Vienna has wetlands? Heck, I didn’t know that, either. But in fact, there is a really BIG park called the Donau-Auen that goes all the way from just north of Vienna to Bratislava. It is the largest protected natural wetland in Europe. It also provides flood protection for Vienna by allowing the waters to spill over along that length of the river. The river has been known to flood the park to a depth of seven meters!
Yesterday, we joined a CLO-sponsored trip to the park. It was perhaps not the best time of year to visit, because it’s still very much winter here and nothing is green or blooming. However, it was a crisp, sunny day and even the winter colors of the landscape are beautiful in their way. It was a nice three-hour walk with a picnic halfway along.
European nature can seem rather sparse compared to the lush American environment. On a winter’s day hike anywhere in Virginia, we would have probably seen ten times as many birds and critters as we did in even in this large protected wetlands. And we didn’t see one fish or turtle in the ponds. Honestly, I think there was more wildlife living in the woods behind my house in the DC suburbs than there is in the entire Donau-Auen. I have often thought that early English settlers must have thought they fetched up in the jungle when they landed at Jamestown.
But, we certainly wouldn’t have seen wild boar tracks and feeding areas in Virginia. And I’m thinking the Austrian beavers must be gigantic, based on their handiwork (yes, there are beavers in Austria!) There aren’t many birds in the park, at least in winter, but they are different birds than we see at home. I saw one pheasant running across the trail, and our guide (a volunteer from the embassy community) said that he normally sees egrets.
It is possible that several little boys that came along on the hike may have scared some wildlife away, but they were so darn happy and had such a good time skipping rocks on the ponds that it made me downright wistful for the days when our big, hairy teenager was so easily amused. Never mind that he would definitely have jumped in the first pond he saw…
There are a lot of different paths throughout the park and we’ll certainly be back when the weather warms up. I can imagine that the flowers and birds would be well worth seeing in April or May. One nice thing about this trip was that we met several other people in the mission community who, like us, are more into outdoors than opera. We picked up some good tips about other hiking opportunities in the area. We had already decided to try all the Vienna “Stadtwanderwegs” while we are posted here. Now, as soon as it warms up a bit, we are going to try some Alpine trails that are just an hour or two away. Hike on!