May 15, 2014
This morning we woke up to more rain…and the most fabulous breakfast we’d had on tour so far. I had planned on sleeping in (I would forgo the mountain biking excursion this morning because of my bruised bum), but the smell of bacon woke me up and drew me downstairs. When I got there, I found hot scrambled eggs, bacon, breakfast sausage, toast, fruit, and more. Definitely more substantial than the continental breakfasts we’d had in Western Europe!

As it turns out, the company running the mountain biking tour cancelled because of the rain and resulting ice, so everyone had the morning free to explore Hopfgarten, an adorable village in the Austrian Tyrol. We all went different ways – Some chose to rent bikes and cruise around the town in the rain, others went to a local fish farm to fish in a pond and eat their labor for lunch, and others went on long walks or hikes around the village. I chose to wander into town a bit, and then I had some girl-time with Shandi when we walked to a local pizza shop for lunch.

We were worried that paragliding would be cancelled too because of the weather, but we were still on! Those doing the excursion, which was one of the more expensive optional activities at 123€, or $165 USD) piled into vans and left for the mountain. I say “vans,” but we referred to ours at the “death cab.” Our driver was absolutely nuts, whipping around turns and speeding up a one-lane road. We joked that if paragliding didn’t kill us, this ride would.

IMG_0718
Me, Jenna & Shandi riding the death cab up the mountain.

Once we got to the top, we had to wait around a bit for Group #1 to take their ride down. It was fun to watch them soar above us, but it also just gave us plenty more time to be nervous! I’m not a fan of heights as it is, but I wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity. Still, I had plenty of anxiety in the half hour we spent waiting.

IMG_0722

Next, it was our turn to head up the mountain. Our instructors (who had just landed with our friends in the first group) came over to greet us and hand us our gear. We would ride the ski lift to the tip-top, and then suit up and run off the mountain. Easy right?

IMG_0719
Ski lifts heading up the mountain…towards the snow

DCIM100MEDIA
Signing our lives away!

DCIM100MEDIA
Pat & me with our instructors

Finally, we made it to the snow-covered top of the mountain. The wind was pretty fierce, which I learned can be both good and bad for paragliding, but the main problem was visibility. The fog was thick up there, and our instructors weren’t comfortable taking off without seeing where they were going (thank God). So we had to wait it out.

DCIM100MEDIADCIM100MEDIA

We wandered into a tiny little chalet at the top of the mountain that served hot soup, coffee and tea, to wait it out. We were all way too anxious for the big leap we were about to take (literally) to eat anything, so we sat around chatting nervously for the next 45 minutes.

Finally, our instructors came inside and told us it was time to go! We walked out into the fog and right up to the edge of the mountain to suit up.

DCIM100MEDIA
This weather though…

DCIM100MEDIA

My instructor attached to my pack, and gave me instructions for take-off. The conversation went something like this:

Instructor: Run off the edge of the mountain. It will be hard. It’s hard to run in snow, and you’ll feel the resistance from the parachute. DO. NOT. STOP. RUNNING. If you stop running, we’re in trouble.
Me: What kind of trouble?
Instructor: Don’t worry about it. Just run.
Me: ……..

I didn’t have time to think, I just nodded nervously and put my game face on. And then…it was go-time! I started running, and didn’t stop until my feet couldn’t touch the ground anymore. Then, we were flying.

DCIM100MEDIA

DCIM100MEDIA

DCIM100MEDIA

DCIM100MEDIA

I was shocked at how easy this was! I thought I was going to be a wreck up there after my episode on the Eiffel Tower the week before, but this was such a thrill. I squealed at the weightless sensation and the twists and turns, and took in the absolutely incredible view. It was amazing to look down over those mountains with absolutely nothing between you and the ground.

“Do you want the roller coaster ride?” my instructor asked. “Might as well!” I yelled back. Within seconds, we were spiraling towards the ground in a corkscrew. What a rush! Within what seemed like only a hundred feet to the ground, my instructor pulled up and into a series of butterfly-inducing dips and turns. So. Much. Fun.

After around 10 minutes, we drifted easily towards the ground. I was instructed to curl-up into the fetal position, keeping my feet as high and close to my head as possible. Soon, I felt my bum touch the grass (ouch on my bruise) and we were safely back on the ground!

DCIM100MEDIA

After my entire group was down, we climbed back into the death cabs and drove back to the hotel.

We had a bit of free time to nap and explore before another delicious included dinner: Turkey schnitzel with cranberry sauce, veggies and potatoes…and more schnapps. I think we had tried nearly every flavor at this point!

We spent the rest of the night laughing and chatting and testing schnapps. It was so nice to have these relaxing nights in Hopfgarten…up until this point, we had been on-the-go nearly every night, and we would be for most nights from here on too. This stop was such a nice change of pace, and a wonderful chance to spend more time with the amazing people I was traveling with. The next day would be a busy one…and another late night!

Next up: Dachau, biergartens, and the Hofbrauhaus


Check out my other Contiki posts:

Introduction: An American Girl in Europe
Day 1: Oh hey, London
Day 2: Bonjour, Paris!
Day 3: Parisian Adventures
Day 4: Lookin’ Good, Switzerland
Day 5: All Things Swiss
Day 6: Switzerland, Italy, France…oh my!
Day 7: Bond. James Bond.
Day 8: Buongiorno Italia!
Day 9: When in Rome
Day 10: That’s Amore
Day 11: Vatican City to Venice
Day 12: The Last Italian Adventure
Day 13: Hop-fer-gerten
Day 14: Soaring Over Austria
Day 15: München
Day 16: Bittersweet Symphonies
Day 17: Vienna to Prague
Day 18: Ahoj, Prague!
Day 19: St. Goar, Rhine Valley
Day 20: Amsterdamage
Day 21: Even more Amsterdamage
Day 22: Back to the Start
Day 23/24: The End of a Great Adventure
Contiki in a Nutshell: Know Before You Go
Contiki: What Should I Pack?