A startling revelation came to my attention recently during a conversation with my mum. I came to realise that my dad, who died more than twenty years ago now, was the same age at his death as I am now! “But he was an old man!” I exclaimed, as I recalled my dad in months before his death. Yes cancer was eating through his body at an alarming rate, but he was grey… and old. This new perspective and shocking reality caused me to reflect on the need to grasp every opportunity afforded me in this second half of life that I am now living.I love nothing more that gazing over maps. I can spend hours looking over paper maps learning the names of different places and how landscapes fit together. I use the word paper, because while electronic maps are good for purpose, they don’t have the same tangible thrill of being held. Since I was a child, I have always been able to find my direction and I am uncomfortable when I cannot orientate myself with reference to a map. This means that trying out new routes is pure pleasure. Why take the usual road, when another unexplored one is waiting to be travelled?
This lesson was learned graphically as few years ago, when we were travelling back from the Gastein Valley in Austria. The usual route would mean heading for Salzburg and then take the A1 road back to Vienna. However, this time it felt right to try something different, so out came the car map of Europe. I slowly traced my finger across the middle of country. Why don’t we go this way? Our new adventure opened up the beautiful Gesäuse National Park with its wild rivers and imposing, rocky mountains. A region of Austria we have returned to a couple of times.
The last visit was a bit of a surprise. Chris announced we were going on an adventure. He’d found somewhere nice just outside of the National Park and booked us in for one night. I was told to pack and work out a route. Out came the map and a new route traced with my finger. Head out of Vienna on the A1, but then head for Steyr and take the road along the river. Between Altenmarkt bei Stankt Gallen and Rossleithen, out final destination, there seemed to be a minor road the wiggled its way through the mountains. It was barely visible on the car road map and I was a little concerned because the weather forecast for the weekend was poor.
We set off with GPS as back up. It wanted us to take the major motorways and protested vigorously until I worked out how to set ‘go via…’ then it was happy and actually helped us find the start of the mountain road I’d seen on the map. The weather behaved well and sunshine broke through to reveal snow-covered mountains and breathe taking views. The mountain road was itself a delight to drive. In complete contrast to the narrow, unmade track I’d envisaged. We found the small quaint town of Windischgarsten: a town that deserved a stroll and a stop for hot chocolate; a town with some gorgeously, tempting clothes shops, which were sadly closed on a Saturday afternoon and perhaps, a good thing.
Then finally we arrived at our final destination, the Villa Bergzauber. When I walked across the front garden of the house towards the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, a pressing desire to channel Julie Andrews bursting into a rendition of ‘The Hills are Alive’. The Villa itself is a beautiful place to stay with one of the most comfortable beds I have slept in in a long time. It was very difficult to get up in the morning. The food was lovely and the hosts efficient, friendly and helpful. I’d love to go back and see the place in different seasons of the year.
So lesson learned again. There are adventures to be had in the second half of life, but it means turning off the main road.