11 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Wednesday

Greg and Delinda left for an early morning flight back to the U.S. R&A training for me in the office. Ana and Heinz left for home after class so there was just Anke and me left for the evening. We went back to the hotel then asked at the front desk about a place to go for a walk. Of course, the golf course is off limits and the hotel is not in an area with sidewalks or bike trails. We asked about walking to the river and the guy acted like we were insane...it would be a 30-40 minute walk, he said. We're thinking, "Cool! That's a nice walk."

So we head out an eventually find our way to the river (only about 20 minutes) then follow a mountain bike trail through the woods along the river until it came out onto a highway. We turned around and went back toward the hotel, taking several detours and side trips along the way. It was a very pleasant walk, especially after so much sitting and eating for 2 weeks. All in all, we were out walking for about an hour and a half. We didn't tell the guy at the front desk about our journey...he obviously would not have approved.

We ate supper on the terrace at the hotel then called it a night. I had an early plane the next day.

10 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Mon-Tue training

To the Aussonne office for TDE meeting day...basically, a repead of the Parndorf meeting with different people...7 students from 3 countries (France, Spain, and Germany). Those students staying at the Latitudes met there for supper.

PRISM/Web training day. Ditto, Parndorf. We all went to Toulouse for supper at Eau de Folle. All but Greg. He had a nasty toothache and opted to stay at the hotel.

08 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Sunday

We got up, had breakfast at the hotel and took a cab into Toulouse for Mass at St Sernin. This is the 4th Mass I've ever attended and none of them were in the U.S. It was an awesome service. We were a little late getting there so we ended up standing in the back. Of course, it was all in French so I didn't understand more than a word here and there. But it was a lovely service with all the incense, pomp, and ceremony of a high mass.

After the service, we walked to the Capitol and walked through the Great Halls there. Each hall has floor-to-ceiling (20-foot) paintings and frescoes. The ceilings are paintings, too. Each hall had different styles and subjects. The first hall is mostly pastoral scenes in a romantic style. The next hall was Impressionist work. The third hall had monumental statues and scenes from Toulouse's history.

Then we wound our way down to the river where we discovered a sort of festival going on. They had these two long boats...each boat had 10 rowers, a captain running the tiller, and musicians (an oboe sort of thing and a drum). On one end of each boat was a long ramp or ladder-like thing ending in a platform that had 5-6 people on it. One person would stand on the platform with a shield and pole and they would 'charge' the boats at each other. As they got close, the oarsmen on the inside of both boats would fold up their oars and the guys with the poles would joust, trying to knock each other off. sometimes both would fall off, sometimes only one, sometimes neither.

Apparently, it's an annual event. I don't know how they decide who 'wins' since the people who get knocked off climb back into the boat and onto the ramp. But the crowd loved it...they would cheer their favorite boat and roar when one or both jousters fell off.

07 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Saturday

We caught our early flight to Toulouse via Frankfort. Because we were flying Lufthansa, we were allowed only one carryon item...period. None of this one carryon plus a personal item deal. Which presented us with a dilemma...we had this case of wine (which couldn't be checked because of its fagility) and we all had laptops (which also couldn't be checked because of fragility and the cargo hold temperatures) and Delinda's carryon bag with emergency clothes and the like in case her checked bag didn't arrive (again)...leaving us with 5 items to carry on between the 3 of us. Lufthansa was extremely inflexible on this point. We ended up putting my laptop in Greg's laptop bag (I carried them), my laptop bag in Greg's suitcase, Greg carried the wine case and Delinda just had to check her carryon.

Everything arrived in good order and we got a shuttle to the Latitudes Hoetl (about 10 minutes from the airport). Greg wanted to chill with his book and Delinda and I wanted to go to Toulouse for lunch and sight-seeing so we left him in the lobby and we caught a taxi. I had the taxi drop us at Wilson Place (31 Euros) so I could get more of the tea I got there last time. I got 300g of "Mysterious."

Then we wandered on to the capitol. Unfortunately, there was a wedding party in the main hall so we couldn't wander through the exhibits. We decided to walk down to the basilica at St Sernin. We wanted to go inside but there was a wedding party there and we didn't want to intrude. Actually, it was the same wedding party. But they didn't seem to be actually having a service or anything...it was the strangest thing. We were afraid they would think we were party-crashers or stalkers or something because we seemed to be following them everywhere. And in our shorts and Ts we really stuck out amid all the finery.

