The past couple of days have been filled with time spent in Vienna and the small town of Hartberg, about an hour or so from Vienna. On Friday, we left the kids at the apartment to do school work and Ilise and I went touring around Vienna. We walked for a few hours, got to see the heart of the city, including the Opera House, the Stephansplatz which is highlighted by the huge cathedral. We spent a couple of hours walking around the Jewish section of the city including the two museums and some monuments that were dedicated to the Jewish community that was annihilated during WWII.
Our walk took us straight down the main shopping street of Vienna. On the walk I was trying to figure out how we got to the point where buying stuff has become such a central part of our lives? How did we go from hunter, gatherer farmers to consumption machines? I guess I will be asking this question for the rest of my life because I don’t believe that my efforts can have much effect on that behavior, nor do I want to. As for our travels through Vienna, the weather while we have been here has been perfect. It has been about 70 degrees the entire time except for some rain that we got yesterday when we ventured into the countryside with some new friends.
We were introduced to Milena and her fiance Bernd through a good friend, Glenn Deihl. It turns out that Glenn’s son, Bobby, was also going to be in Vienna this weekend so we ended up with three 20 somethings joining us for a day in the country. Bernd grew up in Hartberg, which is a little over an hour from Vienna. We went there for a couple of reasons. First of all the countryside was absolutely beautiful. The hills and valleys created an awesome landscape that, again, is almost impossible to capture in pictures. You can try to take a panoramic but that still doesn’t do the memory justice. It has happened so many times on this trip, the scenery is just beyond a picture.
In addition to the beauty of the countryside, each year in the spring the vineyards in that area of the country have what is called a Buschenschank. In the region there are a lot of small, family vineyards and each of them open up there house as a sort of restaurant for 2-4 weeks a year, rotating with others so that there is never too much competition. They provide traditional meals in which most of the ingredients come from their own farm. By law, they are not allowed to serve warm food, so the meals are usually bread with various spreads, cheeses and meats and then of course their own wine or grape juice. because they don’t have to pay taxes, these places are very inexpensive and therefore a hit with the locals, making the experience often a very authentic one.
We stopped at Milena’s favorite winery around 3 pm when we arrived. As was normal, Noah was complaining about being hungry so we decided to have food before we took a long hike. The vineyard was packed inside so we took a table outside. As it was raining on and off, they owner of the vineyard took our table and carried it under a small overhang to give us reprieve from the sparse rain showers. We ordered just about one of everything. We got meats, cheeses, salad, a been salad and of course, we had some wine and their home made grape juice. The food was wonderful and everyone really enjoyed themselves. We got to know Milena, Berndt and Bobby very well yesterday and laughed a lot. It turns out that Milena and Berndt are getting married in about a month. They seem like a very well suited couple.
After the meal we started off on a hike to the top of the mountain which had just breath taking views. We hiked about 3-4 km and Drew stopped half way up to take pictures in this amazing flower field. Noah was complaining because we had taken a 9 mile bike ride in the morning to return our bike rental cards for the CityBike system. We were about 1 km from the top and decided to turn back and head out for some desert. We did get some awesome views on the hike and had some really nice conversations as well. We also saw dozens of slugs that came in all colors, including numerous red ones. I had never seen a red slug before. We also saw this really cool black and yellow salamander. All in all it was a great hike and afternoon.
We returned to the car and I was following Berndt to the desert place about 5-7 km away on the next mountain. Berndt was driving like a crazy man and I was trying to keep up. It was fun driving the tight winding roads with an stick shift, but I believe that Drew, who was sitting all the way in the back, was turning a few different shades of green 🙂 We arrived at our destination which was at the top of the highest mountain in the area. There was an old church and a tavern at the top. We took some pictures and then went in for desert. It was about 7 pm by this time and we all ordered some really nice deserts, including warm apple struddle with ice cream for me, Drew had a big bowl of ice cream with fruit, Noah had a chocolate brownie thing with ice cream and Ilise ordered a local cake (which she really did not like). We were all full by the end and it was almost 9 pm by the time we were done.
As we were walking out, Bobby was able to FaceTime his dad, who was driving in NJ, and his mom who was at home. We were able to say hello to both of his parents and thank them for arranging our day. It was a special day for all of us and we will remember our time in Austria fondly and much of it was do to our day in the country.
To a life well lived!