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Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur will resume later this week.
Here Comes The Rain Again
December 1, 2014
This morning, the skies opened up on Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur in Budapest. I sat in the Atrium, sipping my morning coffee and posting my adventures in France aboard Viking Forseti as I listened to the rain pound on the glass skylight above my head. I watched it form a small pool there. I saw it cascading down over the sides of the ship and stream down the windows in that unnatural way it always seems to rain in the movies.
But this is no Road to Perdition sequence; no. This is real life, and the torrential downpour is made by Mother Nature herself. Complicating matters: it’s cold out; barely above freezing and damp, with a wind that chills you to the bone.
Now, I’ve almost singlehandedly destroyed my Nikon DSLR on about three trips this year due to torrential rain. I nearly dropped it in the drink off Australia’s Kimberley Coast. It had to dry out for a day while sailing off Canada’s Haida Gwaii, and darn near iced up in Alaska. So I took one look at the weather, got up, went back to my stateroom, and left Mr. Nikon in his nice, dry perch up on the vanity desk area.
Instead, I set out to explore Budapest (you didn’t really think I’d just stay on the ship sipping coffee, did you?!), armed only with my iPhone instead.
Here’s why I love Viking so much: they’ve anticipated nearly everything you could possibly think of – including the fact I brought a very cool but woefully inadequate umbrella with me. I bought it at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam earlier this year, but it’s a touch on the small side – today’s downpour would call for one of the bright red Viking River Cruises golf umbrellas that sit in a carrier just outside the main entrance doors.
In all the times I’ve sailed with Viking, this is the first time it’s rained so badly that I’ve had to pick up one of their gigantic umbrellas – and it did the trick, keeping me dry for my morning and afternoon of self-guided explorations in Budapest.
For those staying onboard, or participating in Viking’s guided and optional tours, here’s what was happening today:
- 6:00 – 11:00 AM: Café Breakfast. Coffee, juice and pastries are available at the coffee station in front of the lounge.
- 6:30 – 9:30 AM: Continental Breakfast. A selection of beverages and breakfast items are available in the Aquavit Terrace.
- 7:00 – 9:30 AM: Breakfast. Enjoy a buffet breakfast and a choice of dishes cooked to order in The Restaurant.
- 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM: Budapest City Tour. Visit highlights of Buda and Pest, including the National Opera House and historic Heroes’ Square. Walk along Fisherman’s Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Discover the history of this vibrant city, including its Romany folklore.
- 12:30 PM: Lunch. Join us for Lunch in the Restaurant.
- 12:30 PM: Café Lunch. If you prefer, enjoy a lighter, buffet-style lunch on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 1:30 – 5:00 PM: Optional Excursion – Godollo Palace. Visit the 1760-completed Royal Palace. Join your guide for an inside guided visit.
- 2:00 – 5:00 PM: Optional Excursion – Dohany Street Synagogue. This magnificent twin-towered building is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum.
- 5:30 – 7:00 PM: Cocktail Hour. Enjoy a drink and some live music in the Lounge.
- 6:15 PM: A Toast to Our Guests. Captain Rainer and Hotel Manager Felix invite you to join them in the lounge for a toast to welcome you and your fellow guests onboard.
- 6:30 PM: Daily Briefing. Join your Program Director Oliver in the Lounge to find out about tomorrow’s excursions and events, followed by an informative talk about European food culture.
- 6:45 PM: Dinner. Chef Aleksei and Maitre d’ Igor invite you to The Restaurant for a special Welcome Dinner.
- 6:45 PM: Bar Menu. Enjoy a casual meal on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 8:30 PM: Sailaway Party. Join us in the Lounge or on the Sun Deck for a nice sailaway party with commentary by your Program Director Oliver.
- 8:30 PM: Cast Off! Viking Baldur leaves Budapest for Bratislava, Slovakia.
- 9:00 PM: Nautical Talk. Join us in the Lounge for a nautical Q&A with our Captain Rainer.
