Monday, September 20, 1999

TR Austria

Wauchau Marathon
(9//15 –9/20/99)

The first thing I had to do before taking this trip was make a quick trip into London to visit the US Embassy. Although my passport is only three years old it had absolutely no more space for entry/exit stamps so the embassy added twenty more pages which should keep me going for the rest of my time in England.
Then it was off to Vienna. Nicole thought that she had already visited Vienna on a previous family ski trip so I left a few days early to explore Vienna on my own. Although it is an old city dating back to 100 AD most of the history revolves around the Habsburg emperors who ruled from 1282 to 1918. And most of the buildings in the old city only date back to the 1800s when the fortification walls were torn down and a majestic boulevard (about 5km) was built around the city as a ring road. All the main public buildings such as the opera, theatre, museums and palaces are built along the ring.
It is very easy to walk to all the major tourist sites in the old town.
The main tourist attractions include the Imperial Palace, home to the Habsburgs. It has several wings, one of which contains the Spanish Riding School where they train the Lipizzan stallions. The formal performances are held on Sat & Sun so I attended one of the morning training sessions that included most of the rides without music. The riding arena is spectacular and exemplifies how lavishly the Habsburgs lived. Then there is a summer palace called Schonbrunn built in the 1700s. It rivals the palaces in Russia for decadence! There is more gold used in the interior decorating than exists in Fort Knox.

I lucked in and managed to get a ticket to a special concert of Mozart and Strauss music held in the grand ballroom of the summer palace. Mozart performed a concert in that room when he was six years old! The acoustics were great without any amplifiers or microphones, etc.
Other attractions are the opera, national theater, several churches, and homes once occupied by Mozart and Strauss. A local landmark is a giant Ferris wheel, 200 feet in diameter, built over 100 years ago. There were three similar wheels built in London, Chicago and Paris that have all been scrapped. There are 15 gondolas that hold 37 people and offer spectacular views of Vienna. I went for one ride since they have just built a new 400- foot wheel in London for the Millennium celebration and I intend to ride it before I leave England.
There are also cruises offered along the Danube to view the sites of Wien or you can cruise for several hundred miles if you prefer. I decided to wait for Nicole and cruise the Danube along the Wachau Valley.
Nicole flew in on Friday evening and quickly realized that it was Salzburg, not Vienna that she had visited before. But no problem as her trusty husband/guide took her on a quick three-hour walking tour of the city.

Communications was not a problem in Wien. Although all the signs, information, menus, etc. are in German, most people speak at least three languages and will respond in English if asked. It makes a linguistic-handicapped American feel very stupid.
However when we left the city on Sat morning for the Wachau Valley, it was a very different story! Only two people- the desk clerk and barman at our hotel spoke English. I had the usual difficulties trying to pick up my race number and packet for the marathon since none of the volunteers spoke English. And dinner was a funny experience each night. There were no English menus and our waiters spoke no English. It’s kind of like one of those TV games- “What’s menu item # 4?” “What will you get if you order #2?”
But we made good guesses and we always had great wine and beer because those important items I had learned real quickly.

The Wachau Valley starts in Krems about 50 miles west of Vienna and runs for about 30 miles along the Danube. They have been growing grapes and fruit and making wine in the valley for over 1000 years. Krems was granted city status in 995 AD.
I try to compare wine valleys to Napa but Wachau is just so much different. The Danube flows down the middle of the valley and the mountains rise rapidly from the river edge. The towns and villages are built along the river and up the mountains. There is a bike path, a two-lane highway and railroad track running along the length of the valley and in many cases all three are cut into the sides of the mountains. We took a boat cruise from Krems to Durnstein and discovered that you get a much better view from the boat. The little villages are very old and scenic. Durnstein is the home of the Durnstein Castle where King Richard the Lionhearted was captured and held for ransom during the Holy Crusades. I thought it was the nicest of the several small villages along the valley.
The vineyards are typically tiered up the mountain above the villages and all the vineyards have a cellar or outlet in the nearest village so that you don’t have to drive all around to do your wine tasting. You can take a train or boat to a village, walk around and visit a dozen cellars and crawl back to the train or boat.

As for the purpose of going there- the Wachau Marathon- well that’s a different story. The marathon was a point-to point race. We took a train 18 miles west to Aggsbach. The Austrians may speak German but they don’t share the German organizational skills and efficiency. We got our first glimpse when we went to the pasta party to find a complete fiasco so we left and found our own pasta. The next morning the race started 20 minutes late. The course ran along the Danube passing through several small villages with vineyards all the way. The last 8 miles were run around Krems. Since the course was point-to-point and fast I decided to go for broke and started at a 7:35 pace. But only 8 miles into the race my right leg started to tighten and by 11 miles it was cramping and I was in pain. That is the first time in 140 marathons that I had ever experienced that problem. I figured the best thing to do was stop, stretch and massage the leg until it loosened up. I continued doing this until 13 miles when it finally relaxed enough so that I could run without pain as long as I didn’t run faster than an 8:30 pace. Around 18 miles it seemed to loosen up and I foolishly (in retrospect) dropped the pace back to 7:45 but that only lasted until mile 21. At that point it was cramping so bad that I knew that the wisest thing to do was just back off and jog in and hope that I didn’t injure it seriously.
When I finished (3:47:12) I went straight to the medical tent but they were so overloaded with serious dehydration cases (it was very hot!) that they just directed me to the massage tent.
There I waited in line for 45 minutes before they could get to me and by then my leg was so stiff and sore that I couldn’t move it!
But a massage did help some and then it was limp around for another hour while I tried to find my finisher’s T-shirt and claim my warm-ups form the baggage bus. What I am trying to paint here for my fellow runners is that the course was great and the area fantastic but the organization and logistics sucked!

To summarize the two areas for those who might be interested in visiting. Vienna is an interesting city that can be visited in two or three days. If you are into classical music you could spend more time and not be bored. It is reasonable cost-wise by European standards.
The Wachau Valley is very beautiful and would make a great vacation spot if you are into wine and food. I would love to go back and do a combination bike and cruise vacation. You could easily spend a week or two biking, hiking and cruising along the Danube and stopping at a different village every night.

Well I must close this report and go repack my suitcase and start packing the car as I am driving to my next country. Nicole deserted me in Vienna on the way home. She had to leave for Asia on business direct from Vienna and will be gone for a week. So I am leaving early to play some golf in Scotland before the marathon next weekend. Stay tuned for next week’s traveler’s tips!

No comments: