Nürnberg here we come

Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 27, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Friday, October 21, 2011

As near as we could tell, outside of Budapest there is only one hotel in all of Hungary.  And after a great deal of searching in the rainy night, we finally found it!  It was the Gastland Hotel, in the town of Szigetszentmiklós.  Fortunately we weren't required to pronounce the town’s name before they allowed us to book our rooms.

On the way to Szigetszentmiklós we passed through the village of Bag, perhaps the easiest to pronounce city in all of Hungary.  Although we didn’t find a hotel, the detour was useful since it allowed the generation of numerous riddles.  For example, what are the women who live here called?  Bag ladies.  And what do they call the children?  Baguettes. 

After a nice night at the Gastland we hit the road, heading west.  None of our usually unerring food radar was working—we drove through several towns in a fruitless search for breakfast.  All we were able to find were some tiny bakeries that had no place to sit, no viable coffee, and questionable pastries.  At one place we ordered an assortment that filled a little paper sack.  They were OK, but a little odd.  The most interesting one might best be described as a pizza croissant.  We missed the New York Café. 

Unsatisfied and uncaffeinated, we again hit the road.  Soon we came to the second-easiest to pronounce city in Hungary: Tata.  (Yes, I’ve considered the obvious riddle about how do you say goodbye to a resident of this town.)  Here, at a rest stop, we found the café of our dreams.  It was kitched-to-the-nines, the walls plastered with elaborate still lives of farm equipment, dried vegetables, and transistor radios (see photos).  The pastry was delightful, and the coffee excellent. 

After this boost, we sailed merrily toward Austria, through the rolling Hungarian countryside.  There were broad fallow fields, little villages nuzzled into the hills, and wind farms with huge, elegant windmills.

Just before leaving Hungary we stopped to dispose of all our forints, the Hungarian currency.  Mostly we converted the money into gasoline, but there was still a little left over.  Manfred saw some slot machines in the gas station's little shop and suggested that playing the Hungarian slots would be a good way of getting rid of the rest of our forints.  Wouldn’t it be ironic, I suggested, if we hit the jackpot.

The difference between Austria and Hungary was striking.  Though both countries were firmly within the EU, Austria had never suffered under the Soviet system.  Everything here looked more prosperous-- the towns, the cars, the people.  Even the Austrian fields seemed greener and tidier.

Manfred unexpectedly pulled off the autobahn at the town of Melk.  After a bit of winding around we ended up with a panoramic view of Stift Melk, surrounded by luxurious grounds and gardens.  This was “Melk Abbey,” an enormous Baroque Benedictine edifice.  Retrospective tourism informs me that the Abbey was founded in 1098, and the imposing buildings which we were confronting were completed in 1736.  While many other abbeys were destroyed by the Nazis, Stift Melk was spared because of its magnificence.  It’s now a school to over 900 students. 

First things first: we had a lovely lunch in the Abbey café (see photographic documentation).  Then we strolled through the grounds to inspect the architecture.   We had arrived in the midst of a concert whose nature wasn’t quite clear.  But it involved lots of musicians in period costumes, and a big military presence.  We didn’t hear the music, but enjoyed the mysterious pageantry.

Picking up the pace, we raced through the rest of Austria, and crossed the Inn River to enter Germany just south of Passau.  On familiar ground--at least for half of us--the final stages of the journey to Nürnberg quickly passed.  Our collective mouths began watering in anticipation of  Carole's birthday feast, promised by her kids, Daniel and Hannah.

And our collective mouths were not disappointed!  After an uproarious welcome home and last minute adjustments to the dinner, the elegant feast was served: A salad with fresh broiled figs, followed by rich pumpkin soup, then a terrific vegetable tureen.  Dessert was an exquisite chocolate pear tart.  Each course, as you will see below, was lovingly photographed by Annie.  Happy birthday, Carole, and thank you Daniel and Hannah for such a delicious homecoming!
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