“The river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere.”
~Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
The Crystal Mozart had docked overnight in Passau, giving us a morning to explore this “City of Three Rivers” before setting sail on the Danube in the direction where the cruise had started. Passau appeared on the horizon just as it had the day before, shrouded in fog and viewed through a lens of light rain.
Herb and I caught the shuttle into town and decided to dodge the rain from inside the Simon Confiserie, a 1903 café along the riverfront known for its gingerbread and specialty baked goods. Between the aroma of cinnamon wafting through the café and the view from the autumn-decorated window, I would have been content to have claimed our table for the rest of the morning!
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The rain was turning to a fine mist when we headed back outside. Our first stop was the nearby St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a stunning Baroque church built in the late 1600s. St. Stephen’s is best known for housing the world’s largest cathedral organ, with 17,774 pipes and 233 registers.
Like many European cities, Passau’s streets are cobblestoned and wind their way through the old town. It’s the kind of place where you don’t need a map. As long as you know where the rivers run, it’s easy to find your way.
We walked to the Danube waterfront and then followed a path to the edge of the bank where Passau’s three rivers converge – the Inn River, flowing through the Alps in Austria; the Ilz River, known as the “Black Pearl of the Bavarian Forest;” and the Daube, Europe’s second longest river. Along the way, we passed the Old Town Hall, where historic flood marks are recorded on an exterior wall.
Before catching the shuttle back to the Mozart, we took a detour on Höllgasse, also known as Artists’ Alley. The route along the cobblestones is painted in bold primary colors, immediately bringing to mind the land of Oz and its yellow brick road. Artists’ studios and shops are marked with creative signage as the street winds to an end near the pastel pink St. Paul’s Church.
Back on the Danube
When we arrived back at the Mozart, we were greeted with good news and bad news. The past two days’ rain had helped water levels rise enough for us to sail to Bratislava, but not enough to reach Budapest. Passengers would have the choice of traveling to Budapest by bus or returning with the Mozart to Vienna for two additional days. Crystal would provide hotel accommodations for one night in Budapest and bus transportation to the dock in Vienna, as well as tours for the extra day.
There was a sense of urgency on board as we sailed from Passau. Passengers lined up at the front desk and met with guest services staff as they tried to figure out what to do. Because we had already spent three nights in Vienna as well as a day with the cruise there, we knew additional time in that city wouldn’t work for us. Instead, we made plans to stay in Budapest an extra night and travel back to Vienna by train in time to sleep on the boat and make our flight home the following morning. It was an unplanned expense, but the best option for us to reclaim the original itinerary and spend more time in a city we really wanted to visit.
We set to work organizing our plans and packing for both our overnight and the trip home. I knew we wouldn’t have the desire or energy to deal with suitcases late in the day after returning from Budapest, so I emptied the closet and drawers as if we were flying home the next morning. Except for our Budapest overnight bags, the cabin looked just like it did when we first boarded.
As I packed, I watched the river go by outside our open window. From time to time, Herb and I would take in the scenery from the top deck. We watched the Mozart steer into narrow locks, leaving one water level and coming out into another. We sailed under bridges that seemed so precariously low it was hard to imagine fitting underneath if the water levels were higher.
Herb took this video of the Mozart sailing under a bridge near Vienna, capturing the tight space even with low water levels. The wheelhouse and everything on the top deck collapse into the boat so it can clear the bridge, but it is a close fit.
Our time on the Danube became a cruise in snippets, catching pieces of moments instead of relishing long stretches of time. It challenged us to be flexible and willing to change plans with very little notice. It let us know that the river controls our destiny, no matter how much we may want to be in charge. The river is mightier than any of us – even a river that answers to the poetic title, “Beautiful Blue Danube.”