Events in this article happened on the 19th of July, 2019. We paddled our inflatable kayak from Spitz to Stein an der Donau in Austria. That’s a distance of 16 kilometers.
Two Nights in Spitz
After our arrival in Spitz, we still went out to dinner and hiked up the Burgruine (castle ruins) Hinterhaus. I highly recommend going up the tower there for a very nice view. On our off-day, we wrote and coded like we usually do. Then in the afternoon, we took the ferry across from Spitz to Arnsdorf to take photographs of the kilometer signs 2019, 2020, and 2021. It’s a cute hike that takes you past a bunch of apricot (Marillen) orchards.
Even though we’d tried to extend with one night, we could only stay in Spitz for two nights in total. We learned the reason for that: the Marillenkirtag festival. While we were in Spitz, it was also the height of the apricot harvest season. The whole town was booked out for that day. People literally lose their minds over the apricots from this region. And they make everything out of apricots: from dumplings (Marillenknödel) to booze (Marillenlikör). Businesses were named Marillen-this and Marillen-that. Even the local glasses and hearing aids shop had Marillen as a logo.
In the evening of the 18th, we ate out at the surprisingly nice restaurant called Donauprinzessin. I had a salad pizza which was – even more surprisingly – really good. Back at the pension above Café Bruckner, we finished watching Stranger Things 3.
Leaving Spitz for Stein an der Donau
That morning, the people of Café Bruckner were quite busy for the big day ahead. We ate our breakfast while the other people were running around hoping we’d check out soon. Then the song from the season finale of Stranger Things 3 plays on the radio. What the…?
We’re taking our sweet little time to leave the hotel after that heavy breakfast. We leave the hotel at 9:30 and arrive at our slipway five minutes later. It’s incredibly windy. And it’s coming from the right direction! I’m 100% certain I’ll get to use the kayak sail today.
While we’re rigging our boat, again a handful of tiny military boats travel upstream. I thought they had their base close to Melk, but apparently, their home is even further downstream than anticipated. Perhaps they’re coming from the Bundesheer-Wasserübungsplatz in Krems an der Donau. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to solve this mystery.
Speaking of Krems an der Donau, we couldn’t find a place close to the river in Krems, so we settled for the village next door called Stein an der Donau for a one-night stop. Today we had a relatively short day ahead of us of about 15 kilometers – one bend right, one bend left ét voilà.
We started paddling at 10:05. The current is directly very good and with our new understanding of the Wachau region as a very popular area for cruise ships, we anticipated a lot of traffic. We stuck to the left side and hoped we could use the kayak sail soon after settling in.
Record Speeds & Close Calls
But the wind we felt on the land isn’t the same we felt in the water. It’s still powerful, but with the help of the current and our own paddling power, we’re already at record speeds. Adding the kayak sail on this busy stretch might just make it harder for us to control the boat. And it’s so incredibly busy already. Like here at the train tunnel of a village called St. Michael Wehrkirche:
Some speedboats and the winner of the award for “ugliest decals on a cruise ship” the A-Rosa pass us by.
By 10:40 we’re at the first ferry crossing between Sankt Lorenz and Weißenkirchen. It’s one of those ‘rolling ferries’ (Rollfähre) like the one in Spitz that’s on a rope and only uses the current to move. This means it can’t dodge us, but only slow its crossing down. Right when we’re in that zone when the ferry is quite close by, but also far away enough for the ferry pilot not to see us, is when the ferry started making their crossing from left to right. We’re still paddling on the left-hand side, so we think we might still pass in front of the ferry.
The most important thing is to do is to show your intentions very clearly. We shouldn’t start paddling faster and stronger, only to then slow down, then to paddle faster again, and then to break again. Hesitation is shit. It increases the danger.
Jonas and I discuss very shortly what our best estimate is. I’m thinking that slowing ourselves down wouldn’t work much anymore because of the current. Jonas agrees so we start paddling very powerfully and synchronized to show the captain we’re going first. After half a minute, we notice he spotted us and slows down his crossing just a little bit. The ferry always has the right-of-way, but we’re just about the same level of inflexible as the ferry right now.
