Today I got up, ate breakfast, then headed over to the Westbaunhof (train station). I planned on getting out of the city and touring some of the towns along the Danube by boat. The cruise started in Melk, so I needed to take the train there. Using the automated machines, I quickly got my ticket (€15.70) and headed out to the track. There was a train sitting there but I wasn’t sure if it was mine, so I asked a couple (in German) sitting on a bench if this was the train to Melk.
Evidently, they could see through my disguise because he responded in English. We started talking and it turned out they were from Atlanta. We all boarded the train together. It was a “City Shuttle” and had both lower and upper seats. After getting seats on top so as to have a better view, we chatted all the way to Melk. We introduced ourselves and Jill and Tommy told me that they were heading to Prague the next day.
So I told them about some of the places Pat and I enjoyed in Prague, and they told me of their favorites in Vienna. Once we got to Melk, we split up and I headed up to Melk Abbey, for which the town is renowned. To get to the abbey, you have to walk through the Aldstadt (Old Town), then uphill and further up a series of old stone steps, as the abbey sits high above the town.
But it was worth the walk – I bought my ticket and wandered through the complex, which included rooms containing vestments that were hundreds of years old, a library filled with incredibly old books and literature, and of course, the church, which was as ornate as any I’ve seen (and which also contained some glass-coffined skeletons). Part of the tour led us outside to a large stone balcony, which showed a beautiful vista of the town below. I wandered down beautiful stone hallways that were cool and silent.
After leaving the complex, I walked back down the hill towards town. I still needed to buy my ticket for the boat, so I asked for directions and was guided a short way away along the river. The company was the DDSG Blue Danube and the boat ticket (from Melk to Durnstein) was 20 Euros. I could have taken the boat all the way to Krems, but I read that Durnstein was very charming and so I wanted to take some time to explore it. The river here was lovely, with swans lazily swimming around and a bike path that ran along side it. This is a very popular spot for bike tours, and a bike path runs along most of the Danube at this point.
Having bought my ticket, I went back to town and had a sandwich and some coffee at a sidewalk cafe while I watched my fellow travelers walk past. After about an hour, it was time to head for the boat. The boat had not arrived by the time I got to the dock, so I sat on a park bench to wait. Pretty soon, a couple of women joined me and we started talking. They were four friends from Seattle, California and Australia. The woman from Seattle had swapped her house for a condo in Vienna for two weeks.
When the boat arrived, we all got on board together and sat next to each other on the upper deck. The boat was like many other ferry boats I’ve been on, with an enclosed lower deck and an upper deck. The weather was a bit chilly, but nice enough for outdoor viewing. Each pair of seats had a table, and the staff came around for orders, so I and my new friends all ordered large beers and enjoyed the cruise.
The boat soon took off and we were drifting up the Danube, lazily watching the pretty scenery unfold on either side. Occasionally, a voice would make an announcement about the various buildings or ruins on either side and everyone obligingly got out their cameras for photos. We passed many quaint little wine-producing Austrian towns, which this area is known for. Along the way, I saw Jill and Tommy from the Melk train. It turned out we were both getting off at Durnstein (my other friends were staying on the boat till Krems).
After about an hour or so, we went around a bend and the ship’s voice announced that we would be pulling into Durnstein. It called our attention to a large stone ruin sitting on the hill above the town, known as Durnstein Castle. Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in this castle for more than a year before finally being ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine.
I said goodbye to my four friends and followed Jill and Tommy off the ship. The first thing we saw as we got into Durnstein was a church. Jill and Tommy decided to pass, but I went ahead and paid my 2 Euros to get it. It was small but very pretty, and contained the ubiquitous glass coffins again.
After I left the church, I headed up into the town of Durnstein. Oh. My. God. All I can say is that this town is one of the most charming and well-preserved towns I have ever seen. It beat Cesky Krumlov and Rothenburg, mainly because it was so small and quaint and had so many picturesque spots. It certainly wasn’t as crowded as them. After taking a quick look around, I wandered over the river to the train station. I still didn’t have my ticket back and didn’t even know what the schedule was.
Once I got there, the station was deserted although there was a schedule posted on the while. A woman who lived next door told me that I could buy the ticket on board, which relieved me somewhat. After I left, however, I ran into Jill and Tommy again and Jill told me that I could buy the ticket at the tourist info place. Originally, I was going to just buy the local ticket from Durnstein to Krems, since I figured I’d have to wait till I got to Krems to get the ticket back to Vienna.
Luckily, the woman at the TIC sold me a ticket all the way through. So clutching my ticket, I went out and met up with Jill and Tommy, and we all decided to have dinner together. The woman at the TIC told Jill about a few local Heurigers, which is a name given to wine-taverns, where wine-growers serve the most recent year’s wine. The name literally means “this year” and it refers to the harvest from this year’s grapes. And that’s where we wound up – at a Heuriger called the Altes Presshaus, eating from a platter of meats and cheeses and pickled vegetables, and happily drinking a wonderful white wine from the region.
Since the train to Krems only came once an hour, we finished our meal and walked back over to the train station. At 5:45 pm, the train arrived – all one car. It was kind of funny – we were expecting the long string of cars like most trains have, but this one was one short car. And to get on, we had to walk across the tracks, as there was no boarding area. Once we got on, it was a quick ten minute trip to Krems, where we boarded the train back to Vienna, arriving around 7:30 pm.
When we got to Vienna, we said our goodbyes and we each headed off in the direction of our respective U-bahn station. I got the metro back to Stephensplatz, but wasn’t really tired, so I grabbed the netbook and headed off to a cafe with wi-fi, where I enjoyed a late night cappuccino while I went online. Finally, I made my way back to the Pension Nossek for the night.
Tomorrow – my last full day in Vienna.