Sat. Sept. 29, 2018:
Vienna to Melk to Durnstein, Austria:
We packed up the rest of our stuff and headed to a nearby subway station. We were off to our next destination: a pit stop in Melk on the way to Durnstein. We got to the train station 5 minutes before the 10:20 train was leaving. It was an hour-long ride on a commuter train. Lots of tourists, including ourselves, got off at Melk.
As soon as we got off the train, we could see the abbey on a hill overlooking the town. it was the main draw. We walked through the small town where apparently there was a children’s festival and a rummage sale going on simultaneously. In addition, we had to also dodge cyclists. It was less than ideal to walk through.
It was a long slow trek up the stairs to the top, I was not helped by my heavy backpack and purse. My calves were screaming. When we got to the top, I saw that there had been an easier route for cars and cyclists. I really wish I had known about it beforehand.
There were lockers at the Melk abbey, allowing us to enjoy a short reprieve from lugging all of our stuff. There was a giant group of people all going in ahead of us. They moved so slowly and just filled the rooms. We struggled to see and get around them. We kept getting stuck between tour groups, there seemed to be no end. The abbey library was so beautiful and it was killing me that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. The church had gold gilding as far as the eye could see and high vaulted ceilings. The only spot where we were allowed to take pictures was the grounds outside. Our tickets also included admission to a lame art exhibit. From the terrace and the abbey grounds we had beautiful views of the town and the Danube river. In one of the buildings we got to go to the top and have a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. We could see the foothills of the Alps far off in the distance.
On the way out of the abbey we stopped in at the gift shop. You cannot go to an abbey and not leave with either bread or alcohol. I chose the latter. Because they didn’t have any bread. We got an apricot liqueur and a spiced brandy-looking liqueur. Afterwards we wandered around in the gardens with more nice landscape and river views. Part of the garden was blocked off because of some 250-year-old linden trees with loose branches.
In town we stopped at the bakery for some “brunn” aka rorki z kremem. I went in there hungry and I came out with an assortment of cookies in addition to the pastry rolls with cream. A chocolate one with raspberry preserves, the same cookie but not chocolate and with apricot preserves and a macaroon with hazelnut nougat.
We got a bit lost trying to get to the marina to buy tickets for the boat ride to Durnstein. We ended up cutting through a gas station parking lot but eventually we found it. We got tickets for the 1pm cruise up the Danube river. Turns out the earlier one had to be cancelled due to mechanical failures. We wondered what we would have done if we couldn’t travel by boat up the river- backtrack to Vienna and catch a train?
We sat on the riverbank devouring the cookies. We were almost an hour early. Because we boarded early, we were able to get seats at a table on the open-air top deck. Our table was shared with two other benches. The boat had wifi and table service. This was my kind of travel. Icing on the cake: they were serving sturm. This one fell in the middle percentile, not as strong as the market one but stronger than the square one. I just remember sitting there, eating crackers and listening to Stuff You Should Know about dark matter and Science Friday while enjoying the beautiful views. The time flew by, it was very relaxing. We had beautiful views of the hills and small towns set along the river and vineyards set into hillsides. We saw ruined castles and churches set high atop the hills.
We got to Durnstein and Google Maps said our hotel was 3 minutes away. What it failed to mention was that it was actually at the top of a giant hill, where the whole town was actually. And that yet again I would have to climb more stairs than I cared to. Again, we found ourselves weaving among tourists and dodging cyclists.
Our hotel was confusing. To enter we had to push a button so someone would open a gate. Except when we pushed the button nothing happened. Apparently, Brent hadn’t pushed it for long enough. Even though there was a sign saying to hold it for only a short moment. Someone else came by and pushed the button for a long time and the gate opened, making us look like idiots. The hotel room had very high ceilings and a plate of fresh fruit but no bidet this time.
We had a dinner reservation at 7:30pm at the hotel. This left us with around 4 hours of time to kill. We walked around the town which took all of 20 minutes, maybe less. It is less of a town, more of a single street with a few shops and restaurants. We had barely eaten all day so we were also on the lookout for an easy lunch. I couldn’t help but stop and try some apricot liqueur, apparently the region is renowned for it. The shot glass had an apricot half in it and it had soaked up even more alcohol. Not the best idea on an empty stomach. There were signs for sturm everywhere and it was so tempting but I needed food if I was going to make it. We tried to go into one restaurant but all of the tables were marked as reserved. The second place we tried to go to was closing- it was 4pm. The third place we went to was behind the main building and down a small alley. It was set up like a beer garden with an outdoor patio. I immediately took a liking to it. The guy brought us our drinks and told us where the bathrooms were, stating that alcohol goes right through you. I also loved the way he said “shturrrm.” It made me want to order more. We ordered bratwurst and schnitzel and traded halfway. It really hit the spot and was the perfect lunch. The fries and potato wedges made for excellent sides. Brent also ordered a glass of Gruner Vertliner Federspiel, the local wine from just down the way.
After lunch we walked around some more, wondering if maybe down the side streets there were some shops? Nope just houses and vineyards. We met a really friendly cat that let me pet it, until a dog showed up and ruined all the fun. We found the route we would take to the castle grounds the next day. Back in our room I was crashing from the drinks. The fresh strawberries helped a bit. My case was not helped by the fact that it was super hot in the room. I found the remote for the AC but it was all for naught because only the remote turned on. The AC showed no indication at all. I resorted to opening the window but there was no screen. I ended up falling asleep. I started drooling which woke me up slightly. I rolled over and took two Advils but at that point I was awake. I took to half-asleep internet-window-shopping. We were having dinner at the hotel restaurant but I still got all gussied up, sometimes it feels nice. I drew the line at putting on makeup and earrings though.
We did not realize that asking for still water was not the same as tap water. It meant paying €6 for a bottle of water. You better believe I finished it. The amuse bouche was confusing. It was salty and chewy and minty and apricoty and it had cream. We were not fans of it. You could say, we were not amus-ed. We split a local char and scallop appetizer. It was underwhelming, the best part was the pumpkin sauce, followed by the quinoa. The char and scallop were both too salty. For my main I had the venison with chanterelle ragout. I thought ragout would be noodles, nope it was some weird bread thing on the side that I did not like. The dish was ok but it was a bit too salty overall. Brent had the goulash, it was better than my dish but it had a bit too much paprika. The spaetzle as the best part of both mains. They were little noodles you scooped up with the goulash. Needless to say, we did not have dessert after that underwhelming meal.
After dinner we walked out onto the terrace but it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything. We walked through the town again except now it was a ghost town. all of the tourists were gone and everyone had closed up shop. The odds of our finding a bar for a nightcap were nil. The only other people we passed by were a family who had left the restaurant at the same time as us. All the lights were out and there was no sign of anyone anywhere, not even the friendly cat from earlier. We went back to the overlook near the hotel parking lot to stargaze. We saw one of the dippers and we could see the faint band of the Milky Way galaxy directly overhead- but it hurt my neck to crane my head back like that. Part of the castle ruins were also lit up.
As I was grabbing my stuff to go have a shower, I noticed the lemonade shandy Zipfer I had gotten earlier. It was 75% lemonade and only 25% beer so I thought it would be an ok shower drink. Then I noticed it was a twist-off. The label said “alcohol frei.” I had been duped, it was jus tin there with all of the regular stuff and the label barely differed. On the plus side I didn’t have to worry about it making my head hurt. The only downside to shower drinking is that the label comes off (leaving glue on your hands), and shower water can get into your drink. It also risks warming up. I snuggled up in bed under the covers to read my book- except it was a bit too warm so I had to stick my feet out.