We decided that we needed to find somewhere to just unwind and settle in a bit without all of the crazy traveling around. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of the peak tourist summer season so there wasn't much choice in the way of affordable accommodation in Germany. Actually, there was none. So after a night spent trawling the internet in search of somewhere to stay, we found an Airbnb place that was in Austria in a place called 'Maria Alm', about 1.5 hours from Salzburg. I couldn't find much on the internet about it other than a few idyllic photos on Pinterest that showed a beautiful town nestled in the Alps. It looked lovely, but we had no idea if there would be anything to do there, or what it would really be like, but at this point we were desperate and decided to just go for it. So we left Germany behind and headed for Austria. The day we drove was long. Looooooooonnnnngggggg. It rained and it was hard to find food on the road, we ended up at McDonalds for dinner because we could count on the fact that they had loos.
As we got closer to our destination, things got more and more rural. It was rainy and misty, and as we drove through the high Alps it felt as if we were leaving civilization behind us. Just where were we going?? I tried to keep the kids interested by telling them that I could just perfectly imagine dinosaurs in such a setting, and truly I could. The mountains were craggy and magnificent and they rose high above the misty lush fields. However, as beautiful and imagination fueling as this scenery was....it felt like we were driving to the end of the earth.
We arrived at night so we didn't really get any immediate sense of what our new hometown was like. Little did I know that we had landed in heaven. Well, my version of heaven anyway. Amazing mountain scenery, adorable alpine houses with bright flowers spilling out from every window, and that beautiful bright green colour that I am obsessed with was everywhere. We had a view from either end of our apartment and both were divine.
The morning after we arrived, Ross took Zahli and Rushy on a morning walk and they came across the local orchestra playing in the town square! Cutest Austrian town ever!!
Shortly after we arrived we went out to dinner at a restaurant just around the corner from us, and it was a dream.
While we waited for dinner ( which we had no idea what we were ordering, we just pointed at random things that had amusing titles, like - wiener knoodle ), we all played in the garden out back. There was play equipment, a view to die for, and even furry friends for the kids to play with. WOW!
Ross ended up not particularly impressed with knoodle, haha!
Well, we had no idea what to expect of Maria Alm before we got there, but as it turned out, it is a town in a group of gorgeous ski villages in the Alps. In summer, we had endless things to do. Our Airbnb host organized for us to have something called a 'Hochkonig' card, Hochkonig being the tallest mountain in the area, and which gave us free access to almost all of the local activities!! I was so amazed that a place offered so many things for tourists to do for free, usually tourists have to pay much more than locals for activities and entrances. Our card was valid for the whole month that we were there. We were able to swim and hike and climb and play in what has to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world.
However, although we were living in heavenly beauty, we still had lots of struggles during our time in Maria Alm. Bo decided that he enjoyed waking in the morning between 4 and 5am, and we were pretty squished in our apartment. Not to mention all of that adjusting to our new way of life. We found it hard being in such close contact with each other so constantly; we had plenty of fighting, crying and lack of sleep going on. We were figuring out how to handle different ages of learning, how to live neatly when we're all squished together, and how to manage finding any personal space.
Oh, and our apartment had no washing machine! Eeeek! We thought this would not be too much of a problem as we could just use a laundromat, but at $10 per kg it just was not an option. Lucky it was mostly warm weather so we could get our clothes dry. We have cute photos of the kids hand-washing their own clothes....and I could easily have lied and made out that it was a great opportunity for the kids to learn self-sufficiency, hard work and responsibility, which I guess it was.....but it was NOT cute, or much fun. We did get them to do some washing themselves, but it required a level of nagging and us being 'on the ball' that we were not always up to. Also we have a baby. A baby who had just started really getting into solids and made a right royal mess every-time he ate. Aarrgh! Also, my other kids had a tendency to slop whatever ice-cream of the day they were consuming all over themselves, tops and bottoms!
Also, I was still feeling like someone recovering from trauma. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but that's just how it was. The toll that the birth had taken on my body, plus the endless breastfeeding and night wakings, coupled with the emotional strain of what we had done in leaving everything and everyone, and then the stress that comes from the rigors of travel with little kids...was all a bit much. I felt that we had done a good thing, it was right for our family to get away together and make adventures and memories. I knew that we needed that. It was just also, well.....real.
Some days I felt so crowded and lacking in personal space that I was ready to hit my head through a wall, and other times I felt overwhelmed and burdened just by the thought of figuring out what to cook for dinner in a foreign country. But at the same time, I was so happy to have come to such an amazingly beautiful place, and excited at the thought of what lay ahead of us and hoping that we would change for the better. It was hard to travel and adapt with a baby in tow. We were not in control of when we slept, and feeding him and managing the kids together for all the daily activities, even simple ones, was hard. Bo was obviously finding it difficult to adapt too, as every night he refused to sleep on his own and would scream hysterically unless I cuddled him to sleep for at least an hour. I know that some people are more easy going, and I have always wished to be more like that. But the truth is that I found a lot of things stressful, probably more than they needed to be, but that is just where I was at. I knew that if we had stayed home, I had everything set up beautifully. A large and spacious home, friends or family who could give me a break, all necessary baby equipment on hand, I could whip up yummy and nutritional food anytime in my handy Thermomix.....so why had we left? Why leave ease and comfort to struggle and stress?
Ross gave me a few hours to myself one afternoon and after I had thoroughly enjoyed the lovely quiet of not having to speak or answer any questions or do anything for anyone, I sat in a beautiful park and pondered these questions. This is what I wrote in my bullet journal;
To venture out.
Out of comfort, out of ease, out of the known. It stretches and pulls and causes pain and discomfort.
So then why?
Why not stay?
Stay and have that measure of relax that comes from home?
Because....growth.....and strength come from trying, and discovering. Even from failing. We become interesting, and deeper. Richer, and of a greater substance than all of that ease and comfort can provide.
I want more.
I want to fill my soul with diverse experiences.
I want to understand the world, and myself. I want to see, and feel, and try.
I want to be amazed over and again at all of God's creations.
I want to come to the end, and feel that I had fully participated. That I was brave. That I dreamed big, and lived fully, and am filled with love.
I want to be out of the ordinary.
I want to lead, and learn, and discover, and create, and try, and to put in 100% of myself into life.
I feel strongly. I want that to be of joy, hope, life, family, God, love and learning.
I know that travel isn't the answer for everyone, but it was the path that we had chosen in the search to find more meaning, fulfillment and wonder to our lives. It was our way of doing these thing together as a family. And I think that it is made more beautiful, even more heavenly because of the struggle. Our pictures of Maria Alm are divine. A story of perfection. The experience of knowing that it was not really perfect, but actually full of struggles and growth; forward and backward steps, actually makes them even more precious. Because the beautiful scenery and the fun happy times.....were amazing! Fantastic! Shared memories for the rest of our lives. We dared to try a whole new place and life together, and we can be proud of that!
Surprisingly, it turns out that my version of heaven is not one of ease, comfort and luxury. But rather a place where beauty is everywhere, I am growing and struggling, reaching and trying together with my family, and where the future is full of hope, adventures, and all kinds of possibilities.
So despite the challenges that we faced in the first part of our journey, and believe me, we had both good days and 'Oh my Goodness, this is horrible' days, we felt immensely blessed to be able to work on our struggles and learn and improve together as a family in such a beautiful setting. I remember one day I had reached breaking point and I was over-whelmed and overtired and I was sitting on our porch crying...and I was saying to myself "stupid, perfect view, I can't even feel miserable properly", because that was what it was like, it was beautiful and uplifting and heavenly, even with the struggles.