Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner November 10, 2022
One sunny October morning, I disembarked the ship, docked now in Austria. I joined an exciting undertaking: an e-bike adventure into the Vienna Woods. Sixteen shipmates, including a professional golfer from the U.S, were signed up.
The ship’s social director, Igor, a former Croatian national basketball player, said, “You are the oldest person ever to take this cycle trip, but I think you are up for it.” Nothing like holding a world record.
Having had enough of the stupendous golden architecture, linked castles, monuments, and squares of the Habsburgs, who ruled these parts for 600 years from 1273 to 1806, I turned my back on the glories of Vienna and joined the group. Maybe I was inspired by the example of Empress Maria Theresa, who ruled this immense and fractious former Holy Roman Empire from 1740 to 1780 while having 16 children, one of whom was Marie Antoinette who came to a sad end in France, as you recall.
But I was in the mood for the imagined strains of Strauss or Mozart, and the beauties of the famous woods. I fibbed that I knew something about e-bikes, having visited Peterborough’s Green Street once.
There were 16 cyclists and three helpers, two of whom, I think, were assigned to me. We went 20 miles altogether, and to the Americans, that was 30 kilometres, even more impressive. Austrians take their cycling seriously and the paths were paved, all along the tree-lined water’s edge of the Danube. (It’s called ‘Donau’ in German). I was intrigued by the three levels of boost on the e- bike: “eco,” “tour” and “turbo.”
Making wide turns was a chore on the heavy bike. But I never lost sight of the pack, even while being at the back. What was of great interest were a couple of large signs marked “FKK.” You know what that suggests to a Canadian. But here, it stands for “free body culture.” It designates a nude bathing area. The chilly fall weather that day didn’t permit us any additional scenes of interest.
At the halfway mark, there was a 600-year-old ferry across a narrow part of the river. The little barge had no engine. It was driven by the current, and a cable overhead from shore to shore. On board the ancient conveyance were bicycles, and carts with grapes.
Toward the end of the bike ride, there loomed a tall tower swirling down to the ground. I couldn’t recall our arriving on this island, but I clearly had to get off. Turning, I could see myself sailing off into the wild blue Danube. My helper, Santiago, said politely, “You can always walk it down, miss.”
The next day I had sore shins, and Roger, the Phys Ed teacher on board, told me I had a “sports injury” - a matter of some pride. He ordered heat, ice (plenty of that on board) and rest.
We were back on the ship in time for the nautical lecture by the captain, a young Romanian who had attended a nautical high school, and then ran away to sea. Viking has 70 of such small ships now, built in Rostock, Germany, and overwintered for five months in Cologne.
It is all quite “green.” All-electrical propulsion and caterpillar-designed propellers. A ship that is personally manned, with no robot steering, and a wheelhouse that can be lowered, should an oncoming bridge be too low, or the water too high for safe passage. I asked the ‘waste’ question and was reassured that the liquid is treated and returned to the river, while the solid is compacted and deposited in facilities on shore.
There were 100 churches lining our route, bells ringing at noon and six. It was for me a kind of retreat, sitting on the front deck, watching the ribbon of river unfold, thinking about the human lives lived out here over 2000 years: the land tilled, the wars fought, the cathedrals built. Canada, for most of us, is so young.
"Gleanings" is Rosemary Ganley's new book. You can purchase directly from the author at email@example.com or from >Amazon<