Saturday 9 June 2018

Onward, Upward and Homeward

Approaching a lock. This one has hinged gates at the
downstream end
The River Danube is navigable for such a great distance because much effort has been expended over the ages on making it so. On our cruise we passed several tugs with lighters of various freight as well as many passengers ships (all of them, like ours, leisure cruising vessels). A major part of making the river navigable is the provision of locks, like a canal, which provides sufficient depth and allows sizeable vessels to climb up the river from the Black Sea. Unlike the familiar narrow canals on England, though, these locks are huge: each one will hold four ships like the Amadeus Brilliant, two side-by-side pairs of 110-metre ships, and the locks are in
The duty captain steers skilfully into the lock. No other ship
was using it at this time.
pairs so that ships can pass in both directions at the same time. So far, our transits through locks had taken place overnight when most of us were asleep, but we were spending a day aboard the ship today, travelling upstream, and would be able to see the working of these magnificent feats of engineering. I had been at the front of the ship late one evening and seen a lock in use, and I had woken in the night and looked out of the window to find a concrete wall slipping by our cabin about 40cm from my nose, but most passengers had not seen them and I had not seen them in broad daylight.

Looking astern, the gates close behind us and the lock is
filled with water.
With the lock full of water the upper gate is lowered into
the river bed and we sail on.
There was an early morning stop at Linz, Austria, for those going on the optional city walk of Linz and on to Aschach where the ship stopped again to pick them up. There was also an excursion by coach from Linz to Salzburg which took all day. The ship went on to Passau and there all the groups reconvened for the Captain's Gala Dinner evening while the ship carried on up the river to Regensburg. We did not take part in either of the excursions and so were on the ship all the way to Passau which we then explored on our own for about an hour. Passau's cathedral, St Stephens', apparently has the largest cathedral organ in the world and it started playing some short pieces just as we walked in - an amazing sound.

The port talk this evening had to be postponed and the Gala Dinner started a little late because the day excursion to Salzburg had been delayed in traffic. We had a chance to applaud the crew to thank them for all they had done to make this cruise such a great holiday.

During the afternoon there had been a short lecture about the building, design and use of the ship (and the river locks) and what each member of the crew did. I was amazed to find that the main propellors as well as the bow thruster can swivel though a complete circle, so either end of the ship can be steered in any direction: she can go astern as easily as ahead, and can even move sideways quite simply, handy when mooring alongside other ships.

The last complete day of the cruise section of the tour took us to Regensburg for the day. We explored the city on our own, seeing the places which had been pointed out to us including the cathedral (Dom St Peter), which was a gothic cathedral and I felt very much at home there after all the baroque churches we had seen so far on this trip. The stone bridge in the city centre is apparently the oldest bridge in Germany still in use, and it was having some serious restoration work done although still open with some temporary pieces here and there. After lunch we did some more exploration and visited the city's shops while an optional excursion went to Weltenburg Monastery. We bought gifts for the grandchildren and drank the local beer at a rooftop cafeteria at one of the department stores, with a fantastic view of the rooftops of the city.

Regensburg is said to be the best example of traditional Bavarian townscape in Germany: with that and the excellent modern facilities it is well worth a visit. It is also as far as the cruise ships are able go up the Danube, and indeed Amadeus Brilliant demonstrated her versatility by leaving astern, the river being too narrow to turn in the town. We travelled a few kilometres back down river before turning and heading back to Passau where our cruise would end the following morning.

Back aboard the ship before leaving Regensbourg we were entertained with a "Bavarian Evening," one of those entertainments where avoiding the front row is wise because a certain amount of embarrassing audience participation is expected ... then dinner while the ship moved off after the entertainers had left, and the ship's own music duo Katy and Dody played and sang for those who wanted to dance away their last night on board while most of us went to bed.

The following morning our packed cases were left outside our cabin and after breakfast we were taken by coach from the mooring at Passau to the railway station to begin the rail-born part of our homeward journey. we were soon aboard the first of three DB ICE trains which would get us to Brussels for the Eurostar to London. There is catering on board the ICEs but not included in the fare, so we had a light lunch, knowing that dinner was to come later. The first leg was to Frankfurt where a simple change of train took us onward to Cologne where we had dinner and spent the night at the Maritim Hotel. There was also some time for an exploration of Cologne before dinner, including a short stroll along the river front where Rhine cruise ships were moored, and after breakfast on the final morning we caught the third ICE for Brussels. We were right in the nose of the streamlined train, behind the driver, this time and could see forward as the train made its way towards Brussels and home.
One novelty on ICE trains currently is the distribution at intervals on the journey of little packets of jelly sweets shaped like ICE end cars. We consumed some ourselves and brought some home for the grandchildren. At Brussels we went through the now-familiar security and passport checks and waited for our train to London which again was one of the new E320 Eurostar trains, very comfortable and stylish, and a light meal was served as we were whisked back to the UK. This was our chance to thank our tour manager who had ensured we all made all our connections, and to exchange contact deals with the other "Pirates of the Danube" before we all went our separate ways at St Pancras, in our case taking the next fast train from Kings Cross that stopped at Peterborough and there connecting for our home in Stamford. Like us, Stamford had had a sunny week, but unlike us had suffered a very heavy shower indeed the previous evening and was still very wet as we walked home. Yesterday Passau, today Stamford, and not an airport in sight!

So we have added river cruising to our holiday experiences, and very enjoyable it was. Of course, not only do we wish to revisit some of the cities of which we had only a short glimpse this time, but we also now hanker after pushing further east along the Danube to the Black Sea ... maybe one day. But there is also a lot of Britain yet to visit, and much more, too. I think the mental "list" is going to have to take physical shape very soon now so that real plans can be made for all of this!

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