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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

How many have you done?

Day 5/15. 2023 Viking SKADI Grand European Christmas Markets River Cruise. Wachau Valley cruising and ‘Stift Melk’ or in English ‘Melk Abbey’, Austria.

We spent the morning cruising the Danube through the very scenic 36km Wachau Valley. Our Program Director Daniel was providing commentary on our Quietvox devices and to hear him we had to either be on the top deck or in the lounge by about 8:30am. We elected to have a very light continental breakfast in the Aquavit Terrace to be able to have our breakfast and hear the commentary while watching the beautiful scenery in the Wachau Valley in Austria. I kept popping out to the front of the SKADI to be able to take photos that were not from behind the window glass in the lounge. The day was quite windy, grey and the temperature was only 5C. The good news though was that the rain was holding off for us as we did our scenic sailing.

We were told to expect to see lots of castles, ruins and interesting rock formations, but no bridges in the Valley. Instead of bridges, residents use unique pulley system ferries, using the current of the Danube to cross from one side of the river to the other.

The first castle ruins we saw were in Durnstein.

At the top of the hill, Durnstein Castle ruins, Durnstein, Austria.

The castle was erected in the early 12th century (1130 approx). The castle is known for being one of the places were King Richard (Richard the Lion hearted) 1 of England returning from his Third Crusade, was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria - from December 1192 until his extradition to Emperor Henry VI in March 1193.

The baroque styled Abbey Church in Durnstein, Austria with its blue and white tower. The tower dates to 1733 and is one of the most striking landmarks in the entire Wachau Valley.

Look very closely at this photo. It looks like a nice little Austrian Village doesn’t it? But what is that sticking up from the ground? What does it look like? If you said ‘a nose’ you would be 100% correct!

‘Die Wachauer Nase’ is the nose sculpture that resides opposite the grape growing town of WeiBenkirchen in the Wachau Vally. The sculpture was made to look as if a giant was buried underground with only his nose sticking out. The nostrils are big enough for people to enter! It is also the most beautiful nose in the wine and apricot growing region of the Wachau Valley smelling the grapes when they are ripe and ready for picking! When the Danube floods, the nose fills up with mud and becomes quite smelly. I found this quite an interesting sculpture in the middle of the countryside!

The pretty, colourful wine growing village of WeiBenkirchen, Austria. You can see the terraced, fallow vineyards on the hillside, past the church.

‘Devil’s Wall’ as it is known. Cascading down the side of a hill is a wall of boulders said to have been built by the devil. According to the legend, the devil felt obliged to get rid of St. Johann’s church on the other side of the Danube. To do so the devil built a dam across the river, thereby flooding the church.

As soon as our scenic sailing in the beautiful Wachau Valley was over, we had about an hour of free time before it was time to have an early lunch.

Lunch was a Carrot, orange soup (I forgot to get a photo but I asked our Chef for his recipe because it was that good!) and a Thai green vegetable and Chicken curry. The soup was 10/10. The Thai green curry had a kick to it, but it was only a 7/10 for me.

We were advised to have lunch today at 11:30am because our tour of the Melk Abbey would be leaving from the pier at 12:35pm. We were being shuttled 10 minutes from the ship to the Melk Abbey where our tour was to commence with our guide at 1:15pm.

The bustling metropolis of Melk, Austria!

Our ship, the Viking SKADI. Our balcony stateroom is on the other side (starboard) and at the level where we exit the ship.

Entering the gates to the Melk Abbey, Austria.

Melk Abbey and Castle (photo from Google)

The castle and surrounding lands were given in 1089 to the huge Benedictine abbey of Melk which dominates the city. The abbey was enlarged and fortified in the 14th Century but most of the buildings date from the Baroque reconstruction which occured between 1702 and 1736. There is a monastic school and the library has an extensive collection of 100,000 ancient books, as the Abbey of Melk became a center of Enlightenment, thought and social exchange. There is a school on the premises and students attend the school from the local community of Melk. There are 22 monks who reside and work at the Abbey ageing from 38 to 92. The 92 year old monk is the organist for the Abbey and apparently he is not training another monk yet on the pipe organ! The youngest monk oversees the tour guides that work providing tours for guests like us. Over 1,000,000 visit the Melk Abbey annually and the cost of admission if 15 euros. Do the math! That is a lot of revenue and this Benedictine Abbey is the richest one in the world!

We were not allowed to take any photos inside the Abbey unfortunately (probably because the gift shop wanted to sell us the postcards instead). The Abbey was overwhelmingly stunning inside and because of the length of our tour, we could not spend much time inside the Abbey to enjoy its beauty.

I was able to find these shots of the interior of the Melk Abbey online.

Melk Abbey interior (photo from google). The grandeur was overwhelming which is typical of baroque architecture. Lots of gold and extremely busy forcing you to keep looking around to discover new things every time you look somewhere else.

We were allowed to take photos on the outside of the Abbey though. It was really windy on the terrace when we went from the Museum (former royal residences) to the terrace, then through the library, and finally to the actual Abbey.

