Tag Archives: Danube

EUROPE 2011: Danube Bend, Hungary

Szentendre on the DanubeDuring our 1994 trip to Europe, we had reserved a day cruise down the Danube River from Vienna to Budapest, but due to a misunderstanding with the hotel concierge, the trip never occurred. Ever since, I had had Budapest and a Danube River cruise on my wish list. Now that I had seen Budapest, I was looking forward to today’s river voyage, despite the grey, chilly, misty morning. And according to the weather report, no improvement was in sight.

Esztergom Basilica, Hungary on this side and Slovakia across the Danube Bend We met our tour guide at the Intercontinental Hotel, next door to the Sofitel, and were immediately informed that the river cruise had been canceled. Evidently, the water level on the river was too low. Instead, we boarded a bus for a full-day excursion of the Danube Bend.

Esztergom Basilica Our first destination was the artist city of Szentendre, home to Caprice International, a diamond exchange factory that opened about fourteen years ago. We watched a film on jewelry design and viewed an exhibition of Hungarian jewelry, giving us an insight into the history of Hungary’s one-thousand-year-long culture of jewelry making. Next, we visited the showroom where thousands of jewels were on display; diamonds as well as other precious stones, and most offered for sale at special manufacturer’s prices.

Crypt in the Esztergom Basilica on the DanubeOur next stop was Esztergom, the former capital of Hungary from the tenth until the middle of the thirteenth century. Esztergom is the seat of the Hungarian Catholic Church and home to the Basilica of Esztergom, a masterpiece of classicism, and the third largest church in Europe. The cathedral sits on the right bank of the Danube, which forms the border with Slovakia.

Spires of Esztergom Basilica on the Danube The grey, neoclassical basilica is colossal in size and has a central dome that is over two-hundred-and-thirty-feet high. Construction began in 1822 on the site of its destroyed counterpart, another casualty of the Turks. Such destruction is also evident in the smashed faces of the statue Gabriel, and the missing heads on the angels above the altar in the Bakócz Chapel.

The red-and-white marble Bakócz Chapel is a splendid example of Italian Renaissance stone carving and sculpture. The copy of Titian’s Assumption over the church’s main altar is said to be the world’s largest painting on a single canvas. But I was more interested in seeing the crypt, a series of tombs guarded by monoliths representing mourning and eternity. From the depths of the cellar, we climbed to the cupola for the outstanding views of the city: a four-hundred-step hike.

Vadaszcsarda RestaurantBy the time we completed our tour of the basilica and the neighboring grounds, the noon hour was near so we boarded the bus for lunch at Vadaszcsarda Restaurant. On the drive, I spotted what looked like castle ruins on a hill. Intrigued, I asked our guide about them. She seemed quite disinterested in the castle and said she would give me a brief history after lunch. As far as I was concerned, I would have traded our time at Caprice International for the opportunity to explore the ruins. Our restaurant, I discovered, sat on a rise, affording an ideal vantage point for snapping photos of the castle, but this was the extent of my exploration—through a zoom lens.

According to our guide, the castle ruins were actually the ruins of a military camp built on Sibrik Hill, which overlooks the Danube, in the town of Visegrád. The camp had a triangular ground plan and was built in the first half of the fourth century as one of the important fortifications along the limes: a border defense system of Ancient Rome. In the early fifth century, the Roman army abandoned the military camp. She also informed me that there is an upper castle, lower castle, and a royal palace, but I had to Google “Visegrád Castle” for the history, as the time had come to depart for the artist town of Szentendre, our final destination of the day.

Visegrad castle ruins by the DanubeNo sooner had we entered the riverside town and parked, it began to drizzle. In minutes, the drizzle turned to rain, sheeting down steady and fast. Those of us intent on shopping ran down the cobblestoned streets and dashed from store to store. My plans to stroll this charming town with its Mediterranean atmosphere never happened, as the rain showed no signs of easing. Disappointed, we camped out in the Dorothea Bistro Café for the two-hour duration and became better acquainted with Brad and Kat, a Canadian couple who were our bus companions.

I had read that after the Turks left Szentendre, mostly Serbian refugees had settled here, followed by Hungarians, Slovaks, Germans, Greeks, and Romanians; each ethnic group establishing its own section of the town, thereby creating a versatile townscape. After scrolling through pictures of Szentendre on the Internet, and seeing the well-maintained merchant houses that encircled the main square, I had hoped to photograph a good portion of the town, in addition to some impressive riverscapes, but it was not to be.

