Danube Cruise 2018 – 14 Days in Central Europe

 

“The answer to every question is Maria Theresa…” – Budapest Local City Guide.

If you go, you will know why.

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28 June 2018

RDU – Getting There…

Our car stayed at www.thefastpark.com.  They are very quick and pick you up at your car.  There is a reward program online that is essentially a volume discount program.  For those of you who prefer to be picked up at your home, I can refer you to a good service in your area.

Flight started with American Airlines through Philadelphia. Sat in the back near the bathroom on the flight direct in to Budapest – You will want an overnight flight if you can sleep on a plane, but if you fly during the day, book an extra night because you will arrive late in the day, leaving little time for recovery that day; especially from traveling from the west coast.  Because you are flying international, your first encounter with people from somewhere else will probably be on the plane – and in this case, was a woman and her daughter now living in PA but traveling back to visit her parents in Slovakia.

 

29 June 2018

Budapest, Hungary

Arrival and Getting Settled

Met Gate 1 at the airport, just outside baggage claim. I usually takes around 30 minutes or more to get from the main airport for Hungary (BUD) to the hotel. Americans and Australians were everywhere. When you hear someone struggling with the local language (or gesturing a lot), they probably speak your language. You are, after all, going to places where tourists go.  British English is also common.

What you will notice on the drive to the hotel and throughout Europe is a lot of graffiti which is a habit developed most likely as resistance to the communist regime that plagued this country and others for many years. Before it fell, the Berlin Wall was covered in graffiti in protest as well.

We arrived a little early and took a taxi down to inspect a ship from Avalon Waterways – the Panorama, which was at the south end of the docking area on the east bank of the Danube River. While waiting for the time we were to tour the ship, we ate pizza outdoors a few feet from the Danube at a nice restaurant with a great view to the hills overlooking the west side of the River. While we would not board the Gate1 ship for several days, we found the Panorama to be well appointed and the rooms well laid out with excellent dining arrangements with tables for 4, but close enough that larger groups traveling together could still talk while sharing a meal. The rooms were well appointed.

 

 

After the tour of the Avalon Waterways ship, Panorama, as we could not find a cab, we walked back to the hotel (which was around an hour walk). As we walked back up the Danube toward the Parliament House, were we had to cross a view streets back to our hotel, we captured some of the inspiring views.

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View of the Hotel Gellert at the Buda end of Freedom Bridge
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Scenic walk along the Danube toward the Chain Bridge (with two stone supports)
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The Buda Palace, which was destroyed in war and rebuilt – as were many buildings.
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The Chain Bridge – first to join Buda and Pest over the Danube.
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The South end of the massive Parliament building. 

It turns out that the taxis will not stop if you try to flag them down, but that you must find them parked (usually at hotels or major visitor sites). But we did manage to flag one down willing to break the rules for the last 650 meters to the hotel (as measured by the cab’s fare meter) – wear shoes you can walk in for long distances.

Budapest is in fact, two cities that grew until they met at the Danube and bridges united them. Pest (pronounced ‘Pesht’) is flat, and Buda is hilly, and as the city guide and everyone else notes, has no relationship to “Buddha”.  In fact, Hungary is around 50% Catholic and around 30% Protestant. It is a very religious country, and because of this, all of the guides emphasize their rich religious cultural heritage, which reflects in the incredible craftsmanship and maintenance of their places of worship.

We stayed at the Hilton in Budapest, a 4-star hotel, on the Pest side of the Danube River.  The room in the Hilton was on the 4th floor and had views over the rooftops to church spires and the hills on the south end of the city across the Danube. Plus, the room was much more spacious than typical hotel rooms in Europe, with a large bathroom as well.

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View during the day. The long building in the foreground is the railroad station. A zoomed picture at night shows the dome and Ferris wheel.

On the same floor was the fitness center, with an even more amazing view of the city skyline. The fitness room was very large with a lot of cardio and weight machines along with hand weights.  The pulley machine had a video showing you different workouts that you could follow along or just try different positions on your own.  In between the restrooms there was a spa that was beautifully decorated and a relaxing atmosphere with a sauna.

