Travelers enjoy seeing sights on the ‘Blue’ Danube
For many of us, the beautiful Blue Danube Waltz comes to mind when anyone mentions the Danube River, calling forth a peaceful scene of gently flowing blue water.
Well, today the water is not really blue and during our latest trip we were about to learn that although the Danube is gently flowing now, this was not always the case.
Most of our river travel was at night so we really didn’t see much of the Danube. However, the afternoon of the day we visited the Viminacium, told about in the last article, we had quite a treat in store for us.
We were scheduled that day to pass through the famous Iron Gates. This is a gorge on the river which forms part of the boundary between Romania on the north and Serbia on the south — separating the southern Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkan Mountains. The Danube is a drainage base for nearly 18 countries — meaning that it needs to be able to carry a lot of water.
In the past this worked well where the land was flat on both sides but when the river had to narrow, as it does in the gorge, the peaceful gentle flow was no more. For thousands of years man was at the mercy of the river in this 60-mile stretch because of the amazing depths down to 174 feet, many sharp turns, whirlpools, treacherous cross-currents, cataracts, and steep rocky cliffs along the water’s edge.
The first bridge in this area was constructed by the Emperor Trajan between 103 and 105 and called the Bridge of Apollodorus. The Roman segmental arch bridge constructed of wood and stone was to serve as a supply route for Roman legions. It measured 3,724 feet and lasted only 200 years when it was destroyed by the emperor, Aurelian. The last visible parts of this beautiful bridge disappeared in the 1930s.
Since that first bridge it seems that only one other bridge has been built near the gorge. This is the Bridge to Nowhere — a skeleton of a bridge not connected to either bank. I could not find any information regarding its construction. But I did find the plans for a bridge (same one?) that is presented in concept only.
Historically, the river has been a vital transportation route and the gorge has always been a problem. Even a bridge today would not solve the needs of the countries along its banks. In 1960, a huge lock and dam complex was started and completed in 1971. Iron Gate I opened for commercial navigation in 1972.
Until that time no ship would dare the Iron Gates without a pilot coming aboard. Ships going upstream had to be dragged by locomotives because of the strong currents. In 1984, Iron Gate II was completed with two hydroelectric power stations.
As we travelled along the river, I expected many small villages, ruins, castles, etc., but there was very little of that nature. (These apparently are on the part of the river that goes north from Budapest.) Only one castle was visible on this stretch of the river. From quite a distance we were able to see the ruins of Golaubac Castle constructed in the 14th century.
More prevalent were the small farms with most of these having an interesting feature. In the fields there were usually several teepee-like structures that stood 6 to 20 feet in height. We later saw some of them up close and found them to be hay stacked around a tall pole to hold its shape.
I mentioned this to my friend Maggie, who had escaped from Romania during the war. She told me that farmers had permitted her family to hide in those when the planes came over at night shining their lights looking for escapees. The hay stacks were hollow with an opening in the side, allowing several people to enter for
It is also told that when farmers’ daughters failed to come home in time for dinner, angry fathers would pitchfork the stacks causing a scar called a love fork on many a young man of rural Romania.
For several hours we stood on deck and watched as we passed the foothills of the Balkans, which reminded us a lot of the wooded scenery of the Columbia River. There was a fragrant odor of gardenias that permeated the air but no one was able to tell us the name of the tree or bush that it came from.
The remainder of the trip depended on our going through the locks and the captain decided we should accept an offer to go through earlier rather than the time after
So we all left our viewing spots and headed for dinner. From our seat near the window we could see that we were going down down down until finally the wall of the locks towered over the top of the ship. That was fine because we knew that soon the gates would open and we would enter the lower part of the river and be on our way.
But that didn’t happen. The gates were stuck and couldn’t be opened. Finally, there was nothing to do but go to bed.
When we got up the next morning we were able to go on our way, but the locks holding the water back were still broken and there were seven ships waiting to go through. We would have lost at least a day’s travel had we not gone through early. Somehow this didn’t cause me any anxiety. However, for the captain it was another matter.
Emma Smith stated, “Life is like a river. Sometimes it sweeps you gently along, and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”
May your rapids be few!