For a few times on this trip we visit two ports in one day. This was one of those days and we got the chance to see and experience not one, but two, Austrian port cities.
The first was Melk. We’d arrived there early in the morning and I walked up on deck to experience some Danube sunshine (oh, so welcome) and peek around the end of the ship to spot the Melk Abbey up above the river. While it looked pretty close by, it was atop a hill (all the important things around here are hill fixtures—’makes sense, I guess, since that was the place of power where everything could be overseen) so we walked a bit down the dock and caught the tour bus up around the hill and to the abbey.
[Side note: I think every time we’ve docked on this trip, the Alta has been the last ship in the lineup of the boats. That means more walking to get there but, hey, let’s look at it as more time to experience a port city. And that’s all good…except when it’s raining.]
The Melk Abbey is a very distinctive building—painted an deep yellow and cream, it looks like nothing so much as a child’s drawing of a palace (if all they had was a yellow crayon). It’s symmetrical and straight up and down—in short, quite regular. It features lovely artwork—including a jeweled, hinged cross said to contain a sliver of wood from the real cross Christ was crucified on—ceiling frescoes and ornate details.
I didn’t really enjoy it.
I’ve discovered I enjoy most the attractions which are more “original” and a bit rough around the edges. The Melk Abbey is lovely. You’re guided through the rooms in the Imperial Wing with a proscribed tour featuring a “theme” and very professional museum effects (videos, music, lighting, rotating exhibits). I rather felt as if Disneyland had arrived at the Danube; it just felt a bit plastic and contrived. But I guess that’s just me because I spoke with others who really enjoyed the morning tour.
I got more fun from the walk back down the hill. It was a Catholic feast day so all the stores were closed except a few cafes and tourist-oriented shops. But the sun warmed our backs as we stepped sprightly (yes, really, that’s the word) down the stairs. White clouds decorated the blue sky like cotton puffs. We window shopped and then decided, with more than an hour left before we needed to walk back to the boat, to stop at one of those cafes.
It takes a while to truly enjoy an Austrian cafe (see my post about that specific topic), but it was worth it to sit and relax and watch the people saunter up (or down) the hilly street in front of us.
There are a lot of bicycle riders in these parts but not the “let’s hop on our bike for every trip around town” type as in Amsterdam. These riders are traversing the Danube River Bike Path and we saw them from Passau to Bratislava at least. Ttey have maps in between their handlebars and their gear loaded over the back wheel. I noted that their traveling attire is a bit different than ours—those padded shorts certainly help with hours on the bicycle seat but, frankly, they’re not that attractive as “let’s explore this little castle town” duds. But maybe my sensible black flats and travel vest look like odd accessories to them…
After walking back down to the Atla (passengers also had the option of taking the tour bus immediately after the Melk Abbey tour), we set sail (do you do that with no real “sails” or is just a phrase?) and enjoyed the afternoon hours cruising through the very lovely Wachau Valley area.
Castles (we are really getting blasé about those lately; passengers actually simply shrug when we see another of these atop a forested hill) and acres and acres—and then even more acres—of vineyards line this stretch of the Danube River. Viking River Cruises has a contract with a winery in this area to provide the wines for its ships. Looking at how much wine was poured, enjoyed and refilled (thanks, Zuzana!) every evening, I’d say that winery has a very lucrative proposition going for it. But the wine on board was always quite good!
Late in the afternoon we docked at the tiny town of Krems. Another quick bus ride into town. Another town with almost everything closed because it’s still that same holiday. That’s okay because Gary, Marla and I decided to wander around the town and see how high we could walk along the streets until we found something “interesting.” We meandered up from the center of town, always aiming higher up the hills. Our semi-goal was to get to one of the churches we’d seen from below.
We overshot our mark and had to head down to the church we were aiming for. We approached Piaristenkirche from above and entered it quietly. My goodness! After seeing huge cathedrals, this church was definitely a change. And a nice one. Much smaller in scale but very pleasing on the inside (not too much of that gold leafing to distract). I really liked the “feel” of this church and wish we’d had more time to spend just sitting and looking and praying. There’s been a church on the site since at least 1284; most of it was rebuilt, though, in the 1500s. It’s still a lot older than my church—and at 128 years, it’s the oldest in our community…
We stepped out of the church and discovered a covered walkway leading down to Krems’ Pfarrplatz and the nearby rathaus (city offices). A few steps away was another church: Pfarrkirche St. Veit, so we went inside it as well. Baroque with really colorful frescos. Hey, a few weeks ago I couldn’t have told you a thing about old church buildings and here I am, throwing out terms like “baroque” and “gothic” and actually knowing what they mean. It’s pretty nifty what travel can do for you, isn’t it?
We continued downward, back to the commercial street we’d walked about earlier (and found nothing open). And this time we spotted a small doorway that was open and we went inside. It was another church, this one in need of some major restoration.
Three churches in one quick afternoon–a triple-header! And each was just right. Marla and Gary agreed with me that, even though we’ve seen a lot of churches and cathedrals in the past 10 days, this trio was the most enjoyable to discover.
See what happens when you go out on a “wandering” walk?