The cruise was supposed to have begun at Linz in Austria, but as previously explained, the itinerary had to be adjusted due to the state of the river, so after flying in to Vienna airport we had only a short drive to join our ship the MS Monet in the city centre. The ship was
This is Melk Abbey:
This massive Benedictine monastery, apart from being a hugely popular tourist attraction also houses a school with nearly 900 pupils. Our tour guide for the visit was a former pupil and was able to give us a superb and very enthusiastic commentary on the history of the place, explaining for us the significance and symbolism of many of the abbey's features and the artifacts it contains. Most of the abbey (built in the early 18th Century) is decorated in the Baroque style, but great efforts have been made since the Second World War to adhere to one of St.Benedict's most important teachings - that change is inevitable and that we must move with the times. Modern art is therefore interspersed with the older styles:
The sheer size of the abbey was immediately impressive. It was difficult for me to take any photos that truly did it justice. I think this exquisite model on a revolving table does a better job than any photo of the real thing!
Maybe this view down a corridor will give you a fair impression of the scale? The rooms opening off this corridor were built to accommodate the extensive retinue of Empress Maria Theresa (1717 - 1780), who seems never to have travelled anywhere without at least a few hundred flunkeys in attendance! Imagine it: your bedroom is last on the left; you have to carry your own suitcases; the toilets are very conveniently situated a mere 200 metres away...
As I mentioned, at Melk the baroque style predominates. It is ornate. Very ornate. Over The Top if you ask me!
If you look very carefully, in the next photo you can see evidence that Jane does occasionally go to church (bottom right)! This is the abbey's church / chapel of course.
Did I mention that the ship(s) on which we were accommodated were owned by a French company? Maybe this is why even on a visit to an attraction like Melk Abbey it was still deemed necessary for us to have a 3-course lunch with wine and coffee. Unfortunately it also meant that there was precious little time for us to enjoy the abbey's beautiful and extensive gardens. There was even a special garden for English people!
Regular readers of my blog know that I like to maintain a sense of order and neatness in my little garden, so the regularity and immaculate state of maintenance of the gardens at Melk really appealed to me! This is the "little summerhouse"...
We only had a very short time to look at the garden, but I did manage a few shots of plants...
and garden ornaments...
There was even a lovely shady tree-lined walkway overlooking the river, which was very reminiscent of the long passageways indoors:
I'm fully aware that my brief coverage of the abbey only just scratches the surface of this amazing place, but I'm afraid that is what organised tourism is all about - a short and pretty superficial visit to an attraction that would take days to appreciate properly; a few hasty photos, and then on to the next place... (sigh).
Talking of which - the following day (after an evening concert of Viennese music composed by Mozart and Strauss, perfomed in the Auersperg Palace) - our next port of call was the Schoenbrunn Palace in the southern part of Vienna city.
This palace served as the Summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchy - notably the Empress Maria Theresa and her husband Francis I. Maria Theresa became Empress via a political fiddle invented by her father Emperor Charles VI. Since he had no male heirs he enacted a piece of legislation called the Pragmatic Sanction, which allowed his title to pass to his daughter. Maria and Francis produced 16 children, who went on to marry into most of the royal families of Europe. The most famous of their progeny was probably Marie Antoinette, who went to the guillotine in 1793 during the French Revolution.
Our tour here left us feeling unfulfilled. During the space of an hour we were bombarded by our guide with a confusing and seemingly interminable mass of blandly-recited facts concerning the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and little else. To us the tour appeared perfunctory. We were simply part of a huge revenue-generation scheme. Coachloads of tourists (like us!) appear from all corners of the earth, pay their money, shuffle dutifully around a well-trodden path; pause at all the "significant" points for a few instants and move on, eventually exiting through the Gift Shop and Cafe, duly parting with more of their cash, and being replaced by the next batch of "victims". Sorry about the cynicism, but I'm not really a Guided Tour sort of person.
We wanted to walk up to the Gloriette (aka Summerhouse) at the end of the formal gardens, but there simply wasn't time. At Schoenbrunn the bottom of the garden is a long way away!
I wanted to have a look in the orangery gardens too, but in order to get in you need a ticket and being on a group tour I didn't have one! The best I could do was poke the camera through the bars of the fence and take this one shot...
After leaving Schoenbrunn we made our way (on the coach of course) into the city centre and were dropped off very close to the cathedral - St.Stephan's Dom. We had been told that we would have some free time to explore the area. It turned out to be 20 minutes! How can anyone appreciate a beautiful capital city in just 20 minutes? How totally absurd!
We spent 10 of our precious 20 minutes inside the cathedral, but it was dark, crowded and sombre. It was hard to get any good photos, but this one is not too bad. It's an altar-piece or something. Maybe since it's in 3 parts it is a "triptych"?
After our lunch (taken as a group of course, with all the other passengers and the pfaffing-about that goes with such things) our rendezvous with the coach was just opposite this imposing edifice - the Opera House.
Vienna is a city of many different styles. The ancient and the modern are closely interleaved. Right opposite the Opera House, for instance, sits this piece of modern sculpture. Personally I think it is hideous, but even I admit that it is "striking".
In the foreground you can see a couple of Fiakers - the two-horse carriages. These are very popular with the tourists, and the local traffic seems to cope with them very well. They are just part of the scene; distinctively Viennese. Here's a better view of one, this time at Schoenbrunn, drawn by two Lippizaners - the breed of horse used in Vienna's famous Spanish Riding School.
Well, I'm going to finish today's post here, because this one is getting very long. At this point we embarked in our coach for the drive to Budapest. I'll write about that city in a few days time, and I also intend to do a separate post on the things (mostly food items) I saw in the market there.
In the meantime, if you are interested to read more about Vienna, maybe you would like to look back at a couple of blogposts I wrote when we visited the city last year:-
Here is the first one: Vienna city sights
And here is the second: Vienna - the Naschmarkt