Sunday, June 26, 2016

Our first Danube Lock

Monday June 22, 2015   (evening)
Right about on time we saw some lights across the river up ahead.  I was reminded of our going through the Panama Canal since we did that entirely at night.   It was a bit breezy out on the top deck, but that was where the action was, so we toughed it out.  Otherwise the only difference from Panama was that there the ships are pulled through by little "pigs" and here everyone is moving under their own power. 

We approach the locks

Ship is lined up to enter

The doors open and a downstrem ship begins to move out 

We begin to pull into the lock chamber

Sliding in

Steering is transferred to a side auxiliary wheelhouse for real precision.

We are in the lock and shortly we will be rising toward the top as water is pumped in.

Occasionally the operation needs an extra push from a passenger.  

At this point we are about half way up.

We are now at the top and can see two boats in the downstream lock positioning themselves before being lowered down to where we came from.

We took our leave of Lock #1 as some of the ship's stewards circulated among the topside stalwarts to offer little cups of Schnapps to cut the chill.   There will be some daylight locks to pass through and we will revisit the process again at that time.   Bedtime now. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cruising the Danube to Esztergom

Monday June 22, 2015

As alluded to in the last post,  our boat left without us and we were to re-board it for lunch at Visegrad a bit upriver. So once back on board I guess we can officially claim to have started our cruise up the Danube. On the map our journey looked like this.  We started in Hungary (Budapest)  and traveled through Austria and Germany to Nuremberg. At that point we disembarked and took a coach to Prague in the Czech Republicfor a final two days.

But now let's get underway up this historic river that threads its way between rolling or rocky hills and past tiny hamlets with ancient churches as well as larger more modern cities. My wife's journal records that she was surprised at how much of the shoreline
was undeveloped with trees right down to the riverbank.


The rocky sections are ideal for siting ancient castles as we will see shortly.

Modern castles can also be seen

Lunch on the afternoon of June 22nd was followed by the requisite nautical safety drill. We were  sternly told that although the river seems placid and we are often within spitting distance of the shore, that the currents are strong and deadly.   

With life jackets safely stowed under our bed, we returned to the lounge for a brief talk on the nature and construction of our longship.  The most noteworthy factoid was that our power comes from close to home. The engines are diesel electric and made by Caterpillar in Peoria, IL  Our next appointment was for a tour of the wheelhouse (that has no wheel by the way). We met the First Mate who handled the steering details as our Captain was not comfortable in English.  Not to worry though,  as he was fluent in a half dozen other European languages and was working this summer to upgrade his English.
Our First Mate
His view from the wheelhouse

And as noted no wheel just a computer and the tiny joystick below. Extraordinary! 

The other note is that the entire house is on hydraulics so it can be lowered to get under some of the lower older bridges along the way.
From inside it looks like this in normal position.

Now it is in lowered position.

Here is normal from the outside 
Here is how it looked when lowered.
The awnings over the deck chairs also fold down as well in tight spots.
One of the first truly grand sights after Budapest was the green dome of  Esztergom's Renaissance  Basilica, which is the largest building in Hungary according the guidebooks.

As you get closer the size of the building becomes more evident and you can also see the ancient Royal Castle.

The telephoto lens gives you some more detail. 

  In the case of the castle generations of Hungarian Kings ruled the country from this rocky outcropping between the 10th to  13th centuries.  
As we pass silently by the city we cross under a modern highway bridge and out into open water again..


We will sail on through the evening and pass through our first set of locks around 10 PM.
I will deal with that in the next entry.



Friday, June 24, 2016

Castle Hill in Budapest

Up early on June 22, 2015 and one final city tour before we actually head upstream on the Danube.  For three days now we have been exploring the amazing city on the Pest side of the river and this morning we will cross the river into Old Buda where the museums, palaces, and churches make up what is called Castle Hill.  Some sections of the precinct date from as early as the 13th century, but most of the current buildings are much later and have been rebuilt as a result of WW II bombing damage.

In diagram it looks like this.

From the river it appears like this.

There are several ways to get there.  You can cross the famous Chain Bridge (below)

and walk up. This is only for the supremely fit or the supremely stupid as the photo below shows.

Alternatively you can cross the Chain Bridge and and take the cute little funicular up to the top.

Or, in this motorized world, you can cross the bridge and pass through a tunnel cut through the mountain and drive up the road on the back side.  That was the route our coach followed. 

 If you choose to drive you may not wish to take this vehicle.  Our guide pointed it out.  It was parked on a side street and is a Trabant.  This was a car manufactured long ago by the East Germans and reputed to top the list of the worst cars ever built.   Even worse than the Yugo.  We were not sure whether this was still operative or was simply parked as a museum exhibit.  

After you get up the back of the Mount you wind your way through streets filled with nicely decorated old buildings now mostly containing cafes and souvenir stores.

I like this one as it makes sure you appreciate its age by artfully leaving the older stonework exposed.

Even the mailboxes are cool.

A few short blocks more and you are in the crowded square that houses the magnificent Matthias Church.  


with its colorful patterned roof decorations

and all the requisite gargoyles

The interior is also crammed with color but not so gaudy as to seem garish. Controlled serenity is how I would describe it. 

Leaving the church you walk just a bit further to encounter the massive equestrian statue of Hungary's patron saint,  St. Stephen. 

And finally you reach the Fisherman's Bastion. As the guidebooks proclaim it is a kind of  Disneyesque medieval fairyland with turrets and towers and romantic stairways. As you wander about you would not be surprised if you ran into Rapunzel letting down her long golden hair over the parapet.    The name actually comes from a fish market that used to be behind the church in medieval times and it was apparently the  fishmonger's guild that was responsible for defending this section of the castle walls.  


No matter the history, today it is the view from the ramparts that draws the visitors. You have gob smacking views up and down the Danube from Margaret Island to the Gellert Hill.   The panorama below starts at the Parliament complex and sweeps downstream until you can just see the Liberation Monument on Gellert Hill.

Although we saw a good deal of Budapest and were glad we took the two day pre-cruise option, there is more than enough in this historic city to justify a much longer visit. Unfortunately our Viking Long Ship is waiting lunch for us a few miles up river, so we will have to depart now.  
Stay tuned for a little bit of cruising.