Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Exploring Austria (ii)

The second stage of our journey brought us into the East, to Lake Neusiedl, on the Austrian-Hungarian border. It is called Neusiedler See in German and Fertő tó in Hungarian. I love Hungarian words because they sound strong and powerful, as if you could throw them out your mouth like darts.

The Fertő tó is a so called steppe lake or endorheic basin (now that's an ugly word!), that means, its waters do not outflow through any river or sea, only by seepage and evaporation. The lake is never more than 1.8 meters deep and it is famous for its almost constant wind, which attracts sailing and windsurf lovers, and for being surrounded by reeds, which attracts a large number of migratory birds as a resting place.

The landscape around the lake is quite flat and its flora is wild and untamed, which reminded me of the Mediterranean coasts I miss. Vineyards cover the place as far as you can see, and the smallest terrain elevation constitutes an excellent vantage point, the lake always in the background. I know it doesn't sound very exciting, but after almost three years of living around green alpine landscapes, to discover the other side of the country was a very nice surprise.

The town were we camped is on the left bank of the lake and is called Rust. And I think it will be, from now on, my favourite Austrian town, excusing Hallstatt, about which I am going to talk very soon. Rust bought its free town status to the Hungarian Crown on the 17th century, by means of gold and Ruster Ausbruch wine. The town possesses some medieval houses and I did not have that annoying feeling of being in a film set that I have in most Western Austrian towns. Anyway, the actual main characters in Rust live on its roofs. It is said that up to 50 couples of storks nested in Rust every summer. Nowadays there are not that many storks anymore, but we easily counted more than 20 on the main street. Hearing how they greet themselves with their beaks I felt a lovely peace of mind, only to be matched by enjoying the evening with good wine and Schmankerl (sausages, cheese, cold appetizers served as side dishes for the wine)

The Neusiedler See and its surroundings are perfect for a bike tour. We rented bikes and explored the roads, having them carried by ferries when we crossed the lake. We tried to watch some migratory birds on the National Park on the other side, but we had no success. Nevertheless, landscape and details were enough to make me fall in love with this remote Austrian region.

When the lake freezes in winter the reeds are chopped and dried to be used as cold isolation in houses.

Our journey continued then to Graz, Styria, and to the St Barbara church in Bärnbach, and later to Salzburg...


Bek said...

If it's cold enough for the lake to freeze deep enough it's also a great place to go skating. The Neusiedlersee is about 30-40 minutes away from where I grew up and I always liked going there. Did you know that in some places the mud in the water is so high, that you can sink into it up to your knees? Some people can't stand that, others don't mind.

Tonicito said...

We didn't get the chance to go into the water, the weather was a little chilly... I think I wouldn't have been able to stand the mud up to my knees, anyway!
I love your Austrian expat view on my posts! Many thanks! :)