Despite still adjusting to local time and our internal clocks, we woke early on Thursday, October 13.
Waking early is a requirement as shoreline excursions start loading at 8:15.
Guests have three breakfast options on the ship: Cafe Breakfast, Continental Breakfast, and Breakfast. If you love breakfast, this is a win for you.
My favorite was the breakfast. The choices were endless, I could have stayed there all morning. I enjoyed trying the European granola, Muesli. It was served out of a large bowl in what appeared to be a mixture of a light cream and yogurt—delicious.
Our family assembled for breakfast in stages, and we were all conscience of making sure we would gather back in the lobby for our shore excursion.
Viking knows how to organize their guests.
With our personalized audio receivers and earpieces, we made the walk to a loading area where buses and a guide were waiting for us.
The guides magically connect the audio receivers to their receiver. They give us some basic information, and we loaded into the buses.
All along the route to our first stop, the guides provide us insights about what we see.
Throughout this trip, I will learn about the large open squares in the cities. These open spaces are the life of each community. They are dominated by lots of pedestrian traffic with public transportation woven in, and stunning architecture.
This morning, we are stopping at Heroes Square. On our Wednesday afternoon tour, our guide made reference to 1896. That year is important in Hungarian history. In 896, the Hungarian state was formed, and a thousand years later, in 1896 construction started on Heroes Square.
Immediately, my eyes are drawn to statues. The heart of the square is marked by the 110 feet tall Millennium monument. To either side of the monument are two colonnades that capture additional Hungarian chieftains and national leaders.
Also, woven into the landscape of the square are City Park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of Art, and the Millennium Underground Railway, Metro 1. The underground railway was started here to provide transportation to City Park and to preserve the beauty of Andrassy Avenue.
When we arrive back at the ship from this excursion, we have some good news—our daughter, Elizabeth has arrived. She is settled into her room, and ready to join us for lunch.
And speaking of lunch, everyday, the chef and his team prepared a different soup. Each day of the trip, that was my lunch, a bowl of soup, some crusty bread, a Bitburger pilsner on draft, and the dessert special.
One appreciation we developed was for the Viking guides. They were knowledgeable about giving us suggestions on how we might fill an afternoon, if we opted not to participate in a pre-planned excursion.
On this beautiful afternoon, we opted to take a suggested long walk on the hilly side, the Buda side of the city.
We crossed the Danube at the nearby Liberty Bridge and started our exploring. No matter where our eyes cast, in that scope of vision, there was something to catch our attention.
At a leisurely pace, we moved along stopping to explore as needed while snapping photos.
My take away for the afternoon was the Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
The construction of the Bastion’s walls started in the 1700s. Historians note that local fishermen were a part of guarding these walls where a small Fishtown or Watertown developed. The Bastion was severely damaged during World War II, but was gradually restored after the war.
Matthias Church is impressive from the exterior and interior. Our self-guided tour of the interior had endless points of interest. No matter where my feet took me I was overwhelmed by the history and the craftsmanship.
Gradually, we worked our way back to the ship. More pretty views greeted us on this pleasant October afternoon.
Before dinner that evening, all guests were invited to gather in the Lounge for a toast from the ship’s Captain.
At dinner, I steered away from the traditional menu, and always chose from the regional fare that was offered. And, at dinner, we started to get to know our assigned waiters, Mehi and Jazz.
In another life, they could have been stand up comics, or a part of the Saturday Night Live cast. Even though I’m certain neither Mehi, nor Jazz would know who Eddie Haskell was, both waiters clearly graduated from the Eddie Haskell school of schmoozing guests. Their humor kept us laughing during our meals. Mehi and Jazz called us “honey” and referred to Betsy’s mother as the queen.
After dinner, we were all invited to the top deck of the ship for the Budapest Sail Away. Our Program Director Mario provided comments for us about the sites we were gracefully passing.
The lit city gave us another perspective of Budapest, and its buildings and their architecture. The night lighting formed a new beauty and awareness compared to the sunlight from earlier in the day.
No matter how light is cast upon Budapest, its beauty is obvious. I will treasure our time here.
Nor will I forget that from 1949 until 1989, Hungary was under Communist rule. I sensed from our guides a heart cherished relief that the Communist control is over.
I’m certain that hard earned freedom will never be forgotten for those who lived through those forty years.
But despite the splendor of the city and all its charms, on our first afternoon I saw firsthand that Budapest like all cities has some challenges.
As our guide led us into the city, we passed a homeless man sitting on a bench.
He was slumped over, head down, smoking the remnants of a cigarette.
I think if he was standing up, his thin frame would have topped him over six feet. His straight dark black hair came down just past the collar of the curry colored suit jacket he wore.
Sadly, as I walked past, I caught a whiff of his body odor, and I could see his unclean hands. However, he made no effort to ask for any assistance from the Viking guests.
By now, you must be thinking to yourself, “Bill, why are you describing this homeless man in Budapest to us?”
Here I am a long way from home, and no different from home, I encounter a homeless person.
Two things come to mind, I wonder about his story, and the second is the reality of life—all it takes is one wrong move, and I could be that man on the bench on the banks of the Danube, or the streets of Richmond.