Pre-hike gondola ride

Pre-hike gondola ride

You may recall that we introduced my mom to some pretty cool hikes in the Wellington region when she visited us in New Zealand.  (She, on the other hand, may argue that we converted her holiday into a marathon training session.)  In any case, we couldn’t be in such close proximity to the Alps and let her off the hook on this visit.

After Salzburg, we headed north towards Innsbruck, lunched there after a quick walk around and then wended our way up into the hills, which quickly morphed into mountains.  Our destination was Solden, a popular winter playground in the Ötztal region that is much more laid-back in the summer months when visitors swap ski poles for hiking sticks.  Plenty of last-minute accommodations were on offer so we rented a traditional ski apartment in the heart of the village.

Jonathan spent the first evening perusing the hiking maps for potential routes and the next morning we set off on foot for the gondola to take us halfway up the mountain.  The temperature was brisk (perfect hiking weather), especially after several weeks when we hadn’t experienced a daytime dip in the thermometer below 80 degrees, and the sky was mostly sunny but with a few darker clouds on the horizon.  My  mom’s only protection against the Alpine elements was a jean jacket and a straw hat, so I hoped the weather would hold.

The first hour was a gentle incline traversing the mountain, but then the serious hiking began.  Up, up and more up.  And then, the rain began.  Also, as was typically the case on our New Zealand tramps, we noticed that most people were coming down the mountain just as we were really getting started.  The skies cooperated for a short while to allow for a lovely lunch break, much needed rest break and panoramic views, but once I heard thunder in the distance, I panicked (although I argued it was mostly to get everybody to up their pace).  After a quick consultation, Jonathan and I decided to abort our initial route (which seemed too ambitious and risky) and instead head towards another gondola, from where we could better evaluate the weather conditions. The temperature had decidedly dropped, but Jonathan was staying true to his English roots by claiming not to be cold and refusing to put on his sweater (whereas I was bundled up in a scarf, a sweater and a rain jacket).

By the time we reached the gondola, we were all a bit damp and cold, but we put it to a vote and everybody was game for heading down the mountain on foot rather than taking the easy gondola ride back down to the village.  Fortunately, the sun soon decided to make another appearance and we stopped at a lovely mountain inn for some refreshments and an apple strudel and soaked up some rays.  And because this is Austria, where everything is so clean and well-organized, there was an extensive playground with an enormous tunnel slide and a two trampolines for Zara to expend some or her excess energy (which she always seems to have, even after a long hike).  

The hike down the rest of the mountain was a relentless downhill, but we had it to ourselves, passing only a cow herder and his charges (which chased my mom down a stretch of the path).  By the time we reached our apartment, Jonathan calculated we’d descended 4,000 feet and my knees felt it.

The next day we recovered with a short stroll around town and by going for a swim in the “adventure bath” at the Freizeit Arena.

One of the highlights of the visit was our drive out of Sölden as we headed towards Bolzano, Italy.  We took the Timmelsjoch, which is a high mountain pass that connects the Otzal Valley in Austria with South Tyrol in Italy.  As we climbed the pass on the Austrian side, the road was wide and well-engineered and the route had five stopping points targeted at tourists, complete with stylish architectural displays, where one could read about the history of the region and its geology, learn about the construction of the road, explore a fantastical sculpture garden and breathe in the crisp Alpine air.  We even stopped to share a last schnitzel before leaving Austria at Rasthaus Timmelsjoch on the summit.

The second we crossed the border into Italy, the situation changed dramatically.  The road narrowed, the guardrails disappeared and there were no places to pull over unless one wanted to perch one’s car on the edge of a precipice.  As my acrophobia went into overdrive, I had to have Jonathan take over the steering wheel.  Fortunately I did, because the drive soon started to feel like a rally car race as we sped down the mountain with Italians inured to driving on dangerous roads. Once we read that the road was first built by Mossolini (although it wasn’t completed until the 1960s), “to be Mossolinied” entered the Kirk Family lexicon along with “to be Amalfied”.  Let’s just say that I am not a big fan of driving in Italy.  (Much more to come on that in a later post!)

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No jumper required.

Lunchtime antics in Innsbruck--it's amazing what this kid will do.

Lunchtime antics in Innsbruck–it’s amazing what this kid will do.

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Changeable weather

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Up, up and away

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On the Timmelsjoch

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One of the stopping points on the Timmelsjoch

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And of course we expected to find a sculpture garden on an Alpine pass.

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