Friday May 16 -- Melk
The weather forecast today was not the usual cloudy periods with rain, but simply rain. It was all of 10 degrees maximum for the day. Heather unpacked her 'long johns' (brought along for the cycling trip) in order to make sure that she would be warm enough during the day. Following breakfast, we moored near Melk for a shore excursion to Melk Abbey.
There must have been a great deal of rain during the night because there was a ton of flotsam flowing by the ship as we were having breakfast. (As an aside, we were told by the Second Captain that the Danube was flowing at over 10 km/h.) Since we were assigned to a later tour group, we could take our time and enjoyed our usual breakfast before getting ourselves ready for a wet and windy day.
We were driven by bus to the Abbey where we were met by our guides. The Abbey is possibly the most famous in Austria and has been situated on a dramatic outcrop rising from the Danube River for over a thousand years. The present structure was originally built as a palace, but in the 18th century Leopold II presented the palace to the Benedictine monks who who turned it into a fortified abbey.
We toured one of the long corridor and a number of rooms with the guide. She left us at the entrance to the Abbey Church. On the outside, the Abbey Church has twin spires and a high octagonal dome. The interior of the Church is decorated with baroque extravagance to the extreme; all gold and glitter!
The Abbey also boasts a library with over 80,000 medieval manuscripts. The monastic community of Melk is 900 years old and even today the Abbey is populated with Benedictine monks. It is also a prestigious monastery school with over 700 students.
We walked back to the ship through the small town of Melk, much of which looks like a disaster zone due to the reconstruction of the flood walls following the extensive flooding last June. Walls along the river are being re-built and many of the streets are having a work-over as well.
Back on the ship we ate lunch and relaxed while the boat sailed through the Wachau Valley down to Krems. This valley is comparable to the middle Rhine and has vineyards on the southern shore. The difference is that in Germany the vines run up the hillsides while in Austria they are planted parallel to the slopes. In Krems, we took a wine-tasting tour of the Morwald Winery about 20 km by bus from our ship.
The Morwald family has owned the winery for four generations and we were guided through the facility by the owner, assisted by his 16 year old son, along with our very good guide, Trincka (a woman originally from Vermont, but now very Austrian!). The son is planning to take over the business and is destined to attend a wine making institute in Vienna after his compulsory military service. The tour was interesting, if only to see a very modern wine making facility. The Morwald production is predominantly a white wine operation, as that is the wine of preference in Austria. The winery has won several prestigious competitions for its white wines.
The Morwald Winery also has a very lucrative contract supplying wines to the Viking Cruise company. Our Program Director noted that each ship consumes about 100 bottles per day and there are 50 ships in the fleet (not all in Europe) -- that is a huge contract! For the conclusion of the tour, we tasted 6 wines in total, four white and two red. They all tasted good to us. They also make schnapps and we bought a small bottle to take home with us.
As soon as we were back on the ship, it left Krems. The original plan for our visit to Krems included some free time and a late evening departure, but because the rain (fairly heavy at times) had started to affect the level of the river, our captain was concerned about being able to clear a few of the bridges before Vienna. Consequently, we were on our way again and rather speedily. The flotsam on the river testified to the higher water levels as dead branches, twigs and other debris were being washed along from the river banks.
Our dinner was a special Austrian themed buffet with tables of food set up in the terrace lounge, the main lounge and the dining room. We could also walk down to the kitchen to select our choice of roast chicken, schnitzel or various sausages. We started in the kitchen which was remarkably small for the size of the ship, but a very efficient layout which obviously works well.
We sat to eat with Carl and a couple who we had not met before. Later, Carl and the two of us migrated to the lounge where we met up with Pat, Larry, Anne and John and stayed with them for the rest of the evening. We shared our bottle of port with this group and managed a few dances during the rest of the evening. It was quite a fun night.