Thursday, January 21, 2016

#7: try fly fishing


Why, you ask?

Well, it's just something I always wanted to try. I like to step out of my comfort zone. I like to try new things. I like picturing myself catching a gloriously large fish, wrangling it in, and posting the classic "holding my fish trophy" photograph on my refrigerator. If I had one, that is.


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We were more than halfway through Austria and I still hadn't checked one god damn thing off my list. Nevermind that, but I was already a few weeks deep and feeling the pressure to get something, anything checked off. 

Thing is, ever since our train car passed the river where I spotted a fly fisherman in action, I knew; I DECLARED even, that I had to check off "try fly fishing" in Austria. Austria sure wasn't making it easy though.

The Heritage Apartments team, which I never actually met, were kind enough to respond to my inquiry about fly fishing with as much information as they could muster up in the form of "we have no clue, but here, here's a guy with a fly fishing website, try this."

So, I did what any normal, respectful human being would do. I cold e-mailed him. What did I have to lose?

With no time to super investigate, I e-mailed the address at the bottom of the page with a quick version of what I'm trying to accomplish, and why; including a link to the list. I knew this fish guy, Mario, didn't normally do lessons, so this was a mighty big shot in the dark. 

Just a random American girl with a colossal list to check off. TOTALLY NORMAL.

Listen, I had little to no expectations about a response or an actual fly fishing lesson being set up. After all, I'd hit several road blocks already in the great country of Austria, trying to cast a line. Pun intended. 

So, you can imagine my surprise when I received a rather quick response from Mario. He was willing to teach me to fly fish, but could only go on Sunday. Only problem was, it was Wednesday, and we were due to leave Austria in 2 days time. Heavy sigh. I thanked him for his efforts, thinking welp, that's the end of that, unfortunately.

But it wasn't. Because Mario responds with an alternative solution. 

"How about Thursday afternoon?" He offers.

It was a tennis game of suggestion.

It pains me to tell him, but we will be in Vienna on Thursday and I will have less than 24 hours to visit about a million sausage stands for an article I'm set to write. About sausage, obviously. There would be simply no way to take trains to fishing locations, etc in the same day. Well, that was really that this time. I was sure of it.

Mario wrote back again, with a real zinger of a proposition. In a fantastic way. I couldn't even believe it, but he offers to pick us up in Vienna in the afternoon, if I can manage to stuff myself full of sausage in the morning. If that wasn't enough, he sends me some of his top picks for sausage stands, which cuts out a robust amount of research work for me. Why was Mario so nice?! 

Living in NYC for 9 years taught me to be weary of "too good to be true situations." So, was this for real?

Did I mention the part where I asked about pricing? 

"I do the lesson for free, because I think your project is cool." was his response. Well, I'll be. He can get nicer.

I discussed with KJ. "I think I have to make it work. He's going out of his way to help." 

I took this time of consideration to primo investigate and actually take a hard look at this guy's website. KJ and I peered at the computer screen as it loaded probably the most amazing photo ever on the home page. There he was, in all his glory, holding a ginormous fish and making an epically goofy face, gracing the screen. That was it. 

This guy was my spirit animal. 

I had to do this.

And thus, I had just roped myself into a full day. 
Half #1: sausage stuffing. Half #2: TRY FLY FISHING.

That's how KJ and I found ourselves waiting by a fountain in the middle of Vienna for a fisherman named Mario who, (informed us himself) would be "wearing a hat with a trout on it" which, in turn, made the whole situation that much better. 

I was equal parts excited and nervous. Oh, and FULL. My god I was full. I had tried 8+ sausages in the span of 3 hours and I was fairly certain I'd be solely responsible for sinking whatever boat or watercraft we'd be fishing from that afternoon. 
the final sausages.
The excited/nervous combo made sense too seeing as we were about to get in a car with a complete stranger, (albeit one I had dubbed my spirit animal) and try fly fishing, which looked preeeeetty tricky. Either way, I was pumped to check something off my list. 

Mario approached us, donning the trout hat as promised. Immediately I felt comfortable, despite the amount of sausage I had in my belly. He was just as personable and kind as his e-mails. 

We jumped in the car and headed out of Vienna, to the fly fishing location. Or the kidnapping location. Either way. Just kidding though, I was like 99.99% sure we weren't getting kidnapped. Unless the trout hat was just to throw us off...

