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Melk, Krems and the Danube

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I took a day trip to a couple of cities up the river from Vienna called Melk and Krems. Or as I refer to them, Milk and Cream. The plan was to take a train to Melk, then a boat down to Krems, then the train back to Vienna. Melk has a unique monastery and Krems has a few smaller attractions. At 45 Euro for the kombi ticket (train, boat, admission), it was quite economical.

When I got off the train in Melk, I smelled sweetness in the air.  There was an apple tree nearby and many of the fruits had fallen to the ground and were ripening. There were many colorful trees and flowers. The air was cool. It was a nice day for a trip like this. I walked to the main square area and it reminded me of the trip I took to the town of Blarney.

The abbey was originally a palace and was given to the Benedictines later. Its original purpose is obvious, as the grandeur of the place does not befit monks. There are about 500 rooms, one or two 200 meter long hallways, marble and gold everywhere. It all made me wonder how you’d fill that space.

I got a single ticket rather than going with a group. However, the place was a bit tight so I was often stuck behind tour groups.  Because of that I learned a lot. Though one of the groups spoke Spanish, they were mostly English speaking. One thing I noted was that I was the youngest person in the place, aside from the tour guides and the grandkids.

The first few rooms were meant to be symbolic and were bathed with differently colored lights. Blue, green and red. The blue is meant to symbolize innocence. I think. All the symbology was lost on me – and I was with an English group at that point.

The next rooms were more traditional. “Built in the Baroque, during the counter-reformation of the Church, the designers of the palace and of the treasures on display here wanted to emulate the glory of Heaven. They made extensive use of marble, gold, pearls and precious stones.”

The library has thousands of books. Much of them dedicated to the apparently rich astronomical history of the monastery. I was with a Spanish group at this point so didn’t understand much of what was being said. And there were too many people in the room to walk around and see the small placards.

The tour concluded at the church. Again, gold and marble.

Next stop, head to the boat to go down river to Krems. We made our way slowly down the river, past some spectacular views. A humble village that looks like I imagine it would have 200 years ago. A high cliff where the local regents made their enemies jump to their deaths. A quaint little summer palace for some king or other.

We had to change boats in Spitz and so disembarked onto the small stretch of ground that was backed against several restaurants and a church. A wedding had just finished up so all the guests and the wedding party were milling about as well. It was pretty crowded. The reception was apparently to be held on the boat to Krems. That boat had an area which seemed to be built for hosting such events, so it didn’t overwhelm the craft.

Another port of call on our three-hour tour was Dürnberg. It has a splendidly painted church and its port looks really nice, as you can see in the photo to the right. From the looks of the landings at Spitz and Dürnberg, these two cities might have been nice to see as well. Maybe make it a couple of days rather than just one.

Krems was rather unspectacular as we reached it near dark. I didn’t make time to see anything but instead just headed for the rail station to go back to Vienna. Here’s a lesson, instead of waiting around in Melk for the 16:15 boat to Krems, make sure you take the 13:50 boat. The boat will invariably be late and even if not you’ll be hard pressed to get to the last express train before it leaves. And the next slow train doesn’t leave for a couple of hours and takes 2 hours, rather than one. Unless it’s also late. I got back into Vienna around 10:30 fairly tired. But it was a good trip, overal.

Vienna, Austria

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Vienna, Wien to the locals, has a very long cultural tradition. During the late 1700s and into the 1900s they were home to some of the world’s greatest artists, composers and thinkers. All of this is evidenced as you stroll about the city.

Statues, museums and monuments abound in Vienna. One starts to believe that anyone who ever lived here has been memorialized in some way or another. The greats have parks, museums, statues, tourist stores, stars in the ground like in Hollywood, and any number of other dedications to their greatness. Those not so famous receive instead only their choice of one upon their deathbed.

And then they went and did something so ignominious to Mozart as bury him in an unmarked mass pauper’s grave. You really have to hate a guy to do that to him. I mean yeah, I hate sitting through classical concerts and operas as well, but that’s still a bit harsh. They’ve now added a memorial at the spot, though, to make up for it.

There’s what’s called a “cafe culture” in Vienna, meaning that they have a lot of cafes and like to sit in them for a while. It’s quite nice because I like to do that as well. And the coffee they make has a pretty big kick to it, so that’s good for me, too.

The city is fairly small, especially if you stick to the old-town area. So it’s easy to walk around. And it’s got some nice sites, like the Belvedere and the Hofburg. On a nice day, each of these is gorgeous. I spent nearly a whole afternoon napping in the sun on the lawn of the Hapsburg Empire. It was fantastic.

Old Friends and Imprisoned Luggage

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I have not been able to change clothes or post anything for the last two days because my luggage was imprisoned in a Viennese hostel locker. To tell how it got there and why it was stuck I will have to start a bit earlier. It started with an email.

“You will go to the Meininger Hostel tonight at 20.00 where you will be greeted by a friend.” The Philadelphian.

When I arrived at the hostel, I was indeed greeted by an old friend and roommate, named Yu. I haven’t seen him in about 3 years, during which time he’s been in school in Japan. This week he moved to Vienna.

So we caught up and planned out some things to see and do and went to get some dinner and drinks. I locked my luggage in the locker with a nice, strong lock designed to resist a shim.

We got back to the hostel and I realized that somewhere I had lost the key. I searched my pockets but to no avail. The key had vanished like a David Copperfield trick. No real trouble, just cut the lock off and be done with it. It happens a thousand times a year in hostels the world over, I’m sure.

Except there was a problem. The hostel had no way to deal with a well-made lock, they were only equipped to cut off the poorly made ones like those they sold. (Hey, a locked storage space like that is only meant to deter casual theft not a determined attacker.) We could always force the locker open by wrenching the locked piece, but that would break it. And their handyman wouldn’t be in until Monday to figure out a way to get it off without breaking the locker.

Stranded. Without phone. Without clean clothes. Without toiletries. Without laptop.

So finally this morning the handyman arrives, grabs the pliers and wrenches off the lock and I have my bag back.

Auf Wiedersehen, München

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Italians, Germans, Kenyans, Russians, Polish, Canadian, Irish, Americans and Brits and Aussies and Japanese. I have made and lost hundreds of new friends over the last few days. But now I must bid them, and Munich, auf wiedersehen.

I set myself a mission here: to have a drink at each tent on the grounds. That’s 15 by my map. Its apparently not very common for people to have visited all tents – even residents of Munich. I can see why, it’s a very difficult task.

Last night I had to find the back way into the Kafer tent – it’s usually just the rich and famous who get in there. And I talked my way into the Weinzelt where their specialty is wine. It was completely full, but I just told my story and showed my map with the other tents crossed off. The security guards actually cleared a path through the line for me to get in front of everyone else. I had breakfast and a coffee only this morning in the final one. Appropriate since the Kaiser-Schmarrn is a cafe.

I don’t think I could drink another liter of beer. It would be good to get out of town and clear my head a little. Fortunately, I have my next destination determined somewhere along the Danube.

Right now I’m on a speeding train winding its way through the Alps at 200km per hour. I’ll shortly arrive in Vienna and then to my next mission, whatever that may be.