Thursday, June 23, 2016

Budapest and the Danube at Night

An hour of total delight closed our first evening on board the Viking Jarl.  We cruised up and then down the river as the floodlit buildings, bridges, and monuments gleamed under a tiny crescent moon.
If there ever was a definition of romance this was it.

Parliament Bldg

Castle Hill  in  Central Buda
The marvelous Chain Bridge

Liberation Monument atop Gellert Hill on the Buda side

a closeup

And now time to pack it in

with extraordinary memories and we haven't even left our first town yet.

Riverside Memorial to Hungarian Jews

I could have included this short item in one of the previous entries, but thought it deserved a spot of its own.  The Danube Embankment in Budapest provides one of the most beautiful strolls in all of Europe, but it can also stop you in your tracks. You are walking along on a perfect June afternoon enjoying life and the views of old Buda across the way when you happen unexpectedly  upon a line of bronze shoes sitting quietly in the sunlight.

What is going on?   It is a poignant reminder of past horror. Hungarian Jews suffered mightily during  WWII's Nazi Occupation.  Over 500,000 of them were worked to death or cold bloodedly murdered during Hitler's rule.  Here marks the spot where over 60 Jews were led to the river's edge on a cold January day, forced to remove their shoes,  and then pushed into the icy water to their death. 

No more need be said.  


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Viking Jarl Awaits Us

Welcome aboard the Viking Jarl. 

We arrived dockside around 4:00 PM in the afternoon of Sat. June 21st, paraded up the gangplank,  and were promptly directed to our cabin.

We found our luggage waiting to be unpacked and quickly got used to the small but efficient space that included the extra benefit of a narrow private patio accessed by a sliding window door.

Looking back from the windows you can see the cabin entrance door and to the left the door to the private WC and shower.

It should be evident from the pictures above that these so called "longboats" that ply the Danube under many flags are basically floating hotels and truly miraculous in their engineering.   I will explore this more after we get underway.  For now suffice it to say that they have been built to just fit into the many locks they have to traverse along the way and also with retractable pilot houses and upper deck awning shades so that they can fit under bridges that range from Roman to ultra modern. There is no engine noise and the ride is so smooth that unless you look at the shoreline you are not aware of any movement.  Leave your motion sickness remedies at home; this is not an open ocean cruise. 
We had just enough time to get settled in our cabin before the P.A. system announced a call for all passengers to meet in the main lounge for orientation and an opening tipple.

This gathering summarized some of the basic shipboard operating procedures and most importantly  gave us a chance to meet the four people that we would be most dependent on for the next week of our lives. 
Our Captain.

Our General Manager, Joerg, our Program Director, Cornelia, and most important of all

 Our Chef, Robert 
With that it's dinner time. Welcome to our Viking Danube Cruise!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Suburban Budapest--St. Andrew's and Skanzen

The morning of June 2nd dawned sunny and clear once again.  We were instructed to pack our bags and leave them for transport to our cruise ship later in the afternoon. Meanwhile we would take a little tour of suburban Budapest. 

We headed out of town on the Buda side of the river. One of the first unexpected sights was a string of preserved Roman ruins running along the highway.  It is easy to forget that this part of Europe had been settled well before medieval times.  Our guide reminded us that river coursing along next to the road had been a major highway for people and goods for well over 2000 years.

We were also reminded that the Danube was prone to flooding in the spring. One village has handled the problem with temporary barriers along their waterfront that slide into concrete slotted pylons.  They function as instant dikes and can be carted away when the waters recede.

They also have some pretty nice hanging baskets.

Back on the bus we went next to a little touristy artist colony called St. Andrew (Szentendre in Hungarian)..  It was a festival day so we were met by a band,

but that did not change the fact that the town was pretty much one narrow  street lined with cafes and souvenir shops.  If you wished to load up on knit goods, animal skins, carved boxes, and wooden toys, you were in luck.

Another big tourist item is paprika. You can buy it  in jars, vials, cans, pouches, you name it.  You have to take at least some home and of course we gave up and bought. Most of the stalls sold the same stuff at the same prices so my guess is that the big winner was our tour company, who no doubt negotiated a kick-back from everybody for stopping their buses there.

The town center provides a nice place to rest a bit before walking up to the top of Castle Hill to view a lovely 13th century church.

Then down a little narrow alley where we ran into a shop selling a local delight.

Hungry in Hungary?  Try this.

Kind of a large deep fried flat semi-donut with a choice of toppings.  Only a gozillion grams of fat. We sampled one anyway.
 After finishing off one of those the little alley seemed even narrower. 


Loaded up again and head for Skanzen.  This was a large open air architectural museum where various historic buildings have been taken from their original sites and then re-erected. There is a similar one in Stockholm and one called Seurasaari in Helsinki. Costumed docents are positioned in some buildings to describe or demonstrate historic customs.

We arrived just in time for lunch at the main building, but first we had a fun demonstration of the art of making goulash.

Our chef addressed us as we gathered at the cutting tables.
Then it was chop chop mince mince
dump dump

and stir 

 Lunch was tasty though I don't think they served the mess we cooked up. Dessert as usual was the best.

We also had a nice folk trio serenading us during lunch.

Pleasantly full we were released for an hour to wander among some of the other buildings on the site.

Most interesting was the giant windmill with its working wooden gears.

Our tour bus then took us back into town and delivered us to the gangway of our Viking Longboat.
And that's a subject for the next post