Five years ago (2002) I made a kayaking trip on the Danube river from Regensberg, Germany to Linz, Austria. I had then wished to return some day and explore other parts of the Danube. So, here I was in Vienna to continue the journey. The first part is a 5 day trip from Vienna, Austria to Szentendre, Hungary. The second part is a 2-3 day trip from Tulcea to Sulina in the Danube delta, Romania.
Day 1 Leaving Vienna
I took the subway to reach the Danube canal in Vienna, from where I assembled and launched my kayak. It was overcast, but very warm. On the water it's 25-30 degree C--still comfortable. Children waved from bridges overhead and, as the canal joins the main river, Vienna gradually recedes behind me.
Outside of Vienna, the shores were lined with marshes and trees (willows, popular), with the occasional cottage and its fishing net hanging from a pole.
By late afternoon, I reached the historic town Hainburg an der Donau, where I stopped for the night. I asked a local for camping platz and was directed to a grassy area by the river on the east side of the town. Only problem: Mobs of mosquitos that considered me fine dining.
The town has a well preserved wall and gate and a castle ruin on a hill top (closed for repair), among other historic sites. It's water front also makes for a pleasant evening walk-if not for the mosquitos. The railway runs parallel to the shoreline over a stone viaduct.
Peaceful and picturesque. A thunderstorm blew through at night, which made for a dramatic backdrop over the Danube.
Danube, Day 2 Between Slovakia and Hungary
The rain finally relented in the morning. After a walk along the shore to explore more ruins (and breakfasted by mosquitos), I decamped to resume my travel. The current is swift (about 4-5 km/hr) on this stretch of the Danube, and I was making fast progress. Occasionally a hydrofoil or a cruise ship or a freighter passes by. Now the river flows between Slovakia and Hungary. Here is a castle ruin perched on a hill top on the Slovakia side.
I reached Bratislava at around noon. I stopped for about 1.5 hr to visit the main town center, which is compact and graced by fine baroque-style architecture amidst its many restaurants and shops.
Birds abound on this stretch of the Danube (ducks, egrets, swallows, gulls, terns, even swans). By late afternoon, I was still far from any town, so I got off the river (in fact, I was in a canal, straight as an arrow) and camped on the grassy embankment in the Slovakia country side.
A bike/motorcycle path runs along the shore, but it was very quiet by this time. There was a fresh breeze, a lovely sunset, and a chorus of frog songs to fall sleep to.
Days 3-4 Komarom and Esztergom
I woke to a cloudy and breezy morning. Lots of waves on the river, but no whitecaps. And the wind was in my back. Soon (after 45 minutes or so) I reached the hydro-electric dam at Tejke. A Slovakian policeman ordered me to get out of the river and portage my kayak across the dam. The distance of the portage was about 1 km, so I was grateful for the relative light weight of my kayak. It also attracted questions from curious workers there.
Below the dam, the flow was languid initially but gradually speeded up. Now the river sometimes narrowed and sometimes widened immensely, dotted by islets inhabited by waterbirds. The flow sometimes slowed and sometimes speeded up, possibly in different directions and some in swirling eddies or in standing waves. One time a black-faced tern repeatedly circled over my kayak, making a lot of sounds, and would fly low towards my kayak and then lift up just before reaching the kayak.
For most of the time, it was just the wind, water, and sky. By about 6 pm, I reached the town of Komarom in Hungary. I asked for camping platz and was directed to a beach quite far from the town. Fortunately I was able to find a fruit market and a food market not too far away, so I could replenish my provisions. It was a nice sandy beach in a forest surrounding, and the day ended with another nice sunset. But many mosquitos (and I forgot to bring repellent).
Next morning began with greyish sky, but the clouds gradually
lifted to a bright sunny afternoon. The shores were well forested, filled
with birdsongs in the morning. Cottages and sandy beaches occasionally
peek out from behind trees. I came upon some surprised bathers in the
more secluded beaches. I reached Esztergom in Hungary in early afternoon,
and was glad to find a camp site with washing facilities at Grand Camping,
so I could wash my clothes a bit. It also had a pool for a relaxing
dip. Esztergom has an impressive basilika (the largest in Hungary) with
a sweeping view of the Danube valley, as well as other historic churches.
