Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Sunday, July 6, 2008

IMH: It is amazing to think that Austria borders 8 other states: Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. We passed through Cesky Krumlov, a small town in Czech Republic crowned by an audacious castle and centred on an elegant old town square enclosed by Renaissance and baroque buildings on route to Vienna. We were so sorry we did not plan to stay at least one night in this amazing little town and will have to come back to explore in more detail one day.
The Ottomans (Turkish Empire) referred to Vienna (Wien) as the city of the 'golden apple', but as the Lonely Planet guidebook explains so accurately, Vienna is at the crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe and is more akin to a big wedding cake: "a vivacious, multilayered concoction, stuffed with galleries, museums, exhibitions and a sensation of resuscitated times past". I cannot agree more. Most of the buildings were built in the last two centuries, but were specifically designed to reflect a specific era's building style to give the city an older feel to what it really is. Vienna is still a beautiful city, but I do not trust the authenticity of its charm.
The galleries and wine is what stood out for us (I guess it's not a big surprise to those who've followed our blog thus far). In fact, one of my favourite places in Vienna is MuseumsQuartier, where a few museums are clustered together, housing modern and contemporary art exhibitions, enclosing a relaxing courtyard - apparently known for a place where Vienna's intellectuals meet. Most of the museums were only completed 10 years ago, but the architecture is a brilliant mix of old baroque (I think) and new, almost ultra modern with stone, metal and glass. I could easily have spent a few days there and visited all the exhibitions... but there was wine to be tasted and strudel to be enjoyed.
We met up with dear friends from South Africa, Gwenael and Vanessa who was in Europe (Bratislava, Slovakia's capital) for business and travelled to Vienna for a day. After a delicious gourmet Viennese dinner the previous night with their friends, Mario and Julia, we decided to visit a Heurigen (wine tavern) in Grinzing, a suburb outside of Vienna, which is actually more like a little wine village within Vienna. The wine taverns have a similar ambiance as the beer halls in other cities in Europe, with seating outside, picnic style food and delicious locally produced wine by the glass or the bottle. We were able to taste cultivars we've never tasted before.
Our taste buds and curiosity was triggered by the wine taverns in Grinzing and we decided to do a bike tour through Austria's best-known wine growing area, Wachau, approximately 1 hour outside of Vienna. The Vinea Wachau (Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus - The Noble Winegrowing Area of Wachau) was founded in 1983 and is an association of Wachau winegrowers who produce wines exclusively originating from a legally demarcated area of cultivation and who have an uncompromising commitment to quality, origin and purity. Six very strict principles apply: concerning origin, no additives, no concentration, no aromatisation, no fractionation and lastly nature and nothing else. They are thus not even allowed to use wooden barrels.
The Wachau was mentioned for the first time in the Carolingian document from 823 (making it one of the oldest wine regions in the world) and the origin and tradition of wine growing can be traced back to the period of the Roman settlement and by the Middle ages, Wachau wines were known far beyond the borders of Austria.
We were a small group of 7 people plus a brilliant guide, Raymond, and meandered through 3 little towns in the Wachau region on our bikes tasting wines, homemade jams, chutneys, honey, chocolate, liquors and enjoying a delicious local braai (barbeque). To our surprise the tasting portions were almost half glasses and we had to though some of the wine out as we still had to cycle...safely. It was another brilliant day in beautiful Austria!
As we've been having so much fun the last few days, we thought we'd better work in some education and attended "BODIES...The Exhibition" showcased in Vienna. And it truly was a fascinating experience. The exhibition presents meticulously dissected real human body specimens that are preserved through an innovative process and respectfully presented, giving visitors the opportunity to view the beauty and complexity of their own organs and systems. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos, but you can visit the website where some of the specimens are revealed. Apparently there was a lot of controversy around this exhibition around its ethics, but we thought it was brilliant and we were able to see and learn about things inside the body we would never have had the privilege to see.
No, our appetite was not put off and we joined a group to the famous restaurant Centimetre, were everything is big - 3 to 5 litre beers, 2 meter sausages and food in wheelbarrows. I think it was more about the quantity than the quality, but as a group it was great fun.
We spent 4 days in Vienna and thoroughly enjoyed it. On route to Munich we stopped at Salzburg (where Sound of Music was made) and again we were very disappointed not to have planned to stay a night or two in this incredibly beautiful little town. It seems as though the hills are really alive!
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