Breakfast in the hotel is by buffet, and includes most of the traditional American breakfast foods, but with one surprise – sautéed mushrooms, which became an essential part of the meal (for one of us). As it turns out, mushroom picking in the region is very much like berry picking is in the US. Also, even though there is a well-stocked buffet, you could order pancakes, which arrive light and rolled, with a little fruit and powdered sugar.

What was so nice was that the Hilton was right next to the shopping mall and had an entrance from the hotel to the mall.  The Hilton offers two glass bottles of water a day but we needed more so we liked that we could just go into the mall to a grocery store that was located close.  Also needed to purchase a rain coat at Columbia store and a nice pair of athletic shoes since my feet started to feel sore after walking the cobblestone streets.

This is Eastern Europe, summers can be dry and hot, but it can rain or get hotter.  All said, bring a lightweight waterproof rain coat – and later, aboard ship, the Monarch Baroness supplied umbrellas. Definitely wear comfortable shoes since cobblestones streets and steps are uneven.  I would recommend supportive athletic shoes.

Major grocery stores in the area are ALDI and SPAR. There are markets we saw on the way, where ADLI was replaced by some other name in that country, but the colors of the sign are the same and they generally are also markets.

 

30 June 2018

Budapest, Hungary

Day 2 – (Saturday – 30JUN2018) Bus Tour – Budapest – Major Landmarks and History

One thing to note – punctuality is very important in Hungary (and in Austria and Germany), if you are not where you need to be when the time arrives, you will have to arrange another way to get where you are going. As the City Guide said it, “if you are early, you are on time, and if you are on time, you are late”. Buses leave at the appointed time (so do ships and trains).

The City Bus Tour was very informative. First stop was Hero Square near the Millennium Celebration Park, with Bronze Statues in colonnade formed into two arcs with a central larger column in the center and bronze statues at the base representing the seven tribes that migrated into the region to drive out the original inhabitants and form “Magyar”.  Hungary is only the English name for the region, but the real name is Magyar, from one of the seven tribes. Magyar was first united under St. Steven around 1000AD.  The Unknown Soldier tomb is located here, surrounded by a low metal railing in the center of the square.

 

We continued through town, past many historic sights near the Millennium Park celebrating 1000 years of Hungary’s existence, the embassies of many countries, and the largest synagogue in Europe.

Interestingly, the rather historic-looking building at the bottom here is the exterior of an ice rink on the lake in Millennium Park.

 

 

As we approached the Castle District in Buda, just over the bridge, we passed a monument to one of the many Christian martyrs lost while converting the pagan tribes.

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As we drove up, we could see the Fishermen’s Bastion from below. Later we would view the Pest side from the covered terraces to the left. The steeple of St. Matthias Church can be seen towering over the outer wall of the District. Note that vehicle traffic in the district is very limited.

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Fisherman’s Bastion with the Steeple and colorful tile roof of St. Matthias Church. The Buda Hilton is on the right in the background.

We then entered the Castle District, where the main road extends from the Palace through shops and restaurants, and past a plaza beside the St. Matthias Church, with a beautiful tiled roof soaring spires and ornate carvings built into the structure. A statue of St. Stephen is in the center of the plaza near the Fisherman’s Bastion, where 7 beautiful towers with a scenic overlook toward the Danube and city of Pest, commemorate the 7 tribes who founded modern Hungary.

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Statue of St. Steven in the plaza next to St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion just beyond.

 

We had our first gelato of the trip and ate in at a shaded table on the sidewalk in one of the restaurants, then bought a few souvenirs. 

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After that we checked out the 2nd Hilton in the city, which had a special setup for viewing the World Cup. Because both of Hiltons are called the “Hilton Budapest City”, you have to know which Hilton you are staying at, as this became one of those little funny moments in misdirecting a taxi. Buda, no Pest, No Buda, well, actually… Pest (eye roll). We would later go back to one of the restaurants we passed, Arany Hordo Restaurant & Wine Cellar.