It was in the car that we finally realized a few key things:

1. Austrians are remarkably polite.

2. Mario didn't know the Heritage Apartments team nor was he associated with them in any way.

3. He was a FAMOUS AUSTRIAN FISHERMAN.

Well that escalated quickly.

I can't recall exactly how the conversation went to where we finally found out that he was star status in the Austrian fishing world, probably because I might've blacked out for a short period of time. But what I did know was that KJ and I were driving in a car with a famous Austrian fisherman who decided on a whim to help me check off an item on my list by way of teaching me the ways of fly fishing. WHAT.

Cool. Play it cool. We arrived about an hour later at Kronau, a side arm and abandoned river course of the Danube River, where we met with Mario's fishing friend, Chris, who was equally friendly and funny. 
official business of the fishing permits
We took care of permits and loaded ourselves plus the fishing provisions into the small boat, that I was sure wouldn't hold the sausage fest I currently had going on in my stomach. There were fancy fishing poles kept in long tubular containers that I originally thought housed posters. Silly me. 

Did I mention we were afloat a tiny boat? Any rogue movement and one of us was going in the riddled with weeds waterway. 





Mario and Chris paddled us through the massively peaceful maze of water. We snaked our way through the weeds. Snakes. I really hoped there weren't going to be any snakes. The guys must've read my mind and decided to, at that exact moment, mention the water snakes that inhabited the very body of water we were floating on; sending a shiver down my spine. YIKES. Pushing snake nightmares aside, I relished in the tranquil setting and great company. 



"It feels just like Venice." I commented.

Cue the singing compliments of Chris the fisherman from the back of the boat. And so we paddled along to the off key Italian stylings of an Austrian fisherman. It was perfect.


juuuuuust like Venice.
We inched closer to a tunnel that looked like it probably definitely had several other inhabitants besides fish lurking inside. Obviously we were pointed in the direction of said tunnel. 

There was no way under it. There was no way over it. And, surprise surprise, there was no way around it. It was fairly clear we would have to go through it. 

"What else is in here?" my voice echoed as we glided into the darkness.

"Fish, insects, snakes..." Mario started.

"RATS." Chris finished with a smirk.

"Hahahhaaa" I trilled nervously. 

The tunnel was in fact not very long and I was a sissy. 

We were through in a jiffy and I scanned the boat for any rats that might've jumped aboard in the darkness like rat ninjas. 

We emerged rat-less from the tunnel and into a placid cove. The only ones there, I could see why Mario had dubbed this spot, "an exclusive" place to fish. 



It was time! I was going to try fly fishing! Just the small matter of learning how to do it first. Right. Mario started to get us set up, while Chris cast a line from the back. 

Chris tugged on his line. That was fast! 

"Did you get something?!" I asked excitedly.

"No, no, I scream like a little girl when I catch one."

Minutes later, there was high level jubilation in the form of a small, girlish scream from the back of the boat. Or maybe that was just my hopeful imagination. Either way, Chris had something on his line! 

He wrangled in his catch, a healthy looking Pike.



"I want one of those!" I announced, much like a five year old in a pet store.

We didn't, of course, keep Mr. Pike. Back in the water he went, and I was ready for my turn. Mario invited me to the bow of the tiny boat, and I attempted to act casual, but was, in reality, trying super hard to keep my balance. As much as I liked meeting Mr. Pike, I did NOT want to go swimming with him.



Mario showed me two casts. The roll cast, and the overhead cast. They both looked like I would inevitably whip myself or someone else, rather than catch a fish. 

Mario sensed this, and offered to help, until I got the movement aspect down. Fine by me.



EVERYBODY WATCH OUT
Concentrating equally as hard on casting as I was on keeping my balance whilst perched upon the tip of the boat, I went for it. I launched the line back and forth like Mario had shown me, but somehow didn't quite look the same as him; technique wise. Or at all, really. Fly fishing was definitely not easy. Nor did I expect it to be. Challenge accepted.

I kept practicing, and was eventually ready to try for real, on my own. Fingers crossed I didn't whip anything. Or anyone.

He gave me his sunglasses to serve as eye protection. Brilliant and chivalrous. 

"It's like night fishing all of the sudden." I joked. 

Enough procrastinating, it was time to catch something. But time after time, the only thing I caught? The indigenous Austrian river weed.

Despite my arm getting tired, the motion of fly fish casting was actually quite relaxing. All in all, the entire experience was wildly pleasant. We shared smiles and sour skittles. We joked and chatted with almost no language barrier. Almost.

