Wednesday, August 5, 2009

From one extreme to another

I got me a new bestest friend today! Thanks ever so much to Judith at Haarteam Mohr (hairdressers) in Melk, I am now so much lighter and more comfortable, being unburdened from all that hair! She has given me a lovely cut - the best I have had since leaving home. I was a little disappointed that the man at the Hotel Der Post did not tell me of her hairdressing shop when I asked him for directions to one - she is across the road and down one shop - he however, directed me to one much further away. And while I was being pampered, Michael took a bit a stroll and got some pics.

We are driving down the Danube River and it could so easily be the Rhine. One either bank there are crops of corn and sunflowers and then grapes. The small towns are almost within a cooee of each other and there are castles and ruins on almost every high outcrop! Turns out that the tolling and taxing of passengers on the Danube was carried out pretty much the same as it was on the Rhine - complete with the Robber Barons!

At Schönbühel, not long out of Melk, we see a fortified buildng overlooking the River, but when we go up to take a look, it is a private residence! Gee, they must have very long arms and short pockets - cos the upkeep on such a place must be incredible. We travel a little further and see another one much higher up and oh shit, there is the turnoff - very quick turn to the right! we have happened upon Burgruine Aggstein - Austria's best known medieval castle.

It sits 320 m above the Danube, and the road snakes up through the forest on roads of 20% slopes - part is sealed, part not. It's been a while since I have had to take a hill of any length in 2nd gear! But believe me, the trip up was definitely worth it. Built in the early 12th century onto and into the rock on which it sits, the castle commands great views of it's approaches and the Danube Valley.

And while it looks impenetrable, this castle was beseiged a number of times during its life, destroyed twice and rebuilt from the ruins. In the early 15th Century, the castle was owned by one of the barons who, once realising that the cargo of the ships he tolled was worth considerably more, took to robbing them, using a iron chain across the Danube to halt their progress. In the late 15th Century, Duke Leopold III captured the Baron and took over the castle to stop this practice.

The castle is very indicative of the layout and purposes of a castle of its age. It had a deep well to ensure safe drinking water for its inhabitants, a chapel to minister to the spirital needs, a large (knights) hall used for ceremonies, a dungeon, and living quarters behind a second fortification. Only one of the areas in the castle was heated - meaning that winters must have been a bleak and miserable time. Even on a warm day like today, you get the benefit from the high position over the river and it is quite pleasant.

Today, the Knight's Hall can be hired for functions, the chapel for weddings, and there is a small restaurant in the main courtyard. Owned by the State, this must help to offset the large upkeep bill! We enjoy an apfelsaft-gerwist (apple juice with sparkling water) and a cheescake. Or at least we tied to - the bees liked it all just as much as we did! Little, long, yellow and black banded ones.

So, cooled down and with the yummy cake down, we headed back down to the Danube and our trip to the north where we are now passing lots and lots of stone fruit orchards and grape vines. And while there are a few roadside stalls, I am surprised we don't see more. Oh, and did I mention the beautiful scenes with crops and river and picturesque towns? (hehehe - sorry guys)
It really is as pretty as a picture postcard. We pass through small towns with amazing graffiti (the old style) on their walls and then through the outskirts of the city of Krems. Like Melk, there was an Abbey established here and it is nearly as large. But having just seen Melk, we feel no compulsion to go off our route to see this one. The day is getting on and we still have a little way to go.

Before too long, we have reached the border with the Czech Republic. And straight away you notice the difference between the wealth, both public and private of the two countries. We have gone from small individual farms to broadacre farming at its best (or worst?). Lots and lots of sunflowers and still some corn. So we now know where all our sunflower oil comes from - Slovakia and the Czech Republic! And despite the revolting rotting smell that comes from the very ripe sunflowers, they paint a beautiful picture, don't you agree?! The flower on the far right was huge - about the size of a dinner plate! And the bees all over them are much fatter - two varieties - a plump furry fat one and a sleeker banded one.

The housing changes dramatically and there are the usual signs of social boredom - the graffiti covered public utilities like this bus stop on the highway about 20 kms from Brno. But as we enter the City, there is plenty of new building work too. The tram system is getting a major overhaul which from the look of the rusted rails and overgrown sidings, is not a moment too soon. As the Czech Republic's second largest city, you really would expect nothing less!

And then there are the perennial roadworks! I couldn't help feel a little déja vu when I read this article from our local Fraser Coast Chronicle back home. However, there really doesn't seem to be the same level of assurance for roads workers here in Eastern Europe. Even before I read this article, we have commented a number of times on how WH&S standards are so different here and the lack of protection that is given to workers on the roads.

We are staying in a new apartment hotel in the centre of the City, but not in the Old Town. In fact, it is on the edge of the commercial area, bordering on an industrial zone. But there is secure parking under the building behind a locked automatic door and we get space and a kitchen to cook, so we feel it is OK. There is a park outside our window and I see local youths (well, some of them are youths, others much younger) hanging out smoking cigarettes.

But out the window from the front corridor, there is an amazing view of Špilberk Castle and the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul that we will have a look at tomorrow. Michael heads out to the supermarket for some veges, chicken and noodles for a stir fry for dinner. Gosh we need those veges! He changes €20 for Czech Kroner - this gets him 518.90 Kč! And he still comes back with 200 Kč change from that!

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