We wandered on and got some money from an ATM then set about trying to find someplace to eat at one of the little cafes on the square looking across to the Capitol but in France it's absolutely impossible to get a meal before 7:30 or 8pm. We could sit at the cafe and have coffee and ice cream but no real food. it was about 5:30. We finally found a little street vendor sort of place selling tabouleh and kabobs so we ate that.

We walked around a little more after than then decided to call it an early day for a change. We walked back to Wilson Place because there was a taxi stand there. We flagged one down and went back to the hotel (21 Euros...one wonders why there was a 10-Euro difference between essentially identical trips...).

06 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Friday

This was the day we were originally planning to take the train into Hungary and tour Budapest. However, it's a 2-hour trip each way and we'd had so many long, full days that we decided not to push it. There were enough things left on our list of 'Things to Do' in the vecinity that we decided to make a local day of it.

We got up, had breakfast at the hotel and checked out. Then we headed up the road past the hotel to the water. The "am-See" part of the town name means "at the sea" and I'd been meaning to check it out all week, just never had the time to do it. It's not actually a sea...it's a huge lake that's extremely popular for sailboarding and sailboating. The whole lake is very shallow...maybe only 5 feet at the deepest but it's very long, broad and marshy. The edges are covered in a very tall type of marsh grass or reed. The lodge there where we were was thatched with it.

From there we drove east and down the side of the lake looking for storks. They're very common in the area and a lot of the buildings have these platforms above the chimneys because storks like to build their nests on top of chimneys and if they don't give them a platform above them, they'll plug up the chimneys. We saw lots and lots of vinyards, but no storks.

Then we drove to a small town called Weidl that is between Neusiedl (where our hotel was) and Gols (where we went to the wine tasting). Weidl has a flower shop that sells the Pittnaur wine and we all wanted to take some of it home with us. We finally found the shop and ended up purchasing 11 bottles between us (I already had a bottle of Hungarian wine that Hajnalka had biven me, giving us a total of 12). They gave us a case to carry them all in and we continued on to Vienna.

We checked into the Astron hotel near the airport then on to the First District. We had a number of things on our To-Do list...we wanted to go to the Tee Haus so I could buy my tea, Greg wanted to do the catacomb tour at St Stephans, I wanted to climb the tower at St Stephans, Delinda wanted to find a Body Shop store we saw the night Felix was showing us around so she could stock up on Body Butter, we wanted to see the Summer Palace, and Greg wanted to find part 2 of the book he'd just finished. We managed to find a convenient place to park on the street and headed out.

We hit all the major English/British bookstores in the area and none of them had Greg's book. While we were looking for the Body Shop, we blundered into the clock Felix showed us and it just happened to be noon. At noon, all 12 characters parade through the win dow to the music of a carillon...a process that takes 10-15 minutes. We found the Tee Haus and I got 200g of the tea I wanted. Greg and Delinda bought various teas, too. The next catacomb tour at St Stephans wasn't for a while yet so we went to find lunch and the Body Shop.

The catacomb tour cost 3 Euros but was definitely worth it. The guide would give his spiel in each area in German then send the German-speaking group off to the next site while he repeated it in English. The catacombs are still in use for burial of high-ranking bishops, cardinals, parish officials and the like. The most recent internment dates I saw were early 2002...and some went back hundreds of years.

The rest of the catacombs were for public burials. Originally, people were stacked neatly in their coffins but when they ran out of space, they started taking the bones out of the coffins and stacking them neatly (and tightly) by type in another room. The longer leg and arm bones packed into a tight wall with the smaller bones filling in the gaps and strategically placed skull accents. They then reused the old space for new bodies. There was also a chamber dating from the Black Plague days where so many people died so rapidly that there was no question of coffins and neat burial. There was an open hole to the surface and bodies would be unceremoniously dumped into the cavern below. You could see the jumbled, conical pile of bones in the one room. Given the way the catacombs are deep, damp, dark and not particularly well-ventilated, the smell and rats must have been indescribable at one time. At this point, it's no different than your average unfinished basement of an older home...only vaguely damp and no smell of decay at all.

