Adventures in Austria

Adventures in Austria

I’m shivering in the shower, covered in shaving cream, and screaming to my six-year-old. “Holden! Holden! Where is Daddy?!? This is an emergency!!” Tears press at the back of my eyes. There’s worse things. There are. My hair is full of conditioner. The space heater in the corner of the bathroom is on full blast, but it can’t do anything to warm the ice-cold water spewing from the spout. I’ve turned it off five times in hopes that it reheated, only to be blasted with more melted snow. I try to calm myself. It’s not working.

“Mama, he’s outside getting the snow off the car!” I hang my head.

“Well go and get him – tell him this is an EMERGENCY!!” I panic.

Holden throws open the heavy wooden door to the 200-year-old house we’ve rented in a tiny town in Austria.

“Daddy! Daddy! Mama needs you – she says it’s an emergency!” he shouts to my husband – taking care not to slip on the ice on the steps outside. The AirB&B host, who is outside by the car talking to my husband, does not suppress a laugh. He lives in the house behind ours with his wife and children.

“Uh – I let you go,” he nods and continues to help us shovel the snow that has bunkered our car.

My husband comes in. “What’s going on?” His eyes are wide. From behind the shower door I shout – “I’m sorry to be such a princess, but there’s no hot water and if I use this water I swear my toes will turn blue!! Will you please heat up the kettle and help me rise off all this soap?” His jaw drops and he runs to the kitchen. He repeats the process about five times. Then brings me a warm cup of coffee.

Five minutes later I’m feeling like a Kardashian – “Oh no, honey.” I frown, “I don’t see a hair dryer in here.” I’m opening and closing every cabinet, mirror, and ducking under curtained shelves. I sigh the breath of a defiant and defeated woman. “There’s just no way I can leave the house with wet hair – I mean, there’s snow on the ground. I’m so sorry – but. . . .” I bite my lip and wrinkle my eyebrows. Hot water and a hair dryer. God. How demanding could I get?

He takes another sip of his coffee. Smacks his lips. “It’s okay. I’ll be right back,” and he throws on his coat and hiking boots and trudges through the snow. After receiving the dryer from the hosts that live behind the house, he confirms that the hot water tank runs out quickly. And takes forever to reheat. Good to know.

Twenty minutes later I step out into the snow with fabulous hair and cowboy boots on my feet. Ready to take on the world. Or something. Tiny snowflakes flit from the sky – the mountains disguised by darkness the previous evening are now in full view in the morning light. The kids giggle in the snow. My husband conquers the flakes that have blanketed our car during the past hour. See? I’m Texan. I can do this snow thing. I feel bold. Strong. Invigorated by my early morning adventure. We load up the car and head from Schonwies, Austria to Innsbruck.

Cowboy boots in the snow
Cowboy boots in the snow

“There’s a cable car there that goes to the top of the mountain,” he says, maneuvering the car onto the highway.

“Alright – sounds cool,” and I take in the beautiful snow-covered pine trees lining the road. The windshield wipers slap away little flakes from our view.

Walking to the zoo from the cable car
Walking to the zoo from the cable car

We purchase tram tickets to get to the cable car and we realize that there’s a zoo at the top of the tram stop. “Alpenzoo, the highest zoo in Europe,” I read. Our kids love zoos. This one is on the side of a mountain and boasts mountain animals. As snowflakes melt on our coats, we gawk at the black bear pacing at the edge of the waterfall in his habitat.  We climb the steep paths and see Alpine Ibex along the cliffs of the mountain. After a satisfying lunch at the zoo café we head up the mountain.

Bear in his snow habitat
Bear in his snow habitat

The cable car door opens, and we climb in with suited skiers and snowboarders. I wrinkle my eyebrows at my husband What the heck? Are we tourists or underdressed for the destination? We climb into the sky – trees shrinking below us. My children, provide (loud) commentary with every bump and swing of the car in the sky – the smirks spreading like dominos within the car. At the top we step out of the swinging shelter of the cable car into the snow-drifts cascading across the mountain. It’s like a West Texas sandstorm. But you know, cold. I shake and jerk my head towards a building lined with wooden beams. We tuck our family of five into the restaurant and order hot cocoa. Everyone around us is dressed in full ski gear. I watch a 20-something guy plop into his chair, “Ah man – I survived, I survived,” he shouts into his phone. American tourist. I relax a bit. We sip on our cocoa and the kids spot an igloo-like-thing outside the window. We decide to explore before heading back down the mountain.

Enjoying the hot cocoa
Enjoying the hot cocoa

“What is this?!” they sneak into the cave like the little explorers they are. My curiosity peaked, I follow them. It’s a tunnel, a snow tunnel. I feel like a frozen lost boy, exploring the arctic tundra. What is this? Where the heck are we going? And then, it opens into a cavernous room. With frozen vodka in the walls.

Exploring the snow cave
Exploring the snow cave

“Oh man!” I smile at my kids and husband, “It’s a bar!” and I laugh. We move through another tunnel into an adjoining igloo – and an empty stage with lights has been erected. A dance club – in the snow. I nod appreciation. But it’s not serving. My husband and I shrug and head back to the edge of the mountain to snap a few photos, breathe in the view, and decide that we’ve had enough snow and cold for the day.

We head back down the mountain, the pine trees once again stretching to the skies and our cable car. We tromp through the shiny streets of Innsbruck back to the parking garage and load up our family. As he maneuvers the car back onto the highway, a hint of sunlight peeks just before sunset. It dances off the canal, highlighting grand houses painted in yellows, oranges, and blues all set against the white snowy mountains. I turn up the heat in the car and cuddle under my jacket. “Austria is beautiful,” I tell him. “Maybe we should visit again in the summer,” and I wink at him. He doesn’t disagree.

Kids on the mountain
Kids on the mountain

About Celeste Bennekers

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