Danube, Austria. February 2019

Vienna cathedral

Helen Rose Outdoors Diary

River Danube Locks

The second part of the Danube river cruise was in Austria. Throughout its length the Danube has locks like a canal. In the region of Vienna there is a braided river system on a floodplain and since the 17th century there have been efforts to control the Danube, mainly to provide flood protection. The excavation of the “New Danube” commenced in 1972, with excess material used to construct the 21 km long “Danube Island” between the Danube and the New Danube. However, over time the water table was found to be decreasing and damage was noted in the foundations of bridges and other heavy structures. Similarly the riparian Prater woods were beginning to show symptoms of dehydration. Freudenau Hydropower Plant was constructed and is situated in the centre of Vienna and the Danube Island is a much visited recreation area. It was strange to pass through high sided walls on our river cruise ship. Obviously the ships are designed to a maximum width.

Dürnstein and Melk

It was Sunday morning when we called in at the pretty village at Dürnstein. Following a quarrel during the Crusades in the Holy Land in 1192, Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner here by Duke Leopold V of Austria . The mighty castle where he was held high above the town is now in ruins. Dürnstein lies in the heart of the rich Wachau Valley wine growing area and we walked past the vineyards with their autumnal colours. The stroll in the village lanes brought us to Dürnstein Abbey with its stunning ice blue Baroque Tower. The abbey was founded in 1410. The village houses were beautifully maintained, often with paintings on the arch above the front doors.

We continued cruising to the town of Melk where there is an enormous, honey coloured Abbey standing high on a rocky bluff. It was founded in 1089 but reconstructed in the Italian Baroque style early in the 18th century. Melk Abbey has been a monastic school since the 12th century – it has a world renowned manuscript collection. The abbey church is a riot of colour with much stucco work, gilding, marble and fresco painting beneath a monumental cupola. It also contains the tomb of St. Coloman, an Irish immigrant, murdered on his way to the Holy Land as they thought he was a spy because of his strange appearance. Out of remorse the local people made him a saint.

Salzburg and Linz

The next port of call was Linz which has interesting cathedrals, the old and the new, the latter being the largest cathedral in Austria. However, we only passed through Linz on the bus for a day trip to Salzburg. On route we had a glimpse of the Alps.

Salzburg is best known as the birth place of Mozart. We had a walking tour including the Mirabell Gardens where some Sound of Music film scenes were shot. We walked to the Mozart Museum based in the house where Mozart was born. He played the piano at three years old and became a composed aged 5.

On visiting Salzburg Cathedral, a Baroque Cathedral founded in 1611, there was a choir of girls singing which complemented the beautiful interior. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the town as large crowds of local people welcomed Hitler and the Nazis on a square adjacent to the cathedral, all apparently happy to celebrate the Anschluß (the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938).

Vienna

Our last port of call was Vienna. We previously visited Vienna on a city break some time ago and I remember being impressed by the number of Breughel paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum and also seeing the building, redesigned by one of my favourite artists Hundertwasser. We had a morning city walking tour to marvel at the Rococo architecture and St. Stephens Cathedral with its coloured tile mosaic roof, is a must see in Vienna. The grandeur of the Hapsburg Empire remains. We were fortunate to see the Spanish Riding School Lippizaner Horses on their way to their morning practice at the Old Hall. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world which has practiced for more than 450 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute École. The horses almost dance.

On return to the ship, we had the afternoon free so I decided to visit the famous Ferris wheel at the Prater Leisure Park. The Weiner Riesenrad is a 64.75 metre (212 ft) tall Ferris wheel at the entrance of the park and is one of Vienna’s most popular tourist attractions. Constructed in 1897, it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985. The Wiener Riesenrad was designed by British engineers and constructed in 1897 by an English engineer. However, my interest in it lay in the fact it had been featured in the film, The Third Man where a haunting tune is played on the zither as Harry Lime meets an old friend in one of the cabins while the wheel is turning. The tune can be heard on various recordings on Youtube.  It is known as the Harry Lime Theme and was recorded in 1949.

The cruise was magical and maybe I will go back and finish the journey along the River Danube to the Black Sea someday.

Contact me at helenrose52@hotmail.com

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