The trip to the top of the tower was an altogether different experience. There are actually 2 towers but the one was never finished. The unfinished tower is where the big bell is (it is only rung once each year at midnight of New Year's Eve/Day) has an elevator (for 3 Euros) to the top. The taller tower has a stone circular stairwell consisting of 343 steps and ending at a room that is still 130 meters from the very top of the tower (2.5 Euros to climb) the room at the top of the climb has a very impressive 360-degree view of Vienna. With a good map, it's easy to spot and identify the major landmarks...even easier if you drop a couple Euros into one of the spotting scopes mounted in the windows.

By the end of all that, it was mid- to late-afternoon and we still hadn't made it to the summer palace. We trundled back to the car and set off to find it. By the time we got there, all the tours inside the palace were closed for the day but we had a couple hours to wander the grounds. The entire estate is huge. I have no idea how many acres/hectares...but they include a zoo, a conservatory, a maze, elaborate gardens with an enormous fountain, and at the top of the hill above the palace is another monumental structure with huge statues, a restaurant (not original, I'm sure) and observation deck high above that. A body could get lost out there. And it must take a whole army of people to keep all the hedges trimmed and shaped, things planted and tended, not to mention caring for the zoo animals.

We had planned to attend a horigan at Gerhardt's restaurant that evening but it would have been a long drive out there from Vienna and experience had shown us there was no way we'd get out of there at a reasonable hour so we decided we'd just return to the hotel, return the rental car, get something to eat and get ready to catch our early morning flight to France. By the time we'd done all that (resorting to supper at a McDonalds at the airport) it was still after 10 by the time we got back to the Astron. Which, by the way, is a very convenient hotel to the airport but has delusions of grandeur in charging $113/night for a Motel 6 room.

05 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Thursday

Today was the day we had planned to make it to the abby at Melk and to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. We started by stopping at the Parndorf office, which led to checking email which made it 10:30 or so before we actually hit the road. It's a little more than 2-hour drive from Parndorf to Mauthausen but an easy road. You just get on the autobahn and go.

After we'd been driving a while, we decided to stop at a rest area on the way. Have I mentioned that European restrooms are an experience?? I don't know if this rest stop is typical but it was basically a pit toilet and even for pit toilets it was pretty disgusting. There was a hand-pump outside for non-potable water to wash with afterward. Luckily, I had a wet-wipe thing from the plane stuck in my purse. I still, felt scummy...

Onward to Mauthausen... We found the little village and got directions to the concentration camp at the Information Booth. We also got diretions to a nice restaurant to have lunch. A nice restaurant with nice (and FREE!) restrooms. It was a lovely place...it looked like an old house that had been converted into a restaurant with additions along the way. There was a large deck off one side where you could dine and look out over the valley that was obviously a new addition. The food was very good, even if we had no idea what we were ordering. I can muddle-and-guess my way through a French menu but haven't a clue when it comes to German. Anyway, whatever it was, it was tasty.

Then we headed up the hill to the concentration camp.

Mauthausen, as they explained it to us, was a work camp as opposed to a death camp like Auschwitz or Dacchau. there were 3 types of camps used in WWII by the Nazis...the extermination camps where, if you were sent there, there was no chance you'd ever come out again...you were sent there to be eliminated, plain and simple. Then there were the camps that were set up to be a type of prison where you, theoretically, could see the error of your ways, be "rehabilitated" and returned to society. In reality, few people were ever released by the Nazis and the vast majority died in miserable conditions. And there were the work camps. In the work camps, there was also the theoretical possibility that you could be released but their real aim was to "break" people and work them to death. Mauthausen was the latter type of camp. Prisoners there were forced to quarry rock for Hitler's grand building plans. Conditions were genedrally more deplorable than the prison camps. Very few people survived. When the American forces liberated the camp, one of their first actions was to bury 1,200 people followed by 300 per day after that...people who were technically alive at the time of liberation but were in such a state that they didn't survive much past it.

