Europe

Day 21: Flying from Budapest to Miami

On June 2nd, I flew home from Budapest. Since my Mom had her flight at 6am on KLM and I had mine on Air France at 6:30am, we went to the airport together.

This was a really early morning, so we decided against taking a taxi. Before arriving in Budapest we had contacted the InterContinental about a transfer to the airport. This was easily set up through the concierge at the hotel. A pick-up was set up for 3:45am and only cost HUF 8500, which was the equivalent of $30.50. The transportation was through a company called Elit and the driver was at the hotel well before 3:45. So we were able to leave early and I swear we were at the airport in less than 25 minutes.

When we got to the airport none of the counters were open yet, and I believe they didn’t open until around 4:15am. Since we were flying business, we could use the sky priority line and were able to skip the long line for all other passengers. We then headed to security and this was very simple. We just had to take out iPads and computers, plus our liquid Ziploc bags.

Once through security there is a huge duty-free store at the Budapest airport. Since it was so early in the morning only the duty-free store was open. We then just waited for our flights at our gates, which were luckily right next to each other. My Mom’s flight then started lining up early, so she joined the Sky Priority line to wait for boarding. Once she was on her flight, I then lined up for mine. People line up early for boarding and neither KLM or Air France seemed to board by zones or aisles.

The Air France flight from Budapest to Paris was uneventful. The seats though for business class are actually coach seats, but the middle seat is left empty. This was fine since the business class section was virtually empty for the flight. Air France did serve a meal for the short flight, which included hot croissants, a meat and cheese plate, and a fruit bowl.

My flight then landed on time and I had my long layover in Paris. I then went through passport control and headed to the Air France lounge. This is when I noticed a slight issue and was rather confused, my flight was listed in both terminal 2E and 2F. Well luckily I was in 2E since this was where my flight left from, but no one in the airport was helpful trying to figure out where my flight actually was going to leave from, even the lounge staff were useless on this issue. I probably wouldn’t have found the Charles de Gaulle airport to be so confusing, if the gate and terminal information had been correct. This made for a confusing morning and made me a bit nervous I was in the wrong terminal. Finally it was time to board my flight and at least I was in the correct terminal.

Normally I hear really negative thoughts about Air France, but I was really impressed with the airline and service in business class. I was greeted with French champagne and the service was friendly throughout the flight. Luckily no one sat in the seat next to me on the flight too. During the flight I watched three movies: Gone Girl; The Imitation Game; and Pride. One thing I found really impressive, before people started using the screens the flight attendants stopped by each seat and showed each passenger how to use the system. No other airline have I been on has done this before.

I was served two meals on the flight. The main meal was amazingly good and had good wine as well, which is shocking to say anymore even in business! Air France does serve foie gras as an appetizer, which was a bit impressive, even though it wasn’t my favorite food item. The 2nd meal was served about 2 hours out from Miami during extremely rough turbulence.

I was really impressed with Air France and I would definitely fly with them again. The service was a step above any airline I have flown in the past, both domestic and international.

After disembarking the flight I headed to customs, which was a breeze with Global Entry even with my passport not scanning. I was through customs in less than 5 minutes and it only took about 10 minutes for the suitcases to start coming out. I probably wouldn’t hesitate to fly through Miami again either.

Overall the trip was really good, even with some of the slowpoke tours. I definitely would take a river cruise again, though it would really depend on the itinerary.

Thank you to everyone who followed along for this trip report and for all the positive feedback!

Day 20: Budapest, Hungary

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Monday was our last full day in Budapest and in Europe. There really were only two major plans on our agenda that day, one was to go to the Central Market Hall and the other was just to tour around the city.

The first thing we did on Monday morning was purchase a ticket for the Hop on, Hop off bus. Normally this isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it actually worked well for Budapest since I hadn’t done a ton of research on transportation in Budapest before the trip. Plus, I thought it made it much easier to get around the city to some of the major destinations.

One thing I didn’t realize is there are 4 separate companies that have hop on and hop off bus tours in Budapest.

  • Official Hop On, Hop Off (Giraffe)
  • City Sightseeing Budapest
  • Budapest Sightseeing
  • Big Bus

Most likely all 4 companies are similar, but we went with the one that had the Giraffe on the side since the InterContinental sold tickets through the concierge, and this was the one I found before going to Budapest. They have 3 separate bus lines and this day we only did the yellow line because of time. The drop off points take you to all major sites and some other unique destinations, like a distillery I never knew about.

The distillery we didn't know about in Budapest

The distillery we didn’t know about in Budapest

There definitely were a variety of people using the hop on, hop off buses of all ages and nationalities. I probably would use the hop on, hop off bus again if I were in Budapest.

