I moved the motorhome to the parking on the rive gauche near the centre of Linz which was only a 10-minute walk over the bridge. I arranged all my equipment and made the journey on foot to the tourist office. I had arranged to have some space in the reception area, to use the sockets to power my new disc drives. Having set up all the various things that needed charging I set to work loading the very large files, which had filed my computer, onto the hard drives. I freed up half the storage on the computer, some files taking 15 minutes to load.
I worked on the blog and tried to catch up with notes etc. with some success; the interruptions were many and the events going on outside were a temptation for me to go out and film. I made a few excursions to film university students climbing up a rope ladder hoisted 50m in the air by a huge extending crane.
The Red Cross were giving a demonstration of their arts and there were preparations underway for a rock concert for later on in the evening. A group of people, dressed in traditional costumes were holding an event displaying very intricate hats of a somewhat odd design; laced with gold filaments or completely black. The event merited an Austrian brass band and a group of young people with guitars and choir waiting to perform. I had to go back and keep an eye on the progress of the file transfers.
Because the computer hard drive was completely full, I have not been able to store the videos I have made during the last week or write the blog. The large drives require 240v so I got into a mess with all the SD cards, micro SD’s from the Gopro and Phantom drone. The photos from the Olympus camera too were on cards that had also not been stored. All this plus the compressed files on the Sony camera had to be sorted; a process which took until four in the afternoon. I left the tourist office and walked quickly back to the motorhome, stashed the equipment and drove to the marina where the Banana had been berthed. I arrived later than planned and the double birthday party was well underway.
Once again I had a very warm welcome and ended up on the Banana talking to various families and people who just wanted to have a sit on the floating fruit. I set up my guitar and small amp and sang a few songs. They all joined in straight away, creating a very good atmosphere punctuated with various alcoholic shots, schnapps and beer. I ran out of songs and stopped in time for a small firework display, more beer and then off to bed. The combination of non-stop filming and working, mixed with the booze and my lingering cold contributed to me waking up around 10 am the following day.
Sunday 5th June.
I was annoyed at missing people leaving earlier and was not happy to have lost half a morning to just were clearly up and there was a steady downpour of rain beating on the roof. I continued to sort out the SD cards and load stuff onto the computer again now that it had been cleared out. I have noticed there is a ship from Budapest tied up to some barges just downstream. It is facing the wrong way but, as it is moored against the flow of the river it may just turn and head in the direction I need to go; this means I will have to go and investigate and see if they will take me with them…
I checked the drone batteries which were still fully charged from the tourist office and set up the connections to my tablet. There were no electrical interferences but there was a message saying the gyros were too strong and not calibrated correctly, and if the problem persists I should contact the manufacturer; which was not possible. The drone refused to take off, just like the last time, and just like the last time I moved it two meters from where it was calibrated and by some technological miracle the rotors started.
I was aware that the on board navigation system depended on several systems, and, if one was not working it is still possible to fly. The risk is that if something goes wrong the aircraft may decide to do land wherever it is, including over water. If everything is set up correctly it will return to base automatically if the battery is too low, or the signal is lost. If things are not correct or there is a fault it may just land, which is why it is recommended not to fly over water, roads or railways, or anywhere where there are people.
All of those locations are where I want to film. I flew the drone to about two metres off the ground and did some instrument checks, and noted that it was in contact with 17 satellites for GPS location. It remained rock-steady and hovered in place without moving with the breeze. One rotation and a few changes of direction showed all was working well with the camera operating on the level despite the movements of the aircraft. I took the drone to about 40m straight up and held the position. I filmed the Danube, the hills and Linz in the distance up stream. Then descended to film the marina with the Banana well in shot. Before take-off a car with five young men pulled up to watch, but I could not fly until they moved away. The drove away a little, and whilst the drone was in the air they photographed both the drone and me flying it. I had a conversation after I landed the drone.
They were of Turkish origin which they announced straight away. They said they had an uncle who lived in France and as a Muslim he had found lots of problems living there. I noted the way they put their perspective to me which was not very balanced. I pointed out that the French have a problem with anyone who wants to bring their own laws and supersede those voted for by the population. Every country will insist that those who are there, living or visiting, must obey their laws.
In Austria you have to take your till receipt with you when you leave a bar. Failing to do so is a big fine and an even bigger fine for the bar, if they did not issue a receipt. You cannot say that other counties don’t do that, you will get a fine. The conversation ended with handshakes and as they got into the car they began a lively conversation about the different point of view put to them.
