Today was mostly a day for travel. We left early in the buses for the drive from Vienna to Salzburg; rain continued intermittently through about noon, sometimes getting heavy, but broke off in the afternoon, and toward evening we saw sunlight for the first time in a couple of days. On the drive we saw a lot of beautiful scenery: neat farmlands and villages or dense woods, and everywhere green. The hills and, later in the trip, the sometimes sheer cliffs would disappear into the bottom of the low cloud deck. I regret not being able to show you photos; raindrops on the bus windows wreck their optical quality for photographing through them! The photo below gives you an idea of how green everything was, anyway.
This is the village of Melk, as seen from the balcony in front of the church at Melk Abbey, where we stopped to sing. This was actually a fairly large town, compared to others we saw--some were just a church and a few buildings, in the middle of vast fields of grain or corn. Melk was actually the first capitol of what became Austria, having been made the seat of the Babenbergs (or Bambergs) in the late 10th century. A hundred years later it became a good idea to move the government to Vienna, so the then king gave the palace in Melk to the Benedictine monks, and it was consecrated as an abbey in 1089. Over time it was expanded, and a church was built partly in the Romanesque, partly in the Gothic style; there's also a library of a hundred thousand books or so! St. Coloman, who was patron saint of Austria until the 17th century, is interred in the church; he was an Irish prince who came to Austria as a pilgrim, but because he couldn't speak the language he was accused of being a spy and hanged on an elderberry tree. Now I know why I feel so darn uncomfortable being in a country where I don't speak the local language!
After about a one-hour tour of the secular portion of the abbey (administration, library, and historical exhibits) we sang for half an hour in the church. When we first walked in, we were almost the only ones there, and I thought we'd have nobody to hear us; but as we formed up, later tour groups walked in (the abbey has half a million visitors a year, so there are always multiple tour groups at various stages of their walkthroughs!), and it seems that most of them stayed to listen as we sang half a dozen of our a capella songs.
Then, as the rain started again, we reboarded the buses to drive to Krems, where we boarded a boat for a lunch cruise up the Danube for an hour and a half or so. (Rev. Kenn Johnson noted that we went to Melk, then to Krems--think about it. Meow?) There were several picturesque villages and churches along the way, and a number of ruined fortresses, including Dürnstein, where Richard the Lion-Hearted of Britain was imprisoned. The photo below (shot through the boat's window) shows a farm, with the typical extensive terracing that is necessary when cultivating such steep terrain.
The river was high up its banks, and flowing like blue blazes, but the ride was smooth enough to enjoy lunch (though a little short, since the service was kinda slow--oh well). Then we got back on the buses yet again to drive another few hours into Salzburg, where instead of the scheduled two-hour walking tour we went on about a one-hour bus tour of the town (to spare feet weary from two weeks of touring!). The guide pointed out various prominent historic sites in town, including some that I (and others) plan to visit tomorrow; she also pointed out various venues that were used as locations in the movie of The Sound of Music.
In particular, does the building in the background of this photo look familiar (ignoring the fact that I overexposed it to show the faces of the people in the shadowed foreground)? It is the Leopoldskron Castle, the summer residence of the Prince Archbishops who ruled Salzburg for most of its history (though the palace was built rather late in the thousand-year history of the city), but you probably recognize it as the von Trapp home in the movie. The MBCC'ers in the foreground are those of our group who were in the casts of our two productions, one in the 1970's and the other in about 1993, of the stage version of The Sound of Music. (In the distance you can see the Hohensalzburg Fortress as well.)
Several people noted that Salzburg is a very human-scaled city, suited to walking tours; there are only about a hundred thousand people living there, and you can get from our hotel to the city center on foot in about twenty minutes, our guide estimated. We are all looking forward to spending the afternoon and evening in town tomorrow, after we sing at early Mass in a church outside of town.
new 10 July 1999, updated 13 July 1999