in and around Vienna
(5.00) (1 Vote)
February 10, 2004
Pros: A warm welcome
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