National Geographic : 2002 Mar
held sway within the long Danube Basin. An outpost of the Roman Empire remains about 110 miles downriver at Regensburg, where walls of a fortress built in A.D. 179 still stand. Leaving Germany, the Danube flows east ward into Austria, whose Wachau Valley is fer tile ground for both piety and wine. Terraces of vineyards climb slopes as if to seek benediction from the great medieval monasteries that com mand the hilltops at Melk and Krems. The river passes castle ruins and apricot orchards that spangle the banks with snowy blossoms. Wachau's scenery is captivating, but no place is as identified with the Danube's charm as nearby Vienna. At the Cafe Landtmann, where Sigmund Freud took his morning coffee, I savored a strong brew while sifting through racks of out-of-town newspapers. And in the shabbily genteel Liechtenstein Palace I took in a performance of the "Blue Danube" waltz, the melody that evokes Vienna the world over. Vienna was a hub of the Habsburg empire, and in the 1860s, after Austria's defeat by the Prussians, Johann Strauss wrote the "Blue Danube" to cheer up his fellow Austrians. His music was "an evocative bow," wrote modern critic Harold C. Schonberg, to "a Vienna of young hussars and beautiful ladies, a Vienna of sentimentality and charm, a pretty-pretty and never-never Vienna of dance and romance." Downriver from Vienna the Danube cleaves Hungary's capital of Budapest, with Pest on the left bank, commanded by the stately par liament building, and Buda on the right, crowned by Castle Hill, where King Bela IV built his stronghold against Mongol invaders in 1255. Between the banks sits Margaret Island, named for B1ea's daughter, where I strolled paths flanked by gazebos, playgrounds, band shells, and young couples entwined on shaded benches like living statues. Like other central and east European coun tries, Hungary shed its Soviet-dominated gov ernment more than a decade ago. But it's still THREADING THE HEART OF EUROPE At £ l ic Rising on the slopes of Germany'sBlack Forest, the Danube is known by a stringof names as it courses through ten nations on its way to the Black Sea. Some 1,800 milesfrom beginning to end, it is Europe'ssecond longest river,after the Volga.