Wachau Valley & Krems, Austria

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December 7th 2016
Published: December 14th 2016
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We set our alarms to wake us up early this morning, as we were scheduled to sail through the scenic Wachau Valley in the state of Vienna, country of Austria. Unfortunately, heavy fog blanketed the valley, obscuring some of the farther sights, and shrouding the buildings close to the water in fog. It almost looked like the scene from a scary movie, with the old buildings surrounded by fog. Ruined castles, medieval towns, and churches, all made for an interesting and pretty cruise through this part of Austria. If you look closely, you can see some of the hillsides covered with rows of grapevines. It's winter here, so there are no leaves on the plants and they stand as bare sticks in terraced rows across the hillsides.

It seems strange to me, with it being winter, and with freezing temperatures, that the grass is still green. And some of the trees still had some fall coloring with leaves still on those trees. And yet, most of the trees were bare. But, the grass was green. What the heck? Lots of the pictures, to look at them, you would never know that it was freezing temperatures outside. Ah well, it's just one little difference from home that I found puzzling.

Luckily, once we reached Krems (just outside the city of Vienna), and went on our walking tour after lunch, much of the fog had burned away, giving us clearer pictures than we had expected. Parking space on the bank of the river at Krems was at a premium, and our ship had to double-park next to another Viking river cruise ship. We exited the ship through our main deck, then walked across the main deck of the sister ship in order to get outside and onto land. Seemed kind of weird - like walking through somebody else's house. It was a bit newer, but other than a little bit of difference in colors, it was practically the same as ours. You can see the two ships parked beside one another in one of the pictures.

Our tour today was of Gottweig Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey on top of Gottweig Mountain, on the eastern edge of the Wachau Valley. It was constructed in the 11th century, but much of it was ruined by fire in 1570. Then again in 1718, the monastery burned down. Some of the original structures remain, including some of the chapel that had been constructed in 1072. The rest of the Abbey was reconstructed after the fire of 1718, the construction overseen by the emperor's architect.

The abbey's imperial wing features a breathtaking ceiling fresco above a grand staircase, which imagines Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV as the Greek god Apollo. In the royal and imperial rooms, there is a rotating exhibition of and extensive art collection. All we could do was walk through and try not to have our mouths hanging open at the beauty of it all.

The abbey also has a graphic art collection, with engravings and statues. On display when we were there were many statues of the virgin Mary, with part of the abdomen cut away to show the baby Jesus inside of her. Weird, we thought, yet strangely compelling.

The grounds of the abbey also include 26 hectares of vineyards. Wine has been produced by the abbey continuously since 1083. We were given glasses of either a sparkling fruit wine, or fruit juice for those of us who don't drink. I forget the name of the fruit, but it tasted much like apricot juice, quite thick, a bit tart, and really good. If we hadn't been restricted by the amount of luggage we could take on the plane, I might have been tempted to bring some of this fruit juice back with me. Instead, we brought a couple of the glasses from the Abbey which will have to serve as a reminder of our visit.

Gottweig Abbey has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001. About 50 monks currently live at the abbey. We didn't see any of them, or at least as far as we know, we didn't see any. The gift shop was run by women, so I assume the monks stay out of the way of the tourists. Outside the building, we had a lovely view of the town below us. Too soon it was time to get back on the bus for our trip down the mountain, and to meet the ship for our supper meal. It was dark already by the time we cruised by the city of Vienna, but we got some very nice night-time photos of the lights of the city reflecting onto the waters of the Danube river. So pretty!

I encourage you to click on any picture you want to see bigger. This will open a window with larger pictures that you can scroll through using your arrow keys on your keyboard. You will appreciate the pictures better if you see them displayed a bit bigger on the screen.

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