Tails From the Vienna Woods


Czech Republic

Autumn, Burčák, and Esel-kicking Stairs

Bunches of little obligations have recently kept me from doing the activities I prefer to do, though I have still found time to go in search of autumn.

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Hrad Veveří.

One of Anna Grace’s former AIS friends now posted to Abu Dhabi is visiting this week, couch surfing among friend’s homes (ours included); and our home was declared the Teenage Girl Epicenter for last weekend. Over breakfast this past Thursday I reminded Tony. He simply looked up from his coffee and asked, “So, where are we going this weekend?”

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Birthday Weekend in Prague

The International School of Prague hosted a basketball exchange with AIS this past weekend. If cheering on the Knights is not reason enough to visit one of my favorite cities (and over my birthday, no less), there is always the promise of delicious food and a weekend of shopping (even on Sunday!) to seal the deal.

Along the drive we cross a series of three reservoirs and have always wondered about the church that sits in the middle of one of them. A little research (finally!) revealed the church to be St. Linhart, and the only remnant of the now flooded ancient village of Mušov. The reservoirs were created between 1975 and 1989 to alleviate flooding along the River Dyje. Now we know.


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Burčák. How the Neighbors do Sturm.

With lovely weekend weather recently it was the perfect time to “Czech” out a wine festival across the border, in the town of Mikulov. (No, the “Czech” jokes never get old to me.)  To our surprise, the little festival we had visited two years ago was all grown up!  Thankfully, even with shuttle buses from remote parking areas and an entrance fee, the festival retained its small-town flavor.  Much of that flavor of course coming from Burčák, the Czech equivalent to Sturm.

Queues formed for a glass of the refreshing, still-fermenting wine from private vintners all throughout the town.


Continue reading “Burčák. How the Neighbors do Sturm.”

Lichtenštenjnské Stezky!

Two weekends ago our Saturday dawned spectacularly beautiful. The Oldest Teenager and his visiting girlfriend were in Salzburg, and the Youngest Teenager was busy with academic matters, so once again Tony and I were left to our own devices. When we lived in the US bicycle riding was a favorite activity, whenever we could sneak it in between familial obligations and homefront chores. And after our 52 kilometer Mom’s Day ride, we were anxious to get back in the saddle.

Road Trip: The Bohemian Crown Jewels

It takes so little to inspire us to hit the road when Austria is closed (in this case, the double whammy of the regular Sunday closure plus the following Whit Monday). In this instance, the inspiration was the exhibition of the Bohemian Crown Jewels, on rare display for two weeks to mark the 700th anniversary of the coronation of King Charles IV.  So off to Prague we were on Sunday morning.

Visiting the Neighbors: Hodonin, CZ

A UN Holiday for Tony; a school day for Anna Grace; and a jet lagged Jack wanting to catch a few zzz’s.  What to do?  Of course, Tony and I hit the road, to a little village in Moravia from where the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk, hailed. Masaryk convinced US President Wilson of the need to abolish the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
The town was easily visited in a couple of hours, including a stop at the destroyed and now shuttered Jewish Cemetery.

We were surprised to see the Polish Bar Mleczny (“Milk Bar”) in Hodonin. These cafeterias were first created in the late 1800s to offer affordable comfort food to workers whose workplace offered no canteen. Many were closed in the post-war years, but “welfare state nostalgia” has brought about their return.  We have eaten in milk bars in Krakow, and though we were tempted by the aromas wafting through the door, we kept our rumbling tummies “in Czech” until we reached a favorite restaurant at the border.
Anna Grace and I discovered this restaurant about three years ago, part of a wellness hotel along the Iron Curtain Bike Trail at the border between CZ and Austria.  The restaurant is popular with both Austrians and Czech (and hugely popular with cyclists); the staff speak English, Czech, and German; and accept Euros and Koruna in payment. The food is very simple; excellently prepared; and about as costly as a milk bar lunch!  I shared this restaurant only once with a friend, who hated it. Now we share it with no one. 

A Vampire and a Saint

While Vlad the Impaler may have had the best marketing, there are places to find traces of other vampires across Central and Eastern Europe. This day trip last weekend took us to the border between Moravia and Bohemia in CZ, where we found the cemetery of the last Czech vampire, Alois Ulrich, a malicious local administrator whose death was not mourned by the villagers in 1817. After reports that he had come back to life, the village priest had the coffin reopened to find the vampire still pink with life. Executed firmly, and his mouth stuffed with poppies for good measure (apparently a surefire technique to permanently diffuse a vampire), Ulrich was buried in the village walled cemetery once and for all.
In the village of Zdar nad Sazavou there is also a palace, of course, this one linked through history to the Kinsky Family, one of the oldest aristocratic families in Bohemia with an imperial decree of royalty dating to the 1600s. Owing to the family’s anti-Nazi sentiment during WWII, the Germans imposed receivership on the estate, forcing the family to emigrate to France.  (It might also be mentioned that their lineage includes Bertha von Suttner, a former Countess who became the first woman to be awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1905.)
In the early 1990s Count Karlov, son of the formerly-exiled Prince Ulrich returned to claim the property (anyone notice the last name?); now the father and the two sons are restoring the complex, including its Minor Basilica.
The bridge over the river Sazavou.

