Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wachau: Third Time is the Charm

[I apologize -- this is way too long and has too many pictures; I should have done about five smaller posts. But I am certain to remember everything that happened!]
The Isaaks left for home on July 31st and we were so sad to see them leave, not least because we knew that without their children as bait, ours would never leave the house again. So to head them off before they dug in their heels, we rented a car. (a VW Sharan, business, which we liked very much; better than ours at home. It had icy AC, less road noise at autobahn speeds, and a better setup of seats in the back, to accommodate our usual projectile serving methods while on car trips. Sebi came in screaming “Papa got a winnywan!” which is what he used to call them.)
[click to enlarge] We decided to visit the Wachau, which is the very place that Rob and children had already been twice on bikes. Rob wanted me to see it, and knew that wouldn’t happen this trip on bikes, and he wanted time to poke around the tiny medieval towns they kept pedaling through. We began at their end point in Krems. First stop was a beautiful park on the Danube for kids to stretch their legs. Then we walked into Krems, which had actually overtaken a little medieval town called Stein.
[click to enlarge] The town square was very pretty, but so were the close packed streets and the two churches, one on top of the other. I especially liked the arcaded renaissance courtyard with the clothes out to dry, and this little garden on the stairs between churches. I was thinking that living in a town like this must teach the aesthetic, because if someone deeded that garden to me today, I couldn’t make it look right. Mine would be somehow too American: either too controlled or too messy and unkempt. Meanwhile this one fit the place like it had grown there over the last several centuries as it probably did.
Up in the church on top, Rob and Maddie were poking around and looked into a window/grate. They found bones – a large pile of bones. People have a different relationship to bones here – you’ll be hearing more about bones, but none were disposed of so casually as these.
Maddie was freaked out, so I’m certain she related it to something from Harry Penjackson/ Percy Potter.
[click to enlarge] From Krems/Stein we drove to Durnstein, which Rob had really wanted to see last time, but they were forced to speed through to catch a renegade child. It was darling and wee and hilly and stony. We saw three weddings there in the afternoon in the Rathaus, which opened directly onto the main/only street: a police wedding, which took off in a paddy wagon with the siren going, and two others who used a more conventional Rolls Royce.
[click to enlarge] We asked about a restroom there and were told there was a brand new one just down the street and down the stairs. Phew! It was down about 10 flights of stairs all the way to the river. I just had to document it because I have never felt so much like I was going down a mine shaft.
[click to enlarge] We wandered up to the Stift at Durnstein and decided we had to go in. It was a somewhat smaller version of Melk, and just across the river from the Aggstein abbey and we wondered how such a small region could support so many abbeys.
We walked through a ‘meditation exhibit’ and then found ourselves around the base of the tower, with the best view over the river. A bulldozer was working below the abbey, probably on something flood-related, and he kept the boys enthralled for a while.
[click to enlarge] We visited the chapel which was in great condition, and the kids finished with a game of hide and seek from Joss in the center courtyard.
[click to enlarge] The other notable thing about Durnstein is the castle ruin on the hill. It is where King Richard the Lionhearted of England was imprisoned on his return from the crusades.
The kids and I started up the path, leaving Rob and Joss where the strollerworthy part ended and became rocky steps.
[click to enlarge] It was green and moist and quite hot, and Maddie and Will decided they’d had enough when we got up to a good view of the castle. Only Sebi and I trudged up the last several sets of stairs to the ruins.

By the time we came back down, we were hot and tired, so we ate at a weinhof. We bought little plates of sandwich fixings which the kids were suspicious of at first, and which we had to buy more bread for before they had finished. By this time we had been gone for about five hours and only visited two of the towns on the route to Melk. Rob felt that they’d made better time on the bikes! Thankfully the entire Wachau region is less than 30 miles long, so we were able to take our time.
[click to enlarge] We got out again in St. Michael with a beautiful church and graveyard and the ossuary they saw last time. This was also the place where Rob and Curtis found some wonderful grape juice while looking for a bathroom for kids. We stopped in again and bought another five bottles. And used the facilities.
We stopped in the city of the Rote Tor where we saw a rendition of Franz Josef in stained glass in the church. And we cruised along the river, looking at the beautiful vineyards and apricot orchards. There were fruit stands set up at almost every orchard. We saw Willendorf, the end of their first bike ride.
[click to enlarge] Rob had also wanted to get Marillen knodel last time and hadn’t been able to. By this time it was getting dark and chances were looking slim once again – the Wachau is known for plenty of things, but night life isn’t one of them. We looked in one town which is as big as your nose and ended up backtracking along the same lane they’d ridden on. At a few stone buildings, Rob decided to get out and ask a woman sitting on a bench if she knew where to buy marillen knodel. He came back with his arms in victory and we set out to try some.
Nearly everyone in town was relaxing on a terrace, having a drink before dinner, and we set all eight of their tongues a wagging with our family traipsing through town. We settled our kids at the bar and a very nice proprietress fed us local grape juice and knodel and gave Joss a stuffed turtle at the end. We wouldn’t have remembered the name of the place except that I took a picture of it: Schwallenbach, first mentioned in 830 AD. Incredible. I’m certain they’ll be talking about those crazy people with all those kids who just wanted marillen knodel for years to come.
After our stop at the knodel bar with the disco interior, we had about four euros left. We decided to get some apricots at one of the fruit stands and Rob said it was my German practice for the day to get some. We stopped at one with a nice old man in a blue work suit. He was the cutest, the funniest, the most talkative apricot salesman I’ve ever met. I was taking so long that Rob took pictures. Then he took videos. Then we came back to the van to see the kids and he told more stories.

I look at the video and think ‘no wonder people think I understand. I look like I understand.’ But really what I understood was “American – French – servicemen -- Friday afternoon dances -- only women and girls -- piano playing – men -- free coffee and cake - – dancing – dancing – one dollar for 73 schillings, lot of money back then -- three kids – daughter, teacher, Vienna” In the end he gave me a card with his address for guest rooms, and told me conspiratorially that they also make apricot liqueur, which I had been suspecting for a while might be back in his hut.

1 comment:

Curtis said...

Glad Rob finally got his Knödel.