I packed up and drove back to Linz. There were a number of things I wanted to film and photograph around the town so I went back to the Eleanor. I confirmed the leaving time for the following day, and chatted with some friends of Hank and Maruska. They were planning a rowing trip to the Black Sea and then down to Turkey which I felt put my hitch hiking in the shade by comparison. All I have to do is get lifts and sit on ships until I get where I am going. To physically row a five meter boat 2,500km makes me look sane. Maruska is planning the same trip but with a motor on board her borrowed boat. She is going to be making the trip alone with stopping off points with friends on the way, also a truly amazing voyage. We had agreed to interview her talking about her future trip, but when I arrived she was not well and asked if we could chat on camera the following morning before Hank set off for the marina to collect the Banana and take it to the next lock.
I set off back into Linz to park on the huge car park next to the Danube. I caught up on notes and went into the city. Knowing I had a tow the next morning I was able to enjoy just walking along the river banks and filming at various places. I was talking to camera when a young couple made a comment when passing the camera. I ended up having a good chat about life in the city and the various impacts that the university makes on the culture of the city. As the light started to fail I noticed there were preparations for a sound and light display, with a party underway on the paddle steamer moored on a pontoon made from an old ship, just a few meters from where I had parked the motorhome.
The couple where about to do a fire wielding act with twirling burning battons and acrobatics. I asked if I could film it and set up positions with cameras on stands and my selfi stick at the read, I waited for the show to begin. Afterwards they came for a glass of wine and told me about their 15 years of doing the act. They left and I moved the motorhome further down the bank of the river to a quiet spot to pass the night.
Monday 6th June
I had arraigned to go to the Eleanor to meet with Hank and his boat, the Art. I arrived around nine hoping to interview Maruska before setting off. There was no one up and about so I waited in the motorhome for another half hour. Hank was getting a coffee so I joined him. Mariska appeared and was still was not feeling well and had decided not to travel on the Banana. I set about interviewing her about her voyage, but was interrupted several times by Hank who started talking loudly to a friend of his who had come to help with the trip with the Banana. We continued on talking until he suddenly announced we would be leaving in 5 minutes, and started counting down, ‘4 minutes left’ and so on. I abandoned the interview and got on-board the Art straight away. Hank seemed surprised I could move so quickly and he left his coffee to get underway.
On the Art Hank was very happy to be filmed and enjoyed having the camera around. We got to the marina and picked up the Banana. I had the chance to say good bye and thanks to Christina who more or less runs the place. The Art passed under bridges built by Herman Goring and along the banks of the Danube where the steel works are still in production.
Hank played his CD’s very loud as we cruised streaily towards the distant lock. The ropes were in a tangle and were difficult to untie, this took some time as we neared the Lock, so I could only shout thank you and good bye as I jumped onto the Banana to row it to the small quay at the start of the wharf. Hank took the Art in a wide turn and set off back the Winterhalfen berth.
I pulled the Banana next to the small quay and tied it securely, then sorted out the tangle of ropes, before setting off to find the lock keeper. On the way I passed a platoon of soildiers, sweating as they struggled with their packs and equipment, making their way up river in disorderly group.
There was a team of lock keepers in the tower control room. I had no problem getting access to the tower and went up the stairs to a bemused greeting. I showed them where the Banana was and told them about the voyage. The boss started off immediately with ‘the problem is’. Words I have heard many times before. I said it doesn’t have to be a problem. I put the Banana behind a ship, tie it on and go; no problem. This was not true for him. He was a helpful person and was really struggling to think of the rules that covered these things. Heath and safety came to mind and there lay the problem; maybe the Banana was dangerous? I sat for an hour whilst he thought about it, during which time he said one thing was for sure, the Banana could not be brought onto the lock quayside. I asked how I could talk to the captains if I was 300m upstream from where they would stop the ship?
He had no answer to this but realised I was going to be around for a long time if the Banana stayed out of the lock. I said I would come back tomorrow and see if he had thought of anything. I went of to find the motorhome which I saw being driven past during the conversation. I walked back along the bank in the company of another platoon, also struggling under their burdens. We passed a medical truck with a soildier on the path not moving and looking very unwell.
The Banana was well secured and in a good position, the lock grounds were enormous, fenced and controlled by sliding steel doors which were left open wide enough for bicycles, walkers and sweaty soldiers. I drove the camper out along riverside road, turned away from the river and went through the sliding door which opened when I touched the intercom. I found a ‘snell imbis’ café which had internet and beer.
