About Locks

Locks are how boats go around waterfalls and rapids, and dams.  Locks are probably the oldest technology we dealt with on our Viking River Cruise.  They still work the way they did in the 14th century (in China, in the 11th century).

You have a chamber with a heavy gate at each end.  The water height at the 2 ends can differ by a couple of feet, or several tens of feet.  Your boat enters the gate at its water level; the gate closes; the lock keeper opens valves that let water pour in, or out, depending.  You sit there while the lock chamber fills, or empties.  When it matches the new water level, the other gate opens and you move on.  The water is entirely moved by gravity; there are no pumps.

Some locks can take several boats at once; some locks are so small they can only take one; and they all handle traffic going both upstream and downstream.  We had at least one major delay where the Embla was in a line behind several other boats at a small lock, and another where a boat got stuck in a lock.  There’s a lot of boat traffic on the Rhine-Main-Danube route, including cargo haulers, and it all goes through those locks. The Embla barely fit in some small locks – I can remember standing on the side balcony and reaching out to touch the lock wall with my hand.

There was some confusion over how many locks we went through.  My original notes say 68, and I’m not sure where I got that.  I Googled the question “how many locks are between Amsterdam and Budapest” and came up with an estimate, from a site on river cruises:

  • From Amsterdam to the Rhine, 1
  • On the Rhine itself, 12
  • On the Main, 34
  • On the Rhine-Main-Donau canal, 16
  • On the Danube, 16 that we went through (there are more downstream from Budapest)

That comes to 79 locks!

Posted in Personal, Vacations Tagged |

Thoughts on the River Cruise

After 3 years (sigh) I finally finished writing up the Viking River Cruise we took in 2012, from Amsterdam to Budapest.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have some comments on the experience that I’d like to share.

Walking:  Don’t do one of these cruises unless you can handle walking several miles a day over unpredictably rough ground, or if you have trouble walking distances in heat.  Some cities are well paved, some have cobblestones, and some places aren’t paved at all.  I wore a pedometer, and my records show I walked 3-4 miles most days, a few times more than 4.  One day in Amsterdam I walked almost 8 miles.  If this kind of walking daunts you, you should not take the walking tours – they’re optional, but if you don’t take them, you basically just sit on the boat.  If you do take the walking tours, don’t count on having a lot of free time to explore on your own.  On several occasions we had time to explore a place only because the boat was stuck in line at a lock and was late picking us up.

Weather:  Be prepared for hot, muggy weather.  The farther into the European continent you get, the hotter it gets in summer; the rivers we were on carry enough water to make the weather very humid but not enough to make it cool.  The interior cities can get into the 90s.  Of course, it could also be cool and rainy.  You never know.

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Last Stop Budapest

We left Bratislava in mid-afternoon, a deliberate choice so we could enter Budapest after sundown.  Our first stop was the last of the 79 locks on the trip, at the Gabčíkovo Dam, in Slovakia.  This was part of a huge joint flood control project between Hungary and Slovakia, over which both countries are suing in the International Court of Justice.  Meanwhile, there is this dam, and its lock, with probably the biggest rise of the trip.  I suspect it was more than 100 feet.  Below you can see the Embla in the lock, with quite a distance left to rise.

Lock in the Gabčíkovo Dam, Slovakia

Lock in the Gabčíkovo Dam, Slovakia

Unusually, the lock was wide enough for at least 2 riverboats abreast.  I’m not sure it would have taken 3 abreast.

Multiple boats in the Gabčíkovo Dam lock - Embla is on the right

Multiple boats in the Gabčíkovo Dam lock – Embla is on the right

We finally floated out onto the lake behind the dam, and on down the Danube.

All the photos in this post, and more, are in this photogallery on my SmugMug site.

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Does anyone enjoy high school?  I didn’t have an especially good time in high school.  For that matter, I don’t recall enjoying school much at all, although I took pleasure in getting good grades.

