Day 21: Melk to Stein/Krems - Grampies Track the Tortes (2019) - CycleBlaze

April 8, 2019

Day 21: Melk to Stein/Krems

Stift Melk & Wachau!

We sort of failed bed check last night, when our host had to bang on our door and wake us up, to tell us that we had left the key in the lock, on the burglar's side. Oh well, as our friends know, we have always been a poor security risk.

This was a special day for us, as we had taken the rare step of planning a half day to visit something. In this case it was the Melk Abbey,(or Stift Melk). 

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As usual, it was fun to pedal through the old town, not feeling tired - as in the evening, and with few people around. One shopkeeper was putting out her display of handbags, and I noticed among them my first "no Kangaroos in Austria" one. I expect to see lots more in Vienna. 

Melk old town, beneath the abbey.
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Dodie was momentarily at a loss about how to reach the abbey. "Go UP, there", I suggested.  (In this town, a safe bet). "But it's a one way street", Dodie wavered. "Do we care about one way streets?". So up we went.

The abbey is supremely well organized, and reveals all kind of investment in receiving visitors. For example, a gleaming elevator to convey people one level, to a higher parking lot. In our case, it was a large covered bicycle parking,  each bicycle stall provided with a large locker. Ok, it costs a euro to use the locker, but the peace of mind is great.

The bikes in their spots, with gear stowed.
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Scott AndersonThat’s great to have lockers.
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1 week ago

Perhaps indicative more of Austrian general cleanliness than Abbey management, there was a worker there, very carefully cleaning out each locker, with spray bottle and cloth. I was most impressed with his work outfit, the subject of several studies in this blog in past days. This one was grey and black, with requisite zippered pocket in the leg, and matching cap.

Elegant work suit.
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The Abbey is clearly the most splendid thing on the Donau.  It was founded in 1089 when someone gave an existing castle to the Benedictine monks, but the current Baroque building was built only by 1736.

The buildings are huge and many. Buildings that are to the right of this shot are currently used for a 900 student school.
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The gold and white colour scheme is carried out everywhere
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The cost of admission was 12.50 each. That is reasonable, considering what must be the large upkeep and restoration expenditures here. At the ticket office one can choose a guidebook on sale, and available in 16 languages. It's an indication of the world significance of this place.

There were only 15 languages in this line up. English must be available, but I could not spot it.
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From our point of view, the things to see were the library, the museum, the church, and the gardens. 

The library houses an extensive collection of handwritten books, and was responsible for hand copying many. The writing is so fine, and the incorporated artwork so careful, that it would clearly be a lucrative job to be the monks' optician! Six large windows are currently "papered over"  with images of books. We asked a docent about that, and she said the windows had been needed for light when the monks were working on books. We engaged the docent, trying to keep her distracted, while I snuck a photo of the library. I may puzzle over bakeries that have a no photo policy, but Melk abbey takes the cake. They have no photo signs up absolutely everywhere, and I was sure to be nailed, unless really careful, by the various docents. I can only imagine that they do not want people horning in on their postcard business, because cameras do not require potentially damaging flash any more. 

To have any fun touring the abbey, I would have to take at least a few photos. So I took the time to put my camera in stealth mode. I found the settings for "startup, operation, self timer, and shutter" sounds, and killed them all.

The challenge!
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The library.
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The museum contained more information and more stuff than we could readily absorb. And without many photos, it's hard to remember what we saw. There were are least many golden statues, and many examples of priests vestments. We do have a couple of photos for that.

In the abbey museum
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Jacquie GaudetIncriminating evidence that you took photos where verboten!
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1 week ago
One example of vestments
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A gorgeous dining hall
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A view down to the town
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The integrated church was no doubt the most fabulous part of the complex. It heavily featured gold figures. We also noticed several of those "catacomb saints" - unnamed skeletons pulled out of Rome in the Middle Ages and decorated with jewels, in reliquaries. I have come to view these as kind of a budget way to fill a reliquary. But there is no cost cutting to be seen anywhere else in this amazing display!

