Thursday 27 June 2013

The Danube cruise - part 3 - Budapest

Continuing the tale... Following the re-adjustment of our itinerary we arrived in Budapest (the capital of Hungary) not by river but by road, travelling along the motorway from Vienna in a coach, a journey of about 3 hours, if I remember rightly. We joined our second ship, the MS "L'Europe", one of the tour operator's biggest and most modern ships. It is 110 metres long and capable of carrying 180 passengers.

By the way, I have been asked by our Travel Agent (whose reps have evidently read some of what I have written) to point out that the cruise which Jane and I were on was actually a competition prize, and that we didn't pay any money for it (only for the optional excursions). I thought I had already made this clear in earlier posts, but obviously not clear enough. I'm not sure that this alters your perception of what I'm writing, but there you go...

MS L'Europe is at the left
Our arrival was in the late afternoon, so there was no opportunity that day to do anything other than take a little stroll along the riverbank after dinner to enjoy the scenery - which I admit did look very romantic with all the big buildings illuminated.

Early on the following morning our group headed out on a tour of the city with a local guide. First stop was at Heroes Square, a site of huge cultural significance in Budapest - possibly the equivalent of London's Trafalgar Square?

The statues around the base of the tall column and the nearby colonnades commemorate the original seven Hungarian tribes and the kings of Hungary from Stephan I onwards. (Don't ask me to name them!)

At the sides of the square are two big museums. One of them is for Fine Art and the other is for Contemporary Art. The buildings themselves are works of art! This one is the Mucsarnok museum of contemporary art (aka Kunsthalle). Just look at the detail on this wall!

Our tour of the city took in most of the best-known landmarks, such as the Parliament building, St.Mathias' church and the Liberty Statue (Hungary's equivalent of the USA's Statue of Liberty in NY?). Our guide this day was much more lively and interesting than the lady in Vienna!

St.Mathias' church
The Freedom Statue has an interesting history: it was originally erected to commemorate the liberation of Hungary from the Germans by the Russians in 1944, but then after the end of the Communist era in Hungary (1989) the statue and its inscription was altered to remove the Russian element, and has now come to symbolise liberation from Soviet rule.

Liberty Statue
 Since the river downstream from Budapest was still closed to traffic (and we were told that the landing-stage at Mohacs, where we were supposedly going to join yet another ship, was still 2 metres under water) the tour company kept us in Budapest for four days, filling the time with short-distance excursions. On the Sunday we visited the town of Kecskemet (which apparently means "Goat town") and saw the outsides of several churches and public buildings - being Sunday everything else was closed, and the churches were in use.

College in Kecskemet - (with a peal of 20 bells)
Check out the fabulous magenta-coloured Petunias in the window-boxes of this otherwise unremarkable block of flats! I'm guessing they were provided by the landlord....

After Kecskemet we went on to a place near Lajosmizce where there was a tourist attraction centred around a horse farm / stud. We witnessed amongst other things this amazing feat of horsemanship - a man standing with one foot on the back of each of two horses, whilst controlling three more in front via long reins - and all done at a gallop!

On our second evening in Budapest, the ship's captain decided to give us a mini-cruise to see the sights of the city at night, so we sailed upstream for a mile or so and then back down again. It was a strange sensation to be on a moving ship at last! The riverside scenery was certainly spectacular:

Since the river below Budapest was still not open, it was decided that we should head back upstream for a bit, so we sailed back up to Esztergom, approximately 50 miles from Budapest. At Esztergom (which  - in common with many other cities - at one time used to be the capital city of Hungary) there is a huge basilica (aka church) which was formerly the HQ of the Hungarian catholic church. (Sorry, I don't know the correct ecclesiastical term!).

Landing-stage at Esztergom

Inside the dome of the Esztergom basilica
We never actually set foot in Slovakia, but we saw a tiny bit of it. Here is our ship moored at Esztergom, with the Slovakian town of Sturovo visible on the other side of the river.

Sailing back down towards Budapest, we stopped for lunch (as you do) at a place called Visegrad, where a "Medieval Banquet" was served. Here is a photo of our fellow-travellers Alex and Karen, who were appointed King and Queen for the occasion. (They seem to be enjoying it!)

On the evening of this day we attended a Folklore Evening, which featured Hungarian Gypsy music and dancing. It was very enjoyable and refreshingly informal. One particularly fascinating element of the music was the use of an instrument called a Cimbalom, which we had never come across before. Imagine a piano with the cover taken off and the strings played with padded drumsticks like huge cotton buds! The man who played this instrument was very skilfull - and fast. At one point he even played while blindfolded!

The following day, with a morning "at leisure" in Budapest, and partly in order to escape some ill-timed and noisy "essential maintenance" by the ship's crew, I paid a visit to the nearby Nagy Vasarcsarnot market.

The market building

This huge market sells all manner of interesting stuff - mostly food and drink, but also craft work, embroidery, ceramics etc. I plan to write a separate post about this soon.

