Up and over the mighty Jochenstein
The Kraftwerk Jochenstein hydro electric power station has 96 steps. We feel each one as we haul our bikes and bags up and over the structure in the late afternoon heat. We’re not the only ones to cross the river in this way; dozens of cyclists are using the power station as a free passage across the river Danube to save a few euros on a radfahre (bike ferry). They pick up their bikes, and stroll up, over and down, while we spend half an hour huffing and puffing like the wolf in the story of the three little pigs.
In the centre of the bridge we put down our bags and look out across the dam, just as one of the cruise ships that ply the Danube passes underneath us. The water is at its highest and the top of the ship is only a few feet away; almost close enough to join in a game of deck quoits, to sup on a cocktail or take someone’s queen in a game of giant chess. But these boats are no ‘Ocean Village’ giants. I wonder how people cope with the boredom of sitting on them all day. There isn’t even a swimming pool to entertain the kids. And then I consider that if we lifted the bikes, bags and children over the top of this railing and popped them onto the top deck of the ship, we could reach our destination in a couple of hours, avoiding tomorrows 70 kilometres of cycling. Lying on a sunbed as the sun goes down with a glass of wine in my hand wouldn’t be so tedious would it?
Should we jump?
Before I can act on impulse and vault over the railing, the cruiser passes under the bridge and parks up, waiting for the lock gates to open. But then we have a second chance, as a second cruiser joins it in the basin of the lock. With total precision the pilot avoids scraping the boat on the side with only a metre or two to spare and the two cruisers sit by side, waiting for the plug to be pulled in the bath.
“Is that the pretty sparkle boat Mummy?” asks Hannah as the cruise ships start to sink rapidly now the water rushes out. She is referring to the cruiser studded with a rainbow of Swarofsky Crystals that we have seen cruising up and down the Danube for the last few days. When she finds out it’s a Thompson liner she loses interest and starts lugging the bags back down the stairs.
It’s a short ride to a campsite and when we get there we discover a huge outdoor swimming pool with a small patch of grass for camper vans and tents. There’s half an hour before it closes and the children plunge in delightedly. Who needs a cruise ship now? Stuart and I cook up some pasta and watch the sun glint on the Danube as it drops behind Austria. The cruisers have all gone now, replaced only by the occasional drone of an industrial barge.
But we have boats to sail
“Boats! We have our own boats to sail!” cries Cameron. He puts down his bowl and rummages in the buggy for his precious bits of cotton and cork. The others join him, producing the various maritime sculptures in wood, nails, cork, lolly sticks, cotton and elastic bands that they made at the Kinder Museum in Munich.
Cameron puts on his Crocs and wades into the water with two of the boats. Meanwhile Matthew grabs a recorder and starts to play the Blue Danube. Cameron gives the boats a shove. Hannah puts a couple of stickers on her four lolly sticks that have been strangled into a boat shape by pink elastic bands.
“Now I have a sparkle boat,” she says, chucking it into the river.
Lights start to come on in nearby towns; their glimmering reflections taking the place of the sun. The dusk ceremony has an eerie quality, like some kind of wake. Our mini cruisers head off down the Danube as the recorder reaches its crescendo, with just a few flub notes. Hannah’s lolly sticks get stuck on a rock, then the craft suddenly frees itself; and we see for ourselves the power of the sparkle. It sails away to a new life beyond the Burley trailer where it will cross borders, negotiate locks, and pass through romantic Austrian villages, while five cyclists, two tandems and a trailer follow far, far behind.