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After crossing the Danube back to the Pest side, passing the Parliament building bears witness to a monument to one of the many atrocities of WWII. A sculpture of iron shoes commemorate where in 1944, Jewish people were forced to take off their shoes before being shot and falling into the Danube River.

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Such is the contrast that in a land of such beauty there have been periods of savagery inflicted on others. That did not end in WWII, as afterwards, the Soviet occupation waged a different type of war, not at all less viciously, and also memorialized in the House of Terror Museum that covers both periods.  Then we continued on the tour.

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In mid-afternoon, after the bus tour, we ate at the Italian restaurant, Vapiano, in the West End mall that is directly accessible through the Hilton lobby. Turn left and follow along – Vapiano is on the left. Not your typical mall food – the food is cooked right in front of you (behind a low glass counter). Later, we bought rain jackets from the Columbia store and a pair of running shoes from Nike, since you walk a lot here, on the rest of the trip, and most of it is on cobblestones. You need some cushioning. There is also a grocery store in the lower level “Spar”, and a food court in case you don’t have time to visit the many excellent restaurants, including the one in the Hilton.

In fact, right after this we walked again with the Gate1 Local City Guide. As we were walking, we had more time to hear more of the details.

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Supreme Court of Hungary.
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Parliament House – View from the Plaza where in 1956, protestors were attacked by Soviet troops.
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Hungary did not erase the evidence of Soviet actions firing on Hungarians in 1956, but here, on the building opposite the Parliament House, they memorialized the impact points of rounds fired down into the crowd from rooftops around the plaza. Each metal ball represents a point where a bullet hit. The base of the building is covered in these.

 

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Prime Minister Nagy, who led Hungary in withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact in 1956.
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Prime Minister Nagy, looking back toward the Parliament, was executed by the Soviets. His people would have to wait 43 years to be free from Soviet rule over Hungary.
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Hungary placed a bronze statue of Ronald Reagan not far from Prime Minister Nagy’s statue for his role in supporting freedom for people under Soviet rule and against Communism, and for winning the Cold War – ending Soviet rule over Hungary and other nations.

We visited the Basilica, which we would see again tomorrow with friends, was beautiful in the fading light.

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We finished the tour with a walk back to the Hilton.

That night, we and our friends took a cab back up to the Hilton in the Buda castle district, and showed my friends the view and restaurant – they were impressed. Then went to the Arany Hordo Restaurant & Wine Cellar across the street in one of the oldest buildings in Buda, and had an amazing meal of traditional Hungarian food as the air got a little colder. The restaurant was prepared and had red and green shawls (the colors of the flag) available for diners, draped over chairs.

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It was a day of great food, great friends, and great views.

 

01 July 2018

Budapest, Hungary

In the morning, after another great breakfast buffet, and getting our bags in order, we took a cab to the street near the Basilica. Right after we got out of the cab with out friends, we found a restaurant to sit and eat – we ate outdoors and they used slate shingles to serve the food.

Then visited the Basilica…

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From the Basilica, we took a cab back to the Hilton to catch the bus to the ship and got back with 3 minutes to spare – in other words – we were late by local standards

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We took a bus ride from the Hilton over to the ship, docked just upstream of the green Freedom Bridge. The ship itself was relatively convenient and there were hand cleaning stations for the return (and when going to eat) to help keep everyone healthy on the trip. The width of the stairways were suitable for two people which were appreciated by anyone who wanted the security of a handrail going up or down (when everyone else was moving in the same general direction). There were three decks and we were in the middle, with a French balcony. Opening the sliding glass door, you could watch other ships pass and see some of the smaller villages and scenery when you awoke.

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Lounge area
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Room with French balcony on the 2nd deck.

Budapest is so large that we managed to go on four different tours including 2 bus tours (with a walking tour on each), 1 walking tour, and we went out on our own walking, and rarely saw the same area or had any overlap in the information shared. What is clear – the city is walkable and has a wide variety of places to see.

 

There was an opera performance on board the ship tonight, with a small sample of the local Hungarian musical culture.

