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Published: January 30th 2018
Many of you are connected through social media so it will come as no shock to most of you as to where we spent the lead up to Christmas 2017. You will have seen many photos that tell a story; a few ABCs (Another Bloomin’ Church!) and one or two snow scenes (including a deck hand that performs snow angels on request!!) This blog is the narrative part of the tale, ‘based’on a true story!! There are some photos to support the blog including the odd few, courtesy of Roisin and Carla’s Facebook pages!! These photos that I have ’nicked’ were taken by them using their mobile phones when I couldn’t be arsed to get my camera out of my back pack!! Luckily Roisin and Carla were on hand to capture the spirit of this trip in a way that just passed me by. I keep forgetting I have a camera on my phone. I still think phones are mainly there for making phone calls and playing Candy Crush!!
OK, the rest of you are probably thinking, ‘Stop rabbiting! Are you gonna tell us where you went to, or what??’
Our journey started
in Manchester airport and flying on to Budapest, Hungary via Amsterdam. From there we picked up a Viking river cruise and sailed upstream calling at Vienna, Krems, Passau where we turned in to the Main-Danube canal stopping at Regensburg before ending our trip in Nuremburg then flew home via Munich. The trip took seven days.
I travelled with Roisin, Carla (Roisin’s sister) and Kate, my mother-in-law. The flight was relatively uneventful which is even more remarkable as one of my travel companions was a nervous flyer, one an even more nervous flyer (until the diazepam kicked in!) and one… a mother-in-law!! The most unusual feature of the flights was that not only our pilot from Manchester to Amsterdam was a female but the pilot for the onward journey to Budapest was also female. (either that or a twelve year old boy whose voice hadn’t yet broken – I was going to say ‘whose balled hadn’t dropped’ but I wish to keep this blog civil for once!!) In all the years I’ve been flying, I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure to be flown by one lady captain, let alone two!! The take off and landings were smooth and
I’m happy to report no wrong turnings were made!!
As part of our welcome pack received twelve weeks prior to departure, we received a leather luggage tag, red in colour with the Viking logo of a long boat embossed in white thereon. We landed at 17:30 in to Ferenc Liszt airport, formerly (as I used to know it in the 90s) Ferihegy on the outskirts of Budapest and after a short wait to pass through immigration we picked up our luggage, easily identified by the aforementioned bright new shiny tag. Before we ventured in to the arrivals hall, we all affixed a paper tag that stated one’s surname, the name of the boat and stateroom number. We were then met by a rep who led us to our shuttle bus that would transfer us directly to the boat. We witnessed our luggage being ‘thrown’ in to the baggage compartment of the motor coach. That is the last we saw of it until a cabin steward delivered it to our stateroom within fifteen minutes of boarding. Whilst waiting to board the shuttle bus, two Chinese tourists started to push their way on to the bus. I had a flash back
to Beijing!! The Viking rep was quick off the mark and intercepted them. They asked if this was the bus to the city!!
‘This is a private bus’, came the frosty reply. ‘The shuttle to the city is stand number 7, over there’, as our meet-and-greeter pointed in the direction of a crowded bus stand twenty or so metres away.
The airport lies in the south east of Hungary’s premier city and the transfer took 40 minutes in what can only be considered a lavish motor coach; a 53-seater with extra wide seats and a high backrest. As there were only about a dozen of us, there was no shortage of space. If only all excursions could be like this!!
We pulled up along the banks of the Danube in the centre of Budapest. Budapest is a concatenation of two former cities, Buda and Pest. Our boat, the Viking Gullveig was tied up on the Pest side of the city. Roisin and I were first off. The driver, who was positioned to help the more elderly down from the bus, pointed to some steps. ‘Straight down the steps and directly on
On boarding the boat, we entered a modest reception area with a small counter to our left. Opposite, a few shelves displayed various souvenirs. Adjacent to these shelves a passageway led aft to some state rooms. Forward on this level was the entrance to the dining room. After giving our name and stateroom number we were handed two key cards.
Our first invitation was to an orientation meeting. This is a briefing by one of the crew on the boat’s logistics (finding your way around to you and me!!) as well as the week ahead, where we are going, the inclusive tours and what to expect!!)
Our journey, we were told, totalled some 900km and would pass through twenty-five locks en route. Excursions include visits to five UNESCO World Heritage sites. The price of the cruise included tours at each stop as well as optional excursions (for an additional cost) should we wish to choose any. We had booked one optional tour to a Strauss Gala evening in Vienna. We planned on taking advantage of the inclusive excursions. Well, all except Budapest. As we had all been to Budapest before, the inclusive city tour did
not excite us as it visited places we had already seen. No, we had our own agenda. Tomorrow when all the excursions have departed, we planned to leave the boat and execute our own itinerary that included visiting the shoes on the Danube, a memorial to those shot by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes before being shot on the edge of the water so that their bodies fell in to the Danube and were carried away. The Peter Falk statue was another landmark on our check list. Not sure why but the TV fictional detective is a cult hero in these parts, so much so that they erected a statue of the great man!! Finally, we planned on visiting the New York café. This is one of several Art Deco cafés dotted around the city that take you right back to 1920s New York (not that I’ve ever been to 1920s New York to start with – not in this life, anyway!!)
