Jewish Danube day 7: Wachau Valley villages Dürnstein, Krems & Melk - 7 September 2015


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September 7th 2015
Published: January 7th 2016
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The boat docked and we boarded the bus to do a whistlestop tour around some villages in the Wachau Valley of Lower Austria. This scenic region 80 km northwest of Vienna extends 33 km along both banks of the Danube River. On the left (north/east) bank reside Spitz, Dürnstein and Krems. Opposite on the right (south/west) bank the larger town of Melk dominates with its baroque Abbey.

The brochure describes Wachau as follows “Wachau has been dubbed by some as 'the Tuscany of Austria'. Its sculpted and harmonious landscapes resemble works of art, shaped by both man and nature. Find yourself captivated by the beauty of this countryside with its wonderfully preserved villages, castles, compact farms with prominent roofs, orchards in bloom, its roads, forests and, especially, its prestigious hand-built vineyard terraces. Johann Strauss lived in the Wachau region in 1867 before composing his famous Blue Danube waltz. An independent panel of 280 experts in travel-related fields from around the globe scrutinized 109 historic places in a survey for the National Geographic Traveler magazine. The Wachau’s devotion to preservation has earned it the title of best historic site.” Our tour guide also told us that Wagner’s Ring Cycle was composed in this region.

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First we passed through Spitz famous for its wines. Vineyards were apparent, growing on the lush green valley slopes.

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Next the group spent some time exploring Dürnstein. It was in Dürnstein Castle above the town, where Archduke of Austria Leopold V held King Richard I (the Lionheart) of England as hostage for a huge ransom in 1192. That occurred after their dispute during the Third Crusade. We could see the ruins of the castle on top of the highest hill peak above Dürnstein. Later within the village we found the hotel Richard Lowenherz, about a millenium more recent.

From the esplanade by the river outside Dürnstein, I had a wonderful view of the exquisite blue and white steeple of the Blue Church. Blue, I thought an unusual colour, evidently this is what it was originally painted. Blue & white represents heaven, and grey & yellow represents earth. The Abbey, which is situated behind the Church, is painted in these colours.

There were two ways to reach the centre of the village from the embankment. One was to ascend a steep staircase, which Don and most of the group did. I and a few others chose to get back on the bus and approach the main streets of Dürnstein from the far side. In fact I stayed on the bus as Don climbed the stairs and walked through the village with the group. The layout and buildings in Dürnstein were very representative of a village which has not evolved much since the middle ages. More modern building materials have been incorporated in the restoration over the years, but the 'look and feel' of the original period remains for visitors to experience. The sights varied from a brightly decorated cart for gathering grapes, to a section of the ancient Dürnstein city wall.

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Then we drove on to the the quiet little town of Krems (which our guide called the creme de la Krems). The town appears to travellers like a gateway to the enchanting land of Wachau. It is an olde worlde town with modernish shops on the pedestrianised, cobbled street. The imposing Steiner Tor (tower) gate at the entrance to the old town dates back to the fifteenth century and is the only one remaining of the original four gates into Krems. The symbol of Emperor Frederick
Aggstein CastleAggstein CastleAggstein Castle

"Burgruine Aggstein" model
III is visible.

Every second or third doorway in Krems was a coffee shop and as we had nothing we wanted to buy we found a coffee shop and met half of the boat there.

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After Dürnstein and Krems we crossed the river to the Melk side. A particular objective in that area was Aggstein Castle. The official name in German of this tourist destination is Burgruine Aggstein which means castle ruins of Aggstein. It was initially built in the twelfth century and sits high up (480 m) above the right bank of the Danube. Considering its position, it seems surprising the number of times it was besieged and conquered over the centuries, and repeatedly rebuilt. For example in 1529 the castle was razed in the Turkish siege of Vienna.

Although it is now formally a ruin, it is still quite substantial with many towers, gates, ramparts, etc. Don climbed up and down and in and out of much of its length, taking pictures of the structure and the river scenery running both directions. I stayed on the bus except for checking the loo and souvenier shop.

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Unfortunately the group wanted to do what was billed as an "optional survivors tour of Mauthausen" but this was not possible due to the problems with the Danube river level which impacted our itinerary. So we did not visit the concentration camp on this trip.

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Tonight was our last night of the official cruise. For those who have been on cruises it is a feature of the last night for all the staff to be introduced and for the flaming pavlovas to be paraded around. Well the staff were introduced but due to fire restrictions the pavlovas remained unflamed! - or to be more accurate, sparklers substituted for the typical open flames, so the spectacle proceeded as shown in the photo. It was a fun packed night but we had to get to bed early as many would be leaving the boat at some unearthly hour, and even for ourselves the 'later' disembarkation was earlier than we prefer. So it was a case of exchanging email addresses and saying our fond farewells to many of our new colleagues.

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However, the trip was not completely ended for us. As our flights back to Tel Aviv were not until Wednesday morning, a group of 6 of us (including 2 whose UK flights were late afternoon Tuesday) got together and booked a private guide to take us around Munich after the cruise ended Tuesday morning.

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(scroll down for Additional photos below and then Next to see even more)

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