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02 July 2018

Budapest and Szentendre, Hungary

02 Jul – We started the day in port for the last day in Budapest with a bus excursion to the town of Szentendre, Hungary, where many artists, such as painters, sculptors, and in crafts have set up shop. On the way, we passed some old Roman Ruins and a bridge over the Danube named “The Chuck Norris Bridge” by popular vote. Hungary appreciates America for our central role in the collapse of “The Communism” and their liberation at the close of the last century.  Szentendre is a charming village built from the banks of the river up to a hilltop with winding streets and shops everywhere.

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After the tour, we decided to accompany the tour guide to a local coffee shop where we tried some local deserts with a drink. Stick to the Hungarian recipes, as they were amazing, in particular one made with tart cherries – with a latte, yum. After this snack, we shopped for some items, including a hat for the strong sun, and returned to the ship.

 

We visited the renowned healing waters at the Hotel Gellert across from our docking point. It is relatively easy to find, along the Danube on the Buda side of the green metal Freedom Bridge. If you go, bring your own towel and rent a ‘cabin’ to change store your change of clothes and to change privately. The pools are all at different temperatures and you have to look at the map and explore to find them. We changed and caught a cab back to the ship since we were all so relaxed.

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We set sail from the city as darkness fell. The timing could not have been better as the Castle, Parliament House, and Churches we had seen during our days here were illuminated and the contrast of their gleaming walls and darkening sky was perfect.  Budapest was great to visit and it was a little sad to leave, but we looked forward to what was in store.

 

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Prague Palace
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Parliament
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Chain Bridge

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A longer period of time is needed to see everything (or even the most famous places), so here are some links with views of

Budapest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZYpHr1wDmY

Budapest (at night) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C28cebLkAg

 

03 July 2018

Bratislava, Slovakia

As we woke, we were still sailing to the first port.

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During our passage through first lock (the Danube has many locks where the level of the water changes), the ship’s activities director arranged for a Bocce ball tournament. There were four teams and each match went down to the last ball rolled. Edge of your seat excitement and fun for all, but I’m sure the passengers who pulled up on another ship next to us in the lock wonders what all the shouting and cheers were about.

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Today we docked in Bratislava, Slovakia, then walked with a local tour guide showing us the main areas of interest and some history of their occupation by the Soviets. Unlike the Berlin Wall, during the Cold War no one attempting to flee Communism to nearby Austria survived. This tragic history serves as a contrast to the resilience of the people of this region in pursuing freedom.

 

After the tour, we shopped in some of the stores we passed. Slovakian chocolate and wine is quite good – but the EU limits production and distribution to avoid affecting France’s wine trade – so much for fair trade even within Europe – you have to travel to Slovakia to buy it. Then we ate snacks in a sports bar on the main street while the World Cup played and the more adventurous climbed a church and museum with a view or the downtown area.

On the way back, a number of musicians dressed for a concert with instruments in hand hurriedly passed and we followed since it was on way back to the ship. Then stopped and waited in one of the walking areas near a gazebo until what turned out to be a Norwegian band finished around half of their performance, which included a singing of an Italian song familiar to any fan of Andrea Bocelli. Soon, we found our way back to the ship and were on our way to the next port.

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04 July 2018

Vienna, Austria (Nuβdorf)

We woke to find our ship decorated the ship with 4th of July banners and a US flag. 

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In Vienna, the ship docked at the small town of Nussdorf (which essentially translates to “Nut Village”). Double s is written as β in German, and so the town is actually Nuβdorf as written in German). Austria divided into nine counties – Vienna is an imperial city – founded by Romans – on their border. Vienna has many parks and tree lined avenues for shade, which made it difficult to get pictures from the bus as we passed by on the driving portion of the city tour, though you could definitely see the sights. By now, we had settled into the pattern of a bus tour to familiarize us with the city and our meeting point, then a walking tour, followed by free time to go places that caught our attention. Or you could skip that, stay on board, or go somewhere else, so long as you caught up to the ship before we set sail. If you missed the departure, you had to get to the next dock.