While chuckling at the fact that despite Chris's skittle addiction, neither of the guys had heard the tagline "taste the rainbow," we heard a rustling in a nearby bush. 

"WHAT might that be?" I inquired, (obviously picturing some Austrian river beast attacking us to reclaim it's precious weeds that I kept catching.)

"Oh that's just Bieber." Mario answered, nonchalantly.

KJ and I exchanged looks of confusion.

"Wait. What? Justin Bieber lives in this river?"

"B E A V E R." the guys clarified.

Aha, Right. That made more sense.

"Well, now it's Justin Bieber the Beaver." I stated, naturally; everyone in agreement.

After a while, I switched to a regular spinning rod, while KJ took a swing at fly fishing. This was a tad nerve-wracking. Now I had a true chance of hooking something. Or someone. 


sheer concentration



KJ caught a tree. I caught...




Another Austrian river weed. 

"Looks like I'm makin sushi tonight."

Ah, well. I took a break and let the pro have a turn at his own game. Plus, I was anxious to see Mario in action.

Dusk was settling in, and watching Mario fish was nothing less than superbly impressive. I still couldn't believe I was there...in a boat in Austria, trying out fly fishing with a famous Austrian fisherman who was just an immensely cool guy.

It turned out, despite the hours we put in, Mr. Pike was the first and last fish that was caught. Was I a teeny bit disappointed that I wouldn't get my fish trophy photo? Not really. The experience was way more than I ever expected it to be. Also, KJ accidentally whipped Chris with the fly fishing line in her casting efforts, who, in turn let out an abrupt yelp. So that right there was a real gem.

We made our way back through the dark tunnel heading in towards the dock. 

"I hope you don't mind spiders." Mario teased.

"Stop!"

"Well where would you go at night if you were a spider? It's their love shack." Chris plainly stated.

When you're right, you're right.

KJ and I secretly checked each other for spiders.

Reaching the dock, sadness set in that the fly fishing adventure was coming to an end. 

"I have one more present for you." Mario said, as he handed me a DVD of his fishing movie, 'Rio Ebro.'

"Does it have subtitles?" I half joked.

Seriously though, I loved hanging out with these guys! I wasn't ready to say goodbye. 

"I have one more request..." as I pulled out my stranger selfie cam. 

"I've never taken a selfie before." Chris confessed.

"Well then, you should do the honors." I said, handing over the camera, circa 1990. 

And so the three of us took 1 of the required 27 stranger selfies; even if they didn't qualify as strangers anymore. I knew I'd be looking forward to getting the selfies developed throughout the whole trip. 

We parted ways with Chris, but still had the drive back to Vienna with Mario. We were a lot more talkative on this car ride, seeing as we had become besties over the course of the last 4 hours. Getting closer to Vienna, meant closer to saying goodbye. I was fairly certain I didn't want our time to end yet. 

Seemingly reading my mind, Mario asked if we'd like to get drinks. Naturally we should be celebrating the first 'checking off of the list item,' and this would be the best way. We agreed to get drinks in the city before dropping KJ and I off at our hotel. 

We ended up sitting al fresco at a cute little Italian joint thanks to my spotting of a lovely looking dessert trio on someone else's table as we strolled by.

Wine was a given, Mario insisted we order the dessert trio, and I didn't disagree. There were three of us, so it made perfect sense. Who says dessert can't be dinner anyways? 


Try fly fishing? Check.  Laugh my ass off & befriend a famous Austrian fisherman? Check, check.

One of the best things about travel? The people you meet.



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


**Extra special shout out to Mario Lange for going above and beyond, making me laugh, helping me check off my first list item, and being one of the kindest people I've met.

Oh, he's not only a pro at fishing...he's a whiz at photography and making epic fishing videos of his extraordinary catches as well. Check them out here: www.mariolange.at

Link for trailer and purchasing information for "Rio Ebro: Two Anglers & One Aim"

http://www.mariolange.at/portfolio-items/dvd-rio-ebro-two-anglers-one-aim/














Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Durnstein in 39

Thirty nine hours may not seem like much, but it was juuust enough time to experience the magic enchantment of Durnstein, Austria



Still not convinced? Worry not, I'll explain everything. The pictures will do most of the talking anyhow..



See what I mean? For real though, let's get serious.