We hurry the fuck up and the ferry comes closer. I’m thinking about how pissed off Jonas will be if I suggest filming this. We’re now making eye contact with the captain from behind his window. He’s patiently waiting for us to hurry the fuck up like we’re trying so he can bring his passengers across. In the meantime, the passengers also find this very exciting and start filming or taking pictures of us. It’s still mostly cyclists and pedestrians on these small, cute, and green ferries.
We pass the ferry within five meters distance and push through the final meters to be out of its wake. Then we turn the boat around and relax so I can snap some pictures. That was still a close call, but also the correct call to make. We enter the first river bend right.
Well, would you look at the time? We’re almost there in Stein an der Donau.
We had contemplated crossing over to the right-hand side for this bend, only to cross left again when there’s the counter bend. But the speeds here are good enough to not micromanage these things. Besides, it’s still really busy. It’s probably even busier than it was before. Where do all these cruise ships come from?
On our way to Spitz, we had joked after the dam in Melk that it was “cruise ship o’clock”. But it seems that it’s always cruise ship o’clock over here. Only to think that there might have been a safe place behind some river islands on the right-hand side now.
Instead, we’re in the long side of a bend with very few hiding spots. Every time a cruise ship passed us, we look behind us to see another one lining up. None of them are full. I repeat: none of them are full. I wish I had the energy to protest this shit.
The worst is when two cruise ships pass each other while we’re in a river bend like here. We’re never sure how their waves are going to be when their propellers are facing a funny direction. The river bends create weird currents. The cruise ships also drag water in and then push it back, meaning we can’t be too close to the shore if we’re not sure if it’s shallow or not. And then there’s the fact that cruise ships also have to negotiate whether they pass each other on the left or on the right.
Passing by Dürnstein
To our left is the sheltered beach of Frauengarten. Up ahead is the statue of Richard Lion Heart/Blondel de Nesle. In the distance is the Burgruine (castle ruins) Dürnstein. I’m filming the whole traffic situation, which starts with a police boat flashing some lights as us while we’re as close to the shore as possible. There’s also another cruise ship on the river. As we come out of the river bend, I see more cruise ships in the distance. I know Dürnstein will have the infrastructure for cruise ships to quickly dock and depart. We’re on the same side as those docks right now. There’s another cruise ship. Then a speedboat.
Every time a boat like this causes a lot of waves, we have to adapt our paddle pattern, our direction, or stop doing what we were doing completely. Having a boat do this every 10 minutes or so isn’t that bad. But getting disrupted every two minutes just gets to you at some point.
We’re entering Dürnstein. It looks like a very adorable town with picturesque viewpoints and many historical buildings. We’re not stopping here. And there’s another ferry for us to deal with. Fortunately, this ferry is just a tiny motorboat that’s not attached to anything. It’s much more flexible than we are. In the crucial moment that we cross lanes, it’s not even sailing. It’s just sitting there on the other side of the river with another boat that looks just the same. This is a relief.
South of Dürnstein’s center start the docks for the big cruise ships. We know most brands by now, like Viking, A-Rosa, Amadeus, Scenic, and Avalon. This time, we see one we hadn’t seen before: Crucestar. Jonas loves the Spanish pun. But I don’t think it’s a Spanish ship. A woman starts filming us from the ship so I reciprocate. Once we’re at its tail, I can confirm that it’s cruising under the Romanian flag. The languages are very similar.
We take a short break on the shore next to the tennis club from 11:25 till 11:35. A Viking cruise ship just passes by as I’m trying to hide my business in the bushes. That was our last and only stop of the day.
Arriving in Stein an der Donau
We paddle the last few kilometers to Stein an der Donau. To our left is a cute beach with many people who are sometimes dressed, sometimes not, who are enjoying the sun and presumably the mosquito bites. A tiny peninsula hides the harbor of Oberloiben, which is just a boat for the firefighters. Next up is Unterloiben and its cute church. The river slows down and so does the boat traffic. Is cruise ship hour over?