Of course no visit to a place like this would be complete though without a visit to the gift shop! Melk Abbey actually has 3 gift shops so I can imagine how busy this place must be in the summertime! We bought a small bottle of the apricot liqueur at the gift shop to try (as the Wachau Valley specializes in growing apricots).

While we were in the Abbey, our ship the SKADI was sailing up to Ybbs without us. Apparently the SKADI had to go through a lock and rather than wait and miss our chance to get through the lock, we would be bussed to Ybbs, which was about a 30 minute drive north of Melk Abbey. It was nice to drive through the Austrian countryside to see the small towns and villages along the way and around 4:15pm we arrived back to the SKADI.

I worked on the blog of Vienna for a couple of hours and then at 6:15pm it was time for our very special Viking Explorer Society cocktail party in the Aquavit Terrace. The Viking Explorer Society extends to anyone who has previously cruised with Viking and of course we were fully fledged members now of the Society after having travelled 138 days around the world with Viking from December 2022- May 2023.

Richard wanted to wear his Dale of Norway sweater that I had bought him in Norway in September 2023 when I was on the MSC Euribia on a press trip, writing about the new Euribia on a cruise through the Norwegian Fjords. He also proudly wore his 2022/2023 Viking World Cruise pin which we were given on the Neptune. And of course he also had to wear his Canadian flag pin!

I don’t mind if I do thank you very much!

The hotel manager Stoyan Yanchev welcomed us to the Viking Explorer’s Society cocktail reception and thanked us for cruising with Viking. He advised us that there were 46 people on the ship out of 175 guests who had cruised with Viking before. Then he asked us to raise our hand on how many people had cruised more than 3 times with Viking? Many hands went up at this point. Then Hotel Manager Stoyan told us there was one couple who had done 24 cruises with Viking! They were acknowledged and then Stoyan said there was one couple on board who had done more cruises with Viking than he had! Since Stoyan only joined Viking mid way through last year, he has only completed 31 cruises with Viking and this couple had completed 32 cruises with Viking! WOW! So the question that was going around at this point was “How many have you done?”

Hotel Manager Stoyan then provided a toast with a shot of Aquavit ( or translated WATER OF LIFE) - the traditional drink of Norway and Viking’s Chairman, Torsten Hagen’s favorite drink! Aquavit is a unique Norwegian spirit that before it is even bottled goes on a lengthy sea voyage that involves crossing the equator twice. The enhancement to the flavour of this spirit was discovered by chance in the early 1800’s when a successful ship owner from Norway set sail for Indonesia with Aquavit and other goods on board. The people of Indonesia were not interested in Aquavit so the ship sailed back to Norway with the Aquavit. During the two year journey to Indonesia and back in the early 1800’s, the Aquavit matured further in oak barrels and cultivated a unique flavor. The spirit was a hit once it got back to Scandinavia and that is how the drink continues to be made today. Crossing the equator twice before it ever gets bottled! SKAL! SKAL! SKAL! Is the traditional Norwegian toast that we gave after Stoyan’s interesting story.

After the Viking Explorer’s Society cocktail party we met up with our Australian friends and we listened to the port talk and the Chef’s regional suggestions for dinner.

The chef recommended the Artic Char so that is what I had for dinner. The fish was outstanding! 10/10!

Richard had the duck which the chef also recommended. Just look at the attention to detail on the plating of this meal! The duck was done in a Korean sauce and Richard would rate it 8/10.

Traditional Black Forest cake for dessert. Yummy!

After dinner we went to our cabin so I could finish uploading photos into the blog but we also did something very exciting too!….can you guess?

WE BOOKED ANOTHER VIKING RIVER CRUISE for October 2024! Yes, we did! Viking is currently offering free airfare from select destinations and for us from Buffalo the cost of a transatlantic fare is $134 CAD each! We’ve booked ‘Lyon, Provence and the Rhineland’ a 15 day river cruise leaving Avignon, France on October 20th, 2024, arriving in Amsterdam on November 3, 2024 on the Viking Hermod and the Viking Kara longships. We were lucky to get the last balcony (B) cabin which is the same as we have on the SKADI! For booking while onboard the SKADI we also each got a $100 credit to our onboard accounts, plus additional discounts for being Viking Society Members, plus an extra discount (because working with a virtual Viking agent is a pilot on our ship the SKAGI and the BRAGI; our original ship). We plan on going to France a few weeks before we sail on the river cruise ($100 air fare deviation fee) so we will have a month in Europe next October during the grape harvest! We cannot wait and now we are excited to say “We will have 3 Viking cruises under our belts!”

We are really enjoying this Viking Christmas Market’s River cruise and we think the food, wine, ambience, itinerary work better for us than the Viking Ocean cruise did. Excursions are always going to be problematic for us if we have to sit on a bus for very long, or don’t get out to enjoy the places we are being whisked by. Docking in the town we are visiting and having time to walk around on a tour, or take the metro makes for a busy, active day, but that is what we enjoy and while we are in our ‘GO-GO’ 60’s years…..we’re getting going! Now I wonder what I can book for 2025!

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