August 14, 2015
By Ekta R. Garg
Enjoy these special Spurts from our time in Europe, readers!
After some thought and consideration, we decided to do a grand vacation in Central Europe this summer. Our family had never done a vacation like this before, and this would be the first international trip with the kids. My husband and father-in-law and I have traveled internationally many times before, but the kids had never before dealt with jet lag and time differences and a change in culture and cuisine.
At the ages of nine and seven, we thought they could finally do it.
So we booked our trip through Adventures by Disney and jaunted off to Central Europe. Our three-country tour included the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria with a concentration, in part, on the locations of The Sound of Music. Because the movie celebrates 50 years this year and I took the kids to see it in the theater in the spring, the locations held quite a bit of resonance for us.
During one of our two travel days on the bus we got to watch the movie yet again. The kids in the bus, including Nine and Seven, sang along during the happy parts, but by the time the third hour of the movie, and the most dramatic part, started, the kids had begun their own games in the back seats. I watched the film all the way through and heaved a sigh at the end as I always do. The Von Trapps had once again escaped the Nazis.
I thought the kids hadn’t paid much attention to the movie until I heard Seven say later, “I didn’t like how Rolf dumped Liesl in The Sound of Music.”
My ears perked up, although Seven was talking to her sister and not me.
“I didn’t like it,” she said again. “I would dump him back.”
“Well, you can’t exactly dump him back,” Nine explained with some level of expertise. “He already dumped Liesl. Once a person gets dumped, you can’t dump them back.”
“I would dump him,” Seven repeated.
Glad to know she has a clear vision of how relationships work.
One of the excursions in Europe took us inside the Eishole Ice Cave in the Bavarian Alps. When we saw the ice cave listed on the itinerary we were intrigued. When we woke up on the day of the excursion and got on the bus that would take us to the starting point of our hike up to the cave, we found out we would have to climb 700 steps—one way—to make the trip throughout the interior of the mountain to see the natural wonder.
Before those 700 steps, we had to hike to the entrance of the cave for about 30 minutes or so. Nine and Seven expressed their wariness about the entire prospect during the hike. By the time we rushed through the entrance of the cave in the midst of a wind that shoved us through the doorway, Seven had fixed a frown on her face that didn’t budge until we left.
Nine took the entire experience with a lighter attitude. The climb of 700 steps proved to be moderately challenging, but she held on to my hand and chatted amiably with me as well as with one of the adventure guides who had the responsibility of accompanying us during the entire nine-day trip. When we got close to the top, the other adventure guide scrolled through her mP3 player and held up a small speaker she’d carried with her.
Soon enough, the opening bars of the song “Let It Go” began to float through the cave.
I heard Nine singing in front of me, and several others on our tour joined in. So I decided to belt out the chorus along with everyone else. And for several minutes we all got to actually be Elsa. I mentioned how I felt to Nine.
“I felt like Elsa too,” she said.
We joked about the ice monster at the end of Frozen who showed up again in a Frozen short film about Elsa trying to give Anna the perfect birthday. A little while later, after descending the 700 steps, we rushed through the windy entrance again. Seven came out of the cave complaining about the temperature (about 32 degrees that day,) but Nine and I relished the few moments we got to feel like a Disney princess.
Despite the temperature the entire adventure into the ice cave ended on a special note for animal-lover Seven.
We hiked back down the mountain, and within sight distance of the welcome center a butterfly fluttered in our direction and settled on my arm. I slowed down and called to Seven who had run ahead of me. When I told her why I wanted her to come back, she approached me with careful, quiet steps.
The butterfly seemed content to stay on my arm, unlike most butterflies that flit away the minute they detect movement. I had an idea and asked Seven if she wanted the butterfly to come on her. She brightened up right away, all of the fatigue and challenge of the 1400 steps we’d climbed forgotten for a few minutes. I told her to bring her arm close to mine, and after some gentle coaxing we got the butterfly to climb onto Seven’s arm.
Her face lit up, and she enjoyed the butterfly on her arm. It opened and closed its wings with delicacy, and after several minutes it flew away. Nine came back to ask what we were doing, and we told her. As we walked another butterfly appeared. It repeated the movements of the previous insect, landing first on my arm and then allowing itself to be moved this time to Nine’s arm. Then we convinced the butterfly to get onto Seven’s arm, and she watched it. After a little while, though, she said she wouldn’t mind if the butterfly flew away.
“I can’t take care of the butterfly all day!” she exclaimed.
Seeming to sense her impatience, the butterfly took off after a few more minutes. But it offered enough of a respite from the ice cave to distract Seven from the challenge of all those steps, and she began piping up more. By the time we made it back to the bus to ride to the Hohenwerfen Castle, Seven had returned to her normal self.
Two more animal encounters came Seven’s way, both occurring in the Royal Spanish Riding School of Vienna. We got a special private tour of the elite equestrian school on our last full day in Austria. As we stood in the courtyard enclosed on four sides by the stables of the Lipizzaner horses that have lived there for generations, we saw a cat saunter by. The school tour guide who stood reciting the history of the school broke from her speech to say the kids in our group could pet the cat.
Seven led the way and knelt and touched the cat a few times. She came back to stand near me and reached right away for the hand sanitizing gel that hung from her backpack. I had to smile at her personal insistence for cleanliness.
About 20 minutes later we made our way through the stables of the Lipizzaner horses. We walked through the U-shaped structure, observing and admiring these grand animals. The tour guide had admonished us before we entered not to take any pictures or touch the horses, so we could only look at them.
The group stopped as someone asked the tour guide a question. A stable-hand in one of the stalls caught sight of Seven and said something to her in German. Seven, of course, didn’t respond with words. She just offered him a neutral look. The stable-hand spoke again and then said something resembling “sugar cube.” Still Seven didn’t say anything. The man gestured for her to follow and began fishing in his pocket.
He led us to another stall about seven or eight feet away and called to the horse in that stall. The horse had its back turned to us, but after the man called to it a couple of times it turned in our direction. The stable-hand turned back to Seven and handed her a sugar cube. He mimed that she should keep her hand completely flat, and by this time the tour guide had joined us. She encouraged Seven in English to keep her hand flat, and the horse reached down with its head and caught the sugar in an open-mouthed purse of its lips.
Seven chuckled, and she practically skipped out of the stable. She rushed to tell her dad and big sister about what had happened. My husband brightened up at the fact that Seven got to experience this spontaneous moment.
And right then I knew that this overseas trip, for this encounter and so many others, was truly a success.