Road Trip Part V: Austria

August 24, 2012

Austria, like Switzerland, was another country that took me completely by surprise. Sure, I've seen Sound of Music and pictures of the Alps, but nothing prepares you for the perfection that these countries possess. The grass in greener, the sky is bluer and the scenery makes you want to pinch yourself to see if you are really there, really seeing this. 

Our drive from Italy into Austria was, needless to say, breathtaking. As we descended into Innsbruck, I thought, "meh" - that is until we got to where we were staying at the foot of the mountains along the river. The pastel-colored line of buildings set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains was so Disneyland-esque, it felt as if this too was just a reproduction of what people thought a picture-perfect Alpine town would look like, rather than the real thing. 

We arrived at our hotel (clean, comfy beds, just wish the owner didn't smoke right in the doorway and fill the building with the smell) around dinner time and quickly decided to have some Indian food, since it was one of the well-reviewed restaurants in town and neither my mom nor I had ever eaten it (I know *gasp!*). All it took was one bite and we were hooked. Meandering through town that evening was all it took to become equally enamored with the city. It seems that every break in a city block and every corner we rounded, another view of those glorious mountains that surrounded us would present itself. They were hiding behind buildings, peeking out of the the clouds and showing up in window reflections. 

As if the natural beauty wasn't enough, the architecture was nearly as stunning. At one point, my mom had stopped on the sidewalk and was taking pictures of lovely building across the street, when an obviously local woman passed by. She gave my mother a questioning look, followed her camera's aim across the street and gave a small shrug. I suppose it's easy to forget about the beauty of your surroundings when they surround you every single day. I must say though, this was one of the most beautiful, naturally and man-made, cities I've been to yet and was in awe nearly everywhere that I looked. 

The following day was perhaps even more perfect than the last, with blue sky breaking from behind the whitest, fluffiest clouds that provided alternating cover for the mountaintops that came in and out of view throughout the morning. We spent a little time walking through the older pedestrian area, admiring more amazing buildings and even more mountain vistas. A rest with some gelato found us in front of a rather unassuming cathedral (note: those of you who live in Europe or traveled here extensively know what I'm talking about - once you've seen one, you've seen them all). I was content to enjoy my ice cream and soak up the sun, which had shown itself far too seldom on our holiday as it was, while the rest of them checked it out. A few minutes after they went inside, my husband came back out, shaking his head, saying "you are going in." I was not disappointed.

We enjoyed the last bit of the sunny afternoon and mountain views before we got the car and headed out. It was hard to believe that we had driven from Italy the day before, had woken up in Austria and later the same day, we would be home in Germany. While it seemed like our nine-day holiday flew by in a flash, thinking back (especially here, on the blog), it was rather amazing all that we saw in such a short time. Travel like this just isn't possible in the U.S. It's yet another reminder at how lucky we are to be able to live this life. 

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische
Some photos courtesy of Mom

Road Trip Part IV: Tuscany

August 23, 2012

Villa Campestri was the perfect spot in Tuscany to rest, relax and take in the picturesque countryside. This villa, 35km outside Florence, was built around a 13th century fort and is surrounded by olive groves, from which they make their own oil. Since we were only staying a couple of days, we decided not to take advantage of any of their activities - which ranged from olive oil tasting to truffle hunting - and just take it easy. I knew when my mom heard we were taking her to Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun is what she pictured, and so that is where we took her.   

While it rained a good bit at the start of our only full day there, it let up early enough to do some exploring of the extensive grounds before lunch. At one point, I found my mom reading outside in a lovely spot overlooking the whole valley. When I asked if Tuscany was everything she thought it would be, she replied with a very emotional: "It's more." Even though my mother never dreamed of traveling Europe like I always did (and honestly might never have gotten a passport if it weren't for my emergency surgery in London all those years ago), she was definitely enchanted by each place we took her. It means the world to me that I can take her places she never would have gone to on her own, yet still have such an impact on her. Living halfway around the world from her makes these experiences all the more special.

The afternoon provided even more luxuriating. We enjoyed a light lunch from the Villa's kitchen of simple pastas, the most beautiful bruschetta I've ever seen (the tomatoes looked unreal!) and a bottle of wine, overlooking one of the hillsides. Afterwards, we took advantage of the increasingly nice weather with a walk through the olive groves and up a nearby hill, providing lovely views of the resort and the surrounding valley. Being out in nature, we were seeing all kinds of insects and lizards, not to mention the deer and hedgehog we saw on our drive up the night before, which just added to the magic of the location. As luck would have it, the sun continued to gather enough strength to warrant laying by the amazing pool for a bit before dinner.

Dinner at Campestri was one of our only all-out, really nice meals of our whole trip, and it was definitely worth the wait. We enjoyed a bottle of wine, starters, entrées and dessert. Like lunch, everything was quite delicious and especially beautiful. It also felt good to finally put some of the fancy clothes we brought to use.

Speaking of clothes that had just been sitting in our luggage, the following morning broke so warm and sunny, I got to wear a dress for the first, and only, time the whole trip. This of course made it even harder to say farewell to such a spectacular stop on our trip. The lizards were all out basking in the sun, as if to flaunt the day's activities we would be missing. I too wished I could have spent the rest of day soaking up that Villa Campestri warmth, but Innsbruck was calling and we had to hit the road. One final look at this lovely place from the next hill over, and we were off...


The last stop on our road trip, up next: Austria. 

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische
Some photos courtesy of Mom