In 2004, husband Mike and I left for Austria a couple of days after Christmas. We met our friends, Monica and Franz, at the airport in Munich and travelled to a sweet bed and breakfast in the ski town of Soll. The inn was nestled in a snow covered Alpine village and from the moment we entered I felt the warmth of our hosts, the owners of the establishment.
Our room had a balcony and windows that overlooked the mountains as well as the shops and restaurants of the town. The bed was small by American standards but just as cozy and comfortable as can be with its soft down comforter to keep us warm. A television with news in English kept us apprised of the local weather conditions and events happening around both locally and around the world. The bathroom was spartan but all we really needed was a hot shower and a place to store our personal items for the duration of our visit. No luxury hotel might have pleased us more.
Each morning we went to the dining room to enjoy breakfast. It consisted of a selection of chewy breads, cuts of meat and slices of cheese. Most people wanted the coffee but like another guest from England I preferred the selection of tea. Since I’m not inclined to eat much meat I mostly buttered my bread and ate it with the varieties of cheese. Before long the hostess was ready for me each day with new a teapot of hot water to brew my morning caffeine fix waiting at our table. The atmosphere was homey and lovely in that room and I would not have minded lingering there for hours but the glorious town and its surroundings called us to new adventures each day.
Franz was intent on skiing since he had literally grown up enjoying the sport since the time he was a toddler growing up in Vienna. We accompanied him to the top of the slope and then left him to enjoy a day of skiing while we sipped on steaming bowls of soup and then took the lift back down to the village where we explored quaint shops and walked on snowy paths through the streets where the locals lived. It was as enchanting as a fairytale.
There was a beautiful little church that we often visited. It was decorated with trees and flowers and a magnificent Nativity scene for Christmas. The mass was said in German and even though my memory of what I had learned in high school and college was sadly lacking I knew exactly what was happening because the services in Catholic churches are universal, the same throughout the world. I felt a deep spiritual connection with that little chapel and enjoyed just sitting there feeling God’s presence.
Next to the church was a graveyard with tombstones dating back through centuries. It was touching to see how many of the town’s people had died during World War I. Because it was such small place those deaths must have touched everyone quite deeply.
We enjoyed exquisite food each evening in quaint restaurants where it was not unusual to see religious symbols serving as part of the decor. Everything we ate was tasty and we were soon enjoying the tradition of lingering over our meal for hours, laughing and enjoying each other and the atmosphere. On some evenings we walked to one of the many bakeries and capped off the evening with delightful pastries and cakes accompanied by steaming cups of hot chocolate smothered with whipped cream. It was all quite decadent and just what one enjoys most on a vacation trip.
We traveled from Soll to destinations like Salzburg where the annual Christmas market was in full swing. There we saw the beautiful cathedral where Silent NIght was first played and Maria walked down the aisle in the movie The Sound of Music. We visited the birth home of Mozart and our senses revelled in the aroma of roasting chestnuts and the musical sounds of people having a good time. We even visited a salt mine, one of the reasons for the name of the city, and took an hilarious ride down a chute that eventually landed us on our bottoms.
On another day we went to Innsbrook and walked the streets where history was all around us. Not far from town we enjoyed a tour of the Swarovski factory where I became enchanted by the beautiful crystal creations and started my collection of annual Christmas snowflakes that now numbers sixteen.
We visited other places and climbed steep stairs through ancient castles or watched craftsmen creating Riedel glassware. We even went to a concert presented by local musicians in one of the schools. On another occasion we drove into Germany and saw the place where Adolf Hitler often went to rest and relax. We were caught in a blizzard on our way back to our rooms in Soll and driving became treacherous on the mountainous roads. We did not know how to attach the snow chains so Monica went to a farmhouse, knocked on the door and asked for help in her best German. A nice man came out in the storm and helped us to get back on our way.
The following morning we learned that the road we had been traveling was eventually closed to all traffic because of the dangerous conditions. We had barely been ahead of the shut down and it took us many hours to slowly inch our way back to our safe haven.
We spent New Year’s Eve in Soll. We went to mass in the little church and then had a lovely dinner in one of the nicer restaurants. As it neared midnight we went outside and saw that the mountain slope was li by skiers carrying torches. At the stroke of twelve they outlined the numbers 2005 and came down in unison. All the while The Blue Danube Waltz was echoing over the scene while the church bells rang. It was stunning!
On New Year’s Day we took walks around the village and watched the Vienna Philharmonic play their annual Christmas day concert. We ended with a sleigh ride that was so bitterly cold that not even our thermal underwear, quilted clothing, heavy coats and fur throws took away the chill but we did not care. The horses trotted over the snow with the bells on their harnesses ringing and we were filled with joy as we rode under the branches of enormous trees and into the woods.
We stayed until Three Kings’ Day on January 6. The children in the town dressed as those wise men of old and went from house to house collecting and passing out treats. The townspeople inscribed the tidings of 2005 in chalk over their doors and everyone received gifts for the occasion.
It was with great sorrow that we left our bread and breakfast to return home. The hostess packed sandwiches and pastries for each of us to eat on our flight back home. I knew I would miss the hospitality and the special feeling that our little room had provided us. I still find myself wondering how things and are going there and wanting so much to return.