** This post is part of an ongoing series detailing our experience cruising down the Danube River visiting Christmas markets in Hungary, Austria, and Germany, aboard AmaWaterways‘ MS AmaSonata in late November 2015 **
The next day we woke up as the sun was coming up to find us slowing moving down the very low Danube past a handful of river-side villages in the Wachau Valley. We had missed a particular castle in the area that I had wanted to see as we sailed by because (1) we didn’t know it would be appearing that morning, and (2) it was on the other side of the boat and even had I known we were nearby I probably wasn’t going to get dressed and go up top to take pictures.
One thing about river cruises is the trip is highly dependent on the state of the river. Some years, like 2013, the river is a mad, rushing mess and towns are flooded which means guests have to be bussed from location to location instead of the leisurely float down the river. Then in other cases the river is too low to sail and the same thing happens. We were perilously close to having to be bussed given the extremely low water levels of the Danube. You can really get a feel for how low it is in these pictures.
Our destination for the morning was Melk Abbey, founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria, gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. Today it still functions as an abbey, as well as a school for the townspeople, and a major tourist attraction. As a non-religious person, I’m not really all that interested in touring church after church, but I thought this was an interesting stop along our route as it gave us some additional insight into Austria’s history. The one thing I did see here at Melk Abbey that I hadn’t seen in any other large cathedral or abbey we’ve been to in Europe was the Catholic penchant for entombing important people on full display. I swear to you there was a skeleton all dressed up in finery in a glass box, clearly on display for anyone to see. I’m sure he is an important saint or some such but … CREEPY. Seriously, seriously creepy. Religious people freak me out sometimes.
That weirdness aside, the stop in Melk provided a view into a place that while somewhat touristic in nature, doesn’t necessarily look like a tourist mecca. You very much got the sense that the people who live there couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether or not the cruise ships are in port. Not that they were rude – far from it! – but it seemed like our visit was nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have like some other cities we’ve visited over the years that rely on tourist spending.
We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Melk – and really you don’t need it – as the majority of the day was devoted to cruising down the Danube so that we could reach Passau by the morning. At first I was bummed that a day of the trip would be “wasted” just sitting around the boat, but AmaWaterways knows what they’re doing and the day proved incredibly enjoyable. For one, the boat really is a floating luxury hotel. We could have sat in our very nice room and watched the world float by, but instead we spent the afternoon into the evening sitting in the lounge talking with other guests and watching the world float by. We were able to meet and interact with several very interesting people who became our boat friends and I was able to get maybe an hour or two of writing under my belt on the new book I’m working on. In the evening the pastry chef gave an apple strudel demonstration and before we knew it, dinner was served. After dinner we went back to the lounge and spent the evening hanging out with and talking with several other groups from around the globe. I can’t be entirely certain because in my mind the evenings started to blend together, but I think that’s the night I went to bed at 2:30 a.m. Oops.