DAY 8, Friday, Sept 30
When we woke up and looked out our window, we could see that we were approaching a lock. While we ate breakfast, the Captain aligned the ship to navigate a lock adjacent to another ship of the same size. It didn’t look like we could possibly fit in the space, but we made it.
We are smoothly riding the waters on our way through the Wachau Valley or Gorge. The Romans used this gorge as a bastion to keep the northern forces out of their empire, and it worked for a very long time. The valley is 13 miles long.
I always like the stories told by our guide that bring it all to life. It seems King Richard III liked to roam through this area. He frequently was captured and held prisoner in various castles where it was very difficult to find and rescue him. He and his servant worked out a system using a song known to few, but to both of them. The servant would wander around a fortified area singing the song. Eventually, he would hear King Richard singing in response. The servant could usually pay a ransom to free the king. This happened so many times that the steeple for St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna was constructed using these ransoms.
There are 50+ vineyards planted in the Wachau Valley on its steep hillsides. Only monasteries were allowed to have vineyards, so there were also many monasteries built back in the crevices where they were protected from the harsh winter freezing rains and winds.
The wine replaced the water which was not fit to drink. The wine at first was quite sour because grapes need sunshine in order to increase the sugar, and sunshine was limited. Red grapes also need a longer season, so mostly white wine was developed. The soldiers would drink the sour wine anyway, and the King didn’t mind because the wine from Tuscany was sweeter so he drank that.
Salt was also rationed as a preservative and seasoning. The soldiers were paid with salt rations. The word salary is derived from paying someone with salt.
The seeds of Protestant reform developed here because the Swedish people who had migrated south grew tired of having nothing while the churches required so much money for trinkets of gold. The cities could not afford to build a wall around the entire town, so they simply walled off their church. When they had to go there for refuge, they frequently only had lard, potatoes and flour which made taking refuge quite difficult. (I think they probably made lefse! My grandmother used to make “lard lefse”, which is essentially those ingredients.)
In modern times, the Wachau Valley is protected by UNESCO. No bridges are allowed, so small ferries are used to cross the Danube. The topsoil can be up to 12 feet in depth as compared to the usual of 12″.
The area also produces delicious apricots (merillans). Wachau merillan is a controlled origin name like champagne. Apricot Schnapps, the German word for brandy, along with jams and chutneys is sold here.
The Danube is second only to the Volta River in length in Europe. We completed our sailing at the Melk Abbey, a beautiful structure which houses the oldest library in the world, and still has an operating high school of 900 students within its walls. The interior is filled with artwork and artifacts typical of cathedrals. No photos allowed inside, but its design is overbearing with rather tacky application of gold leaf. We did walk up and back from the abbey, through the old town. Very quaint and scenic.
We had time to relax in the lounge before dinner, where the guides led an animated question and answer session on refugees and immigrants in Europe. Our crew aboard the Adagio comes from many countries: Serbia, Croatia, the Ukraine, The Netherlands, Austria, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. It is interesting to hear both sides of the issue, first hand.
After dinner we had a lesson in the German language. Auf weinerstein.
Ciao for now!