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.