Showing up:

We arrived in Durnstein via what seemed like 298374 trains and a bus, but in actuality, it was 3 trains and a bus from Croatia. If you're not coming from Croatia, you can fly into Vienna and easily make your way to the Wachau Valley.

Hold up. Where's Durnstein?

Friendly facts:

-Durnstein, Austria is about an hour (give or take) West of Vienna, in the Wachau Valley aka Wine Region.

-It's smack dab on the Danube River.

-The Wachau region is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

-THERE'S LOADS OF WINE.



...We rolled in late afternoon on the bus from Krems. (Which, in a side note, and contrary to my original thought of it being "Kremes," they do not, in fact, have an overload of donuts.)

The bus gracefully dumped us just outside of town where I noted there was a grocery store that we would most likely need to return to later. What I failed to note, however, were the hours that the store was open...but I'll come back to that later.

Immediately upon crossing the street and officially entering Durnstein, is when it happened. By "it" I mean the level 10 enchantment factor. It was like we were sucked into an abyss of fairytale-esque, unearthly magic. Whatever combination of river, landscape, wine, and atmosphere Durnstein uses; well, the formula works. Well done, Austria, well done.



We strolled the cobblestone streets to find our abode for the next 38.5 hours, and it was so adorable that I almost didn't even care that I was hauling my obese pack, and dragging Lil Bea through the bumpy lanes. Not suprisingly, Lil Bea's wheels and cobblestone don't mix.



This is what I donned as a "pocket pot"


Siesta spot:
What I've learned is that where you stay can really make a difference in your overall experience of a destination. 

Maybe it was because we had just come from staying in someone's attic. I don't know for sure. But what I did know was that I was staying in a GD fairytale.

Although you probably can't go wrong in Durnstein, or the surrounding areas in the Wachau region, I would completely recommend staying in what you will wish is your new home. The Heritage Durnstein Apartments made the enchanting experience, well, even more enchanting; if you can believe it.

Perhaps not the easiest of accommodations to locate, it was not a huge problem due to a friendly local tending to his garden. He was more than happy to point us in the right direction; by literally pointing.

Flat #2 could be considered as far too much for two people on a normal day. But seeing as KJ and I had been spending an abundance of time together, it was just perfect. We each had our own bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchen that rivaled most of the kitchens I'd ever been in, in my entire life. That table though...

This is where I fell in love with an inanimate object. The kitchen table here was rustic, beautiful, elegant, and adorned with some sort of soft, cushy-cozy fur throws on the seats. It was my new favorite writing spot. GOOD LUCK KICKING ME OUT OF HERE HERITAGE DURNSTEIN. 




Also, let's take a full moment to appreciate this view:



**For a complete look at my stay with Heritage Durnstein Apartments, check out my Sweet Sleeps page and scroll yourself down to DURNSTEIN.

3 9   H o u r s :

As much as I wanted to bask in the gloriousness of the apartment, I knew there were mere hours to explore this fine destination that seemed to exude gobs of charm. So what can you really do in less than 2 days? Here's 39 hours in a nutshell of how to get the most out of Durnstein:

Day 1: SHOW UP. CHECK IN. EAT. RELAX.

SHOW UP. CHECK IN.
Chances are you'll arrive in the afternoon/early evening hours like we did. Check in was wildly easy...once we found the flats. Just a keybox with a code. So, get settled, & explore your digs. Oh, and either purchase a bottle of wine at a shop while they're open, or, if you forget, then no worries because the Heritage Flats have THEIR OWN WINE CELLAR. It's a bit pricier to take from the wine fridge in your space but a lifesaver in a pinch. 



EAT. 
No one feels like cooking right when they arrive; and you're on vacation, are you not? Head out and take a short walk to a lovely little corner spot in Durnstein that you shan't regret. 

Weinschenke Altes Presshaus was exactly what I was looking for. It was warm enough to park ourselves outside on one of the benches skirting the restaurant, and we did. Wine and sausage were abundant and I was one happy girl. 
Exhibit A
RELAX:
Once your belly is full of sausage and undoubtedly the best sauerkraut you've ever had, there's only one thing left to do. Head back to the flat for some R & R. Crack open that bottle of wine and head up to the terrace with a blanket, or not if it's warm enough. The wine and comfy factor of the flat should lull you to a good night's sleep. It's necessary, seeing as there's a big day ahead tomorrow.





Day 2: SHOP. RENT. RIDE. WINE. DINE. 