Later on when I had nearly worn my welcome out even after lots of coffee, ice-cream and beer, I returned to the barrier and pressed the intercom. The gates did not move. I pressed the button and heard the crackly voice of a controller telling me to go away. I told him in my best (awful) German that I had a Banana waiting for me and he clicked off. Four more attempts to get the message across that I wanted to go to my b o a t and he said he understood, it wasn’t his problem and there was nothing he could do about it as he was in 300Km away in Vienna; so go away. I went back to the motorhome, drove it across the small opening and blocked the gate.
I went back to the intercom, smiled at the overhead video camera and pointed at the motorhome, then pressed the button. Several cyclists were gathering and one came over to ask what was going on. They were good hearted about it and seemed to agree I should be let in to go to my boat. One of them waved at the camera to show he was not pleased and I pressed the button again. The gate started to open. I nipped back to the motorhome and drove through just in time as the gate started to close again. The keeper had tried to let the bikes through and block me, but I was too quick. I had no further trouble all night.
Tuesday 7th June
Back to the control tower to find the boss happy. He made me a coffee and showed me a printed photo from the website, showing the Banana behind one of the ships I had been towed by. He said he would supervise personally my departure, and would talk to the captains on the radio and show the picture when they arrived. He told me to go and get the Banana and sail it into the lock when the level was next brought up and he and his team would haul it out of the water and onto the lock quay ready for the off. I thought ‘see, there is no problem’ but just said ‘thank you, no need to do all that just let me get on with it; very kind’. He wanted to get involved so I went and got the Banana, sailed it into the lock without difficulty as there was very little wind and found the team waiting for me. The next ship came along an hour later, the captain agreed to take the Banana, but only on board ship. Seven of us, sailors, lockkeepers and myself pushed the Banana into a tight squeeze at the back of the ship and I climbed aboard the aging but fully functioning barge pushing ship.
The downstream journey passed through steep sided river valleys with woods giving way to small pretty towns painted in pastel blues, yellows and pinks with one or two houses quite brightly painted in almost orange and greens. Nothing like the sombre drab grey and uniform permitted colours of France I am used to. Austria is a prosperous, neat and tidy and regularly swept clean country with people rightly proud of the paradise they have created in the natural beauty of their mountains, rivers and forests.
As I saw the last lock come into view I also saw the welcome site of the motorhome which had already been delivered to the quayside. The boss of the last lock had telephoned ahead and asked for permission to bring the Banana onto the lock quay. As the ship drew up into the lock I was a bit perturbed to see the side of the lock was only a bit more than 1m wide and certainly not spacious enough to put the Banana on. I looked around for a solution but was told it was alright as there was a gate in the fence and the ship stopped almost right next to it. A group of lock keepers were waiting and the sailors and myself pushed the Banana onto the quay and through the gate, whilst I guided the hydrofoil and tangle of ropes over and around the various obstacles that no one else had noticed. This done, the ship descended as the waters drained away and I said hello to my new team of lockkeepers. ‘The problem is’
I parked near the lock entrance, out of view and spent the night watching passenger cruise ships glide in and out of the locks, people gazing out of the windows desperatd to wave at anyone who might wave back.
Wednesday 8th June
The problem was that my new boss was not too great at negotiating getting lifts. He started with all the problems and insisted they took the Banana on board. He pointed out all the difficulties which I knew how to solve, but never raise in conversation. Where will I sleep, usually is not a question the captains ask until near night fall and they stop for the night; the motorhome is brought along and hey, no problem. Bombarding the captains with stuff like this just makes it easy to say no, and quite a few did. The ship that brought me to the lock came through again on its way to Bratislava…yey. I got everything ready to leave. When it docked the boss asked me to keep off the quay as he pointed out all the problems, and the ship left without me. Not yey.
I went off at 2pm having been turned down twice more and then told there would not be any more suitable ships until the morning. Actually there would be more ships but the boss wanted to negotiate for me and, as his shift was finishing he asked me to leave. I decided to go to a town called Melk, about 30 km away.
I spent the night in a carpark above the town, which is so beautiful the parking is too expensive. I stopped in the town long enough to read the parking restrictions and charges and left to go to a shopping precinct; on the way I noticed a Youth Hostel, stopped in its car park and used their washing machines facility, only 5 euros but I could not use their dryers as they needed them themselves. I found a carpark next to a swimming pool that was just closing, tied a rope from a tree to the motorhome and hung the washing out. As the sun went down I collected the washing which was almost dry and went off to a ‘snell imbis’
Thursday 9th June
After an uneventful night I woke to find I had missed my alarm and drove back to the lock arriving at 9.30. I had seen several ships going down the Danube but on arrival was told there would be only one ship today that would be able to take the Banana. It did not come, the lock keeper’s shift finished and I have decided to go and explore a town called Ybbs.