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Construction and roadwork all over Budapest

Construction and roadwork all over Budapest

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Half way through the ride we got off at the Central Market Hall, which the yellow line stops directly in front of. Here we just explored the market and bought some paprika. The main floor sells vegetables, meats, and spices. I did buy a small piece of handmade Hungarian lace upstairs. The upstairs is primarily all souvenirs and there are some small restaurants. In the basement there was the grocery store Aldi, which is all over Europe and has some locations in the United States.

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After spending time at the Central Market Hall, we headed back for the Hop on, Hop off bus and finished the rest of the yellow line. We then went back to the hotel for the evening, finished up packing, and drank a bottle of Hungarian wine we were given.

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Day 19: Budapest, Hungary – Disembark Viking Baldur

Last Sunday we disembarked the Viking Baldur and then spent 2 nights in Budapest.

Before leaving the Viking Baldur we settled our bill at the front desk. This actually turned out to be easy the final morning since there was no line, unlike the night before. Our bill only turned out to be €12 because we had been given onboard credit. The onboard credit covered all the optional tours we took and most of the drinks we purchased onboard.

Originally the Viking Baldur was supposed to dock right in front of the InterContinental Budapest, and this was what we were told hours before docking as well. The night before we docked still on the same side as the Intercontinental, but on the opposite side of the bridge.

The morning of disembarking it poured before we left the riverboat. This made it a bit difficult to get over to theInterContinental because the way we were going to go was incredibly muddy and the other way involved a big stairwell. One thing that made it easier to get the bags over was because it was a Sunday with little traffic. Luckily Caitlyn (program director) offered one of the crewmembers to at least bring the suitcases up the stairs so we wouldn’t have to go the muddy way. We then lucked out further because the guy offered to take them all the way, since he wanted a break from the boat for a bit. This made it so much easier to get to the hotel. Even though the location of the hotel is convenient to the Viking docking locations, it may not always be the easiest to get to with suitcases.

When we checked into the InterContinental we were given a choice of an upgrade to a suite. We actually passed on this since it meant only 1 bed instead of 2 beds. Instead the hotel included breakfast for two days instead and we could access our room right away. This actually worked out much better for us in the long run. We decided that morning to have breakfast at the hotel, which was the typical European buffet breakfast. One interesting thing is the Intercontinental does have an Asian buffet for breakfast as well.

The view from our hotel room overlooked the Danube, which was fantastic at night.

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Today turned out to be slightly not as planned. Originally I wanted to go to the House of Terror Museum, which recognizes the victims of both the Communist and Nazi regime of Hungary. Well we missed out on doing this since we just weren’t in the mood to sightsee much that day. Since we didn’t go, I knew we missed out on going this trip. Most museums in Budapest are closed on Monday’s, with some closed on Tuesday’s.

Instead we just walked around the area near the hotel this day. There are a lot of cafes and shops, but the shops were mostly closed on Sunday. This is actually a relatively new law in Hungary we found out and shops over 200 sqm can’t be open on Sunday’s. Previously shops were open on Sunday in Hungary, but a law was passed this year to change that. Juli, our guide from the day before, mentioned people in Hungary weren’t happy about this changing.

Later in the evening we decided to search for somewhere for dinner. Well even though there are a lot of neat looking cafes and restaurants in the area, virtually most had the same exact menu. I was a little surprised by this and was expecting some variations. So since nothing really appealed on the nearby menus, for example like goose liver, we went somewhere we normally would never go to on vacation, the Hard Rock Café. Surprisingly this was the best service we had at any restaurant the entire time in Budapest. Not really sure why the service here was so good compared to anywhere else, but it was attentive and friendly. So kudos to the Hard Rock for actually having a decent experience!

After dinner we just headed back to the hotel for the evening since we were a bit tired after all the early days the past week had.

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Day 18: Budapest, Hungary – Danube Bend Tour

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This was our first actual day in Budapest and our last full day on the Viking Baldur.

Viking offered a few tours this day to passengers, but we had already planned a private tour on our own. The Viking tours for the day included the typical bus/walking tour of the city. Then there were two optional tours this day: the first was a horse show; the second was a spa visit. Typically there is a Jewish Synagogue tour as well offered by Viking, but since it was a Saturday the tour could not be offered to passengers. Since we had a tour planned on our own, we obviously did not have time to partake in any Viking offered.

For the private tour, I actually found it a couple weeks before heading out on our trip. I was looking for information about Budapest and came across the website Travel Guide Hungary. The site offered some interesting tours of both Budapest and the countryside. After looking up reviews on TripAdvisor, my Mom and I decided to contact the company and heard back within 24-hours. We were lucky and able to book a tour just a few weeks out before being in Hungary.

We decided to not do a tour of Budapest, but instead the countryside since we wanted to see more of Hungary. The tour we selected was the Danube Bend tour and was about 8 hours long. The tour visited Esztergom, Visegrad, and Szentendre. Before the trip started we were told our guide would be Juli and she would meet us in the lobby of the Viking Baldur at 9am.

