RoadNoise: Cruisin’ Down The Danube

ROAD NOISE…Cruisin’ Down the
Danube…
 

December 14, 2006… A travel day — one of my favourite kinds! I left London on a BA flight iut of Heathrow, landed in Munich, took a bus from the airport to Freising and caught a train – just a few minutes later – and was in
Regensburg upsetting an innocent taxi driver about two hours later.
 

And now here I am, properly ensconced in the Park Hotel Maximilian,
Regensburg, Germany, quite nice and oh so very very close to the train station I looked an idiot when I asked the taxi driver to bring mehere. How was I to know it was right across the square?
 

Silly American. He gruntingly obliged and then overcharged me. He honked, rolled down his windows and, bemused, told his fellow cabbies “Maximillian hotel!” as we drove the 1,000 yards to the hotel door. I would have done no less myself! Shame on me. 

The flight from London to
Munich was uneventful and, ever-efficient, the German information systems and pre-mailed train ticket worked a dream! It was interesting that, on arriving via bus at the train station, it appeared the train would be delayed, or entirely cancelled! I was dismayed and began grilling my platform companions, who cheerfully confirmed it. Everyone was bereft and wanted to get where they were going. How could this happen?
 

However, this being
Germany, and for reasons unbeknownst to all, the train magically appeared on schedule—with no explanation of the delay provided.
 

The German train travel website was fantastic–I booked the train portion on-line and had the ticket in my hand in a few days, with a hand-written note on the cover invoice telling me the details about how to get the bus from the airport to meet the train. It didn’t promise all delays would be rectified – but they were. How great is that? 

Tomorrow begins the cruise, my first ever! It’s “only” a river cruise but a chance to meet up with friend, Teresa, see some European countries I’ve never seen before, and perhaps relax and meet new people along the way. 

Teresa, ever the travel bargain hunter, found this through Gate1 Travel and it’s been easy and fun to book and look forward to. While she’s cruised before, I haven’t. Hooray for me, I have always wanted to, though I imagined an ocean, or at the very least a Mediterranean, cruise. But this suits. It’s a “Christmas markets” cruise, whatever that means. 

Gate 1 describes it as a “9 Day Danube River Cruise (Regensburg to
Budapest), including
Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava, Esztergom,
Budapest – from $1399 land/cruise only.”
 

I think we paid about half that since we booked it at the very end…so that appeals. And here I am, sitting here with my trusty iPAQ and folding keyboard…determined to journal my travel adventures as I used to, determined to publish more “Road Noise” because I enjoy it and, years later, when I look back, I am constantly amazed at how much time takes away which only the printed word—or photo—can save for me. 

I might even blog it, whatever that entails. I am not sure. I know I want to write it, want to be consistent, want to capture what I see and what I think…and to somehow preserve and share the result. So we shall see. 

So, anyway. The hotel. I picked it because I thought it had an interesting history. Turns out it began its existence relatively recently–for things in
Europe. But for its brevity, it’s still interesting.
 

Napoleon conquered
Regensburg in 1809 and most of the city was destroyed. In fact, he named the only remaining street in the old town after King Maximillian — Maximilianstrasse.
 

In 1891, the Hotel Maximilian was built, though its architect died before it was opened. 

The interesting thing–and why I picked this hotel (off the Internet, looking at Google satellite images) is that the Amercans made this the US Army HQ in 1945 when they took over
Germany as the Second World War ended.
 

Now that I’m here, I know why they did…the hallways are wide enough to drive a Jeep down them, if not a
Sherman tank! They are huge, vaulted and probably 12 feet high.
 

The room is similarly proportioned and nicely appointed, if not elegant then at least very comfortable and clean. I’m only here for the night and join the Viktoria, a four-year-old river cruiser, for said
Danube “Christmas Markets” tour tomorrow.
 

Dinner was interesting. I decided to go restaurant shopping and would take the fifth one I found, if none before that. The hotel sits on a pedestrianised shopping area and so off I went, a pedestrian. 

