Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Going to the Chapel (and the Buffet)

3m-44TRAVEL THERE: THE CHAPEL AT MELK ABBEY

Pretty amazing, huh? Last week I told you about my recent visit to Melk Abbey and compared it to a unique experience I’d enjoyed during a previous visit.  While the rest of the abbey suffered from the absence of my original guide, you really don’t need a guide in the chapel.  Anywhere your eye lands is remarkable.

The Chapel of Baroqueness

Though I’d spent much of the previous day gawking at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, when it comes to over-the-top Baroqueness, the palace didn’t hold a candle to the Melk Abbey Chapel.  I could wax eloquent over the charms of the chapel, but I’ll just let a few photographs do the talking.

Back to the Boat

With all of our senses beaten to a bloody pulp of Baroque over-stimulation, we had a choice to make when we left the chapel.  We could either grab a bus back to the boat or stroll to the dock through the small town of Melk.  For once, Mr. Bill was the more adventurous.  I still hadn’t thawed out from our wait in the courtyard, so subjecting myself to more punishment seemed foolish.  I hot-footed it to the buses with the other elderly and handicapped people, because I was feeling very elderly and quite handicapped.

The first order of business was a very long, very hot shower.  Cocktail hour was approaching.  Bill strolled in just about the moment I was strolling out.  The cocktail hour was preceded by a presentation about other Viking cruises available.  Bill had no desire to be enticed into booking our next cruise, so I went and wished on my own.

taste-of-austria-9A Taste of Austria

As far as the crew was concerned, this was a big night.  Instead of our usual leisurely dinner, we were having an enormous buffet of Austrian treats.  Each table was tricked out with checkered tablecloths and racks of huge pretzels.   The chic sophistication of the dining room was subjected to an oom-pah-pah polka band, while our wait staff donned dirndls and lederhosen.

I can’t say I was a fan.  While most of the food was good, the pretzels were a disappointment (much too tough by my American standards) and brats are not my favorite things.  However, what they missed in culinary quality they made up in gourmand quantity.  I will give them these accolades, the effort at entertainment was remarkable and the local wines they served were outstanding.

Time for Bed

After dinner we were offered a dose of Mozart in the lounge, but the foodfest was such an ordeal that I can’t even remember whether we made it to the presentation or not.  If we did, I didn’t gain any new insights into the eccentric genius.  I do remember crawling into bed in utter exhaustion.

I’ll leave you with a summary video of our day in the Wachau Valley.  Come back next week and we’ll visit our next stop along the Danube.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Marvelous Melk Abbey

3m-41
A peek at the Wachau Valley from inside the Abbey walls

TRAVEL THERE: THE GLORIES OF BAROQUE IN SPADES

A Return to Marvelous Melk Abbey

Of all the places I’ve traveled to over the years, Melk Abbey qualifies as one of the most remarkable.  All they need in the dictionary, to define the word Baroque, is a picture of the chapel’s interior.  But that dictionary doesn’t have enough words in it to adequately describe the wonders you will see inside the abbey.

Melk Abbey has become somewhat of a tourist trap in the days since my last visit, 3-4 decades ago.  I remember parking on the street, strolling over to the abbey and having a private tour with my small busload of tourists.  This time I disembarked along a riverside crowded with cruise boats and hordes of people heading toward the abbey.  Do not be dismayed or discouraged.  Just line up and go with it.  The abbey is worth your time and the hassle of dealing with tourists and guides.

The weather was miserably cold and damp, while my gear was sadly inadequate.  What was intended to be a pleasant stroll through a garden and a chance to visit a small outdoor cafe, was instead an overlong huddle in the abbey’s courtyard.

Eventually the ubiquitous Viking guides, with their red jackets and numbered signs, showed up to talk us through the experience.  Since my last visit, the abbey has had some renovations and remodeling, adding several exhibit rooms displaying a wonderful array of abbey treasures.  While the exhibits are truly extraordinary, I would have easily traded them in on the opportunity to see my first guide just one more time.

bps10032016_0001The Charming Abbot Emeritus of Melk

And here’s the reason I enjoyed my first visit to Melk ever so much more than I did my return.  The sweet little man in this photo had been the abbot of this remarkable place for many years and he loved it almost as much as he did God.  He’d been retired from running the place for only a little while and had been assigned the joy of sharing it with others.  During the tour he’d come to a closed door and look around surreptitiously to see if anyone was watching.  If the coast was clear, he’d wrench open the door and say, “I’m not supposed to show you this, but I didn’t want you to miss it.”  Then he’d go on to tell us a marvelous story about something that happened in the room or a tidbit about the artist who decorated it.

I loved him so much that I wanted to bundle him up and take him home with me.  My admiration for the place was obvious and he begged me to come back some time and visit him.  He confided that when there wasn’t such a crowd, he could show me other places in the abbey.

That small busload of travelers would have been lost in the horde of  tourists on my latest visit.  I wonder what my friend would have thought about the abbey’s popularity.  The guides did a great job of sharing architectural highlights, but they were completely devoid of the affection the Abbot Emeritus displayed. I’ve always wished I could have returned for the promised private tour, but life changed for me after that trip and it was a long time before I crossed the ocean again.  Too long of a time for the Abbot Emeritus to give me a tour.

Trompe-l'œil tricks the eye into thinking there's a dome above the stairwell.
Trompe-l’œil tricks the eye into thinking there’s a dome above the stairwell.

Gorgeous Melk

Even without the Abbot Emeritus to show us around, the wonders of the abbey are apparent.  This guide was quite good about rolling off pertinent dates of the abbey’s history, but she was not as insistent about keeping our eyes focused upwards.  In every room the Abbot Emeritus told us to look up, as he described in detail the story of the ceiling frescoes.  The average tourist probably misses the wonder of contemplating the effects of  trompel’œil.

Sure the ceilings are beautiful, but gazing up your eyes are tricked into thinking you are looking up at arched ceilings and domes.  It’s all an optical illusion, because the ceilings of the abbey are flat.  There is one stairwell where the tour highlights the painted effects, but they are ignored in the rest of the abbey.

This is not a dome!
This is not a dome either!

The guide also didn’t tell us any of the enchanting tales of the artist, tales of which I’ve long forgotten the details, but I had hoped to be reminded of during this visit.  Nor did she explain in detail the meaning behind the elaborate frescoes.  She was pedantic about the many ways the features of the abbey were Baroque in nature, but I was more interested in being reminded why they were unique.  

Eventually, I gave up and quit listening to her.  Instead I recalled the chuckles of glee my first guide shared with me and I wandered about mouth agape.  I tried to jog my memory for the details of the frescoes and their painter, but they’d gotten lost somewhere along the way.  More than once I stumbled into a fellow tourist because my eyes were glued above my head, rather than at my immediate surroundings.

I’ve saved the best for last, but in the meantime ran out of words for today.  Come back next week and we’ll visit the chapel.