Continuing the story of our eight-day, seven night “Danube Rhapsody” cruise, starting from and returning to Passau in Germany with the furthest point reached being Budapest in Hungary and traversing 4 countries along the way …………..
Monday 25 April
Budapest – Horse Farm
Still moored in Budapest, we enjoyed a quick breakfast before boarding the bus once again for the trip out of town to a horse-riding show farm. Our cheerful guide gave us a run-down on the significant places we passed, many of which we had seen during the city tour the previous day, but it all helps to cement them into our senior brains.
Soon we were at the Lazar Farm having a welcoming scone with a powerful liquor called …… er, I seem to have forgotten, I just know it went down well in the cold weather.
Then we climbed onto horse-drawn wagons for a short ride along tree-lined tracks, muddy from the recent rain – the cold wind was biting with nowhere to hide, so we were glad to have packed our warm jackets and wooly hats.
Next up was a horse show viewed from a seating area next to a short sandy oval track, including a series of displays of the horse-riding skills particular to the region, which celebrate the unique relationship between Hungarian horsemen and -women with their horses :
- 2 pairs of horses pulling a heavy wagon, galloping by us at full speed, mud flying from the hooves
- 2 pairs of ponies drawing a smaller wagon, a lot more sedately
- an archer on horseback, shooting at a fixed target and mostly hitting it as he galloped past
- a brave rider standing on two horses while controlling a team of five horses
- other riders performing in traditional costumes
All in all a memorable show and most enjoyable to be out in the countryside, despite the cold weather
The morning tour was enough for us for the day, so we decided to skip the afternoon tour (through the countryside to meet the boat further upstream) and spent the afternoon pleasantly cruising along the Danube as the boat started the return journey. More about the “Just Cruising” part in a forthcoming post. (I know you can’t wait, but I have to stretch this trip out to get my money’s worth from it – that’s what comes from having a Scottish heritage)
Tuesday 26 April
Bratislava – City Tour
By the time we awoke in the morning, the boat was already docked in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, and by 9 am we were on the bus for the City Tour. The young guide, who looked like a student, gave us a summary of Slovakia’s history (in good English, flavoured with a strong eastern European accent) as we drove up to the first stop at the Castle which, compared to others we have seen, is quite plain and of simple design.
Particularly the inner courtyard, where I noticed no one was inclined to take photos, as there were none of the elaborate features and details we have become used to seeing. This was refreshing in a way and set the tone for the rest of the city, parts of which we saw later during our walk through the Old Town.
The castle has a long and chequered history, having been destroyed and rebuilt several times.
Wikipedia says of the castle’s earliest history :
“The castle, like today’s city, has been inhabited for thousands of years, because it is strategically located in the centre of Europe at a passage between the Carpathians and the Alps, at an important ford used to cross the Danube river, and at an important crossing of central European ancient (trade) routes running from the Balkans or the Adriatic Sea to the Rhine river or the Baltic Sea, the most important route being the Amber Route.
The people of the Boleráz culture were the first known culture to have constructed settlements on the castle hill, around 3500 BC. Their “castle” was a fortified settlement and a kind of acropolis for settlements in today’s Old Town of Bratislava.”
From the castle there were great views across the Danube, with the standout feature being the rows of communist-era apartment blocks, taking up most of the space beyond the river and painted in cheerful pastel shades.
The walking part of the tour commenced at our second stop and took us through several old town squares (called Namesti), some very old, others newer, all interesting with handsome buildings and that very European sense of scale – comfortable rather than overwhelming.
And a reminder that we were quite far from home……
One of the features of Bratislava is its collection of quirky statues, sprinkled around the city, none more so than the tourist favourite, “Man at Work”, which depicts a “worker” partly emerging from a manhole and clearly not at work.
Another in the main square has a Napoleonic soldier leaning over your shoulder, if you choose to sit on the bench in front of it, as many tourists elect to do.
And there are others – spot the living one……….
Hint – note the basket for donations
The main square, Hlavne Namesti, drew us back after the official tour was done, to enjoy a “Big Cappuccino” and the local version of apple pie at an outside table, nicely positioned to watch the passing people traffic and the goings on in the square.
Fountains are also big in Bratislava – this pretty one is called Ganymede’s Fountain
There was time for some window shopping (which for Gerda means going inside every interesting shop and chatting to the assistants) before making our way back to the boat just a couple of blocks away.
Wednesday 27 April
Our last day of cruising as the boat proceeded to Linz in Austria, docking around lunchtime. The walking tour of the town was cancelled due to too few participants, so we set off on our own along the waterfront and into town, encased in several layers of warm clothing to ward off the bitter cold.
Linz was clearly not on many people’s list of places to visit and seemed almost deserted – perhaps because of the weather. That might also explain why we found it one of the less inspiring places we have visited – apart from the usual complement of churches, abbeys and cathedrals, none of which stood out for any particular reason, we did not encounter much of interest as we wandered through the streets around the main, very large square and adjoining old town.
The main square is lined with old patrician houses, the 17th century Town Hall and St Ignatius church with its two towers, while the centre of the square has the Trinity Column, erected by grateful citizens after the town managed to escape a trio of severe threats to their lives – the pest, a massive fire and a Turkish invasion – good enough reason, I reckon. What spoils it all is the scale of the square – too big – and the fact that the tram system runs right through the middle of it, completely destroying any intimate character it may have had.
We did find a cosy café in one of the side streets in the Old Town and had an exceptional tea but a disappointing version of the local speciality cake – Linzertorte – which was crumbly and not particularly memorable. (Oh, how fussy we get at our age!) Maybe it was just a poor example. My German pronunciation was not up to scratch either – when I asked the waiter for “milch, bitte” with our tea he brought us a cute little timer for measuring how long the tea bag should stay in – fortunately the timer was useful and the tea so good it was actually better off without any “milch”.
As we sat in the café the rain started falling, soon turning to sleet for a few minutes, just to reinforce how cold it was.
After some further wandering we came across the Mozarthaus, where he composed the Linz Symphony during a short stay of a few days.
We made our way back to the boat and were soon immersed in the last day festivities including the Captain’s gala dinner with multiple courses. The cruise was coming to an end ………
More to come…
So what’s left to tell? Well there’s the “Just Cruising” bit – birding and other special sights along the river during the course of the cruise. After that, more about the places visited before and after the cruise – the two “P’s” – Prague and Passau, both unique and both full of highlights……..