Monday 4th May 2015, Krems
This morning it was warm and sunny again. We left Klosterneuburg and drove up through Keiling, just beyond. While I concentrated on speed limits, traffic lights and obeying road signs Ian twisted from side to side in his seat being no use to me at all as he eagerly searched for the former home of the writer Franz Kafka! You lot don’t know the half of what I contend with! "Oh slow down, there’s a really boring looking block of flats. It must be there, it’s just the kind of place he would live! It’s just SO Kafkaesque!" When we eventually passed the place it was a perfectly respectable baroque house which quite disappointed Ian.
The vignette for the motorway ran out during our time in Vienna so either I had to buy a new one or we had to avoid the motorways. We decided on the latter. Thus our route lead us via quiet roads through little Austrian villages laid out on the flat plain of lower Austria where vines are cultivated and wine production is one of the main activities. I was quite interested to find Wagram somewhere along our route. In 1809 this was the scene of one of the major battles of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon decisively defeated the Austrians and this lead ultimately to the Treaty of Schönbrunn when harsh peace terms were imposed on the Austrians.
Unfortunately, having found Wagram we realised that since we last travelled this way the road we were aiming to follow has been upgraded to a motorway. As we had no vignette we have been obliged to drive around in circles trying to work out a route that would bring us in to Krems on minor roads.
We eventually arrived to discover we’d stayed here a few years back on our way to Transylvania. A man told us where to park and to check in later when his wife got back. The pitch was very short but by parking at an angle we settled Modestine comfortably and prepared our own lunch prior to walking into Krems, which is reputed to be an attractive old town, one of the oldest in Austria. The person in charge of the site, seeing us eating our lunch then came over and told us we’d have to move as we were not parked facing exactly the same way as all the other campervans! We asked what he meant as we were on our pitch and perfectly happy with ample space all around us. No, we were told, we had to face in a straight line not diagonally across the pitch! Modestine is small but with the rear door being in permanent use rather than having one on the side as big campers have, we need space at the back. The tiny pitch we’d been given meant that if we were at right angles, as he insisted, we’d be jutting into the road and big campervans couldn’t get past us. I was tired from driving and very angry despite seeing it as funny. We really had no choice but to uncover the windscreen, raise the stabiliser supports, remove everything loose inside Modestine, pack up our lunch and manoeuvre Modestine off the pitch and put her in again at right angles where she now causes a very tight corner for vehicles to get round. How stupid!! Still, I suppose we should expect discipline and order from a country where the men wear short trousers and feathery caps. So long as it looks neat, never mind common sense. If I’d not been so weary we’d have left and driven on to the next campsite on our list. When his wife returned she was perfectly charming. Obviously our misdemeanour had not been reported back to her!
During the afternoon we walked through the park into the old town. It is very pleasant, full of cobbled streets and a steep hill leading up behind the town.
At the top is the Piaristenkirche, an elaborate gothic church with a baroque interior and a flight of steep steps leading back down again! Why does Ian always drag me to the highest point of everywhere?
This evening I cooked supper standing on the roadway that winds around the campsite with everyone staring in, no doubt wondering why I was parked in such a stupid place. It should prove interesting if anyone wants to leave before us tomorrow. Oh, but the campsite does look neat!
Tuesday 5th May 2015, Grein, on the banks of the Danube
We moved on this morning, following the south bank of the river which, apart from being new ground for us to travel is altogether quieter than the northern side. The winding road along the valley of the Danube with its many vineyards, orchards and picturesque little villages, was almost deserted. To either side of the valley are wooded hills, bright green in their early spring colour.
By lunch time we had reached the picturesque town of Melk where we found a shady spot for Modestine and walked down into the town. It is charming, sleepy in the sunshine with lots of pavement cafes and boutique shops. In the main square near the river, cyclists were arriving having made their way along the cycle paths from neighbouring villages and towns. We bought schnitzel rolls to eat in the shade on a bench outside the Rathaus.
And then, as I’d feared, Ian decided we needed to climb up to the stift or monastery right at the summit overlooking the town. It didn’t look much different from Klosterneuburg to my ignorant eye but Ian was having nothing to do with my argument that it was the same shape, style, colour etc and once we’d seen one there was no point in seeing them all as they were indistinguishable from each other. One baroque monastery church looks as overblown and gaudy as the rest. I told him I was bored stift with monasteries but he was adamant we had to climb up all those steps in the hot sun.
