The land of Melk and honey

We took a field trip today to Melk, famous for its Baroque early 18th century Benedictine abbey which towers over the town. The original abbey was founded in 1089 and a Benedictine rulebook two hundred years older than that is one of its many treasures. 

Yes, in true Benedictine style, the current monks produce several types of alcoholic treats, as well as honey. There are 30 of them living here and running the secondary school that serves the neighboring villages. The abbey was a gift of the original royal family of the 11th century, and from then onward, an entire wing was kept ready for imperial visitors, who would often descend for weeks at a time.

It is a snowy day here, and that only enhanced our view of the exterior. We even had a moment on the upper outside level to get a view of the Danube and the village below. Not bad, not bad at all.

The parts of the interior which we saw on a guided tour was off-limits to cameras. Evidently the monks tired of people posing on the altar with their selfie sticks. Good for them. But the library and the church are so lovely that I cribbed shots from the postcards in the gift shop for the record. The amount of gold in the church is quite unbelievable and the whole thing glitters. The aerial overview shows the immensity of the property.

We walked back to the train station through the town (blessedly all downhill) with a stop for lunch. The trains were immaculate, on time, and even feature compartments, which should really come with every train, in our opinion.

The earlier part of the day was spent in our immediate neighborhood, which features lovely shops and very tasty buildings. Yes, they do know how to live well in Vienna.

Don’s Food Corner

Let’s start with breakfast.  The hotel we are staying in is directly next door to one of Vienna’s most celebrated and beautiful cafes, the Café Central.  It opened in 1876 and served as a popular meeting place for decades (Lenin and Trotsky were regulars and Freud and Hitler dropped by), but it closed after World War II.  In 1975 it was remodeled and reopened. Now you can slip in there and taste the classics of a Viennese cafe in a spectacular setting.

Although there are many offerings for breakfast and throughout the day, we’ve already become devotees of what is billed as a “Viennese breakfast,” which is made up of a croissant, a not-too-hard Kaiser roll (of course!), a hot beverage of your choice and a soft-boiled egg, perfectly prepared with a firm white and a deeply golden-colored runny yolk. Before this is served, a waiter dressed in an appropriate black vest and looking like he just stepped out of a Viennese operetta, brings a fresh stiffly starched table cloth to cover the marble top of your table. The sound in the vast cafe is muted and the atmosphere is an altogether calm beginning to a day — and all for about $9 including tip. We could get used to this, but may not be able to continue to resist the gorgeous pastries.

For a late lunch, we walked down the hill from the Abbey in Melk on the way back to the train station and stopped in at a bar that served food. Not expecting much, we stayed with the Austrian classics that seem to be on every menu, no matter how sophisticated or basic the establishment seems to be. That includes goulash soup and some type of sausage dish, along with the ubiquitous wiener schintzel, roast pork, calve’s liver, deep-fried chicken breast and a main-course goulash on spaetzel. Jo went for the goulash soup, which turned out to be satisfyingly hot, richly flavored with a nice peppery aftertaste from the paprika and little bits of spaetzel in an almost gravy-like base. I tried what was billed as “Viennese stock-pot” — a not-to0-thick broth filled with fine egg noodles, bits of carrot and turnip with tiny cubes of very tender beef. Again, a great winter dish.

We moved on to a Austrian version of croque monsieur for Jo and a sausage platter of two long, thin, and mildly-favored sausages served with a large dollop of spicy brown mustard and a small pile of freshly grated horseradish for me. All very modest, but all very satisfying.



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