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Saturday, 31 August 2019

Austria: A Land of Scenic Beauty and Historic, Medieval Towns - Page 2

Written by Roger Marks
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We also visited the Judenplatz Museum, dedicated to Austrian Jews who died in WWII. Simon Wiesenthal (a former Vienna resident) helped turn the remains of a 13th century synagogue into a museum and the archaeological ruins of the synagogue were quite interesting to view. Other areas worth strolling around included Himmelpfortgasse, a maze of tiny streets from the 1800s, Schonlaterngasse containing streets lined with beautiful baroque townhouses, and a walk (passing through many plazas and across the Danube Canal) to view the exterior of the Hundertwasserhaus (built between 1983 and 1985). The building itself, containing 53 apartments, is a crayon box of colors, irregular floors and windows with trees growing out of them. It is one of Vienna’s most visited buildings. We had a wonderful dinner at a popular café facing one side of the Park Hyatt where we had veal goulash with sour cream and spätzle and then desert at the Central Café, which is particularly famous for its Sacher torte.


Vienna is a classically beautiful city with perfectly preserved Romantic and Baroque architecture. The city is filled with palaces, museums, churches, statues, elaborate stone fountains and charming squares. It also has many parks and therefore a lot of greenery. In fact 50% of Vienna is parkland or gardens. It is spotlessly clean and the old city is easy to navigate and walk around. We were in awe of the detailed stone carvings on so many of the buildings. The old architecture is generally uniform throughout the city. While the Danube River does not flow through the old city, it is within easy walking distance.


Early the next morning we picked up a rental car at Hertz for the next two weeks. Thanks to GPS and Google maps on my iPhone, we managed to navigate the mountain roads and turnoffs very efficiently throughout the trip. Our first stop was to Kreuzenstein Castle, a 19th century architectural fantasy castle with storybook turrets and towers, sitting atop a hillside. It was built in 1879 and contains a stained-glass chapel, library, a large collection of armor, a banquet hall and a room devoted to hunting trophies. The Three Musketeers was shot at this castle in 1993.


We then visited three charming villages along the Danube: Krems, Durnstein and Melk. In Austria, the Danube is lined with authentic villages, gently rolling hills and lush vineyards and in the spring the riverbanks explode with blooming apricot trees. There are wine taverns or wine-tasting rooms everywhere. Austria does not export its wine because it does not produce it in large enough quantities so it is primarily used for internal consumption.


Krems was particularly unique for its murals from medieval times still preserved on some of the buildings. Durnstein is a village with narrow streets lined with 16th century residences. Its church stands out with its tall steeple and wonderful views across the river. The village is essentially a one street town that can be walked in 15 minutes but was a standout in terms of a scenic, quaint, medieval village. In Melk, we stayed at the Rathauskeller with a room facing the famous abbey for which the town is so well known. Since 1669, the hotel (consisting of seven rooms) was run as an inn with a guest tavern.

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The next morning we walked a few of the oldest streets to view the antique houses and then we climbed up a hill to the Melk Abbey, dating back to 1683 – although it has burned down several times and then been restored. Benedictine monks have continually been living and working in the Abbey. We did a tour with an English-speaking guide since the church is the only room that can be visited without a guide. The building one sees today was completed in 1736. We visited the library with a superb ceiling fresco, the Marble Hall, the Imperial Rooms and the church and balcony for views of the Danube.

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Next was Shallaburg Castle, only 10 minutes away, with its famous two-story arcaded courtyard. The castle dates back to 1242 when it was built as a fortress. Today the courtyard of the castle is used for theater performances and concerts. We then drove about an hour to St. Florian Abbey where we took a guided tour. The Augustinian Monastery was built in 1686 and our tour included the library, grand staircase, thirteen opulent salons, the tomb and the crypt with the coffin of the composer Anton Bruckner together with hundreds of skulls of earlier monks who lived there. We then visited the Abbey church on our own which is famous for the Bruckner organ. The cemetery where monks are now buried was also a point of fascination. Unlike the Melk Abbey, one was allowed to take pictures of the various rooms without flash and there were very few tourists since it is off the beaten path. Consequently, there was peacefulness in strolling the grounds. Both Abbeys are well worth visiting as they were very different in architecture and overall feel—one perched on a hill by the Danube and the other located in bucolic countryside.


We then drove on to Salzburg where we stayed at the Sheraton Grand for three nights, a great location next to the Mirabell Gardens. We upgraded to a deluxe room facing the gardens. We purchased Salzburg cards from the hotel which allowed free entry to most of the key attractions. The cards were well worth the relatively low cost. Salzburg is a charming, compact medieval city with a major tributary of the Danube River cutting through the city with picture-postcard views of the old town from one of the bridges crossing the river. The city is filled with churches, castles, cobblestone streets and squares. We had dinner at Blaue Gans, a fusion restaurant in a 500 year old building with vaulted brick ceilings and windows looking out onto the bustling commercial street. The dining room has a glass floor which reveals an old cellar, site of the oldest inn in Salzburg, mentioned in documents from the 15th century.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 02 October 2019

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