Scenery to spare
This is the second of a two-part series.
Cruising the rivers of Germany and Austria exposes the traveler to some of the most beautiful scenery, towns and buildings Europe has to offer.
A typical example can be found in the heart of Germany’s Franconia wine region in the charming little university town of Wurzburg. After reading about the Prince-Bishop’s home, I was looking forward to seeing it.
The beautiful, white ceremonial staircase was breathtaking. It had many flights of stairs and above it all, the largest ceiling fresco ever painted, “Europa” by Gramballista Tiepolo.
Spanning the Main River is a 12th century, 1,000-foot stone bridge with Baroque statues of saints.
After the city tour, we traveled along the famous Romantic Road to Rothenburg.
In Rothenburg, we had a typical German lunch at one of the popular inns. This little fairy-tale town is one of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval towns. As the city grew, it built several rings of protective walls with many gateway towers around itself.
Modern technology has made two dreams come true in the region, but not in the dreamers’ lifetime. The dreamers were Charlemagne and King Ludwig I (mid-19th century), who dreamed of a 2,170 mile waterway connecting the North Sea and Black Sea. Finally, in 1992, the Main Danube Canal that stretches 106 miles from Bamberg on the Main River to Kelheim on the Danube was opened to complete the waterway.
Ships using the canal pass through 16 stair-step locks and climb 1,332 feet above sea level. The highest point on the canal is also the watershed (the dividing point in the flow of water). There is a tall white concrete marker on the shoreline.
The pilot house on our ship could be lowered to pass under low bridges, so at times our sun deck was closed. Passengers on the deck around the pilot house had to be sitting down for certain bridges.
On a walking tour of Bamberg, you can see why it was declared a “world treasure” by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Bamberg has 2,300 protected buildings, an unspoiled gem of medieval and Baroque architecture that remained intact during World War II. We walked through the cathedral and the beautiful rose garden with its many statues.
Famous for the German war criminals trials held in 1945 is Nuremberg. Our local guide pointed out the windows of courtroom 600, where 21 leading Nazis were tried. From the bus window we saw the remaining buildings on the Nazi Party rallying grounds and the unfinished Congress Hall.
The marketplace features the Church of Our Lady, with its artistic facade and ornately decorated “Beautiful Well.” The well, formerly the city’s main source of water, has a central column that looks like a Gothic church steeple with 40 stone figures.
Surrounding the well is a finely wrought ironwork fence. Near the top is a gold-colored ring worked into the wrought iron that is moveable, put in by one of the apprentices. Tradition has it that if you can turn this “apprentice ring,” it will bring you good luck.
Visitors to Weltenburg Monastery are in for a surprise. The unpretentious facade gives way to the magnificent interior of the Baroque chapel. The altar and dome are very ornate, with many frescoes. On the high altar is a huge statue of St. George, the patron saint, slaying the dragon.
In the courtyard is a beer garden. The abbey is the oldest monastic brewery in the world and visitors have enjoyed its dark brew for nearly 1,000 years.
We boarded a smaller ship for a trip through the scenic Danube Gorge, the river’s narrowest, deepest stretch with 400-foot cliffs. This natural phenomenon (called the “Weltenburg Gap”) was created by the Danube when it hollowed out a narrow bed through the limestone rock, leaving towering rock formations of bizarre beauty.
Passau, on the German-Austrian border, is located on a peninsula at the confluence of three rivers: the Danube, the Inn and the Llz. We walked to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the noon organ concert.
The organ has 17,774 pipes, 233 registers (sets of stops) and four carillons. The organ has five parts that can be played from the main keyboard, one at a time or all together.
Painted a brilliant yellow and perched high on the cliff’s side, Melk Abbey in Austria can be seen for miles. It was a Roman border station, and then became a Benedictine monastery in 1089. Destroyed by fire several times, the current Baroque edifice with towers and a 208-foot-high dome date from its reconstruction in 1736. The elaborate abbey has 365 stained glass windows, one for every day of the year.
Monks have lived in the abbey for more than 900 years. Visitors get to see the imperial rooms, the Marble Hall, the excellent library, the terrace with its magnificent view of the Danube, and the abbey church. I thought Melk Abbey was one of the highlights of the entire cruise.
After traveling 1,016 miles, we tied up in Vienna. Early the next morning, we toured the Hofburg Imperial Palace, Belvedere Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
St. Stephen’s is another picturesque cathedral. The sculptures, both on the exterior and interior, are outstanding. The largest bell in the north tower is rung only on special occasions.
At the Prater Amusement Park, we rode Vienna’s famous giant Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad. The cherished city landmark is more than 100 years old. After two fires destroyed all but its steel frame, it was restored in 1947. This time, for safety reasons, only every second car was replaced.
There are 14 red cabins on the wheel. Each enclosed cabin can hold eight to 10 people as it slowly turns to a height of 212 feet, presenting a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
Jan Postell lives in Nevada City.
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