We've just come back from a week's holiday in Obertauern, where we enjoyed the twin Austrian pastimes of skiing and passive smoking. My God, there was a lot of smoking going on. If the skiing hadn't been so good, I would seriously consider boycotting Austria as a winter sports destination until they banned smoking in public places – every restaurant and bar was fogged, as was our hotel dining-room.
Twice a day, we sat next to a table of 17 Belgians, half of whom lit up constantly: before, during and after meals. We should have said something at the beginning of the week, but instead left the door open bringing in vast lugs of Arctic air. Thus began the door wars, with Belgians closing it and us opening it. I did think on the last morning that we had finally won as there was a smoke-free breakfast, but no, the fluffy-haired lady in green couldn't resist a last stab. We could have appealed to Raimund, the hotel owner, but as he was seldom seen without his cigarillos, he would just have been puzzled.
As a natural born African, I still find snow a foreign entity and skiing on top of it unnerving, but was astonished to watch two of my little Europeans, aged six and four, take to it like snow bunnies. After a week of ski school they were whizzing down the piste with gay abandon. They LOVE the snow, so much that they love eating it too ('just like ice-cream, Mummy'), so the drive home from Austria was punctuated by many an emergency loo stop.
Another sport you learn to love as a parent in a ski resort is Carrying Stuff. No matter how well your hotel is situated you've still got to get your kids to ski school, and as a novice (me) and a snowboarder (Thomas) this was none too easy. It mostly involved packing their things in a backpack and trudging up the piste with two small people, dodging the downcoming sportlers. More than once I enjoyed this particular exercise, until luckily the kids became proficient enough that they could be collected outside our hotel by their teacher and taken up to ski school in the lift.
Another fun one was Crossing the Piste. Our hotel was conveniently located next to a lift, but quite far from the car-park and the road to town. As we were taking turns to ski or board, and look after our one-year-old European, it was necessary to cross the piste if we wanted to go anywhere apart from the smoky hotel dining-room or bar. On a slippery uphill gradient, populated by hundreds of sportive people going very fast on their skis or boards, while carrying a baby or pushing a pram, this sport was practically death-defying. Once we'd been to town, bought some nappies or groceries and slid down the hill without letting go of baby, pram or shopping, we were then able to combine the above two sports: Crossing the Piste while Carrying Stuff. Great fun.
Despite the danger, we returned safely to Germany, with only a few bruises, a couple of runny tummies and two suitcases full of smoke-laced clothes to put through the washing machine. And we are all newly equipped with skills that will surely enhance our next holiday – which will be on a BEACH in the SUN.