Lots of gold in the church
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Beautiful, elaborate decorations
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Ceiling frescoes
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The church, and the buildings in general contain an enormous amount of beautiful marble. "Try to buy that at Home Depot", was my usual erudite assessment. And how about this staircase!

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Naturally, a thing like this will have a large gift shop, and in fact there were several. Featured (other than infinite postcards and photos taken by ??) were abbey products, like liqueurs based on their garden herbs, or on the local famous apricots.  

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We did get an apricot chocolate bar. It will be a shame when we actually rip it apart and eat it, but we have this photo:

Accidentally picked up the one without liqueur
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A display on the way out covered restoration activities for the abbey. Things can not be around for hundreds of years without a lot of maintenance and restoration. Here is a small sample of what they showed:

Major exterior works
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Things can really rot
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Restoration can require artistry
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We had planned to eat in the abbey restaurant, but our self guided visit had not taken as long as we figured.  Still, we stopped into the cafe for a hot chocolate and, yes, torte. Our choice of torte was the obvious Benediktiner. I am including the menu entry - for the description - and our actual one, for the record. Note that apricot ingredient. That is so typical for this region, as we will explain shortly.

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We returned to our bikes, sleeping so safely and peacefully in the bike lock up, pulled out our gear and got ready for the next exciting thing for the day. But completely mysteriously we found that Dodie's chain was off the front sprocket, so for a bit we were going nowhere.

A thrown chain can be a common occurrence, and is normally no problem to pop back on.  That is, with a derailleur bike. Our bikes have Nexus internal gears, and a chain that has no provision for slack, to allow you to fool with on and off the sprocket. Not only that, there is a plastic chain guard that is held on by a pesky arrangement of clips and hard to reach nuts, and it prevents you from getting to the chain at all. It was up to an hour and very black fingers all around before the situation was put right.  Actually I would still say the chain is too loose. The mechanism for holding the back wheel and controlling chain tension differs from Dodie's bike, to mine, to Dodie's  other one, the Reise Mueller.  This is actually not a totally simple thing with e-bikes, where a lot of twisting force can be applied to the rear wheel, which needs to be held securely. A visit to a bike shop for a look at chains could be a good idea about now.

Our visit to Melk!
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The next big thing on the list for today was the "Wachau". This is a stretch of the Donau where particularly on the left bank there is extensive terracing and huge production of grapes and soft fruits. The whole thing is much like the similarly famous area of the Mosel, or the east facing slopes of the Vosges mountains, in Alsace. 

We expected to find the Wachau from Melk to Krems, but it does not start in earnest until Spitz. There was still a lot to look at between Melk and Spitz. We began with Schönbühel Monastery, which dates to 1666. Like everything else, it has a beautiful church and long history, but Melk was enough for us for one day, so we just looked as we passed.

Schönbühel Monastery
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We did take some time out from gawking at stuff for just plain riding the trail. But exciting stuff kept coming up. This little hill was actually the second one, the first being 18%.

A little challenge to add interest to the ride
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At Aggsbach-Dorf we came to a detour sign, and as usual wondered if it were serious. We carried on straight ahead, but came to a spot where dozens of workers were swarming over a project. One detached himself and came running toward us, waving his arms. What ensued was what Dodie characterized as a consultation. I thought the guy was shouting at us. Anyway, he was clear that we could not proceed this way, so we retreated. It turned out that he was right, because the construction was much more extensive than what we could immediately see.

Just a friendly consultation, says Dodie
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Ok the guy had a point
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Around Aggstein we came to the first evidence in earnest that we were entering the Wachau. Our clue was lots of apricot trees. Apricots seem to be the signature fruit of the region, other than the scads of grapes and wineries.

One clue about the Wachau
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Another clue about the Wachau, but the sign says you can not expect to see actual apricots until July.
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Looking at our map, we decided that the real Wachau action started at Spitz, and was concentrated on the other side. So we hopped a ferry at Spitz.

