Category Archives: Vienna

Vienna to Krems, Austria, to visit Gottweig Abbey

A few words about Vienna, or Wien, before we move on to our next port. A large metropolis of close to 2 million people(1.7 M) has its problems just like any other metropolitan area. The Beatrice docked in a more industrial area; we were bussed  inside the ringstrasse where we could see the beautiful buildings for which Wien is known.  However, getting there, we drove to more gritty areas and I noticed graffiti on some of the buildings not so different than one might find in Chicago or Atlanta.

Graffiti in Vienna
Graffiti in Vienna

We didn’t get off the boat to explore the area around our dock, because the weather was against us but might have if the weather had been nicer.  When you take a river cruise, you will find that sometimes your boat docks in an industrial area but other times will stop right next to a small town. One of the reasons for this is that the popularity of river cruising makes finding a suitable dock difficult. However, what the Ramblers like about river cruising as opposed to ocean cruising is that it is very easy to leave the boat when it is docked, just a quick scan of your photo id will allow you to walk up,, down or across the gangplank.

A final work on Viennese foods. Uniworld handed out a daily program that provided information about our daily activities which sometimes included  a few  paragraphs on the food. Having a Hungarian mother and a German father, they were familiar to me. I got a chuckle when they recommended dumplings filled with powidl (povidla to me) , saying it was something of an acquired taste… Powidl is made from prunes or dried plums, a filling that folks with an Eastern European heritage  know very well. This Rambler loves it, her children, not so much. I expect that the same is true  among Eastern Europeans.

When we docked along the river bank in the small town of Krems,  the weather hovered around 34′, with a high of 37′ expected. However, it was NOT raining, which boded well for our tour of Gottweig Abbey, scheduled to leave at 9 am. We boarded our shiny Uniworld bus and headed through the town and along a series of local roads until we began climbing up and up the largest hill for miles around.

Going uphill towards Gottweig Abbbey
Going uphill towards Gottweig Abbey in morning fog

As we drove up, we could see prosperous farms and vineyards down below. Given its location on top of a mini-mountain, I expected to see medieval buildings at the top, but was instead greeted by more baroque architecture, with a decidedly Hapsburg stamp.

I was sorry I had not done my homework on the places we would visit before we left home. The guides don’t always provide information about the past, but focus more on what is currently visible. If you have an interest in history and culture, take the time to check out the places you will stop on your voyage. I guarantee you will get more out of the trip. Gottweig was worth seeing however, even  though it was not a medieval abbey. I learned later that I was right, there had been an abbey on this spot since the 11th century.

Unfortunately, the parking lot was not on the same level as the monastery grounds, so the gentle walkers carefully trudged up a long ramp . They then found that they would also have to climb several long flights of stairs inside the Abbey. This tour was not appropriate for someone who had trouble climbing stairs.

baroque beauty
baroque beauty and symmetry

Once we entered, we viewed a beautiful and inspiring place. The interior was  ornate yet spartan. The common areas included beautifully designed baroque stairways and halls with few adornments except statues and ceiling frescoes,all painted white and shades of gray.  The Hapsburg’s  sometimes stayed at the abbey and because royalty did not appreciate spartan, their apartments were beautifully decorated, with  a strong resemblance

to to the rooms of  a royal palace. Unlike the rest of the abbey, they were heated.

paintings in the Hapsburg appartment
paintings in the Hapsburg apartment

The Hapsburg apartments are interesting because of the art and architecture they contain. One of their most interesting features, to me, were the white/gilt ceramic stoves used to heat their rooms. These stoves practical as well as beautiful because their ceramic exterior held the heat for a long time after the fire within had been reduced to embers.

Gottweig was founded by the Benedictine monks in the 11th century.

Ornate stove in Hapsburg apartment
Ornate stove in Hapsburg apartment

However, like many medieval buildings, the monastery burned in the 17th century and was rebuilt in the early 18th century, hence the baroque interiors and exteriors. I have always wondered how medieval churches and monasteries could burn  as they seem to be mainly constructed of stone. However, no doubt there are plenty of wood beams in the structure and no fire departments on call.

Today, Gottweig is still run by the Benedictines. As we were walking around the grounds I noticed a young monk giving a tour for a group of high school students. He is wearing a black coat and hat in the middle of the picture.

Young monk giving tour
Young monk giving tourIt is a popular place for tours as it stands as one of the largest monasteries in Europe. The church is rather plain on the exterior but inside it is magnificent and boasts a wonderful organ.

Gottweig is a popular place for tours as it stands as one of the largest monasteries in Europe. The church is rather plain on the exterior but inside it is magnificent and boasts a wonderful organ.

Organ concert at Gottweig
Organ concert at Gottweig

We had a chance to hear a concert of Christmas music which was, for me an added treat. I love organ music but some of our group, including the senior Rambler, didn’t much appreciate it. I must admit the church was not heated, and quite chilly inside although we were bundled up. It made me think of the medieval monks in this monastery who slept in unheated cells and prayed in an unheated church all year round.

Our last stop was the Gottweig Christmas Market.

