Saturday, December 26, 2015

Day 10b - From Melk through the Wachau gorges

One of the loveliest portions of our trip from Nuremburg to Vienna is the short stretch of river in between Melk and Krems – the Wachau Valley.

And – as was our due – after mostly foggy days with no possibility of sitting on the “sun” deck – the sun came out whilst we were up at the Abbey and we were able to have our bridge talk out in the sun!

There were many castles starting straight after we left Melk and ending only when we had seen the one where Richard the Lionheart had been imprisoned (yes even in those days, kingdoms and empires were vast and there was always someone taking over someone else).

At the dock in Melk
Note on the left hand side of the building the marks on the wall - these are the high water marks throughout the centuries: the one that happened August 15, 1501 is still the highest!

Last cast off - Melk

One of many castles along the way

The river as we enter the Wachau gorges
Spitz - a popular resort for the Viennese most of it lies back from the river

Another boat is even more decorative than ours!

Peaceful flows the river

The ruins of the castle of a robber baron
This "Aggstein" castle had a history of robber barons and passed through many hands - never really overcame its history - some prisoners were held for ransom in cells overlooking the gorge and were threatened with death - some even jumped to their voluntarily due to the horrible conditions in which they were held.

Another side of the ruins

Church along the way

 Although I forget the city... this church was built to sustain the entire population during a seige and was stocked at all times with victuals (mainly potatoes). One can see part of the surrounding wall and tower for protection.

The Wachau valley became known for its vineyards - climate conditions are mild and it is well appreciated by the Viennese to the South. These go back to the medieval period of the Roman settlements - today there is an association to maintain the quality and purity "six Wachau Commandments".

Rear of the church as we float away

Tourist enjoying the sun deck
ruins of castle Dürnstein (dry rock)

Statue of Richard the Lionheart and Blondel his aide

King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in Dürnstein by Duke Leopold V after their dispute during the 3rd Crusade.
Legend has it that he kept repeating a song with one line missing and that his French aide Blondel searching for him was able to sing that last line, thus learning of the spot where he was held and delivering him. Hard for us know to imagine how far kings, emperors and other nobility roamed in those days, especially as they were only on horses!

The Abbey of Dünstein
Also a fun story as according to our guide this tower was gray for many, many years, then they discovered that it had originally been blue and white, but when they repainted it during a renovation the town's people hated it as they thought that it should still have been gray!
The ruins of the Dürnstein castle

The Abbey at Dürnstein
Established in 1410 it was rebuilt in the early 1700s in the Baroque style - with the ruins of the castle behind it on the hills

As we leave Dürnstein, its' ruins, its' history and go down for our last lunch on the boat

The weather then promptly started clouding over - makes one wonder: the only truly sunny patch of the trip other than Munich lasted just long enough for us to enjoy this wonderful Wachau valley.

Last sunset on the Danube

From the ship's lounge during our last "Port Talk"

One last lock as the lights come on

The Kursalon
The Kursalon is where Johann Strauss II used to direct his orchestra as a first violin and enjoyed his first successes.

The Bösendorfer Piano
We enjoyed a two-hour concert of music from both Strausses and Mozart together with a glass of champagne at intermission: it might have been "kitsch for the tourists", but it was also a lovely moment in time.

Home to our beds on the River Concerto, docked in Vienna - a fitting end to a wonderful cruise.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Melk Abbey

We arrived in Melk in the middle of the night – I didn’t notice a thing – and woke up to fog, but fog with a twist: lots of blue patches overhead! The sun broke through as we headed up the hill for our visit to the Melk Abbey.

What to say about this fabulous Abbey? There was so much and I took so many pictures that trying to boil it down to its’ essence is almost impossible. Thus I have chosen to simply whet your appetite and also only concentrate on the Abbey during this blog although we thereafter cruised through the Wachau gorge before docking in Vienna: one day’s events may become three separate blogs.

