Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Austria, Part II: A day in the Alps without Daddy

After dropping Big R off at the train station, I refused to end such a perfect day putting little r to bed and drinking wine on the floor of the bathroom like I did on our last trip to Italy. Despite the fact that little r did not sleep at all during our excursions, (I suppose you can't hardly blame him, there were too many exciting things to do and see!) I was confident I could keep him relatively calm through dinner. We sat outside at a Gasthaus and had a lovely dinner together. We colored and ate our pasta together, and then little r watched "Curious George" for a bit while I relaxed and finished my dinner. Much to my surprise, the evening was relatively painless. Little r went to bed without a fight, and I finished a book and started another before finally nodding off.

Meanwhile, Big R's train was rerouted for reasons he will never know, and he missed his connection in Nuremberg, only to barely catch the last regional train back to Bamberg. A taxi pulled into the drive and dropped Big R off at home around 1:30 a.m. The late hour didn't keep the cats from spilling with excitement and my plants were more than happy to be watered as well.

When little r and I woke up the next morning, I had no clue what kind of adventures we would get ourselves into that day. I looked at the map, and studied the German guidebooks trying to piece together some excitement. I decided to take little r to Wildschonau to discover another valley, and also to ride the regional train. One thing I've learned about traveling in Europe is that details can be sparse and vague at best. You might have a general idea that something is located somewhere or that there is fun behind curtain No. 2, but beyond that, you just have to dive in to find out the rest. And that's exactly what we did.

Turns out the Bummelbahn is not a real train in the "train on a track" sense, but is instead a Range Rover disguised as a train pulling a trailer of tourist throughout the valley. It was actually pretty cute, but not exactly what I had expected. No wonder I couldn't find a single train station in the Wildschonau valley! I'm happy to report that we found a train stop and boarded for a destination I knew absolutely nothing about - a little village called, Schonangernalm.

The Bummelbahn was full of tourists anxious to hike the beautiful valley. Hiking poles, boots, and packs in hand, they all stared out the windows in anticipation. We looked a tad bit silly because even though I brought my hiking shoes, they were in the car, so all little r and I were armed with were our flip flops and raincoats. Turns out we had exactly what we needed because it rained like nobody's business. Thunder, lightening, and pouring rain was all that awaited us when we reached our final stop. With two hours until the next return trip, I found myself tagging along with our newly-made German friends for an adhoc tour of a Kaserei (cheese house). This sweet little farm at the top of the valley in Schonangernalm had been winning awards for their incredible cheese for years. Being that bergkase (mountain cheese) is one of our favorites, it seemed like a great place to wait out the rain.

Mmmmm, bergkase!
This farm had over 200 cows, many of which roamed greater than 2000 m up in the Alps
- now that is what I call a happy cow, no wonder the cheese is so good!
I was happy I wasn't the only American in the group. I would have felt bad for her to do some of the guide in English only for me.
This is Johann, the cheese master - he also has the most common name in the Tirol region
The vats where they make and pasteurize the cheese.
Bell collars worn by the cows. When you let your cows roam up to 2000 m high, you need some way to be able to find them! This works - those bells can be heard from pretty far away.
The Kaserei at Schonangernalm
I bought some cheese, of course :)
After our tour of the Kaserei, we stopped at the mountain lodge for some lunch and hot chocolate. Such a stark contrast from the day before that we were looking for a hot beverage to warm us up.

The Bummelbahn arrived so we took our journey down the valley back to where we parked our car (as I was hoping I'd remember where that was exactly). The weather started to clear up providing amazing views. The Wildschonau valley is a little different than Alpbach, but it's still Tirol, which means the houses practically compete to overshadow the neighbors window boxes. I've never seen so many flowers on houses in my life.

Here are some pictures of my favorite building along the Bummelbahn journey. How cool is this?

I found the car and decided to go for a drive through Tirol to check out the little towns and villages just to see what is there. This is normally a sure fire way for me to end up lost, but I didn't get too far off course. This was also the one and only time on the entire trip to Austria where little r took a nap. We weren't in the car five minutes and the little man was out cold in snoozeville. So, I just enjoyed the drive.

I ended up finding a gorge in Kundl called the Kundlkramm. The guidebook described it as a relatively easy hike along the river valley inside a beautiful gorge. I wanted another hike, but I knew I'd need to keep little r in the backpack if I had any hopes of taking pictures, so the hike needed to be relatively flat eliminating any chance of me tripping or passing out from carrying my little man up a steep hill. Lucky for me, the description of the hike was spot on, making it a perfect excursion for our day. The weather cleared and actually got super warm - it was funny to think we had been drinking hot chocolate just a mere hours beforehand.

The gorge provided some great photo opportunities, and little r maintained his patience through most of the trek, with only one minor incident where I considered leaving him to the gypsies - haha. Overall he was quite the trooper, I do have to say... Here are some pictures from our little hike through the Kundlkramm.

The covered bridge made me feel like I was at home in Vermont.
There was a Gasthaus sitting right along the river - nowhere should be left without the option to drink beer.
Little r learned on this trek that he was named after a beautiful body of water.

We still had a few hours before we needed to pick up Big R from the train station. It was slightly unsettling not having any communication with Big R and just hoping the trains operated on time and got him to his destination. How did we live before the age of cell phones again? Anyways, we had a few hours, so I decided to take little r to Rattenberg, which is the smallest town in the region with only 400 inhabitants. It was built in the 14th century, and it still has much of its medieval charm.

It was a sweet little town littered with shops and restaurants. The town was alive with music and tourists. Ice cream was easy to find, and little r wasted no time finding the band that was playing music of the local region. He loved it!

Old building at the entrance to Rattenberg
We made a seat out of a windowsill so that little r could listen to the music while he ate his ice cream.

We visited another little town before it was time to pick up Big R. What a full day of adventures!!! And little r was mostly well-behaved. We only had a couple moments where we stopped talking to each other - haha - but overall, I can hardly complain. He never made me slow down and we were able to see so much in one day.

Much to my happy surprise, Big R was exactly where he was supposed to be exactly when he was supposed to be there. Although it was getting a bit late, we decided to try dinner out. It was such a lovely evening, and we thought at the very least little r would fall asleep if he was getting too tired. We ordered a lovely dinner of tapas in a local flare. A dish so pretty I had to take a picture...

Worrying about little r was the last thing we needed to do. He quickly made friends (something he managed to do with ease everywhere we went) with a little Austrian girl a couple years older. The two of them had the best time. We barely had to entertain little r at all during dinner. He was quite happy with his new girlfriend. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a picture of the happy couple because they were a blur of activity all night. Is this perhaps a view into my future?!

Dinner was lovely and the company was delightfully unexpected, but the night was late and we were exhausted, so we walked back to our barn and found bed right away.

What adventure did we decide to do the following day? Stay tuned and I'll tell you all about it!

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