Live Voyage Review: Viking Freya, Danube River Christmas Markets 2012 – Part 1
Greetings and welcome to part one of our live voyage review from the grand Viking Freya, one of Viking River Cruises’ newest longships. This will be an extra large report as our initial post was delayed due to my internet connection being lost as we entered one of the canal locks last night. Thanks for joining us!
After 14 hours worth of flights plus layovers, my mother and I arrived across the pond tired but very excited to start our journey. Having never previously been to Hungary, I’m delighted to report that Budapest is a European treasure. The vibrant city displays eclectic architecture with sights to behold and a storied history to match.
Our first taste of the city was two nights ago. After settling in to our roomy, comfortable cabin, we eagerly headed out to explore the first Christmas market along our itinerary. It was an extremely cold and rainy evening (I am a southern Californian used to winters in the 60s after all) that contrasted beautifully with the warm incandescent lighting and appetizing aromas permeating from the wooden booths selling their holiday goods.
The Christmas markets are a European tradition in this area where seasonal handicrafts and hearty food intersect to create a magical public celebration that knocks the socks off the homogenous retail experience of sterile shopping malls and stale consumerism familiar elsewhere. Quite simply, these markets bring back the spirit of Christmas like none other. And it just so happens that the weather – that is rain and snow – adds to the overall delight.
Unlike most ocean cruises that relegate embarkation and disembarkation ports to quick touch-and-go stops in service to the primary itinerary, Viking stays overnight at their first and last ports, so they can be explored as much as those destinations in between. Budapest is one such port that gets the full treatment with the opportunity to experience its Christmas markets at night (as seen in the images above) plus a city tour the following day.
Viking’s tours are top-notch and feature excellent, knowledgeable guides that never fail to impress me. It’s one of the highlights of the cruise for certain. Our city tour of Budapest was fascinating and touched on the myriad history of the city from strife during wartime to various liberations turned occupations later. The diverse cultural influences that resulted are found everywhere including the ruins of a Roman bath discovered when an overpass was constructed above it. Other reminders include a permanent art installation along the Danube composed of isolated pairs of shoes indicating where Jews were taken and shot to fall into the river by the Nazis. It’s a haunting piece (seen below).
I’m an architectural nut, so Budapest was a treat to my senses. The diversity of styles was incredible, ranging from gothic to art nouveau and everything in between.
Christmas decorations adorn classical structures like regional theaters, and the craft of masonry is featured like I have never seen before.
The brick details are stunning as are ceramic tile roofs found on churches. The tiles sport vibrant colors that hold steadfast through the seasons.
A local castle was purposefully constructed to reflect several different styles of castle architecture throughout the region, the result of which is particularly interesting.
And then there’s this museum that was filled with stunning brick details…
…that stood out against the modern design of the ING building behind.
This exquisite local synagogue served as an architectural model for other synagogues built beyond the city.
Fisherman’s bastion looks over the city with regal spires and the city’s fantastic mason work once again.
Once we reached the top of Castle hill we were greeted by a soviet-era automotive gem…
…that was clearly owned by a driver with a sense of humor.
The gothic Matthias Church is currently being restored inside but remains stunning from the outside…
…including its ceramic tile roof details.
The views from Castle hill were unrivaled and provided an excellent sense of scale for the city below.
Fisherman’s bastion rises above the banks of the Danube in style.
And Matthias church makes for excellent photos from almost any angle.
The altar space of the church is still visible during the restoration and displays amazing patterns applied to the pillar and wall surfaces.
Blue skies made for a painterly scene full of color.
As we headed back to our bus we treated ourselves to some cherry strudel that was the perfect balance of tart and sweet…
…at this great cafe.
One building on Castle hill has been specifically untouched since the ravages of war as a reminder of the destruction that was caused. Here you can see the craters caused by such artillery.
The parliament building across the Danube from Castle hill is another architectural mashup with gothic spires and a renaissance dome.
And here’s the Roman bath preserved beneath a vehicular overpass…
Returning to the Viking Freya required us to pass through the Viking Embla which was tied off to the dock with our ship on the far side.
The views from our room and balcony have been incredibly scenic as we pass by the pastoral countryside…
…and other architectural sites of interest such as this church that stood tall along the banks of the Danube.
We had the pleasure to tour the modern wheelhouse onboard yesterday which has the ability to squat into the deck below as some clearances require.
Our river cruise has been a complete joy and last night included the first of 25 fascinating canal locks along our path where our ship was elevated in order to reach the next river leg. I got some great video of the process that I’ll share once I return.
The all-weather Aquavit Terrace is a relaxed space to enjoy casual breakfasts and lunches as an alternative to eating in the main restaurant downstairs.
Activities onboard have included an apple strudel making demonstration that was taught by the pastry chef, the one who I suspect is also responsible for the fantastic cookies available throughout the day at the self-serve coffee and hot chocolate stations.
For now, I’ll leave you with an image from the galley tour we had yesterday in addition to the wheelhouse tour. While the space is considerably smaller than that found on an ocean cruise ship, I was actually surprised to find it larger than expected. It also has four windows looking out which is most uncommon for seafaring galleys. It was a nice feature to see.
We experienced our first snowfall today in Vienna, Austria which has been a magical experience for me as I’ve only ever seen it snow before. But today, I got snowed on for the first time, and I loved the sensation. This itinerary is just beyond beautiful, and the Christmas markets are the cherries on top of the sundae. Our next report will include the Christmas market from Vienna. So stay tuned!