Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2. Danube River Cruise - Melk (12/15/09)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
We awakened to see a light snow had fallen, and we were underway along the Danube River. This was the river cruise part!
We entered the Wachau Valley, known for its vineyards on terraced hillsides, at the town of Krems.
Wachau Valley
There were many church steeples along the way, but one in particular stood out. In Dürnstein the church tower (18th century) was a pastel blue and baroque.
Dürnstein steeple
Above Dürnstein sat castle ruins (12th century) where Richard the Lion-Hearted of England was held for ransom in 1193.
Castle above Dürnstein
We had to look hard to see the seven terra cotta hares along the lower roofline of the Church of St. Michael (1523), representing the time when seven live hares were seen hopping along on top of snow that had drifted to that height!
Church of St Michael
We didn't see that much snow, but the puddles on deck were frozen.
Brynne on the Danube
Schönbühel had a particularly picturesque 19th century castle.
Schönbühel Castle
We arrived in Melk, Austria at lunchtime.
Viking Pride ship
After lunch on the boat, we boarded buses to be taken up the hill above the Melk Abbey.
Melk Abbey from the bus
We met our guide, put on our earpieces, and walked down the hill to start our tour. Originally the residence of the Babenberg kings, Leopold II presented Melk to the Benedictine monks in 1089. After a fire, construction of a new building in Baroque-style began in 1702 and was completed in 1738.
Abbey east façade
It was and is an important center of learning and culture, and 900 students still attend school here. A 1996 restoration was financed by the sale of a Gutenberg Bible to Harvard, and a few modern frescoes were added.
Modern fresco
The museum was a series of rooms with modern lighting and displays that showcased the history of the Benedictines and the Abbey, and held a few of their treasures. We passed through a dark room with a spotlighted "Crucified Christ" sculpture, and heard moaning. It was actually a deep voice saying "Höre" (pronounced herruh), meaning "listen."
The Marble Hall had very little real marble, only the door frame and the piece above it.
Marble Hall
The rest is "marble stucco" (stucco that is finished to look like marble).
Outside on the terrace, we had views down into town, and back at the Stiftkirche (Abbey Church), the finest Baroque church north of the Alps.
Abbey Church
Then back indoors to the library.
Abbey library
The library is still used by scholars today, but you have to study the books here; you cannot take them out on loan!
After seeing the sumptuous interior of the abbey church, we were able to either take the bus back to the boat, or walk down through town back to the boat. We, of course, walked down. The small town of Melk had painted window shutters and wall frescoes.
Painted shutter
Wall fresco
The tiny main square had a fountain with a statue of St. Kolomon (who was captured and killed as a spy in the area of Melk while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem from Ireland in 1012),
St Kolomon fountain
shops where we found tin ornaments, and cafes and taverns.
We had to be back at the boat by 3:30 PM, as we were setting sail at 4:00. We were happy to get back to the boat and drink some hot chocolate.
At 4:00 an Apple Strudel Demonstration was scheduled.
Apple strudel demonstration
After the demonstration, we could try samples of baked apple strudel with vanilla sauce poured over it. Yum!
Apple strudel
Before dinner we worked on "our" jigsaw puzzle and listened to our "On-Board Musician, Randy!"
"On-board Musician Randy"
Next: 3. Linz.

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