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During our free time, we toured the cathedral and stopped next door to have a café latte with a plum tart in a coffee/ice cream shop – don’t be too surprised, but the bathroom was unisex (and as with elsewhere on the tour, bathrooms are reserved for paying customers or cost 0.5 or 1.0 Euros).

 

While not initially planned, we added an excursion to the Schonberg Palace – just had to book it with the Cruise Director. The palace is good as a guided historic tour, but the gardens out back shined. What is impressive is the sheer scale of the grounds. There is more information about Marie Theresa here than anywhere else on the tour since she was such a transformative figure in the region and actually lived here.

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One meal was served with an American Flag cake as a desert and it was delicious.

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Tonight we experienced we took the opportunity to attend an evening of Vienese culture in the “City of Music” at an optional concert performance with the Wiener Residence Orchestra performing the classical masterpieces of Mozart and Strauss, two of Vienna’s most famous citizens.  As this was Independence Day for the US, the conductor used a violin made in 1776 in America’s honor. Several of the songs relied on opera singers for part of the experience and others added ballet dancers, who conveyed a since of motion and comic effect (as they intended) quite well in an intimate concert hall with approximately 200 attendees.  What was truly unbelievable was finding that we were not in some giant performance hall, but in an intimate setting where the performers and musicians were very close and the acoustics was amazing. At intermissions we were served champagne or orange juice.  Upon return to the ship, we ended the night with a late night snack of goulash- a hot, spicy, and delicious stew featuring paprika.

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05 July 2018

Durnstein, Austria

We docked for the morning in the town of Durnstein, where one option was walking up to the ruins of a castle overlooking the town. The castle walk was challenging, with a steep ascent (and descent), some loose gravel, and on a sunny day, you may want to stop in the shade and take small steps and sips of water. But if you do, you will see where Richard the Lion-Hearted was held after being captured by Austria after a dispute over whose flag would fly over a city taken during a Crusade. England literally paid a King’s ransom for his return (and for his entourage as well), leading to high taxes immortalized by the myth of “Robin Hood”. The view down into the town and of the battlefield where large battles were fought between many adversaries, including the French, Russians, and Prussians. Then we departed for a short trip a little further up the Danube to Melk.

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Melk, Austria

Melk Abbey – The Abbey is huge and one wing holds a school for 900 children. The Abbey holds tens of thousands of hand-copied books created by the monks and a stunning church. While a bus is available to drive to the ship, the walk back down to the ship is not challenging and gave a great view of the Abbey and some stores and café.

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By this point, we really had started to know some of our fellow explorers, but unfortunately did not have time to talk, sit, and eat with the many friendly and interesting people on board, as we could have had nearly endless excellent conversations.  As is was, it was very rewarding to have shared this trip so closely with our friends.

 

06 July 2018

Salzburg, Austria

This morning we awoke in Linz, Austria to the sound of trains going over the metal bridge very near the dock and started getting ready for the bus tour to Salzburg.

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Into every vacation, a little rain must fall. Today was that day and it was the longest of the walking tours. We stopped halfway there at restaurant overlooking a scenic lake. You could tell the mountains were high, but the overcast skies kept the tops a mystery for another day.

The local guide kept insisting that the town was tricky to navigate, but with our meeting point down by a river, all you had to do to get back was walk downhill. Still, the other side of the river was flat with no distinguishing features, so the advice is best heeded. The section we walked around backed up to the hill next to the Salzburg Fortress. We enjoyed a lunch as a part of the tour in the lovely St. Peter Restaurant with an amazing ceiling and décor.  On and menu was Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried escalope of turkey) and parsley potatoes with choice of wine/beer or non-alcoholic beverages.  The desert was very light and fluffy, like merengue or marshmallow with a small amount of berries at the bottom.

There are pretzels unlike any you are likely to see elsewhere and on a sunny or rainy day, the area around the St. Peter Abbey from ‘The Sound of Music” is quite beautiful.

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In these older cities, the cell reception is spotty and banks were few and far between – and your Google maps might not help as much as in more open areas. These are not wooden buildings, they are stone with concrete and metal – and are very substantial. Bring the map the cruise ships and local guides offer. We still managed to do more souvenir shopping here than in all other stops and this included a Christmas store “Markt” open year-round.

