For four years Kim and I have dreamed of taking a Viking River Cruise together through Europe. I have been disappointed year after year, as it never came to fruition. Neither one of us had ever been to the continent until this year. Miracle of miracles, I have been three times in 2015 and have completely become enamored with its architecture, people and food as a whole. I have fallen head over heels for the wonderful attributes of Europe. Most fortunately I also connected with Viking this year and Kim and I were able to participate in a trip of lifetime. In all our 37 years of marriage and vacations, nothing compares or can measure up to a river cruise with Viking. The overall impression is a 5-star involvement. We will treasure our memories the remainder of our living days.
We were given a list of four cruises to select from and I chose the “Danube Waltz Cruise”. Basically as a result of Kim’s creative abilities and the fact this cruise centered on Christmas Markets. I did not make the wrong choice, as I am sure you are aware, if you followed our escapades on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We were met at the airport by a terrific native Hungarian who spoke very good English and proceeded to elaborate on a fair portion of the history of Hungary. They loaded our luggage and the superlative service began instantly. We arrived at the Viking Longship Modi and boarded to check in. The staff was friendly, accommodating and impressed me immediately. We were led to our stateroom where we had champagne, water and fabulous fresh cookies waiting for us to arrive. We were hooked right away!
Even though we were worn out from an over 20 hour flight, we jumped right in for the “Welcome Walk” at 2:00 PM, after checking into the ship. We walked for approximately 90 minutes and saw a glimpse of the Budapest Christmas Markets and several statues of Heroic individuals, along with a plethora of beautiful constructed government buildings. Most of which escapes my memory since we were exhausted. I was instantaneously mesmerized by the architecture in Budapest. Kim immediately was drawn to the Christmas Markets and the laser cut wooden spoons, as those of you that followed us know full well by now.
Each night the ship holds a briefing of scheduled activities for the following day. We napped right through the first “Welcome briefing” and somehow woke up for dinner. I can’t say enough about the food on Viking and will devote an entire post to Viking food! After dinner we went straight to bed and slept like rocks. To my knowledge we neither one moved after going to sleep. We were worn out. We both woke up during the early morning around 3:00 AM or so, because of the time difference.
I have a greater respect for the fortitude of the Hungarian people over the years. They have survived countless invasions, wars and staunch oppressors without losing their desire for Independence. The young lady tour guide on our bus presented it in a humorous fashion, stating countries would come to help and then forget to leave. Our tour was a combination bus ride and walking tour. All along the walking tour Viking has a guide that speaks English very well and instructs you on the various works of art, government buildings and parks you may pass, along with taking us through the Christmas Markets in Budapest. The markets were very crowded and she managed to not lose any people. I thought that was as amazing as her dialogue. On each tour every participant is furnished with a wireless headset in which you receive the tour guides narrative.
We returned just in time for lunch. I must add that the Maitre D’ attends individually to everyone with dietary needs or restrictions. I was impressed beyond comprehension. He stopped by our table, introduced himself and greeted all of us at every meal. He inquired if any of us had any allergies or issues. As I cannot eat certain foods, he privately discussed my needs and told me he would stop by each morning at breakfast and discuss the lunch and dinner menus. Each day he made sure to let me know what was safe for me to eat and helped me choose my appetizers, entree and desserts daily at breakfast. As each meal was open seating I just had to give the waiter my room number. I have to tell you, since I am naturally introverted, sitting with complete strangers was at first a little scary. In the end though Kim and I met fabulous, well traveled people and made several lasting friends. We traded emails, phone numbers in some cases and I really enjoyed the various individuals more than I anticipated.
Little did we know our journey across some of Europe’s finest Christmas Markets was just beginning. These markets are beyond comprehension unless you have actually seen them. They all are a mixture of various crafts, souvenirs, foods and items particular to the individual countries. One item that was present at every Christmas Market was Gluhwein, both with alcohol and without. We didn’t realize until after Budapest, every market has their own mug and it comes with the Gluhwein! Some passengers collected mugs from every market. What a great way to remember each city’s Christmas Market. By the way Gluhwein tastes wonderful!
After lunch we had a choice between three “Optional Shore Excursions: The Godollo Palace and Gardens, The Dohany Synagogue or The Budapest Spa Experience. Optional tours cost additional funds. We chose to walk back to the Christmas Markets and explore them more in depth and review the remaining optional tours on the cruise. After all our main objective was to see and visit every Christmas Market, in every city we visited. We chose to revisit the Christmas Markets and explored until dinner on the ship. I barely made it through dinner and couldn’t eat my dessert, I was so full.
The next day we ate breakfast and joined the “Shore Excursion: Budapest” from 8:30 to 12:30 PM. Highlights were the National Opera House and the historic Heroes Square via a bus and then were able to walk along Fisherman’s Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. I learned of the sacrifices the Hungarian people made over the years and how many hundreds of thousands people perished during all the wars collectively.
We loved the bus ride and guide for the excursion through both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. Pest is a flat city filled with historic architecture. I love buildings that have survived wars and conquests from outside armies and still are standing. Some had exquisite and detailed trim, which I favor. Overall Budapest was one of our favorite cities and we have pledged to return. Then we hit the retail shops on Fisherman’s Hill and glimpsed the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion.
We learned that all goods labeled as handmade in Hungary, have to be authentically crafted and sewn in Hungary. If a retail shop offers goods from China or another country that basically is a knock off, they stand the chance of losing their business. Obviously it is not worth the risk. The shop that Kim purchased a table linen runner was in fact actually handcrafted in Hungary. Kim validated this by looking at the stitching on the reverse side. I would have never known! She loved the linens and vowed to wait to purchase additional items. Lesson learned. We quickly discovered, if you really like something buy it then, don’t wait or you take the chance of not seeing the item ever again.
At the top of Fisherman’s Hill is a gorgeous Roman Catholic church, originally built in 1015. The current building was constructed in Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda and the seventh largest church of the Medieval Hungarian Kingdom. The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century. Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.
We headed back to the Viking Longship Modi and sailed after dinner to our next destination, Bratislava.
***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.