neusiedler see

Mosquito Coast

Finally, a long weekend! Traffic out of Vienna was not every driver’s dream, but I could understand anyone fleeing the city as soon as the temperatures got above the 25-degree mark. And we were on our way to the Neusiedlersee, to Rust to be exact – a hop, skip, and a jump from Mödling and the city limits. But a completely different world.

As we reached the parking lot, following all signs for the Seebad, the tall masts of sailboats and the shrieks of small children filled the air. Clad in shorts and bikinis, we made our way to the dock where a paddleboat was waiting to take us to a friend’s weekend house, perched along with dozens of others in among the masses of reeds. Perhaps “house” was the wrong word…

If fact, I really hadn’t known what to expect. All I knew was that it was very rustic – i.e. no electricity or running water. An adventure, to say the least. At the Hütte, we unloaded the paddleboat and promptly began fiddling with the grill. The fiddling was promptly taken over by the “men,” who were soon hacking and wheezing in clouds of ash and smoke. We “ladies” decided to grab the nearest reading material: A wide range of guy rags from ÖKM (sleazy boob-mag) to Seitenblicke, Wienerin and an ancient copy of National Geographic, and, of course, the once obligatory copy of The Da Vince Code, now curling at the edges. The lending library clearly needed attention. But it hardly mattered. We collapsed on the sun-drenched terrace and soaked up the rays until the “men” – rightly proud of themselves! – called us to the feast.

We ate ravenously, having sweated out our energy in the unaccustomed heatwave. All was serene. Our perfect weekend had begun.

“Ow!” shrieked our hostess. Then a growl. “Gaddamn mosquitos!” Mosquitos? Nobody had said anything about mosquitos.

I soon learned that this was the price one pays for such serenity. The swampy shores of this rain-fed Steppensee, thick with reeds, are a perfect breeding ground for insects, making all the songbirds blissfully happy. The people, not so much.

The bloodsucking beasts were everywhere, and the later the hour, the more there seemed to be. Yes, of course, we had bug spray and citronella candles and long-sleeved clothing (What do you think we are? Stupid?). But none of this helped much. Although, as the alcohol level rose, the level of discomfort did sink. And a few rounds of charades and funny stories relieved the itch factor temporarily. But that didn’t mean the wretched little beasts were gone.

A Movable Feast

Doubt me if you will, but two of the group decided to sleep outside. The blanket of stars was tempting, but I saw no reason to contract a look-alike case of smallpox before morning. Call it enlightened self-interest.

It was a restless night, punctuated by buzzing noises and slaps and curses under one’s breath. And finally, it was morning, with everyone considerably the worse for wear.

(c) Burgenland Tourismus/Birgit Machtinger

“The bugs aren’t usually this bad,” someone said, apologetically. This seemed like a lame excuse for what I was about to see. Our brave couple were buried under their sleeping bags without one limb visible. As we uncovered them we saw the damage. Monsieur had a black eye, swollen shut, and red dots all over his baldhead, Mademoiselle’s upper lip was swollen to the size of Angelina Jolie’s – only somehow nothing like as attractive. We giggled sympathetically and made coffee.

But don’t get me wrong: For all those seeking refuge from city lights and sounds, I still recommend the Neusiedlersee. Particularly out on the water, where, with a fair wind under sun and sail, there is nary a bug in sight. And even onshore, our host town of Rust, with storks nesting on the chimneys and a Heuriger in every Hof, is a delight from dawn till dusk. But as evening falls, come prepared to bathe in bug spray and hope for the best.