ABOARD VIKING GULLVEIG – Yet another spectacular day was kicked off by a full breakfast before we set off to visit beautiful Melk Abbey – said to be the most famous abbey in Austria.
As usual, our first class buses and excellent guides were waiting for us to whisk us off on our adventure. Viking has “quiet voxes” for each guest, which we recharge in our cabins every night. These small audio devices with earphones allow passengers to hear guides, even when we’re not right next to them.
Dramatically perched atop a cliff overlooking the town and the mighty Danube, Melk Abbey is crowned by twin spires and is a very impressive sight. Originally a royal palace, it held a ceremonial court, guest apartments, grand halls and a library containing some 80,000 ancient books.
In the 11th century Leopold II of Babenberg presented the palace to the Benedictine monks, who turned it into a fortified abbey. The “Stiftskirche” – or Abbey Church is the highlight of the structure with twin spires and a high octagonal dome. The exquisite interior is a masterpiece of Baroque extravaganza, with magnificent frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr.
This working Abbey also houses a museum showcasing vestiges of times past – including art, Pope’s vestments, ancient accouterments of the venerable Catholic Church and antique art.
A wood coffin with a drop panel through which the corpse was unceremoniously plopped into the grave, thereby allowing the coffin to be used over and over, was a real attention getter. Apparently this practice didn’t last long as people decided that it was too creepy!
Following the tour, we returned to the boat for lunch and an early sail to the medieval town of Dürnstein in the scenic Wachau Valley. The ruins of the castle where Richard the Lionheart had been imprisoned in 1192 for offending Duke Leopold V of Austria overlooks the tiny, cobblestone town as a silent witness to its history.
This time of year, most shops, restaurants and hotels are closed for the season, so the ancient town has an eerie feel to it, but that doesn’t detract from its magic.
We returned to our ship, where “A Taste of Austria,” awaited us. An interesting selection of local fare was available as buffet selections, and there was no alternate menu. Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with Austrian cuisine, it’s difficult to make a selection, but dessert choices were easy with a variety of apple strudel, sacher tortes and ice cream to choose from.
Viking makes it a point to serve regional fare, with fresh ingredients brought on board at every port. Breads are slightly pre-baked but are all made at local bakeries. The food on this cruise has been delicious and the servers in the dining room are extremely attentive.
Staff was dressed accordingly for “A Taste of Austria,” wearing local garb and music was courtesy of a couple with an accordion playing local favorites.
Tomorrow, we’re off to Vienna!
Photos by: Michelle da Silva Richmond