Within a respectable walking distance of the palace is the former Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk, perched on a hilltop.  The structure is noted architecturally for its geometry of circle, representing the five stars that appeared the saint when he died.

The village of Zdar was well worth the time we spent exploring. The clerk at the Tourist Information office could not have been any more helpful to us, either. “Mluvite Anglicky?” was responded to with, “A little bit,” before proceeding in full-on English to overload us with every brochure and map available.  He even followed us to the car with a packet of information he had overlooked while were in the office! And as it goes, with each day trip undertaken our list becomes longer.

Baroque and Busted

We found ourselves with several free hours on Saturday, but nothing long enough for a day trip further afield. A fellow Vienna blogger had been sharing photos of an exhibit at the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy that looked interesting; the sun was shining; and I was in the mood for a Backhendl lunch at our favorite place. We had a plan!  Plus, thanks to the Niederösterreich Card, entry to the exhibit was free!
The exhibit is called Baroque Baroque. The palace is Baroque and, apparently the exhibit is supposed to be something about Baroque superimposed on its self. We thought the exhibit was well done, even if we didn’t understand it. An added bonus was the beauty of the palace.
“New Berlin Sphere”

“Your Uncertain Shadow”

Mirror Selfie in the Globe Room

Looking up at one of the palace chandeliers.

“Fivefold Tunnel”

A series of photos of Iceland, an “Endless Doughnut,” and “Fivefold Cube.” We thought this was a clever composition.

Another beautiful palace chandelier.

Surprise!  There is a mirror in the gallery that makes the sphere look intact. 


The palace had been used by the Ministry of Finance for archival storage, and the frescoes in this room on the street level of the palace had been “hidden” for a long time by drop ceilings and fake walls; only within the last few years has it been restored.

Here’s where the weekend goes “Busted” for the first of two food occasions. Our hands-down first restaurant choice for Backhendl had the “Auf Urlaub bis 15 Februar” sign on the door. Sigh. Our second choice had the sign, “Geschlossen am Samstag und Sonntag im Februar” on its door. (Closed on the weekends in February.) Our third choice, and this was a stretch, was only serving the Herringschmaus Menu in February. Creamed herring is never a substitute for fried chicken.
The clock ticking, we needed to eat lunch and get to Anna Grace’s basketball game, so I suggested either a restaurant popular with tourists at which we had a rather disappointing meal in our early days, or street noodles. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, and maybe since it isn’t really tourist season the food will have improved. Not so.
While the Backhendl looked fantastic and had the enticing aroma, the taste was incredibly lackluster. Ditto for Tony’s Schnitzel. At nearly twice the cost of our favorite restaurant, in the end we could have had the same ordinary lunch from the Happy Noodle stand near Opera. 
The basketball game was fun. The Vienna International School is the closest AISV has to a “rival,” and of course it’s always fun to beat a rival. Go Knights!

After a weekend of successive dinner parties (including one at our home) and late nights, our plans for a long day trip to CZ had to be somewhat altered when our eyes didn’t open until 0700 on Sunday morning, about an hour after we had hoped to be on the road. So we lingered over breakfast and mapped a route through Southern Moravia of a handful of castles and palaces we had not yet seen. That, and a delicious lunch of Czech food would be a good compromise.
Zamek Kravsko. Not on our list, but the sun was shining, the sunroof was open on the wagon, and we had nowhere to be, so we followed the signs. It’s Classicist, if you’re keeping track.

Hrad Vranov atop the river Dyje.  Lovely.

Apparently there is a lovers legend related to the castle and this viewpoint; not being fluent in Czech, and not being able to find anything on the Internet, the legend shall remain a mystery to us.

A closeup of the castle from the gates. The grounds do not open until April.

Because a rural village in southern Moravia is the ideal location for a Country Saloon. We doubted they served Czech food, so we kept on in search of lunch.

A drive through Jaromerice, where we hoped to stop for lunch. Every restaurant was closed.

Oh, look! Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant.

Moravsky Krumlov. One restaurant open in this village of 6.000, and the menu was only in Czech. I can “read” just a few Czech menu items, and none of them were listed. Onward. (Note to self: learn a little more Czech.)

Znojmo wouldn’t let us down, right?  The border town of 33.000 inhabitants would certainly have an open restaurant or two or three; we assumed that even a tried-and-true place on the main square would be open. But, no. Lunch in CZ was another “Busted.”

We admitted defeat. Our final stop was at a Znojmo grocery store to collect items for supper. The parking lot was about one-third filled with Austrian cars, naturally (those who don’t really get into the Sunday Shutdown, either, we presumed). As for lunch? Why, it was sandwiches we prepared in the parking lot and sadly munched on as we motored back across the border.
February, we hate you.

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