Grand European Tour Part 6

Passau, Germany; Melk, Austria, and Vienna, Austria

Mariahilf Monastery – Passau, Germany


It is now September 19 and we arrived in Passau, Germany at 8 AM on a cool and damp start to the day. Our included excursion was a walking tour of the city. Our guide was an immigrant from Italy by the name of Sebastiano. I make this point simply because the fact that he came from Italy made for fascinating side notes during his narration.

Passau is across the Danube from Austria in Southeast Germany at the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers. Its history dates back to the second century BC when the Boli tribe was pushed north across the Alps by the Romans. Eventually, what started essentially as a camp would become a city of some 53,000 people. The history of the city is rich in religion, sword manufacturing, as a trade center and unfortunately as a German POW prison.

Sitting at the confluence of three rivers has also made it susceptible to frequent flood events over the centuries.

The establishment of an Episcopal Residence in 739 gave the town the push toward becoming a real city.

The city has Italian influences dating back to a great fire in 1662 which destroyed a large portion of the city. Italian Baroque masters then recreated a city with an Italian flare

The most impressive highlights of this beautiful city are St. Stephen’s Cathedral, home of the largest pipe organ in the world; the fortress Veste Oberhaus, with an extraordinary panoramic view of the city, and of course the conjunction point of the three rivers.

Our guide made sure we understood that the Italian connection with this city is an important one both historically and in the present day.

Passau was a shipping port where salt from Austria was brought in on barges and transported to wagons for shipment to Italy and most of western Europe. As a result, there remain today many Italian influences in the food and customs of the area. Our guide was quick to make sure we all understood that his heritage played an important part in the cultural development of the region.

For many of the same reasons, the region was also important to Hitler. Hitler, who had lived here for a few years as a boy with his parents, returned on at least four occasions in the 1920s to make speeches. The war years were not positive times in Passau’s history.

As mentioned above, it was a wet and cool day for a walking tour. Therefore, I took very few photos and most of what I did was with my phone.

Here are some examples.

Vesto Oberhaus

This is Vesto Oberhaus a castle that has been converted into a hotel. It must be a great place to stay.

The side of the Old Town Hall in Passau, Germany. Like so many buildings in Bavaria, the exterior walls are adorned with beautiful murals.

Passau Old Town Hall

Main Entrance to the Old Town Hall, Passau, Germany.

Old Town Hall Main Entrance. That is Connie standing in front of the High Water Marks from various famous river floods in the city. For those who don’t know, Connie is just barely 5 ft tall. That flood in 1501 must have been an incredible event. However, the most modern-day flood of June 3, 2013, could have been even worse because there was so much more infrastructure by then.

This photo also shows just how cold and wet this day was. It was a bit difficult to stay focused on the tour. I had to really encourage Connie to stand close to the building for this photo. She wanted to be walking to stay warm.

This image has a great deal going on. First, there are the wonderful colors in the cobblestone street that were enhanced by the rain. Then there is a glimpse of a modern shop that sells souvenirs. However, the star is the giant mural above the arch. This road winds its way all the way to the river.

An amazing arch over the street in Old Town Passau.

It is important to note the date we were in Passau. September 19, the date of the funeral for the late Queen Elizabeth. In our stateroom, we had a television with about four channel options. One was CNN World. Conne was personally committed to viewing as much of this historic event starting while we were still in the Hague as she could without negatively impacting our tour. Once the walking tour was completed, we made our way back to the ship where we could warm up and watch parts of the funeral.

We did eventually make our way back into town with a few of our shipmates for a beer or two and of course a toast to the queen and the newly minted king.

By this time in the tour, things could have started to drag. However, our cruise director, David, would not let anyone get bored. He had organized a Music Trivia Night to be held in the lounge after dinner.

Remember, we are now underway and no longer in Germany. So, as a final farewell to Germany, David was dressed in the traditional Bavarian men’s wear, the lederhosen. He was quick to point out that each ship has a set of lederhosen and as was the case for a good part of this sailing season the passengers and crews changed ships frequently due to low water on the rivers. So, the lederhosen was worn by several different people over the season. The problem with that is that traditionally lederhosen is never laundered. Let your imagination take that in for just a moment or two before looking at the photo of David.