Precisely two hours later, our guide ushered everyone toward the bus and we piled on, all of us damp to dripping wet, for the drive back to Budapest. At our hotel, we changed into dry clothes and braved the pouring rain for dinner at an Italian restaurant located near the Sofitel. We retired early, for tomorrow we had a long train trip from Budapest to Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Next week: “Europe 2011:,Prague, Czech Republic.”

Europe and Bellagio

Bellagio

October 1994: Dusk was falling when we left Zermatt, Switzerland, for Italy. By the time we reached our hotel in Bellagio, it was too dark to see anything outdoors. However, I do recall being duly impressed with the interior decor, with its white marble and lavender and purple accents. Since our visit, the hotel has been remodeled and the contemporary touches and colors are gone, replaced with a more old-world decor.

We woke to a sunny, clear morning with a beautiful, panoramic view of Lake Como from the balcony of our room. Stuffed after a lavish brunch buffet, we hiked the narrow streets of Bellagio to shop for Murano glassware and a few souvenirs.

In the afternoon, we took a nail-biting drive around the lake with its narrow roads, hairpin curves, steep inclines, and heavy traffic. We didn’t worry about the road conditions as much as the inexperienced drivers, who often came around a sharp corner in the middle of the road.

From Bellagio, we drove through the Italian Alps to St. Moritz, where we lunched, then wound our way into Innsbruck for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Up early the next morning, we left Innsbruck for Füssen, in Bavaria, to tour King Ludwig II’s three castles: Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and his final retreat, Linderhof.

In Füssen we backtracked to the Autobahn and zipped into Munich to meet friends for Oktoberfest, staying long enough to catch up over a beer and brat, and to buy a souvenir beer mug before we sped down to Salzburg, Austria, for the night.

The next day, we toured Hohensalzburg Castle, wandered through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and visited Mozart’s birthplace. Later in the day, the tea hour, we lingered over an espresso and a generous slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing).

Early the next morning, we left Salzburg for a two-day visit to Vienna, both of us ready to put down stakes for a while after admitting we had packed too much sightseeing into our three-week trip.

In Vienna, we started our first day with a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At noon, we stopped at the Hoher Markt Clock, a large glided clock designed in 1914, to watch the parade of all the figures and to listen to the melodic music that accompanied the procession. Afterwards, we toured the Imperial Palace (Hofburg).

On day two in Vienna, due to a misunderstanding by our hotel’s concierge, we missed out on our original plan to take a boat ride down the Danube to Budapest. By the time the matter had been cleared up, our boat had already departed. However, many years later, we would visit Budapest and for much longer than just one day. So day two began at Belvedere Palace and a visit to St. Charles’s Church, completing the evening with a boat ride on the Danube.

When we left Vienna, we drove along the Danube to Melk until the road detoured from the river. Here, we veered inland and sped onto the Autobahn for Passau, Germany. I wanted to see where the three rivers converged: the green Inn, the black Ilz, and the blue Danube. History says the rivers brought wealth to Passau. I saw only beauty as the three flowed into one.

Hugging the Danube, we left Passau for Regensburg, the Danube River’s oldest  medieval town. First on our sightseeing agenda was the ancient Stone Bridge with its sixteen curving arches, but we soon discovered that this charming town had a lot more to offer, so we set off on foot to explore. After leaving the bridge, we paused to snap pictures of the clock tower before we entered the city center. Our destination? The Cathedral of St. Peter (Trierer Dom). On our afternoon jaunt back to our hotel, we came across Historisches Eck and made reservations for dinner. Our five-course meal was superb.

We said goodbye to Regensburg and drove into Würzburg, interested in seeing the Residenz, the former residence of the prince bishops. While my husband lingered to admire the architecture of the building, I toured the court gardens, my sights set on the orangery. Next, we headed for the Festung Marienberg, the fortress with stunning views of the town. We saved the afternoon for a long stroll across the Alte Mainbruecke, pausing on the bridge to enjoy the vistas: the fortress high on the hill surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, the melody of the river as it constantly flowed below us, and the sight of the medieval town itself. Warmed by the afternoon sun, we wound our way through the crowds of tourists and locals, who were sipping wine or beer while listening to the musicians play. I stopped to take pictures at each of the twelve statues: two kings and ten saints that were added to the bridge by the prince-bishops from 1724 to 1746.

Road-weary on our last day, we checked into our hotel in Frankfurt and flew home the following day. My first long trip through Europe was fun, and I would return many years later, especially to Bellagio, where part of a future Darcy McClain novel will be set.

Next week: “My Love Affair with a Giant.”