Category Archives: Wachau Valley

The Wachau Valley and then on to Vienna (Wien)

We straggled onto our busses for the short ride to the town of Melk situated below the abbey on the Danube. If we had still been on the Maria Theresa, our ship would have been docked there. Then we would have gone on to dock at the ancient town of Krems. Our original tour choices for the day had been a visit to Melk Abbey, which we had just finished, a farm day tour to the pretty little town of Weissenkirchen, or a bike ride along the Danube.

The ticket office for Danube excursions and other things at Melk
The ticket office for Danube excursions and other things at Melk

Unfortunately we were not able to chose options two or three this day. The Ramblers enjoyed Melk Abbey but probably would not have taken this option if we had a choice. I was attracted to getting up close to the producers of the wonderful fruits and apricot products of the region in Weissenkirchen. However I did manage to get a variety of fairly priced and attractively packaged apricot gifts in the Melk Abbey gift shop; all was not lost, but still…

Instead of cruising the scenic Wachau valley in wonderful style on the MT, Uniworld had arranged a substitute cruise with a local company, Brandner and we trooped onto the Austria Princess.

Photo of the Austria Princess from the Brandner website. She is much smaller than the MT.
Photo of the Austria Princess from the Brandner website. She is much smaller than the MT.

It was quite nice and is reviewed well on Trip Adviser, but it was not the MT. The crew and waitstaff would do  their best to accommodate the somewhat spoiled passengers from the MT but they were not accustomed to dealing with such a large group at short notice. Uniworld had contracted with them to serve us a buffet lunch, as we were by this time fairly hungry. Unfortunately as I learned later, they don’t usually serve lunch and as it turned out, they probably shouldn’t. To make matters worse, there was barely enough seating for all of us as they usually don’t carry so many passengers.

As the Princess moved away from the dock, we got a better lock at a charming in and campground along the Danube.
As the Princess moved away from the dock, we got a better lock at a charming in and campground along the Danube. Looking through the colored windscreen actually makes the Danube look blue.

The Ramblers had not scurried to get into line and found themselves scrambling to find a place in  line for the buffet. After we finally did reach the food, it took a while to locate a table where we could  sit and eat what we had selected.  They did serve wine and had an open bar in the dining room, so all was not lost except for the Senior Ramblers and others who don’t drink alcohol. I don’t want to be too hard on the crew of the Austria Princess. They did their best but the food was certainly not spectacular.

To make matters more difficult, the weather changed and a gusty wind blew in cloudy weather, blowing over glasses and table settings on the upper deck.

As we stepped onto the top deck, we could see Melk in the distance. The wind has started to blow away the napkins.
As we stepped onto the top deck, we could see Melk in the distance. The wind has started to blow away the napkins.

This was the best place to view the scenery. We Ramblers had sailed through the Wachau Valley on a Christmas Markets cruise. That day it was chilly and overcast, so no one went up to the top deck. To our surprise, we saw the Beatrice, the  ship on which we had taken our first Uniworld cruise,  pass us in the other direction. Of course we waved enthusiastically. However no one on the Beatrice knew that the people waving away were actually exiled passengers from the Maria Theresa and didn’t pay much attention to us.

The Uniworld Beatrice heading towards Melk.
The Uniworld Beatrice heading towards Melk.

Also since the Beatrice was moving at a good clip going the other way, they were soon out of sight. The Beatrice sails from Passau to Budapest and then from Budapest to Passau. They don’t go as far as  the low spot in the Danube which kept us from completing our cruise.

As the Danube flows through the Wachau Valley, it is bordered by a variety of pretty little towns, resort hotels with attached campgrounds and castles. One of the towns we passed is Durnstein. It’s claim to fame is that Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in its castle. Durnstein is hard to miss because its church is painted blue and white rather than the more common pink or gold and white.  It also has some what of a Disneyesque appeal. However, the Ramblers did miss it. The Princess must have sailed past it as we were standing in the buffet line.

We did see the well kept-up Schloss Schoenbuhel which I learned had been restored in the early 1800’s when it was nearly a pile of rubble.

Pretty hard to get to it from the river side, over those cliffs.
Pretty hard to get to it from the river side, over those cliffs.

It is a real castle though, and a fortress has stood on the spot since the 11th century. Not far from Melk, although not visible from the Danube is the museum that houses the famous Venus of Willendorf, the prehistoric fertility figure that was discovered near there.

It had been a busy day and we were not sorry to disembark from the Princess and climb aboard our bus. The first leg of our bus trip had been about 200 miles, but the second would be slightly shorter. According to our schedule, we would arrive in Vienna between 5 and 5:30 PM, depending upon traffic. They do have rush hours in Europe but not like those in Atlanta or Chicago. To be honest, I don’t remember just when we did get to Vienna, just that we were glad to get there. The checking in process didn’t take very long and we were soon headed to our room on the 4th floor. Although I didn’t take a picture, too tired, the Ritz Carlton building started life much earlier and when it was transformed into a 5 star hotel, the builders left some of its earlier features.

The amazing bathroom, all chrome, marble and mirrors.
The amazing bathroom, all chrome, marble and mirrors.

Our room was next to a sitting area paneled in dark wood with comfortable chairs and a coffee table. It seemed quite large compared to our cabin on the MT, although it was good sized. The bathroom was spectacular, all marble chrome and mirrors.

In the hallway there was a counter set up with a coffee service. It was my first experience with a Nespresso machine.

Nespresso!!!
Nespresso!!!

Although we were only there for two nights, I used up all the coffee capsules although we were in a city famous for its coffee. I would receive one just like it for Christmas from the Senior Rambler.

All though we didn’t feel much like going anywhere, it was a nice evening and we needed to get a bite to eat. Fortunately we weren’t that far from one of Vienna’s old style coffee shops, the Cafe Schwarzenberg which had opened in the 19th century. We carefully dodged cars, trams, scooters and bicycles to reach our destination and were not disappointed.

The senior Rambler relaxing at the Schwarzenberg Cafe. The windows look out onto the busy street and are great for people watching.
The senior Rambler relaxing at the Schwarzenberg Cafe. The windows look out onto the busy street and are great for people watching.

We both had traditional Austrian dishes which were excellent. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel. This was one night where we appreciated the comfort of our room,  in spite of the fact that the Ritz has a wonderful roof-top bar which provides a view of many of Vienna’s favorite buildings.

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!