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|
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!
|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!
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|
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.
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. :-)