We toured the grounds with a tape player giving us a guided tour of the remaining barracks and grounds. There was also a short film in the museum that gave a lot of the history of the camp. It was the most appalling, dispiriting, horrifying experience of my life...and all I did was hear about it. Greg decided to go on to see the stone quarry and the "Stairs of Death" but Delinda and I had had enough by then and just waited for him at the car.

From there we drove back toward Vienna to finally see the monastery at Melk.

We got there an hour or so before closing time and about 15 minutes after they stopped selling tickets for tours. We did manage to see the cathedral sanctuary (in the Baroque style) and some of the public grounds before being kicked out. We still didn't get inside the monastery or onto the garden grounds. Next time...

Back to Neusiedl and the hotel for the night.

04 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Wednesday

PRISM R&A training today. Most of the students left for home in the afternoon or early evening.

We were going to go to Vienna for a Felix-guided tour and supper so we dropped the few students flying home off at the airport on the way. Most of the rest of the students were close enough to home that they drove.

We were supposed to follow Dirk and Chad's vehicle to a parking garage in Vienna and, mindful of our attempt the night before to follow them, we borrowed Chad's cell phone so that if we got separated, we could call them and get reconnected. Turns out we didn't need it, we followed them easily to the garage (a conventional garage this time...not like the mechanical marvel we used on Sunday) and headed out by foot to see more of Vienna.

We started with beer at the Krau-Krau...a little sgreet cafe/bar near the garage. Not being a beer fan, I decided to try sturm...a local specialty that is basically a 'pre-wine.' After the grapes are crushed and have just started to ferment, it's called sturm. We learned about strum the night at the hotel supper but I hadn't had a chance to try it yet. It's sweet...not as sweet as grape juice...and cloudy, because it's made from crushed, unstrained grapes. It does have an alcoholic kick but it tastes so much like Squirt or juice that you don't notice it until you try to stand up.

Felix caught up with us there and then lead us on a tour of the area. We saw the facilities where the Lippizan stallions are housed and trained. We saw a huge clock that has historical figures instead of hands to tell the time. Each hour is a specifc person and their postion in the window tells the minutes...so, for example, if it's Empress Maria Teresa three-quarter's through the window, it must be 16:45. We saw a display of what was once a tree in the nail-makers district. Originally, all the streets were home to specific tradesment or guilds and this one street was for nail-makers. Whenever a nail-maker would head out or return, he would pound a nail into this tree. Eventually, there were more nails than wood and this artifact is now mounted on the corner of a building protected by plexiglass. We walked around the outside of St Stephans and Felix showed us where the Haas & Haas Tee Haus is. It was closed, but at least we now knew where to look. We went to a true, old-style coffee house...the kind that you hear about the famous philosophers, artists and actore hanging out in. And this was a famous one. It's run by this 90-something year old lady who still opens the shop every day at 4am and doesn't leave until the very last thing at night. You can see that the place hasn't changed in, probably, the whole time she's been running it. And won't until she doesn't anymore.

Eventually, we made our way to a restaurant at the top of a building across from St Stephans. The restaurant has an outdoor seating deck and glass walled dining room for looking out of Stephansplatz. Very impressive. It was a wonderful meal and another full day.

03 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Tuesday

PRISM/Web training day. I had about 13 students from 9 different countries (Italy, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Portugal and Czech Republic...Poland and Bulgaria had to back out at the last minute due to harvest issues in those countries). Over lunch discussions I found out that:
  • The very windy weather over the last couple of days is very typical of the region.
  • The things in all the vinyards that look like really cheesy wooden guard towers or outhouses-on-stilts are actually deer stands. Apparently, deer hunting is very big there. In fact, I had venison several times.
  • Gerhardt (one of my students) runs a vinyard. When he found out I was interested in seeing a vinyard and how wine-making works, he offered to set up a tour and wine tasting with THE premier vintner in the area. Turns out most of the students were interested in a wine tasting too so we made the arrangements for that evening before supper.
We left the office in a little 5-vehicle convoy to go to the vinyard. Greg, Delinda, Rolando and I were vehicle #2. Greg was driving, Delinda was riding shotgun and assinged the duty of keeping track of Dirk's vehicle ahead of us. As we hit the very first round-about in Parndorf, we lost them while being distracted, wondering how such a BIG bus could negotiate the little round-about. By the time the bus was through the circle, we realized we'd totally lost sight of Dirk and started down the wrong road. We knew the place we were going was somewhere east of Neusiedl so we got turned around and headed that direction, all the while trying to figure out we were going to find everyone again.

