Day 18 – Prague (Homeward Bound) – Last thoughts from Ruth

It’s not that I need to have the last word (ha!), but I do want to thank Dave and Velma for working so hard to create this blog. After almost 3 weeks, 6 countries, and countless meals, tours and toasts (“to us”), it will be difficult to remember the details of this fabulous adventure without the blog. This trip was 16 months of planning and anticipation and it is now a done deal. We started out as 10 good friends. We bonded during our adventure and with no stress, no squabbles, and no drama we are now Great Friends. As a “Team”, we won 4 out of the 5 contests on the boat. Thanks to Mike and Velma for winning the Newlywed Game and again for winning the Octoberfest beer-mug-holding-out-straight contest. Thanks to Ruth for winning the History Trivia contest, and to the whole team for winning the Octoberfest Trivia contest. We came in second in the Musical Murder Mystery contest, but we never really understood the concept, so 4 out of 5 is not bad! Yeah Team! The weather contributed to the magic of this trip. We had several downpours and they ALWAYS occurred when we were in a museum, a castle, a concert, a pub or when we were aboard ship. The whole trip could not have been more perfect. On behalf of Mary, Ted, Peggy, Jim, Barbie, Doug, Mike, me (Ruth), and the many friends who followed the blog – Thank You Dave and Velma!

Day 17 – 10/9/12 – Prague

Today was the last day of our cruise trip. We return to sunny California on Wednesday.

We woke up at the civilized hour of 8:30am, went downstairs to the breakfast restaurant, met up with Ted Maag and Jim and Peggy Gill, and started the day.

The Gills and we hopped a taxi from the Hilton hotel to the National Museum (closed) and strolled down Wencislaus square. The square is some 790 meters long and about 50 meters wide. It has been the site of most of the Czeck celebrations (“liberation” from the the Nazis in 1945 and liberation from the Communists in 1989) and demonstrations (the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution both took place beginning in the square).

The square was filled with people, sunning themselves, reading, walking, smoking, talking, or just having a grand ‘ole time. Buildings on the sides of the square were of nearly every architecture type in Europe. Some of the buildings are shown in the slide show below. From the square, we ambled on to a flea market where we had a good time window shopping. Then, we went to the old town square in Old Town and ran into Ted and Mary Maag having lunch at one of the sidewalk bistros. We got a table and had an excellent pizza and two Pilsner Urquell beers. Yummy.

From the Old Town Square, we continued our stroll towards and over the Charles Bridge to the New Town section of Prague where we proceeded to get lost wandering around looking for the pick-up point of the sightseeing bus. We finally found the right place, got on the bus, and rode it back to the hotel where I am now posting this, the last blog post from Prague.

Here are a few photos of the day.

Day 16 10/8/12 still in Budapest (Velma)

Wow – the weather has changed! It’s chilly and windy, but the sun is shining as we head out for our last day of sight seeing. We thought we would try to take in the Parliament tour and maybe the zoo. But when we got there we discovered all the English tour tickets were sold out. So we wandered.

Thanks to the great education we got from the House of Terror and our tour guide earlier this week I wanted to have my picture taken with the memorial to the 1956 revolution.

Then we walked in a bracing wind along the Danube. Here we found the Shoes memorial. The Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay on the bank of the Danube River in Budapest. It honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Crossmilitiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank. (Wikipedia)

I wonder if it was a sunny cold day when those monsters in the Arrow Cross did this?

We kept walking, thinking about all the history and the sad/bad things. Needed to get some distance from it so went into town. The stores were open and the city was bustling.

Mike tried on the leather version of our Viking team hat – but it felt way to “WWII-like” so we passed.

After lunch we jumped or hopped back onto the tour bus to take in the Yellow line. It drove past the Great Synagogue – but didn’t have time to get off.

And then I spotted what must be the ugliest building in Budapest!

What were they thinking?

Dinner was late because we first did a wine tasting at the Faust Cellars located in the basement of the Hilton. In the original caves of some old monastery. The walk down to it has archeological objects displayed, parts of columns and big stones. Walking down is cold because it is exposed to outside, but the wine tasting room was heated, thank goodness!

The somellier gave us a map and explained about the wine regions of Hungary. We tasted the reds – very nice.

After another great dinner we decided to pack up our stuff and get ready for our journey home.

One last look across the Danube…

Good Morning Budapest 09OCT2012.

We will be following the sun all day – I hope to get a shot of the sun setting as I arrive in San Francisco. Can’t wait to be home!

Day 16 – 10/8/12 – Prague

Today was our first full day in Prague.

Today was a magnificent day. We woke in the Hilton Hotel in a comfortable bed at a civilized hour (8:30), went downstairs to the lobby restaurant, and had a good breakfast. Ruth arranged tickets to a Hop On – Hop Off tour bus and we met up with Peggy Gill and Doug and Barbie Wickham. Thomas (German speaking driver) picked us up at the hotel and brought us to the pickup point for the tour bus.

We then made the round of the city taking about 90 minutes to drive past the highlights of Prague, with a focus on old-town and the historic areas.

Our tour guide, Ezekiel, from Argentina.

Sample of the architecture of Prague. Don’t ask me what style.

The weather was clear and sunny and the temperature varied between 45-55 Fahrenheit. After the bus tour, we walked through the city streets of old town and met up with Mary, Ted, and Jim in the old town square.

We wandered around for about 30 minutes before settling on an interesting Greek restaurant somewhere in old town and settled down for an excellent (but pricy) lunch.