The day of the tour we got to the lobby a little before our meeting time to watch for Juli. Just before the time I could see someone who looked like the guide from the website being stopped by a security guard outside the dock. Interestingly, this was the only port with an actual security guard at the entrance of the dock the entire trip. We decided to head out to the dock to see if this was our guide, and it definitely was. She also made the comment this was the first time being stopped before by security and being asked questions.

Juli then walked us to the van, which was parked just right by the ship where we met our driver for the day, Emi (spelling is most likely off). The van was comfortable with enough room for 3 more people in the backseat. Emi had also brought a cooler of drinks for us as well for the day. We then headed out to our first stop.

On our way to our first stop of the day, Juli would have Emi slow down along the way through Budapest so we could see some of the sites from the van. She would provide explanations about the sites, like the former Roman ruins in Budapest. Even though the van was honked at a few times by other drivers for slowly passing by the sites, Emi gave us enough opportunity to see them from the van. This was really nice to see some of the sites of Budapest from the van by going slowly. We then headed into the countryside. Just a note, the roads in Budapest are extremely bumpy and makes for a rough ride in the van or any other vehicle.

We first stopped at a popular hiking location in Hungary, which was not on the description. No we did not stop to hike, but to walk up to the lookout point. Juli told us hiking actually is very popular in Hungary because of the past Communist history. The former Communist government actually had hiking books where citizens would then collect stamps for where they hiked. The location is also a popular place for Monks today to meditate. The view from the outlook was spectacular and overlooked the Danube.

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From here we then headed to Esztergom, which is a small town that had an important role in the establishment of the Hungarian state 1000 years ago. The main place to see in Esztergom is the Roman Catholic Church of Hungary, which is the largest in Hungary. The dome can be seen from across the river in Slovakia (we actually were driven over to Slovakia first to get a picture of the Church). From the dome you can see the entire town and part of the Danube bend. Once at the Church we had some opportunity to walk around inside and outside.

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View of Esztergom from Slovakia

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View from the dome of another church in Esztergom

Once we were done touring Esztergom, we then drove to Visegrad. Visegrad is considered to have the best views of the Danube bend. Originally we were supposed to eat at a restaurant here that overlooks the citadel, but the restaurant informed Juli a wedding reception was currently taking place and only a couple tables were available to the public. We all decided to instead have lunch in Szentendre since we thought it might not be the best time to go to a restaurant with a wedding reception taking place.

The Danube Bend

The Danube Bend

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After driving around and stopping in Visegrad, we then headed to Szentendre. Szentendre is considered an Artists’ Village, which is home to lots of cafes, galleries, shops, and restaurants. Emi dropped us off near the other restaurant choice so we headed there. The restaurant was just okay, nothing great, which I think is a trend in Hungary. I think the restaurant was called Christine’s. I had the beef stew with gnocchi, which I really liked. My Mom tried a bite and didn’t carry for the gnocchi al all though. She had the goulash instead, which she said was very good. Now the service was below average, which was also another typical thing we noticed in Hungary.

Beef stew and gnocchi for lunch

Beef stew and gnocchi for lunch

Once lunch was finished Juli then guided us through the city where we visited two different churches. The town has a lot of churches and historic sites. One interesting site to note is a monument for a plague victim. There was only one victim of the plague in Szentendre and the family created the monument. From here we headed up a very narrow stairwell to the Catholic Church. This was the only Catholic Church in Szendendre, but had fantastic views of the rooftops of the town.

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Next we walked around the town more before heading to the only Serbian Orthodox Church. Really both my Mom and I could have passed on this since we had to pay an entrance fee. Even though we paid an entrance fee we couldn’t see the whole church because it was partially closed that day to get ready for some random religious holiday (sorry, I just don’t keep up with religious holidays). The entrance fee did gain us access at least to the Serbian Orthodox Museum, which then charged a fee to take pictures so we both passed on the photo opportunity in the museum. All the relics though were very old and strangely all looked the same. Every face was basically the same in the paintings, even though the individuals were supposed to be different.

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After the Church we were given some opportunity to shop in the town. We did walk through some of the shops but decided to pass on purchasing anything. There were some really unique shops here and I thought the shopping was more interesting than in Budapest. Luggage space though was becoming limited and I decided to wait instead until I came across something I really liked that was small.

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Once we were finished in Szentendre we were then driven back to the Viking Baldur for our final evening.

Overall the tour was very good and I would highly recommend going through Travel Guide Hungary if you are interested in doing any tours in Hungary on your own. Our guide Juli was excellent and well informed on the history of Hungary, in addition the driver Emi was friendly as well. Both my Mom and I were impressed with the tour and would say this was one of the better private tours we have ever done.