Going on a cruise, in some ways, is like travelling for dummies. All I had to do was show up for a spoon-fed itinerary. Sometimes that was great, like Budapest and Vienna. Then again there were the Bratislavas out there, where things were not exactly the way I wanted it. Had I been planning a road trip through Austria, I doubt Durnstein would have made the cut, but having been there on a cruise, I found it a perfectly charming place to spend a morning.
I knew less than nothing about Durnstein and what research I was able to do didn’t tell me much else. Alone, I may have taken a hike up to the craggy ruins of Durnstein castle, but instead, I reserved spots for Bill and I on the Optional Shore Excursion. I figured after Vienna he’d be pretty well done with me and my explorations – and I was right. Even though we had to pay extra for the escorted walking tour, Bill was happy to do so.
The town is so tiny that it would be impossible to get lost, so we didn’t really need a guide. In addition,the town has exactly one significant historical fact associated with it – Richard the Lionhearted was held for ransom in the castle on the hill. The only other item of any interest was Princess Di and Dodi Fayed meeting there for their romantic trysts. It’s funny the only claims to fame for this charming little place on the Danube River were both related to the British throne.
While I can’t exactly recommend the escorted walking tour as a good value, you absolutely must walk through the winding cobblestone streets and get a feel for the place. I wished for a little freedom to check out the shopping opportunities, but the tour trotted right past them – perhaps because it was so early. The walking tour began at 8:30 AM and that’s just about the time all the lorries were making their deliveries. There was actually a traffic jam!
The tour ended at the church where we were delivered for an organ concert. On the outside, the church, with its blue and white tower, looks much like other churches in the area. What sets it apart is the interior. During the 1700’s, it was renovated by one of its abbots. Our day would be book-ended by abbey churches and Melk Abbey is, without a doubt, the most over-the-top religious edifice I have ever seen. Still Durnstien, while smaller, gives Melk a run for its Baroque money.
Before the organ concert we were guided through an odd hallway along a series of alcoves filled with scenes from the Bible. That was a little weird, kind of like window-shopping for a Bible story, but the guide who attends the church was quite proud of them. Then we were seated in the pews and the organ concert began.
Organ concerts are an acquired taste and this organ had a sort of wheezy, high pitched shrill to it. We were informed of the uniqueness of the small organ and the talent of the organist. I’m glad to have heard it, but would have been happier with a smaller taste of its product.
Should you go to Durnstien, skip the escort and wander the enchanting lanes on your own. Do see the interior of the church and if the concert is available, by all means take a seat and listen. Then tighten up the laces on your hiking boots and head up the hill to the castle. We didn’t have time for it, but those who went there, instead of taking the escorted tour, raved about the view.
From the church we strolled along the river’s edge and enjoyed the beautiful morning. This seems to be a different Danube than the one we enjoyed earlier in the cruise. It actually is the same river, but so quiet and so bucolic, that you can’t imagine it is also the lifeblood of vibrant cities like Budapest and Vienna.
I’ll leave you with various scenes from the lovely little town and next week we’ll visit the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO Heritage Site.