After lunch, Ruth and I and the Gills wandered through the old Jewish Quarter only to find that all the synagogues and museums were closed due to the Jewish Holidays (Succot).

Bad timing on our part. We then continued our wandering onto the Charles Bridge over the River Vltava.

The bridge is closed to vehicles and has been turned into a pedestrian mall complete with buskers, artists, and (literally) thousands of tourists (including us).

Street musicians playing dixieland jazz on the Charles Bridge.

Ruth and Peggy went off on a shopping quest while Jim and I not so patiently waited. Finally, we all made our way back to the hotel through winding, crowded and very interesting streets in the old town.

Soap bubble lady in old town square.

More street musicians: Balalyka, contrabase, and accordian.

I think I now would count Prague as my favorite city on the tour. The buildings were fascinating, the street scene alive and vibrant, the food (and beer) excellent, and the people very friendly.

We have one more day in Prague before coming home.

 

Day 15 – October 7 – On our own in Budapest

Today was kinda sad. We got up early to say good bye to our fellow Vikings as they boarded an early bus to go on the extension to Prague. And they left! We stayed on board until 9 when our taxi picked us up and drove us up to the Hilton that is a part of the Fishermen’s Bastion and Church complex.

ImageThe Hilton is the plain building to the left of the Church. Our room has a view of the Parliament Building.

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We were early, so after stashing our bags we went for a walk. The tour busses were dropping off the tourists in droves by 9:30am. The weather was cool and cloudy. We decided to get the Hop On Hop Off bus ticket and headed off around 11:30. First we grabbed a bite to eat, then we got onto the river cruise. guess we missed being on our boat!

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Most of the stores were closed, only tourist shops and museums open on Sundays.

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On the Bus!

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Lunch at Cafe Preta. Tasty Goulash Soup and Paprika Chicken.

I like being on the water.

Here is a better shot of the big building behind us:

Their HUGE parliament building.

After the river cruise we decided to visit the House of Terror. Nothing at all like a haunted house – but very scary.

The museum is in the building that witnessed two really bad periods in Hungary’s 20th century. In 1944, during the gruesome domination of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, the building, known as the “House of Loyalty,” was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis. Then between 1945 and 1956, the notorious communist terror organizations, the AVO and its successor, the AVH, took up residence here.

The museum commemorates the victims of terror, but it is also a memento, reminding us of the dreadful acts of terrorist dictatorships.

No pictures were allowed inside – but if you are ever in Budapest, I would recommend this museum.

Right outside the museum we found another relic –

Days 13 October 5 in Bratislava (Velma)

We woke up to a bright sunny day in Bratislava. Instead of taking the group tour, we met up with Mike’s boss, Tibor, for coffee and a short visit. We went up to the UFO where we had a wonderful view.

ImageThere is a little cafe and then you can go up four flights of stairs outside to a platform for the view.

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It was really fun. We could see Austria from here!

Then we got back to the Freya (last ones on board!) and cruised to Budapest.

 

 

 

 

Day 15 – 10/7/12 – Transfer from Budapest to Prague – Not good!

Misery – Misery !!

The river cruise segment of our travel is now finished and we begin our Prague segment.

To summarize our transfer to Prague – definitely way below the standard set by the Viking River Cruise segment.

The day started at 6:00 am with a wake up and requirement to have our packed luggage properly marked and placed outside our stateroom. No problem. We were scheduled to leave at 7:30 am.

The trouble started with the fact that despite 80 passengers making the transfer to Prague, the restaurant did not open until 7:00 am. The bills had to be settled today rather than yesterday because (we were told), their computer could not accept closure until today. Very strange. The reception desk was staffed with two crew members, struggling to handle all checkouts by paper and pen and a single credit card machine. Long lines. And, to add to misery, the reception area was hot and muggy. No apparent air conditioning.

After the usual (pretty good) breakfast, we stood outside at the dockside and identified our luggage, only to find that the two buses allocated for our transfer could not accommodate all the luggage from the 80 passengers. At the end, some of the luggage was loaded onto the couple of empty seats on each bus.

Then we took off on our journey, only to learn that what we had been led to believe was a 4-5 hour bus ride to Prague was actually going to be an 8 hour journey with a short rest stop and a break for lunch.

The bus was hot, cramped, and had narrow, uncomfortable seats. The overhead bins for luggage were too small by half to accommodate some of the (admittedly large) carryon luggage.

After the first two hours, we stopped at a gas station for a 20 minute bathroom break. No problem.

Five hours into the ride, we pulled off the road for a lunch hour at a huge truck stop. We were informed that we could buy lunch in a cafeteria-type lunch room. With 80 of our passengers descending on the already crowded cafeteria, the line stretched out of the restaurant and onto the parking lot. To make matters worse, most of the passengers took many minutes trying to decide what to order since the menus were in Czeck and the passengers spoke only English. The food was good and cheap, however. We were all surprised that Viking did not cover the cost of lunch. It seems that the $1400+ price of the extension to Prague did not include the cost of lunch. Tacky, tacky.

When we finally arrived in Prague after 7 hours on the damn bus, we were met at the Hilton hotel by the Viking rep and checked into our rooms in a very short time. The hotel is very nice and the rooms are spacious and modern.

My only complaint with the hotel is the price of in-room Internet. The hotel provides free (and fast) Wi-Fi in the public areas but charges €26 ($33.67) per 24 hour period for in-room wireless connection. That seems ridiculously high.

I know that the above sounds like carping and whining, but the whole transfer process was way below the standard I have come to expect from Viking.

My advice to anyone considering the Prague extension is to make your own travel arrangements, take the train, and avoid going through Viking.