Go Explore – Jillian Schmidt
I am not much of a world traveler. But I have some great friends who have really inspired me to not only get outdoors more, but to get out and explore the world more. Of course I am enticed by the history and culture you can experience when you travel, but recently I have been fixated on traveling more in order to experience more of the outdoors than just the southeastern United States. What better way to gain an appreciation for the world we live on?
So I sat down with my good friend Jillian so she could tell me about how an outdoor experience on her trip across Europe was the best memory that stood out to her over everything they did.
After graduating from high school, Jillian and her family traveled to Europe specifically France, Italy, Germany and Austria. Jillian’s parents and brother all went to France and Italy together, but since Jillian’s dad and brother needed to get back to work, only Jillian and her mom continued on to Germany and Austria. Jillian had studied German in high school and is a self proclaimed “World War 2 nerd” so leaving Europe without seeing Germany and Austria was not an option for Jillian.
When Jillian’s mom was in high school, she had taken a similar trip. She reread her journal from the time and remembered a small town in Austria that she loved that was on their way from Salzburg to Vienna. This small town is called Dürnstein. Jillian’s mom remembered walking up all these steps to see the ruins of a castle and she wanted to take Jillian to see it too.
“Its so small, its literally the tiniest village in Austria. When you think of a little Austrian village on The Blue Danube this is what you think of. All these cobblestones houses with the orange-yellowish roofs and there are a bunch of vineyards around, and their specialty is apricots so they sell all this apricot jam. It is just so beautiful and just really, really small, and it sits in this valley so the mountains are just all around you and there are boats going down The Blue Danube cause it goes right through the town. I think it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life, hands down.”
Dürnstein first appears in history in the early 1100’s when King Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionhearted, was imprisoned in the small castle on the hill in the town. Richard the Lionhearted is an extremely significant figure in European history as he was a high profile crusader, had command over his own army by the age of 16, and ruled over many different lands during his time as king.
“The castle is up on a hill so you have to climb about a thousand stairs to get up there. So when we first went we didn’t realize we were going to go all the way up to the castle so my mom and I were in dresses and sandals,” Jill laughs, “So that was difficult, and everyone around us was in intense hiking gear. So it was hard to walk up. Also the stairs are still from the original construction so they are all old and crumbling, and you just kind of wind around the mountain. It was pretty scary cause there was no railing or anything and it was very exhausting. It probably took us thirty minutes to get all the way up. But once you got to the top it was just so amazing.”
Because all that is left of the castle is its ruins, most of the walls are gone. So when Jillian and her mom got to the top they were able to see a full panoramic view of Dürnstein, The Blue Danube, and the surrounding mountains. The castle is open to the public so when you get to the top there is no tour or specific way to walk. You are able to just explore yourself. You can even see the actual cell that Richard the Lionhearted stayed in.
“It’s so cool because you walk up to where the walls would have been and it’s just a straight drop off. So my mom kept saying to me ‘Stop going to the edge!’ It was kind of scary at some points.” Jillian goes on to explain how the whole valley is only about a mile long. There are two mountains surrounding this town like a boarder; so it was a mountain, half a mile, the river, another half mile, and then the other mountain. And within these two half mile pieces of land it is all green vineyards, and trees, and farm land, and dispersed throughout are the little old fashioned buildings made from stone with the orange roofs. The coolest thing about The Blue Danube is that it really looks blue, so right in the middle of this beautiful scene there is a sparkling light blue river flowing down the middle. “You could stand up there for hours!”
Jillian shows me the background of her computer, it is still a picture from that day even after all these years. She remembers how nice it was to share that day with her mom and to get to be with her mom as she came back to the town she loved so much when she was Jillian’s age.
“It wasn’t just the view but the history too. That those ruins were once a beautiful castle looking over this town. And people lived there. That’s the thing too, when you go to Europe you go to a lot of castles but they’re like Buckingham Palace and Versai and all of the big plush places. But this was like a medieval thing that was built in like the 900’s. So this building is over 1,000 years old.”
Once they made their way back down the mountainside they spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town. They even got lunch riverside and had a signature Dürnstein apricot dessert.
“It was one of the best experiences of my entire life. And I don’t hike so doing that was really cool, and I realized how fun it was.” Jillian says her mom is really into hiking around her home in Pennsylvania now because of how much she enjoyed experiencing the hike up to this castle. Jillian’s mom and dad are big world travelers and now they even make a point to have outdoor experiences when they are somewhere new, whether that is in a different continent or even just visiting their daughter in Athens.