I eliminated the hotel restaurant because it was Italian and didn’t seen to have a translated menu so nothing Italian, with German influence, made sense to me,. 

Next was McDonald’s across the walkway. Pass. Then “Ganesha”, an Indian restaurant. OK, maybe. But that’s the number one food in
Britain! Then a kebab bar. Another pass.
 

Then “Mercado”. Go on, guess what kind! I couldn’t. It looked nice, inviting, clean and I could see a few available tables.  

The young fellow, Matthias, who greeted me, spoke good English. He handed me a menu and I discovered that it was translated into eight or nine languages, including Greek which was, naturallement, all Greek to me. 

Ha! It’s Argentinian–a first for me! And quite passable. I had a mushroom starter and pork medallions with a mushroom sauce. Yummy! 

15 December–
Regensburg
 

A lovely sleep, quiet. Woke to fog but it cleared before I did. Off I went to find the boat–and, amazingly, I did, on foot, armed with a map provided by the hotel. 

The big deal in the town is the church. Easy enough to find with huge spires so I used it for orientation. Well, the boat turned out to be right where I expected it, about a 15-20 minute walk, in my roundabout way. 

Quiet streets, not a lot of traffic. Spacious, clean. Like German towns seem to be!
England seems cluttered and narrow in comparison–but then it is smaller so it would be.
 

There were coaches at the Viktoria and I thought perhaps the folks from
Prague were already arriving. But it wasn’t them. It was the tour ending today leaving!
 

The crew were pressed, trying to get all the 9am departures on the boat so I ended up talking to a lady from Michigabn. I asked her what her favourite part of the tour was. 

“Oh, the bar staff!” she howled. “They’re great! Especially Matthia!” “No, I meant the tour. “Oh.” She seemed nonplussed. “Well, then, definitely the optional tour to
Salzburg. Ya’ gotta do that! But that bar staff. Really great kids. Be sure you do’t miss that.”
 

So, armed with the knowledge that I could find the boat and probably lug my suitcase across the cobblestones on foot without annoying any more cabbies, I set off to find breakfast. 

Everything seemed Bakerei and not restaurant but I am used to that from my tenure in
France. In the end (and let this be our little secret, please) I ended up having bacon and eggs at Micky D’s!
 

The counter lady, about my age, didn’t speak English. So I chose the breakfast entree that was in English — “Big Bacon & Eggs mit Kaffee”. I ditched the English muffin and jam and went for the protein, figuring I’d rather splurge on a pastry later than a McDonald’s English muffin anyway. 

Me? In a McDonald’s. Yes. They do have their place and, for me, it’s breakfast in
Europe. I’ve never been in one in
England except for an ice cream cone but will keep it in mind.
 

I am happy with my
Morocco computer setup–the iPAQ and the folding keyboard. If I can deal with the battery issues (I brought the battery pack to recharge it, as I used it successfully in
Morocco) then I should be fine. I’d rather not lose the file. I imagine I’ll expend more effort fretting over it than is justified but, oh well, I do want to do it.
 

So I’ve been to the Apotheke to get the things I specifically went to Costco to get…and apparently forgot. Cod liver oil capsules and AA batteries–the latter for the aforementioned battery charger. It turns out my various cameras and appliances need 8AA batteries to keep going. So I should carry spares. 

Alas, the Internet cafe in the hotel lobby, even at a ridiculous price of 50 cents per minute, isn’t working. So now I have 20 50c coins to get rid of! Darn. 

Off to check out and walk to the dock again. We have a city tour this afternoon, on foot, so I should get in my walking today, if nothing else. 

I am on the boat now, and oh-so-easy! Why did I think this would all be so much more complicated? Everyone has been great. Now I am sitting in a little waiting area while they make up the rooms…and everyone is waiting for
Prague group to arrive.
 

There is a ‘Rick from
California’ in every group, isn’t there? It would seem so! Rick, Andrea and her son Nick are making the rounds. He must be in sales!… Bay area – so homogeneous!
 

