French Days, Hungarian Nights

Guests enjoy hot mulled wine outside on the terrace at ES Bisztro at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Guests enjoy hot mulled wine outside on the terrace at ES Bisztro at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

November 29, 2014

Today, I left Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti in the port of Bordeaux, France as my Chateaux, Rivers & Wine voyage through France came to a close – at the early hour of three in the morning.

Click here to read our Viking Forseti Live Voyage Report through France’s Bordeaux Region!

Not that this is Viking’s fault – blame the airline schedules out of Bordeaux-Merignac Airport that tend to favour early-morning departures. Fortunately, I was prepared for this: we’d been briefed several days in advance, so I had plenty of warning that I – along with 30 other staterooms – would have to have my luggage out at 3:00 a.m., and be onboard the waiting coach by 4:00 a.m.

Landing in Amsterdam from Bordeaux as the sun rises on another day - and another exciting rive cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Landing in Amsterdam from Bordeaux as the sun rises on another day – and another exciting rive cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

If you think that sounds absolutely terrible, consider this: Viking provided a continental breakfast for all of us in the Restaurant at three in the morning. And they do this every single Saturday. Feel for the crew, not for me.

In all, my voyage had six different departure times for guests this morning, including those lucky ones headed to Paris for a three-day post-cruise stay in the magical “City of Love.” They would travel there not by air, but by high-speed TGV train. Viking offers this as an optional add-on, and if you’ve never been to Paris but have come this far, I’d highly recommend it.

Once I’d settled up my onboard account (cash, credit card, no Monopoly Money), I boarded the coach and was whisked to Bordeaux’s airport for my KLM flight to Amsterdam.

Schiphol Nightmare: a new numbered boarding system was being tested at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol's C Gates. I got Lucky 11. Sadly, the system didn't work, infuriated passengers, and delayed boarding. C'est la vie. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Schiphol Nightmare: a new numbered boarding system was being tested at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s C Gates. I got Lucky 11. Sadly, the system didn’t work, infuriated passengers, and delayed boarding. C’est la vie. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

If you’re headed through Bordeaux-Merignac on KLM, check-in is surprisingly confusing. You must use the Air France kiosks (both airlines are essentially joined at the hip). When you scan your passport, the machine immediately asks if you’d like to go to Paris Charles de Gaulle or Paris Orly Airport. I would – but that’s not the point. You must hit the back button, and manually enter the airport code for Amsterdam (AMS) before it will print your boarding pass. C’est la vie.

More amazing is that, despite the boarding time of 5:35 a.m. printed on my boarding pass for a 6:05 a.m. departure, gate agents didn’t show up until about 5:55 a.m. Boarding was then a total free-for-all rush to be the first on the small Embraer E190. Even more incredibly, we actually pushed back on-time. Maybe the ‘running of the bulls’ method of embarkation actually works!

Welcome to Budapest! It's a little quieter here in the winter; during the summer, outdoor cafes line this promenade. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Welcome to Budapest! It’s a little quieter here in the winter; during the summer, outdoor cafes line this promenade. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Unlike my fellow guests, I wasn’t travelling back to North America. I was connecting in Amsterdam to KLM Flight 1975 to Budapest, Hungary for another week of being a Viking; this time onboard Viking Baldur’s weeklong Danube Waltz Christmas Markets itinerary that runs between Budapest and Passau, or reverse.

The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Mindful of air travel at this time of year, I figured it would be a good idea to give myself a day in between cruises (and maybe squeak in a nap, to boot), so I arranged for an overnight stay at the gorgeous Kempinski Hotel Corvinus on Budapest’s centrally-located Erzsébet tér 7-8 (Elizabeth Street). I picked the Kempinski for several reasons. One, it’s location: it literally backs onto Budapest’s largest Christmas Market, and is within walking distance of Viking Baldur’s docking location next to the famous Chain Bridge.

Secondly, it’s a European hotel chain with (at this time) no locations in North America. I like that. There’s nothing wrong with staying at a Hilton or a Marriott, but I’d always wanted to try the Kempinski brand out.

The Lobby. The Kempinski Budapest underwent a massive refurbishment program last year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Lobby. The Kempinski Budapest underwent a massive refurbishment program last year. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Originally opened in 1992, the hotel underwent a massive refit last year that has left it sparkling – but also decidedly Hungarian. Throughout the hotel, tribute is paid to important Hungarian citizens, themes, materials and textures. The effect is so subtle that you’re unlikely to notice (at first glance) that you’re stepping over piano keys inlaid into the floor of the lobby, or that the cocktail you’re enjoying in the Blue Fox Bar, cleverly named after a popular Hungarian cartoon character.

It also has the first Nobu Japanese restaurant in Central Europe, named for founder Nobu Matsuhisa. Elements like that help attract not only tourists, but locals to the hotel as well.

Bars and lounges sweep attractively into one another, thanks to a curved central corridor that leads from the Reception Lobby to the Blue Fox Bar, The Living Room, and ES Bisztro. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Bars and lounges sweep attractively into one another, thanks to a curved central corridor that leads from the Reception Lobby to the Blue Fox Bar, The Living Room, and ES Bisztro. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My room was one of the 118 Deluxe Rooms that measure between 35-40m2, or roughly 430 square feet. Inside was practically everything you could need for a long-term stay, and certainly more than I would need for my single evening. Rooms include slippers and robes, and bonus points have to go to the bathroom, which is clad in marble and features separate shower, bathtub and toilet areas.

My room for the evening: one of the Deluxe Rooms at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

My room for the evening: one of the Deluxe Rooms at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Attractive, soothing colour combinations and materials. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Attractive, soothing colour combinations and materials. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Marble-clad bathrooms feature compartmentalized showers, toilets, and a separate bath tub. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Marble-clad bathrooms feature compartmentalized showers, toilets, and a separate bath tub. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The room was exactly what I’d expect from a luxury brand: something elegant, understated and soothing. Nothing out of place, no details missed. And – soft pillows and mattress!

As inviting as the rooms are, the real winner tonight, however, has to be a joint-tie between the on-site Blue Fox Bar and ES Bisztro.

Click here to continue reading!

Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow as we embark Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur for a journey along the Danube Christmas Markets! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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