Monday, May 17, 2010

Adorable Austria

Time for Part 2 of my Austria-Slovenia vacay recap: the Wachau Valley, Austria. The Wachau Valley is a beautiful valley (as the name would suggest) formed by the Danube River in Lower Austria. It's known for two things: good wine and excessive cuteness.

We got there by taking a (cute) train from Vienna, arriving after a few hours in the (adorable) town of Krems an der Donau. The sheer unadulterated charm of this place was overwhelming: cobblestone streets, narrow alleys lined with pastel houses, an ornate church with with ivy crawling up its sides -- even the barbed-wire covered prison on the outskirts of town was adorable.

We stayed in a semi-weird but cool budget hotel about 10 minutes outside of town called, oddly, Orange Wings. We liked it because they had a vending machine in the lobby with mini bottles of champagne AND free wireless in our room! There was a (really cute) bus that ran from the hotel to the main part of town, which we took every day, along with ten or so spry Austrian grandmas and a few hipsters who were far too wholesome and non-dejected-looking to be convincing.

The main reason we came to the Wachau was not actually for the cuteness -- we came for the wine. Al and I are big wine people, meaning that Al is extremely knowledgeable about wine and I heartily enjoy drinking it (while remaining astonishingly ignorant about it). We also like mixing our boozing with light to moderate exercise, so on our second day in Krems, we decided to rent bikes early in the morning and ride them from adorable wine town to adorable wine town, following the Danube River. As we biked along the river, through the towns of Stein, Durnstein, Weissenkirchen, and Joching, among others that are too precious to even mention, we marveled at how each place we passed through was more charming than the previous one. It seems impossible, but the towns just kept getting CUTER. My favorite town was Joching, home to The Most Adorable Kindergarten in the Universe. I had to stop and take a picture, it was THAT cute. Everything was wooden -- the toys, the building, the floors, the broom that the pretty blonde teacher was using to sweep the floors -- and European and delightful. Definitely going to send my kids there. They can commute, right?

Our end goal for our bike-venture was the town of Spitz, where we were hoping to taste some wine and relax a bit. Unfortunately, no one clued us in to the fact that Austrians are actually Latinos, and take absurdly long afternoon siestas that start at 10 am and last until 3 pm. All these people do is sleep and make schnitzel, apparently. So, when we arrived in Spitz, expecting all of the wineries to greet us with open, boozy arms, we were disappointed to see that nothing at all was open. We went forlornly from winery to winery, hoping that someone would be willing to let us in and give us some wine, but most of the people who answered their doors seemed utterly perplexed by our presence ("Wine? Here? At a winery? Oh, goodness, no, no, we don't have anything like that here."). One man, though, seemed both confused AND angry that we had the nerve to ask if his winery, whose door was open and said "WINERY" on it, served wine. He said/roared something at us in what we think was a dialect of Austrian Ogre -- but might have been Western Austrian Troll, his accent was a bit muddled -- and we thanked him and backed slowly away, hopping on our bikes and pedalling furiously to safety.

After being turned away from a garden shop which in our desperation we mistook for a winery, we finally were forced to accept that nothing was going to open until 3 pm. Defeated, we sat down on a bench outside of a (closed) winery for our packed picnic lunch of cheese and bread and waited for the Austrians to wake up from their uber-siestas. At that point, though, the weather had started to turn nasty, and we soon found ourselves biking through cold, gusty rain showers back to Durnstein. Even though it was chilly and wet, it was sort of exhilarating to bike through lush green fields in the rain. It's amazing what an abundance of cuteness and charm can do for one's tolerance of crappy weather! In Durnstein, which was mobbed with slow-moving and bewildered (read: elderly) tourists in rain parkas, we finally had a few nice glasses of wine and, to top off the day, nearly died choking on a chocolate covered apricot seed (okay, that was just me).

After the unfortunate apricot seed incident, we decided to call it a day and head back to Krems, where we ate a meal that was 10% solid food and 90% cream. Al's dish, which was billed as pasta, was a bowl of cream with a few pieces of linguine floating in it. My meal, which I understood to be chicken when ordering it, was cream, a few pieces of asparagus, and what I believe may have been a poultry product of some sort, but it was hard to tell for all the cream. We also had cream of asparagus soup. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Actually, speaking of asparagus, we noticed that in both Austria and Slovenia, asparagus (spargel -- one of approximately three German words I learned on my 10-day trip) was, shall we say, abundant. They LOVE them some spargel in Austria. I like when restaurants use seasonal ingredients and all, but I was a little spargel-ed out by the end of our time there. But I do like saying spargel. Spargel.

The next day, we ditched the bikes and took the train to Spitz, where we went on a little hike in the hills and woods surrounding the town and killed time until 3 pm before attempting any wineries. We had much better luck than the day before and it turned into a glorious, wine-filled day. We had some fantastic Riesling, Zweigelt and Gruner Ventliner, plus a delicious, fresh lunch that consisted of heaps of cold cuts and cheese and homemade, hot bread. Nom nom nom nom nom.

So, that pretty much sums up our time in the Wachau -- Al and I both agreed that it was the highlight of our trip. You just can't beat that cuteness.

Coming up, Slovenia!

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