I grew up in Napa, California in the 1950s.  My parents moved there from Vallejo when I was four.  I attended Lincoln Elementary School, Redwood Junior High (2 years), Silverado Junior High (2 years; change of districts, I assume), and Napa Senior High (2 years, class of ’63).  I recall mother saying Napa had the only 6-4-2 school system in the state, probably because at that time, Napa Senior High was the only high school in the county (at least, the south county), and it barely had space for 2 grades.  My graduating class (1963) had 700 students in it.  They have more high schools now.

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Posted in Personal Tagged |


Our next stop after Vienna was Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Frankly, I found Bratislava intimidating, because it was the first time I’d ever been in a country where the written language (on signs and so on) made no sense to me.  I understand enough German and French to get by; in Amsterdam the language was close enough to German for me to guess at meaning (don’t tell the Dutch that!); anybody who lives in California has some idea of Spanish.  But the Slavic languages are a mystery to me.  Fortunately everyone I really needed to talk to spoke English.

The earliest recorded town in this location was founded by Celtic tribes around 200 B.C.; when the Roman Empire expanded this far north, the town became part of the Limes Romanus, or the border of the Empire. The town has had at least four names over its history; the country has only been independent since the Velvet Divorce in 1993.

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Good-bye, Hewlett-Packard

Today I got rid of the least satisfactory desktop computer I ever bought, an HP Pavilion Slimline s5280t.  If you have one of these loads of crap, and it’s still running, buy a new replacement immediately and transfer everything.  If you wait, you may not be able to.

Here’s the failure timeline:

  • Nov. 2009 – bought the system and paid for extended “house call” support (a colossal mistake)
  • July 2010 – the power supply failed.  Online tech support was trying to coax me to “prove” it was a bad power supply by removing the motherboard (I am not making this up), when I balked and insisted on talking to a supervisor.  Getting a tech out to replace the power supply cost me an extra $200 which I consider close to extortion.  The damn thing was under standard warranty.
  • Dec. 2010 – the scheduled monthly hardware maintenance tool showed a hardware failure on the drive (which was one year old!) and when I called tech support they had me run a separate BIOS test which also failed.  Tech support confirmed this means the drive is failing.  This time they shipped a new drive and sent out a tech to install it without any arguments; apparently they knew about this.  I had even more trouble when I tried to restore a disk image taken with a new program which I didn’t fully understand, but I can’t blame that on HP; eventually I had to do a full rebuild.
  • Dec. 2012 – H-P sent out a routing upgrade to their Support Assistant (the program that did the hardware checks) which was so buggy I couldn’t install it.  I couldn’t get any sense out of H-P. Since it wouldn’t run, I uninstalled it and ran blind on hardware problems from then on.
  • Aug. 2013 – got a very strange message, “can’t access the D drive due to a recently installed update.”  System extremely slow.  Eventually ran CHKDSK which fixed errors in the master file table BITMAP.  I don’t have notes on the next item but it was just a couple of weeks later that the system wouldn’t come up at all.  I took it in to East Bay Computer Center in Oakland for diagnosis.  They said the disk was so far gone they couldn’t even recover data from it; they also said it was a poor-quality refurb.  Thanks, H-P support.  The only good thing about this is that it died the day after I took my regular local backup, so once they’d built me a new Win7 Pro 64 bit drive, I was able to restore all my data.  And rebuild all my programs…
  • Sept. 2014 – the power supply from July 2010 failed.  East Bay Computer now has the whole box and will build me a new drive and transfer the data from the old hard drive (which should be good because they installed it!).  They also said they get these H-P boxes in with problems all the time.

It’s only 4 failures, you say.  True, but four extremely disruptive and annoying failures in 5 years.  I’ve had Dell computers that ran for 5 years without a single problem; I’m pretty sure I had a Dell that ran for 6 or 7 years without any problem.  When I think of the days when Hewlett-Packard was the absolute gold standard for any kind of technical equipment, it just makes me cry.

