Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Beautiful Budapest

Sailing into Budapest on the Danube ranks second only to sailing into Venice on a cruise ship; it absolutely takes your breath away.  It was cool but clear on the morning of our arrival, and almost everyone braved the sky deck as we approached the city.  Our Tour Director, Eric, pointed out the sites as we sailed along.

Budapest, like Vienna, is worthy of more than one day's visit.  We took the included Avalon city tour in the morning and were driven through the beautiful city divided by the Danube, eventually stopping at the Belvedere on the Buda side to take in the view.
Budapest consists of two cities, Buda on the hilly side which is full of palaces and official buildings, and Pest on the flat side full of shops, offices and homes.  Pest is where most of city life takes place, and our boat was docked just a few short steps from the famous pedestrian Vaci Street.

We had signed up for an afternoon tour to the Hungarian countryside where vineyards flourish and wine is king.  We visited two wineries and tasted their wares altogether spending a great afternoon in the countryside.  One bottle of wine even made it into our luggage and is awaiting Thanksgiving.  Wine makes for good friends and fellowship! We made lots of new friends and acquaintances on our river cruise and would be sorry to see it end, but everyone promised to keep in touch.
A wine cellar in the Etyek wine area of Hungary

Friday, November 4, 2016

Sold on Slovakia

Full disclosure:  I've returned home and must complete this blog from memory.  We returned to bright sun in Durango, but now the weather has turned cloudy and rainy, just the right atmosphere for remembering out river adventure. 

Arrival in Bratislava
The rain abated for our arrival in Bratislava.  Bratislava is a good-sized town to visit.  With a little over 400,000 inhabitants, a pleasant and varied walking area (not all cobbles!), convivial people, and beer which rivals that of the Czech Republic, it suited me.  We entered a bus for a short tour of the city, which was quiet and deserted on a Sunday morning, and drove up the hill to the Bratislava Castle for the view.  Bratislava had been a refuge for the Hapsburgs when the Turks were knocking at the doors of Vienna, but they spent very little time there. 

The Soviet bridge over the Danube
At the castle, we overlooked the Danube where our boat was docked close to the modern bridge constructed by the Soviets as a pride of Communist engineering.  It's know locally as the "flying saucer."  Constructed with no center support in the river, it was the first of a kind.  Unfortunately, however, the Soviets constructed a highway continuing from the bridge which passed with 15 feet of the magnificent St. Stephens cathedral creating a hazard of noise and vibration threatening that landmark.  Beyond the bridge, you can see the many large blocks of Soviet-styled housing where large families often shared 2-3 room flats.  They've been brightened somewhat with designs in bright paint.  Our guide spoke very openly about how happy the young people were that they had been liberated from the Soviet oppression, although she noted that many of the older people wished to return to a society where their jobs and salaries were guaranteed, although there was little to spend money on. She was sympathetic, but she said their attitude was better a warm prison than the unknown risks of freedom. 

A quiet street in Bratislava
Now a member of the European Union, salaries in Slovakia average 1000 Euros a month or less while housing costs around 500 Eros.  Austria is only 14 kilometers away and many people find employment there where annual salaries are more than double those in Slovakia. 

Slovakia broke away from the Czech Republic after the Soviets left because there were two people vying for the position of Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia; they decided to split the country up so they could each have his own country.  Our guide informed us most Slovaks would have preferred to remain with their Czech cousins. 

After lunch on the boat, we walked back into the city to sample Slovak beer and see if it measured up to the well-know Czech product.  It did!

St. Stephen's Cathedral - Bratislava