There are some travel destinations which are etched into the minds of children through popular culture and history classes.
Being a curiously curious child, upon reflecting back on how I began my associations with Austria, this would be the chronological order: Heidi, The Sound of Music, Mozart, Archduke Ferdinand, Hitler’s birthplace, Before Sunrise, the possibilities of the arts, of museums and palaces and train stations grand and large, encompassing glass windows spanning several floors, Josef Fritzl, and finally Innsbruck, which is on the way to Florence from Vienna and provided the perfect place to rest.
The contradictory images that mar the media provide a troubling montage for those seeking answers about this mountainous landlocked country.
Between sitting in restaurants that are over 400 years old and whilst hogging on all the pastries I could get my hands on, I found out it is worth a visit to wander past the more touristy destinations of Vienna and Salzburg, and further into the countryside. I realized that any answers I found would be vastly simplified by traveling to the mountains, and hopped on a train to take us there.
The Austria I have seen has lived up to the standards of profuse madness, as is wont to happen in this country which has enjoyed both glory and shame in recent media. Through it all, I was struck by an incredible tale of unexpected human compassion.
I was immediately mesmerized by the clear mountain air, but alas, there was no mountains to be seen at night. The streets were crisp and gorgeously low, deplete of shiny steel and filthy florescent lights.
Thanks to my friend Elena’s diligent hotel bookings, in order to satisfy my visa officers at the French Embassy that I was a respectable human being, we had found housing in Hotel Weisses Kreusz months ago.
Our sloping beds were hard, but comfortable, and as we lay in a long room of the 14th Century hotel, I reflected on how Mozart had stayed with his son Wolfgang Amadeus in 1769, on their way to Italy.
Since we were on our own way to Italy, I got a great kick out of the random fact, and as we settled in for the night in the creaky wooden rooms where the windows gave us a view of the tiled rooftops of neighboring buildings, I was more than happy with my lot in life.
Over the next two hours, we wandered along an increasingly narrowed path, with no notion that we were about to become the target of two Tirolian hunters, since dawn on their property, which we had been trespassing for two hours.
They almost killed us when they sighted us from a distance and mistook us for deer. Almost, meaning they aimed their rifles at us, after we meandered off the wrong path in our hiking trail and landed up in private property after not seeing a single person on the way there.
The only reason we were saved was one which has been bothering me for years.
“You were wearing pink,” the hunters told us in perfectly well enunciated English. “Deer are not pink.”
The hunters ended up sharing drinks, bacon, eggs, and bread with us, after helping us down the slope to their cabin overlooking the mountains surrounding the other side of Innsbruck.
Through the conversation, we found they consider themselves Tirolian. They don’t like to be associated by the Viennese, who they feel, “Don’t understand us. They’re city people. We’re from the mountains.”
We also happened to be the only trespassers who had managed to climb up as far as we had, they explained to us, as they helped us back down with their walking sticks. They found it even more amusing after finding out that we were New Yorkers.
It was a fun afternoon strolling around, although I must say that there was a span of about two hours where I was absolutely thirsty and panicked that we were climbing a slope unfit for my stupidly bourgeois city walking Skechers.
The first time I was in Austria, my friends and I were saved by Tirolian hunters, after an hour of grasping at twigs on a drastically inclining slope, whilst actually pondering the almost vertical ski slope that separated us from the ski lift on the other side.
Yes, I do realize it’s very ridiculous and honestly, we were a bit mad to go in and fraternize with these two strange men in wooden cabins, while they carried rifles slung over their backs.
Anything could have happened, but here are the reasons why we decided to trust strangers.
We found out a graveyard and a cottage we had passed a few hours ago, had both been private property.
They owned the adjoining ski slopes, which were all meadows at this time of the year.
They laughed with us for hours.
At a certain point, we realized they were our only alternative to getting out, and despite any rumors we may have heard about creepy old Austrian men, they did save us, and for this, I am forever grateful for the rather unusual introduction about the kindness of strangers.
When they found us, they could have easily just harmed us if they had wanted to, but they did not.
We did note that they opened the wine in front of us, which means there was little to no chance of being roofied, unless of course, they were masterminds in corking.
Also, one of my friends was hypoglycemic and we had been out of food for hours, and were moved with the offer of nourishment in exchange for enjoyable banter and company.
The worst case scenario was that I had slight juice left on the cell phone that my older sister had lent me. She and another cousin were traveling with us but wisely opted to go to the crystal caves instead.
Hence, the short answer of how to avoid being killed by strangers in the Alps is buried in a timeless Audrey Hepburn assertion, that tells us to embrace the “pink” part of ourselves.