Thursday, December 4, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen

My last night on the ship was broken by a bump in the stilly watches: had to be a lock. And it was, right there outside the veranda window, so close I could touch the concrete, which I did. And then I went back to sleep again until my usual 4am, which has pretty much been the pattern for all of us on this trip. Still think being a travel writer is all fun and freebies? Jetlag is no respecter of Business class, you know.

Anyway, on the bright side, it was literally bright when I opened the curtains. Not actually, you know, sunny, but there was an area of cloud that was less grey than the rest, and it was possible to imagine that somewhere behind it there was the sun, shining. It was a novelty, and a popular topic of conversation at breakfast over the Bircher muesli and eggs Benedict. The other passengers were heading in the afternoon into the Wachau Valley, a section of the Danube with wooded hills, the odd castle, vineyards, and they were pleased to think they might be able to stand on the so far hypothetically-labelled sun deck to enjoy it. But not us: we would be in a minivan on our way back to Vienna’s murk.
In the meantime, though, there was a Benedictine monastery on the top of a nearby hill with a grand staircase, painted ceilings and a lovely Baroque church where an organ played for us. And a Christmas market - but you probably guessed that. This one included great wheels of cheese, adding a savoury element to the usual cinnamon and ginger smells.
Back in the little town of Krems there were more shiny things as well as an appealing pedestrian street, onion-domed churches and a remarkable variety of dogs on leashes.

And then we left the others to continue their cruise towards Passau while we started our long journey home. Thanks though to an eminently efficient and practical public transport system, we were able to pop from the airport into the city again for a final dose of culture: the National Library, a high, dim hall lined with leather-bound books and displayed copies of illuminated manuscripts dating back to 1430. Beautiful, and astonishingly detailed work - though it should be noted that cats all over the internet isn’t a new phenomenon:
Finally, we went to the Albertina art gallery to look at the ornately-decorated staterooms and an impressive collection from Monet to Miro. It also includes the actual, original, 1502 The Hare, by Albrecht Durer, which was a personal excitement to see, despite discovering that the image was prostituted in the gift shop as fridge magnet, pen, wine-glass lampshade, pack of tissues… Best souvenir prize though has to go to the yellow diamond road sign novelties stating ‘No Kangaroos in Austria’ - apparently, so many American tourists arrive here asking where the roos are, that it’s become a thing. What a hoot.

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