In 2019 Jean Hayes took her first River Cruise: ‘Budapest and Scenic Vistas of the Danube’ – a nine-day River Cruise organised by Saga. Here she recounts the highlights of that Cruise.
The pick-up by taxi, an additional extra, was punctual and we made good time to Heathrow. We were greeted at Budapest Airport by two Saga reps. We were delayed for a while, but as we drove slowly in heavy traffic into Budapest to our hotel, we were given a tour of the wonderful floodlit buildings.
Our Saga tour manager had already done all the introductions, so we went straight in to our Welcome Drink of sparkling wine alongside dinner. I sat with two other single women who were travelling together but had booked as singles. Usually we singles pay more for the privilege of being single, often in the tiniest rooms, but on this holiday the size of the room was the same – although the cabins were more expensive for single occupancy.
For our included half-day tour of Budapest we started in the flat city of Pest on the Danube east bank and then went across to the hilly Buda where we were deposited for a coffee stop at the top, in crowded Matthias Square in the old town.
Our hotel was on Margit Island in the middle of the river and there was an excellent continuous bus service from one end to the other. In Budapest there is no charge on any form of transport for the over sixties and I used this extensively. The island is a large park with many sport and leisure facilities. I explored the Japanese and Rose Gardens and saw the Light and Sound Show Fountains a couple of times. I wondered how the floral beds managed to look so good in 32o heat.
On Sunday afternoon we set off for our boat – the Amadeus Classic, which was moored in the city. After our safety briefing we enjoyed a four course Gala Dinner. Lunches and dinners were always four courses – cold starters, hot starters, mains and desserts and different wines each day were included. Food was on offer all day from the ‘early riser tea, coffee and pastries in the lounge’, then huge selection for breakfasts, then lunch, then afternoon tea with numerous sandwiches and cakes, then dinner, and after our concert late goulash was served. Mid-morning on the Thursday local delicacies were served, which included a roast suckling pig. The standard of food was very good.
On Monday, after a morning stop in Visegrad, we sailed to Esztergom, the original seat of Hungarian Kings. After seeing Esztergom’s famous cathedral we were taken to Szentendre. Our guide translated this unfamiliar word for us into ‘St. Anthony’s’. This was a charming artistic village – a hilly cobbled street with every sort of art, craft and tourist shop you can imagine. However, the absolute highlight was touring the gallery of ceramics artist Margit Kovacs.
By Tuesday we were in Slovakia, with an excellent tour of Bratislava included. ‘Quiet Vox’ devices are absolutely splendid for being able to hear the commentary, even when your party is strung out along a busy, noisy street.
The Wednesday morning tour of Vienna did not disappoint. Before the holiday I had bought ‘Sisi – Empress on Her Own’ by Allison Pataki. Sisi was Empress Elizabeth, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austro-Hungary. This was an excellent introduction to what we saw, and mentioned the first performance of Mr. Strauss’s piece ‘The Emperor Waltz’. Thrillingly, this was the first piece in the Strauss section of the concert we attended that evening – another optional extra.
On Thursday we stopped at some very quaint places along the Wachau Valley and I got off to explore them. We were given maps but we had very good reception all along the river, despite numerous hills, and my iphone also told me exactly where I was!
The optional city walk in Linz on Friday was most informative and our coffee stop included Linzetorte. We were introduced to the ‘whole ship’s crew’. Then came the Captain’s Farewell Dinner – with a reminder to put cases out by 7.30am next morning.
Saturday was spent on the coach returning to Vienna airport. Unfortunately Saga organisation cut this a bit fine! The security checks were extremely slow and thorough, so that we were almost running to the gate for boarding. An efficient flight followed, and there was a taxi waiting for us at Heathrow.
I shall certainly be booking another river cruise.