Sunday, November 1, 2015

Our European Cruise: Low Water Level of the Danube and Refugee Crisis #travel

Nuremberg, Germany

We have just returned from a "Romantic Danube" Viking river cruise, which encompassed Germany, Austria, and Hungary.  The cruise began in Nuremberg, Germany and ended in Budapest, Hungary, with stops in Regensburg and Kelheim, Passau, Melk, and Vienna. Before taking the cruise, we had spent six days travelling on our own to Nuremberg, Munich, and Salzburg. 

Nuremberg Castle, Germany

We've done ocean cruises but this was our first river cruise and did not know what to expect. We had a good time but there were a couple of things that made the cruise unusual.

First, the water level of the Danube was/is very low, which meant our boat could not navigate some parts of the river.  A section near Passau required a transfer to another Viking boat, which meant we had to pack our things and had to be bused to the next destination, causing some inconvenience and loss of free time. In fact, we had a lot of land travel, but what some passengers really complained about was that Viking had not informed us about the low water level sooner. Viking, other cruise lines, and carrier boats have been dealing with low river levels since August, if not earlier.

Nuremberg, Germany

The low water level made me more concerned about the global changes that are now very apparent: the shrinking glaciers, the super typhoons in the Pacific, the drought in California, and the heat wave that has also plagued Europe so that the Danube and Rhine have record low water level.  Global warming is a reality.

Nuremberg, Germany

The second unusual aspect to our trip was that the Refugee Crisis (referring to the numerous Syrian and other asylum seekers) was going on in the very places we visited. We did not always see the refugees, but they were there, and the locals and we had them in our thoughts.

Nuremberg, Germany

We did not see long lines of refugees clamoring to enter Germany as seen in media coverage. Munich was where we saw the most number of refugees. Our hotel was near the train station and the Old Town, and I saw many people from the Middle East, among them a woman and her companions eating from a pot along the sidewalk, several young people on bicycles, and a dusty group of young people in the train station trying to figure out things. There were many other Middle Eastern people who may or may not have been asylum seekers.

Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

There was an underlying tension in Salzburg, where numerous uniformed people roamed the train station and a huge Red Cross tent sat outside the station.

Munich, Germany

 Zum Augustiner Restaurant in Munich

Schweinhaxen at Zum Augustiner in Munich- Yum!!!

Returning to Germany from Austria was a bit challenging since trains to Germany had been cancelled. We heard that some travelers had to get to the German border town of Freilassing to catch a train to other parts of Germany. Fortunately, we caught the first train operating from Salzburg to Munich since the crisis began.

Once we hooked up with Viking in Nuremberg, it seemed as if the refugees vanished. Tour guides were not allowed to discuss the crisis, and I suspect that the bus drivers as well as guides made an effort to keep us from seeing the refugees -- a kind of white-washing.

Salzburg, Austria

Puppeteer in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

The topic of the refugees is very sensitive in Europe especially. I saw how emotional our Hungarian guide became when someone asked what he thought of the matter. Even though he explained that Viking did not allow them to talk about this matter, he said enough to indicate that because of their history, Hungarians fear an influx of people unlike them culturally. 

Passau, Germany

Passau, Germany

 Passau, Germany

Two Viking Boats, Passau

Wachau Valley, Austria

Durnstein, Austria

Our guide in Vienna, also of Hungarian background, was equally passionate about the topic. She was uncomfortable that rhetoric that hearken Nazism are being said. 

Melk, Austria

Melk, Austria

Melk Library, Austria

Germans, Austrians, Hungarians, and Americans have mixed opinions and are all hyped up about the matter. Everyone agrees that the refugee crisis is a big and complicated problem. Many realize that the root of the crisis is the conflict in the homes of these displaced people but don't know what they can do to end the wars.

So, between the low water level of the Danube and the Refugee Crisis, we had time to be thoughtful aside from just drinking beer and sightseeing. 

Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria

Figaro's Wedding, Vienna, Austria

Cecilia with Figaro Performers

I am sharing some pictures taken during our trip. As you can see, indeed Germany and Austria are wealthy countries - (Angela Merkel is probably right in saying Germany can afford to take on the refugees. This is an aside: in fact Germany has negative population growth and will be needing man power, which is probably the unstated reason why Merkel also welcomes asylum seekers.) 

When I think of the destruction that Germany and Austria suffered during World War II, I am amazed at how well they rebounded. Vienna, in particular, exudes wealth and culture.

Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary

While Hungary has huge and impressive buildings and landmarks, it is not as developed as the other two countries. The buildings are not as well kept-up; the houses and yards in the outskirts of Budapest are far less pampered than those in Germany and Austria. The people seem harsher somehow, the way people who lead hard lives can be. And oh, our airport experience at the Budapest airport was very Third World.  People did not form lines but milled about amorphously, and one had to elbow one's way to get to the airline counter.

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

I have one more thing to say about Germany. I am impressed at how candidly the Germans admit their role in World War II. They have made it a point to inform all, especially their succeeding generations, of the wrong Germany had done. World War II sites, for instance, are preserved and they do not hold back in discussing the Jewish Holocaust. 

This is far more than Japan has done -- Japan, which does not even admit they kept Comfort Women for their soldiers in Asia; Japan, which has never apologized for their role in World War II; Japan, which has created revisionist historical material about World War II.

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

Liberty Bridge and Liberty Statue, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

So now, I end this long and rambling blog about our trip to Germany, Austria, and Hungary, written during the throes of jet lag.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to have seen and experienced what I did.

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Tags: travel, holiday, vacation, cruise. Europe, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Viking, refugee crisis, #travel, #refugees

This is all for now,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cecilia, thank you for the pictures and the write-up. In Madrid, I saw a huge, huge sign hanging on top of a building that said: We welcome refugees. When we asked our tour guide about the refugee situation in Spain, she said she doesn't read the news but mentioned a famous football player who entered the gymnasium holding a refugee boy as a sign of his support.

Looks like you enjoyed the trip but the weather, with all that jacket you were wearing, I'm afraid it's not for me.

Thanks again.