Melk Abbey, Benedictine Monastery
A three-hour bus ride into Austria took us to the Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1089 on a hill overlooking the Danube River. Built in the early 1700s the current abbey now includes a 900-student school, a beautiful church, and extensive gardens. Artwork and displays throughout the abbey are amazing, but photos aren’t allowed inside the buildings. The fresco painted flat ceiling of a large ballroom is designed to create an optical illusion of a high curved ceiling when viewed from anywhere in the room. The abbey was a major producer of manuscripts in the middle ages and its library has approximately 100,000 books and 2,000 manuscripts, mostly from the 9th through 15th centuries. We saw many 13th century books on display.
Wachau Valley, Danube River
From Melk we continued on to Vienna, taking a longer route along the Danube through the beautiful Wachau Valley with terraced vineyards, small villages, and occasional castle ruins on the hillsides. After dinner at our hotel we heard a first-person account of the harrowing journey to Vienna from a refugee camp in Turkey, by an eighteen-year-old Syrian whose home town had been reduced to rubble.
Vienna: Belvedere & Hofburg Palaces
Our day in Vienna started at the Belvedere, built in the early 1700s by Prince Eugene as a summer home. We walked around the vast but sparsely planted gardens to view both the Upper and Lower Belvedere palaces with their myriad statues on and around the buildings. The more stunning Upper Belvedere was used as a guest house. We then had a bus tour followed by a walking tour, both narrated by a local guide. We strolled through the Volksgarten (“people’s park”) and the courtyard of the Hofburg Palace. Originally home to the Habsburg dynasty the Hofburg is now the residence and office of Austria’s president. It also houses the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner stallions.
Strudel Making at the Demel Café
After the walking tour Connie and I had a delicious and entertaining lunch at the Demel pastry café, founded in 1786. Our table was in a small room with a large glass wall looking into the kitchen, where we watched a chef teaching her apprentice how to make apple strudel. They started with a huge sheet of paper-thin pastry that had been rolled out to overlap a ten-foot by three-foot table, and ended with three strudels that were each over three feet long. We then spent some time in the 12th century St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Schönbrunn Palace Concert
After dinner at the hotel we went to an outstanding concert of Viennese music in a side building of the Schönbrunn Palace, with an orchestra, vocalists, and ballet. It was a fitting end to a wonderful trip. The next morning we were up before dawn for our uneventful flights back home.