At lunch yesterday, Birgit suggested we make ein Ausflug – an outing – for Sunday, bringing up the idea of driving along the Donau in the Wachau region, the wine region, which starts at the village of Krems, an hour or so west of Vienna, and continues until Melk. After a full day of corn fields, the idea sounded great to me, and as the weather and the crop decide when free days can be granted, my two-day weekend plans, at least for this weekend, have been postponed. Birgit commandeers the itinerary, while Charlie drives, the two older children quiet in the back seats, (the younger two are at their grandmother’s for the weekend, until this evening) I enjoy my free day.
Our first stop is the Woelkenburg Kloster, a monestary dating back to the 1100s and still in use for monks as well as for leasing to the public for seminars, workshops, youth camps, etc. It sits atop a large hill, overlooking Krems and the beginning of the Wachau.
First things first! A picture, naturally.
We walk through the grounds and visit the church, which coincidently just opens a service with a chant. The voices echo the lavish ornamentation and gilded space, painted in soft egg shell blue.
Continuing on, we drive down the hill and along the Donau. Now we’re entering the small towns that announce the Heurige – a small wine tavern that highlights the vineyard’s wines that year. Every weekend a different vineyard will host, and we found one in Weißenkirchen, which not only had wine, but beer, frites, grilled chicken and wurst, and an item that Birgit introduced me to that comes from the Middle Ages: Feuerfleck. This is a simple wrap made from four and water and rolled into a crepe form and grilled. Once grilled, it is smeared with sour cream and chives.
Next to my Feuerfleck, you can see a special brötchen that is made exclusively in the region, but I really can’t tell the difference between it and any other brötchen. I can tell the difference between the cakes on the right, though, which are a very light cream type of cheese and apricot glaze, and a chocolate whip.
After the snack and wine, we attempt to head down the the river to let the dog quench his thirst when we are waylayed by another wine bar just around the corner, and as the children need to find and use the bathroom, we use the time to order three different types of rieslings.
In the picture on the left, notice a sign on the heurige‘s doorway that resembles a ship’s helm. When the lantern in the middle of the helm is lit, the establishment is open for business.
We walk some more, drive to Dürnstein, where Birgit and Charlie were married, and apparently, due to a succession of quick Instagram messaging with Edgar, I learn that he and Jan visited this very place on their Danube River cruise last year!
We stay up at the ruins for a while, enjoying the view and succumbing to what views do best: letting thoughts drift and stop, change and flow, consume and broaden.
The Wachau region is very similar to the Mosel and parts of the Rhine River in Germany, with terraced vineyards right down to the river, restaurants, guest houses, and bars along the water’s edge covered and surrounded by grape vines, a high water mark cemented in a town wall, a church whose bells ring, narrow one car streets, and of course, the tourist shops, which can be overrun on the weekends and especially in the summer months.
Above, we toast with three samples of apricot liqueur with a dunked apricot; location? simply down the road.
Soon, there is a request to stop for ice cream and we walk through Krems – a university town whose schools specialize in medicine and dentistry – and where Birgit’s grandparents lived and worked; her grandfather as a frisur whose shop she stands before (pictured right, below) which still has his name on the door.
We drive to Kirchstein, to pick up the two youngest children at Birgit’s mother’s house, and then with a van full of kids, a dog, and three adults in the front seat, we drive to another Heurigan for dinner.
Somewhere along the road, we pass an apricot stand, and Birgit suddenly feels like apricots, so we pull over and she gets a case and we continue down the road with grandmother and her friend following. This heurige‘s menu is a little different: they offer meat-filled knoedels with sauerkraut on the side, and several different types of bread with various meat and fat toppings. Our table spilt two types of knoedels and the bread. Let me describe this. On a thick, fresh slice of homemade rye bread, a layer of schmalz (fat that is not quite liquid and not quite solid) is smeared, and upon this is sprinkled little fat crisps, and then to top it off, garlic slices. These wineries really know how to handle a hangover. Today’s nutrition: (not including breakfast, which was something sensible like yogurt and muesli) wine, flour and sour cream, cake, wine, liqueur, ice cream, an apricot, wine, sauerkraut, bread, fat and garlic.
But then it’s Monday, and some of us have to go back into the corn.
After another walk through cornfield #1 this morning, to make sure that all the flower stalky things that hid behind the leaves on Saturday had a chance to grow on Sunday and become more visible for a plucking. (It makes for quite a satisfying snap sound as you gently pull it out. The less leaves you take with it, the better for the whole plant. It will then continue to grow upward instead of outward, producing larger, rather than smaller, cobs.) You might be able to notice a stalkgrowing around a leaf in the picture on the right. If you can’t recognize it, don’t worry. With practice, you too will soon be able to detect it.
Today I finish cutting back the vine leaves from the front yard and make a quinoa and sautéed vegetable dish. I found every root and garden vegetable that was ready to eat. I happened to spy dandelion leaves spotting the yard, so I picked them too, boiled and them added them to the pan. I was so starved for vegetables, especially after the Sunday flour and fat day, that I drank the juice from the boiling of the leaves, and it was so good!
Birgit and the children picked a bucket full of apples this morning, and in the interim of the morning, she and I also peeled and cored enough for several jars of apple sauce; her daughter Anika shredded a bunch for a hankering for Appel strudel that Birgit and she started after lunch. Interesting tip: she rolls the dough on a floured tablecloth for easier manipulation and rolling without sticking. Once rolled to the size of a baking sheet, she brushes it with melted butter, and then layers it with strudel mixture: a melted stick of butter, bread crumbs, a T of vanilla sugar, 3 T of regular sugar, and the apple shredding. I’m not sure how many apples were used for shredding. I guess make it all to taste. The mixture should be clumpy. Then she rolls the dough lengthwise around itself, then places it on wax paper on the baking sheet.
It came out of the oven just shortly before 6; we each had a piece before we left for Vienna: she and her dog Greta for search and rescue training, I to a concert. I finally found a time conducive to our schedules, and she would be able to drop me off at a train station outside of Vienna and pick me up from the concert hall at its conclusion. I choose a Strauss and Mozart combination at das Konzerthaus, whose reviews on TripAdvisor are worthy of a visit. I want to hear Strauss’ waltzes being played in Vienna, and Mozart’s operettas being sung where he composed them, and this offers a sampling of both.
I figure out how to get from the train station to an approximate nearby station to the venue, and by the time I ascended the stairs onto Herrengasse I had to put on my blue ski jacket, as the weather had suddenly become very cold, and I needed to walk about 20 minutes. But it was warm when I got into the hall, and my general admission seat had a good view of the stage.
Most of the audience are tour groups who came in on big buses and are heralded from the hall by ladies holding signs on a stick, and realize this performance is geared for tourists, so wonder what’s in store. The light-hearted 100 minute concert played the well known and most often heard pieces, charming and entertaining its audience by incorporating humor (one of the musicians giving the conductor a hard time by playing a note off key) and interaction (the audience was lead and instructed by the conductor during one of the Strauss pieces to clap softly and then loudly during certain parts). I don’t think all of that was necessary, as anyone who needs slapstick during a string and brass concert playing pieces that put Vienna on the map shouldn’t be there anyway. However, this adulteration was conspired in only three pieces, and the most beautiful and memorable pieces were played magnificently.