As we sailed through the night, we said goodbye to Germany and hello to Austria. It was an early morning in Melk. At 6:00 in the morning, it was 46 degrees, and all I had left to wear was t-shirts and tanks. It had been cool and rainy pretty much every day of the trip thus far, and I really wasn't prepared for this weather! Quite a difference from the 90 degree temps we left at home.
The morning's main attraction, the Melk Abbey, was a 7 1/2 minute bus ride from the ship. The busses were leaving at 8:15, and that was the only way to get there, so everyone was at breakfast early. A river cruise is more similar to a land tour than an ocean cruise in the way that everyone follows the tour plan. There was some free time as well in each town, but always after the included tour.
Our guide at Melk Abbey was Christine, who had previously been a student at the abbey's school. Presently, the Benedictine abbey is home to 30 monks, and educates 900 secondary students . The cost to attend the school (which we were told provides a very good education) is 85 euro per month. Classes are taught by 85 lay teachers and 2 monks.
Upon entering the abbey, we were inside the Imperial Corridor, which was the area that overnight guests lived in during earlier times. The abbey's very first guests were Maria Theresa and her husband, who were honored by paintings on the wall.
As we proceeded through Melk Abbey, we learned about Saint Benedict, and the prescribed tenants of this particular religious order - Location (being present), Obedience, and Morals. Interesting fact of the day: the literal translation of the word gift in German is poison.
Paintings and scenes inside, such as the Passion of Christ and the ceilings from 1700, took the place of the bible for the poor, illiterate. The monks have access to an incredibly impressive library housed within 12 rooms - I was disappointed to find that photos are no longer allowed (as of only two years ago).
The baroque church was the most ornate we had seen up to this point. It's unbelievable to think about how so many exquisite architectural masterpieces were constructed so many hundreds of years ago!
After a schnitzel lunch in town, we arrived back at the ship two minutes late. Oh no! Believe it or not, they had already made an announcement over the PA system looking for us. Our ship's staff ran a tight schedule!
Sailing through the Wachau Valley, on the way to Vienna, we saw many quaint, small towns, as well as castles and vineyards. This hour and a half portion of the journey is said to be the most beautiful to sail through. Schonbuhel Castle and Durnstein were definite highlights!
Once we arrived in Vienna, we headed out to the optional tour we purchased: a concert consisting of Mozart, Strauss, opera, and dancers. Unfortunately, I arrived motion sick from the bus ride. I only lasted for the first half, then needed to step out for some fresh air and 7-up.
We arrived back to the ship at about 10:30 p.m. A late night snack was in order, since the chef was serving goulash to welcome us all to Vienna. It was another late night, with another early morning ahead.
Tomorrow: more time in Vienna