Saturday, February 23, 2008

An Alpine Holiday

Ah, the Alps. The mere mention of the word can instantly clear the mind and bring visions of sunshine, craggy mountaintops, and clean, fresh air.  Last week, we loaded up the car to prepare for our family's journey to Austria to introduce the kids to skiing and get some well-deserved r&r.


The drive from Amsterdam, if you believe the internet, was supposed to take 9 1/2 hours. But German traffic jams had something else to say about that, turning the overall journey into a 12+ hour affair. We set out on Friday after the kids were done with school, intending to split the drive into two sections. Our goal on day 1: Make it as far as Frankfurt. The only stop of note on the first night was at a delightful Italian restaurant in a tiny little German/Dutch border town. We trusted the handy GPS unit to find us "food", and the darn thing worked like a charm. Nobody spoke a word of English, but it was just as well...the proprietor was able to communicate and deliver his delicious food to us with no problems.


Onward we drove to Frankfurt, and we exited the Autobahn just outside the city, again calling upon the GPS to find our first night's lodging. It looked pretty sketchy as we made turn after turn, descending deeper and deeper into what appeared to be an industrial or trucking company building complex. But don't doubt your GPS! Around the last turn was this quaint little German hotel where we would rest our bones for the night.


The second part of the drive to our destination of Kleinarl, Austria, a quaint village nestled snugly in the Alps, is best left for another day over a cold adult beverage. Suffice to say that the traffic snarls were VERY unpleasant.


But whatever tensions we might have had brewing within were released as we entered Austria and began the winding drive to Kleinarl. For those of you who have never seen them, they seem to me a bit of a cross between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades. Throw in the magic of the Austrian people and their warmth and hospitality, then you kind of get the picture.


This was a shared holiday, and we eagerly awaited the arrival of our friends. The Kincaids (Che/Wendy/Amalie) would arrive on Sunday, but the Tam-Naulty's (Greg/Amy/Abigail) arrived not too long after we did on Saturday.


Our home away from home was the Hotel Angerwirt, which was positioned perfectly in the town...just a 2 minute (free) van shuttle ride to the ski lift and a 35-second walk to the cross-country trails that Stacey and I used extensively throughout the week. As is typical in many of these smaller Austrian ski towns, one main lift services the town, which you then use to access a much bigger network of trails on adjoining mountains. Taking a trip up your main lift to mid-mountain, using another to get to the top, skiing down the other side, riding up ANOTHER mountain....and back home again...can take the better part of the day.


Maya and Cole were thrilled about entering the ski school, and after a few days, they both felt confident and comfortable on their skis. The ski school was structured very well, and somewhat humorously, most of the instructors were DUTCH gals who were fulfilling some type of college credit! But those were about the only Dutch that we saw most of the week--an odd fact, I thought. According to a British guy I spoke with briefly on the slopes one day, in the neighboring town of Flachau most of the tourists were from the Netherlands. By contrast, in Kleinarl, most of the tourists were from the province of Lower Austria, which was having their spring break. There was also a smattering of Germans, Polish, Czech, and plenty of folks from Denmark. Other than the British guy I mentioned, I encountered no others from the UK, and ZERO Americans. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a nice side-benefit of taking the path less traveled. Stacey mentioned as we were waiting in one lift line that one of the most annoying things about skiing is dealing with obnoxious people and their inane conversations while waiting. But if you can't understand (most) of the language, no problem!


The kids had a blast each day, and were very content to spend all day with their classes. This gave Stacey and I time to enjoy the slopes as well as some classic and skating xc skiing. Of course, I insisted on making sure that the Austrian hefeweizen beer was up to par, and I was afforded ample opportunities. I would even go as far as saying that enjoying a hefeweizen mountainside in the Austrian Alps is about as good as it gets.


Another thing that really helped our attitudes during the week was the abundance of sunshine. Every day, save for one, was filled with brilliant light. Those of you from the Pacific NW of the US or from the Netherlands can understand the value of the golden ball of fire showering us with her goodness.


Like most holidays, we basically lived from meal to meal, spreading our evening dining experience between a number of  local eateries. The kids, especially Maya, fell in love with Wiener Schnitzel! The salads were huge and delicious, and the kasnocken (a cheesy Spätzle dish), Kaiserschmarrn (shredded, carmelized, fried pancakes!), and other local specialties were incredible. For adult beverages besides beer, our group enjoyed the varnish-removing and mind-clearing properties of both Glühwein and Jagertee.

The week would too soon come to a close, but not before the kids were honored in the week-ending awards presentation. We almost blew it off in order to get some swimming time in back at the hotel, but are we glad we didn't! The kids were positively beaming, so proud at their accomplishments on skis. Multiply that pride by 100 for mom & dad!  All age groups had a slalom race on the last afternoon, and Maya's age group was timed!  Cole got a medal for his participation, and Maya won 3rd place and was given her first trophy - she was thrilled.


Speaking of the pool, the swimming area at the hotel was exceptional. The owners must have pumped a few hundred thousand Euro into the pool alone, which featured a stainless-steel main pool, an aromatherapy/steam room, standard sauna, infrared sauna, foot bath, tea drinking/lounging area, workout room, and tanning bed room. We all loved soaking our muscles here at the end of each long day.


Before we left, we booked a sleigh ride for the whole group - partly on the roads and then straight across the snowfields - just as you'd picture it. The driver picked us up at our hotel, where we embarked on a 60-minute journey to a restaurant at the end of the valley, nestled on the shores of a lake called Jagersee. The ride, the meal, and the return ride in the sleigh under the stars capped off what could be the perfect family vacation.

Check out all of the pictures from our trip by clicking HERE.



olga said...

And don't we all hate you right now:) Awesome times!

Lisa Smith-Batchen said...

how fun!!!!