At the top he discovered an exhibition about the books and documents in the monastery library. It was free and thankfully in a cool room with a comfortable seat for me to doze while he looked around. The best things, he eventually admitted, were a typewriter that converted keyboard letters into bastada calligraphic characters ,and the visitors’ book.
This latter had been left open to commemorate the 600th anniversary exhibition of the founding of the monastery back in 1965. The facing page was also on view and we noticed that by complete chance it had been signed by one Anthony Blunt, keeper of the Queen’s Pictures. Ian then took great delight in signing the visitors’ book, himself stating how proud he was to be registering his own visit in the monastery’s guestbook with such distinguished names as Anthony Blunt, the keeper of the Queen of England’s paintings - and the infamous spy! He then signed himself as “ex-custos bibliothecae exoniensis”.
He then scampered off to photograph some overweight cherubs fluttering over the altar in the monastery church while I waited in a shady corner of the courtyard and watched the constant flow of tourists following the guided tours.
Austrian guides were speaking in English to groups of visitors from Russia, Japan and beyond. Personally I find it depressing that English has lost its beauty and nuances of meaning to become simply a linguistic currency used by the other nationalities of the world to communicate with each other. What on earth did any of them get from their guided tour? A quick glance on the internet would have explained far more, and in their own language. We agreed to differ over this issue.
Even Ian was weary by now and prepared to be dragged down into the town again for a coffee on the terrace of one of the cafes. We reflected that today in Melk he had Krem in his coffee while yesterday in Krems he drank his coffee with Melk. We’ve had a very enjoyable day, even if I have moaned about it. I’m just hoping there are no more monasteries, religious book exhibitions or Russian spies anywhere along our onward route!
We returned to Modestine passing through a very pleasant residential area of lovely late 19th century villas. They were very much influenced by the Secessionist movement in Vienna. One villa was used by builders as a basic design and purchasers could use that design but change facings, decorations and basic lay-out to suit their wishes.
One house, known as the Tile house, built around 1910 by a student of Otto Wagner (whom you learnt about in our Vienna blog) is interesting in that it is beginning to leave the Art Nouveau style behind and show early signs of the move towards Art Deco, reflecting the general change to a more simple architectural style.
We drove beside the Danube for some forty kilometres. The river is high and the scenery very lovely. We reached Grein mid afternoon and were told that as we are regular visitors we are entitled to a 10% discount! We didn’t realise we’d ever been here before until they showed us on their computer. We were here in 2010!
Grein is another beautiful little town with steep cobbled streets that lead up to yet another Stift! This one is smaller and so far I’ve kept Ian down at river level. We sat beside the Danube licking ice creams as we watched a couple of huge river cruise ships moor up and disgorge hundreds of visitors on to the streets of this tiny town. We thought it would be interesting to see what you got on a river cruise and walked casually on board the nearest ship which accommodates 150 guests. To one side of the entrance was the dining area with beautifully laid tables ready for the guests when they return from seeing the sights of Grein. On the other side were all the cabins.
Confronted with a notice warning that only those cruising with the ship were allowed on board we decided we’d best not investigate further without permission. There was nobody around to ask so we left the ship and went in search of some money. The ATM disgorged one note for 100 euros! How stupid is that? Ian declares that as soon as the bank opens tomorrow he will go back and demand five notes of 20 euros.
Returning to the river we watched in astonishment as tour guides strode along the esplanade waving umbrellas followed by groups of up to fifty cruise ship guests! How can they possibly get lost in a place the size of Grein? There are only a few coffee shops and restaurants, several ATMs issuing large denomination notes and countless ice cream vendors! The cruise ships look too long to turn, even on the Danube and the river itself isn’t going away! Why cannot they be sent off into the wilds of deepest Austria to have an adventure by themselves and return with a chocolate cornet they’ve bought all by themselves?
We returned to cook our supper outside Modestine while the owner of the twin axle mega camper nearby climbed up onto his vehicle and worked away washing the grime of Grein from his roof and awning. There are worse things in life we could be doing than sitting on the banks of the Danube with a huge bottle of wine produced by our Hungarian friends as we wait for remoska to do the cooking for us!