 

 

07 July 2018

Passau, Bavaria, Germany

Started the day docked in Passau, Germany. Everything here is very close and it is possibly the easiest walking cities so far on the cruise. Passau is a pretty town on a peninsula, with walkable paths along the Inn and Danube Rivers. The church in the Domplatz is amazing and the fountain lends itself to group photos. The streets off the Danube are almost entirely cobblestone and being Saturday, there was a farmer’s market with crafts. You will find that there are amazing wooden objects in the market.

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Just walking down the main shopping street (to get more Euro’s), came upon an informal classical concert in progress and paused for a few minutes. If you have been looking for a marionette shop, you will find it here (but it is closed on Saturday morning). Friends found a shop with watches with wooden wristbands and cases, each one a work of art. We did find a nice German made hat to keep the sun off the face.  Then we returned to the ship.

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Regensburg, Germany

While still docked at Passau, we went on a bus excursion to Regensburg, which is an historic city. Ate at historic sausage place near the first stone bridge – mild sauerkraut and sweet mustard and one price of bread. Ate with a lady from Munich who spoke perfect British English. At first, she would just nod when we asked if we could sit down (not much space here). One thing to note, it is important to check for a sign indicating the credit card if your choice is accepted, particularly if the average purchase price is less than 20 Euro’s or if the establishment seems to be more for the local population than tourists.

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Last night on board, provided gratuities for the crew, the Activities Director, the Cruise Director and a few of the staff that had been of noteworthy assistance during the cruise.

 

08 July 2018

Prague, Czech Republic

Left the ship today on a 3 hour bus ride through the countryside bound for Prague. Note that this is spelled “Praha” in the language. The ride takes you through hills near the “Golden Road” the entire way.

 

Upon arrival this afternoon, we noticed that the tour split into two groups, one which was going onto another leg of the trip to Berlin, and one departing for home from Prague. Each group had its own city guide from Gate1, with ours led by Jirjina. The walk from the hotel to the square was less than 5 minutes, and passes the Palladium Mall – with shopping. We had a tour of the area immediately around the hotel, centering on Republic Square, with restaurants, entertainment, banks, and easy access to cable cars routes to reach all of the city, then were free until the city tour started, so we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Republic Square.

We returned to check into the Imperial Hotel, a 5-Star Art Deco masterpiece, complete with works of art and amazing restaurant. The staff was very helpful and available, but stayed in the background. The concierge was great, getting an all-day pass for the local cable car system and setting up tickets for the castle tour about an hour outside of Prague. The room, which was quite spacious was of dark, rich tones, and the bathroom only was a work of art. However, we requested a footstool and bath mat to shower in the tub as it is elevated very high off the floor, which the staff was able to provide. I would recommend guest to request an assessable room for those who need accessibility or some rooms have a separate shower and tub. The hotel was only a 5 minute walk to Republic Square and 30 minutes on foot to the Old Town Square.

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Prague is the most secular city of Europe with the least Christian influence, though there are many cathedrals and statues of religious scenes and events.  You will see quirky statues in unexpected places, with heads and bodies coming out of buildings or on top of buildings, and Prague is somewhat famous for odd statues. You will need to watch out for broken (or missing) cobblestones, even on very busy streets, particularly at night, and there are many employees and others smoking outside the stores lining the busier streets, which has become very unusual in the US.  Like many other places we had visited, Prague is still recovering from Soviet occupation, which only ended a little over 2 decades ago.

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Strangely, I was approached from a woman who grabbed both arms and shook me lightly in broad daylight in the city square. This is a common tactic of pick-pockets to cause a distraction while their partner tries to lift a wallet or valuables – and is not limited to Prague – after all, we were in major cities. So far as we could tell, no one had anything removed and (to be generous) it just may have been a case of mistaken identity. Be aware there is more of this in this city but this only happened to me in our group and no one else had this experience.

