Interesting People. 


Thought I’d share a few pictures of some interesting folks I took during the trip. 


And a few examples of the Von Trappe Family Collection available now at your favorite stores everywhere along the Danube:

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River Crui$ing.

So, how was it?  That has been what I’ve been asked since returning home.

It was great by as I was afraid when we booked the trip, I don’t think it was worth what it cost. 

Our seven day cruise cost about twice as much as our 19 day canal cruise.  The day we spent cruising the Wine valley was great but I think it would have been just as great aboard a smaller day trip sort of boat and being able to stop in more towns would have been a big plus. 

So while I had a really great time, I don’t think we have become river cruise addicts. Viking has a great product which they charge a premium for but they could make some improvements. 

Primary among these is a better description of the schedule and staying on it.  This is especially true for those of us for whom the planning is almost as much fun as the trip. 

Other suggestions would be to have some sort of snack available 24 hrs at the coffee bar. They had pastries from 6am til noon and then cookies in the afternoon but after 6pm the orchid they put on the cookie shelf while pretty wasn’t very filling. 
I enjoyed all my meals and have no complaints about food or the included wine and beer. Frankly I don’t know how they sell the all inclusive liquor package since cocktails were around $7 each. We typically had one cocktail during the evening orientation session and then drank wine at dinner. They were not stingy at all and typically asked if I wanted a refill as I was about to get up and leave….”well yes, thank you”. 

The crew was great-friendly, helpful and interesting to talk to.   Had no qualms with the 12 euro per person per day suggested gratuity which we added to our onboard account. However, the Program Director while fine didn’t go out of his way and we did not tip him the suggested 2 euro per person per day. We halfed that…which I felt a little guilty about when I learned that apparently Viking doesn’t pay him at all.  But I got over it- I think Viking should pay this important position but I’m not running their business 

The accommodations were similar to a cruise ship. Perhaps a little smaller but probably furnished a little more upscale also. The bathroom could be a hair bigger for us non-petit flowers, but luckily there is a handicap public toilet at each deck so I tended to use those fairly regularly. 

The shower was fine- great water pressure, large enough though I don’t understand why abiding spent the money on the electro frosting. Does anyone really want to watch their spouse shower that much?

Frosted:

Clear:


The included excursions ranged from ok to great, usually depending on the guide (and whether the bus was full or not). 

We discussed that for a traveler who doesn’t want to do any research, prefers to go with the flow and wants to just pack their bag and have no worries, the Viking experience is perfect.  Buy your cruise, their air, transfers and extensions and all you have to do is get to your home airport, they do the rest. For those of us who enjoy the research and planning, we are probably paying more than we have to for a similar land based experience. In that since it is very different from an ocean cruise where I so often find it hard to believe how little we have paid to receive so much. 

All that said, we are both glad we got to experience new places, meet new friends (though not as many as on past cruises) and have a great time with old…ahem long term ones. 

Hope you enjoyed traveling along and let me know if you have any questions. 

Happy Travels!

So it wasn’t a Palace. 


Because we had a 7:20 boarding time and BUD is 45 minutes from downtown I elected for us to stay at one of what I have to believe are the three airport hotels the communists built. They are the Hotel Budapest Airport, the Budapest Airport Hotel, and Airport Hotel Budapest.  Frankly I don’t recall which one we were in, and it was fine but it wasn’t the Palazzo Zichy even though the price was about the same.  It did have the lowest bed ever and while they had a restaurant, it looked awful and was very expensive. Since we weren’t terribly hungry, we walked to a nearby McDonalds and since hey didn’t have a regional specialty (I was hoping for a McPaprika Chicken) we each had a filet O’fish (how does a square fish swim?) and a REFILLABLE coke with LOTS of ice. We got back to the room right at dark and went to bed so we could get a full night of sleep before the long day of travel that was to come. 

Haven’t you always wanted to get dentures at an airport hotel?

Well, they didn’t lie, it is a flat screen tv but…..


