Sunday, August 31, 2014

Viking River Cruise Ends in Style with Budapest

It had been quite a week on the Viking River Cruise through the Danube. My friend Tracy and I had been discovering places Christmas Markets and visiting places we had never been. There was only one more to go – Budapest, Hungary.  It was the largest capital city on the Danube and one of the most known.

As had been the case with our other stops, the Viking Cruise line included all tours and there was a bus waiting to take us to the Buda district. Along the way our guide Nicholas told us about the city which is referred to as the “Jewel of the Danube.”

We learned about the part this area played in World War II, and how it is now a tourist destination with a large zoo, public thermal baths, an amusement park, and large hotels.

The bus let us off in the Buda Castle District. It was a bit chilly outside, but we braved the cold for a walking tour. The Square was amazing and each building was filled with history.  Tracy and I enjoyed looking around the area. 

Before we left the Castle District we stopped to take a good look at the National Monument, dedicating the area as a World Heritage site.

We also made a stop at St. Stephens Church and it was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside.

After the tour, we had some free time to walk through the shops and pick up some of the local crafts. Tracy and I also stopped at a café for some hot chocolate and Linzer tarts.

We got back on the bus for the rest of the tour, which would take us to Pest, the more modern part of Budapest. This area included museums, government buildings, recreational facilities and Christmas Markets. 

We also passed the Jewish Quarter which was home to the largest synagogue in Europe, as well as the Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Christmas Markets in Budapest were filled with baked strudel, enormous pretzels, dried fruit, candy, pottery, gingerbread, bratwurst, and local delicacies such as goose legs and pig knuckles.

The smells coming from the market were amazing, but we had a special meal waiting for us on the ship so we just enjoyed what would be our final Glὕhwein.

Back on the ship, I had Beef Goulash for lunch. It was served over barley instead of noodles like it is in the U.S. It was delicious.  

We rested up and then we returned to the market for a bit in the evening.

When we returned, there was a farewell cocktail party before we headed to dinner.

Our last dinner with Viking was a great one. It started with a tasty Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup, followed by an Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a red wine glaze and a goat cheese pesto.

It was served with a medley of artichoke, zucchini, and beans, and was as good as it sounds.

Before Long it was time to board the bus to Budapest airport and head home.
Dessert was a Hungarian Crepe with chocolate sauce, nuts, and raisins, along with a champagne sorbet and a small scoop of chocolate ice cream.

For my final breakfast, I chose a bit of cake, cheese, fruit, and yogurt from the buffet, a very typical European breakfast for me. The only thing different were the potato pancakes we had requested from the chef a few days before and he made them again for our final meal.

Tracy and I waved farewell to the Viking Embla and an incredible European adventure.

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discovering Slovakia with Viking River Cruises

Our Viking River Cruise along the Danube was coming to the last two days and my friend Tracy and I were having a great time discovering a part of Europe neither one of us has previously been.

It was time for Slovakia and we were bundled up and ready to see its capital.

The ship docked right in the city of Bratislava so we could walk around ourselves, but we chose to first take the bus tour to Bratislava Castle and then on a downtown walking tour of the city.

The Bratislava Castle was quite impressive and also had a great view of the city. Unfortunately, it was a cold and cloudy day so we didn’t get to fully appreciate it.
In fact, I liked everything about Slovakia and the people we met were all very friendly.
It represented a European city in perfection, with its architecture, cobblestone streets, and craft filled markets.

Every building from the Opera House to the Court House looked like it was filled with history for me to spend a day exploring.
We spent a bit of time at the market near the church before heading back to the ship. 

The Glühwein came in quite a selection, made with different wines and a variety of fruits. I really liked the Pinot Blanc.  We also found lots of cheeses at this market, but it was something I knew I couldn’t store to take home with me.

I loved watching the children ice skating on the rink in front of the Christmas Market when the finished with school, or examining the candy in the market. I really wished we had more time here and vowed to come back some day.

I couldn’t wait to tell my friend Bibi at home how much I liked her country.

We had lunch as soon as we got back on the ship. I enjoyed a Riesling Soup, a flat bread with grapes and cheese, and couldn’t resist finishing with a hot fudge sundae.

In the afternoon, we relaxed before Slovakian Tea Time, the Captain’s Cocktail Hour, and our final Daily Briefing about our next port before the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.

When we sat down, there were spoonfuls of Camembert cheese wrapped in prosciutto for tasty bites. We then had a scrumptious salad, made with caramel, apricots, blue cheese and cornbread.

The next course was a flavorful Roasted Mushroom Soup. The entrée was a pan-fried red mullet. For the main course, we had a grilled filet, topped with foie gras.

The White Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding with ice cream was an incredible finish to the meal.

I don’t know if it was because we had only had a half day of touring or because we knew our trip was coming to an end, but this night Tracy and I stayed in the lounge a bit longer with some of our newly made friends.

We sailed away in the evening on our way to our very last stop on the Viking Embla... Budapest, Hungary. 

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!