Three Meals, Three Countries Part I: Storks in Austria!
Obligation-free Saturdays were a rarity for us in the US, and we often "wasted" them by running errands, tending the yard, and so forth. As the Trailing Spouse now I can accomplish the errands during the week, and tending the yard takes a mere 30 minutes (20 of which is spent borrowing and then returning a friend's lawnmower), Saturdays here in Europe, especially ones with gorgeous blue skies and warm temperatures, implore us to explore.
With DD off on a weekend-long Girl Guide campout at Schloss Laxenburg (yes, "roughing it" in a palace) and DS under self-imposed house arrest preparing for IB finals, I planned a "Three Meals, Three Countries" Saturday road trip for the two of us: breakfast at home in Austria; lunch in Hungary; and dinner in Slovakia, with intermittent sightseeing. Travel planning is an important Trailing Spouse responsibility, after all.
Our first destination was the small seaside village of Rust (pronounced "Roost." How appropriate.) near Neusiedl See in Burgenland, one that could be the setting for any classic fairy tale. Houses with fanciful decorations, picturesque windows and passageways...and storks! Storks migrate to Burgenland in the early spring, and raise their hatchlings throughout the summer before wintering in Africa. The thoughtful folks in Rust have erected over a dozen stork nests atop chimneys in and around their town square, inviting both the beautiful white birds and bird watchers to their village.
We strolled through the village for a little while, soaking up the sun and watching the birds. The possibility to climb the church tower for a panorama existed, but only in the late afternoons. A minor disappointment, all things considered.
Then we were on the road to Hungary...
Three Meals, Three Countries Part II: Sopron, Hungary. A Side Note to History
After our Slavonice road trip in May we were inspired to seek out more Cold War artifacts along the borders with the former Eastern Bloc countries, and in doing our research we learned that the "Iron Curtain" fell first in the little border town of Sopron, Hungary in August 1989, three months before the Berlin Wall fell.
I won't bore you with the details that we find endlessly fascinating about this period in history. The short story is that Otto von Habsburg, no longer having an empire to run, kick-started a discussion in June 1989 with Hungarian leaders of what Europe might look like without borders. The Hungarians agreed that a brief opening of the gate at Sopron ("just a few hours" was the plan), to allow Austrians and Hungarians to picnic together, would be a good demonstration of the ridiculousness of the borders in general.
One thing led to another, and in August 1989 Austrians, Hungarians, and many, many, many East Germans (information traveled quickly even before Twitter, FourSquare and the Internet!) flocked to Sopron (and, ultimately, to West Germany). This brief opening of the gate was one of the sparks that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the events in Berlin caught better media attention.
The border area of this Pan-European picnic is now a park. At the border are remnants of the Iron Curtain, an old watchtower, and the ceremonial gate through which the Austrian and Hungarian leaders passed that August.
We took this opportunity to pause for our own picnic in the shaded gazebo of the park. Around us, Austrian and Hungarian families barbecued while the little ones played soccer and ran around the greenspace.
Back on the road we drove through small towns, some of which have clearly benefitted from EU membership, with beautiful homes, window boxes filled with bright flowers and welcoming streets; and some which need a little more time to clear out the Communist cobwebs.
Cutting through Austria (better roads), we paused in the pretty town of Frauenkirchen for photos and drove through fields of windmills before crossing into Hungary again.
The towns of Bezenye and Rajka were next on our list, both situated at the confluence of Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia and allegedly containing cultural sights of "multinational character." Believe me when I say that we drove every street in each of the towns and if anything, two Americans in a late model vehicle with foreign diplomat tags constituted the only multinational character to be found.
Three Meals, Three Countries Part III: The Panelaks of Petrzalka, Slovakia.
An Eastern Bloc-to-Eastern Bloc border crossing awaited us, from Hungary to Slovakia—a first for my set of border crossing photos! This crossing was the most depressing we've encountered. Ransacked, graffiti-ed, and not at all welcoming.
Soon Petrzalka appeared before us. Once upon a time it was a garden-filled outpost of Pressburg in the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary. Annexed by Nazi Germany as part of the First Slovak Republic, and for about a year was a labour camp for Hungarian Jews. After WWII it became an internment camp for Hungarians; thirty years later authorities decided to construct panelaks, the concrete housing blocks that now color the skyline. A little gritty, a little rough, especially as one weaves deeper within the complex. Some of the buildings appear to have been renovated, at least on the exterior, but a fresh coat of paint and new windows doesn't seem like enough to save this borough.
By now Day Trip Fatigue had started to settle in, yet an hours' drive home, and one more sightseeing point lay ahead: a series of bunkers on the Slovakian/Austrian border. We forged on, the only navigational guidance being a spray-painted sign on a highway concrete barrier.
Our concern that the bunker complex might be underwater due to the flooding throughout Central Europe was not unfounded, so this part of the road trip remains for some other time. Too pooped to trek into Bratislava for dinner, but knowing that Austria had closed an hour before (grocery stores close at 18:00 on Saturday), we roamed the aisles of the (ginormous-by-comparison-to-Austrian-standards) Bratislava Tesco looking for dinner foodstuffs.
After a day of navigating German-Hungarian-Slovakian tongues and mentally converting Euros to Forints and back again, we commended ourselves for being able to put together a meal; and a couple of hours later we were enjoying grilled chicken and cold refreshments on our patio.
We may not have eaten dinner in Slovakia, but we decided that dinner from Slovakia counted towards, "Three Meals, Three Countries."
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Three Meals, Three Countries Part I: Storks in Austria!