And just like in the ship, we had a balcony!  Though after checking out its structural soudness, we elected to pretend it was only a Juilette one. 

So that is the end of the travelogue …you can read (or already have?) our trip home in previous posts. 

My next post will be my thoughts on the whole experience. 

Goulash. Soup.  Goulash Soup. 


As long time blog readers will recall, one of the most memorable experiences we had during the Panama Canal cruise was a cooking class in Huatuco at Chiles & Chocolate, so when I ran across Budapest Home Cooking while researching Budapest on Trip Advisor I thought it would be fun and interesting.  The other three agreed so I booked with Agnes who was great to deal with via the Internet and wonderful to finally meet on our last day.  

Agnes offers a market tour, a cooking class, or a combination which is what we elected to do. The price is in Hungarian Florints which worked out to be $108 per person on the day we were there. 

Agnes and her aide Andrew met us at the market at 9am. She had suggested we eat only a light breakfast which was hard to do given the delicious spread the Palazzo Zichy offered each morning. We thought it was because we were going to be cooking and eating a late lunch…but the market tour includes tastings so it was not a diet day!


The market is beautiful and HUGE in the words of that orange haired guy who wants to be our next president. (Please no, though I have always wanted to live in Canada). The picture below is of one of the four aisles that run its length. It has three stories, fresh vegetables, butchers, and cheese on the ground floor, fish and pickles in the basement and a balcony level that has prepared foods and handicrafts. 


Andrew had another group who were only touring the market so he said he would see us later and Agnes led us up the escalator to the balcony which overlooks the main floor. 


Our first taste was of a Langos which is a popular Hungarian breakfast food from the streets. 


Imagine a not sweet very fluffy funnel cake spread with a yougurty sour cream, some garlic sprinkles and lots of cheese which melts slightly because of the heat of the pastry. That’s a Langos.  Agnes said you can get them sweet or savory with all sorts of toppings but she said this was her favorite.  It was surprisingly tasty! Here is Agnes telling us about it before we dug in. 


We then strolled down past stalls with various stream tables of delicious looking food …most with a red tinge, hopefully you have heard of Hungarian paprika?  It goes into most every dish and isn’t just used here to make deviled eggs look pretty! Agnes pointed out various specialties and explained how they were made.   


She asked us if we would like to try a taste and we said sure thinking she was going to buy a little plate of one thing.  Here’s what she sat in front of us, it include six or seven things!


It was all good but the most interesting was the stuffed cabbage.  They use pickled cabbage leaves for the wrapping and include sauerkraut in the stuffing.  Agnes showed us the pickle barrel in the basement where they pickle the whole head at once and you buy as many leaves as you need. 

After wandering the handicrafts section (need some lace?) we headed down to the main floor.  This is where I found out that the pork I had the night before had been hairy and that we shouldn’t have turned our noses up at the Gray Beef that we saw on several menus. Turna out gray describes the cow, not the meat!  We had one last taste which was Retes, a stuffed pasty about the size of rugala. All but Mike had sweet ones with fruit or nuts. Mike’s was cabbage. 

We then jumped in two cabs (Andrew rejoined us) and headed to Buda to cook some of the food Agnes purchased during our market time. 

The class is taught in what used to be Agnes’ family’s home before she, husband and small children moved back to the country where their parents live. They use it now for the class and as a place to stay when they are in the city.  It had 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths and a combination living/dining/kitchen space which is where we would be cooking and eating and learning. 

There are several soups, entrees, and desserts offered on the website from which to choose.  We elected to prepare Goulash Soup (what we call Goulash in the US is called beef stew in Hungary), pork meatballs with a potato based cross between  gravy and stew, and apple cake which was more like a pie make with a cakey crust.  All were delicious and it was fun to make them and learn about Hungarian life one on one. 

Preparation:



That’s Andrew advising Sam on how to dock the top crust on the apple cake. 

