Memories of Kindness on the Danube

September 27, 2016

My sister and I were in Austria’s famous wine-producing Wachau Valley while on a morning excursion in Durnstein from our Danube River cruise. After climbing the hill and reaching the town, I noticed that she was standing sort of sideways as we listened to our guide. She looked like she has sciatica–an ailment I knew well, and I walked over to her while the guide talked about the town’s specialty, some kind of alcoholic apricot jam. Indeed, her back was out and she was in considerable pain.

Our next stop in Durnstein was a short organ concert in the town’s small but ornate church. (If you’ve seen the commercial for river cruises which shows a small hamlet with a blue clock tower emerging from a small sea of red ceramic roofs, this is exactly where we were.) She navigated the pew, but later told me this is where she experienced the most excruciating pain that day.

The walk back to the ship was tough for her. As we walked on a path alongside the river, she depended more and more on my arm for support. She did not want me to ask for help. I was starting to worry that our ship would sail to its next port without us.

Many from our group walked by, paying no attention to what had to be an obvious dilemma. Finally, some warmhearted people with whom we had shared dinner a couple of nights before offered to fast-walk back to the ship to get a wheelchair. One man from that group took my sister’s other arm and helped me bring her to a bench where we paid little attention to the stunning scenery around us on the banks of the Danube River.

Once back in our cabin, she rested awhile and encouraged me to go on the afternoon excursion to Melk where I would find a beautiful abbey. She opted to spend the time on the ship’s sundeck. I helped her up the two flights of narrow stairs, and made sure she had a book, blanket, water, and a snack. She assured me that she would be okay and I reluctantly left her there, hoping for the best.

My lesson from this experience is to always reach out and make connections with the people in your world, even if they are in your orbit temporarily. You never know when you, or they, will need a helping hand.

I felt a little guilty going to Melk, but I had read about the abbey there. It had been restored by monks who still run a co-ed school for high school age kids. The abbey sits on a bluff, and I saw it emerging bit by bit as I climbed the hill. Finally at the top, I discovered the spectacular collection of stucco buildings. All of the buildings were painted either ivory or that goldish-brown color you see so often in Eastern Europe.

We toured the exhibit, which was curated by the monks who explained the history and mission of the abbey. Photography is prohibited in the staggeringly beautiful library, but we were permitted to walk through and gawk at the impressive collection of ancient books. Soon after we came upon the incredibly ornate chapel, and I had to stand there for a while to take it all in. The ceilings in all of the rooms were decorated with paintings depicting heaven and framed by Baroque plasterwork.

My many photographs of Melk Abbey remind me of these impressions, but what I remember even more are the expressions of concern from fellow cruise passengers. They had seen my sister being wheeled back to the ship, and wanted to know what happened and if there was anything they could do. Their concern was sincere, I was sure of it. I felt some guilt standing there in this incredible place, while assuring them that she would be fine. “She told me that when this has happened before, it only lasted for a couple of hours,” I said, adding, “I left her lounging on the sundeck.” My conscience inspired me to buy her a picture book of the abbey and a special Melk Abbey chocolate bar.

The ship came into view as I walked down the hill, and I couldn’t see anyone on the sundeck. That could be a good thing, I thought, if her back realigned itself and she walked back downstairs to the cabin, or to the ship’s library, or to a lounge for a snack. It could be a bad thing if her condition got worse. I ran down the stairs to our cabin hoping to find her there…and I did. She was relaxed and reading as if nothing had ever happened.

For the rest of the trip, she joined the group with mobility issues, which had asked for less demanding walking tours. (How nice that the ship’s staff had obliged!) She saw Salzburg, but did not attempt the steep funicular ride to the Hohensalzburg fortress. I did, and remember fondly the turkey schnitzel I enjoyed at the café up there.

By Prague, she had regained her confidence and we enjoyed the Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, French café, and an excursion to quirky Kutna Hora together. My memories of these noteworthy historic places are supplemented by memories of acts of kindness.

My lesson from this experience is to always reach out and make connections with the people in your world, even if they are in your orbit temporarily. You never know when you, or they, will need a helping hand.

Memories of Kindness on the Danube photo credit: joiseyshowaa

About Margaret Montet

Margaret MontetMargaret Montet’s narratives of place are combined with memoir, research, and culture. Much of her work focuses on classical music and opera as music is her first love. She’s a college librarian working on her MFA in Creative Writing (Creative Nonfiction) from Cedar Crest College. She teaches unusually sophisticated Music History courses to older adults, Effective Speaking to college students, and is in-demand as a speaker on Music in the Central Jersey/Southeastern Pennsylvania region. Her work has been published in Library Journal, Connecting…Solo Travel Network, Mature Years, America in WWII, Edible Jersey, The World & I, and other fine periodicals.

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