Of the 4 of us, only Rolando had a cell phone...but we didn't have a cell phone number for anyone else in the group. Eventually, Rolando ended up calling the Pioneer office in Italy to get Felix' number. He then called Felix in the Parndorf office who transferred him to Dirk's cell phone who handed the phone to Gerhardt (the student) who guided us to the little town of Gols and told us to wait there. He met us in a little parking lot at the edge of town and led us through a maze of tiny little dirt track roads back into the vinyards. We'd have NEVER found it otherwise.

As we arrived, there was a small plane flying low over the fields. They told us that was to keep the birds away from the vinyards. They pay pilots to spend all day just making passes over the fields.

We met Gerhardt Pittnaur (the vintner...not Gerhardt, my student) and he gave us a tour of his winery. He has about 13 hectares (very large for that area) and a very new processing facility (less than a year old). His family has been making wine for several geneartions and the Pittnaur label has a very good reputation in a province (Bergenland) that is known as Austria's best wine country. We saw the large plastic crates used to bring the harvest grapes from the field. We saw the presses and large stainless steel tanks where the inital fermenting takes place. And we also saw the cool-storage room where the wine, now housed in oaken barrels (made of French oak...American oak is more suited to Spanish wines, according to Gerhardt) is stored for a couple of years (typically) until it's bottled.

Then it was on to the testing. He'd set up a couple of tables and a large umbrella out front with some baskets of breads and wine glasses. We started out with a Chardonnay (not typical of Austria, but he was in the process of branching out to a more international market), then 4 of his label's red wines. The Zweigelt is a tradional Austrian wine, hints of ripe cherry and a strong peppery-spicy bite. The grapes growing right around the building were the zweigelt grapes so we got to taste the grapes directly and then the wine made from them. The Pino Noir was also a sort of international style...only slightly peppery, more smooth than the zweigelt. The Pannoble is a very special wine...it's actually a blend of 5 different wines (called a cuvee). There is a sort of co-op of vintners in the area that are responsible for the region's Pannoble every year. The vintners blend their own Pannoble every and then come together to decide whose version will be THE Pannoble for the year. It was a VERY good wine. The St Laurent, however, is the top wine under the Pittnaur label. It's a very local wine...only produced in Austria and some tiny parts of neighboring countries. It's a very old wine, some of the oldest in the country and definitely my favorite of the wines we tasted. The most expensive, too...go figure.

Then we got to taste some of this year's vintage straight from the barrel. He has this sort of long glass tube with a big bulge at one end. He would stick the long, skinny end into the barrel and sphon off some wine from the barrel up the tube and into the bulb. he would hold his finger over the end of the tube to keep the wine in and pour the wine into our glasses from that tube. This is a sort of 'raw' or young wine, normally it owuld be bottled and sit for a while in the bottle before being drunk. It was very smooth and mild and obviously needed some age on it before it would be a really good wine.

From the vinyard, we joined the rest of the group at a restaurant in Neusiedl. Another late night after a very full day.

02 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Monday

(Labor Day in the U.S. Nothing special in Europe.)

We had breakfast at the hotel, hooked up with Rolando (from Italy) in the lobby then headed to the office at Parndorf. We met all the other attendees and spent the day discussing the release of TDE for Europe. We all had supper at the Wende restaurant and it was very good.

01 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Sunday

We had designated Sunday as our day to tour the Wachau valley (a scenic valley through which the Danube River runs...there are a number of castle ruins and medieval villages sprinkled in among a LOT of vinyards). We headed north figuring we'd hit the river sooner or later and could just follow it upstream. We drove along the south bank and eventually to a small town where we found an ATM. We struck up a conversation with a woman from Vienna who suggested where we should cross (Krems) to the north bank of the river and tour castle ruins at Dernstein then go to some other little town (I've forgotten the name) where we could take a ferry back to the south bank. From there we could tour Aggstein (another medieval city with castle ruins) and then on to Melk (a monastery with impressive gardens and a Barroque cathedral). She thought our schedule was way too agressive but did her best with her suggestions to accomodate us. And without her help, we'd have never gotten as much done as we did.

