Tag Archives: Melk

Melk, the Wachau Valley and Durnstein

The abbey from the river

The thing about travelling from Amsterdam to Budapest instead of the other way round is that you arrive at spots at different times of the day – as well as in different weather. Whereas last journey we’d arrived at Melk right on sundown, this time we were there early in the morning, and went up to the abbey after breakfast.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find that photos were no longer permitted inside the building. I’m constantly amazed at how many people don’t understand, or maybe don’t care about, “no flash, please”. Last time we were here Peter took a lot of shots (sans flash) with his tablet and they might be a bit grainy at A3, but they’re plenty good for showing on a screen. But you’ll have to look at the 2015 post to see those.

The garden

We had a different guide showing us through the buildings. It seemed to me the tour was shorter and we didn’t get to see even a glimpse of the ancient library used in the novel The Name of the Rose – which we did last time. I’m afraid I’m too cynical for talk of ‘pieces of the true cross’, or a thorn from the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head. And of course, while I saw the artistic merit of the stunning displays in the church itself, I always find myself thinking about the peasants who ultimately supported this extravagance.

Since it was daylight, we walked back through the little town at the base of the hill where the abbey sits. It’s the usual collection of houses around a cobblestoned square. No castle here – just the imposing bulk of the abbey.

Back on the ship, we went through the Wachau Valley. The Amaverde carries 25 bicycles, and guests were offered the chance of pedaling from Melk to our next destination through the valley along the river. All the bikes were snapped up. We (of course) generously gave up the opportunity to younger, fitter people. Good of us, I thought.

We sailed past castles and vineyards, until we saw Durnstein castle perched on the crag above the town. Last time, we tied up at Durnstein before dawn so I was able to take some beautiful photos of sunrise and the town, as you’ll see here. This was a very different view, from the opposite direction. We also got to see a statue against the rockface, representing King Richard and his faithful minstrel, Blondel, who (according to legend) found where Richard was imprisoned by playing a familiar tune until Richard sang along. Pssst. Apparently it’s just a legend.

Richard and Blondel

The ruined castle perched on the hill above the town

Pete and I fancied the idea of climbing up to the ruined castle. If Sandy and Col could do it, surely we could? Before we set out for the peak, we wandered around the riverside until we found an arched stairwell with a sign that said “to the town”. Sounded good to us. But it was much longer, and steeper, than we had imagined. After a last, heart-pounding scramble we stood in the main street and looked up at the old castle, far, far, far above. Maybe we’d leave that for another time.

A few gentle stairs up to the main street. Uh-huh.

A last heart-stopping scramble to the street. I felt like Sam and Frodo in Cirith Ungol

We liked Durnstein. Because it has a warmer micro-climate the farmers can grow apricots, so you can buy apricot-most-things here. Such as apricot schnapps. We don’t recommend it in coffee, though.

All things apricot

A steep lane down to the river, with vineyards on the opposite bank

Day 5 Part 2: The Wachau Valley and Melk

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Here’s the link to part 1 if you missed it.

MS Amavenita pushed off at 12:45 headed through the Wachau Valley for the town and historic monastery at Melk. We were blessed with another beautiful day and quite a few of us perched on the sundeck to drink in the scenery. I’d hoped for some autumn colour on this trip and I got it.

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IMG_1463We arrived at Melk close to sundown. Melk has been a Benedictine Abbey since 1089 and because of its location and wealth it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. You can read about its history here. I didn’t take many pictures – photos were permitted but no flash. However, Pete’s tablet did a great job with the light, so I’ve added some of his shots. Even they don’t do the place justice. Everything gleams and glitters and glows.

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The thing that always gets me in these places of worship is the over the top extravagance. The amount of money spent on these places is obscene. And the reason the monks had that money was that rich people thought they could buy themselves a place in heaven. For them, it was real – as real as booking a river cruise, I suppose. I studied Medieval European history at university, and one aspect of what I read came back to me with a vengeance. Some of the monks in these extremely wealthy orders broke away to set up a simpler life, where they could devote themselves to God. Here’s a link to the history of the Cistercian order, which broke away from the Benedictine abbey of Cluny in just such a way. This glittering place of worship at Melk is a graphic illustration of why the monks might want to return to a simple life, as dictated by Benedict himself.

The one thing I liked most about the abbey was the library. Sorry, no pictures allowed. Apparently this library was the inspiration for the library in Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose. To quote the website: “The library of the Melk abbey consists of a total of twelve rooms containing about 1.888 manuscripts, 750 incunabula (printed works before 1500), 1700 works from the 16th, 4500 from the 17th, and 18.000 from the 18th century; together with the newer books, approximately 100.000 volumes in total. About 16.000 of these are found in this library room. They are organized by topics: beginning with editions of the Bible in row I, theology (rows II to VII), jurisprudence (row VIII), geography and astronomy (row VIIII), history (rows X to XV), and ending with the baroque lexica in row XVI.”

Melk abbey is a magnificent place, no doubt about it. But you may have noticed my heart speeds up to a different majesty. The flow of the river, the falling leaves, clouds, swans. To each his/her own, I guess.

Day 5 Part1: Durnstein

IMG_1313The captain dropped the moorings in Vienna just before midnight and the following dawn saw the vessel safely tied up at the lovely little village of Durnstein. I was up early and watched the sunlight redden the rocks on the hillside, then the walls of the ruined castle above the town. Remember the story of Richard I (Lionheart) who was detained in a German castle on the way home from the Crusades? His loyal minstrel, Blondel, found where the king was incarcerated by playing Richard’s favourite songs at castles until one day Richard sang along. Or so the story goes. A respected historian told me that actually, Richard was gay and had a dalliance with his ‘captor’. Although they clear;y ended up having a lovers’ tiff, because the English had to pay a LOT of money to buy their king’s freedom.

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The castle where Richard I was imprisoned

And the point of the story is that’s the castle; that ruin on the hillside. It’s possible to climb up there and admire the view, but I passed. (Not as young as I used to be, and even less fit). And that’s something to note. River cruising might sound like a very leisurely type of holiday but that’s a matter of how you take it. We walked many kilometres every single day. Many of those kilometres were on cobbled streets. There were stairs, and steep slopes. Here at Durnstein the only part of the area that was flat was the pathway along the river. From there it was uphill all the way. It’s a choice, of course. We could have stayed on the boat, or kept to the path by the river and not gone up (and I do mean up) into the town. But we would have missed out.

We didn’t need a bus for this visit. Durnstein was a couple of hundred metres away, and we were issued with a map. Cherie told us that if we got lost at Durnstein there was no hope for us and we’d be confined to the ship for the rest of the trip.

Durnstein is known for wine and apricots. They make particularly fine apricot schnaps. I tasted a sample of an apricot liqueur in one of the village shops. Verra nice. Verra nice indeed.

This place was so picturesque I hardly knew what to do with myself. So I’ll shut up and let the pictures speak. Click here for part 2 – the Wachau Valley and Melk

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