This is our Cruise Director, dressed in the ship’s lederhosen. He did comment that seemed to have shrunk some since he last wore it.

I took several photos of the evening’s event in the lounge, but since I didn’t get permission to post recognizable images of our fellow guests specific to this rousing event, I have chosen to spare them any embarrassment and me any lawsuits. Use your imagination, but don’t go too low in doing so. It was all clean fun.

Tuesday, September 20 found us in Melk, Austria. We arrived at 8 AM and would depart shortly after 1:45 PM.

Although our time here was to be short, there was a great deal to see. All excursions went to Melk Abbey. As has been the case for most of the cruise, the departure times were staggered so the entire boatload of people did not show up at the Abbey at the same time. Also, the various guides either by preplanning or on-the-spot decision making kept sufficient distance between groups so one was not crowding another. It is important to point out that ours was not the only cruise boat in town. So, there was a good bit of real-time coordination going on. As I recall, this was the only time that David was actually on-site at the day’s destination to help ensure folks made it back to the bus or had detailed instructions as to how to navigate the way back to the ship by walking. Again, Viking does it right.

Melk Abbey is possibly the most famous abbey in Austria. It is located on an outcrop rising above the Danube. Construction of the abbey occurred between 1702 and 1736 and was led by architect Jakob Prandtauer. Originally it was a royal palace with ceremonial courts, guest apartments, grand halls, and a library.

In the 11th century, Leopold ll of Babenberg presented the palace to the Benedictine monks, who turned it into a fortified abbey. The highlight of the abbey is the Stiftskirche, or “Abbey Church.” With its twin spires and high octagonal dome, the church has an astonishing number of windows.

The entrance to the abbey from the parking requires descending a beautiful curved stairway. There are 65 stairs that provide a changing view of the panorama beyond the abbey. We would have to climb back up those same stairs at the end of the tour, a fact that took some of the joy from the downward stroll.

The interior of the abbey was absolutely jaw-dropping in its beauty and opulence. I don’t remember if photography was not allowed, discouraged or if I was just too awe-struck to take any photos of the inside. So, below are links to online photos of just a few of the rooms.

One of the many marvels of this exquisite edifice is the library. The main hall of the library boasts 16,000 volumes. However, there are twelve more rooms that are not open to the public with an additional 100,000 volumes. Besides the Bible and theology, the collection covers topics such as history, jurisprudence, astronomy, geography, medicine, and more.

Below are the photos I made of the grounds and exterior of the abbey.

Melk Abbey From the top of the stairway from the parking lot.

The bus parking area is above the abbey. This image is from the top of the stairway leading to the outer gardens of the abbey.

The stairway has a landing about midway down.

Descending the stairs toward the abbey

The first gateway.  There are more to follow.

Once at the bottom of the stairway there is a wall with a gate. This is the gate that leads to the abbey garden.

Once in the garden, there are these beautiful pool fountains and elegantly shaped trees. Truly a place to enjoy peace and quiet.

Shaped trees and fountains in the abbey garden.

View from the abbey garden towards the entry gate to the courtyard.

At the end of the abbey garden, is the second gate. This gate leads to the courtyard.

The gate is flanked by two massive statues. This one is on the right side.

Statue to the right of the entry gateway

Statue to the left of the entrance gate.

This is the left side statue.

When we exited the abbey we were on an upper level. That gave us a close-up view of the twin towers.

Towers of Melk Abbey

A closer look at the abbey's towers.

Here is a little tighter shot of the towers. I had a good time in post-production trying to get them to stand up straight.

Here is a sampling of the view from the abbey.

This is the view into the city below the abbey from the stairway above the garden.

View from the abbey down into the city.

View from the balcony outside the abbey's upper level.

This image was made from the same location as the two photos of the twin towers by just turning around and shooting over the edge.

This was taken 90° from the photo immediately above. It is easy to see that Melk Abbey has a terrific panoramic view of the entire area.

Another view from the abbey.

One final note about Melk Abbey. To this day it is a working abbey where Benedictine monks live and work. For that reason, the area open to the public represents a very small portion of the entire abbey.

