Dateline: Budapest, Hungary
I woke up this morning to find us still cruising down the Danube. The terrain had changed to flat agricultural land with occasional villas on the river bank or at a distance across the fields. I had my usual oatmeal breakfast and went up on deck with my rain gear as we had had intermittent thundershowers all morning. The dwellings began to grow thicker on the embankments, showing we were heading into a metropolitan area and then we rounded a curve in the river and, appearing out of the mists were the sights of Budapest, dominated by the huge neogothic dome and spires of the Hungarian parliament. The appearance of that building through the rain showers will always stay with me it was simply breathtaking.
Half an hour later, we were tied up on the riverbank in Budapest and we were herded aboard our buses for our introductory tour of the city. Budapest is the conflation of two ancient cities, Buda on the hilly west bank of the Danube and Pest on the flat east bank. We started with a look see at Pest then crossed the river to Buda for a stop at the cathedral and the hill overlooks of the town. I think I’ve added another European city to my list of favorites. Every where you look there’s another stunning view or amazing piece of pre-war Art Nouveau architecture. I could spend days just strolling the boulevards and eating in the cafes pretending that Georg and Amalia are at the next table before returning to Maracek’s.
I had chicken paprikash for lunch (what else) and then wandered through some of the markets on the Pest side of the river. I could have stayed out all evening but it is the last night on board the MS Esprit so I figured I better show up for dinner so it was back to the ship for cocktails, a long leisurely dinner with shipboard acquaintances and too much wine, and then karaoke night in the lounge. (I sang Don’t Tell Mama which I figured would at least make people laugh). I’m going to miss shipboard life. The leisurely pace, the nice people (both fellow passengers and staff). The company I am traveling with, Tauck, does not advertise (unlike Viking) and gets its clientele by word of mouth and travel agent recommendation. It keeps them from having too many ugly Americans (if you know what I mean) on board. Everyone has been very congenial.
Tomorrow I leave the ship, but not Budapest. I’ve booked three nights at the Hilton next door to the cathedral up on the hill on the Buda side of the river. What will I do with my three days in Hungary? I’ll make it up as I go along. The city feels fairly carefree and I’m going to try to take it’s pulse as I am well aware of Viktor Orban and his push towards authoritarian rule and fascism. This may be somewhat difficult given my complete lack of Hungarian language skills. German and English seem to be spoken on the streets fairly frequently and I have some of the former and quite a lot of the latter so that should tell me a bit about what’s going on.
No particular stories are coming to mind tonight. I’ll see if Budapest, the occasional czardas, or a dip in a Turkish bath actually built by the Ottoman Turks jogs something loose later this week.