The Abbey and the old town

Following on from our cruise through the Wachau Valley, we arrived in Melk just after lunch. Originally we’d planned to do a coach trip to visit Burgruine Aggstein, a nearby ruined castle, however as Vanessa was still suffering from the head cold that’s been sweeping through the boat, we decided instead to revisit Melk Abbey, so that we could spend some time in the old town, and hopefully pick up some more cough syrup at a pharmacy along the way.

The coach trip to the top of the hill took about 10 minutes, after which time we disembarked into the garden area of the Abbey, giving us sweeping views across the old town below.

Vanessa and I had been to the Abbey previously in 2014, but we were happy enough to go back through as it is such a magnificent building and certainly one of the highlights of the trip. We waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs as our guide organised tickets before handing us over to a couple of local guides.

The last time we visited here it was in November, so the tourist season had officially closed and many of the gardens and fountains had also been boarded up for the winter. Thankfully this time around everything was still open, and inside the main courtyard we finally got to see the fountain in all its glory.

Unfortunately, that’s where the photography ended for the most part. As we climbed the stairs to enter the Abbey proper, the attendants present pointed to the numerous ‘no cameras’ signs throughout the entrance hall. Eight years previous we had been allowed to take photos inside everywhere except the library, which made sense. In the present day it seems that has extended to the entire complex.

The sad thing is that most tourists don’t have any respect for these signs – mobile phone cameras (with flash) could be seen going off everywhere. The irony is that it’s the flash that does the damage to the ancient artworks, yet those of us with proper camera gear, who should be able to take quality pictures without needing to use a flash, are targeted by these officials, who turn a blind eye towards the phones and tablets. The cynic in me would say it’s a rule less to do with the preservation of artifacts and more to do with the preservation of postcard sales in the gift shop at the end of the tour.

There was a brief respite from the ‘no cameras’ rule as we exited the main halls onto an external bridge that linked us to the library – here we were able to take in the sweeping views across the town of Melk and the Danube Valley far below.

The library is a stunning place, with thousands of ancient manuscripts spread across several ornately decorated rooms. Theological students from all over the world can come here to study one of the most important collections of religious works outside of Rome. There’s even an ‘adults only’ section where some of the more controversial works were housed.

From the library you wind your way down stairs and into the church. Just when you thought that the decorated walls and ceilings in the rest of the Abbey were stunning enough, you enter a bedazzling display of ornate frescoes, pink marble and gold as far as the eye can see. Again, alas, there is a no camera policy, so if you want to see what I’m talking about, you’ll need to visit Melk Abbey for yourself. Sorry, I didn’t even buy any postcards.

Our cruise director Siim, who was enjoying some quiet time on his own in the main courtyard, had a brief moment of panic when we emerged after only a short time sans tour guide, but we explained the situation of how we needed to head into the town to find a pharmacy and he seemed to be OK with that.

We located a very helpful Apotheke (pharmacy) in the main town square and stocked up on advice and supplies. With the late afternoon sun beaming down on us, we had the rest of the time to ourselves to explore the shops of the old town. We ran into several of the crew, including our butler Haris, who were also enjoying a well-earned break in the sunshine, but resisted the urge to stop for a beer – after all, thanks to Scenic’s all-inclusive policy, there was plenty of free beer waiting back at the ship.

From pretty much anywhere in town, the Abbey dominates the skyline, and as we headed back to the ship we took a look back to see it lit up by the afternoon sun in all its glory against the deep blue background of the October skies. It’s a stunning sight to behold even today, but in god-fearing empirical times it must have truly been awe-inspiring.

The walk back to the boat was an easy one, traveling through a forest and over a small stream, before eventually arriving back at the Danube. All about, the residents of Melk were out strolling with their kids and dogs, or paddling canoes up and down the stream, enjoying what had turned out to be an amazing Indian summer of an afternoon, especially given the bleak, drizzly morning. We scanned our cards to get back onboard, and headed quickly to the lounge for some of that beer.