SHOP.
Pop out first thing in the morning after a coffee on the terrace, and head over to hit up the grocery store for some provisions. Grab some grub to cook up for dinner, because when you get back from the day's adventure the last thing you'll want to do is go to the store. Also, it'll probably be closed, so there's that. 

RENT.
Absolutely rent bikes. We borrowed ours for $12 each for the day from the Hotel Schloss Durnstein just down the lane from the flats. A small price to pay for the fruitful fun it provided.


View from Hotel Schloss
RIDE.
Head down the hill onto the bike trail, which conveniently is also the wine trail. Best. Invention. Ever.




So ride. Take in the scenery, which, by the way, is top notch. Take detours if you feel like it. Stop where you want and just look around...because you are In. A. Fairytale. 





For every bunch of grapes there are, there's a winery to visit. They're everywhere, and they're calling you... and so, you should go. 

WINE. DINE.
The next town over from Durnstein ended up competing for favorites in my book. Weissenkrichen in der Wachau rivaled Durnstein, and if I were to return, which I plan on, I'd probably, almost definitely stay there. Just don't tell Durnstein.







The winery options are seemingly endless. For us, since it was just off-season, it was a game of who's open. Most are on a map, not always easy to find, and sometimes literally someone's house. Which makes it all the more fun to discover and explore. Be bold.. and knock on a giant wooden door. We hit up the following spots and don't regret any of them:

WEINGUT KARTAUSERHOF:
This was one of those times we weren't sure if they were open, and they weren't; but as if it was completely normal, because it is, they opened for us...and poured some wine. The owner and his wife were extremely nice and accommodating, even giving us recommendations for other wineries to stop along the way.

*tip: try the Gruner Veltliner




WEINGUT KARL HOLZAPFEL:
Cute garden. Good wine. 

*tip: food is pricey, save noshing for elsewhere.






PLAYING FAVORITES:

WEINGUT ZOTTL:
*tip: order the meat and cheese platter, and if you're super adventurous, try the tongue. (I did NOT.)

The last stop on the bikery winery tour (I just made that up) was Weingut Zottl. The people, atmosphere, food, and wine kind of blew my mind.






DINE AGAIN.
Remember how I told you to buy some food to cook up later? This is where that smart planning comes into play. Use the fully stocked and operable kitchen, BBQ facilities, or pizza oven. That's right, pizza oven. Cook up a fabulous meal in the flat, or book a private, fancy one in the wine cellar. Either way, win/win. 




DAY 3: SUNRISE. HIKE. PASTRY. DEPART.

SUNRISE.
Not a morning person? Well too bad. I know, it's early. I promise you don't have to go far, or even get dressed. Roll out of bed, head up past the terrace to where the hot tub sits and prepare yourself for the beauty that will unfold. This is what sunrise looks like in a Disney movie, or fairytale land; by the way.




HIKE.

Since you'll be up anyways for the sunrise, take the quick jaunt up to the Kuenringer Castle ruins. Because every fairytale land needs a castle, obviously. The views are said to be spectacular. Two amazing viewpoints in one morning? BONUS.

PASTRY.
Let's undo that hike with some worthwhile calories, because you earned it. Schmidl Bakery is the place to be for pastry. Not joking.

DEPART.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end...until next time anyways. Check out, hop the bus, and start plotting your next adventure. Revel in the fact that you just got the most out of Durnstein you could in exactly 39 hours. 





THINGS I WISH I DID:

- Venture across the river and explore some of the towns on the other side, like Rossatz.

-The hike to the castle ruins. I didn't actually get do it because of the weather, but would've squeezed it in if it hadn't rained!

-Indulge in the apricot strudel at Restaurant Sanger Blondel. It is said to be wildly amazing.

Things to note:
-Off season particulars: Less crowds? perfect. But that means shorter, if not sometimes non-existent hours for restaurants & grocery stores (remember I said I'd come back to that later? Later is now.)

-Durnstein can get a tad crowded during the day from cruise ships and other day trippers that come to experience the same enchantment that you get to sleep within. They all head out around 4pm, and then it's virtually all yours...

-The further you go on the bike trail, the further you have to ride BACK. After wine. Just keep that in mind.


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Amusing tidbit:
Taking a bikery winery selfie in between every stop turned out to be a hilariously grand idea...





**Heritage Durnstein Apartments: sleeping in a fairytale



 
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