Saturday, June 15, 2013 - Budapest

The Grand European Cruise - Viking Longship Tor, Skadi and Embla 
Please follow Pam and I on our wonderful Viking River Cruise along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers starting in Amsterdam on June 2, 2013 to Budapest. — Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Cologne, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Salzburg, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. See the map at the bottom of this blog.

Capital of Hungary, Budapest is known affectionately as "the Little Paris of Central Europe" and "Pearl of the Danube." Home to almost 2,000,000 people, it is the largest city in the country, brimming with history, culture, politics and commerce.

Budapest is more than a city; in fact, it's three cities that were merged in 1873 to become a larger metropolis spanning both sides of the Danube. Buda and Obuda, on the right bank, are set in a landscape of rolling hills that drop off steeply toward the river, while Pest occupies a flat expanse, allowing the city to sprawl ever further east.

Celts set up the first settlements in the Stone Age, before the Romans arrived and established a capital city in which they constructed roads, amphitheaters, baths and houses with heated floors. At the end of the first millennium, horsemen from the east conquered the lands along the Danube and founded the culture from which modern-day Hungry evolved.

While Buda offers by far the best views of the city and the river, especially from Fisherman's Bastion high on the castle hill, and is home to most of the city's most famous sites, Pest is the lively center of the modern metropolis. Here you will find a number of interesting museums and other cultural institutions, a wide variety of restaurants that cater to every palate, the pedestrian-only shopping area of Vaci Street and an inviting nightlife. Separating the two halves of the city is the Danube, spanned by a half-dozen bridges - some sleek and modern, others with dramatic fin de siècle ornamentation. In the middle if the river is Margaret Island, a popular city park beloved by locals.

Few other cities along the river can match the impression that Budapest makes when viewed from the water: whether you are coming or going, by day or by night, you are sure to enjoy the panorama from the deck of your vessel as you sail into and through this incomparable city.

Our whirlwind bus/walking tour of Budapest was guided by a very nice lady named Eseme, who was obviously quite proud of her Hungarian heritage. Our first stop was at Heroes Square, in an area of the city that had been completely overhauled in the late 19th century to host a World Exhibition. The Square is dominated by a colonnade containing bronze statues of the most famous Hungarian rulers, and overlooks a man-made lake that serves as an ice skating rink in winter.

There was so much to see as we tooled down the major boulevards in Budapest that it was rather like watching a ping pong match. All of us were pivoting in our seats to look out the right side of the bus, shifting to the left, and then back to the right again. (I'm surprised that no one developed motion sickness!) While doing this enables you to see a lot in a very little time, it can become a little frustrating for anyone trying to take photographs of the more intriguing or beautiful sights.

One of the more poignant moments on the bus portion of the tour came as we passed the city's main synagogue, rebuilt after the Second World War, and now the second largest in the world after New York's Congregation Emanu-El. Behind the building stands a stylized representation of a tree in evocation of Yad Vashem, and its grounds contain the graves and/or grave markers of about 3,000 Jews lost during the Holocaust. This highly unusual use of a synagogue speaks to the importance the Hungarian Jewish community assigns to remembrance of the horrific events of 70 years ago.

We wound our way through Buda and up the Castle Hill, where the old royal palace, the Matthias Church, and a sparkling new Hilton Hotel are perched. This is also the location of the previously mentioned Fisherman's Bastion, which provides a dramatic panorama of the city. The Matthias Church (actually St. Mary's Church) is currently undergoing both interior and exterior restoration, and it was fascinating to watch the artists labor to restore the glowing frescoes that adorn every interior wall of the Church. The hot, sunny day lent itself to the appreciation of the gorgeous stained glass windows and other facets of the décor.

We were turned loose for some free time on Castle Hill upon our exit from the church, and quite a few of us headed for the heights of the Fisherman’s Bastion to photograph the expansive panorama of the double city. It was also time to return to some of the shops whose enticing displays of characteristic Hungarian handiworks had been calling to me since we passed them on our ascent of the hill. After the requisite souvenir purchases, there was just enough time for me to relax at an umbrella-shaded cafe table and have a Diet Pepsi (my first soda of the trip!) before heading back to the bus.

Quite a few folks returned to the city for an optional tour after lunch, while Gary and I worked on this blog and on getting as much of our packing accomplished as possible. We are among the first group that will taken to the airport to start our journeys homeward, and will have to have our luggage ready for pickup at 2:45 a.m.!

This has been a trip that, while it didn’t pan out exactly as planned, gave us the opportunity to meet a group of kindred spirits from all over the globe, and to share fun and face challenges with them in ways that helped to forge real friendships out of chance acquaintanceships. Experiencing the various historic and artistic riches in all the venues we visited was only one component of the memories that we will keep with us of this voyage; the delightful companions with whom we threw in our lot will comprise a living, enduring link to the events of the past 15 days. And for that we both will be grateful.

Thanks so much for travelling with us via this blog! We welcome your comments and questions.

All best,
Gary and Pam Grayson


  1. Looks like a fantastic trip even with the changes!!

  2. looks great trip you had,

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