Cruising the Danube’s Wachau Valley
On most of the cruises we’ve taken with Viking, the actual cruising often takes place when you’re off ship on an excursion, or at night while you’re sleeping. Progress along the river at night is barely perceptible and the sailing is smooth, except for the occasional bump going into a lock, or when you happen to wake up at night and notice that the view out your window is only the wet granite or concrete wall of a lock.
When the ship cruises during the day it can be a spectacle that typically involves passing castle after castle. On Viking’s Normandy cruise, the section between Vernon and Rouen is gorgeous as the river winds past chalk-white cliffs. On the Rhine Getaway cruise through the Rhine Valley, the tour director points out and tells the history of the numerous castles along the way, one after another. You are seldom out of sight of a castle along that stretch of the river.
On the Romantic Danube cruise, the best daytime cruising is through Austria’s Wachau Valley. The shores are lined with vineyards surrounding the towns along the river. On our cruise, the day started out foggy after having had snow the night before. That did not stop the hardy travelers from making their way up to the top deck for the best views and photography, while Tracey worked to make sure she got her 10,000 steps:
If you’d like to get a better sense of what river cruising really feels like, check out this video that I shot along this stretch just before arriving in Krems (zoom to full-screen for a more immersive perspective):
Note how smooth the water is and the leisurely speed of the ship sailing downstream. By the way, yes, that is a fellow passenger walking around the deck with a glass of wine at 11:00 o’clock in the morning!
The Viking Egil wasn’t the only ship on the Danube, of course. It’s fun to check out the other ships along the way, which include both passenger ships and cargo-carrying barges. Here are some of what we passed along the way (click to zoom the pictures):
The fog lifted as we traveled, and the sun eventually shone bright on the sights along the shore as we cruised to Krems:
Touring the Viking Egil’s Wheelhouse
One of the cool things that we got to do was visit the Egil’s wheelhouse, which is designed to be lowered down to ensure safe passage under the lower bridges. The slideshow here shows the wheelhouse in both normal and lowered position from outside and inside, as well as how close the top of the wheelhouse comes to the bottom of the Krems bridge even when it’s lowered:
Visiting Göttweig Abbey
After arriving in Krems, we came in from the cold and warmed up with a lunch of, if I remember correctly, goulash which I followed up with, strangely enough, ice cream for dessert. Afterwards, we boarded buses to travel to the hilltop Göttweig Abbey. The Abbey monastery was originally founded way back in 1083. In addition to serving its religious function, the Abbey is now also used for corporate retreats and other events.
One of the first things we saw at the Abbey was the tree pictured below. It’s far away from its native habitat in California – a Sequoia. It’s relatively young; perhaps a 100 years old or so? Monks brought the seeds back from California to plant not just as single specimen trees, but to also establish a grove, which is the dark green clump in the second photo below:
The Abbey and its grounds were impressive:
In spite of all its grandeur, there were some aspects of the Abbey where they, well, kind of cut corners. Look closely at the pictures below for examples of trompe l’oeil painting:
Like so many of the churches we visited on the cruise, the Abbey’s church was ornate and beautiful. The organ in this church is huge but, sadly, the number of pipes installed here is surpassed by the organ at nearby Passau.
The Abbey has a substantial library, including old manuscripts and bibles. Here are two of the bibles that were on display:
One wing of the Abbey complex includes an unbelievable staircase (the “Imperial Staircase”) with an imposing painted ceiling featuring the Holy Roman emperor Charles VI as the Greek god Apollo:
To help you more fully appreciate the entire space, check out this 360 degree image taken from the top railing. (Note: This may not display properly on all browsers.) Zoom to full screen and spin around the space to get the full effect:
After a visit to the Abbey’s gift shop, where we purchased some of their delicious apricot wine, it was back to the Egil to continue cruising on to our next destination, Vienna. Arriving around dinner time, most of the passengers zipped out to a concert of Mozart music, while we instead took it easy and stayed on board, working on the blog and finishing off the beer we’d brought from the Czech republic. We needed to rest up for our big day in the Austrian capital!