Simple advent wreath at Gottweig
Simple advent wreath at Gottweig

This was quite different from the large market in Vienna. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Roman Catholic traditions, an Advent wreath is constructed by families before the first Sunday of Advent (the 4th Sunday before Christmas) Special prayers are said every night as the candles are lighted;one added each week until all four are lit. In Austria, they use red candles, in Marietta, we use white and rose.

At Gottweig, Christmas crafts and [products such as honey and soaps were sold by local folks. it was fun to look at their wares but I was not tempted to buy as we had little room in our carry-on’s for souvenirs and had checked only one bag.

Full of the Christmas shopping spirit...
Full of the Christmas shopping spirit…

Did I mention that the senior Rambler dislikes shopping even more than Christmas; here he was faced with both at the same time. Luckily there was a place for him to sit while I wandered the display of crafts. He was probably not the only man who was happy to board the bus at the end of the tour. However, we were not all going directly back to the boat but could choose to be dropped off in Krems, an easy walk back to the boat.


Romantic Vienna in the rain

Sailing fairly late from Bratislava on Tuesday evening, the Beatrice arrived in Vienna at 6 am. Although Bratislava and Vienna are not that far apart by road, it took much longer to get there by boat even though we passed through no locks that night. Again it was a cold and rainy morning with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Sunset is about 4 pm in early December, but on a cloudy day it is dark by 3:30. This is something to consider if you are thinking of a Christmas Market cruise.

Uniworld offered two morning tours in Vienna, one for the active folks which included lots of walking , and left at 8:30 am, while everyone else would leave at 9, including the gentle walkers  who were instructed to board bus three. On this tour, we were all to visit the National Library and then have free time to visit the Christmas Markets by the landmark Vienna  Rathaus or city hall.

In the afternoon, there would be one of the few optional tours offered, to the Schonbrunn Palace, the home of the Hapsburg’s. We didn’t inquire as to the cost, since we had already visited Versailles, the model for all European baroque palaces including the Schonbrunn. Finally, there would be afternoon shuttles available for those who wanted to to return to the Christmas Market at the city hall.

All in all, this was one of the busier touring days on the cruise, especially since we also had an opportunity to attend a special Vienna music ( featuring Mozart and Strauss) concert at 7:30 pm that evening.

After boarding our bus, we were soon rolling along the famous ring

If you want to rent a bicycle...
If you want to rent a bicycle…

road, or ringstrasse. It was  built in the late 19th century on the site of the original medieval city walls. Ironically, they were built with the ransom money Richard the Lion heart’s captors received for his release.

Driving along the ringstrasse
Driving along the ringstrasse

The ringstrasse circles the inner, romantic Vienna as many beautiful buildings., both public and private, border the ringstrasse. Even in the rain, it was a wonderful drive. Our destination, the Austrian National Library is part of the Hofburg Palace complex and it would take days to see it all. We were glad the cruise director chose it as our stop in a city with many museums and historic sites as it was excellent.

assembling outside the Library
assembling outside the Library

The Library  was amazing, not only because of its wonderful 18th century interior but because of its marvelous collection of rare books, parchments and other artifacts. Needless to say, several tour groups from other boats had also assembled in the courtyard we got there. Waiting to enter, we craned our necks to see the sculpture on the roof which included a statue of Atlas holding up a golden globe, The sculpture groups were very difficult to see from the ground. As I found out later, the Library was a true working archives as well as being perhaps the most beautiful library in the world.

so many books, so little time
so many books, so little time

As soon as we stepped inside the main hall, I could smell the familiar scent of old leather bindings, paper and parchment which is familiar to any historian. If you are interested in the holdings of the National Library, it has an up-to-date website which can help you locate both books and documents. I was interested learn that it has an extensive collection of incunabula (hand copied books) as well.

Of course we didn’t have time to see everything, but our guide, a professor, pointed out some of the highlights. Because there were many tourists milling around inside, it was difficult to see everything.

The Angel theme of the exhibit
The Angel theme of the exhibit

Evidently there was an exhibit of medieval angels somewhere, and I really wanted a copy of that poster you see in the photo. Unfortunately we didn’t stop at the gift shop and  it would have been difficult to transport on an airplane.

The gold embossed bindings of the old leather books glowed in the soft lighting and the ceilings were decorated beautifully featuring an an impressive fresco in the center of the main gallery.

Even better, the library had an elevator which was imperative for several of the gentle walkers who were unable to climb the two long sweeping marble staircases that led to the main gallery.

I was struggling to take a good photo of the ceiling fresco when the senior Rambler suggested I hold the camera over my head and point it up at the ceiling.

Ceiling fresco in the National Library
Ceiling fresco in the National Library

The photo you see was taken with this difficult technique. LOL  Surprisingly it works fairly well, if you can get the camera to focus while holding it above your head. We saw a lot of ceiling frescoes on this trip and this was a useful trick.

After leaving the building,

The clever painted back stairway; note the poster advertising the Albertina, another museum in the complex
The clever painted back stairway; note the poster advertising the Albertina, another museum in the complex

I turned back as we were queuing up to board the bus and noticed something unusual about the staircase we had just walked down. If you look at the picture , you can see that the steps are disguised as a poster advertising a Miro exhibit.

Next, on to the Vienna Christmas market at City Hall.