We are welcomed with coffee, sandwiches and pastry which looks all too good. But, hey, it turns out that’s just the beginning. The kitchen staff is nothing if not creative and we are treated to meals and in-betweens that are divine. This first day, I am hooked on the almond macaroons. I’ll definitely need to find the fitness room. 

Saturday, December 16th, sailing from Passau to
Linz.
 

About 90% of the tour folks have opted for the +$79 tour to Salzburg but we’ve decided to stay on board and enjoy the scenery as it whizzes by at about 17km per hour. 

We sailed all night, having left
Regensburg as we sat down to a five-course, absolutely outstanding dinner last evening.
 

The appetizers, smoked salmon in some sort of crepe with caviar, were followed by “Essenz of Quail soup mit semolina dumplings” which was followed by a lemon sorbet sitting in a pool of blue Curacao in a martini glass, then a choice of veal or Atlantic sole stuffed with various vegetables (which I had) and then the dessert: a lovely chocolate and white chocolate mouse with a ragout of berries. Quite good! 

We ended up in the lounge listening to the obligatory Austrian singers, most of which was Sound of Music stuff, and drinking “Rudesheimer Coffee”, a potent libation with Anspach liquer, Teresa tells us. All too yummy and so easy to add to our bill! 

We had dined with two very nice people from Austin, Cherie (Sha-ree) and Eugene. They are a delight and we enjoyed the conversation–and laughed a lot–immensely. Interestingly, Cherie just finished working on a video about
Senegal (for educational purposes) and so Teresa could set about correcting false impressions.
 

The time in
Regensburg was nice, if too short. I liked the town. Clean, wide, interesting, nice shopping, lots of history but a small and manageable size. Our walking tour guide was most knowledgeable and had a dozen stories to tell–most of which turned out to be ancient uncorroborated fabrications, she blithely admitted. But it was lots of fun in the cold.
 

The centre of
Regensburg is definitely the Domplatz, the cathedral, which is a combination of old church, new church and as-yet-unfinished church.
 

We left the walking tour early and poked around the Christmas market and noticed a wonderful merry-g-round constructed of wooden musical instruments instead of carved horses and elephants. Quite lovely! Somehow, in the fading light, I didn’t manage to take a picture of it. Darn! 

Teresa and I then went to the oldest restaurant in
Germany, the Wurstkuche, and split a pre-dinner place of sausages and sauerkraut. Yummy! Thank goodness there is a fitness centre. That’s all I can say, yet again!
 

Now we’re cruising along a beautiful sunny cold river, some of it populated and some of it quite open and wooded, and in some places it really quite undeveloped. 

The river is smooth as glass and we glide along, the glare coming through the ceiling-to-floor windows and blinding us. There really are very few people on board, which is a delight in its own way, as it’s quiet and tranquil. We doze off and remark it’s a pity there isn’t more time before lunch or we’d go have a nap! 

We went through a huge lock an hour or so ago. It was like the locks on the canals in
Britain–except hugely bigger. The crew was out, casting giant ropes over stanchions, which they successively had to reposition as we raised and then lowered ourselves to go through the lock. You could tell they’d done it before.
 

I mailed five postcards. It costs 1.35Euros each for airmail, no matter where. Well, I won’t send that many from the boat. But I understand why they do it and they should make some profit on their efforts, I suppose. 

Lunch does smell good. Some sort of soup, Teresa thinks. I don’t know what it is but it definitely smells like I will like it. 

Sunday, December 17th 

A very good night’s sleep, though we went through at  least two locks, I think, and the extraordinary bright light and bumping about in the night made one aware that we were not sitting still. Now we are in fog so thick that we can’t see either riverbank. A whiteout, I suppose. It’s eerie and quiet and we glide along. After much of the day being blinded by the light, we are now mired in a white blanket. 

I could take a photograph but how would I explain what it was? 

