When I was sixteen, I had the opportunity to travel to Austria with my father and many of my relatives for my aunt’s birthday. I was excited, not only to visit another country, but to escape from high school drama and the failing health of my grandmother. I couldn’t wait to spend time with all my relatives that I am rarely able to see.
The experience I want to focus on here, though, is just a small portion of the trip I took. I want to tell you about the day I went to Italy.
It was a staggeringly bright morning, with the sun slamming through the overcast fog and shoving itself through the window of my room in Alpbachtal, Austria. It was useless to hide behind the downy comforter in my warm bunk any longer. Instead, I made my befuddled way downstairs (morning person though I generally be, the time zone switch was still messing with my head).
Having trouble getting used to the local cuisine, I attempted to down half of an English muffin before the rest of the crew decided we should head out. While it was generally a challenge to get everyone organized and ready to go in the morning, this particular morning was easier: half of our group had left earlier to go rock climbing on the Via Ferrata, while the half that was more afraid of heights pursued other options.
By the time we arrived at the off-season ski slope, Skicarosello Corvara, in Italy (no skiers in sight, just lots of sunshine), I was fully awake, probably due to attempting to help my aunt complete crosswords while careening around thoroughly European mountain roads.
The majority of our little group unloaded from the cars to take the ski lift up to the gondola that would bear us to the ridge of the mountain. There were, however, several truly adventurous folk (not me) that opted to hike up instead. While they toiled and sweated painstakingly up what looked to be sheer mountain face, I enjoyed eight minutes of strange elevator-esque music and breathtaking scenery (“I can see my house from here!” and “Is that little speck down there a goat?”). The hikers would join us hours later at the top, and while they made their way up, the rest of us got to explore.
Upon stepping out of the gondola, I was arrested by a breathtaking view. In front of me, the valley swooped down to form a steep, green bowl. Small huts dotted the hillside beside paths that jackknifed back and forth down the slope. Behind me, all I could see were endless grey mountain peaks, stretching into the horizon.
We walked down for lunch in the valley at a small, quaint Italian restaurant. From where I sat outside, I could spot two rabbits lounging in the grass as well as a cow lazily munching nearby. The warm sun and the regular noise of the cowbell stilled us all into a comfortable peacefulness.
For the walk back up, I pulled off my shoes, just to savor these last sun-snug moments in Italy. I’ll never forget that walk up that steep Italian slope. The entire experience of going to Austria had made me so strong and carefree, without a single worry of school or family in my mind. All I could feel was the soft grass beneath my feet, the cool wind on my face, and the warmth of the sun on my back.
Never have I so fully realized the meaning of freedom as I did then, walking barefoot in the Alps.
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