Connie's favorite sign at the abbey

Connie stood in front of this larger than lifesize photo board of Maria Theresa so I could get the photo. At the bottom in Maria’s handwriting is the inscription presumably from her journal that says, “I would regret if I had not been here.” She had visited Melk Abbey in 1743.

Following our fast-paced walk up all those stairs we were back on the bus and headed to Viking Bragi.

We lunched on the ship and were underway on time. The afternoon could be spent in a variety of ways. The executive chef had a demonstration on Apple Strudel making in the lounge, we passed through the Wachau Valley and David was on the sundeck narrating the voyage, and I was taking advantage of a quiet sailing with no television turned on and napping.

Later in the afternoon, we arrived in Krems, Austria. As soon as lines were across, we departed for a bus ride to Wachau Valley Winery for, you guessed it, a tour and wine tasting. Our guide for this excursion was a woman named Trinka. Trinka is not native to Austria, but she certainly loves her adopted country and the winery she would be taking us through. The winery is the family business of Erhard and Angelika Morwald. It has been in business since 1860. While Erhard is in no hurry to retire, his son has already proven himself to be able to successfully step into the position when the time comes.

For those who have toured wineries in the Napa Valley of California, or really any winery in the United States of any significant size, this tour might seem a little, well, minimal. The drive from Krem to the winery took us through the beautiful countryside and finally into the small village of Feuersbrunn am Wagram where the Morwald winery is located. When entering the production side of the winery, I had the feeling I was entering a garage. It was barely large enough for a standard to large-sized American two-car garage. What could not be immediately seen is that this was just the bottling and labeling plant. The grapes were smashed outside in a mechanized smasher and the fermentation and aging were done in super-sized barrels in another building before the wine is then pumped to the bottling station. Most of the infrastructure was newly built. We were walked through the process much the same as in any other winery before descending a very old staircase to the original wine cellar that holds some of the prize-winning wines. Erhard referred to it as his museum.

The tour ended in the tasting room where we really got down to business. Erhard had been busy when we first arrived, so he let Trinka lead the tour part of the business. By the time we met up in the tasting room he had rid himself of whatever had kept him earlier and the show began.

Erhard speaks limited English, so Trinka translated where necessary. Based on the reaction of the winemaker to some of Trinka’s translations I came to realize his English was much better than he would have us believe because the translations made a little fun of him and he knew it. It felt like we were viewing a comedy show for part of the time. That is until the first wine was poured and we got down to the business of very large tasting volumes. It was very apparent that Trinka and the Morwald family have a very strong relationship that results in a lot of fun during these tours. They really play off one another.

There were six different wines to be sampled and the sample sizes were approaching a restaurant pour. The pace was slow enough that chugging was not required to keep up but fast enough that the effect of the wine would not be realized until back on the bus.

Wachau Valley Winery bottling machine.

This is a look at the conveyer that moves empty bottles into the filling portion of the machine.

As I mentioned above, the winery is not huge. This photo shows that once all of us were in the bottling and corking room there was little room for anyone or thing else.

This is the group in the bottling and labeling area.

A look into the bottle filling station

As the bottles proceed along the conveyor they end up passing into the section of the machine where they are filled with wine before moving on to the corking station. I was not able to eliminate the glare due in part to my limited mobility among the group.

It is hard to see, but this is the machine that inserts the corks into the bottles of wine.

The corks are inserted here.

The warehouse

I took this photo, not as an attempt to remember who attended the tour, but instead to give an idea of the myriad of awards the winery has won in recent years. This is far from the complete wall of awards.

Even though the size of the production area seems small, the company makes and bottles a large amount of wine. This is just a very small section of the warehouse.

The warehouse 2

The original storage cellar

This is a look into the original wine cellar where the product was stored back in the late 1800s. The bottles that can be seen on the shelves are bottles of some of their award-winning wines. Photographically, this tour was a challenge for me. I didn’t want to use a flash and wipe everyone’s eyes out while making an absolute nuisance of myself. So, by using a very high ISO I was able to take photos at a fast enough shutter speed that body movements were frozen. In post-production, I was able to bring out even more light.

