This trip has been just an utter joy for my mom and I. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes have all been superb. And the weather has been extraordinarily kind to us. We’ve gotten lots of snow but never enough to spoil our touring and Christmas market browsing.

Our morning on the way to Melk, Austria yesterday was one of scenic cruising where we passed by many small towns, vineyards and impressive structures with striking colors that stood out from the earthen backdrop.

One such structure even reminded this fanboy of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, except this treasure is actually perched on a real cliff, making it far more impressive.

Another perk of sailing with Viking is the periodic featuring of local musicians that come onboard such as this singer and accordion player who entertained us during lunch before we disembarked for our touring for the day. It was definitely a nice touch.

Our guided tour took us from Viking Freya quickly to the massive Melk Abbey in all of five minutes. The religious facility includes a public and private school along with an ornate library and even more elaborate cathedral.

A theatrical exhibit displays artifacts from the abbey’s history like this golden mask.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is actually the hardwood floor that is still exposed in parts to be viewed amid the various pieces.

One room features an undulating floor to symbolize the ups and downs of the abbey’s historical path. A diagram illustrates the abbey’s ways after they were reformed in a return to earlier traditions.

The most impressive rooms come later such as the dining hall with its fresco-covered ceiling that is expertly composed to create the illusion of a higher, curved surface.

Exiting the dining hall to reach the library and cathedral affords visitors this view of the town as it stretches towards the horizon below.

The library features a fresco ceiling that crowns the massive selection of hand-written Latin volumes and “secret” book-camouflaged doors that lead to antechamber study rooms flanking the library’s center.

Farther beyond the library is the cathedral which is smaller than St. Peter’s in Rome but considerably more ornate. Rich and dark colors on the base pillars ground the heavenly white and gold ceiling.

Shooting from any angle creates a photo full of interesting perspective and scale.

After our abbey tour, we made a quick restaurant stop to order a local beer. This was my favorite on this trip thus far with its nice smooth finish.

The great Christmas touches onboard the Viking Freya extend to the onboard “landscaping” with seasonal red poinsettias that outline the atrium and central stairwell.

And as promised, I’m happy to share with you the great gingerbread house display that sits at the end of the observation lounge onboard. The galley crew finished this great tabletop piece on the first day we boarded.

The passage of our longship through the rivers many canal locks has been a fascinating process to watch and adds to the overall experience for gear heads like myself. As this lock’s doors closed behind us, a final view of Melk Abbey bid us farewell.

Sailing in tandem with the Viking Embla has meant we usually enter a single lock with her by our side. The tight clearances are truly amazing…

…especially as both ships elevate relatively quickly before continuing on.

This morning, Passau, Germany greeted us with a beautiful white snowfall that made the town’s buildings appear like models off in the distance from our ship.

The sun deck onboard has more accurately been the snow deck where my mom and I enjoyed an impromptu snowball fight…

…before discovering the crew’s handiwork with this cute little guy.

Apparently, this Mini Cooper was effectively overwhelmed by the snow today.

St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Passau is in exquisite shape as its scaffold started to come down just days ago after two years of exterior renovation work.

Inside, the cathedral’s interior has a pure porcelain-like appearance, the result of which is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.

If nothing else the effect of the white-washed interior was much cleaner than the gaudy cathedral found within the Melk Abbey.

Our tour today also included a great gingerbread-making demonstration with samples of three different varieties of the holiday treat that we washed down with a tasty warm mulled wine.

And no part of my live voyage review would be complete without a Christmas markets inclusion. The snow cleared up today in time for a sunny visit to the market in Passau.

Passau’s market sits at the foot of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, and while it may be smaller than other markets we’ve visited, it actually had the best selection of gifts in our opinion. This one even featured a fun amusement park attraction.

Some of the treats here included these cute teddy bear chocolates.

It was a pleasantly sunny day albeit a particularly nippy one as the snow melted from the booth awnings.

One booth featured a detailed nativity scene that faced the cathedral across the street.

All the while, the grand church rises high above the market’s wooden stalls below.

Whenever leaving a Christmas market, we’re always pleased to return to our ship and its very friendly crew. Service onboard is truly a standout with the only exception being slower than usual service in the dining room. We’ve come to enjoy the available option for quicker service in the Aquavit Terrace at night for an alternative dinner of a sandwich, burger, chili con carne or pasta.

This trip is amazing, and we still have a couple of great days to look forward to and share with you. So please stay tuned!

Continue on to Part 4

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