Thursday morning we woke to quite a different view from our cabin window. Rather than a city of contrasts, we woke to decidedly Austrian countryside. The little river town of Durnstein nestled in the hills beneath the remains of a medieval fortress. Disembarking a short hike below the ‘kleines dorf,’ we sauntered past vineyards and old city walls to enter the town through narrow cobblestone streets.
It appeared we were waking the natives who, in leisurely Austrian fashion, tidied their little bakeries, cafes and souvenir shops to greet the new tide of tourists. The shops and apartments leaned one against the other along winding streets and terraces in the shadow of the crumbling fortress, a fortress whose walls once imprisoned Richard the Lion-hearted.
Garry and I enjoyed shopping and visiting with a few of the locals. Like stepping into a fairy tale, I daydreamed about living in Durnstein and selling gifts to the visitors from the many river cruises. The quaint surroundings and quiet pace seemed so inviting. Reality set in quickly as I watched cars attempt to follow the one lane cobblestone roads and envisioned those hilly avenues after rain or snow. One shopkeeper told us she did not heat her store because utilities were so expensive. Guess I’ll stick with my day job.
We returned to the Legend, ate lunch and then went ‘topside’ to view river cruising at its finest.
Soon we arrived at our next port of call, Melk. When we disembarked, we boarded buses for the winding uphill climb from the riverbank to the Melk Abbey which sat regally on the hill above the town of the same name. Garry and I switched on our ‘walk-arounds’ and met our guide at the entrance to the Abbey.
It was obvious that our tour guide had quite a history with the Abbey. He told stories of visiting the Abbey as a child, and he genuinely revered the faith it represented.
Founded as a Benedictine abbey, Melk represented well the order’s values. The patron saint, Benedict, spent several years in seclusion studying the Bible. Little wonder the Benedictine order was established on a foundation of study and service. The Abbey was pristine, its white stone walls glistened in the afternoon sun.
Garry took some wonderful pictures of the surrounding village from the veranda of the Abbey. I preferred to leave the views at such heights to Garry but stood in awe of the magnificent library at the far end of the patio. Leather bound books of philosophy, theology, science, biographies and ancient Biblical manuscripts greeted us. The library was elegantly appointed in marble, stone and beautifully crafted wood carvings. I envied the young men who had access to this room!
Apparently, the Roman Catholic monasteries fell out of favor with one of the ruling kings, and he forced many of them to close. God in His sovereignty used the circumstances to cause the nuns and priests to move from their cloistered walls to the community parishes, serving closely among the people. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I found the guide’s open faith very refreshing. But it also saddened me to hear how much superstition and empty ritual the Austrian Catholics maintained.
Garry and I decided to forego the bus ride and walk down the hill through the old part of Melk. Our Cruise Director, Riga, a delightful German woman, told us that Thursday afternoon’s trip along the Danube would show us the beauty of river cruises. She encouraged us to relax on the observation deck and enjoy the amazing scenery. Following her instructions, we ate lunch and hurried ‘topside.
Sailing along the Danube, we saw colorful villages lying lazily along the riverbank; they were divided by green hill, woods or vineyards. Frequently, castles or fortresses on hills overlooking the river and villages testified to less peaceful days. Their walls ravaged by time yet still daunting in their massiveness filled us with awe at the ability of their builders to place them strategically high above their surroundings. We sailed past hundreds of years of history, villages centuries older than what is considered ‘historical’ in the U.S.
I thanked Garry again for surprising me with an iPad for Mothers’ Day because it became my companion for capturing the sights and sometimes sounds of this wonderful landscape. Gliding along the river, passing through the occasional lock and drinking in the quaint scenery was so restful!
We had time to relax and change clothes before meeting Ursel in the lounge to surprise Erwin for his 70th birthday. Jack and Beth, Deb and Bill, Roger and Pat, and Lynn joined us. Sadly, Lynn’s husband took ill and could not join us. Erwin was surprised and pleased.
Deb and ‘Ortho Bill,’ a fun couple from Michigan found the perfect gift, chocolate candy aptly named, ‘Rabbit Droppings.’ We had a good laugh and with champagne supplied by Ursel, toasted Erwin’s special day. Then we gathered around a long table in the dining room for an evening of celebration. At the end of the dinner, the Cruise Host brought a lovely cake complete with sparkler for us to share. Ursel managed to order it without Erwin’s knowledge. We later learned she is an amazingly creative hostess back in her home state of Florida!
Prior to the cruise, I prayed God would put us with the people of His choosing, and we were delighted to meet these couples! We all agreed that touring with such wonderful couples made the cruise very special.