29 March 2011

The Danube

Swimming in the Danube - I'm the one
on the right.
I spent the last weekend in the Wachau wine valley town of Krems an der Donau, which as the name suggests, is an der Donau - on the Danube.  During my stay and at the suggestion of my impulsive and lightly-unhinged friend Luke, I even went swimming in the river, which was about as warm as the frosty Wiener Eiskaffee I had the day before.  In honor of this foolish undertaking, I recount here a brief history of the Danube River:

The Danube is Europe's second-longest river, behind its pompous and overbearing competitor - the Volga in Russia.  It flows through ten countries along its course from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania.  It has been an important trading route for centuries and often provided the northern border for the Roman Empire, before they gave in to the excessive drinking and overt laziness that has since characterized that part of the world.       

Earlier in the day I enjoyed a poppy-seed
ice cream cone, another activity for
which the weather was not appropriate.
Culturally, the Danube has featured strongly in Austrian, and more generally, Central European works for centuries.  It figures prominently in the Bulgarian national anthem and lent its name to Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube waltz (German: An der schönen blauen Donau), which is arguably the unofficial national anthem of Austria.  The waltz, incidentally, is played ad nauseum in all major tourist traps, especially the Prater amusement park, where it is played in a maddening loop that park employees must really hate. 

After the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated in 1918, Austria's control of the river was reduced from 2,840 km to just over 300.  Austria, now a landlocked country, shed its navy save the intrepid, if silly, Danube Flotilla, which continued to sail up and down the river protecting nothing until it became too comically irrelevent to maintain, in 2006. 

The Danube has since become a major destination for international tourists as well as Austrian bathers allured by both its beauty and the utter lack of bathing alternatives.  I'm told that, in the summertime, the oddly California-sounding Vienna City Beach Club is extremely popular with Austrians both clothed and nude.  The Donauradweg bike path runs more or less the entire length of the the river and Austrian portion of the route is supposed to offer a fabulous ride, especially when done downhill, from west to east.  I have ambitions to one day bike the 340km portion from Passau to Vienna, although I may not get to it this year, as my bike is about half the size it needs to be for me to use comfortably. 

Overall, the Danube offers a number of enticing activities, although these do not include March skinny-dipping, which remains ill-advised...

1 comment:

  1. For the record, you are technically the one on the LEFT in the picture.

    krems on the bronau!