(c) May 2012 Oliver Bonten
Austria and Bratislava 2012
|Austria and Bratislava 2012
After a family function in Austria in May 2012, we decided to spend a week cycling down the Danube. In my adult years, I've always enjoyed being in Austria, but had never seen much outside the big cities.
Austria began, about a millenium ago, as the eastern outpost - the "Eastern March" or "Marcha Austria" - of the Holy Roman Empire, to guard the border to hostile Slav tribes. Within centuries, Austria became the leading power within the Empire until its demise in 1806, and the Danube, as the highway connecting the heartland to the rest of the Empire, is closely aligned with the country's history.
Melk is a small district capital in Lower Austria, most famous for the magnificent Melk Abbey. During the middle ages, on a rocky outcrop overlooking a large stretch of the Danube, a fortress was erected to guard the border with the Slavs who lived on the other side of the river. When this fortress lost its usefulness, the Margrave of Austria donated it to some monks, who founded the abbey there. This abbey grew to fame and a center of scholarly life. The current building goes back to the baroque age, when the original fortress had in the meantime become delapidated, and the monks decided to build a new one. Baroque didn't have much respect for historical monuments, it was an age of relentless modernization and change. The medieval building was completely torn down, and an ultra modern building in contemporary style was erected.
The town itself is nothing special. One thing we noticed was that a lot of restaurants had exactly the same menu, at exactly the same prices. For such a tourism magnet, the prices were even moderate
Downriver from Vienna, a large stretch of the Danube floodplain is a nature reserve. Since the Danube is a major shipping lane, it can't be completely unregulated but regulation is at a minimum. Unfortunately, the bike path mostly follows the levee, which is quite far from the actual river, at the edge or even outside the nature park. So it is not really possible to see a lot of the nature, and the scenery is in fact pretty uninteresting - a levee. In Orth an der Donau, about halfway to Slovakia, there is a visitor centre for the park, and it is possible to see at least a bit. This area is also the site of one of Austria's first successful Eco-protest-movements: the movement prevented the building of another river power station, which would have required a dam and would have completely regulated the area
Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, is only 70km from Vienna. During the cold war, it was a secondary city in Czechoslovakia, and I somehow expected a drab post-socialist provincial town, but Bratislava was anything else than that. A lively city around a well-maintained historical center. They also had good beer. My bicycle broke a spoke somewhere between Vienna and Bratislava, and I had to find a repair shop in Slovak-speaking Bratislava before the weekend. This was an adventure by itself, but I found a good one in Petrjalka, just across the Danube
About 25% of the Austrian population live in or around Vienna - quite some concentration. The city always feels a bit oversized for the country. Many pompous buildings along the ring road surrounding the city's first district are more befitting the capital of an empire, which Vienna was when the buildings were erected.
Many people claim that Vienna feels derelict and depressing, but I don't think so. It has many beautiful corners and magnificent buildings. And one of the best ice cream shops in the world
This page has been created on Sunday 12. April 2015 from galleries.xml using galleries.xsl.