The ferry was interesting in that it seemed entirely powered by the force of the  river. It was attached by a cable to a line that crossed the river, and as the current acted to sweep the ferry downstream, the cable (plus the ferry's rudder) transformed the motion into a crossing of the channel.

The river powered ferry.
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Since we had passed on dining at the Abbey, we were glad to see a cafe on the Spitz side, just by the ferry. The cafe was called the Strandcafe, and featured wine and other Wachau specialty sales on the bottom floor, and a restaurant and balcony above.

The Strand Cafe
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You might be interested in and be able to make out the menu:

Can you read this? What would you choose?
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We went for schnitzl-y things, like these "chicken fingers" - except they were real chicken and well prepared!

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I also asked for my favourite "Alm Dudler", even though I know it's going to cost a weighty 4 euros, for a soft drink. What I got was not actual Alm Dudler, but it tasted exactly the same. This is not a Coke and Pepsi thing, where the difference is clear - this was an exact copy. Interesting.

Tasted identical to Alm Dudler
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From the balcony we had a great view of the river, and the orchards on the other side .  When one of the several river boats that have watched on the river (one booting it downstream at over 25 kph - we know 'cause we chased it) came by, I snapped a perfect version of the advertising photos we see for these back home:

These are picturesque, but we think we would be bored just riding in one.
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What followed for us was a succession of towns, separated by vines and orchards, with incredibly steep terraces. It felt just like on the Mosel, and unlike on some other sections of the route, there was no space for boredom.

Vines, wine estates, and wine tasting places abounded. These next shots are around Joching.
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One town, Durnstein, is famous as a spot where Richard the Lionhearted was captured and held in the castle for ransom. According to the Durnstein town website:

"The legend of Richard the Lionheart says that upon returning from the Crusades, the English King tore up the Austrian flag and refused to share his spoils of war with Leopold V. Consequently, Leopold V held the English King prisoner in the castle from 1192 – 1193.

The royal prisoner was permitted to receive travelling singers (Troubadours) for his entertainment. This is likely where the saga of the singer Blondel comes from. The story says that the King’s faithful minnesinger travelled from castle to castle until he found him in Dürnstein by singing a refrain, which the prisoner sang back. Richard the Lionheart was released after the payment of a ransom of 150,000 silver marks."

No matter how important these events may have been at the time, it's fun to see them now reduced to the name of a hotel, and to see Richard's name in German:

and, they have a pool!
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We came through the old town of Stein, almost to the beginning of Krems, and pulled up in front of our  guesthouse,  strangely named the Living InStyle. The guesthouse is directly on the street, so by pulled up in front I mean on the sidewalk in front, had there been a sidewalk. Some workers were painting and drywalling in the entrance, adding some confusion to the already confusing lack of any reception desk. It turned out there was a keybox with pushbutton code release, and any information about that or any number to call had been covered up by the workers. We got that straightened out, and in fact the workers called for us, since our phone had not yet figured out that it is in Austria. 

While we waited for a call to come back with the code, and/or a lady to coe to show us where to put the bikes, a car pulled up opposite where our bikes rested by the building. The driver missed riding over Dodie's toes by four inches, and continued to manoeuvre his vehicle to within four inches of our bikes. From this position the passenger door could not open, and the driver motioned that we should go away. Dodie said we were here first, and get your stupid car out of my face and off my toes. The driver came back with a bunch of German, and let's say things were not pleasant. We held our ground, as we were not blocking the man's entrance door, or anything remotely like that. Sullenly, he pulled his car forward, to the position shown in the photo.

Move your car, not us, mister.
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We noticed that the car licence began KS (Krems, Stein), so the man was local and not a tourist.  When the guesthouse lady came we mentioned the rude driver, and she said "Oh yeah, he is not allowed to park here. He used to, but not now that we have just bought this property. It is not right that he is rude to the guests. We have to do something about him."

Unfortunately, the car is just a little down from where our room turned out to be. Otherwise maybe we could have contrived to throw some slops out the window during the night. Canadians can be obnoxious too if provoked!

Today's ride: 39 km (24 miles)
Total: 1,090 km (677 miles)

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