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.