain air, fresh water, and beautiful sunshine.

Our little fish swimming with Daddy - I was being a wimp about the cold water - brrrrrr
Such a lovely backdrop for a lakeside beach - Reith Catholic Church
If you look closely behind the tree at the top of the hill, you can see Neubauhof where we stayed - nice location, eh?
The view of the alps from the lakeside beach - ah, paradise, right?
Ready, set...
JUMP! No fear in that little guy
I was all smiles, wouldn't you be?
We found some ice cream on our way back to our barn, or as little r called it, "baumer" - no idea why, but he was insistent the entire stay that THAT was exactly what it was called. (I think it's a blur of German, bauhof, and English, barn, but that's just a wild guess.) Little r also decided on this trip that he was going to start being German. It was "nein" instead of "no" to everything. Freaking cute, until he's telling me "nein" when I ask him to do something, but it took awhile for the novelty to wear off. Mostly I just thought it was super funny that all of a sudden he's speaking German to us.

As we were getting ready to head out for dinner at a place where I made a reservation all in German, still proud that I can finally do that without a hitch, I was in a panic. Why, you ask? Because as we were getting ready for our swim, my favorite ring disappeared. Not in a "oh, I misplaced it" kind of way, but in a "the thing just freaking up and disappeared" kind of way. Insane!!! We tore that room apart looking for it. I was so confused as to where it could have gone. It had to turn up, but with my forgetful state that morning, I had to convince myself that I didn't actually leave it at home. So, I gave into the moment and sulked out of the room to head to dinner. We weren't two minutes down the street and we hear the sound of metal hitting the sidewalk. WHAT?! Immediately Big R picks up my ring, and little r is handing me a handful of change. Turns out, the little munchkin had picked it up with the change laying on the table and was "holding it" for mommy. Oy! I was so relieved, I didn't even care. Thank goodness!!! Now dinner could be enjoyed without the loss of one of my favorite possessions looming in my mind.

We made reservations to sit outside at a local restaurant that served authentic Austrian cuisine. Anything Austrian could be found on the menu. It was also Tyrolean night where typical music of the region was played and every 15 minutes or so, a group of dancers would perform a traditional dance. Too fun! It might not be music we'd listen to on the radio, but it certainly set an enjoyable tone for the evening and the kids, especially little r, just love the polka beat.

The Europeans are especially good at catering their restaurants to families. It's clear that folks take big vacations with their families because everywhere you go, life is made easier for the parents. My favorite is how they always have a playground nearby so that the children can keep themselves entertained while the adults enjoy dinner and drinks on vacation. The beer gardens are like this all throughout Germany as well. Could the U.S. take some notes? It really does make eating out with children so much more enjoyable!!!

One of the traditional dances we saw during dinner - you can see the playground set just behind them
Little r dancing with another Austrian girl - he just loves the traditional music... and the ladies!
These playgrounds are the best -
here little r is trying to balance on a toy you would never see on a playground in the U.S.
We didn't have much left in us after dinner. We got little r into bed and read books until we fell asleep.

The next morning we decided we would go on a hiking adventure. There is a gondola in Reith, the Reitherkogel, and there are many hiking trails that link it to the adjacent mountain where we could take a gondola ride down on the Wiedersbergerbahn. We brought the backpack for little r, and my "perfect bag" (which was absolutely, hands down, completely perfect for this trip). Big R deserves the gold star for carrying little r on his back all day. He might be a peanut, but I don't think we were anticipating how much weight it would be to carry him through the mountains.

The trail was beautiful, and it was moderate and actually pretty easy to hike compared to some of the hikes we'd done as a family in Vermont and Virginia. The views were like no other though, namely the Tirolean farmhouses and the sound of cowbells all around you. And, of course, the mountains in the Alps are unique and beautiful in their own way, unlike any you would find in North America.

Lots of questions to ask Daddy on the way up the "flying chair"
Beautiful Alpine mountains
Water troughs for the cows
The Alpine hillsides were riddled with charming farmhouses - this one was by far my favorite
We kept promising little r we'd see a cow - we were relieved when we finally found one!
After a few hours of hiking, and only one misguided trail (we were marginally lost resulting in us climbing a barbed wire fence, the only significance of which was little r reminding us of this adventure constantly for the next two days), we made it to the Wiedersbergerbahn just in time for brats and beer. Well, it was frankfurter wurst, and quite frankly the only downside of our entire trip because the food was, well, awful. But that's ok because the beer was fantastically refreshing after a long hike in the sun. And, per usual, the Austrians did not let us down and they provided pure playing excitement for the little guy while we took in the amazing views.

Man is always happiest with a cold beer
And little boys are happiest riding a tractor on the top of a mountain!

I stayed back with the little man, and sent Big R up to the Wiedersbergerhorn at the top of the mountain so he could take some pictures. Figured he could use a reprieve from the backpack, and little r was definitely worn out from the hike we'd already done. Besides, I was pretty confident that dragging him away from this amazing Spielplatz would have ended in disaster. While Big R was off climbing mountains, we were making friends with a nice Dutch couple and their three young sons. We all had a blast chatting and playing. All in all, it was a nice afternoon. Here are some of the photos Big R took from the top:

The Cross at the top of Wiedersbergerhorn
Wildlife came in all shapes and sizes
Beautiful picture of the valley

The time came for us to make our way down the mountain. Big R, unfortunately, had a train to catch to head back home for one day as work awaits. The things we'll do to get a small escape. I'm not sure how he managed to leave Tirol after the beautiful day we had together. Lucky for us, we knew he would be back soon.

More about our day in Austria without Big R and our final adventures in Tirol over the weekend are coming soon. Stay tuned!!!


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