One of the highlights of the summer was when Mister Mac, Nick, Wilcey and I spent a few days together in Rust-am-See, a quaint medieval town on the lake in Burgenland. The region is renowned for its wine and we did our bit for the local wine economy. We first went to Burgenland many years ago when Chap introduced us to the Seefestspiel in Mörbisch – operetta on Lake Neusiedl. He used to hire a driver, Fritz, for the day, so that we could all sample the full Weinkarte. It wasn’t until many years later, when I better understood the geography of the area, that I realised what a circuitous route we used to take to get there, but then Chap would never follow a conventional route if the alternative promised adventure.
It was always hot – usually somewhere in the high thirties and even 40 degrees one year; difficult temperatures for us pale-skinned Brits. We would leave Vienna at about midday and head off to the east of the lake, where we stopped for lunch at Podersdorf, famous for its lighthouse. For a lake that has no rocks and is only just over a metre deep, I’ve never quite understood the need for a lighthouse, but I am told by the locals that it is essential. Lunch in Podersdorf comprised schnapps, sausage, schnitzel and sauerkraut, washed down with carafes of the local wine.
Good old Fritz, who thankfully had opted for the alcohol-free lunch, would then drive us to Ilmitz where we would go wine-tasting. Having worked our way through the card, we then stocked the car with bottles, ready to see us through the Viennese winter, before heading off to a restaurant for an early supper of schnapps, sausage, schnitzel etc. I think it was Chap’s wartime upbringing of eating whenever you had the chance, in case you didn’t get another for a few days. I can’t remember the name of the place we used to go for supper, although a Google search tells me that it might be Langasthaus Karlo, but I do remember two things quite clearly:
- It was the only eatery in the whole of Burgenland that didn’t have any shade – either natural or sunshade based.
- The ersatz Gypsy Kings – a Hungarian band, I believe. We used to happily tap our feet and hum along to the music as we devoured our platters of grub. I made the fatal holiday mistake of buying the CD. In sunny Burgenland, buoyed by good food and wine, the ersatz GKs sounded absolutely magical. In Minchinhampton, on a sober, cold, damp evening in November, they sounded …. er….. let’s be polite and say “different”.
After supper, the long-suffering Fritz would drive us to the lakeside where we would take the boat across to the main event. At the time, I was going through my wannabe Austrian phase – a phase I might revisit if Brexit means spending an hour in the “Alle Staaten” queue at Passport Control instead of swanning through the EU channel in less than a minute. Inspired by how glamorous the Viennese women looked in their national costume, I’d invested in the full Dirndl works – it was rather a dashing blue with a matching silk scarf patterned with Edelweiss, authentic blouse with white puffy sleeves, an apron, a cardy (just in case) with real horn buttons and the softest blue suede shoes complete with silver Edelweiss buckles. Much to my chagrin, I soon discovered that there was a fine line between proudly wearing national costume and – particularly when it’s not actually your own nation – being mistaken for the help. And so it was on the boat, where I ended up taking orders and waitressing drinks to the top-deck passengers, simply because they’d seen me bring our tray of drinks from the self-service bar. Fuelled by joie-de-vivre, the passengers were generous with their tips and it made a handy contribution towards the ticket prices.
Finally, seven hours after leaving Vienna, we were ready for the highlight of the day. If you’ve never been to Mörbisch, it’s worth spending a few minutes looking at some of the highlights on You-Tube. The performances are spectacular. No expense is spared on the costumes, scenery and cast; then there is the natural scenery as the sun sets and the moon rises over the lake. We’ve enjoyed Das Land des Lächelns, Die witzige Witwe, Der Vogelsänger, Der Zigeunerbaron and many others, but I think my particular favourite was Eine Nacht in Venedig, where even the houses joined the dance.
But back to 2016 … Normally, Mörbisch tickets sell out well in advance, so we hadn’t even considered going this year, as our trip was all rather last minute. However, as luck would have it, we were in the area the weekend that some big football match was on (World Cup Final maybe?) and so not only were there tickets available but they were available for the good seats. As Rust is only 15 minutes away, we decided against the Ilmitz preliminaries and instead have started a new tradition for the next Barrett generation. The the kilt-wearing Mr Bim and his Routemaster, complete with his own special design that gives ‘sunroof’ a whole new meaning and on-board entertainment is a tale for another day.
Suffice it to say, we had the most wonderful evening, a few tears at being there sans Chap, but otherwise a perfect and typical Mörbisch spectacle.