Sunday, September 9, 2012

Austria: Climb Every Mountain...Labor Day in Vent

     Who would have thought that a simple ski vacation in 2000 would plant a seed in our hearts that ultimately would change our lives?

     In early 2000, Dear Husband planned a simple ski holiday to Europe.  After considerable research, he selected a small Austrian village, Vent, as our base.  This quaint Alpine village, in the mountains of Tyrol, doesn't provide the best skiing but, nonetheless, it caught our hearts.  Since that first visit, we have made almost a dozen return trips.  Dear Daughter learned to ski there.  We met a dear group of fellow skiers there and to this day continue to take annual ski trips together.

     All of our visits there have been during ski season.  Each year, we would wonder what it would be like to visit during the summer months...what it would be like to hike to the alpine huts that we could see from the chair lift.  This year, we got our chance.  Sometimes, it is great to experience new places.  But sometimes, it is also great to have a new experience in old, comfortable place.  That is exactly what we were hoping for when we choose Vent as our Labor Day weekend excursion.

     We knew exactly where to stay having stayed there numerous times over the past twelve years.  We knew exactly where to eat as the small village has incredible restaurants.  What we didn't know was whether or not Dear Daughter would be able to handle hiking in the mountains.  (At almost 11 years of age...she kicked our butts.)

     We left just after school on Friday and six hours later arrived at the Appartement Wildspitz in Vent.  The owner greeted us warmly and after settling in, we sat down in the restaurant for a late supper and our favorite Austrian beer, Stiegl.  We slept soundly and woke up to cloudy skies and cool temperatures.  Upon opening our door, we pulled a small bag away from the handle, which contained three brotchen (bread) for our breakfast.  We had a leisurely breakfast of bread, ham, cheeses and coffee and talked about where we should take our first walk.

     Since the weather was not the greatest, we opted to stay in the valley.  We knew of a path that would take us along the valley to another tiny village.  If the weather continued to deteriorate, we could always stop at the Roffenhof for lunch (another favorite).  We started the hike at 10:30 and were absolutely amazed with how many people were out walking.  It was more crowded on September 1st than it ever was in January.  We made it to Roffen in forty-five minutes.  Dear Daughter was doing well and since it was still early, we forged on past Roffen.  Dear Daughter was amazed at seeing all of the sheep, bells dangling from necks, creating a symphony of sound as they grazed.  About ninety minutes into the walk, it started to snow lightly.  Snow in was incredible.

Snow on September 1st!

     Not wanting to do too much on the first day, we headed back to the Roffenhof for lunch.  Dear Daughter had done well - rarely complained and seemed to have a great time.  We lunched on Kaseknodel suppe - another favorite.  Kaseknodel is a cheese dumpling that has been lightly pan fried. It floats in a warm broth garnished with sprinkles of chives.  Shortly, after finishing our lunch, I looked out the window to see one of our Dear Friends coming into the restaurant.  We have skied with him for over ten years and it was such a welcome surprise to see him.  After a short visit, we walk back into Vent together and set a time to meet later that evening for a drink.

     After our wonderful meal at the Wildspitz and drinks with our friend, we all slept soundly that first night.  We woke up on Sunday to better weather and Dear Daughter informed us that today was the day that we would hike to our first alpine hut.  After breakfast, we took the chairlift to the middle of the mountain.  We got a kick out of seeing the chairlift operator...the same chairlift operator since our initial visit in 2000...not looking any different...never smiling and always smoking.  I doubt he recognizes us but we always get a kick seeing him!

     From the middle station, we look up...and up...and up to see the Breslauer Hutte.  The sign says that it will take 90 minutes to get there and it is all uphill.  Dear Daughter's face falls and I hear her mumble, "And people willingly get out of bed for this?" but we trudge forward nevertheless.  We make it to the top in about 100 minutes and we were all actually in pretty good spirits going up.  The view was spectacular and it isn't often that you get to make a snowman in September.

Breslauer Hutte

    Back in Vent later that afternoon, we soaked our tired and weary legs in the pool and decided that we could walk no further than downstairs for our dinner.  Exhausted, but totally happy - we fell soundly asleep at 9:30.

     On Monday, the schedule was very much the same.  We had scheduled a walk to the Hochjoch Hospitz, a hut operated by the brother of our landlord.  The fairly easy, two hour walk provided us with many awesome views but the uphill climb for the last thirty minutes left us totally exhausted.  Again, Dear Daughter and I had our strength renewed with steaming bowls of soup.  Dear Daughter, either recuperated or just happy with the prospect of finishing the first official hiking trip, led us down the path in record time.  Dear Husband and I were totally exhausted by this time.

     We learned that many of Vent's restaurants were closed on Monday.  Normally, if we encountered too many closed restaurants, my stress level would spike..."Where would we eat?"  But not in Vent.  We turned around and walked into the Hotel Alt Vent and ran into the same waiter who has greeted us for many years.  He actually seemed to recognize us, shook our hands warmly, led us to a table and asked us how long we would be in Vent.  After a wonderful meal, he brought over two small glasses of schnaps and told us how glad he was that we visited the town again.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

     So sometimes the old places can bring new experiences.  Dear Daughter knocked our socks off with her hiking ability and we loved being back in the mountains once more.

     I wanted to make Kaseknodel and tried once I got home...only to make a total mess.  So here is another dish that we wanted to have in Vent but then thought about just having it at home once we returned.  We had it last night and were immediately escorted back in time.

Cheese Fondue

Cheese Fondue
(adapted from Simply Recipes)

1/2 pound good quality Emmentaler cheese, grated
1/2 pound good quality Gruyere cheese, grated
2 T cornstarch
1 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic, cut in half
1 T lemon juice
1 t ground mustard
1T Kirsch (cherry brandy)
pinch of nutmeg

Small chunks of bread and apple for dipping

Add the cheeses and the cornstarch to a Ziploc bag, seal and shake to distribute the cornstarch.  Set aside.  Rub a saucepan with the cut garlic.  Over medium heat, simmer the white wine and lemon juice. Once simmering, add in small quantities, the cheeses - stirring in a zig-zag motion until melted.  Keep adding until all the cheese has melted.  Take off the heat and add in the ground mustard, kirsch and a pinch of nutmeg.  Transfer to a fondue pot.

Yummy Cheese Fondue

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