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Last updated : Nov 2009
Tours in and around Vienna
Rating: (5.00) (1 Vote)

Vienna, Austria
February 10, 2004

Pros: A warm welcome
Cons: None

Family and friends,

What an exciting week this has been. In some ways, life is so much different from home while at times I forget that I am right in the middle of Europe. This past weekend I went on a few tours and visited many different sights. On Saturday, the exchange students headed out into the Austrian countryside to see a historic monestary called Stiff Melk. The monestary was built by the royal family as a summer home and is still used today as both a church and a secondary school for 1100 students. The Abbey as it is known is absolutely enormous. It has more than 500 rooms and 10000 windows. I couldn't even imagine attending classes in a building so large and rich with history. After we finished our tour of the Abbey's library, unbelievable church and the gardens we boarded the bus and headed to our next destination. While on route to a 900 year old Vineyard we stopped and walked through Austria's smallest mountain village called Durstein. At one point in our walk our group heard a band playing in the distance. Everyone became quite excited as we believed we had arrived just in time for a parade or celebration of sorts. Our excitement quickly became a solemn silence when we realized that the entire village was participating in a funeral procession with a flower draped coffin being pushed on a cart. I was in awe because I have never seen such a ceremony performed at Benjamins before. Anyway, we quietly jumped on the bus and headed to the vineyards. The owners of the vineyard, a young couple who have leased the land and buildings from the Austrian church for 60 years led us through there historic cellars and discussed the production process. The church maintained kept a large wine cellar with bottles from before WWI. After the tour we gathered around large tables and began our sampling. Needless to say the wine was tasty and I purchased a couple bottles to bring back home.

The next morning I slept in and headed out to the downtown square for the afternoon. I had intended on touring alone but bumped into four Sweedish student on the train who were heading in the same direction. The five of us walked through St. Stephen's Cathedral and climbed 400 steps up a spiral staircase to the top of the spire. The cathedral itself is unbelievable and was remarkably different from the Golden churn that we saw the previous day at the Abbey. This church is completely stone and stands at least 400-500 feet tall. While I find the church itself rather boring, the architecture of this building was amazing given that it was built without cranes or machinery. After our descent we headed down for a tour of the catacombs - basically a cemetery underneath the building. The first part of this tour took us through the "graves" of the high priests and bishops. Basically we walked through a room with two coffins behind metal bars in front of them. The oldest coffin dated back to the early 16th century. We then walked through the area where the royalty is entombed. Because so many people wanted the remains of the royals, the church only received the intestines which sat in alcohol filled urns sitting on shelves. Quite gross but it didn't smell so it was okay. We then headed towards the more dungeon looking area where the commoners were buried. We saw two rooms, one a mass grave where coffins were once stacked and now disintegrated and another room where bones of the black plague victims were piled. Unfortunately they asked that I not take pictures so I have little to show. The guide did tell us though that we were 50 feet under ground and the catacombs were another 3 floors deep. A truly unique and interesting experience. Feeling a little eerie, a couple of the Swedes and I decided to head into the square to have a coffee at Cafe Demel, once frequented by the royal family. This was a fun and relaxing way to end our day.

Thanks for reading my travel logs. To receive an e-mail automatically every time I update this page, click the auto subscribe button at the bottom and enter your e-mail address. I will be heading to Kitzbuehl on Thursday until Monday to get some sweet tracks in the Austrian pow! I will surely send you more great pics and good stories early next week. I miss you all and hope everything is good back home.

Lots of love