About 80 kms. west of Vienna you can find one of Europe's most beautiful river valleys, The Wachau. On Sunday we decided to take a tour bus out to this area and enjoy an 8 hour 'mini-vacation', and let me tell you- we were not disappointed! The bus left Vienna at 10 am and we spent the first 1.5 hours driving on a lovely highway while being given lots of interesting information by our charming guide. We passed the perfectly-preserved medieval town of Durnstein, where Richard the Lionhearted was held captive in 1192.
Our first stop was at a darling little village called Weissenkirchen (or White Church I think). This village is known for the fabulous wines, especially Reisling, that are produced in the area. It is part of a group of UNESCO world heritage sites along the Danube River. We had a 15 minute stop here and wandered around the village and the church, noting the well tended and pretty cemetery. We also slipped into an enchanting little garden/vinotech hidden behind one of the historic houses. I held back from enjoying a glass of wine because it was still before noon and I do have my scruples!
We got back on the bus and headed up river to Spitz, where we embarked on our riverboat, the Prince Eugene, for the next part of our journey. It was very, very hot despite being on the water but we finally found a shaded spot with good views and since it was after 12 we enjoyed icy cold beers and pinched ourselves once again, both aware just how lucky we are to be able to experience so much of the world.
Probably the most exciting part of the journey for me was passing the village of Willendorf, famous for some extraordinary archeological finds including the Venus of Willendorf, a fabulous 8 cm. tall symbol of fertility and womanhood more than 26,000 years old. I've always been fascinated by her and was thrilled to pass by her home!
There are several other impressive castles perched ontop mountains along the way but at the end of the cruise we docked at Melk and bussed it up to the Benedictine Abbey. There we had lunch (I decided to eat local and had a delicious bratwurst with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes), and another cold beer. We were just in time for the English tour of this truly outstanding abbey. I must say that Austrian museums are extremely well-curated, possibly the best I have seen. A lot of thought goes into the way things are presented and lit, often in rather symbolic ways. The abbey also has an immense library of over 100,000 volumes. Peter and I both admitted to dreaming of being Benedictine monks because their motto is "Work, Read, Pray". How divine to be allowed to spend hours tucked into a quiet corner of the awesome library! This is also the abbey where Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose begins and ends.
The church is magnificent with an immense organ and tons of gold, and rather bizarre skeletons dressed in luxurious clothing inside glass fronted coffins. A bit weird but intriguing none-the-less!
We boarded the bus and waited to begin the journey back to Vienna but we were missing two ladies. Our guide had warned us all not to be late or we would have to do "singy singy" for everyone. Finally after waiting 45 minutes the two little Japanese ladies turned up having misunderstood the time for meeting. Our guide handed them the microphone and told them that they had to sing for us- and they did!! So we ended the lovely day with a silly (but sweet) little oriental song. P and I were so happy that we had been on time and were not forced to sing! The whole thing was really a good idea because some of the others on the bus were a bit put off by waiting, and the funny song truly broke the ice and had everyone giggling.
The busride back was relaxing and we both listened to our iPods, me to my Friday Shuffle and Peter to his beloved Johnny Cash. All in all we really felt that we had had a mini-vacation, certainly one we'd recommend to anyone!