Prior to boarding the ship, we took a private tour through the city of Budapest. We had 12 people in our group of friends.
We started at the Liberty Statue at the top of Gellért Hill on the Pest side. Originally built to commemorate freedom from the Ottomans and Nazis; later changed to commemorate liberty from the communists. The communist statue was torn down and moved to a separate sculpture garden - like almost all other Soviet era statues in the city.
Our next stop was to the Great Market Hall of Budapest; it was Sunday, but still open (just opened as it wasn’t very crowded). We learned about the local mushrooms, the hairy pigs, grey cows, paprika (smoked is not used much), goulash and local salami.
Next we toured around town, past the Great Synagogue and Jewish quarter, down the fancy Andrassy Avenue leading to Heroe's Square. We stopped at the House of Terror building which is the old communist police headquarters building. Lining the building were pictures of the many people killed there; these were local protesters who were later identified from newspaper photos. We continued past the fancy villas to Heroes Square, past the zoo and several large bath houses and then back to the main part of town.
On foot we walked first to a memorial to Holocaust victims - empty shoes at the river's edge symbolizing those that were shot and pushed into the river. We then walked around the very iconic parliament building ( the most expensive building in the country we were told) to the second and third place winning designs, then to the Ronald Reagan statue and the US embassy. Both overlook the only remaining communist statue standing downtown. From there a walk down the avenue with a great view of St Stephens; Christmas market stalls were still up and people were shopping. In Germany, Christmas markets end several days before Christmas; not so here in Hungary. We got into our van in front of the Four Seasons Hotel, a beautiful grand old building directly across from the Chain bridge.
On board the ship in Budapest
We drove to the ship where our luggage was sent directly to our rooms. While we waited in the lounge, they checked us in on a mobile device; rooms were ready around 2 pm and we walked right in after picking up our key.
We had a great dinner that evening in the Chef’s Table restaurant; our favorite was the Sea Bream with foam, though every dish was stupendous - lots of small tasting menu type courses.
The highlight of the night
The highlight of the night was a tour on the river highlighting beauty of Budapest. Only pictures can describe it.
Relaxin' in Budapest
The next day, the ship was still in Budapest. Since we've done the city tour before, we decided to sleep in a bit. We got to breakfast after 9 AM but of course they were super accommodating. Dave did a "power walk" with the wellness host Victor to the top of Gellért Hill (about 3 miles and 730 ft elevation in 45 min). The normal excursions came back by lunch and we had the afternoon to ourselves. The ship set sail, the cruise manager provided an overview of the trip. This flowed right into the cocktail hour which led directly to dinner. A delightful and relaxing day. But well needed given all the traveling we had done the last several days.
And that's really one of the highlights of a river cruise - you can be as relaxing or as active as you'd like to be.