‘The excursions will leave tomorrow at 8am’, started Jochim. ‘The boat will then leave at 8am….’
‘Surely he’s got
that wrong,’ I whispered to Roisin. ‘We’re supposed to have a day in Budapest tomorrow. He must mean the boat departs at 8pm’ No he didn’t!! As it was pantomime season I was hoping someone would say ‘Oh yes he did!!’ I was left hanging!!
Jochim Continued, ‘…for those of you left on boat we will sail up the Danube for about three hours to a small town called Visegrád. Here we will meet the excursion.’
This was our one and only annoyance during our whole trip (well apart from Irene and Marshall - but more about them in a future blog) Our whole plans for Budapest up in smoke before we’d even started. This wasn’t made clear in the brochure: Day one – Budapest; day two – Budapest. It didn’t say: ‘Day two – Budapest (but only if you take the official tour!!)’
There were 189 passengers on board the Gullveig: 1 Canadian; 2 from Singapore; 6 New Zealanders. Then 25 Brits and finally, topping the table (as always!), 155 Americans. In addition to the guests, there were 53 crew and staff (represented by 13 different
Dinner on our first night was at 7pm. The dining room was spacey and all tables were set for six or more. It wasn’t long before we were joined by a couple from North Carolina. The dining room had a ‘sit anywhere’ policy. In some respects, this made sense as if you didn’t get on with your table guests you were not obliged to spend the rest of the cruise having to listen to the same people witter on about their life story…you could listen to a different life story every evening!!!
There are only four decks on the Viking Gullveig – The lower deck has staterooms only; deck 2 finds the dining room and reception forward and midships respectively with more staterooms towards the aft; on deck 3 is a roomy lounge forward of the boat with a small open plan library and two PC terminals for general use in the centre stairwell with more staterooms leading aft. Finally, the sun deck. This is an open air deck that contains a small walking track. A sign affixed to the railings stated that 12.75 laps = 1 mile. Within the walking track a canopy protects those who
Atop the Viking Gullveig
Flying the Hungarian/Viking flags
prefer the be shaded from the sun’s rays. This was never an issue during our seven day trip. However, it did offer some protection from the wind and rain!! The wheel house was also situated on the sun deck. We later learned that the wheel house was hydraulically operated and can be highered and lowered at the push of a button. This feature came in useful as some of the bridges that spanned the Danube posed height restrictions so our boat could duck under these low-lying structures at will.
It was made known from the outset that the Captain would be happy to accommodate anyone in to the wheel house for a look around. Booking was not necessary. A knock on the window would suffice and providing the boat wasn’t passing through a lock or making any other manoeuvre that required a certain degree of concentration and precision you would be beckoned inside.
Captain Zoran Lukic from Serbia did not dwell on ceremony. He did not seek special privileges. At meal times he would enter the dining room and sit with the guests. There was no special ‘Captain’s table’. Every table in the dining was potentially the
Captains table!! On going ashore, the Captain would position himself at the gangway and wish everyone an enjoyable day. Likewise, on returning to the boat after an enjoyable day(!), the Captain would be there to greet everyone back on board and offer hot chocolate, tea, mulled wine, lebenkuche or some other refreshment. At one point, on our return, Captain Lukic was stood at the gangway collecting the hotel card from each guest, a duty normally performed by one of the stewards. The hotel card is a card containing your name and stateroom number. These were collected on leaving the boat and handed back in on returning, thus being able to identify who is still ashore. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day I open our stateroom door to find the captain there in full uniform wearing a pinnie, vacuuming and dusting!!
After dinner, Roisin and I decided to venture out in search of the Shoes on the Danube. We asked the reception to point out the memorial on the city map. Darkness had fallen outside. We followed the quayside in the direction we had been told, the Elizabet and Chain Bridges illuminated in the distance. The quayside was dimly
lit and soon became very uneven underfoot. There was no safety barrier between the quayside and the river. One false move…With my sense of balance we both thought it wise to leave the quayside at the next set of stairs. This took us to an elevated road that was mainly pedestrianised. The Fishermen’s bastion and castle districts were lit from upon high, across the Danube on one of the many hills that can be found in Buda. The walk took thirty minutes. The shoes are located at the water’s edge. This memorial is inconspicuous by the absence of any sign posting. I’m sure the full emotional impact of this tragedy was lost due to the poor lighting despite the illuminations from the nearby bridges and the city.
The time was now 11:15pm. It had been a long first day. It was time to take the ½ hour walk back to the Gullveig. On our return we had to get our own hot drink from the 24-hour drinks station as the Captain couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to welcome us back on board. Well, he had set a dangerous precedent!!
Tot: 0.588s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 11; qc: 53; dbt: 0.0195s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
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