I saw it from the plane flying into Vienna. Down there to the south was this large expanse of water. That must be that lake.
My knowledge of the geography of Eastern Austria and Hungary had been practically non-existent, but since we had planned to visit the area I had carried out a quick check. I now had a basic knowledge of the lay of the land. Hence I had read about “that lake” - Neusiedler See – and was keen to see it at eye level.
Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) is an endorheic lake. (So is the Caspian Sea and Australia's Lake Eyre. The Black Sea is almost one!) It is the centre of an inland drainage system and has no outlet to the sea. Unlike Lake Eyre (-15metres) and The Dead Sea (-420metres) it does not lie below sea level. (Did you know that the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest dry land on earth? - a fact which has little relevance to Lake Neusiedl.) Lake Neusiedl is dependant on the inflowing streams for its existence. Wet years and the water level rises, but a few very dry years can cause it to disappear. It is a very shallow lake (1.8 metres) and so walks a very tight rope. Scientists tell us that it has dried up about 100 times in its existence. The last time was in 1866.
By world standards it is quite a small lake (36Km long and up to 12 Km wide) but for Austria, which is a landlocked country, it is important. It is their seaside. Well, lakeside!
Sometimes facts can be dry too and a book isn't always sufficient preparation for the reality. Such was the case here. The Reeds! Sure Lonely Planet had mentioned that reeds were a nuisance in gaining access to the water. Other sources had noted that the reeds provided a great habitat for bird-life – local as well as migratory. But the reeds!
We approached the lake through the town of Rust, where a kilometre-long causeway had been constructed through the reeds to the open water. Early summer and there was little activity at the end of the causeway. A hand in the water suggested why. That “warm” water of the lake which attracts thousands of visitors hadn't arrived yet either. The awaiting facilities gave notice as to what might be. Most intriguing for us was the holiday accommodation – lines of thatched huts disappearing off into the reeds. Intriguing indeed, but then one is reminded of the remains of lake settlements in Europe which date back to the Bronze Age. Are these “houses” simply carrying on a tradition which began millennia ago? Holidaying in one of them may not be a Bronze Age experience, but would certainly give you an insight into the life of a migratory bird.
But the reeds!