Setting Sail on the Danube

Back on board the Viking Lif after a final walk about Budapest, we took a few moments to read about the Danube River, before setting sail for Vienna.

We knew the Danube was an expansive body of water, but we were frankly astounded to learn that it is 1,775 miles long (2,857 km), and is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga.  Yet, while the Volga is located wholly in Russia, the Danube flows through ten countries and four central European capitals.

We were also reminded that many wars and conflicts had made travel difficult on the Danube at different times in history – most recently, the civil war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

The year 2019 finds the Danube enjoying a period of relative calm along both of its banks, and ten new bridges have been built across it in the last decade bringing people together, improving trade and happily for us, increasing tourism-related travel.

Our first exposure to travelling on the Danube would be the 270 km (168 miles) stretch from Budapest to Vienna, and with a 5:45 PM sailing time, guests began to move to the upper deck of the Lif, to take in the sights of Budapest from the vantage point of the ship.

As we cast off from the shoreline, Mary and I scurried from one side of the ship to the other to take some final pictures of buildings that had become so familiar to us over the past two days.

First, we passed the Kiraly Bath on our left, the oldest thermal bath in Budapest, built by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century.

Next up on our right, was the Marriott Hotel (pictured below) which seemed badly out of place given the historical architecture that was all around it. It opened in 1968 during the time that Hungary was under Communist rule, and was the first international hotel in the Hungarian capital. The side of the hotel which faces the river is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sorry to say I think it’s ugly!

Budapest Marriott Hotel

The next picture I took was pure self-indulgence on my part as I love boats, trains, planes, in fact all different kinds of transportation. Just ask Mary how many aviation and transit museums I’ve dragged her to throughout Europe and North America! In this picture (below) I captured the brightly-coloured tram which is an integral part of the Budapest People-Moving system and two sightseeing ships that offer local water-based tours.

The first bridge we passed under as we left Budapest was the Elizabeth, a bridge that had been restored between 1961 and 1964, after having been blown up at the end of World War II by retreating Wehrmacht combat engineers.

On our right, we had one last close-up look at the magnificent Buda Castle , rising 150 feet above the Danube from its perch atop Varhegy (Castle Hill).

And, in the picture below, a beautiful lady happily poses in front of the Parliament Building, an absolutely spectacular feat of architecture that simply dominates the landscape and begs to be looked at. It is nearly 900 feet long and is so big, it seemed like it took more than ten minutes to approach it, pass it, and leave it behind. It gets a big a “wow” in my books, but then so does the lady in the foreground (okay I’m a suck-up but she’s worth it).

Having passed under the Chain Bridge, (in the background behind Mary in the picture below), our Program Director, the magnificent Leonard Miron (more on him later), began telling us about Margaret Island, a 2.5 km (1.6 mile) long island in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest.

The island is named after Margit, the beautiful daughter of a 13th-century king, and from the air, the island is shaped like a giant teardrop. Among the island’s century old oaks and poplar trees are the ruins of a Dominican convent where the princess lived. Covered by landscaped parks, and a popular recreational area, the island spans the area between the Margaret Bridge and the Arpad Bridge.

With a nod of thanks to Leonard Miron who kindly shared some of his trip commentary with me, sights on Margaret Island include the Centennial Memorial of 1973 (commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the city’s unification; a small Japanese garden with a mildly thermal fish pond; the “Music Well”, a small pavilion built for open-air concerts, the “Music Fountain”, a fountain where music is played and light shows are performed in the summer; and, an octagonal water tower built in 1911 (see below) which stands some 187 feet high (57 metres), and today functions as a lookout tower and an exhibition hall.

Not long after passing Margaret Island, we got the call to head to the Lounge for “A Toast to Our Guests”, and our first meeting with Captain Anne Jacob and the senior members of his crew (click on the download button below for a short 10 second video, and there is sound with it too).

If Captain Anne seems like an imposing figure in the short video you may have just watched, its because he is a very big man. In fact the first words out of his mouth at the welcome toast were “six foot seven is the answer to your first question”.

Following crew introductions, we were reminded that there would be a mandatory safety demonstration in the morning, as well as an opportunity to visit with the Captain in his Wheelhouse. We wasted no time signing up for that!

Then in his nightly “Port Talk”, Program Director Leonard reminded us that we’d be sailing on the Danube until our arrival in Vienna the next night at 7:00 pm. However, if we were interested in being up on deck to experience the first of 68 locks we would be passing through, we should plan on joining him at 6:30 in the morning.

From there it was downstairs for another wonderful meal in the dining room, and for a second straight evening we opted to try Chef Michael’s local cuisine offering – on this night, Hungarian Goulash.

It will come as no surprise that after having walked more than 12 kilometers (7.8 miles) in 85 degree heat (30 celsius), and it being our first full day in Europe, jet lag was upon us. It was lights out by 9:30 as we bid good night to a wonderful day.

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