Lunch was, as predicted, good. The wine cost extra at lunch so we didn’t have any. We sat with three Californians, as it happened, a couple and a woman, Jackie, whose travelling companion was elsewhere. 

Ah! Another group of people who have had it with George W Bush. So encouraging! Have we just run into the few, do we attract them o rhave things in the
US finally begun to change?
 

We discussed medical insurance, being poor and working poor, in the
US. I am always reminded how glad I am not to live there, not be have those concerns.
 

Teresa went off to have a jacuzzi and a nap. I could do with a nap myself, come to think of it. Perhaps. We are sailing woards
Linz. Laziness has taken over.
 


Linz is a definite “must go back”. I don’t think anyone thinks they got enough time in
Linz. The people who went on the all-day Salzburg loop got hardly any time at all–only a little choo-choo train ride in the foggy cold dark, huddled together and barely able to see anything out the breath-fogged windows.
 

And the rest of us got time–but not enough to do more than about half the Christmas market, which was quite wonderful, not even knowing that a whole city of history and beauty lay beyond us. 

I bought some things in
Linz and enjoyed the process. The people were so nice! The artists and craftspeople spoke English. I now look like I’ve been to the Ministry of Silly Hats because, after much looking about, I got one of the obligatory Austrian-style silly hats, even though it was made in
Nepal.
 

As usual, one has to look deeply to find locally-made crafts. But they were there. I regret I didn’t get the earrings I liked but, oh well, as Teresa also learned, “don’t wait” is good advice in these situations. 

The market stalls, though not those selling food and drink, were closed when we went back on the little trains. So sad! Well, I will return. Note to Self: fine walking, endless broad cobbled shopping streets, two large church/cathedrals, some Mozart and other history of interest. 

We joked that every town seems to have some local point of commemorationration: at the age of 12, Mozart stubbed his toe in Vernigestrasse…and so on. 

Dinner last night was fish or chicken and I had the former: lovely pollack on a bed of rice. The dessert was an extremely creative puff pastry, filled with cream, all in the shape of a swan. It wasn’t great — but it was gorgeous and, alas, we ate it anyway. 

We sailed all night and arrived in Melk– still
Austria I remind myself because it is hard to know where one is–about 0800 this morning. It is gray and overcast but predicted to be “sunny, cloudy, fogy” [sic] today with a high of 46-53 degrees F or 8-12 degrees C for those who are centigradinally inclined.
 

We are talking buses — four, colour-coded — to Melk Abbey today. It can’t be seen from here so we don’t know except what we were told at the 6:30pm “port briefing” held in the lounge last night. 

What we DO know is that we will have to climb up a hill and then down 63 steps inside…and then we will have to climb back up the steps OR walk down the hill…the latter being preferred and recommended because it affords more shopping opportunities, of course. 

Then we have lunch and an apple-strudel making demonstration — as if I needed to know anything more about rich German or Austrian food! Eeek. I should go to the fitness centre instead. I am wearing my jeans today as a reminder. 

And that’s that for now. Off to the buses then! 

The benedictine abbey was terrific, just right! INSERT NORE HISTORY HERE. 

We walked through the town but, unfortunately, as it’s Sunday, most things are closed. Inveterate shoppers, we were determined to do SOME shopping and get a cup of cioffee, We managed both! 

STUFF HERE. 

I had a workout, sitting watching the Wachau valley out the large round window from the Kettler bike. 

Now the promised apfel strudel demonstration, apparently a contest between the Austrian manager and the German chef. Breadcrumbs and rum turn out to be the surprise ingredients so far! 

The knuckles are the secret for pulling and stretching the dough….it will tear. Don’t get your tie in it! Cut off the thick edge from around the table after you’ve got it laid out. You end up with a rectangle. Spread out the bread crumbs evenly, fold in the ends, use the tablecloth to fold the dough over the column/mound of apples abd crumbs. 

Egg wash makes it more crisp, while butter makes it more moist. And so on. 