We found Dernstein and hiked up to the ruins.The castle had originally been perched at the top of a steep drop atop the valley rim. It was a pretty rigorous hike but the view from the top was worth it! You could see far up and down the river (the main reason it was originally located there...) as well as all the valley on the other side of the river. From a defense and fortification standpoint, it was the perfect spot.

We found the little town with the ferry. For about 4.20 Euros, we crossed the river on a little ferry that could hold maybe 4 cars and a double-handful of people.

A word or three about the Wachau valley...about 3 weeks prior to our visit there had been a really bad flood in this valley. The river fairly regularly foods to some degree but they described this as a 100-year flood. We could easily see high-water marks on buildings and a lot of vinyards were buried under sand and/or silty mud. Bad as it was here, it was much worse upstream in Germany.

At Aggstein, the castle had likewise been perched high over the river. It would have been a much longer hike than Dernstein but we could drive right up to the castle. There was much more of the original castle left here...you could actually go into rooms and lookouts and the like. In most places all the floors were gone...the rooms you could go into used to have several floors above them (you could see marks on the walls where the floors/stairs/fireplaces used to be) but are now open. Like Dernstein, the valley view was incredible.

We drove on to the monastery at Melk but arrived just after closing time. It has a very impressive gate.

Have I mentioned anything about European public toilets yet? They are...an experience. While we were at Melk, one of us (who shall remain nameless) was in dire need of facilities. There was a set of public restrooms right there outside the gate. Problem 1: Most public restrooms are not free. In cities or "attraction" areas, there is usually an attendant with a basket and you are expected, nay, commanded to deposit your 30 cents and she will make change for you if necessary. In other places, it's usually the 'pay toilet' deal where you put some coins in the door before it will open and let you in. Problem 2: The restoom here at Melk was of the latter type and the door required 20 cents in the form of 2 10-cent pieces. Problem 3: Between the 3 of us, we didn't have 2 10-cent pieces. Problem 4: Everything was closed, so there was no place to get change. Problem 5: The only other people on the premises did not have a 10-cent coin either.

You begin to understand why most out-of-the-way corners and bushes in Europe smell like urine...

The resolution to this ticklish situation? When in Rome... There were 2 women headed toward the restroom (2 from the group that we had hit up for 10-cent coins earlier...which they didn't have) so Delinda tagged after them thinking if they got a stall to open, she'd see if she could sneak in after them. Turns out they've played this game before. They bypassed the women's bathroom altogether and used the urinals in the men's room. The exact logistics of which I'll leave to the imagination...

We got back in the car and headed back to Vienna. It took a lot longer than we expected. Traffic was backed up a loooooong way out of Vienna for some reason...either road construction or people headed back to town after the weekend or something. We finally made it to Vienna and found this underground parking garage on Stephansplatz. It looked like a normal garage when we pulled into it. However, when we pulled into a bay that looked like an entrance, a gate closed behind the car and we were instructed (in stern German, which we didn't understand) to get out of the car. By then, there was no turning back and we had NO idea what we'd gotten ourselves into. We were further instructed to enter a smallish cage beside the car bay where another door shut and barred the way back toward the car. When we took the ticket, a door opened on the other side of the cage and we stepped out just in time to see the bay door in front of the car open and the car disappear into a black void. On a TV monitor beside the cage, we could see our car being tucked into a spot in what looked like a big warehouse with cars and vans all stacked up and tucked into their little pigeonholes. We just hoped and prayed we could get the car back again.

We had supper at the Augustinerkeller and then went back to collect the car. It was actually pretty cool. We stuck our ticket into a machine that billed us about 7 Euros for parking there about 3 hours and then in another machine that signalled the equipment to fetch the car from its pigeonhole. We watched on the monitor as a device located the car, pulled it out of its storage place and then it appeared bakc in they bay where we originally deposited it. It rotated the car around so it wa pointing the otehr direction then the big bay gate opened and we got in and drove back out the way we came in.