The Melk Abbey was the residence of Leopold I in 976, at the very beginning of what would become an important empire. His ancestors added to the treasures and in 1089 Leopold II gave it to the Benedictine monks who have worked and lived here ever since. Part of their creed is education and a school was established in the early days, which still exists and is now coed.  Through the waxing and waning of the original Austrian dynasty, the Babenbergs, the Abbey managed to thrive, collecting manuscripts of importance as well as functioning as a scriptorium: this in turn saved it from dissolution under Emperor Joseph II although the theology school was shut and imperial lay abbots were installed. It again suffered economic problems during the Napoleonic wars and the feudal period of 1848 as well as during WWII when the fathers were even imprisoned for a short period, the school and many parts of the abbey confiscated. However, the monastery was not dissolved and the schools were returned after the war so it managed to scrape through.

In his novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco named one of the protagonists "Adso of Melk" as a tribute to the abbey and its famous library.
Below are a very few pictures of a tiny bit of Melk Abbey

Entry to Melk Abbey
Statue - Peter or Paul holding the church

part of the entry
the windows of the entry had an Advent calendar
The Cuppola
"Liebe" or love

A beautiful full-sized Christ on the Cross
Note that on the cuppola there is a double line for the cross: this means that the property, church etc. belong to the Vatican and not to the local Catholic diocese.

"Höre" and "Liebe" are two of the leitmotifs at Melk, meaning listen and love.

Melk Abbey
Two maquettes of the Abbey: one of the Abbey and the city below here on the left and one of the Abbey itself below.

 There is the Imperial Wing where the Emperors and other royalty stayed - sometimes for weeks at a time and usually with valuable gifts such as traveling altars. Then there is the dining room (take a look at the window here: that allowed the music to flow into the room from a full orchestra in the next room over), then the walk in between the dining room of the Imperial wing and the Library (where we were not allowed to take pictures at all). And the wing facing us in the picture below is the religious wing - with to the left smaller wings for the school and the administration of the whole.
renovations still go on and must be planned
Architectural drawings - some 5 men were taking measures
Church entry as seen from the connecting Esplanade

The spiral stairwell from the Library to the Church

Facing the Altar of the Church
The organ - one of the smaller that I have seen

Angel detail
Although all seems covered in gold, the tour guide told us that only four kilos (or under ten pounds) of gold was used in the entire Abbey - gold leaf, but very finely applied!

The view from below as we walked back to the River Concerto
One of the more impressive buildings that I have visited in my lifetime - then it was on to the famous Wachau gorges - next blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Linz, Austria

We arrived very early in the morning in Linz, Austria – so early that I was not witness to this event.

Whilst a great many had chosen the excursion to Salzburg some of us remained and explored Linz. I bought a public transport day ticket after I had been to the “Old Cathedral” – the Church of Ignatius, a Jesuit church.  One very interesting thing there was being able to light the front of the church – for 50 euro cents.

Main square Christmas Market in Linz

lit Front of the Jesuit church of St. Ignatius

Instructions for lighting the front of the church

The organ in the church

Afterwards hopped on a tram and went many stops before getting off at a hand crafts Christmas market where all the trees throughout had been decorated by schools.

Hand crafts Christmas Market

One of the trees decorated by a school
Back to the boat for lunch then more discovering of Linz and the “New Cathedral” before rejoining everyone for the Captain’s Farewell drink and toast as well as the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. We sailed whilst eating.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Coneption
The first stone was laid on 1 May 1862—an event solemnised by the performance of Anton Bruckner's Festive Cantata Preiset den Hern. Although not the highest cathedral in Austria, it is the largest and can seat 20'000 persons!

Whilst there, they were tuning the organ - something that I have personally never witnessed, so one can always do something new.

Nave of the cathedral

one of the many elaborate stained glass windows

A Rudigier organ being tuned

Organ tuner
Christmas lights

Christmas lights on one of the main boulevards

The main Christmas Market at night

Same Christmas Market

Same Christmas Market

A less strenuous day, finally!

Our ever smiling and competent Captain Ivan and Head of Personnel Eva