The imposing buildings, the blue Danube and the vibrant music and theatre scene make Sailendra Bhaskar want to visit the country again
Well into our European travelogue, my colleague Ganesh and I got into Vienna at about 9.30 p.m. and headed to the Youth Hostel in Vienna, more expensive than the one in Salzburg, but just as convenient. Vienna has the most beautiful buildings of Europe, and cover the range from Romanesque and rococo to baroque architecture.
An Austrian friend Andrea Meyerhofer, a psychologist lucky enough to practise in Freud’s hometown, was to be our guide. Andrea suggested we spend less time in Vienna because there was so much more to see outside the historic city. She suggested that we head out to the scenic Wachau region, a wine-growing area along the banks of the beautiful Danube. The Danube is my favourite river; I first fell in love with it in Budapest some years ago, and had always hoped I would be able to spend some more time on its banks. Johann Strauss’ famous ‘The Blue Danube’, of course, only adds to the romance of the river, a composition that’s almost an alternative national anthem for Austria.
Andrea drove us south to the town of Melk on the Danube, in Lower Austria. Melk is most famous for its 11th Century Melk Abbey or Stift Melk as it is called in Austrian-German. It is one of the most imposing structures I have seen. It is inhabited even today by Benedictine monks and has a co-educational boarding school for 800 students on its beautiful campus. The baroque structure has the most beautiful murals on the inside of its domed roof — the abbots of the time hired the country’s best painters to do the artwork for the abbey.
We then drove on to St. Polten in the Wachau region, along the banks of the Danube. Andrea pointed out that the Danube these days was mostly brown in colour and it was a rare day when the Danube was actually blue. On that special day, to our delight it was actually blue! There were plenty of cruise boats winding their way up and down the river as we drove alongside to the little town of Durnstein. This town is famous for a dilapidated fort built atop a hill overlooking the river — it was used by the rulers of yore as a vantage point to look out for inimical movement along the Danube. It was in this fort that Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned for a long time. Folklore has it that one of his knights Blondel went from fort to fort along the Danube whistling a particular tune that was Richard’s favourite. When he came to Durnstein, he finally got a response from within and he then went about organising a ransom for Richard’s release. There’s a lovely little restaurant in Blondel’s name at the site. The view from the top of the fort is amazing. The climb up is not for the portly but with some persistence I did make it to the top!
From Durnstein, we headed back to Vienna to take in as much of the city as would be possible in a few hours. Music and theatre was everywhere. The buildings are imposing — the Hapsburgs who ruled the region for centuries spent lavishly on the beautiful structures. I remembered that Budapest owes its beauty to its Austro-Hungarian rulers as well. We had just enough time to check out St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna’s centre, a Romano-Gothic masterpiece dating back to the 12th Century. By then it was dark and our final treat was being able to see the city centre by night. I must go back to Austria — there’s so much more to see and experience.