We can see the bridge that marks the end of our day. Then to my right, I see the building that I thought was the Melk Abbey. I’m intrigued by how wrong I was as a 22-year-old. It’s somewhere around Krems that my road trip buddies and I freecamped for the very first time. I need to Google the name of this building and find the answer.
To our left is an Avanti gas station for road vehicles inland, followed by an Avanti gas station for boats at the shore. It’s a pier we’re not allowed to land at unless we mean business, which we don’t mean. Right after the bridge should be the pier of the rowing club of Stein. First, we see a good-looking slipway we hadn’t seen before on the map or on satellite, but that’s OK because we won’t use it.
We land Zucchini against the current at this beautiful metal pier in great condition. It’s 12:10 and really easy to get out of the boat. We start the packing and drying process. I’m looking at that huge-ass building in the distance that I know from memory. I try to find it on my offline map as well by searching for castles or palaces. Nothing matches.
The Rains of Krems
Jonas and I are relaxing on our inflated seats in a strong breeze when I see some danger: dark clouds pop over the edges of the hills behind us. “It’s going to rain,” I foretell. Jonas chomps on a sandwich while I start putting things together so they won’t blow away.
We’re just sitting there next to the bike path at the rowing club when we see the surface of the Danube change from the direction we came. It’s choppy. And it’s spreading towards us. I’ve never seen wind arrive like this out of nowhere. But as the water changes from smooth to choppy traveling in our direction, it hits our faces as if we ran into a glass wall. It’s strong and breathtaking.
Of course, this is just the first step. We put our ponchos on in anticipation of the rains. Another clear distinction in the water appears as the rains arrive over Stein and Krems an der Donau. All our boat drying has been useless.
We’re hiding under a tree for a little bit. We know we can check in to the hotel anytime we like, so staying here is quite a waste of time and a waste of energy. I urge Jonas to already go to the hotel with the laptop bags and leave me here to pack other things. After some discussion, he walks the 600 meters to the hotel.
I’m trying to the best of my ability to prep the boat for wet packing while I’m waiting for Jonas to either send me a message or return. A cruise ship travels upstream and causes quite the waves at the rowing club’s pier. When I’m done with what I can do, I try to Google that castle I’m seeing from here. By the time Jonas returns, I’m fairly sure it’s Stift (Abbey) Göttweig. Not a castle or a palace at all. Anyway, mystery solved!
Checking in to Stein an der Donau
We decide we can’t get the wet boat into the CabinMAX right now, so we decide to make a lazy roll that Jonas carries in his hands while I carry the other items in the CabinMAX. We walk the 600 meters to the Gästehaus Einziner in Stein an der Donau. Jonas already spotted a bicycle shed to roll out our boat in a second attempt to dry it.
Jonas opens the door and warns me of the animals. I ask him what kind. He says cats and birds, mostly, but he hasn’t seen all of them probably. We go to the shed first to roll out the boat, then walk through the patio upstairs to our room. The rain slows down and we notice how the patio of this hotel has a very different microclimate from the rest of the town; it’s very damp and warm like we’re at a different latitude.
Jonas finishes the check-in and I look around for a cat. I find the stairs to the roof also in the hope to see if there are nice views from up here. There are neither cats nor good views. I go to our room and we both take a shower and relax. Our room is quite nice and has a minibar that we can use as our own fridge. It’s crazy that we have to paddle again tomorrow. But yes, places have been booked out a lot. I’m looking forward to another three-day stay somewhere.
It was still quite early in the day. We walked to the nearest Aldi barely across the border from Stein an der Donau to Krems. We got food for the next paddle day which we stuffed in our minibar. It’s too bad we didn’t really have much energy left to see more of Stein an der Donau or Krems, but what we saw was quite nice. In the evening, we ate tacos al pastor at Mezcal – a Mexican restaurant – and then return back to our hotel to watch the third season of La Casa de Papel (aka ‘Money Heist’ on Netflix).
Tomorrow we’ll paddle to Zwentendorf.