The very experienced woman who got to make the second one stumbled and had a bunch of holes in hers. Of course, the experienced guys fixed it and the difference could not be told. 

In the end, said the chef, if it doesn’t work you can always go to the supermarket and buy one! 

The Indian lady asked me a number of questions…how much rum? How much lemon juice? Of course, all measurements are in metric. 

VIENNA (Wien)
Austria, Monday, December 18th
 

The days blur. Endlessly. This is a fine cruise. Gate1 Travel recommended! It turns out this is something of a novice crew who haven’t worked together a lot, or at least haven’t on this route. It’s hard to tell though. They seem very good about it and take excellent care of people. One lady’s front tooth fell out and they wanted to rush her off to see a dentist. She, inexplicably to me, couldn’t be bothered as it didn’t hurt, she said.  

This morning we went into
Vienna by coach, in our green – yellow- red – blue groups, and had a tour round the city and then a walking tour in the middle of the Inner Ring road, where the big coaches cannot go.
 

It was colder than we all thought — certainly colder than I imagined it would be. I could have used another layer and regretted not taking one — as did many others. 

Our guide was a woman in a funny Austrian felt hat (with feathers, which she herself pointed out) and she seemed a bit slow to nove on but, on the other hand, really warmed to the task and was old enough to lend fascinating insights into life in Vienna during, and after, the Second Word War — which everyone who speaks German pronounces “World War Second”. 

Though only a small child during the war, she has distinct memories of the Russians, English and Americans coming and occupying
Vienna according to the various Districts the City is divided into. She was in the Anerican sector, she said, and was well pleased as it meant soup and other treats. Apparently, the Russians were quite austere and the English occuopied a sector with a large parade ground in front of a Royal palace — presumably, she said, so that they could troop the colour frequently.
 

They didn’t have television, she told us, until September 25, 1955 (?), when there was finally no foreign occupation in
Austria. Of course, in American we had TV long before, and plenty of it!
 

But they had only three broadcast hours, black and white, three evenings a week. Her family didn’t have a television but a well-to-do neighbour let them watch his. Soon, television hours were extended on Saturday night. 

I was going to stay in town but elected to come back with the bus and get more warm clothes! The optional tour people needed to have lunch and then be coached to

Schonbrunn
Palace with local guides. 

So we lunched. It was “escalope”, aka wiener schnitzel, and it was divine. We all had seconds. Fortunately, they charge for beer and wine at lunch (it flows freely at dinner!) so at least there is a modicum of restraint. 

The Schonbrunn people went off to the Palace and I rested a while, washed some things, talked to Derek and then went for a long walk into the local town, not
Vienna, and it was interesting.
 

I found an Internet cafe and sent an email “home” and then walked back, I would have walked longer but it was getting late. It’s full dark here quite early, say by 4:30, but it was a nice brisk walk along the “Danau” (the
Danube) to the Viktoria.
 

There is a tour into the Christmas Market at the Rathaus (city hall) tonight and, if I can be warm enough, I think I’ll go! Of course, there is dinner to get through first. That may incapacitate us all. 

Met and talked with people from austin, TX; Santa Cruz, CA, Savannah, Georgia;
Los Gatos, CA…
 

Tuesday morning, sailing from Vienna to
Bratislawa, Slovakia…
 

I have clearly chosen the wrong time to do this! For an easy morning, it’s nevertheless been a hustle and bustle of activity. I sit here, in the small “Weiner” cafe as the crew changes tables around and drags in the big tables from the “snow deck”, where they have been serving Gluhwein (an alcoholic wine-based libation, hot and rather like sangria or mulled wine) and waffles with cherry sauce and whipped cream. Mika, the girl accordionist, serenaded us on the sun deck and, ultimately, we all had to dance to keep warm. 

One older lady, skinny legs and probably a wig, came on deck and, as Mikha struck up a tango, began to tango across the deck. It was amazing. Mostly, we formed short conga lines and hopped around to the typically Tyrolean music just to keep warm. 

