Author: Jenice V.
Date of Trip: June 2009
We just returned from this tour that began on 6/28/09 and could not be more pleased about it. We would recommend Go Ahead without reservation. The only “complaint” is a very close call with a connecting flight from Munich to Budapest due to not much time between our international flight landing and the flight to Budapest taking off. I will review each city as we toured it along with hotel and excursion information. Please respond if you would like specific questions answered.
We were scheduled on Lufthansa flights and were eager to fly them as we heard nothing but good. However, we flew on an Airbus and that’s exactly what it was like, a 8 1/2 hour bus ride. The seats were not very wide, we were packed in like sardines and the food left alot to be desired. Other folks on this tour flew Air France and British Airways and had nothing but wonderful things to say about the food and free drinks on their trans-Atlantic flights. I understand Go Ahead is trying to get you from point A to point B as best as they can, so this is no reflection on the tour company as they have no control over the services the airlines provide.
We were picked up at Budapest’s airport by our tour guide, Paula Noad. There were 3 other young ladies and us and Paula put us in a taxi van to get us to our hotel since there would be an hour wait for the next group. We really appreciated that thoughtful gesture because we were all exhausted and the thought of waiting another hour would have been just awful.
The NH Budapest hotel in on the Pest side of the Danube one street off one of the main boulevards, very close to public transporatation and walking to the Danube. The hotel was very nicely updated with tile and granite bathrooms, very comfortable beds and feather comforters (no top sheets in Europe!) wardrobe with glass fronts and plenty of drawer space and room for luggage. Shower gel, shampoo and hand soap were provided. No washcloths (bring your own). There was a refrigerator that we were able to fit our water bottles in. There is also a hair dryer but no iron. You could request one from the desk. We rested and met the group at the hotel restaurant for our included dinner, which was very good. The hotel even included a glass of wine. Paula had us introduce ourselves and gave us the itinerary. We were free that night so we walked the neighborhood and got a good night’s sleep!
The next morning we had an early wake up and went to the most wonderful buffet breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, fresh fruit, yogurt, fresh baked breads plus a huge cheese, meat and salad/olive buffet. My favorite…stuffed grapes leaves for breakfast! One morning there was a huge bowl of red raspberries and another morning a huge bowl of fresh currants..wonderful! Plus juices, coffee, tea and even a bottle of champagne to make your own Mimosas!
Our local tour guide, Andrea, was wonderful. She gave us so much background information about Hungary and the effects of Communism on her country. She was a delight. We started our tour seeing the Parliament buiding (inside). So beautiful! We then went across the Chain Bridge to the castle district and saw Matthias Church (inside) and Fisherman’s Bastion. We then drove to Hero’s Square and had a photo/bathroom stop for about 45 minutes. From there we went to the pedistrian area near the Central Market and were free to shop, eat and sightsee for about 3 hours and then met the bus to go back to the hote. All of these stops were actual tours of the buildings, no drive-by’s!
That night was to be free, but Paula arranged a night boat tour on the Danube including dinner. Most signed up for this and it was a memorable night. The city at night is awesome and the dinner was one of the best (even caviar!). Also included 2 bottles of wine per table. This proved to be a great “ice breaker” and we got to know our fellow travelers early! A great time!.
The next day was “free”. Paula took us to the metro station and explained the system to us and we were off on our own! A very easy city to navigate. Some suggestions: St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Opera house, Central Market, Momento park, and one of the many baths Budapest is famous for. Budapest was such a surprise and a delight. People were friendly and helpful and the city is beautiful. There as many signs of improvement and much still to be done, but if you have a chance to visit this city, do it. You will be pleasantly surprised. The exchange rate was about 200 Florints to our dollar and the prices were good.
An early wake-up call for breakfast and bus to Vienna! On the way we stopped at Szentendre, a town of artists. What a great stop. Many folks did major shopping here, although Paula told us the bargains are getting harder to find here. Very quaint.
We arrived in Vienna late afternoon. Our hotel, the NH Belvedere, was great. It’s an older hotel but the rooms are huge. We were lucky to get a corner room that was at least 12 x 20 with huge windows on two sides. The celings were at least 12 feet high. The bathrooms were well-equipped again with soap and shampoo (no wash cloths). There was a fridge that we could keep our water in, a hairdryer and no iron. Again, the buffet breakfasts were wonderful. There was an ATM machine close. The exchange rate was 1 Euro=about $1. .40. (Vienna is very expensive). The Belvedere palace and gardens are next door to the hotel and a must see. We had our included dinner at a brewery just down the street from the hotel, the Salm Braue. A great dinner (soup, pork schnitzel, potato salad) and apple strudel. This included a glass of beer, also. We enjoyed it so much we ate here again the next evening on our own. After dinner some folks ventured into town (transporation very close).
