“On a sun-drenched, south-facing plateau, at an altitude of 1,200 metres above sea level, the Olympia region of Seefeld boasts spectacular views, surrounded by the Karwendel Nature Park, the Wildmoos nature protection area, the majestic Wetterstein massif and Hohe Munde mountain.” Or so the official website said and I imagine this is the marketing blurb that sold my parents…(Wildmoos?!)
Going on holiday with your parents when you are 26 years old, probably isn’t what most twenty-somethings think of when they imagine their dream summer vacation. Make that destination the Austrian Alps, in summer, on a hiking holiday, and it is probably even less so. And yet, here I was.
What started as a bit of a joke (“You are excluding me from a family summer holiday again?!”) became “We’ve booked your flights – you owe us £200”. So, after my parents had enjoyed their first week on their own, I was to fly out and enjoy some mountain air with them. My brother and sister had conveniently made other plans.
Our destination was the small farming village of Seefeld and our hotel, the stunning alpine chalet, Aktivhotel Veronika. It had cute flower boxes hanging over its wooden balconies, a swimming pool and sauna room to rest weary legs and spacious bedrooms. But it wasn’t until dinner-time that I saw the real reason my dad had been quite so keen to book this place. Dinner was a silver service five-course affair, but with hearty dishes, such as smoked pork with bread dumplings and sauerkraut, as a main. Of course, before this came the waiters with the soup, salad and starter courses and after this came invitations to choose dessert and cheese. Austrian red wine was also a pleasant surprise. So it is fair to say that no weight was lost on this holiday, despite the hiking, cycling, swimming and my new fear of heights stress-burning some calories.
That’s right. Never before had I ever suspected I had a fear of heights until I reached the summit of one of the nearby Alps and almost cried with terror.
The morning after I arrived, we had set our sights and our plans on the mountains to the east of the town, called the Rosshütte after the large mountain restaurant halfway up. The mountains here dominate the Seefeld Plateau; from north to south, they are the Seefelder Joch, Seefelder Spitze (2,215 m), Härmelekopf (2,224 m) and Reither Spitze (2,374 m). And so we set out. Passing rockfalls that had taken out whole paths, memorials to fallen climbers and thankfully stopping for a swift (soft) drink in the Rosshütte.
But as we approached the summit of Reither Spitze from the arete joining Seefelder Spitze, we embarked on an almost vertical rock climb (I looked it up afterwards to save some face, it is a climbing grade of UIAA level III difficulty! And, that is quite hard!) After hauling my body up and over sharp boulders and rocks, my mum and I finally reached the summit (dad had overtaken us long ago and was already on his way back down). Suddenly an unusual bout of vertigo ensued – wobbly legs mixed with the view of sharp rocks and vertiginous drops, made me fall to my feet and cling to the ground in terror that I might accidentally trip myself off the mountain.
Mum called for me to take photos, “I want one by the cross!”
“Errr I can’t move right now, I think this* might collapse!” I wearily replied. This* being the whole mountain.
It was true that a lot of climbers were at the peak that day and the whole (tiny) area was incredibly crowded. It felt like 30 people clinging to a pinhead and it was time for me to get off. Scaling back down was easier and by the time we had reached the cable car I was done with climbing for the day – it had taken us about 7 hours up and down. We took an afternoon stroll down to the village woods to see red squirrels and to the lake where we had a cooling dip in the communal bathing area. Except that I didn’t because I didn’t want a swim in a freezing lake (likely filled with leeches or at a minimum mulchy lake plants and bugs), a point that only added to the dawning realisation that my parents might actually be more adventurous than me? Surely not.
The following day, as if to prove the point, we hired bikes to cycle the valley floor to the neighbouring village. Through woodlands, past fields of cows out to pasture and over babbling brooks, it was certainly the most beautiful cycle I’ve had in Europe. I was puffed out, but they seemed…ok.
That evening, as we dutifully took our table (it was the same table reserved for us every single night) and over-ate once again, a waiter handed mum a leaflet.
“There is a fundraising for the local Fire Station tonight, it is 10 minutes walk from here,” he said, handing the paper over.
“Oh, how sweet – we should, don’t you think we should!?” Mum said, galvanising us to leave already.
So, we wandered over to the Fire Station and yes, there was a party. In fact, it looked like the biggest night of the year for the region. The whole station had been converted into a beer hall, there was an om pa pa band and about 200 people dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. So far, so Austrian. Over the course of two hours, we enjoyed cheap Bavarian beer and silly nationalistic tuba music and slowly but surely relaxed after a long day. It was only when my dad offered my mum a dance, did I realise just quite how relaxed (she is not one for public displays and he is acutely aware of this).
Having been given the eye that silently says ‘it is now time to go’ we packed up our things. But just as we were leaving, Dad saw a magical sign with a big arrow. It read; “Schnapps Bar, This Way!” Naturally, we couldn’t leave without a schnapps for the road…
On finding the entrance to the ‘bar’ (a room of the fire station…) we were pushed into a queue, there were bouncers, and everyone around me suddenly seemed 18 years old. Before I fully realised where we are going, a gruff voice asked me for I.D, but of course I have none. Until I remembered my t-shirt.
Now, some explanation to fully set the scene. At the time of this trip I was desperately saving money so I could quit my job, so I hadn’t bought new clothes in a long long time. I also had come away with my parents, so naturally did not bring anything remotely “on-trend” – after all, who on earth could I possibly want to impress in an Austrian village?! This was our final night and so, after my earlier evening shower, I decided to put on the only clean thing I had left. This happened to be a T-Shirt, with my face, initials and year of birth on…a joke birthday present emulating Taylor Swift’s 1989 album cover.
“This is my face, and next to it, it says 1989?!” I slurred…
He seemed suitably horrified that anyone would wear their own face on a t-shirt, in public, but it was enough to pass the test. And with that, I was in. Into Triol’s most happening party, where I was the oldest person by at least 7 years. Excluding, of course, my parents. Taking it in his stride, or just totally unaware, Dad was already at the bar ordering ‘cocktails’ to the beats of the Spice Girls. Mum looked as though the Austrian wine might finally be kicking in. It was weirdly great. We had a dance, joked about the trashy songs of my youth and after an hour or so, agreed we’ve all had a wonderful night. Dad just needed one final loo stop… 15 minutes later and I spied him at the bar. “ONE MORE, NAY!!!” He came back with three more somethings, just in time to add his voice to a rousing rendition of ‘Living Next Door To Alice” by Smokie (1976). Mum rolled her eyes. It struck me the same will likely happen on my wedding day and I smiled.
Maybe Austria is where all the cool parents hang out. Or maybe going on holiday with them again isn’t so bad after all! I guess we’ve all changed since I was 18.