Except for being entirely and completely rained out (and somehow still soaked), I did manage to have an enjoyable day out exploring Budapest’s Christmas Markets. So why didn’t I do the included tours? Simple – at this time of year, I have two sole purposes: to river cruise, and to explore the Christmas Markets of Europe. Unlike the markets, the monuments and museums are open all year-round. The markets, though, are something truly special.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur continues tomorrow as we sail to Bratislava, Slovakia! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Embarking Viking Baldur in Budapest
November 30, 2014
This morning, I left the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest and pulled my luggage a few blocks south, where Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur sat at her berth near the historic Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary.
This would be the start of my fourth Christmas Markets cruise, and my third on the Danube. In fact, my very first river cruise experience took place three years ago in December of 2011, and it was then that I discovered two things. One, river cruising was fantastic. Two: there’s absolutely nothing like Europe’s Christmas Markets.
North Americans might not know exactly what these are. The tradition of the Christmas Markets dates back to the late-middle-ages, and every city likes to claim that they were the first to develop the tradition. There’s a lot of evidence to support the fact that they originated first in Germany and Austria, but quickly spread to parts of France and Northern Italy as well. These days, Christmas Markets are prevalent throughout much of Europe, though in varying intensity. The Dutch capital of Amsterdam, for example, doesn’t really do too much in this regard, and sun-drenched cities like Nice aren’t likely to have the kinds of markets that Vienna, Frankfurt and Munich have.
While Viking River Cruises operates this Danube Waltz itinerary throughout the year beginning in March, it is the departures after November 30 that are so sought-after. It is then that the Christmas Markets open up and remain in full swing throughout most of December, typically until December 23 or 24.
In the next seven days, we’ll be calling on Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein, Melk, Linz and Salzburg, Austria; and finally, the Bavarian town of Passau, Germany where we’ll have a full day of touring before disembarking and transferring to Munich for our flights home.
Arriving at the Viking Baldur just after 12:30 p.m., embarkation was a simple affair: as I was arriving independently, I wheeled my luggage down the gangway and presented my passport to the Reception Desk for verification against the manifest. Then, I was given my keycard and shown to my room, which is a carbon-copy of the room I occupied last week aboard the Viking Forseti in France. In fact, it’s just two doors down – confusing, as I keep walking past it and to the room I had before. Kids, when you book a back-to-back cruise, make sure the room numbers are either the same, or on a different deck!
The entire process, from check-in to stateroom: under five minutes. After the first thirty minutes onboard, I was unpacked yet again and had settled into the Lounge, where the few guests who had embarked around the same time as me were enjoying a light lunch. With a bowl of soup, a Cuban sandwich and a glass of red wine, I was once again beginning to feel very ‘at home.’
If there’s one thing Viking does incredibly well, it is that they create ships that have a wonderful sense of warmth to them. For first-time Viking guests, no doubt the soft, soothing colours will impress them, along with the views out the magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows. For returning guests like myself, feeling ‘at home’ takes only seconds. In fact, Viking Baldur is so similar to Viking Forseti that I almost expected the crew and guests I had come to know so well over the last week to materialize at any second.
That kind of familiarity is great, particularly for guests who are arriving the day of the cruise and like to know where everything is and how everything works. Viking makes it very easy for guests to know what they can expect from each day of their cruise thanks to the printed Viking Daily, which is really one of the best in the industry. Not only does it contain important information about what is happening around the ship, but there are also important facts about the places you’re either in or will be visiting, along with tidbits, trivia, and quotes.
By two o’clock, what I like to call the “Viking Express” began to turn up. These are the white Viking-branded Mercedes coaches that can be seen zipping smoothly along the highways and streets of many European cities, and in this case, they’re all bringing full loads of guests straight from Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport to the Viking Baldur.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur continues tomorrow as we explore Budapest on our first full day onboard this Christmas Danube Waltz itinerary! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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