We couldn’t see the acres of farmland where the grapes were grown, but I did see this photo on a wall showing them.

A photo of a photo showing the vineyards.

I should note, that while the operation seemed somewhat small compared to other wineries I have visited, they really do produce a lot of wine. The family farms some 25 hectares of vineyards and 70 hectares of fields.

Takeaways from the tour. 1. The wines are really good. 2. Viking serves his wines as house wines while on that portion of the Danube River. 3. Were it not for Viking the winery would be much less successful and likely would have failed during the pandemic. 4. This is an excellent example of how Viking supports local businesses.

We returned to the ship in time for, you guessed it, happy hour in the lounge prior to dinner. What a life.

Later that evening there was a dance class event in the lounge. Neither Connie nor I were present for this event. I am certain I was sound asleep and dreaming about wine.

When we awoke on Wednesday, September 21, we were already moored in Vienna, Austria. Shortly after breakfast, we departed the ship for our included excursion, Vienna’s Sights Up Close.

We were to be in Vienna for two days, so we knew we would eventually get some time to roam around on our own. The excursion provided us with some of the historically important features of the city as well as an introduction to the shopping district we would eventually spend time wandering on our own.

For those of you who have enjoyed my forays into the history of many of the places we visited on this river cruise, you may be disappointed by what follows. I am uncertain if I was just historied out, or if the tour’s pace was such that I absorbed too little of what was presented. Here is what I did come away with on our first day in Vienna.

Our drive into the city included was intended to give us an understanding of how the city was bounded in the early days. Centuries ago the city was a walled city. The wall is gone now, but there is a road referred to as the Ring Road that closely follows where the wall had been. The modern city has some 1.2 million people making it the largest city in Austria.

When we disembarked from the bus we walked through some of the cultural areas of the city and while trying to keep up found myself not taking many photos and subsequently not having much to jog my memory from.

As any horse lover would tell you, Vienna is famous for the Lipizzan Stallions, among other things. We walked past the great arena where these beautiful animals perform. We also caught a few glimpses of a couple of them in their stalls directly across from the arena. When we picked our excursions we debated long and hard about taking the “Behind the Scenes at the Lipizzans. It was a mistake to not reserve spots on that tour as it would have pleased Connie to no end and I would have enjoyed it too.

The stallions are not all that Vienna is known for. Mozart made his name in this city even though he was born and raised in Salzburg, he spent his most productive years as a composer while living in Vienna. His former apartment is now a museum.

We passed by the Austrian National Library, which is a luxurious and large edifice with several statues around the exterior of the building. Our tour was too fast-paced to allow entry to the library, so…

The guided portion of the tour ended near St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of the downtown shopping and dining area. The plan was for about an hour of free time followed by the bus or subway back to the ship. Connie and I spent our free time window shopping, exploring the subway for the next day, and enjoying one of the other treats of Vienna, their fine coffee. The latter was done at an outdoor cafe just across the plaza from the cathedral. It was packed and our waitress tripped while delivering my coffee and I nearly wore it. The replacement cup was worth the wait.

We opted for the bus ride back to the ship, knowing we would take the subway into the city the next morning.

The second day in Vienna was really about the closest we came to actually relax on the entire adventure. We were closing in on the end of this great tour and a day without our listening devices was definitely in order. Our surveillance of the subway system the day before made it easy for us to navigate our way into the city. It could hardly have been any easier. We walked about four city blocks to the subway station, purchased our tickets from a kiosk, got on the subway, and rode for two stops before getting off right under where we had had coffee the day before. No rocket science or even cryptic words to look for.

We spent several hours leisurely looking through many stores for the right souvenir to remind us of this wonderful city and indeed the entire trip. We also visited a couple of high-end shops such as the Swarovski store just to see the differences between their Vienna stores and what we get in the United States. From my perspective, there was not a lot of difference.

I had been casually paying attention to the prices of commodities such as gasoline, beer, wine, and restaurant food during our nearly two weeks in Europe. I observed that gas was expensive. I had no real reference for beer and wine because every city seemed to have its own breweries. That said, I think we paid about the same for a local beer anywhere in Germany or Austria as we do for craft beers here in Charlotte. The restaurant food would be the true indication of how this part of the continent is handling double-digit inflation created by the pandemic and piled on by the war in Ukraine. While I found the prices to be a little higher than what we pay around here for more casual dining, I also noticed that all the menus were printed and old, an indication that even though inflation is a big thing the restaurants seem to not be raising their prices.