Wednesday 6th May 2015, Eging am See,
This morning Ian popped up to the bank in Grein with his 100 euro banknote to ask them to change it for five notes of twenty euros each. They were charming and changed it immediately with an apology for inconveniencing him. His heart quite melted. How very much more human than the unpleasant encounter we had back in Caen with Credit Agricole when a similar thing happened. There they refused to change it because we had no account with them. We couldn’t see the relevance of that, they had supplied it and we didn’t want to accept it. It was not until Geneviève, who was with us, pointed out she had an account that they were prepared to listen. Even then they asked her account number and checked it before they’d change the note to several lower denomination ones. They actually expect their customers to carry their account numbers in their heads! Can you do that? We certainly cannot.
On his way back he noted that both the two huge river cruise ships with their joint cargo of over 300 passengers had upped anchor and disappeared overnight. No doubt the guests will have woken up to find they would be following a green umbrella around Krems as soon as they’d finished their cornflakes and Melk.
The day became overcast as we made our way towards Linz through a beautiful green countryside of wooded hills, orchards and meadows full of long grass sprinkled with buttercups. We followed the almost empty road along beside the Danube, the river sometimes curving gracefully around a bend, sometimes lapping at the cycle path running beside it. The sky turned black and as we left Linz behind and headed towards Passau it began to rain heavily. By the time we’d crossed the Danube, leaving Austria behind, and entered the streets of Passau on the German side of the river, it was pouring steadily. Not knowing where in the town we were it was a frustrating experience trying to navigate the town and park. We ended up crossing the Inn twice and the Danube once before we finally found somewhere we could park for a couple of hours and walk down into the old town at the confluence of the Inn and the Danube, both of similar size, and also of the smaller river Ilz.
When we were last in Passau, back in 2010 the town was flooded and it was impossible to walk to the point where the three rivers all converge. This time it was pouring with rain as we sheltered beneath our umbrellas to gaze at the huge mass of fast flowing swirling muddy water. Two men were filming the river with a huge camera and all the paraphernalia to go with it. They asked us if we’d mind walking across the point of the merging of the Inn and the Danube so they could film us with our brollies for a documentary being produced. We didn’t ask for details but they seemed happy to film us under Ian’s bargain umbrella from a Tiverton charity shop as we gazed at the brown waters of the Inn merging with the blue waters of the Danube.
I was also delighted to find a statue placed on the quayside by Soroptimist International in recognition to a local poet, Emerenz Meier, who never managed to achieve the fame she sought. She pointed out that
If Goethe has to prepare supper, salt the dumplings;If Schiller had to wash the dishes; If Heine had had to mend what he had torn, to clean the rooms, kill the bugs- Oh, the menfolk, none of them would have become great poets.
How right she was, Yeih!!
Perhaps it was the rain but Passau did not quite live up to my recollection from our earlier visit. Maybe I was just very weary. Ian, when we arrive anywhere, is eager to be off with his camera, exploring and discovering. I am increasingly finding I am so tired when we reach our destination that I just want to rest for a bit and find somewhere to relax with a coffee.
Needless to say Passau too has its beautiful lemon coloured baroque stift or kloster. They are all beautiful but all very similar to each other. Back in the 17th century huge factories were established producing curly whirly bits and plump cherubs to stick over windows or to the sides of altars and around paintings . Around that time every church and religious foundation in Austria and Bavaria seemed to be having a Baroque make-over!
In recognition of my obvious weariness, Ian actually did not insist on us climbing up to visit the stift today - though he did lead us twice around the perimeter of the cathedral. He also sneaked a manhole cover photo when he thought I wouldn’t notice!
Incidentally there was another massive cruise ship moored along the riverbank. I suppose the introduction of river cruises has brought recognition and accessibility to the little towns along their route, but apart from a need for lots more cream cakes to feed passengers when they land, have they done much for the local economy?
Soon we had to find our way back to Modestine and then find our way out of Passau in the evening rush hour. Motorways are free in Germany so we went with the flow, allowing ourselves to be carried on to the motorway in the heavy rain, surrounded by really huge container lorries, some with additional trailers. It’s not something for the fainthearted but it was quick and thirty minutes later we were in this little village seeking out the campsite. Tomorrow we want to visit Deggandorf so this is conveniently situated but, arriving here Ian told me we’d visited once before. We genuinely are running out of places to go to in Europe. Like last time the pitches are waterlogged. I suppose we must just be unlucky to arrive twice during heavy rain.