The Innkeeper's Tales

And Then the Bathroom Exploded! Chapter Two of My Adventures Running an Alpine Airbnb

by Natasha Hecher
All photos by Natasha Hecher.

What's been happening at our favorite Alpine guesthouse? According to accidental hotelier Natasha Hecker, there's never a dull moment, If you missed part one of her story, catch up here: Transparent Showers, Nosy Neighbors, and Shots of Schnapps: My Adventures Running an Austrian AirBnb.

It all started, as it normally does, when I thought everything was under control — in a high season kind of way — here in my mountain guesthouse in Pettneu am Arlberg in Tirol, Austria.

That Wednesday, I had ventured into the world of off-piste skiing for the first time with friends. Afterwards, we went out for tapas, and, to reward myself, I decided that red wine would wash it down wonderfully. You know what washes down the wine that’s washing down the tapas? Schnapps. Naturally: This is Austria, after all.

This explains why I was feeling a little dusty on Thursday, which was not an issue, given I had household chores to tend to and would not be skiing.

In the afternoon, the gorgeous Dutch sisters staying with me came home from the slopes early because one of them was not feeling well. These delightful young-uns had expressed their love of board games when they initially wrote to me through Airbnb, so I suggested a chill night of Yahtzee and pasta. As we were sitting down to roll the first dice, the lovely mid-thirties German couple came home, saw that we were about to play, and asked to join. Of course, I said, and asked I they’d like some leftover stir-fry. We moved to the dining room, when, as if on cue, the hip Berlin nomadic couple (who were of course vegan and lactose-intolerant) arrived, and I invited them to join us also.

Given their dietary requirements, I told the Berliners that all I could offer them was a specialty from my university days that I call Povo Salad — poverty salad, an agglomeration of mixed beans, tuna, beetroot, Spanish onion, vegan mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper. The British father and son arrived as we were pouring schnapps, so out came the packet tortellini.

Are you getting a sense of what it’s like to be an accidental innkeeper?

All guests were now accounted for, except for two more arrivals and an old friend from my Zurich banking days who was popping over for a visit. The house was humming, all of the hotplates on the stove were spoken for, and the schnapps was getting a good schlurp, even from the 15-year-old Brit.

Mid schnapps schlurping, the jazzy doorbell sounded, and I bounded to greet my new guests, a Dutch firefighter and his traffic controller girlfriend in matching flannel lumberjack shirts.

“Dear god,” I told them, “you look lost! Did you lose your way out of a Christmas rom-com?” What an ice breaker.

I offered them tortellini — the portion sizes were going down as the mood was going up — and I am not sure whether I actually checked them in. But how we all laughed and guzzled and chatted. The cupboards were almost bare and the Yahtzee never got a look, but the laughter, interactions, and conversations were a beautiful reminder of why I do what I do.

In hindsight, the night was the perfect stress reliever for the literal shit storm that soon ensued.

Friday morning started with an upbeat breakfast and the arrival my friend. Everything was ticking along until the Mexican au pairs arrived.

Their entrance was signaled by an uphill spluttering of a burnt-out clutch. They were unable to park the car, and I was unable to help. (I decided when I was younger that I would never need a driver’s license, as I intended to live in cities. I now live in a small village with a sporadic bus schedule. This was almost as good as resolving not study difficult math, as I would never need it, and then becoming a banker.) My friend parked the car.

As the au pairs unpacked, I noticed that their attire and shoes were inappropriate for an alpine environment. One was carrying a shiny purple disco ski onesie that screamed, “more party, less skiing.” I told them that their room was not ready yet as it was well before check-in, and I would need a few hours. They looked slightly downcast, and — I am probably going to go to hell for what happened next — so I said, “or if you would like to help, we can do it together.” They agreed. So, yes, I made my new, paying houseguests clean their own room.

When they said they were too tired to ski, I suggested they organize their rental gear at the local shop and visit the Mexican bar in the next village. Mexicans don’t typically frequent this region, and I thought it might be interesting for them, and especially nice for Enrique, the bar owner and the valley’s sole Mexican resident.

The street outside the guest house. Not much parking.

The afternoon brought one more arrival. Let’s call them “the manic German wearing a Christmas jumper” and his friend. They arrived in separate cars, which is always a huge headache as parking is incredibly limited (and my banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie peace offerings no longer placate my neighbor). Once that problem was solved and they had headed out to après ski (they skipped the ski part), I sat down to enjoy a few moments and an afternoon beer.

The guests started arriving home and were all happy. At 6 p.m., my friend suggested a game of Yahtzee. All was calm. As I picked up the dice, the father and son came into the kitchen and announced that their bathroom was overflowing and brown water was coming up through the shower. The lovely German couple in the room next door said the same thing. When I called my housemaster Rens, he suggested one side of the house stop using the showers. All of the towels in the house were gathered to stop the brown and, ahem, textured water overflowing onto the oak floors.

When the plumber proved unreachable, I called one of my Golden Retrievers, two lovely Adonis-like Australian men with long blonde locks and beautiful temperaments who helped me with the house during Covid — one a plumber, the other an electrician. They were so kind, especially when they took their shirts off to mow the lawn. (Every cougar in town – young and old – remains eternally grateful.) Even though they now work in a pizzeria, they are always happy to help Auntie Tashie (that’s me). Unfortunately, they were unavailable.

Saturday found me more frazzled than an electrocuted cat. Because reinforcements were required, I called my best friend Katrin, a beautiful local lady who knows how to deal with shit. (Yes, I am going to be shameless with the puns.) My Tirolean language skills are more than sufficient, but when it comes to subjects like accounting and plumbing, I am rudimentary at best, even more so when feeling frazzled and electrocuted. As I choked back tears over the phone, I called and told her I needed her, and all my ducks were lined up.

Then I realized that the Mexicans were missing.

As if on cue, they walked into the kitchen, and I asked if they had had fun. Indeed they had. I asked if they had drunk tequila at the Mexican bar, and they said, no, but they had drunk the rest of everything else. I sent a message to Enrique saying, “Nice try, you nearly broke my guests,” and he asserted that they nearly broke him. Of course, they were not going to go skiing and they decided to return their gear after some heuvos. When they had left, the plumbers and my reinforcement arrived, and the drilling began. Katrin was my translator and toilets were pulled out, but to no resolve.

The plumber at work in the "dungeon."

The plumbers eventually moved down to the cellar to get to the crux of the problem and opened the pipes, ready for the deluge. I needed more schnapps to block out the smell, and I think I was still in my pajamas, but that’s all hearsay. The plumbers asked that no one use the showers for a few hours, which wasn’t an issue because the house was empty. Or was until the Mexicans returned without me seeing them and decided it was time to shower. The plumbers are the ones who got drenched.

We got through the day, the plumbers informing me that they would be back Sunday to replace the pipe. My next task was to start soaking of the towels, strip the rooms, and start cleaning and planning the week. This was all easy enough to do, aside from the water being off while the pipe was being replaced down near my dungeon. Dungeon you ask? Yes, of course I have a dungeon-slash-wine cave-slash-safe room: I live in a 350-year-old house in a farming village in Austria.

Some time after the plumbing was fixed, when the first loads of what would be many was humming in the washer and the towels were soaking, the Mexicans walked in. Where had they been? Drinking tequila and eating nachos at Taps Apres Ski bar. When they checked out, my friend asked if I had let them drive off with a clutch they had trouble maneuvering after day drinking tequila. Um, of course I had: I was cooked. Over this whole drama, the Mexicans were surprisingly the only ones who gave me less than five stars for cleanliness on their Airbnb review.

Then again, in all fairness, I had made them clean their own room.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.