Monday, June 10, 2013

Our globally warmed (and wet) vacation

Prague's Kafka Museum as river gauge.

We’re back from a 20-day vacation, of sorts, in Europe.

Our expectations were largely the vision presented on Viking Excursions’ “Downton Abbey” promos. You may know the scene. It’s a birds-eye view of a long, elegant riverboat churning down the Danube through verdant valleys past ancient castles under clear skies.

Inspired by that vision and the reams of brochures we’ve received from Viking over the years, we signed on, at considerable expense. We bracketed the cruise with visits to Lucerne, Switzerland; Salzburg, Austria, and Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. The seven-day cruise, which began in Passau (of which more later) would also take us to Linz, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava and finally Budapest.
A cafe's riverside umbrellas underwater.

The reality trip that unfolded was good, bad and generally wet.

The rains defined the majority of our time. If there is a single symbol for our journey, it is the umbrella. With the rain came the flooding. Mercifully, we avoided the worst of it. The highest water seemed to trail us by three days to a week. The floods are still in the news as I write this, four days after returning to Portland.

When we visited a high-and-dry Passau, for instance, the guide of our walking tour pointed out marks on the side of City Hall showing water levels of past floods. How could the river rise to such levels, we wondered. The dates went back to the 16th Century. Within a week waters of  the Danube and the two other rivers that converge at Passau, would be above the highest mark. This month, Passau suffered a 500-year flood. The astonishing 16th Century mark was well under water.

Only twice did high water alter our plans. We took the train from Budapest (which was still unflooded at the time) to Prague. About 50 miles from the Czech capital we were stopped in our tracks (literally) by high water at a station. After a three-hour delay, the train backed up 20 or so miles and was rerouted. What was to be a seven-hour trip turned into a 13-hour detoured journey. We arrived weary and worn at our Prague hotel at 2 a.m.

The other change was relatively minor. Because of high water, Prague’s famed Charles Bridge was closed to all traffic. (In 1890, floods had swept away part of the 14th Century bridge) Each of the three days we were in Prague, we would walk to the Vltava River to see how high it had risen. The authorities had put up metal, interlocking dikes and positioned pumps. The best mark of the water level was the Kafka Museum (see photo), which sits along the river bank. The words “Kafka Museum” are written in large letters on the river wall next to the museum. When we arrived, the water underlined the words. On day two, only the very tops of the letters were visible. On our final day, the river had receded enough so that the the upper two-thirds could be seen.
Pedestrians were undeterred by mini-dikes at the ready.

Using the museum as a flood gauge was in its own way Kafka-esque.

To our joy, the sun came out for those final two days in Prague and revealed the city in its full and ornate glory.

Meanwhile, as I write, Budapest is experiencing floods. Just how badly is hard to determine. You have to walk to the river to find out.

Travelers beware: In this Global Warming era of “extreme weather events” journeys take on special unpredictable challenges. Consider them partial retribution for the carbon footprint we leave in getting to these far-away places.

There’s something to be said for staying put. Leaving well enough alone...leaving the PLANET well enough alone....

Next: Visions of the Titanic or things that go CRUNCH in the night....

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home