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 …………..
Saturday 23 April
Vienna – Riverside Walk
Having docked in Vienna the previous afternoon and attended a concert in the evening, we already had a good feeling about the city we last visited in December 1971.
We were due to do the city tour in the morning but decided to skip it and conserve our energy, physical and mental, for the excursion to Schönbrunn Palace in the afternoon. This gave us a chance to have a late breakfast and explore the top deck of the boat (not much there, just an open area with deck chairs but way too cold to enjoy at this time of year), then relax until lunchtime. I took the opportunity to walk along the riverfront and enjoyed a peaceful hour or two of relaxed birding and photography.
It was nice to see a sprinkling of Viennese people at play, some rowing on the river in a protected tributary of the Danube, others cycling and jogging along the riverside pathways, which are pleasantly bordered by green grass and lined with trees and bushes just coming into bloom, creating an attractive park-like area all along the river.
Vienna – Schönbrunn Palace
After lunch we joined the group for the tour of Schönbrunn – once again it was a re-living of our trip of some 44 years ago as newly weds, but none of it seemed familiar after such a long time. The bus stopped close to the entrance gates and, walking into the palace grounds, we had a great view of the main buildings which have been superbly maintained.
And a lot further back in time……
We learnt later that the palace attracts some 8 million visitors each year – that’s more than 20,000 per day! It didn’t seem that busy or overcrowded, probably due to the efficient systems that are in place to regulate the flow of tourists.
Heading inside, our guide took us through the main ceremonial rooms, just touching on the 1441 rooms that make up the whole palace. No internal photography is allowed so I could not do my usual photo record – suffice to say the internal design and finishes were very much up to “Grand European Palace” standards and worthy of its World Cultural Heritage status. Here is one photo from Wikipedia which illustrates the opulence of the interior design –
With no restrictions on external photography, I took a walk around the impressive gardens while Gerda did some gift shopping and took in the colourful early spring displays of flowers as I wandered around the extensive pathways. Despite the numbers of other tourists I found some quiet spots away from the madding crowd.
No tour would be complete without a visit to a coffee shop and Schönbrunn’s was up to standard with its offerings. We enjoyed a Wiener Melange (similar to cappuccino) and a taster plate of three of the famous cakes – Mozart, Zachertorte and Himbeer-Topfen – all very tasty.
Not having done the city tour, it was nice to get a brief glimpse of Vienna during the 40 minute drive there and back – a couple of unique sights caught our eye : the “underground” train that travels for kilometres through the city on an elevated track and the most unusual “Incinerator” building which is beyond quirky.
Sunday 24 April
Another day, another new city – and country – this time Budapest in Hungary. The boat had travelled through the night to our new destination. Breakfast was a bit later as we were only due to dock in Budapest at 10h30.
The approach into Budapest to our dock gave us good views of both “halves” of the city, Buda and Pest on opposite sides of the river, each with several impressive buildings on view.
We relaxed on board until lunchtime, then took the city tour after lunch which included a drive-by of some of the main historical features of Buda and Pest. An extended stop allowed a short walk up a hill to the St Matthews Church which had a less gilded interior than others we have seen, but almost more attractive for it.
Our charming guide gave us an insight into the history of the once divided city and how the two halves were united. Wikipedia’s version is a neat summary of events :
“The history of Budapest began with Aquincum, originally a Celtic settlement that became the Roman capital of Lower Pannonia. Hungarians arrived in the territory in the 9th century. Their first settlement was pillaged by the Mongols in 1241–42. The re-established town became one of the centres of Renaissance humanist culture by the 15th century. Following the Battle of Mohács and nearly 150 years of Ottoman rule, the region entered a new age of prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Budapest became a global city after the unification of Buda and Óbuda on the west bank, with Pest on the east bank on 17 November 1873. It also became the second capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great power that dissolved in 1918, following World War I. Budapest was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian Republic of Councils in 1919, the Battle of Budapest in 1945, and the Revolution of 1956″.
The bridges between the two halves of the city are a feature of Budapest, making crossing the Danube an interesting affair. Old cast iron bridges vie with more recent suspension bridges for “Best Bridge in Budapest” (no, there is no such competition but the alliteration is irresistible).
The only other longish stop was at the commemorative Hero’s Square with the usual complement of monumental structures and statues, including a circle of imposing Magyar horsemen.
Less imposing but more fun was the sight of tourists on a “Beer bike” enjoying a beer or two while pedalling in unison on a 4 wheeled contraption with draught on tap and space for about 5 or 6 pedallers/revellers – not sure how many of the sights they will remember.
Back on the boat there was time for a leisurely dinner before the evening cruise through Budapest began, preceded by locals performing folk music and dancing. We chose to miss the latter and made our way to our cabin where we did the evening cruise in style, lying in bed with the cabin lights off and the curtains wide open.
Budapest’s significant river frontage buildings are brilliantly lit up at night and presented quite a sight as we cruised gently down the river and back up again for over an hour – what a way to end the day!
More to come…
A horse farm near Budapest, then on to Bratislava in Slovakia. But that will have to wait for the next post.