Danube

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 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.

Day 17: Sailing the Danube from Bratislava to Budapest

Since we left Bratislava early, most of the day was focused on sailing the Danube.

During the day the sailing is not the most exciting at some points of time. There are a lot of swans along the Danube at some points, which I did forgot to take a picture of. One thing I noticed along the Danube is the amount of logs and sometimes garbage floating along in areas. It is amazing at times there is no damage from the large logs floating in the water to the riverboats.

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One thing though I really want to note is to be careful of the sun along the Danube. I actually got really burned this day and my arms were bright red for only being in the sun for such a short time. I was a bit surprised since I got the worst of the sun out of my Mom and myself. This probably was not the best way to end a trip to Europe I will say since I had no aloe with me!

This evening we did bring one of our own bottles of wine we had bought in Passau to dinner. There is no issue on Viking bringing your own wine, which is a good thing since there wine was pretty below average. We of course had another bottle of Gruner Veltliner with us that evening, which we had bought a few days back in Passau.

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During dinner the view along the Danube was fantastic. The most amazing part of the day was the evening sailing towards Budapest. At one point we passed Esztergom and Visegrad during dinner.

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Around 10pm was when the Viking Baldur started to see the lights of Budapest. This is definitely not to miss and I recommend getting up on the Sun Deck before everyone else does. We lucked out and got a prime spot on the front of the Sun Deck. Viking did serve schnapps up on the Sun Deck that evening, which was a bit different tasting. Not really sure if it was schnapps or something else all together!

The almost Chuck Norris or Colbert bridge!

The almost Chuck Norris or Colbert bridge!

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Day 15: Melk & Krems, Austria

Before the river cruise we had received an itinerary change noting we would not be stopping in Krems. Once on board though the itinerary changed back to the original itinerary with a stop at Melk in the morning and Krems in the afternoon. The best part of the day I think was sailing through the Wachau Valley.

The first stop at the day was for the abbey in Melk. Really I’m not a huge fan of churches, cathedrals, or abbeys, so for me I could have easily just skipped the tour. The Melk Abbey is about 900 years old and was rebuilt in the 18th century after the original building was destroyed in a fire.

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Now the end of the tour was a bit odd because the tour guide left the tour in the library and didn’t walk us to the chapel. The tours actually can’t be conducted in the chapel, but she never showed us where to exit the abbey or when to be back to the bus to the ship. Later we did talk to one of the main people on the Viking Baldur who did say the guide pretty much screwed up and should have walked us to the chapel, told us the bus schedule, and showed us the exit before leaving. There definitely were older people confused and lost here because of a couple poorer tour guides. Overall this was a bit odd since nothing was ever said about time schedules. Once we found Caitlyn, the program director, we were given the opportunity to either walk down to Melk or go back to the riverboat.

Once at the riverboat we still had to wait out the time for the Viking Baldur to start heading down the Wachau Valley. I felt like we were in Melk for hours since we didn’t leave until around 2pm. A lot of people arrived back to the boat quickly after the abbey tour or free time in Melk.

In the late afternoon we finally started down the Danube through the Wachau Valley. Along the way we passed a lot of small towns and vineyards. Finally we were able to sit on the Sun Deck since this had been closed throughout most of the cruise. Before arriving in Krems, everyone actually had to sit down on the Sun Deck due to a very low bridge. The bridge actually could be touched easily if standing up.

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Sailing past Durnstein

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Around 3:45pm we arrived in Krems where shuttle buses were offered to the town center. We did hurry off and got the 4pm shuttle, which filled very quickly. A shuttle was offered at 4pm, 4:30pm, and 5pm to the center with a shuttle offered back to the Viking Baldur at 5:30pm, 6pm, and 6:30pm.


After arriving in the center we walked the main shopping street and were probably done within 30 minutes. I don’t know if we missed something, but there literally wasn’t much to see or do. Some stores were already closed by 4:30pm and some were completely empty for lease. I did end up buying a scarf I thought was cool from a store that reminded me of typical stores geared towards my age at home. While walking back to the shuttle bus stop, we did come across a schnapps store that we hadn’t notice before that sold apricot schnapps. The schnapps was pretty tasty and both my Mom and myself were compelled to buy two bottles to take home. Instead of taking the shuttle back we did walk back to the riverboat. The walk probably took about 15 to 20 minutes from the town center. The boat did stay in Krems until late in the evening.

Just an additional note, dinner on the Viking Baldur was Austrian themed that night. The dinner was partial buffet and then you ordered the entrees. None of the food items excited me so we decided to eat in the Aquavit Terrarce. Well you can’t escape Austrian night on Viking! The same meal was served there too. The presentation was very nice and I will give compliments to the chef for making an interesting dinner, but I will admit German and Austrian food really doesn’t excite me. I was able to order a steak from the anytime menu and I do believe I was the only person to do this that night. Actually the anytime steak on Viking was really good and I’m happy I tried it. It was much better than anything I’ve been served on anytime menus from other cruise line.

Overall this day was pretty uneventful and rather on the boring side. Some people were thrilled by it while both my Mom and myself agree the ports could easily be skipped. I personally felt Melk and Krems were a waste of time that could have been spent elsewhere, like an extra day in Vienna.