Krems and the Wachau Valley

The small Austrian  city of Krems (population, 25,000) was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1990. One of the oldest cities in lower Austria, Krems and its twin city Stein have many attractive restored homes build over a span of 1000 years. In addition it is the eastern gateway to the Wachau Valley of the Danube River, famous for its wines and its apricots or Marille, as well as its  tidy vineyards and farms.

On the way back from Gottweig Abbey, we got off the bus close to the Krems  medieval gate, the Stein Tor (stone tower)walking thru city gates one of two  dating to the middle of the 15th century.  This was in walking distance of the River Beatrice. From there we wandered the streets simply enjoying the scene. Krems has several museums and an art gallery as well as a town hall, but the Ramblers were content to look from outside. It was not a museum kind of day.

It was very pleasant to stroll around enjoying the weak December sun. Yes, the sun actually came out for a while. We did some window shopping and had the opportunity to visit yet another Christmas Market. It was not large but had many locally-made items , small enough in size to tuck into my carry on.

Entrance  to Christmas Market, with St. Nicholas on right.
Entrance to Christmas Market, with St. Nicholas on right.

Luckily I had enough Euro’s to purchase several attractive gift items. The ladies in charge were smiling and helpful, many wearing traditional Austrian dress.(more about this later) They carefully wrapped our treasures for their journey to the States.

Our next to the last stop was a  store selling the wine and schnapps produced in the area. Here again I was lucky to find sets of small bottles of the various liquors produced in the Wachau Valley.  Again, easy to stow in our checked bag. The most famous schnapps produced here is made of apricots (Marille). It is not like the apricot brandy you find in your local liquor store which often has little apricot flavor. Marille  liquor  is absolutely delicious tasting strongly of apricots.. Unfortunately it is hard to find in the US. Wachau Valley apricots must have a much better flavor than those sold at home in Georgia considering the wonderful end product. Austrians  use the apricots not only in schnapps but in syrup, as jam, and in cakes, strudels, dumplings etc.

Although the area produces fine white wines, I didn’t buy any, too expensive to ship. Fortunately  wines from each region we cruised through  both white and red were served on the Beatrice, so I did get to try them. Unfortunately many of the wines made by the smaller wineries never find their way to the United States

Since we had to be back on board by 1:15, we wandered back to the boat; by now we had worked up an appetite. However, the Rambler made one more stop. Near the dock I had spotted a promising  building which offered  tourist information, a small gift shop and even a restaurant. The gifts in the shop were just what I had been looking for; St. Nicholas chocolates, and more apricot schnapps in different sized bottles.They were also priced well, for local tourists not for river cruisers.  Since it was December 4th only two days before  St. Nicholas day, December 6th, the shop displayed an array of of favors featuring the 4th century Catholic bishop.  St. Nicholas leaves gifts for good children the night of the 5th, and is also revered by people of many lands, both Catholic and Protestant.

On board, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of cruising; No land tours were scheduled . Instead we were captivated by a series of villages we saw on both sides of the river as the Beatrice glided by. I wondered how the people who lived in the village and towns that lined the banks of the Danube got to the other side. There were no bridges for miles along this stretch of the river.

cable ferry for crossing the Danube
cable ferry for crossing the Danube

Then I noticed a dock and cable ferry on one side. They obviously  use a simple cable-drawn ferry to get themselves and a car or two at the time across the river when they need to cross.

Ruined castles were often  spotted on the highest hills; the most famous being the Burg-ruine Durnstein, where Richard the Lionhearted, the English warrior king was briefly imprisoned when he was first captured by the Austrian Duke.  The  remains of Durnstein Castle (Burg-ruine Durnstein)still brood above the small town of the same name.

Durnstein with Burg-ruine Durnstein in the distance
Durnstein with Burg-ruine Durnstein in the distance

Richard was later moved to Trifels castle in Franconia.

In German, there are two words for castle, burg and schloss.  A burg is generally a castle that was built for defense, while a schloss refers to a castle that was built as a ruler’s palace. Unfortunately, even in German, the words are sometimes used incorrectly, which can be confusing. This is one time English does it better, using only one word, castle.

Finally to enliven our afternoon, chef de cuisine Michael had set up a strudel-making demonstration. The strudel would be made by his pastry chef and samples would be handed out to the spectators.

Chef Michael leads the strudel making demonstration.
Chef Michael leads the strudel making demonstration.

I was a little skeptical about the demonstration. My mother made dozens of strudels during her lifetime, stretching a ball of dough of the size used for a large pizza, paper thin. By the time she was done, it covered the white cloth which which she had spread on our dining room table. Strudel dough has few ingredients; just  water flour,and salt, it is not a rich pastry. The rich ingredients are placed on top of the dough and it is rolled up and baked. Real strudel is delicious when done correctly. However,many restaurants and bakeries make a fake strudel with  with phyllo dough which is simply not the same.

I should have know that the Beatrice’ pastry chef would know how to make a real strudel. Not only did he make the correct dough but he quickly stretched it to a paper thickness, even whirling it around like a pizza.  Bravo!


Leave a Reply