Holiday Hopes And 'Hochwasser'

by Bill Monson

All holiday trips have their disappointments -- but what if the whole point of the trip is spoiled? What, then?

Maybe it was the little plaster gargoyle I bought across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral which jinxed us. Until then, our six-week holiday trip across Europe from London to Budapest had been going just fine.

But our troubles began the very next day when my wife Polly and I could not make our credit cards work on the Metro ticket machine and had to hire a last-minute taxi to race to Gare de l'Est -- the railroad station. (To our amazement, we found no security guards there at all. We simply went straight to our carriage.)

After a fairly comfortable six-hour train ride, we arrived in Munich just in time for the first day of Oktoberfest -- the annual salute to Bavarian beer and culture. We joined our Grand Circle Tour riverboat cruise group at a four-star hotel in the suburban Schwabing district out near the Olympic Stadium. Our room had a balcony to sit on, a heated bathroom floor, even signature toilet paper!

Sunday, September 22 was election day in Germany, so after watching the Oktoberfest parade on TV, we tried to catch some election coverage. However, the election was so close nobody knew who was winning. Shades of Bush and Gore! And talking heads speculating in German were more than we could stand. So we took a walk, picked up a souvenir buckeye, then sat on our balcony, watched the first autumn leaves fall, and drank some Bavarian beer.

That night, it began to rain. It rained off and on all the next day -- on our bus tour of Munich; on our visit to the Glockenspiel where we had to peer up into a downpour to see the human-sized puppets perform in the City Hall steeple; and our visit to the immense carnival ground that housed Oktoberfest became a polka concert in one of the huge biergarten buildings because none of the many exciting rides was operating and the crafts, souvenirs, and food booths were shut down during showers. Well, the beer was good.

It also rained -- and snowed -- on our trip the day after to Tegernsee, an Alpine glacier lake where we were to see the Alps. No Alps -- and a boat ride on the lake was pretty dismal with a ceiling of 200 feet and steady showers. On our way back to Munich, I noted that the Isar River was over its banks; and I began to worry. When our bathroom floor was cold, I was sure that our luck was running out.

But Polly is an optimist, and she kept saying things would get better. Sure enough, as we left Munich on our way to our cruise boat on the Danube, there was an overcast but no rain; and our hopes rose. We stopped at Landshut -- a lovely city of 60,000 where we saw the highest brick steepled cathedral in the world. By then, the temperature was down to 5 degrees celsius and it seemed like we had gone from late summer to winter without any real autumn. By the time we got to the Danube at Regensburg, rain was threatening again.

Our boat was the ''River Aria'' -- 410 feet long with 82 cabins and a crew of 38 -- biggest of the GCT fleet. Our cabin was a delight, spatially efficient, close to the dining room, with a small balcony where we could sit to watch the world go by -- if it didn't rain.

It did.

By the next morning, ''hochwasser'' (high water) signs were up all along the waterfront. We took a walking tour of Regensburg, once a Roman garrison town and site of a World War II Messerschmitt factory which was the target of an Eighth Air Force raid on August 17, 1943 which saw 18 B-17s shot down. None of the Regensburg ancient structures were hit, and it was still possible to see Roman walls and a stone bridge across the river. However, rain falling on plastic raincoats and umbrellas made our guide's remarks largely inaudible.

It kept raining so we were bused the next day to Passau where the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers meet. The city was just cleaning up from the terrible flood of August, and the locals went about with one eye on the rising rivers and the boats tying up on the waterfront to ride out whatever was coming.

We visited St. Stephen's Cathedral to hear a concert on the largest pipe organ in the world, ate (indoors) at another biergarten, and shopped. In mid-afternoon, the skies cleared, and we returned with renewed hopes in glorious sunlight to the ''Aria.''

Then, after a terrific dinner, the Captain told us some terrible news. The local rain and storms upstream had raised the Danube so high that the ''Aria'' could not get under the railroad bridge at Deggensdorf downstream. Ironically, this bridge was the only Danube bridge not demolished in World War II and rebuilt to post-war standards and thus was now a constant ''hochwasser'' headache for large tour boats and freighters.

The Captain was apologetic, but our Danube cruise would now become a bus tour.

Oh, my aching butt...!


Uploaded to The Zephyr website November 19, 2002

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