Our last afternoon in the Budapest area was occupied with another excusrsion, this time to the curiously named Gödöllő (pronounced something like Ger-Der-Ler!), about 30km North of the city, where there is another palace closely associated with the Empress Elisabeth (aka "Sisi") who is evidently much-revered in Hungary.

By palace standards this is quite small - almost homely, you might say. It was given to Sisi and her husband the Emperor Franz Josef as a coronation gift by the Hungarian state. Ransacked and allowed to deteriorate to a state of ruin by the Germans in WW2 and by the Soviets during the Socialist period, the palace is slowly being restored to its former glory, and many of the artifacts and decorations are being recreated with the aid of photos and paintings. Unfortunately the temperature was about 38C when we were at this palace, which made it very difficult to fully appreciate the scenery!

So there we are then; our time in Hungary had come to an end at this point and we returned to the UK the following day, sadly without ever having experienced any significant cruising. Still, we did see some new sights and we did enjoy a couple of nice meals (a fabulous gulyás or goulash, for instance), so it wasn't all wasted.

My next post about the holiday will focus mainly on food and drink and gardening - as witnessed in Austria and Hungary of course.


Note: We have now agreed a settlement with the Travel Agent. The refund of our money for the excursions was never in dispute, but as compensation for their failure to deliver a satisfactory prize for Jane they offered us two alternatives: another (shorter) cruise later this year (when would we ever get another two weeks off work??) or a cash sum. We chose the latter. Just to set the record straight, most of the problems we encountered were really the fault of the Tour Operator (i.e. the company that owns the ships), and not the UK-based Travel Agency. But that's what agents are for: to act on behalf of the customer!

Anyway, People from the Company (I'm sure you will be reading this), perhaps you'll have the good grace to recognise that despite my critisicms, my posts have actually done a fair bit of advertising for you of the general concept of River Cruising! I'm sure that in more normal circumstances, things would have been much more enjoyable.  :-)


  1. The comment from the travel agency that 'it was only a prize and you hadn't paid for it so what did you expect' does more to discredit them in one sentence than they could possibly imagine!

    I think I'd have taken the money too.

    1. Now let's not be TOO critical. They didn't say " what did you expect". It's just that when refunds are being discussed the fact that we hadn't paid anything does actually become relevant.

  2. Oh so that's OK then - it was only a prize! What rubbish - you wasted your annual leave allocation. Was everyone else on the cruise a prize winner too? I'm afraid that comment does the Travel Agency more harm than good - they would have been better advised to offer no comment!

    1. (Why am I standing up for them now??) The TA would have been within the letter of the law (but not the spirit!) to refuse us any compensation because we didn't part with any money, but they have now offered what we consider to be a reasonable settlement. I want to draw a line under this now and concentrate on the GOOD aspects of our trip. Did you see my pics of the market, on FB?

    2. I hadn't but I've just been and looked - what a fabulous place! I noticed lots of chillies in evidence!

  3. Frankly, I think they were more than fair, and I think the trip was pretty nice despite the state of the river, which was Nature's fault and not the agency, ship line or anybody else. You got some stunning photos, Mark, and for us who have never been to Budapest, it really looked quite dreamy. Thanks for sharing all the pics. Can't wait to hear more about the market.

  4. I am a new follower to your blog, but all the way through I have felt you have been fair to every one, pointing out the weather was the main problem, also very early on you spoke of the trip as a prize. But I can not see why you not paying for the trip makes any difference to the out come. As for the company, they should be mindful of their statements, in this internet world, too many people ready comments and make judgements for them selves.I to would have taken the money. Loved your photo's glad you enjoyed some of the trip.

    1. Hi Marlene; Good to see you here! I shall soon be returning to my more usual (and perhaps less controversial?) subjects - food and vegetable-gardening, so I hope those are things that interest you too.

  5. There's some wonderful architecture in this post, and the buildings look beautiful lit up at night. I'm pleased to hear that you've agreed a settlement and that it hasn't dragged on. I think you're right to draw a line under it now and concentrate on the positives which you took away from the trip, and I think you've been more than fair about the travel agent in your posts. How bizarre of them to ask you to point out, yet again, that you didn't pay anything for the cruise other than the cost of the excursions, as if that matters.

    1. Jo, have you noticed the colour of the sky in most of my photos? Oh, that we could have blue skies like that here in the UK right now!

  6. Love the photos of your trip.
    Funny how companies always have to try and cover their backs.
    I think you have been more than fair in your comments

  7. Wow, you've seen some spectacular sights, Mark! How lovely to have a break from the English weather - I hope your trip has given you lots of good memories (brushing aside the other stuff) and an eagerness to return to your gardening!

  8. Well, irregardless of whether you paid anything or not, I think you saw some nice sites though it was not a "cruise" as it was supposed to be and I am glad you got something for that.

  9. Amazing photos, and I love the architecture.


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