On a related note, I don’t think we were in any city from Amsterdam, The Hague, to all the German and Austrian cities and towns we visited where the support of Ukraine was not evident with Ukrainian flags in yards and windows to even the protective wrap around scaffolding.

Austrian Empress - Maria Theresa

This photo has a lot going on. First, the prominent feature is a statue of Empress Maria Theresa. We met her at Melk Abbey. Second is the contrast between the old and the modern works in the background, the tower crane. Vienna is an old city, but one that has embraced the times we now live in.

Our walking tour of the city took as past many fabulous edifices, such as the Museum of Natural History. I suspect days could be dedicated to exploring this museum.

Museum of Natural History, Vienna, Austria

Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna, Austria

Hofburg Imperial Palace was also in our path around the city. It is the former principal palace of the Habsburg dynasty. It was built in the 13th century and expanded several times.

Meet Prince Eugene Francis of Savoy-Carignano, better known as Prince Eugene. He was a field marshal in the army of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austrian Habsburg dynasty during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Prince Eugene Statue

Austrian National Library

Austrian National Library – The largest library in Austria, with more than 12 million itmes in its various collections. The library is located in the Neue Burg Wing of the Hofburg.

I was never able to get into a postition where I could get a shot of the entire Hofburg Palace in the frame. It is an enormous building with remarkble details all along the exterior. I therefore, concentrated on capturing some of the details. This is the gren dome that sits behind and above the center most portion of the palace.

Green dome of the Hofburg Palace

Emperor Franz ll/l

This large bronze and stone monument is located in the central courtyard of the Hofburg Palace and is dedicated to the memory of the first Emperor of Austria, Francis l (who ruled from 1804 – 1835) and who as Francis ll was the las Holy Roman Emperor having ruled from 1792 – 1806.

This is the entrance to the Kaiserappartements in the Hofburg Palace. These were the residence of the Habsburg royal dynasty for over 600 years. The statue on the left is of Hercules.

Kaiseerappartements Hofburg Palace

Flying Lipizzaner above the stable courtyard, Vienna, Austria

Flying Lipizzaner Stallion above the stable courtyard on the grounds of the Hofburg Palace. Unfotunately, our tour did not include a performance of these beautiful animals. Nor did we get an opportunity for any good photos of the actual horses as they stood in their stalls at the Spanish Riding School.

This is the final photo from the Hofburg Imperial Palace. It shows the entrance to the Spanish Riding School where the Lipizzaner Stallions perform.

Entrance to the Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg Palace

Column of Plague Sculpture

Sculptures commemorating plagues were common in Europe. This is a Holy Trinity Column located on the Graben, a street in the inner city of Vienna. It was erected after the Great Plague epidemic in 1679.

No European city walking tour would be complete without including a look of at least the exterior of a great cathedral, and Vienna was no exception. I found this view somewhat fascinating because it includes three periods of historical architecture in a single frame. On the left is a modern building with St. Stephan’s Cathedral in the middle. The cathedral has its beginning when ground was broke in 1137. Construction was completed in 1578. To the right is what would appear to a building that dates back to the 19th century.

St. Stephan's Cathedral Tower

A bit better look at St. Stephan's Cathedral

Over the history of the cathedral there have been several catostrophic events. Today, it is undergoing some sort of repairs that had one side almost completely covered in scaffolding and an environmental wrap to protect workers from the weather. This was the cleanest shot I could get.

This has been a long post. I apologize for that. If you are reading this, you made it through a massive number of words and many photos. You may not be surprised to know there are hundreds of photos that didn’t make the cut.

There is only one stop left on our tour. Part 7 should be short on words and long on photos. Over the course of the tour, I took photos of a lot of doors I found to be interesting and/or attractive. I have saved those photos along with a few other interesting features that hint at the age of civilization in this part of the world. It is my intention to finally share all those photos in the next post.



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