Today we took a cruise boat down the Danube. Our Eurail Passes offered a half-price bonus to an already reasonable fare. We took the five-hour ride to Above a wooded hillside can be seen the top of a large stone castle overlooking the Danube Schloss overlooking the Danube Linz and returned to Passau by train, so it was an all-day excursion.

Germans enjoy their time off; partly this is due to strict closing laws for shops -- around eight p.m. Monday to Friday, three p.m. on Saturday, and closed all day Sunday. So there were lots of local people taking the Saturday cruise. There were also several tours: the buses dropped off their passengers at the docks, then drove to Linz to meet them when them when they arrived.

All the Danube cruise boats -- there were about a dozen tied up in Passau -- are long and low, to get under the bridges. On our boat, the M.V. Stadt Linz, the lower two decks were enclosed in glass and filled with restaurant-style tables. We chose the top deck with aluminum benches and One push boat with two attached barges heading up the Danube passes our cruise boat Barge traffic tables; we had to wipe off the thick morning dew. By the time we left the dock, several groups had brought up bottles of beer to start the day.

We soon realized why the fares were so low: the boat served breakfast, lunch, and dinner and had a full bar and a duty-free shop. We were in the minority who elected to stay on the top deck and watch the scenery for the whole trip. We were happy to avoid the crowds and smoke below.

We had a headwind, and wore our jackets all day, but the skies were blue and almost cloudless, it warmed up nicely by midday, and the views were lovely.

The Inn and the Ilz flow into the Danube in Passau; the two smaller rivers were relatively clear, but the Danube was muddy, no matter what Johann Strauss said. For the first half of the trip, the Danube valley is quite With pennons streaming our boat enters one of the locks on the Danube Entering a lock narrow, with steep forested hills and bluffs on both sides, interspersed with small towns and holiday resorts. Every town had its predominant church(es). There were even a couple of schlosses (castles) on the hilltops. We made several stops to board and discharge passengers.

After the first hour there was quite a variety of river traffic, though not a great volume. We passed several barges and cargo boats, and some rowing shells, which maneuvered carefully to cross our wake. There were several little passenger ferries, and a few power boats. We passed a water ski instruction school, but noone was out. Whenever we passed rowers or watchers from the shore there was lots of waving.

The Danube has three locks on this stretch. It was a fascinating sight to see the boat settle into its box and then sink rather quickly as the water drained out. The second lock -- we think the tour guide said it was the highest The huge monument stands perhaps fifty feet high, with carvings below and a large gilt sunburst on top Monument in Linz square in Europe -- dropped us at least fifty feet. We had a good view of the lock operations from the top deck, and when we passed under a particularly low pedestrian bridge, everyone reached up and slapped the metal beams.

Further south, the Danube valley widens, with lots of farming operations. The time passed quickly and we arrived in Linz a little after two. When we saw the carnival rides and concession stands across the river, we knew at least some of the passengers had come to Linz for an Oktoberfest.

We walked through Linz to the railroad station, stopping to see the huge Hauptplatz with its gigantic monument, past several churches, in one of which we listened to some organ lessons, and through throngs of people. Apparently the big event of the festivities had just ended, but there were still lots of free samples and flyers for attractions being handed out on the streets, and the young people were dressed in their Saturday best.

We found plenty of free seats on the train, and passed the time reading the International Herald Tribune, given to us by the conductor. Soon we were back in Passau, where the young people were dressed up in their Saturday best, too. The streets were full of people, even though the shops were closed. We rode the bus back up the hill to our hotel, and packed for our departure to Regensburg tomorrow.