Published on :   06/14/2015

A Day Exploring Austria in Dürnstein and Melk

One of the very ironic aspects of travel is that the more you do it, the more it feels like you’ve seen none of this world at all.

Being on the Photo Tour, I am constantly reminded of how overwhelmingly vast and rich our world is. While it seems like nowadays, everyone has their minds fixated on seeing big cities like Paris, New York or London, I'm quickly beginning to realize that the world has far more to offer than just these popular ‘bucket list’ destinations. Really, one of my favourite parts of this entire internship is that I’m constantly dropped off in places I’ve never heard of, and without fail, they find some way to capture my heart.

Now, when I looked at the itinerary for my cruise along the Danube, my eyes were dazzled by familiar names like Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava… These were places that I have wanted to see my whole life! However, there was considerably less excitement about the latter half of my itinerary. Dürnstein and Melk? I had never heard of them before, never pinned them to my Pinterest Board and therefore didn’t think there would be much to see. 

I was definitely wrong.

One of my favourite parts of this Photo Tour has become making memories in obscure little places that are both new and unfamiliar. Lucky for me, this happened not just once, but twice today.

Early this morning, we were dropped off in the small town of Dürnstein, where we were given a short hour of free time to roam and explore. Like many towns we’ve visited, it exuded a quaint, small-town charm accentuated by narrow winding streets and rows upon rows of cute souvenir shops. However, for myself and my adventure buddies Franklin and Laura, our eyes were fixated on one thing: a mysterious castle that was perched high above town. Staring up at this set of ruins looming over us, we couldn’t help but wonder if it would be possible to get up there and back within our time limit.  

“… Google Maps says it’ll only take 10 minutes,” said Franklin, offering up his phone screen as proof.

And although that estimate seemed a little too good to be true, it didn’t take us long to succumb to spontaneity. So, with Google Maps as our guide, the three of us turned into a little back street, and began our ascent up to the Burgruine Dürnstein. As we navigated the rocky steps, the pressure of making it back to the bus on time was mounting… I kept a firm eye on the time, but with every step, we got higher, the views got better, and I found myself much less concerned with being late.

And you know what? Don’t ever question Google Maps, because sure enough, in about 15 minutes, we found ourselves standing at the feet of these castle ruins, in awe of the panoramic view around us. It’s hard to describe the feeling I felt, standing 360m above ground, with the town of Durnstein at my feet. Even though it meant hiking in a dress and sparkly flats, the walk up was so worth it. Looking over the rolling hills of Austria, I felt like I was on top of the world! It is absolutely crazy to think that just hours ago, I didn’t even know this place existed.

After lunch on board the MS Vivaldi, the afternoon brought me to yet another gem that I had never heard of – Melk Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey dating back to the 11th century, perched high above town. As we took the short bus ride from our boat to the abbey, I caught my first glimpse of it and I couldn’t help but think “woah.”

How had I never heard of this place before?!

I cannot say enough great things about Melk Abbey. The entire structure was the size of a small town in itself, and it its sumptuous baroque architecture was a real treat for the eyes. We passed through a few courtyards before entering the museum portion of the abbey, and I was in total awe of what I was seeing. Maybe it was the warm sunshine on my skin, the sweeping views we had over Melk, or maybe it was the dazzling bright yellow exterior of the abbey, but I was definitely in my happy place. Our guide brought us through the museum, library and church, while offering fascinating commentary on the evolution of the abbey throughout the past few centuries.

“These days”, she said, “monks are very modern. A lot of people assume that monks are just like they were centuries ago, but in fact they now use cell phones and the Internet! Times have changed, but not many people realize that. ” As a nod to this modernity, four frescos in the courtyard of the abbey are painted with colourful graffiti-esque modern art, a neat juxtaposition against the abbey’s otherwise classic, baroque exterior. Today, Melk Abbey still operates as an active monastery and school, with a mixed gender population of over 900 students.

It’s a really fascinating thought, that some of our favourite places in the world might be ones we don’t even know exist yet. Who knows what kind of memories I'll make next?

That said, it’s time to say goodbye to the Danube. I’ll be packing up my bags tomorrow for a long journey from Linz to Basel for my next cruise. Talk to you all soon from the Rhine!

- Christina