A particularly memorable respite on a three day pass was a camping trip in Northern Austria, overlooking the beautiful city of Salzburg from a mountainside high above. It was four our us, two young Army officers and our wives and it was our first weekend off in several months.
We arrived at the campgrounds mid afternoon on a Friday, rented our site and put up our camp consisting of two oversized two man tents and furnishings. There were a number of American GIs interspersed with Austrian and German nationals at the site, and the late afternoon in Spring was gorgeous. Adjacent to our campground was a wonderful Austrian gasthaus which was recommended to us by others who had eaten there. Great food, beer and wine were served by a staff that spoke three languages, German, French, and English. As the sun was setting behind the mountains we decided to get a bite to eat.
The place was wonderful. It was similar to the German style yet it had some distinctly Austrian features, particularly with the local paintings and unique carvings on the wall. The wait staff was superb, wearing authentic rural Autrian clothing and these handsome people had some of the best natural complexions you could imagine with rosy cheeks and smiling eyes that required no make-up. It must have been the fresh mountain air and the sunshine.
For dinner we had a wonderful chicken dish reminiscent of my grandmother's chicken and dumplings with a delicious salad and freshly made bread. It was accompanied by a slightly sweet white wine which my wife mistakenly told the waiter tasted like Mosel. She spoke German well but momentarily forget the differentiation between Austria and Germany and the waiter, glaring, said in a not very friendly tone: "No, Osterreich." She recovered quickly although she was red in the face and apologized in her best German and he quickly changed his demeanor, smiled and winked, then walked away.
Well, I must say we then had a bottle of a strawberry fruit wine with our dessert, a triple layer cake, and just enjoyed the evening. Then we left to go and enjoy the beautiful starlit night and the twinkling lights of the city down below. There was even a small controlled barrel fire and many were enjoying its warmth while also appreciating the beauty of this wonderful place.
About midnight, at the end of a long day, we decided to turn in. Crawling into our warm down sleeping bags it was easy to fall asleep. I don't think I was awake more than five minutes but little did I know what was coming.
I was awakened suddenly by a loud "boom." It was thunder and it was pouring outside. As I stepped outside I saw one of the heaviest rain storms I could remember and water was starting to cascade underneath our tents. I turned to check on my friends but found they were already aware and we quickly decided to break camp fast and go to the car. It would have not been surprising to see our gear wash away if we didn't pack it up and since some of our items were borrowed Army issue we knew what had to be done.
Well, it was the fastest tear down of a campsite that I can ever remember and I think even my colonel would have been impressed, but at least we got it done. It was still several hours before dawn so we just piled into the car, running the heater to warm us and help dry out. We'd just have to stay in place for several hours; strange Austrian mountain roads are not something you want to travel on in a driving rainstorm.
We dozed for several hours, waking with the sun. The sun, it was beautiful and everything was green and fresh. Looking behind us we were glad we had broken camp. There were campsites destroyed all around and a number of campers were trying to locate missing items, probably lost over the ledge below. And then we found something to really cheer us up.
That wonderful gasthaus was open that morning with wonderful fresh hard rolls, homemade jelly and butter and Tirolean coffee, strong and rich, served in small cups with fresh cream. It really made the morning better after an unforgettable early wake up call.
A little later we headed down to Salzburg and decided we'd find a pension for our second and last night. We weren't going to find ourselves in the same fix again. It was tough, most hostels were full but we did find one with a vacancy, but there was a slight problem. It had one large room with a double bed, a single bed and a cot. Oh, having to share quarters really wasn't a problem, after all we were campers, but the bed situation was not optimum. We solved it by the democratic process, Army style: we drew straws.
Alas, yours truly got the short one so my friends and my wife had reasonably comfortable accommodations and I would just be out on bivouac. But we had a wonderful day, sightseeing in Salzburg, a good meal, and then we sampled the night life but, when I turned in tired at midnight I thought: I really didn't expect to sleep on an Army cot. Oh, well, at least there was no reveille on Sunday morning.
I've always remembered that weekend fondly. Somehow the little problematic parts just fade away and become humorous memories. All of us who served in the military have many of them and it's fun to share them with our veteran friends. After all, it is, or at least it used to be, the largest fraternity in the world.
God bless you all.