Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Viking's Grand European River Cruise: Melk & Krems, Austria

Viking River Cruise, Day 11:  Melk & Krems, Austria (Facebook collage)
(click any collage to enlarge)

I'll tell you right now from the get-go that this day is divided into 3 parts, starting after breakfast and ending before dinner.  Another full day!

The main excursion of the day was the Melk Abbey, after docking in Melk, Austria...a town of 5K+ population...while we were eating breakfast.  By 9:30 a.m. we were raring to go.

 And YES, we awakened to snow!

It was a short walk from the ship to our buses...with the Abbey already in view from the ship.

This is what Melk is known for:  the Benedictine Melk Abbey, founded in 1089.

The golden yellow against the white snow was a fairytale.

Sitting high up on the hilltop, the views to the town below are spectactular.

I am such a fan of archways and long corridors like this, both inside and out.
Part of the Abbey is a school for approx. 900 students, and I can picture walking these halls every day!

Our guide took us through several rooms, including the Green Room, the Abbey museum....

...the Marble Hall with its magnificant ceiling paintings...
and the library (where taking pictures was sadly prohibited).
Then it was down the famous spiral staircase from the library to the church.

Upon entering the Abbey church, we were then on our own to explore at will.

And to just stare!

I pictured myself as a student there, going to chapel every morning!
Don't you wonder how such an environment affects school kids!
And on that note...we left the Abbey and headed down the hill to the town.

It was an easy walk down, surprisingly.
The Abbey was visible from the town square as we looked back up.

What a sweet little town.

See what I mean?

And that little church we first saw from the Abbey...was open!
It was the last thing we saw before heading back to the boat...(and as of yet has no name!).

But it forever sits in the shadow on the Abbey up above, our last views...

...before crossing the brige to meet up with our boat, waiting for us on the Danube.
It was time for lunch!  We had worked up an appetite.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Part 2 of the day happened after lunch when we cruised through the Wachau Valley.

On that freezing cold day, yes, we went up to the sunroof.
It sure beat running back-n-forth across the lounge to see the sights.
THIS is what I expected Austria to look like!  

  These were some of the churches we saw along the way...and vineyards, too.

And castles!  All in the span of 1.5 hours.  I don't think we could have lasted longer.

It so happens this valley is between Melk (think Abbey, our morning stop) and Krems, our afternoon stop.
It's 40 km (25 miles) in length and perfect for a scenic tour, no matter how cold!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

And now Part 3, Krems...or as you're about to see, it's neighbor, Stein.  It's a funny story, actually.  We were on our own to explore the city any way we wanted until suppertime...about 2.5 hours....

As plain as day, the sign said Krems.
Unbeknownst to us, we were supposed to turn right and walk about a mile to city center.
Instead, we turned left and within minutes were in THIS wee town...which we found out later, after the fact...
was Stein.  Kinda like a suburb?  A neighborhood of Krems, Wiki says.

 But there was method to our madness, you see.
From the boat we could see the high tower of this Frauenbergkirche.
Wouldn't YOU assume that was where we were supposed to go??!! 

Apparently this was St. Michael's church from 1081 but was desecrated in 1785
and restored 1963-1965 as a war memorial.  

Right next door is the St. Nikolaus Church.  Look at how close here.

Did you know St. Nikolaus is the patron saint of sailors?
This church is from 1400, hopefully helping sailors ever since...a short walk from the Danube.

We are gluttons for these small towns in Europe so close to the main rivers.

Did I mention it was the Tuesday before Easter, March 26?

 I don't remember seeing a single soul--or not more than a handful--that late afternoon.
(Everyone else must have been in Krems!)
But we sure got an eye-ful, and that was enough before heading back to the boat.

It was the only cruise day in which we made TWO stops.
And totally worth them both! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Viking's Grand European River Cruise: Passau, Germany

Viking River Cruise, Day 10:  Passau, Germany (Facebook collage)
(click any collage to enlarge)

For some reason, I always think Passau is in Austria, but when you consider it's less than 10 miles away, no wonder, right?  But the main thing is that it is known as the "city of three rivers," which I'll get to shortly.  And we were there all morning and afternoon.

Arriving in each city and preparing to disembark was half the fun of every day.
Even though it was still very cold (think WINTER), many dare devils still wore shorts on board.

Astrid and I quickly opted out of the planned tour when our guide was moving slower than molasses
and we needed to stay warm by clipping along.  So we headed out on our own...

...and started taking in the iconic buildings that dot the city landscape.
This is St. Paul's, Passau's oldest parish church, from 1050, right near where we docked.
It wasn't open, so we couldn't see inside.  Too bad!

As we walked towards city center, the city hall kept peeking through.
I'm sure the guide explained the painted coblestones that led there, the Höll Lane.

Later in the post I'll explain how and from where I got the from-on-high shots.
That's the Danube river, of course, on which we were sailing when we stopped for our visit.

The big attraction of the city, church-wise, is St. Stephan's Cathedral, from 1688, which was open.
See how it lines up on the cityscape with the city hall!

St. Stephan's organ is the world's second largest pipe organ with 17,974 pipes.
(The largest is in the Macy's store in Philadelphia, with 28,482 pipes!)

It so happens this was the Monday following Palm Sunday...
and the confessional line was steady...and with all men.
Hmmmm.  I got my education!

The remainder of the morning we walked around and "collected."

You know me by now.  I love to collect!

How can you not love this kind of art, right?!

Did I mention it was really cold?

 Impressions.  Impressions.  Impressions.


And ditto again.
Don't you love how some of the buildings seem to be holding hands!

Then it was time for lunch back at the ship and getting our second wind for the afternoon's hike up to the fortress!

Yes, you heard me:  the Veste Oberhaus fortress, founded in 1219, is on the other side of the river.
That weird number on the side of it is 1499, from a newer addition.
Who knew that was a '4!'

So we walked downstream to the bridge that took us to the other side of the Danube.
Btw, this is the Luitpoldbrücke, 208-meter-long hanging bridge from 1910.

And when we climbed the steps and wound around the hairpin turns of the path,
this is what we found at the top.

 And yes, it really was cold enough for icycles!

Now, remember all those images above looking down on the city?
Talk about a vantage point!

We even saw way off in the distance, across the river from the fortress, the Mariahilf cloister.
I would have loved to visit it, too!

And since we're still up on top, here's a video Astrid took of the cityscape:

The bells you hear are from St. Stephan's Cathedral!

Did you notice at the beginning of the video the little peninsula point?  And remember how I mentioned at the top of this post that Passau is the City of Three Rivers.  There at that point the 3 rivers converge to become the one river, Danube.  The other 2 lesser rivers are the Ilz and Inn rivers, all 3 with different colors.  And of course, we had to go see it for ourselves.

So back down the hill and across the bridge, we turned left and walked to the point.

Along the way we passed Emerenz Meier, one of Bavaria's most important folk poets, born in 1874.
What a sweet face!

And then we walked back to our boat along the Inn River side of the peninsula.
After cutting through the city center, there she was, our Viking Idun home.
And there Jerry and Carol were sitting (from Rothenburg, remember?), welcoming us back.

Wat een dag!  What a day!