How not to explore the Austrian Alps:
Step 1: Ask my aunt to drive you there.
Step 2: Rent the largest, most unwieldy vehicle possible.
To the left is a Mercedes Sprinter Van. They don’t make vans like this in America (update 3/3: scratch that, they DO make this van in America – just not Mercedes – thanks to Todd for the correction). Bigger than a VW, with standing room and an interior that looks designed for transporting prisoners, the Sprinter Van was my family’s rental car of choice for our trip through Germany and Austria. It’s also got a manual transmission with the personality of a sick pig.
Step 3: Assume that you will be able to find your destination.
In a foreign country.
Without specific directions.
In the dead of night.
Step 4: Drive up a hillside so steep that farmers use special spiked boots to climb it when they harvest the grass for hay. The impossibly windy, and unpaved, road means that headlights consistently provide about 3 feet of visibility.
Also note that my aunt is constantly swerving to avoid the “bunnies that keep jumping across the road.”
Also note that we know only that our destination is a hut made out of wood. Without a phone. Somewhere on the mountain.
Step 5: Decide to ask for directions.
Remember, it’s after midnight. We stop in a cluster of farmhouses (or giant rocks, who knows, the stars are the only reason we can see anything) and decide to knock on a door/rock to ask if anyone knows where Barbara and Edmund might be staying.
Luckily, some Austrian on vacation decided they needed a cigarette at 1am that night. Their glowing cigarette butt was our salvation. Kind of.
“Over there (add sweeping arm gesture),” was their reply to my aunt’s question about our cousins’ whereabouts.
Step 6: Abandon the car, grab your suitcases and find the place on foot.
At this point, my aunt was bellowing, “Barbara…BARBARA” hoping to wake up our cousins, the rest of us were gripping hands to avoid falling on the slick grass and I believe my father was still in the van, determined to find something, anything, on the map.
Suddenly, a door swings open, light surrounds and we see our family.
“Didn’t you hear us? We’ve been yelling for you for hours!”
“Oh, we thought you were the cow – she’s in the cellar. She’s sick.”
Our cousins are bizarre.
The next morning, we wake up to this:
Totally worth it.
But I recommend hiking the Alps. In a knight’s helmet, if you’ve got one.