The real problem was the state of the river. Heavy rainfall throughout Western Europe in the two weeks before our planned departure had produced floods of unprecedented severity on the Danube and many other European rivers. The Danube is a big river at the best of times, but this June it is massive. This was our first sight of it, at Vienna:
A couple of days before the tour was supposed to start we learned that there were to be some amendments to the itinerary. Much of the river was closed to traffic because of damage caused to locks, landing-stages etc by floating debris. In some places the water level was as much as 10 metres above normal levels. Lots of damage had been caused to riverside property by the water and the silt it carried, and many roads were closed. We were told therefore that instead of joining our ship at Linz, we were to board it at Vienna and make our first couple of excursions not by boat, but by coach, and start the cruise in earnest at Mohacs (Serbia). We would have to miss out Bratislava altogether and go from Vienna to Budapest by coach. After some time in Budapest we were to join another ship at Mohacs and continue to the Black Sea from there. Not good, but "do-able".
Because of traffic restrictions, the tour company's ships were all moored-up in the big cities, unable to move. The ship which just happened to be in Vienna when the river was closed therefore became our first floating hotel. It was the MS "Monet". We spent two nights on it.
Our cabin was one of those on the Lower Deck, just above the waterline.
Our relationship with the Danube was quite a close one! Looking out from our cabin window we were all too conscious of the vast amount of debris (flotsam and jetsam?) floating down the river. I'm not talking about the odd few twigs, but some serious tree-trunks, like this:
This next photo helps to demonstrate the flood damage. This is not the main river of course, just a side-stream, but you can see the fallen trees and the layer of mud deposited on the banks and the vegetation.
When on board ship our view for most of the time was like this - the wall next to the landing-stage. (This is Budapest):
In Budapest we carefully watched the level of the water slowly go down. And I mean slowly! Since the wall here was constructed of even-shaped blocks of stone it was easy to judge the water level. During our time moored here (four days), the level went down three blocks (about 1.5 metres). You don't know how many times we looked to see how "Suzana" was doing!
The level of the water in the river was still very high, but it had obviously been a lot higher before we arrived. Look at this photo. Can you see the strip of lighter-coloured foliage? This is caused by silt and mud left behind a few days previously when the water was 3 or 4 metres higher!
I'll write about our experiences in and around Vienna and Budapest later on, but for now let me just record that after a couple of days in the Vienna area we made our way by coach (along a depressingly boring motorway which could have been in any country in the world) to Budapest, where we took up residence in another ship - the MS "L'Europe":
Monet is a 2-decker, but L'Europe is a 3-decker. Nonetheless, our cabin was again just above the waterline!
|MS L'Europe is nearest the river-bank|
If you suffer from claustrophobia I suggest you avoid river-cruisers. Shall I just say that they are "compact"? OK. yes, the rooms (cabins) are officially en-suite, but space is definitely at a premium.
Although the ships are billed as being the equivalent of a 4-star hotel, we were surprised at their austerity. No mini-bars; no coffee-making facilities; no laundry facilities; no internet access; no currency-exchange facilities; no complimentary cosmetics; no balcony; no openable windows; no bedside tables; no gym; no swimming-pool; no luxuries of any sort, in fact. There was also no choice of what food to eat (except at breakfast) - and since we are serious Foodies you will know how much of a trial that was for us! We were also disappointed by the choice of wines available. OK, at Dinner you had "unlimited" wine, but there were only 8 to choose from - 4 whites, 2 reds and two Roses - and they were mostly rather insipid, which was all the more surprising since the ships are run by a French firm.
Regrettably, our tour was cut short (very short) and we only made it as far as Budapest, but even so we did visit a few beautiful places, and I will write about them soon, but for the time being, let me leave you with this - a taster of the lovely things I saw in the market in Budapest...