Our city tour picked up with a bus ride to Prague Castle tour in the northwest part of the city, where the President lives. The castle has a huge Cathedral we visited within the walls. From one of the gates of the castle you get a view to the Petrin Observation Tower, which looks like a small Eiffel Tower, on a ridge to the west of Town in the Mala Strana (or Lesser Town), which we would later visit on our own.

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View from Prague Castle of the Petrin Observation Tower near the Strahov Monastery

We ended the bus tour with a stop in the Jewish District and walking tour past the very old Jewish Cemetery, built in layers to avoid disturbing older graves. The tour continued through the Old Town past very high end shopping and into the Old Town Square at the Astronomical Clock, which was being refurbished. Many of us chose to walk back to the hotel with Jirjina, where we learned a lot more about what Prague has to offer.

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Statue of Moses in the Jewish District in Old Town

 

The Powder Tower (above) was the landmark for getting back to the hotel as it is the gateway to Republic Square.

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We ventured out for pizza with friends following some time later, and found the Pizza Colosseum about 10 minutes from the hotel, but with outdoor seating in an open plaza by a theatre, Afterwards, we found some Gelato.

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Pizza Colosseum on Ovocey rth by the Theatre of the Estates.
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While eating, had a hot air balloon pass overhead.

 

09 July 2018

Prague

Took a trip across the Volta River on Public Transport (with an all day pass bought from the hotel concierge), first navigating to the stop at Republic Square and getting on the number 15 cable car, validating the ticket in the reader on the cable car, then getting off on the 6th stop, at Uzjed.  Just walking out and up some steps lef us right to the Tram to go up the mountain to the park and miniature Eiffel Tower.

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One of the sights from the Petrin Observation Tower.

 

Prague Castle – the view of the Petrin Tower from Prague Castle was taken from the courtyard just to the left of the brown outer wall (above).
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View to Charles Bridge from the Petrin Observation Tower

Walked around the gardens and then to the beautiful Strahov Monastery.  We had a wonderful lunch with homemade beer and then walked through to the monastery to a street down to the city of Prague. 

 

After exiting the Monastery there is an unbelievable view of the city where found the terrace restaurant run by the monks with a beautiful view of the city below.  There was an artist table outside and we purchased a beautiful small watercolor picture.  Walking down toward the city we visited another Gelato store and stopped off at a puppet store to buy a Pinocchio marionette for our grandson.

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One of the shortcuts recommended by our City Guide had us pop out of an alley in front of the American Embassy – it’s easy to forget that we have travelled to the capital cities of three European countries and seen the US embassy in 2 of them.

Finally, we reached the Charles Bridge over the Volta River that flows through Prague, dividing the Castle area and Lesser Town from Old Town and New Town. There were musical performances and wonderful statues on both sides, as well many artists plying their trade and selling their works. On the river were tour boats, paddle boats, kayaks, and some river rafts.

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There were many enjoyable places to see on the outskirts of the city and walking over the Charles Bridge, but we loved seeing the outskirts of the city and the food was nice. 

Several couples went to eat dinner together tonight. The meal was great and one thing holds true, the soups here are worth having. But waiters have a problem with large parties splitting the bill when everyone is at the same table, even if you tell them up front. One thing that worked for us was to tell the waiter how much of the final bill each would pay.

 

After leaving, a few of us stopped for frozen yogurt or ice cream in a toasted cinnamon cup than walked back out into the city… Then we had more Gelato – really, this does not get old.

 

10 July 2018

Prague

Trip to the historic Karlstejn Castle, a fortress on a ridge with strong defenses that held the crown jewels of several empires during its . The tour began with a ride out through the countryside of the Czech Republic and a stop at the bottom of a gravel trail through the woods up to the castle gate. The castle is quite impressive in size and the thickness of the walls. The courtyards and very large rooms provided a nice backdrop as the guide provided the history of most of the objects in the room and events here that affected history in Europe.

The way down from the castle starts from the same entry point as the gravel trail but circles around the castle and down through the picturesque homes, restaurants, and shops lining the streets of the village of Karlstejn. Our ride back to the castle was waiting at a parking lot at the very bottom of the road. Of course, several mandatory gelato stops were available as you walked.

