WATCHING THE WACHAU

Having a “relaxing” day on the ship to recuperate after receiving the injection for my raging hip tendinitis was a good thing—and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.  Although, as you can see by the quotation marks above, relaxing is relative; it depends on who the person is doing it.

Me?  I never stay down for very long, especially when I’m traveling.  The River Voyager cruised past photogenic scenery too beautiful to pass by without jumping to my feet to snap a few photos from time-to-time.

While making our way to Vienna, we cruised the Danube which is Europe’s second-longest river at 1,770 miles long.  It passes through ten countries, including: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The 20-mile long Wachau Valley, between the Austrian towns of Melk and Krems is (in my opinion) the most scenic section along the Danube, and we took in the beautiful scenery along the way.

There were many charming towns as well as gorgeous castles, monasteries, and terraced vineyards we passed along the (at-times narrow) Wachau Valley section of the river.

The following are scenes we enjoyed along the way:

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Durnstein, a very upscale village that was visited frequently by Princess Diana, is also known for its wine.

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Spitz, “Land of 1,000 Buckets,” is known as a wine-producing region in Austria.

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Melk Abbey, in the town of Melk, is a Benedictine abbey that was built between 1702 and 1736.

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It was beautiful to see the sun finally shining!  As we cruised through Austria, their nation’s flag was flown with the Vantage Deluxe World Travel flag.

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Next up:  Passau

 

 

LOTS OF LOCKS!

Cruising the rivers of Europe as I have done four times now, I have noticed one thing in common with the passengers on each of those cruises.  When the ship enters that first lock, everybody flocks to the outer decks, balconies, or lounge windows to watch.  Shutter bugs jockey for the best vantage spot on deck and click photo after photo.  Conversation between passengers is a lively affair, and everybody is amazed and enthralled by the process.  Smiles all around!

As the cruise continues (and the ship has entered lock after lock), less and less passengers casually meander out to the decks to have a look.  Several photographers still bring their cameras (just in case), but less of them actually use them.  There is some passing interest, but not quite the enthusiasm exhibited during that first lock experience.

By the final lock (in our case on this cruise, lock number 71! on the Main River), nobody budges.  For passengers who happened to be out on deck already, they may watch, but with little interest.  Card players continue with their games in the lounge, readers don’t bother looking up from their books, and conversation between passengers is about everything except the lock.

Photographers?  Pfffft.  Why bother?  It’s just another lock.

On this cruise, we passed through a LOT of locks!  Locks 1 thru 16 were on the Danube, locks 17 thru 37 on the Main-Danube Canal, and locks 38 thru 71 were passed through on the Main.  By the time we arrived at Kostheim Lock, the 167 passengers on board were lock-ed out!

Just how do those locks work anyway, and why did we have to pass through 71 of those darn things?  I will plagiarize from www.someinterestingfacts.net and quote:  “Locks were invented to let boats travel up and down gradients on water. They work like an ‘aqua lift’; the boat is enclosed in a chamber, which is either filled with or emptied of water. This commonly carries the boat up or down a height change of several metres.

Where there is a steep gradient to climb, there are numerous locks spaced across the gradient. These can either be individual locks separated by a lock-free waterway, or a ‘staircase’ – these are faster as the ‘upper’ gate of one lock is the ‘lower’ gate of another.”

The largest height difference (81.92 feet!) we experienced in locks was on the Main-Danube Canal at the Hipoltstein, Eckersmuehlen, and Leerstetten locks.  It was an amazing feeling to see those huge concrete walls surrounding us!

During our cruise on the Danube, the River Voyager climbed to the top of the Continental Divide, 1,331 feet above sea level—the highest point in the world a boat can climb!  Over the course of our 106 miles, we passed through 16 locks climbing 220 feet up, and 574 feet down.

Here are some scenes during our cruise to Vienna:

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There were many cute little fishing cottages along the river.

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I took a quick break from my yoga session for this shot!  I had the entire deck all to myself this morning- nice!

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We will be entering the lock behind the boat on the right.

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Look how close we were to the lock on the starboard side!

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One of the passengers, Dave Henry, snapped this shot of me measuring the distance from the boat to the wall of the lock.

 

 

 

BEAUTIFUL BRATISLAVA

Although I had been to Bratislava in 2007 during a river cruise of Eastern and Central Europe, this was Bruce’s first visit to this part of Europe, and I couldn’t wait to share it with him.

Slovakia, formerly part of Czechoslovakia, became a separate country when politicians decided to break the country in two without referendum, much to the chagrin of extended families and friends who were geographically instantly split into two nationalities.  It is now a small country; just 19,000 square miles and 5-1/2 million people.

As soon as we arrived in Bratislava and settled into our hotel room at the Sheraton, we took off for a walk to the old town.  Our beautiful, very modern hotel was located along the promenade of the Danube river, so the fifteen-minute walk each way was very pleasant and picturesque.  (Although, “Blue Danube” is a misnomer, as you will notice in my photos.)

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Much of the old town is reserved for pedestrians with just service and emergency vehicles allowed.  The Cobblestone streets are narrow and lined with outdoor cafes and shops giving the old town a quaint and charming feel.  In the late afternoon, the cafes become filled with locals gathering with their friends after work, as well as tourists from the river boats that line the banks of the Danube.

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It was hot outside, so we opted to eat inside at one of the casual dining spots that brewed their own beer.  A delicious dinner for two with side of veggies and a couple of beers cost only $27—reasonable for Europe in our opinion.

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We found the prices in Czech Republic and Slovakia quite affordable.  Travel experts are spot-on when they say that Eastern European countries are the best travel bargains on the continent.

The following day, our group took a wonderful walking tour back to the old town.  Walking tours are an excellent way to learn about the history, culture, and customs of a place, and we always enjoy them wherever we go.  It was nice to get filled in on what we had seen the day before, and for me, it was a refresher from 2007.

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The highlight of the day, though, was hiking up the narrow spiral staircase of the main square’s bell tower to take in the view of the old town below as well as the castle located high up on the hill behind the town.  (We could have walked up the hill to the castle, but the unseasonably hot weather– 15 degrees above normal—made it an easy decision to opt for the tower instead.)

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The 360-degree view was breathtaking, and I had a great time using the panorama function on my little Panasonic Lumix!

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By the late afternoon, we were tuckered out from the heat, so we headed back along the promenade to our hotel to cool off before dinner.  Between our walk to town, the walk back, and then repeating the whole process again in the evening for dinner, we put a lot of cobblestone miles on our feet!

Our Thai dinner at the Green Buddha was worth it though. Our sampling of traditional Hungarian/Slovakian meat-based cuisine was enough for us, and we were ready for some Thai curry.  Who knew we could get a delicious Asian meal in Bratislava?  It was fabulous, and we enjoyed the ambiance while dining outdoors on the narrow, shady cobblestone street.

Strolling along the river promenade on our way back to the hotel was so enjoyable on the warm summer evening.  Crowds were gathered in the cafes and river-front park, and the atmosphere was vibrant yet relaxed.  What a wonderful way to end our stay in Bratislava!

SCENES AROUND BRATISLAVA

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Coming up next:  BRATISLAVA TO BUDAPEST