Its city center is pleasant, crossed by a tributary of the Danube where
a festival was held. I found a internet cafe to keep in touch with my
Danube, Day 5-6 Danube bend, Szentendre, and Budapest
After decamping, my kayaking continued eastward on the Danube, with farms and forests lining both shores, until I reached Visegrad, with its castle ruin (partially restored) standing a lonely vigil on a hill top over the famous Danube bend. A reminder of ages gone by.
Here the Danube is split into two branches by a large island and I took the shorter and narrower Szentendre branch. Now the Danube felt more intimate, with shores close together, lined by willows waving their branches in the wind. Small motor boats, kayaks, and canoes abound. I reached the pleasant town of Szentendre, about 19 km north of Budapest, in the afternoon, and decided to stay there overnight instead of continuing on to Budapest. However, due to some confused information in my Lonely Planet guidebook (or my confused reading of it), it took me more than an hour to find the camping platz, which is located on a little island about 1 km north of Szentendre.
The town itself has a quiet charm, with little shops/restaurants (for tourists mainly) lining narrow cobble-stone streets, and an attractive river walkway. A hill top in the town centre offers a nice sunset view of the Danube valley and cooling breezes. Next morning, I decamped, packed away my kayak and caught a bus for Budapest. Once in Budapest, I used the underground metro to reach the train station, which became a bit of an adventure since some parts of the metro were closed for repair and I had to find a shuttle bus above ground to get around the closed parts. I booked the 6 pm train for Bucharest, arriving 9 am next morning. I had to explain to the Hungarian police on two occasions why my passport lacked the stamp from Austria-Hungary border check, but they were nice enough to let me continue onward to Romania (though with a warning that I do not enter Hungary by kayak again!)
Day 7 - Bucharest, Tulcea, Danube delta
Arriving in Bucharest train station (gara de nord) in the morning, I had my one `negative' experience. I was approached by a man who spoke English and who wanted to `help me'. Normally I would be wary of such individual, but he was able to gain enough trust from me that I agreed to let him drive me to the station where minibus leave for the Danube delta. I asked for an estimate of the cost, which seemed reasonable. However, I didn't know that Romania had issued a new Lei currency (my guidebook only refers to the old Lei currency) and, in the confusion, I gave this man 10 times the amount I should have. This was later explained to me by a young German couple, who were also going to the Danube delta in the same minibus.
As we left Bucharest, it was both sobering and fascinating to see the legacy left by Ceausescu, in all its grandiose pretensions. Gradually, grey buildings gave way to rolling hills of farmlands and forests, dotted by marshes. Signs of flooding from the Danube are sometimes still visible. After about 4.5 hrs on the road, we arrived in Tulcea, the gateway to the Danube delta (a UNESCO world heritage site), at about 3:30 pm.
Like many port town, Tulcea is functional but not so pleasant to stay in. I set about assembling my kayak (after getting map/permits for the delta and food/water). After I launched my kayak into the harbour, a patrol boat ordered me to stop and to show the papers for my kayak as well as my passport. After some questions/debates and a mobile phone call, the captain of the patrol boat returned my passport and let me continue on--much to my relief. Thus, as the sun began to set over the fields and willow trees, I found myself in the last leg of Danube's march into the sea. At dusk, I found a nice camp site on a sandbar by the river's shore, sheltered by a cluster of willow trees, and with a cooling breeze to relieve the heat. The clear water and soft sand made for an inviting bath to wash away the day's weariness. As night falls, stars filled the sky and a chorus of frog songs filled my dreams.
Day 8 - Danube delta
I awoke to a sunny and warm morning. The Danube had by now split into three branches which form the delta. I was on the shortest (and most popular) branch, which flows for about 71 km from Tulcea into the Black Sea at Sulina. Here, human farming, logging, and engineering has reshaped much of the land (for good or bad). Still, parts of the delta have been left more or less untouched, a watery paradise they remain.
