Magnificence of Central Europe- Part 5 and conclusion-Austria (Vienna/ Wachau valley)
We took a night train to Vienna for last leg of our trip.
Once we arrived in Vienna, we had to walk a lot to reach our hotel where we had to use a key to get inside. The owners go home at 6 pm, so if anyone is checking in after that time they must have a key. We walked in and saw the most quirky elevator with a velvet seat inside (we even took pictures sitting on it lol).
After dropping our stuff off, we walked down to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The following day, we visited the Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn Palace is a Unesco World Heritage site and Austria’s most visited tourist attraction. For centuries the palace served as the summer home of the Habsburgs. We wandered through 40 authentically furnished rooms, including the state rooms and private apartments of Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth, or Sisi as she was commonly called. One good thing was that they do not allow any pictures to be taken. So people move fast and we are not subjected to tourists taking random pics in front of each room.
We had fantastic lunch at Cafe Restaurant Leto. We were searching for a lunch restaurant with light vegetarian Mediterranean food before going to Hofburg Palace to escape 92 F temps in Vienna- and what a perfect choice it was. We had good veg choices- aubergine dish and ratatouille were exceptional. Q
From there, we visited Hofburg palace displaying the cutlery and China of the Austrian Habsburg royal family. There was a museum dedicated to Queen Elisabeth- who was married to Franz Joseph - and is better known as Sisi. Her story was so akin to Princess Diana and I think provided fodder for so many hollywood and bollywood movies. If interested- you can read here. It just was a collection of opulent items. One fascinating snippet we found was about foot washing ceremony conducted by the Emperor and Empress.
We walked around the museum area and witnessed a Disability pride parade called Power-parade with motto "All for all". They had colorful trucks with music and dance.
There, we met a man who had been homeless a few years ago and he was leading tours known as homeless tours. We got some information and planned to do it a couple of days later.
The next day, we took a day trip to Melk Valley. We made use of a combined ticket offer of Austrian rail that covers train ticket, boat ride and Melk Abbey entry ticket. The Wachau Valley, where the Danube River makes its way toward Vienna, is blanketed with vineyards and ornamented with cute villages. We took the morning train to Melk.
Melk is sleepy and elegant under its huge abbey. The restored Melk Abbey, was established as a fortified Benedictine abbey in the 11th century. It was destroyed by fire and was restored fairly recently — financed in part by the sale of the abbey's Gutenberg Bible to Harvard (which was later donated to Yale University) — was completed by 1996 to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the first reference to a country named Österreich (Austria). For 900 years, monks of St. Benedict have lived and worked in Melk's abbey, during the Reformation (1500s), occupation by Napoleon (1800s), and the Nazis (1900s). The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable. Since the 12th century a school has been connected with the monastery, and valuable manuscripts have been collected and created in the huge library. In the course of the monastery’s history, members of the Melk monastic community have achieved significant success in the fields of natural science and the arts.
After having lunch at Melk, we took a ferry ride to Krems. The 24-mile stretch of the Wachau between the towns of Melk and Krems is as pretty as river valleys come.
We got off the cruise boat at Durnstein. Richard the Lionheart (British King) was imprisoned here in 1193 while he was returning from Crusades. According to a tour guide in Vienna- the bounty received on releasing him was instrumental in growth of Vienna and Austria. The town is a delight — almost like a Disney movie. ALot of stores sell apricot products (jams, spirits etc). The ruined castle above town, where Richard was kept, can be reached by a fairly steep hike with great river views- which we indeed did.
Eventually we returned to Vienna by night - catching a train from Krems .
Next day- our plan was to take two walking tours. While heading to inner city, we saw the health conscious Vienna residents do yoga by the river.
It was a slightly cold day with drizzle - very different from 90 F day that we had seen on Day one. Our morning tour was very informative as the tour guide was a history buff. The group comprised people from every continent. Our guide had bunch of anecdotes ranging from whether Franz Joseph was good or bad emperor (on throne for 68 years - but oversaw fall of empire), how his younger brother Maximillian got recruited as emperor of Mexico thanks to being one of the only roman catholic eligible princes willing to go across the Atlantic- and so on. Having seen too many museums over the entire trip we did not enter too many of them over the walk.
Our afternoon tour was a bit unique.
It was organized by Shades tours. They organize tours on socially polarizing topics and the tour is conducted by affected persons themselves and thus look behind the scenes of the city. So our tour was conducted by a Nigerian immigrant who was trained as Doctor. However due to circumstances of life (business and medical issue of his own), he became homeless. The tour described how socialistic infrastructure and support network of Vienna takes care of such people. While going through the tour, we could not help see the sharp contrast between how Vienna treats its unfortunate citizens versus USA where such support framework is absent.
Overall Vienna was extremely clean, well planned beautiful city. We spent rest of the day roaming the streets.
And next we had to wrap all of our stuff back and head back to US. We were keeping fingers crossed as we heard Air France pilots were on strike. But eventually it worked out fine and we landed back safely in USA.
It was a fantastic trip - that I would love to go back on. We loved the weather, sites, people, organized public transport, easy availability of delicious vegetarian food- almost everything. Hope I get an opportunity to go back. And I also hope this travelogue/blog inspires you take on similar trip.