Wednesday June 12, 2013

You wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you, but I’m writing this from a cramped seat on an air-conditioned bus in Austria. Our river cruise (you’ll remember) turned into a coach-tour not long after it started, and instead of gliding oh-so-gracefully along Europe’s famous waterways, we’ve been wrong-side-of-the-road-ing along Central European highways. We left Vienna a couple of hours ago, and crossed the border into Hungary some 50 kms back. Next stop? Budapest!

However, before we get there, with my laptop perched on my knee (and my wife complaining that my left elbow is poking in her ribs), I need to two-finger-type you an update – because several things have happened since we last spoke.

On Monday, for example, after unloading bodies and bags onto yet another parked cruise-ship (the Amadeus Dertour) tied up in the flooded township of Pöchlarn, we visited Another Big Church. And this is probably a good place to pause and issue a health warning: Don’t bother coming to this part of the world if cathedrals make you depressed, if castles give you the creeps, and if medieval old towns bring you out in a rash. Because that’s mostly what you get to see when you travel through these regions in Germany and Austria.

It was actually no hardship seeing Another Big Church on Monday, because this one (just like the others we’ve seen) was a take-your-breath-away beaut – the magnificent Benedictine abbey of Melk, one of Europe’s largest baroque monasteries. (If you don’t know what ‘baroque’ means, look it up. Come on – I’m not gonna do everything for you!)

We spent a couple of hours wandering the ornate halls, hearing the ornate history, inspecting the ornate library (a vast collection going back to when they first wrote books), and copping an eyeful inside the ornate, gold-encrusted chapel (I’ll let our photos speak for themselves).

Melk Abbey, I willingly admit, is one of my favourites. It’s located smack in the middle of the Wachau Valley – Austria’s world-famous wine-growing region. But down in the surrounding riverside town, just two days ago, things didn’t look so good: as we drove through we saw stark evidence of flood-damage, caused by the nine-metre-deep deluge that swept through here last week, drowning roads, cars, basements and crops. A sobering sight, I tell you.

Then on Tuesday (yesterday) we ‘did’ Vienna – Austria’s gorgeous, musical, elegant, historical capital! We drove through heavy rain along the majestic Ringstrasse, through the Schwarzenbergplatz, past Charles Church (Karlskirche) and the stunning Opera House … strolled through heavy rain along Kärtnerstrasse, window-shopping in the high-end stores … and escaped more heavy rain inside the awe-inspiring St Stephens Cathedral. (Yes, I know – Another Big Church – ABC!)

Then, last night, we scrubbed up, donned our best (albeit creased) bib-&-tucker, and headed to the posh Kursalon Concert Hall for a ‘Sound of Vienna’ dinner and show. I don’t know if they knew we Kiwis were coming, but those world-class musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers gave us a charming, unforgettable evening of classical Viennese waltzes, polkas, arias and operettas by Johann Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Was it fantastic? Was it EVER! You should have seen (and heard) us doing the standing ovation!

Anyway, my laptop-efforts have conveniently filled in a couple of hours – and it now appears we’re on the outskirts of Budapest. So I’m gonna sign-off and get ready for lunch. Bye …

THIS AFTERNOON: We’re exploring the beautiful (flooded) capital of Hungary … twin cities, actually, Buda and Pest, spread over both banks of the Danube. So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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