We are told the function of the gluhwein is, in part, to keep the hands warm. I am on my second mug and killing the forty minutes till lunch. 

How can it be time to eat again? Lord, we just finished breakfast. I feel like skipping lunch entirely and going to the fitness centre instead. Others are saying they’ve been feeling unwell; for me, it feels like too much food, or at least too much of the wrong food. I finally gave up the bread and potatoes (making exceptions for exceptional instances such as the waffle with cherry sauce, of course) and have felt better for it. 

The rathaus (City Hall) Christmas market was quite fun. We went into
Vienna on buses and were let loose to meander the 100+ stalls of food, ornaments, leather goods, and so on … All illuminated beautifully and with some large trees hung with hundreds of coloured lanterns, shapes, red hearts and so on. Magnificent! Hundreds of people strolling around drinking gluewhein or its non-alcoholic equivalent, kinder punch, and eating the many snacks on offer. I got some hot roasted chestnuts — + here — but only ate two or three of them as I always see to full anyway,
 

We sailed from
Vienna at seven o’clock this morning, right on schedule. We didn’t go far but spent lots of time sitting at a dock while, presumably, the crew went through immigration formalities in preparation of going to Slovakia, which hasn’t been a republic long and, though a part of the EU now, still “does things the old way”, as Rudy told us at the briefing yesterday. We can expect trouble here, if anywhere, and possibly immigration people will board the ship and ask to do “face checks”. Probably not, they add.
 

We are now sailing along a section of largely undeveloped

Danube
River. There are long stretches of beach, or perhaps just sections where they are working on widening or managing the river. But I have seen flocks of birds here, more than ever oh the trip. And the sun is coming out. 

We’ve done a couple of locks, one while at breakfast, It suddenly goes dark and you realise why. 

Now the sun is coming out, just a little, and it’s pleasant. We are passing a pretty little village and everyone’s jumped off to go out on the viewing decks and take pictures. Me, too. It’s cold out there, though, that is for sure. 

The gaggle of older people beside me is discussing Alzheimer’s and tells a joke. Do you remember the first name of Dr Alzheimer? No? See, that’s how it begins. The womanm’s husband, who is sitting in the corner, has early stages of Alzheimer’s and a q & a ensues, He can answer the question about where he lived fifty years ago but now say the name of the town where he lives now. He is good-natured about it and they all laugh. I feel a little sorry for him as he tells them he knows the day will come when he’ll be worse and his wife allows as how “it’s not so bad because he isn’t violent yet.” 

Lunch again. We are all eating less and skipping courses now. No one at the table stayed for the dessert.  It sounded wonderful but after the cherry waffles and glueheim, it was a bit much. 

They have posted our disembarkation times, groups and little pieces of yarn to attach to our suitcases. It is all very organised. I am beige and worried that my yarn is quite thin, compared to the red or purple. How silly is that? 

They serve breakfast from 0330hrs on Thursday. I have to have my bags out at 4:30 and leave for the airport at 5:30 for an 0820 hrs flight. Not as bad as I thought. There are two others on mny same flight. The earliest departures are from four a.m. THAT would early! 

 

The announcenent comes. We are docked in Bratislawa and have cleared customs and can collect our passports. No hitches. So we are free to go now. City tours in an hour. Our group, green, goes first on the bus tour and then the walking tour,. 

The sun is shining, or mostly so. That is an improvement. We can’t use euros or dollars here. It’s the slovakian Crown, I believe, and we will have to change money or use credit cards. 

BUDA and
PEST.
 

Nancy and Mike…
Nancy lost and found. Where did she go?
 

Cherie, Eugene, Teresa and me. Covered market, monetchanging, gold shop, hot chicolare abd fiur dessertd 

Fog at London,
denver closed, lady whose tooth fell out didn’t like her companions
 

 

Trip home… -86Degrees? -64deg 31 mphtailwind, eta 12.30. 321km to go. 


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