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Report from Austria: Cruising the Danube

Our always generous Viennese friend rented a boat to cruise the Danube for a day. A former colleague of his, an ex-bank president now in retirement who is licensed “to go around the world if I wanted,” piloted it. There were six adults and five children, and each of the children except the 2-year-old got a chance at the wheel. They were enchanted.

Little boys play captain
Little boys play captain

I anticipated a relaxing, interesting trip, but was not prepared for the surprises.  Here are some of those.
As we left the marina, we passed a power plant and twin windmills, one on each side of the river. The windmills supplement the standard power plant. There is a steady breeze flowing along the river which makes the investment worthwhile.
There are dozens of beaches along the Danube for miles upstream, on both sides of the river. Calling them “beaches” may overstate it. Individuals or small groups find a small stretch of sand or rocks and go swimming. It was one of the hottest days in recent history in Vienna and I was at first surprised at the small number of bathers, but as we progressed upstream, every little space along the shore had its share of bathers, one, two, six, or twelve at a time. On the right is a long island which looked like a park because there were few houses or other development on it; on the left, the area between the well-traveled river road and the river itself was uniformly accessible along the way.  So the Danube is clean enough to swim in, and access is free to everyone, providing hundreds of tiny beaches for miles and miles. Between the beaches were copses of shade trees, providing privacy to each group of bathers.
On the right side going upstream, there is a bicycle path running for hundreds of kilometers. There are restaurants and cafes from time to time, and enough bike traffic to support them.
Above Vienna, above Klosterneuburg, where our Viennese friends live, there is a cable ferry. It has no engine, but is powered by the currents of the river. If I understand our pilot correctly, the ferry is aimed at an angle against the currents, the way a sailboat is angled into the wind, and the resistance of the cable against the currents is strong enough to reliably carry up to 6 cars and some passengers across the river. Our pilot claimed that every year the ferry company goes bankrupt at the end of the summer, though the price for going across the river is “not cheap,” but they always reopen. This is now people living on one side of the river get to work on the other side without having to drive all the way to a Viennese bridge. Like New York, they might encourage growth on the opposite side of the river by building a bridge. Robert Moses noted that the more bridges he built, the more traffic there was.
Nearer to Vienna is a set of party boats, long and two stories high, linked together by a gangway, that serves as a Viennese high school. What a novel way to expand school capacity.
Upriver a boat lay capsized on the shore, a victim of the recent severe Danube flooding.
Come to your own conclusions about these phenomena. I was impressed.