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Our ship is 135 metres long and 11.5 metres wide (some
locks seem to be only 12 metres wide). A really important
factor, however, is the ship’s height as it has to fit under
many bridges that do not leave a lot of clearance. For
some of the time the top deck is blocked off, all shelters
lowered and even the wheelhouse must be lowered into
the ship. For the really close encounters, the bridge is
lowered so far that the captain sticks his head out of a
trapdoor in the roof to steer, lines up the centre of the
bridge and then ducks his head down as we sail through!
We boarded the ship at Budapest in the afternoon and
following a welcome dinner and sleep take a bus tour
of the city.
On the second night we sail to Brataslava in Slovakia
and then on to Vienna in Austria.
The general plan is to sail from town to town (or city to
city) during the night and during the day take walking or
bus tours to the nearby (and sometimes distant) sights.
There are some tours included in the overall price and
other “optional” tours can be taken if you feel up to it.
Pretty soon we are in Germany and ever y place-name
seems to end in “berg” (or “burg”), include a “stein” or
“heim” and a degree in linguistics is needed to pronounce
Needless-to-say, we get to see more cathedrals, abbeys,
castles and palaces, both by personal visits or from the
distance of our cruise ship as we sail by. On the Rhine the
castles almost cap every high point.
I’m not quite sure how one qualified for a castle or a
palace in days gone by, but it seems you did not necessarily
have to be Royal, just needed a heap of money.
In one city the tour guide points out that the “rich”
people built a tower to show off their wealth – the higher
it was the more money you had. There were 40 towers
in that town! It is staggering to think that many of the
cathedrals are several hundred (even a thousand) years
old and some took two to three hundred years to build.
In some you can notice that the architectural style has
changed during the years of construction.
Just when things are going along nicely and we reach
the city of Regensburg, Germany, we learn that the “lock-
keepers” are going on a 48-hour strike beginning at 6am.
Fortunately we had just made it through the last lock
that day and berthed. We did our day of sightseeing, but
could not move on. The tour company gave an option to
take buses for the next two days and continue with the
scheduled sightseeing, stay at a hotel and hopefully join
the ship when the strike was over.
More than three-quarters elected to do this, however,
we decided to “stick with the ship” as one of the main
reasons we selected a river cruise was not having to pack
our bags every morning and move on. We were happy
with our decision and had a quiet couple of days on the
ship where about 30-odd of us remained.
We missed some sightseeing, but did not miss the
beauty of the river and sailing through the country.
With the strike nearly over our captain starts the ship at
4.30am and heads for the first lock to be “first in line” as
Particularly noticeable (apart from the old buildings)
is the beautiful green countryside. Crops of hay, wheat,
maize and then grapes dominate, but there are very few
animals. They are all inside we are told. It seems they crop
so much hay (perhaps up to four times per summer) that
they have to keep the cattle inside so that they can grow
the hay to feed the animals when they are inside! Follow
that? Only as we get to Holland do we see a few cattle
and even some sheep.
We share the canals with barges carrying cargo, and
while they carry a considerable load they barely move
at bicycle speed and I wonder at the economics when
trains carry a lot more, go in straight lines at considerable
speed and trucks, while carrying less, go door to door!
Nevertheless, more and more of them appear as we get
into Germany and head towards Amsterdam in Holland,
where the Rhine is a mass of ships, barges, ocean-going
vessels, yachts and small vessels.
Amsterdam reached, reluctantly our journey must
end. We are more than satisfied that we chose the right
tour and the right company for Avalon Waterways have
served us well.
Now we must move to other things.
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