We began our meal with the traditional Hungarian aperitif, Palinka. It seems most families have a small still and use fruit they have grown (usually apricots) to make this fire water. We then has the Goulash Soup which was similar to vegatable beef soup. 


Then the pork meatballs with potato gravy. 


And then the apple cake:


It was Soooooo good!  We were stuffed but 6 of us are the whole thing except for three pieces we left for Agnes’ kids and hubby.

We left Agnes and Andrew about 3:15 ( so a six hour tour with tasty meal for $108 is a deal) and headed back to our hotel.  

Mike and I had checked out after breakfast, so we gathered our bags and left Yost and Sam as we Uber-ed to our airport hotel. 

Best Laid Plans. 


When we started planning our three days in Budapest post cruise, we developed a whole list of sights to see but because of the lack of clarity about Viking’s tour and concerns with the weather we didn’t make any specific plans or prepurchase any admissions. 

Well, turns out Sunday April 24th wasn’t the day to go with the flow! We bought a day pass on Budapest’s public transport system and headed out to the Terror Museum. This building originally housed the Nazi party headquarters and later during the iron curtain era, it served as the headquarters of the communist party.  It now serves as to show the terror both caused Hungary.  When we arrived we were faced with the line you see above. Turns out the last Sunday of the month is free day!  So we only looked at the exterior exhibits. 


Including a portion of the Berlin Wall:


We then walked down to the Opera House which we hoped to tour…of course they had canceled tours for some reason so we only got to see the exterior and the 

beautiful lobby:


After a stop to warm up at the European version of Starbucks with a coffee, chocolate and a Linzer cookie we headed to the cathedral. 


We then went to the Parliament to see the crown jewels but of course going with the theme of the day, they were sold out!

So we jumped on Tram 2 which follows the river and goes by a number of the city’s highlights.  And as a fitting end to the day, after about two blocks, it was announced in Hungarian and in English (thank goodness!) that due to construction the ride was over!

That evening we finished using our passes and headed to the Jewish Quarter and had dinner at a gastric pub. It was fine but nothing special.

We got back to the hotel relatively early since tomorrow was out early morning at the Market followed by our cooking class. 

Zeller Bistro. 

  I did some research for our time in Budapest and developed a list of restaurants for the other three to choose from. We all decided Zeller looked like a winner and boy were we right!

We had to take a 6pm reservation as it was the only one available in early March when we narrowed down our choice.  So after the sauna, we headed to the hotel, did a quick change and grabbed a cab. 

Zeller is relatively small, maybe 20 tables and has a small menu with variations of traditional Hungarian specialties. 

We were greeted with a glass of bubbly.  Unfortunately, I only took pictures of my food but here they are. 


“Little Fishes the way my Mother Made them” 

Tasty fried fish, sardines? With a mayonaisy sauce that wasn’t tartar. 


“Mangalitsa Pork”

I thought mangalitsa was an adjective describing the preparation but found out on Monday at our Hungarian cooking class that it is a type of pig.  What some call the Kobe of pork….it’s  from a hairy pig and VERY tasty!


With the exception of some other guests that we quickly labeled the Kardasians, it was a great meal…so once again picking from one of Trip Advisors top ten restaurants proved a successful method of choosing a restaurant. 

Disembarkation 

Boy, a week went by fast. Viking was ready for us to leave….but one of  the nice things Viking allows is you to stay aboard as long as you want on disembarkation day. 

Many of the other passengers started departing in the wee hours of the morning to catch their early early morning flights home.  We had to be out of our room by 9 so we had a late breakfast and then enjoyed a beautiful morning on the terrace watching old passengers leave and new ones arrive. We then had lunch and afterwards headed to our beautiful hotel, Palazzo Zichy. 


After settling in, we packed a small bag and headed to check out one of Budapest’s famous baths. We went to the art nouveau Gellert Baths. As one trip advisor put it, have a steam in a cathedral.   The building was huge and beautiful. Multiple pools of various temperatures, both inside and out, saunas, steam, etc. it was a great way to relax after a busy day and before our dinner out.