Well, interesting things happen on these long rivers. This journey takes us on the Danube which travels from Budapest in Hungary, through to Vienna, Saltzburg and Melk in Austria, then on the Main Canal from Regensburg in Bavaria and Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzburg in Germany where we join the Rhine and go through Rudesheim and Cologne in Germany and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Main Canal was opened in 1992 to connect the Danube and the Rhine and to give a passage connecting the North Sea and the Black Sea. River cruising started on this route in 1995 – it was never envisaged that passengers would travel this route – it was designed for trade but now 43% is passengers, ie river cruising and 49% is cargo. From Budapest to Amsterdam you travel through 68 locks controlling the levels. Now between Regensburg and Passau there is a stretch of the Danube known as the “wild part”. Two locks are required there to control water levels and permits have been issued, money is available but the Green Party here has prevented these being built. These locks would solve the problems of the high and low water levels encountered almost every year on this journey. It hasn’t happened and we encountered a problem and it seems that it is now worrying the cruise companies as the season progresses because water levels are getting very low in parts – particularly at the Budapest end of the the journey. We ran out of water in the “wild part” so we have had a minor disruption which has been handled extremely well. We had to park the boat at Engelhardtszell for a couple of days – apparently a lot of boats were rushing to get to places to prevent them getting stuck. That meant bus trips a little longer than normal to do our excursions and see what was on the programme.
On Monday morning we went to Nuremberg – a 3.5 hour journey through the countryside passing flourishing crops, pretty villages, large industries producing cars and farming equipment and also HQ for Red Bull and Porsche, colourful wildflowers at the roadsides, long tunnels and large solar energy farms. Whilst we were doing all of this all our luggage was transferred to ze boat waiting for us in Nuremberg – identical boat, identical stateroom etc etc so all vunderful.
Well it is always interesting when you have to get 143 passengers off a boat at a particular time to go on a journey. We have a German Tour Director and he sticks to German timing, ie ON time!! No – it doesn’t work for a small percentage of the passengers. We all get on the coaches and he comes and does his German count – eins, zwei, drei, vier etc – there are three coaches. Then some people hop off one coach because ze friends are on ze other one so they go jump aboard another bus which puts the count in a pickle! The Mongolian lady who is our transfer chaperone goes and counts in Mongolian and then again in German and one person is missing – so we can’t go anywhere because maybe they have jumped onto another bus or maybe they are sound asleep because the alarm didn’t work or maybe they are cleaning up the leftover croissants at the breakfast buffet! Who knows but it takes a blimmin long time to find this lost person – or maybe the count was wrong in the beginning or lost in translation or some zumzing else! OO knowz? This is a daily occurrence – I can tell you for sure that sometimes the teacher in me is desperate to jump up and give zem a lecture!
Prior to the change of boats we visited the beautiful little village of Durnstein and then on to Melk where we visited the Benedictine Abbey high above the Danube and over 900 years old. This was truly magnificent in so many ways with its overwhelming Italian-style Baroque architecture and stunning library with over 16,000 volumes on show.
It was then onto charming Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the gorgeous yellow house where he was born. We were treated to lunch and a musical show in the hills above the city.
The boat was “parked” in the pretty but tiny village of Engelhardtszell. We opted not to go on a 2.5 hour bus journey to Regensburg and 2.5 hours back to the boat but rather to explore the little village. It was a good decision because the journey back took the buses four hours because of a problem on ze autobahn! Also, that evening we were invited to the special restaurant onboard for a degustation of an Italian feast – of course we needed that after the two hour walk. The restaurant manager from India called himself the Godfather and introduced his “brothers” – Panna Cotta from Serbia and Tiramisu from Hungary!! So, as you can guess, an hilarious night was had by all!
Nuremberg seemed at first to be a rather colourless and depressing city but our guide took us behind the scenes to discover some gorgeous buildings. Vern also went on a WWII tour – it was here that Hitler gathered his followers in The Zeppelin Fields during the Third Reich – a darker side of this city’s past. Today we have been in Bamberg – a picturesque, predominantly university town.
We are relieved that the Lime have disappeared over the past few days. However, I can tell you for sure that they have been completely taken over by thousands of cyclists. Every German is on a bike or in a very smart European car. There are old bikes, new bikes, electric bikes, fold up bikes, cranky bikes, rusty bikes and young people and little old ladies like me on them all. Some have baskets back and front for all the purchases – no helmets but they are zipping around at the greatest of speeds and ringing their bells to warn us they are coming! The one in charge of the B’s (also bikes it appears) has become the safety officer and is constantly pulling me back to prevent me being spread eagled across the cobblestones by ze bikes. His head sometimes looks like it has come loose because he is turning left, right, behind and in front to check the passage of ze bikes to keep me safe! I think he gets dizzy taking on this role but, as I tell ‘im – this is what he signed up for! So the Rescue Remedy is back out of the case and I am thinking I may need to administer it to ze safety officer! He is also grizzling a little that his list of responsibilities is getting longer by the day. Can you belieeeeeve it?
Now here we are sailing quietly on the Main Canal from Bamberg where we spent the morning in this beautiful city and on to Wurzburg and through 14 locks. The locks are taking us down many metres and every day is a new experience as we move through different countries. Honestly, the captains on zese boats are quite incredible the way they can manoeuvre these long boats into the locks where they only just fit – and oh dear, the minute I say zat ze boat has a little bump on ze side! Per’aps ze captain took ‘is eye off ze ball!! I will go and check in case he needs help! The other evening when were were eating the four courses and sipping the wine at dinner a boat arrived in front of us and nek minit he reversed to get into the berth and nudged owa boat! Luckily we had a good hold of ze wine and ze stein! Now our journey proceeds as normal after the little blip which lasted a few days and we are assured the Rhine has enough water for us.
Glucklicher Tag from the happy travellers – every day is a blessing