Grand European Tour

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.


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.


Day 18: Budapest, Hungary – Danube Bend Tour


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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 17: Bratislava, Slovakia


Bratislava was the last stop of our river cruise before Budapest. Our time in Bratislava really was too short, which made it disappointing since Bratislava seemed like a really neat city. The few hours we had really were not enough time to see what Bratislava had to offer.

This day we actually took the tour offered by Viking. There actually turned out to be two separate tours offered this day: the first tour included a bus tour up to the presidential palace (also known as the white house) and then this tour included the walking tour of Bratislava; the second tour was only a walking tour of Bratislava, which was supposed to be a faster paced tour (yeah right…). Since we were really tired of taking buses, we decided to go with just the walking tour.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the tour because some moments felt extremely dumbed down. I did really like Bratislava though even with the bad tour.

The tour started out with a long-winded explanation of the Schengen Agreement because no one on the tour really knew what it was, which amazed my Mom and myself since this agreements is well known among travelers. Once the explanation was over in the former Passport Control building, the tour finally headed out into the city.

The tour took us throughout the streets of Bratislava where we saw some of the monuments and then later went to St. Martin’s Cathedral. During the tour though a lot of focus from the tour guide was on unnecessary items. At one point the tour guide even explained what a wheel clamp was, which I can’t figure out why she did since wheel clamps certainly are not unique to Bratislava. Also a lot of focus was on the embassies around the city for some reason, which the other passengers were obsessed with.


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One of the major sites we visited was St. Martin’s Cathedral. The cathedral was interesting since there were a lot of different things to look at inside. The cathedral is the oldest and largest church in Bratislava. From the 1500’s to 1800’s the cathedral was actually used for coronations.


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The cathedral was also built over a cemetery dating back to the 11th century. Since then three crypts have been discovered here. One crypt is actually accessible to the public and can be entered from the inside the cathedral. Also some of the cemetery underneath the cathedral has been revealed as well.

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The tour was really disappointing I thought and I felt like we missed out on seeing Bratislava. Before going to Bratislava I did not know it was an easy city to walk, so we just stuck with the tour offered by Viking. If we had known this was an easy walking city, we would have skipped the Viking tour because a lot of time was wasted on this tour with longwinded explanations. Plus the tour guide wasted 15+ minutes on a bathroom break. When the time is limited to begin with and the tour is less than 1 and a half hours, a bathroom break really eats into the tour time. I’m starting to think catheters or adult diapers may need to be a requirement for Viking on some of these tours to avoid the forever and a day bathroom breaks.

We did ditch the tour after the forever bathroom break. We walked around the main square area on our own and then walked into some of the little shops on the way. There looked like a lot of unique shops in the area plus lots of little sidewalk cafes too.

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One thing I thought was amazing is a lot of people onboard did not like Bratislava. One person complained of graffiti, which is ironic since Germany had a lot of graffiti as well. According to Caitlyn (program director), Bratislava is a love or hate city for a lot of passengers. I can’t figure out why people dislike Bratislava since it is easily accessible and offered a lot to see. I really would like to go back to Bratislava one day to better explore what the city and Slovakia has to offer.