We docked early today in Krems, Austria and after breakfast boarded buses for the Gottweig Abbey, home to the Benedictine Monks. Boris is feeling better after 21 hours of rest. You can actually see the Abbey, set high on a hillside, from the Danube. This is the eastern edge of the fertile Wachau Valley and we passed the monks’ vineyards along the way. Arriving at the Abbey, we took a moment to admire the lovely view across the Danube to Krems and the valley beyond, very picturesque. We visited the guest wing of the monastery, and had the chance to wall up the Emperor’s Staircase. The entire ceiling above the wide staircase is covered in a fresco by Paul Troeger. Traditionally, the monks would not enter this part of the Abbey.
After our inside visit, we went out into the courtyard and saw the outside of the cloister and church before going in to hear the organ concert. The abbey church is adorned in soft colors and guiding. There are many cherubs among the decorations. On the altar, the winding columns are covered in a beautiful turquoise. The organ concert was wonderful and featured some traditional Christmas carols- Still, Still, Still and Silent Night, among others. Afterwards, most left the church, but I stayed to take a few pictures and then followed another group to the lower chapel below the altar.
In the guest wing of the Abbey there was an indoor Christmas market held only for the few days before December 6 (a special day of celebration in Austria). We just hit it lucky. Here I found a few more Christmas treasures and checked another requested item off my list. There were some wonderful wood carvers among the vendors. One supplied nativity scenes to churches, but you had to be prepared to part with 1,000 + Euros.
The tour took us next to Krems, described in some guidebooks as a “fairytale town”. Since a prison (largest in the Wachau Valley) and a Monastery sit next to each other right in the town, “fairytale” wasn’t the first word that came to mind. Boris didn’t want to overdo it the first day back, so he went back to the boat with some of the other guests. I entered the town through the clock tower gate and found the fairytale.
We were given a short orientation tour. There was a very small Christmas market, but it was there that I finally found many unique ornaments to add to my trees. I spent most of our short time in Krems touring the main street. It was all shops, restaurants, and banks, but I focused on the architecture. I wandered off the main thoroughfare on a few side streets and then we back to the local company that specializes in the favorite regional product, apricots. My plan was to purchase some of the apricot wine, but the store closed for a late lunch and I was out of luck.
After the short ride back to the boat, Boris and I had lunch and as we sat there visiting with our new friends from Pittsburg we began to notice the beautiful countryside of the Wachau Valley, named a UNESCO World Heritage Landscape in December 2000. “The Wachau is a 19-mile stretch along the Danube that cuts through a rocky gorge amid the foothills of the Bohemian Forest between Krems and Melk.” The countryside was amazing, but we viewed it through the windows of the lounge. It was so dreadfully cold outside and there was a sharp wind cutting across the “freeze” deck that I only stepped outside momentarily to take the occasional picture standing on my tiptoes so the lens would clear the top of the safety glass. Fortunately, you could also hear the commentary in the Lounge. This valley will be a place for a return visit by river cruise in warmer weather.
We passed the beautiful monastery church in Weißenkirchen; the city was settled by Protestants but knew periods of violence when the Catholic Church was not so tolerant. I saw a dredging barge that appeared to be pulling from the Danube. Later we passed St. Michael’s perched on the rocky hillside. We were going against the current and red and green buoys marked the deepest (most navigatable) part of the river.
All along the Valley, vineyards were in the landscape. There are a multitude of charming cities where most people are employed in the wine making industry-production and marketing. As our guide told us earlier, “the best wine produced by the winemaker is the one he sold.” The villages were also colorful; we passed one village where an orange house sat next to a green one that was next to a pink one that was next to blue one that was next to a yellow one. I had to write the colors down in order to remember.
At one point we seemed to be heading straight into the sunset. We continued all the way down to Melk, seeing the huge monastery silhouetted against the sunset. We timed our arrival perfectly, arriving at the Melk Abbey in the last rays of the sunset. Boris had left long ago to take a nap, but I had sat through the journey through the entire valley stopping for cup of tea, sandwiches, and a gingerbread cookie that was part of the demonstration going on in the room. If I can convert from metric, I might even be able to make the recipe. (I have a new apron to wear while I am making them.)
Before dinner in the room, we passed through a lock (6 of 11). I touched the side again. A smaller lock, the water level rose much faster. The captain has to reach it at just the right time; you need an appointment to go through (or at least a larger boat does). This is one reason the boat must leave on time and not wait for late passengers. A missed appointment can mean a 5-hour delay in the journey. We passed through several more locks during dinner and again in the room before going to sleep. Most guests will be going to Salzburg tomorrow but as we will be there for a week in March, Boris has selected the optional trip to Steyr and Linz for our day. We will also make a stop in the tiny village of Christkindl.
But the best find of the day may be these. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas?