Ross and I decided to attempt the great sightseeing drive in Austria called Grossglockner. It is an amazing high alpine road that goes over and through the tallest peaks in the Austrian Alps. It finishes at the 9km Pasterze, which is the longest glacier in the Eastern Alps!!
I had never seen a glacier before and we thought this would be a great learning opportunity for the kids. Plus.....well, the scenery !! Ross remembered Grossglockner from a particular episode of 'Top Gear' where they drive what they called 'the perfect road.'
All started well. We drove for a while, and in glorious Austrian fashion, there were all sorts of stops along the way. Our first stop was a half hour walk to see the view, there was information about glaciers and the kids had lots of fun whacking sticks, picking flowers and climbing trees. Although it was a hot summer, it was pretty cold up there even at that first stop. We even found a frozen creek!
We bought ourselves a couple of Austrian felt hats and we were ready to go on with our Austrian adventure. We made more stops along the way, they had museums that were really kid friendly and even some play equipment. So far, so good.
However, we didn't time it all that well. There was so much to see and do on the way that we took too long. By the time we were about half-way Bo was getting pretty restless and the kids had had enough...
They did perk up a bit though when we found our first bit of snow. Now remember, we had been sweating it out so far in Europe. Our driving was without aircon, in fact, pretty much all of Europe is without aircon, and so we had spent most of our travels so far feeling very hot! But up in the Alps of Austria, we found snow! Amazing!!
The photos look happy, and the kids were happy at that moment, but Ross and I were having a little heart-attack that they were so near the main road with all those crazy European drivers re-enacting 'Top Gear'.
On and on we drove, up the winding mountain road until we came to an absolutely amazing lookout. The road was pretty hair-raising but we made it in one piece. Things are never simple though. Bo had fallen asleep, and where on earth to park??? The parking-lot was pretty packed and we had a car full of whinging kids who suddenly needed the toilet and had about reached their limit for the day of close contact with each other. Oh dear, we were only just over half way.....
Well, we managed to find a park and of course Bo woke as soon as we opened the door and let in that freezing air. Between him screaming, and wrangling the other kids out of the car and around the place while not getting hit by any other cars, I managed to work up a fair amount of stress.
And don't even get me started on breastfeeding!
I have since spent time with other traveling families, one of which had a 3 month old baby. That awesome mum would breastfeed sitting on ruins, while walking around...all chilled out. Sadly, that's just not me. I can't really change that part of my personality. I have certainly given myself plenty of opportunities to practice and try to be that easy-breezy Mum who can breastfeed in all sorts of circumstances; on the top of a mountains in sub zero temperature, perched on rocks in the blazing sun, in crowds, in cars, on trains.....you get the idea. But do I find it anything like easy-breezy 'no worries at all because I am an adventurous traveling Mum...' ??
It stresses me out!
First of all, I'm half naked, trying to get a wriggling and crying baby to drink from my exposed nipple, in public; and secondly, adventurous breast-feeding is never comfortable. I was always dripping with sweat, or freezing, or my back was killing me, or I was squished in the front of the car while my other kids fought and squealed behind me.... or I was basically flashing the whole world. Luckily Europeans aren't too bothered with modesty.
Well, all hassles aside, the view was worth it. It was out-of-this-world amazing and I am so glad that I got to see it.
However, we had not yet arrived at the final destination. We had come this far, and we really wanted to see the glacier. Actually, Ross and I really wanted to see the glacier, the kids just wanted to stop driving, but we are not quitters, so we kept going.
I won't lie. It was awful. Bo completely cracked it. He screamed and screamed and then he finally fell asleep.....5 minutes before we got there.
Ross parked the car and he and the other kids went for a walk to see the glacier.....and to pee.....again. I was feeling rather consumed with frustration and anger by then and opted to sit in the car and try and calm down and find some peace. I drew in my journal and admired the view, luckily, stunning views have a generally calming affect on me. Bo woke up only half an hour later and I managed to wrangle the baby carrier on myself and strap him in ( quite an achievement actually ) and walked to join the others.
Again back to the realities of our travel. I don't particularly like walking with a heavy, crying baby strapped to my body while I see the sights. I was struggling at this point. Even the view wasn't much help.
What did cheer me up a bit was that Ross found some edelweiss!
Despite having sung all my life;
"Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me.
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me"
This famous flower actually only grows at a high altitude of 1,800 - 3,000 meters! Australia's highest Mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, is only 2,200 meters. So unless the Von-trapps lived on the top of the Alps, there's no way they were greeted every morning by edelweiss. And so far on our trip, we hadn't seen any.
Well, Ross managed to find some on top of the lookout point at the glacier, although when he picked it, he received a sound telling off by an Austrian official because we were in a national park, oops! Interestingly, edelweiss is not particularly clean and white or small and bright either. It is actually kind of grey and fuzzy! Anyway, despite the Austrian indignation, Ross pocketed his prize and brought it to me, the most wonderful flowers I have ever received.
A tiny pocket of romance in the midst of the crazy.
We bundled the kids back into the car for the long drive home. There were such amazing and fantastic views, truly spectacular. As we drove through such beauty, we did so to the sound of crying, whinging, fighting and whining. I was feeling all used up and sorry to see this beautiful part of the world to such a miserable soundtrack. We really had tried everything we could to make the day happy and successful, and it mostly was.....but it was also incredibly exhausting and trying emotionally for us as parents.
At about halfway back, Ross turned to me and said;
"Look, honey, I know it's hard with the kids. But would we really enjoy this without them?"
A long pause followed that question. As Ross and I contemplated how worn out we felt, and listened to the stressful noise coming from the back of our car, and thought on how much we actually enjoy travel together and how much fun we have had in the past traveling together as a couple......
We both answered at the same time - "YES!"
I'm sure if he had phrased his question something like "would our life be as meaningful without our kids?", I would have had to answer that, no, of course not. Of course our life is more meaningful with our children, we love them more than anything. But the answer to the question of whether we would enjoy traveling around Europe without our kids.......was yes. Our kids made it very hard. In fact, at this point in our trip, most things were feeling hard. Wonderful and exciting and beautiful, but also challenging in a whole new, raw way.
It was a funny moment, and then we got through the rest of the day. We made it home in one piece. We fed, washed, read and sang to all those little children that we were dragging around Europe with us. On the way home we passed a cute little play-ground at the bottom of the mountain range and determined to go back the next day.
On the next afternoon as my kids were all playing and running around and practically brimming with joy, I realized something very important. I was happy. And there was no way that I could have felt so happy at that playground without my kids there with me. Their smiles, love and joy are only a part of my life with the opposites that come with it - the tears, trials, pain and struggles.
Would I have really enjoyed that experience without them? No way!