In any case, I’m somewhat limited in my ability to respond to email these days, so bear with me.  I hope to get the new system back by the middle of next week.

Posted in Personal, Technical Tagged |

St. Stephen’s, Vienna

Between tours we had some time to explore St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  The current form of the cathedral dates to the mid-14th century, a combination of the Romanesque and Gothic styles.  The first church on the site was consecrated in 1147.  The Wikipedia article has detail on the cathedral’s ring of bells, which is still in use, although we didn’t hear it.  I’ve been interested in church bells since reading Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors.  The Wikipedia article has much interesting information about the cathedral.

In some towns, the Dom or the church is up on a hill (so people can take refuge in it when the river floods).  I didn’t check the topo map for Vienna, but the Dom here is right downtown, in (of course) the Stephensplatz.  In fact it’s right across the square from some of the most modern architecture you can imagine:

St. Stephen's, Vienna

St. Stephen’s, Vienna

The bulgy glass edifice is Hans Hollein’s “Haas Haus.”  Wikipedia doesn’t have much on it, and neither did any of the tourist sites I found when I Googled it; it’s just a building.  It seems to have been built deliberately to reflect the Dom.

Notice the elaborate tile patterns on the Dom roof.  You’ll see it again in Budapest, where it’s even gaudier, when I get that tour posted.  I don’t know if that’s a Central European thing or what.  None of the other cathedrals had patterned tile roofs.  Notice also the three black gables with Gothic arches, on this side of the Dom below the tile roof.  Those are not black because they’re in shadow.  They’re black because they haven’t been cleaned yet, from seven hundred odd years of wood and coal smoke!  That’s what the scaffolding is all about, next to them.

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Driving Around Vienna

Well, not entirely – but a good deal of our “Vienna city walk” was done on a bus, hence the odd things that sometimes appear in my photos.  You’ll only see the ones I could reasonably salvage.  If you just want to go look at photos, you’ll find the Vienna gallery at this link.

The first thing we saw as we turned into town was the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, in Mexicoplatz:

St. Francis of Assisi Church, in Mexicoplatz

St. Francis of Assisi Church, in Mexicoplatz

Also known as the Kaiser Jubilee Church and the Mexicokirche, it was built around the turn of the 20th century to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and consecrated in 1910.  I was interested because of the combination of church styles:  all those round arches are very Romanesque, and yet it has a handsome set of flying buttresses, usually associated with the later Gothic style.  The bus turned a corner, and we continued our tour.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |

And I Didn’t Have a Camera

Returning from the gym on Easter Sunday, in the course of an errand I was driving down San Pablo Avenue near the 580 overpass, instead of rolling straight home on the freeway.  While driving, I saw a truly wonderful sight.  Two cars in front of me was a car containing a person in a white rabbit suit, waving to the people on the sidewalk!  I couldn’t see the details until we both got into a left turn lane.  The car was an ancient pale yellow Dodge GT convertible, top down, with an original California license plate from the ’60s – 3 yellow letters and 3 yellow numbers on a black background. It had fins.  I couldn’t tell you who was in the rabbit suit because all I could see was the back of its head.

And when I dived into my purse for my smartphone – I realized I’d forgotten it.  So all you get is a verbal description from me; but it absolutely made my day.  Happy Easter to all.

Posted in Neighborhood, Personal Tagged |

The Wachau Valley and Dürnstein

Having left Melk Abbey around noon, we sailed on down the Danube toward the Wachau Valley.  This was the first day we had had unfettered access to the soi-disant “sun deck,” and of course it was overcast, although by the time we set out the rain which had poured down on Melk had slacked off.  As usual, this post includes some but not all of the photos I took that afternoon; you can find more of them at the gallery Dürnstein and Wachau Valley.  You can also see larger versions of anything in the gallery.

on the Danube

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