Today we had or first full day on our River Boat – the Viking Prestige. We were in Budapest today, and I have to say that if you have not been here recently (in the last 5 years) you will not believe how much it has changed. The city no longer looks like a refugee from the cold war era – it has come alive with a brilliant night scene, sidewalk cafes, and great views of palaces, parliament buildings, new hotels, restored cathedrals and new shopping areas featuring the best designer brands in the world.
Many former Soviet cities have had a hard time coming into the new Millennium, but Budapest is not one of them. We visited the “Pest” side of the city this morning, seeing the new public parks and shopping districts, and then we went across the Danube to the Buda section with its commanding hilltop views of the Danube from the beautiful parks and monuments over there.
We were summed to go on tour at 8:00 am this morning, and of course I have told you how exhausted we are. We made our bus and had a very nice tour, but it required an hour drive to get to the boat which had navigated up the river while we in the city. This is a strategy to get our cruise moving along so we can be in Vienna on day 2 (Monday) – skipping Bratislava, the Slovakian town that I saw back in 1997 on my first Viking River Danube cruise. I was rather looking forward to seeing it. But my guess it that it has not come along in the way that Budapest has – that it is still dreary and stark, like so many former Soviet bloc cities, and so they do not go there anymore. It didn’t make “the ratings.”
It was a big day in Budapest. At the airport we saw a limo driver holding up a big sign looking for the “Cowboy Junkies” – (a very hipster rock band from the 80s whose singer, Edie Brickell, married Paul y.Simon). I never saw the band, but I believe I past the bandstand where they were scheduled to play.
After our morning tour and drive up the river the re-catch our boat we had an excellent lunch onboard followed by several onboard activities. We had a tour of the wheelhouse where we learned all about becoming a Danube river boat pilot. The maitre d’ gave a talk on Vienna Coffee houses the the famous apfel strudel. Of course, he also talked about Sacher Torts, the famous Viennese desserts we plan to try once we arrive.
Tomorrow is a big day, with a walking tour in the morning, and two optional l tours. In the afternoon we will go the Schonbrunn Palace where the Hapsburgs stayed during their reign. And at night we will be attending a concert of classical music and opera by Mozart. The perfect Viennese lifestyle.
You know, it is important to remember that these two cities go together – are sister cities, as they were the co-capitals of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This Empire, which lasted from the 1600s up until World War 1 was essentially the capital of Europe. It extended into Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy and many of the former Soviet countries. I know in America we are not taught much of these important European details from earlier times, but to Europeans it was all very significant history. To see Budapest and Vienna is like seeing the New York City and Washington DC on the 19th century.
I want to say that the food has been very delectable. The choices are somewhat limited – still a simple choice of “meat or fish” every night (I had Turbot tonight). But The ship has done an exemplary job of accommodating my wife’s very strict non-wheat/dairy/gluten diet. Tonight she had a lovely combination of morel mushrooms, tiny corn, minced carrots, celery and onion with a mashed broccoli on the side. Delicious for her. Her dessert was a bit ice cream dish full of fresh, sweet fruit like pears, bananas, apples, and berries. She said “I don’t feel like a I’m just a problem to this staff, they really seem to care about pleasing me.” Every morning the Maître D’ squeezes her fresh fruit juice personally.
The rooms are VERY comfortable. The company (90% Americans) is very good mix of amiable Americans. A lot of people sat out on the top deck today to play dominoes, Scrabble, cards and other games, and to take on the beautiful views of local people sunning on the Danube beaches. There are palaces contrasting with flatblock buildings (as we sail past Slovakia) ten story highs that were built by the Russians during the communist era.
Right now we are enterting on of about 25 locks we must traverse even on this short trip. All in all this is a very interesting and gratifying cruise. Yes, we started pretty cranky, but we are really into the spirit of it all now. Tomorrow (Monday) is a big day. I must go and get some sleep.