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When we returned from the castle, we found that traffic had been gridlocked all over the city, to the point where people were getting off public transport after waiting hours for it to move. So bring your map just in case…

During our time in Prague, while walking with a few people on the same trip, one ran into Rick Steve, famed travel writer and blogger. It was really cool to see his post of his stay in Prague.  But there are other bloggers who have done some amazing editing and summaries of the places of Prague.

Prague https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHCEkm_Wu0Q

 

Since it was a long day, we opted to eat dinner in the restaurant at the hotel.

That night, bags were unpacked, repacked, and tagged for pick up for the morning ride to the airport.

 

 

 

11 July 2018

Going Home…

Because of our flight time, we had around 30 minutes to eat breakfast in the hotel at the buffet. This is a 5-star hotel and the food, service, and setting had been impeccable on every visit. Having this included with the tour was valuable and very convenient.

The ride to the airport was on a slightly rainy day, but American airlines was at a different pier than the drop-off point. So a number of us ended up getting carrying/dragging bags a couple hundred meters (yards) to reach the right terminal.

Refrigerator Magnets – Decided to get refrigerator magnets from cities we visited in the same colors to build a theme.

As for Customs, write down the type and amount of goods you intend to bring back, with the local currency converted to US dollars. Don’t wait for the end of the trip to make a list – you will probably have bought more than you remember. Also, on the return, there are automated kiosks for customs – however, the line for these kiosks can be long – get the form on the flight and fill it out – grouping related items into categories saves time – like “clothing” and “refrigerator magnets”.  Customs allowed 800.00 U.S. dollars duty-free.

General Notes on Travel…

Money – Hungary uses the Forist and the Czech Republic uses the Koruna (Crowns), but Euro were accepted everywhere, US Dollars were accepted in Hungry (Magyar) and everywhere for trips… but every shop has their own exchange rate if you do not pay in the local currency. This can add 10-15% to your cost – let your bank handle the exchange rate if you are using your card. Plus, they never take your card to some back room to run it. They bring the wireless card reader and printer to the table and have them in the taxis and you sign for it – but let them know you want to pay by card and if you would like to add a tip. Also, if it is less than 20 Euro, most vendors do not like taking your card and can refuse. So have cash – at one point, one of us had to leave the restaurant, get cash, and return. If you don’t see the VISA, MasterCard, or American Express sign, ask about using your card before you order. (That restaurant had a lot of dirty dishes to wash, but I’m pretty sure you don’t get that option.)

Communication and pictures – Let your wireless carrier know you are traveling. But if you are going to wander about in a new city, it is not a bad idea to make sure your phone is activated and that you can access your 3G/4G/LTE service (not just WiFi) before you go – Google Maps can’t help you if you cannot connect to the network. WiFi was provided on board the ship, and it was always available when we tried, there are points on the cruise where they advise that WiFi access cannot extend to shore. Now, using two phones for this trip with Verizon was $10 per phone, per day… So these daily access charges added up. Another thing, the camera on a phone do not do justice to the scope and scale of what you will see both in size and in the distances.

Bathrooms are not free, unless you order food, or coffee. And while we are used to paying one price, ordering to go, or not ordering to dine in, might get you chased out since there is a tax for sitting down to eat not paid when you order to go. Pay the extra amount and use the facilities anytime you eat. (Always have cash on hand – Euros worked everywhere we went).

The TSA Trusted Traveler program was totally worth it – individual offices are contracted and the one at RDU was great (needs 3-4 weeks to complete the application and background)!  Streamlined and quick…no shoes off… Even if you can’t do it, the lines moved quickly in all of the airports. Just don’t forget that the size limit for lotions is for the bottle, not for the amount left in the bottle. See also Online passport http:onlinepassport.us

Contact Land and Sea Travel for your next European River Cruise!

Eileen Murphy

Land and Sea Travel -Owner/Travel Consultant

919-346-1318 – office

919-360-8814- cell

919-346-1361 – fax

Eileen@myLandandSea.com

 

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