French Days, Hungarian Nights

Guests enjoy hot mulled wine outside on the terrace at ES Bisztro at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

November 29, 2014
Today, I left Viking River Cruises’ Viking Forseti in the port of Bordeaux, France as my Chateaux, Rivers & Wine voyage through France came to a close – at the early hour of three in the morning.

Click here to read our Viking Forseti Live Voyage Report through France’s Bordeaux Region!

Not that this is Viking’s fault – blame the airline schedules out of Bordeaux-Merignac Airport that tend to favour early-morning departures. Fortunately, I was prepared for this: we’d been briefed several days in advance, so I had plenty of warning that I – along with 30 other staterooms – would have to have my luggage out at 3:00 a.m., and be onboard the waiting coach by 4:00 a.m.

Landing in Amsterdam from Bordeaux as the sun rises on another day - and another exciting rive cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Landing in Amsterdam from Bordeaux as the sun rises on another day – and another exciting rive cruise. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

If you think that sounds absolutely terrible, consider this: Viking provided a continental breakfast for all of us in the Restaurant at three in the morning. And they do this every single Saturday. Feel for the crew, not for me.
In all, my voyage had six different departure times for guests this morning, including those lucky ones headed to Paris for a three-day post-cruise stay in the magical “City of Love.” They would travel there not by air, but by high-speed TGV train. Viking offers this as an optional add-on, and if you’ve never been to Paris but have come this far, I’d highly recommend it.
Once I’d settled up my onboard account (cash, credit card, no Monopoly Money), I boarded the coach and was whisked to Bordeaux’s airport for my KLM flight to Amsterdam.

Schiphol Nightmare: a new numbered boarding system was being tested at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol's C Gates. I got Lucky 11. Sadly, the system didn't work, infuriated passengers, and delayed boarding. C'est la vie. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Schiphol Nightmare: a new numbered boarding system was being tested at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol’s C Gates. I got Lucky 11. Sadly, the system didn’t work, infuriated passengers, and delayed boarding. C’est la vie. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

If you’re headed through Bordeaux-Merignac on KLM, check-in is surprisingly confusing. You must use the Air France kiosks (both airlines are essentially joined at the hip). When you scan your passport, the machine immediately asks if you’d like to go to Paris Charles de Gaulle or Paris Orly Airport. I would – but that’s not the point. You must hit the back button, and manually enter the airport code for Amsterdam (AMS) before it will print your boarding pass. C’est la vie.
More amazing is that, despite the boarding time of 5:35 a.m. printed on my boarding pass for a 6:05 a.m. departure, gate agents didn’t show up until about 5:55 a.m. Boarding was then a total free-for-all rush to be the first on the small Embraer E190. Even more incredibly, we actually pushed back on-time. Maybe the ‘running of the bulls’ method of embarkation actually works!

Welcome to Budapest! It's a little quieter here in the winter; during the summer, outdoor cafes line this promenade. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Welcome to Budapest! It’s a little quieter here in the winter; during the summer, outdoor cafes line this promenade. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Unlike my fellow guests, I wasn’t travelling back to North America. I was connecting in Amsterdam to KLM Flight 1975 to Budapest, Hungary for another week of being a Viking; this time onboard Viking Baldur’s weeklong Danube Waltz Christmas Markets itinerary that runs between Budapest and Passau, or reverse.

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