This morning we stopped in Weissenkirchen and let people off the boat who wanted to go on the wine tour. The rest of us spent the morning cruising to Grein, a small but pleasant little village of 3,000 people. All these towns are in the Wachau Valley, which is one of the top wine-producing areas in Austria. We don’t see large amounts of Austrian wine in the U.S. because the Austrians say they drink most of it, so there is not much to export. This could be true; the wine is very good here and different from the wines we see in the U.S.
Since Austria is a landlocked country, the Danube River is a very important part of Austrian and European life. Goods travel up and down the river. The 12 locks in this area allow control of the river and keep some areas from drying up due to drought, like the one they are having now. The river cruises are a main source of tourism and provide many jobs to the population. We are only sailing the Danube from Budapest, Hungary to Vilshofen, Germany, but the river is much longer. Along the Danube, we not only saw beautifully preserved castles but also much older (pre-1000) fortresses and castles which now lie in ruins. There are also monasteries and churches which are very large and beautiful.
Austria is a country full of amazing sights, mainly due to the former glory of the Hapsburgs who ruled much of Europe before World War I. They sent their sons and daughters all over Europe to marry and consolidate control. Vienna was their seat of power and only one visit would convince you of their power. After WWI most of the monarchy was either disposed of or reduced to a ceremonial head of state, much like what you would find in England, Spain, and the Netherlands. There are still kings and queens, but the power rests in the parliaments and prime ministers. Prior to that, they ruled it all.
Back to the small town of Grein. We climbed quite a large hill to get to Greingburg, the Grein castle. An interesting tidbit is that one of the former owners is a gentleman we know as Prince Albert. Prince Albert married a princess in England named Victoria who later became Queen Victoria. Remember the Prince Albert tobacco in a can? This is the guy. This was a marriage of love, which was unusual for the time. They had nine children, and after he died, she wore only black for the rest of her life in mourning. The castle is not very opulent, but part of it is still occupied by the Prince Albert and Queen Victoria family dynasty today.
One room in the castle is very interesting because it is made from mosaic and the material are small rocks. 23-million of them! This castle also has a very large meeting and party room. We were treated to a show by traditional Austrian dancers. When they began dancing the polka, they selected people from the crowd to participate. It was very funny, but I’m glad they didn’t pick me!