Although we boarded the River Beatrice on Sunday, November 30th, 2014, the cruise wouldn’t start until Monday evening, December 1 (Most river cruises do this, to provide ample time for passengers who may have missed a connection or had a flight delayed, to reach the boat before it sailed.) Thus we were docked overnight in Budapest and were to tour the city on Monday morning with ample time later to visit the Budapest Christmas Market within walking distance of our ship.
Besides enjoying an excellent meal Sunday night we first went through the obligatory safety drill. There are no lifeboats on board the Beatrice, the rationale being that we were always in sight of the shore, There were, of course, life jackets and certain procedures to follow. We were introduced to Captain Ivanov, who was an imposing but mostly silent figure. Carla de Behar, the Hotel Manager and Tamas Kocsis, the Cruise Manager more than made up for his lack of interaction. Both were very personable and always present to see that the passengers needs were met during the cruise. In fact, every ‘member of the Beatrice crew provided the best possible service. Tamas briefed us on the next day’s activities after Carla introduced her staff and welcomed us. Most of us headed for our cabins for a welcome night’s sleep, but others who were already in Europe and not jet-lagged stayed in the lounge to talk and listen to music.
The next morning we woke up to a cold and rainy day. This was disheartening but we would get to see if our new waterproof jackets worked. LOL(They did.) After breakfast, a buffet, but one could also order from the kitchen, we headed for the busses. We had decided to go with the “gentle walkers” group, for those whose walking speed was in the slow range. Among the gentle walkers were several folks with visible physical problems and canes, and others who just wanted to take their time.
Our first stop was at Heroes’ Square, a large plaza with some imposing statues of heroic Hungarians. It was still raining so I didn’t get out. It might have been fun on a nice day.
Some folks did brave the elements to get a closer look at the square; the smoking Rambler hopped out to light up. There was no smoking anywhere inside the Beatrice or the bus and he was feeling deprived, (more about this later.) The building in the background is the excellent Hungarian National Museum, a perfect place to stop on a rainy day except that all museums in Hungary are closed on Mondays.
Heroes’ Square was was almost empty, because of the miserable weather. You can see the historic buildings in Buda’s Castle Hill in the background of my photo. Truthfully, this is not my kind of stop, especially in the rain. But both ramblers enjoyed our next stop, the Mathias Church, partly because although it was still cold and windy, the rain had stopped.
The church is one of the most important historic sites in Budapest; founded by King (St.) Stephen in 1015 and dedicated to Our Lady. It is also a survivor!
In the 11th century it was destroyed by the Mongols and rebuilt. it is called the Matthias Church because the late medieval Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus was crowned there twice!A raven, his emblem perches on the highest tower. Hungary was conquered yet again, this time by the Ottomans who turned it into a mosque, painting out or destroying any representation of the human form. After the Ottomans were defeated, the church was restored once more but severely damaged in WWII and treated badly first by the Germans and then by the Communists. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church was restored yet again, with the exterior finished in 2013. However, I have never visited a historic building of any kind without noting some restoration ongoing and so it was with the Matthias Church.
The church was crowded with passengers from the Beatrice and a Viking boat docked nearby.
I would have enjoyed spending more time , as they were setting up the creche that is found in nearly every Catholic church in Europe during the Advent season, the four weeks before Christmas
. From there we walked to the Fisherman’s Bastion, a fantastic creation with pointed towers like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It was completed in the early 1900’s as a look-out. Though it never served any military purpose, it provides a wonderful view of Buda, Pest and the Danube in between, which we took a pass on.
Few folks lingered because of the icy breeze and rain droplets that swirled around. On the way back, I bought some paprika from a store near the church. Its door was open to the elements and provided little shelter for the cheerful salesladies On the way back to the boat, our guide took us through the elegant 19th century boulevard, lined with a variety of interesting buildings where a wonderful buffet lunch awaited us. It started for me, with a bowl of delicious soup.
The rain returned with a vengeance in the afternoon and my husband refused to walk to the Christmas Market. However, a couple we had met earlier were going and I walked along with them. I am one of those hapless people who tend to get lost in unfamiliar places so I didn’t want to go alone. As it turned out, the market was a good choice.
In the Hungarian Christmas markets unlike those we visited in other countries, everything has to be Hungarian-made. Thus I was able to purchase several wooden toys and ornaments that did not come from somewhere in Asia. Of course they were selling food, lots of Hungarian sausages and the ubiquitous Gluhwein. Everyone raves about it, but I have never enjoyed hot sweet wine.
It was so cold, though, that I did get a small foam cup of the stuff. Every town’s Christmas Market has a distinctive cup, and some of the passengers collected a bunch. Since they were always filled with that darn Gluhwein, I was not tempted. This market didn’t have any special cupsyet as it was only the 2nd day of Advent.
Needless to say, we were happy to board the Beatrice and enjoy a pleasant evening on board.
Note: River cruises are not particularly friendly to people in wheelchairs, or those who can’t climb stairs. While our boat had an elevator for going between floors, getting on or off was more problematic. In some cases, it was necessary to walk down or up a steep and sometimes slippery ramp. I was particularly careful on these as the mantra for folks who have had their hips replaced is “Don’t fall!” Once off the boat, there are many cobblestone walkways, especially in the historic districts which make pushing a wheelchair difficult. If you haven’t done a European river cruise, buy and break-in a good pair of walking shoes preferably with Vibram soles and your feet will thank you later..