Note: Written in pencil, on Saturday, 1/19/08, on the train...
Ahhh. Back in my element, finally. It's 1:57pm right now and I'm sitting on a train that has yet to depart the station. I'm in Vienna, bound for Melk, a tiny Austrian town in the heart of the Danube River Valley. I've been traveling since 7:15am this morning, and will not arrive in Melk until after 3pm. It's been a glorious day.
Prague has been weighing on my emotions for the past two weeks, and being on the move once again is incredibly cleansing. When the first train rolled into the countryside my mood lifted immediately. I'd decided last night over a glass of wine that I was not in fact going to stay in Vienna with my friends, but move on, in search of a quiet town surrounded not by factories but by nature. I hope I've found it in Melk.
Quite serendipitiously I discovered the town in an Austrian tourbook that was left in my apartment. It's from 2004 but had some great info in. Apparently it'd be only an hours train ride from Vienna, and was described as picturesque and devoid of tourists. The main center of town supposedly revolves around a 900 year old enormous abbey. I'll check it out later today.
I brought my running clothes with me, and with luck will finally be able to get back into nature and explore the way I enjoy the most...on foot.
I haven't booked my accomodation, and I'm excited about where I'll stay. I'll continue tomorrow, after I've actually explored the area. The train has just departed...
Run: 65 minutes / ~8 miles
This has already been the best day I've had since arriving in Prague. That city, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, was wearing me down, soiling the amazing experience of teaching. Prague has it's highlights for sure, but the overall feeling is doom and gloom, and it's difficult to overcome.
Moving on. Literally. I knew I'd have fun in Vienna, but knew I'd also want something more. We had a group of 6 people when we left Prague, and the difficulties of travel increase exponentially as your group increases in number. So I decided to simplify things and go solo, and it's been the best decision of my journey so far.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a small cafe/pub in the tiny town of Melk, Austria (pop. 6600). I'm writing the old fashioned way, with a pencil and paper, and will later transfer this to my blog. I'm drinking a 'Kaiser' beer, apparently Austrian, though it tastes pretty much like any other beer would. The ambience of the pub is lovely, the music is shit. I'm going to move on shortly.
It was easy getting to Melk, but it was a long trip. I woke at 6:15am, having to shower and make breakfast before catching the meto around 7:15. I took the time to hard-boil 10 eggs, for this mornings breakfast and to bring as sustenance for the weekend. I'm trying desperately to keep it cheap, so I won't pay for food this weekend. My backpack was loaded with bananas, pears, oranges, bread and 8 hard-boiled eggs, so I'll be fine for the weekend.
I met the others (Michael, Sara, Alison, Karinth and Lisa) at the downtown train station (Nadrazi) in Prague for our 8:23am departure for Vienna. Falling in and out of sleep, the ride was pleasant. In 4 hours we rolled into Wien Sudbahnhof. En route I'd mapped my course to Melk. I hopped the #18 tram to the Westbahnhof and got there 10 minutes before the next train left for Melk. Perfect timing.
We rolled into town around 3:30pm, 8 hours after I'd first gotten on the metro this morning. But it was worth the trip. The ancient abbey was immediately visible, high on the hill overlooking the Donau (Danube). The thing is enormous...I plan to visit tomorrow and explore for a bit.
Exiting the train station, I was greeted by cobbled streets and beautiful, quaint houses, scattered along a rolling hillside. I followed some worn steps down to a narrow alleyway, and after 30 metres or so emerged through a low arch into the trafficless town center. Only about 300 metres long, the main 'Platz' is picture-perfect, and being the winter low season, there wasn't a tourist in sight.
I gleefully ambled down the small hill, keeping my eye out for a cheap place to stay. My guidebook mentioned a hostel-like hotel not far from the center. When i arrived, the door was open but the place seemed deserted, and no lights were on. I walked up a creaky staircase to find an open window but no sign of anyone. So I quickly exited. I couldn't help but think of 'The Shining' and 'Hotel California' simultaneously. I'm moving on to a another pub...
Um, not much better here. The music is even worse, but the ambience is about the same. It's very peculiar having club-style music in the quaint Austrian pubs in such a postcard-perfect town. Oh well, this is real life here I guess...
So I did find a place to stay shortly after my encounter with the creepy hotel. This place is obviously a summer town. It's deserted, and a lot of the restaurants and guesthouses (you can't really call them hotels) are actually closed. So at the center of town there is a small cafe that advertises rooms for rent above the establishment. It looked open, so I investigated. Two older Austrian women greeted me at the bar, and in my best effort at German, managed to convey that i needed a place to sleep. The older (and uglier) lady led me upstairs to room #2, surprisingly modern with a nice bed, shower and even a TV. It was a bit pricey at 45 Euros, but I didn't seem to have much choice. At least it's very nice.
By then it was nearly 3:45, so I immediately donned my running gear and set out to explore the surrounds. I hadn't been in such a good mood since first discovering my forest in Uppsala.
There is a well-marked bike path that heads out of town, circling first below the cliffs, where the abbey stands guard over the Donau, then leading across the river to the town of Emmersdorf. I followed the path, relishing every breath of fresh air, scented with the sweet smell of wood-burning stoves, not the industrial smog of Prague. Upon reaching Emmersdorf, I slowed to a gentle saunter, and tried to burn into my memory the fairy-tale ambience of the place. I jogged up a long stone staircase, emerging onto an old, un-used train platform that offered a splendid view of the town from above. The main street is only about two blocks long, but I found an open cafe, surprisingly crowded with locals and enjoyed a latte before my return jaunt to Melk.
I returned in 65 minutes, simply enamored by my surroundings and so completely happy that I could hardly remember Prague. Though alone, this has been the most enjoyable time since leaving Sweden. I've been craving an escape to the countryside, and didn't want to set foot on another city public transport system. I'm sure Vienna is nice for what it is, but I'll trade a bustling city for a quiet town in the countryside any day, and I'm so glad I did.