I finally figured out it is Wednesday and we are traveling through the edge of Slavakia into Austria. That makes 5 countries in 5 days counting the USA (The Netherlands to change planes, Hungary, Slovakia, now Austria). So far it has been an interesting and amazing trip in many ways.
First the “clean clothes” reference… Our flight from JAN to ATL was cancelled due to equipment problems but there was an hour plus to make the switch to the next flight and a very (she really was) helpful gate agent at Delta assured us the baggage was moving over also. Apparently that notice did not get to the folks on the tarmac because our baggage arrived almost 36 hours after we did! We travel a lot and know the rules – change of clothes with you on board and we had that (1 set each) and I had split our stuff between the two checked bags in case one of them did not arrive. We knew that if the bags did not catch us before we left Budapest we were going to be in deep stuff pretty quickly!
So – our first morning in Budapest we were shopping for another set each as insurance. Marks & Spencer came through but we knew we were going to be in total violation of the evening dress codes. Killed our doing some of the touring we had hoped to do in Budapest but decided it was better to do this and sacrifice one day than to be in a complete pickle the rest of the trip! Anyway, around 6am our second morning here, the reception desk rang and our bags were at our stateroom door. Thank you to the nice folks at the Budapest airport and Scenic (cruise line) for staying on top of this for us. As to lessons learned – upping the on carry on clothes to two outfits each plus another set of “essentials” for our future adventures.
Now for the good stuff. The area along the Danube is so full of history. Recorded history takes you back to medieval times. The Romans had strongholds here and influenced architecture and infrastructure. The Turks spent over a hundred years in the region and wreaked all sorts of havoc. The locals recovered from that only to face the horror of Nazi Germany and then Soviet occupation and communism. Our guide yesterday who was in her 40s explained what it was like to be born and raised during communist times and what freedom means to her. She and her peers do not take for granted the rights to travel freely, to choose your occupation, to live where you choose, or to VOTE. Her take on politicians however was universal (things she said about the Hungarian Parliament rang true with certain experiences in Mississippi government, etc.) but her perspective had way more than inconvenience behind it.
There are large Roman Catholic churches (facilities) in the cities and towns but the people are largely unchurched. The people are generally highly educated. Most know multiple languages including English. Those of my generation know Russian because they were forced to learn it during communist occupation times. They are a highly cultured people – this is the world of Franz Listz, Mozart, Heyden, Bach. Obviously Salzburg (we go there Saturday) is known for such as The Sound of Music and interestingly, the “do-re-mi” method that Maria taught the Von Trapp children is a method for teaching singing that was developed by a guy from Budapest.
In Budapest, our hotel (Marriott) overlooked the Danube. We were across the river from Castle Hill and could see both Buda Castle and the Citadel. At night they were spectacular. I will say the Budapest Marriott inside was much the same as any in the U.S. except no shop where you can get toiletries (we found what we needed) and in true European fashion, no bath cloths (had those but were in the checked bags). We walked along the embankment and past small parks and local church and lots and lots of sidewalk cafes. It is a very social city. On Sunday afternoon when we arrived, families and I am sure tourists were out in droves.
The river is wide (mostly) like the Mississippi. Lots of commercial traffic and lots of river cruise ships and tour boats and pleasure craft and rowboats and kayaks and canoes….yep we have seen some of all of it! There are houseboats all along the river and in the more rural areas, we have seen fishing camps/cabins, people picnicking on the banks, and lots of swimming going on. Certainly the latter is an activity you would not find normally on the Mississippi! The color is in the day time more green than blue but at sunrise and sunset, the blue hues are magnificent.
We boarded Scenic Jasper on Monday afternoon. It is a brand new river ship, christened in April 2015. Total folks on board are 169 passengers and 29 crew. Very efficient. Very simple. Our observations having done big ship cruising for years are these – calmer; no hype; quiet; friendly; there are some tour choices but mostly we do same things – walking tours, city tours, can choose to bike in certain places. Oh yes – and the food is very good!
On board first night, we cruised up and down the river seeing the city at night. Magical. Really is difficult to describe. The historic buildings and all the bridges and embankment walkways are lighted. Amazing.
In Budapest, on Tuesday morning, we had a choice and took the city tour that was part walking (Castle District – Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church on the Buda side; Freedom Square and a piano/organ concert by a highly regarded Hungarian musician who is a Franz Litsz award winner (have his name somewhere but cannot put my hands on it). The concert was in a school concert hall set for such as this. The concert hall reminded me of one of the venues we were in in St. Petersburg in 2007 – hot! But once this guy touched the Steinway and then the organ – you forgot all that. We sailed for Vienna at 4pm.
Guides thus far have been excellent. Most travelers are well traveled and looking to learn and enjoy the moment. And 169 passengers makes it friendly and pleasant not institutional which to us is how large ship cruising has become. We also have little GPS devices which tell you what you are passing as you ride down the river as well as support the guide on walking tours or yourself on self-guided excursions.
We travelled through Slavakia this morning. We are now in Austria and will dock in Vienna around 5pm local. More to come.
For some reason over the years, I choose to reread Hebrews when we travel. I cannot tell you why other than on my first trip abroad years ago (1986 or 1987), I decided I was going to memorize the hall of fame of Hebrews 11. Truthfully, I never got it completely done but the gist of the chapter stays with me. My favorite verse is 9 – Abraham …. obeyed …. “And he went out not knowing where he was going.” I have a pretty good idea where we are supposed to end up on this journey but in the perspective of life, am I willing to be obedient and to go not knowing where God will lead? Food for thought.
Still Choosing Joy!