How long they can last is hard to say.. I explored some of the maze-like inner waterways, careful not to get lost, and marvelled at the richness of the animal/plant lives above and below the water.
The marshes of reeds and willows, populars filter the water and provide shelter and habitat for birds, fish, insects, amphibians of all sorts. Near lake Furtuna, I came face-to-face with a family of ``pigs gone wild'', who followed my kayak with great curiousity. In the late afternoon, I made camp at a little bay, about 8 km west of Sulina, from which I could see pelicans, cormorants, terns (diving to catch fishes), egrets, hurons,... Another beautiful sunset over the delta, in hues of orange, pink, purple. Overnight, some curious animals came by and left muddy footprints on my kayak. Danube delta, Sulina, Day 9
Yet another sunny and warm morning greeted me. But perhaps as a reminder that paradise is relative, I found a leech attached to my paddle. Suddenly the water felt less inviting.. As I approached Sulina, more boats and ships, large and small, came passing by. The current flows strongly in mid river, but weakens near the shore (important for going up river). I went past the main docks of Sulina, and then saw a small natural bay on the opposite shore which looked ideal for landing a kayak.
As I entered the bay and was looking for a spot to land my kayak, I was greeted by a spritely girl swimming in the water. She spoke some Spanish, which is how we communicated. She asked to let her and her friend to try out my kayak, and then became a sort of translator for me, helping me to find a room to stay overnight with a local family.
The house of the family is reminiscent of one my family had lived in Taiwan almost 40 years ago, with running water, electricity, chickens, but no flush toilet. The wife Notsa and husband Neru live with their grandson, and the wife's aunt and uncle live next door, etc., so they have deep family roots in Sulina. Neru fishes and does tours using his motor boat. They spoke little English, which was good for me to learn a some Romanian using my phrase book (with their help).
After a home-cooked dinner (stewed catfish in a garlic vinegar sauce, and a soup of tomato, potato, and parsley), I walked to the Black Sea beach (25 minutes), past grazing cows and horses, for a relaxing swim. The water was refreshing and the sands stretch softly far far out to sea.
Afterwards I went into the town center to look for an internet cafe, but was told that it had closed. Sulina has the feel of a sleepy frontier town trying to revive its faded glory, with one supermarket, and a few bars and restaurants. Some roads are unpaved dirt, and many houses and buildings (some with very nice architecture) had fallen into disrepair. Still, there are signs of renewal, with some houses and shops being remodelled and repainted.
My kayaking journey ended here. Next morning I caught the ferry back to Tulcea, from which I took a minibus back to Bucharest, where I stayed overnight before heading to the Otopeni airport early next morning for my return flight to Seattle.
Some technical info: The kayak used is the FirstLight 470, which fits snugly (along with a PDF, bivy sack, small sleeping pad, clothing, etc.) into a Canyon Pack dry bag (with lumbar belt) made by Seattle Sports. The remainder of my belongings (maps, guidebook, pocket dictionaries/phrasebooks, repair kits, first aid, etc.) went into a small dry bag. I used a 2-piece fiberglass Epic paddle. The paddle and the kayak were the check-in luggages on my flights.
About The Author: We were sorry to learn that Professor Paul Tseng went missing while kayaking on the Yangtze River in the Yunnan province of China in 2009. Paul was a leader in the field of optimization, publishing over 120 journal articles and making fundamental contributions in many areas of the subject. Paul was described as a shining light among his friends and colleagues, and his loss has been profoundly felt. We are grateful for the time he took to put this article together for us here at TopKayaker.Net.
References and related articles:
Camping in Szentendre
a kayak club in Esztergom as well. Paul stayed in Esztergom at Gran
Szentendre and Esztergom Tourism - Budapest Tourism Office
- An effort to preserve the Danube - a combined effort by Commercial and
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