Sunday, August 14, 2011

new friends, crazy transport, babushkas and the not so blue but more of a muted green-gray danube

the "blue" danube? not so much. breath-takingly beautiful? oh yeah.

well, thumbs up to strauss for an unbelievably popular song but the danube ain't blue. it is, however, unbelievably beautiful in a "am i actually floating on the danube in the middle of europe right now?" kind of way. every corner brings you to some new angle on some even older church, castle, schloss, vineyards for miles up the steepest terrain, sky forever and then, then it gets even better around the next bend.

well, if you dare, click here and remind yourself of the song you didn't know you knew. it may be a classic but be careful, the opening bit is one of those melodies you'll find yourself humming for days. better, i guess, than having 'you're so vain' stuck in your head. that's the worst!

we took a train to melk and toured the abbey, a benedictine stronghold for, oh i don't know, like hundreds of years. ok, established in 1089, to be exact, built on a cliff overlooking the danube and the setting for umberto eco's "the name of the rose." you can't help but be impressed. we approached it by car last week and by train this week and were equally wowed both times.

a couple of hours of wandering the grounds, enjoying the view, looking at 700 year old manuscripts, ogling at the baroque church and the mind-bending library of books, listening in on german tour guides and playing the game "how many words did you get?" we can't converse in german, no way, or even complete sentences most of the time but each day brings more words that we DO understand. we then headed to the boat that would take us down river to krems. it may have been the most beautiful 22 miles we've ever seen. ok, we're traveling and everything looks beautiful, we get that. but still, the danube. go. seriously, go. you want history? check. you want beauty? check. you want the lulling serenity of a river? check.

one of the more gratifying things about traveling slow, aside from no alarm clocks, is the ability to meet people. to connect with someone that actually lives where we're visiting. we both worked in the san francisco bay area for years, a vacation destination for people from all over the world and while working downtown i always wanted to grab someone staring at a map and ask "can i help? i actually know this town." well, someone did that for us in vienna this week. granted, it wasn't a map but a menu, but it meant the same. we made a new friend, cosima, at a restaurant near our apartment. chatted a while, arranged to meet the next day and took the u-bahn out to the end of the line. cosima was kind enough to cook us a hearty stew, pump us full of austrian politics, mark up our map and take us to our first heuriger to drink fresh, and we mean fresh, young wine and smoke cigarettes until we were hoarse.

after being disappointed with the famous naschmarkt, touted as THE place to do some fresh vegetable and fruit buying a couple of years ago, and shopping there again this week, we longed to find a neighborhood market without the tourist vibe. and we did. the brunnenmarkt, another tip from cosima, was everything we needed. from the killer hummus to the odd hunks of meat to the knock-off jeans for sale and that wafting smell of good cooking. oh, and the dude with the banjo body bolted to a guitar neck playing tunes at the intersection. what WAS that thing?

as for that crazy transport? this is the first breakdown of the austrian railway system we've ever seen and it was a doozy. a one hour train ride became a 3.5 hour odyssey of two trains, two buses, two trams and one metro ride with a single-car train from krems to some bumfrik town where we were met by a dude in an orange vest who, in german mind you, with lots of body language (not easy for an austrian), swept us off the train and guided us to a white mini-van who drove us to the next podunk town where we were met by a larger bus that drove us to the tulln bahnhof where we took a train to the outskirts of vienna where we took the metro to a tram to a tram. between the podunk towns, when we had no idea where we were, a very nice austrian woman answered my plea of "does anyone here speak english?" don't worry, i was respectful. she helped get a couple of questions answered and afterward we had enough command of german to thank her kindly for her help. good times. zehr gute zeiten. (sorry, will. :))

1 comment:

  1. Dang! That sounds pleasantly epic. These are the kinds of experiences that you now have time to have. Which is awesome. Great pics, great story.