It was my idea of a perfect ski vacation. Brilliant sunshine. Warm. No snow.
The intuitive choice was to fly into Vienna since we were skiing in Austria, but I choose Venice. Like many, I sometimes confuse the two, but this decision was deliberate. Venice is, to my mind, a perfect two-day destination. Besides, it felt like some sort of thrilling magic trick to eat lunch in Paris and (abracadabra) dinner in Italy.
On this visit, we stayed in the Cannaregio area, a part of city less overrun by tourists, and we walked, sat, and soaked it in. The restaurants were good–the seafood pasta at Bar Puppa might be the best pasta dish I’ve eaten in years. (it’s a tiny dive, cash only)
But by day three, we were ready to leave (as is almost always the case with Venice). We set off to Udine. If you haven’t heard of it, neither had I. Until I researched the stops along the train route from Venice to Villach, picking the nicest of the towns near the midpoint.
There it was, Udine, Italy.
And it was a charming town with all the requisite Italian things: A large and ancient square where kids chased soccer balls and bought balloons and pigeons scrambled for croissant crumbs while I sipped espresso and doodled in my sketch pad. There was a castle on the hill. Views to the Dolomites. Cheap pasta joints. Cafes. Pat and his camera. We spent two nights and were ready to board the bus to Villach, Austria when the time came.
Here, the logistics turned dicey. I travel throughout Europe with an optimist’s faith that any two towns are connected seamlessly by cheap and efficient public transportation. While this is often true, it’s not always true.
In Villach, I arranged a car service to drive us the 40 kilometers up to the ski and spa village of Bad Kleinkirchheim. The alternative was a few hours by bus and train with a connection in between. For this final leg, I chose expediency over price. Our driver was waiting at the curb. Forty minutes later, he pulled into our ski-in-ski-out-but-not-this-week chalet. “Finito” he laughed. I looked up at the mountain.
But snow was inconsequential. Last fall, during our stay in Bratislava, our friends Igor and Vlasta asked if we’d join them for their annual ski vacation. A spa town in Southern Austria? “Of course,” we replied.
As it turned out, another resort across the valley was still (barely) open. While Igor, Vlasta, their family, and Pat cut a few morning runs, I hiked up and down the hills near our place, sat on a bench in the forest, and sketched a mountain stream flowing through the pines. Tributes to Saint Oswald dotted the hiking trail from the valley up to our ski-in-ski-out perch. I smelled cow manure in the crisp mountain air, a feathery lightness that I dearly miss after fourteen years of living at 7500 feet in the foothills of Colorado.
We ate apple strudel après-ski (you don’t need to ski to après-ski!), went to bed early, and slept so very peacefully.
After a week of rest, I decided we would tackle the longer route back to Villach. Igor drove us down the hill from our chalet to the bus stop, the bus deposited us at a train station, and the train carried us the rest of the way. It was not the path a crow would have selected. Passing through the Austrian villages, I regretted that I hadn’t explored more by bus over the course of the week. Villages nestled on an alpine lake. Views to the jagged mountains separating Austria from Slovenia. It all looked, perfect.
Next time, I told myself. I always travel as though there will be a next time.
Pat and I ate schnitzel at a biergarten in Villach, spent the night, and returned to Venice by train for our farewell dinner and one final night. Our 90-minute flight home left late afternoon; we ate lunch in Italy and dinner in Paris. And with that, the magician put the woman he had cut in half, back together.
Categories: Western Europe