The next morning we were off on our included city tour with a tour guide. We visited Schonbrunn Palace (inside), rode around the “ring” to help us become acquainted to the city. We were let off the bus in Opera House area for lunch and more sight-seeing on our own and told to meet there at 4:30 if we wished to ride back to the hotel on public transporation together. We proceeded to St. Stephen’s cathedral and were lucky to hear a choral concert. We then went to St. Peter’s where we were lucky to hear organ music! Some other sights: the Hofburg, home to the Spanish Riding School and Empress Elisabeth’s museum (Sisi’s Museum), the Museum quarter. There is so much to see! We also had Sacher torte in the Sacher Hotel and the interior is worth the visit. We met up with the group and got on a tram and were on our way back to the hotel to get ready for our optional tour to the town of Grinzing to a Heurigen dinner, a wine tavern dinner. The town was quaint and we were the only tourists in the tavern. The dinner was wonderful and the wine was amazing. There were musicians who we sang with and since we were all Americans and the 4th of July was the next day, they even sang “God Bless America!” A wonderful night and a highly recommended excursion!
The next day we went on the optional Danube River cruise to the town of Melk. This is another “must do” optional. We drove to a small town of Durnstein to get our boat. It was a beautiful day and the trip was breathtaking. Vineyards everywhere and remnants of castles and picturesque towns. There is some narration during the cruise. We sailed for about 1 1/2 hours and the boat is large with food and drinks served. We arrived at the town of Melk and received a tour of the Melk Abbey. This is a must-see. An amazing place with beautiful grounds, a museum, a church, library. We returned by bus and the country side is just beautiful. We were lucky to see the sunflower fields in full bloom. A very memorable day. We arrived back at our hotel and had another wonderful dinner at Salm Braeu eating this time in the outdoor area.
Early wake up for bus ride to Prague. On our way after we crossed the Czech Republic border, we stopped at a small town for a bathroom break and ATM stop for those folks who needed to get Czech crowns. The town’s name escapes me, but it was very picturesque and a very nice stop. The exchange rate for the crown was 20=$1.
Our hotel was the Holiday Inn and it was located in the Vysehrad district. There is a castle and cemetary nearby that is recommended. The Holiday Inn was very nice. Rooms were roomy enough and bathrooms equipped with shampoo, soap, hairdryer. The refrigerator could not be used for our water bottle. Again, an amazing breakfast buffet was provided. We had an included dinner this evening in the hotel restaurant. It was a buffet and included one beverage (this included a glass of wine or beer). Paula asked if anyone wanted to go into the city this evening to see Prague at night and most came along. We went by public transportation (metro) which was close to the hotel. There are two kinds of metro tickets. One costs less than $1 and covers only one line. If you wish to make a transfer you should buy the next ticket up (a little over a $1). Do not try to get away without buying this ticket! They have guards that spot check and you can be fined. Prague at night is unbelieveably beautiful. We walked on the Charles Bridge and in Old Town Square.
The next morning we had our included city tour. Again we had a local guide who was very good. We went to Prague castle and had a wonderful tour of the complex. We chose to stay here while the group walked down the hill to the Charles Bridge to meet up with another guide for those who would be doing the Jewish Quarter Tour. We enjoyed seeing more of the castle district and then stopped at the wine bar located on the walk down the hill over looking the entire city. Prague is truly the most beautiful city I have ever seen, and that includes Rome and Paris. We walked to “Lesser Town” and saw the Infant Jesus of Prague in the Church of Our Lady Victorious. Lesser Town is less touristy and more quiet than Old Town. We walked across the Charles Bridge (another must-see) and walked through Old Town and had dinner in the square. Make sure you see the Astronomical clock there. Also, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, St. Nicholas Church.
The next day we got our early to see the Charles Bridge and Old town square without a million people. It was a good move as there was no one there for about an hour and we got some amazing photos. After lunch we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the excursion to Chateau Sychrov. We left at about 2:30 and it was about 1 1/2 hour drive. The Chateau is beautiful. Our group had a private tour that included many rooms, a private performance by a trio playing classical music for about 45 minutes and a wonderful dinner with wine. We were exhausted but enjoyed it all.
Our flight was early the next morning so we had to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM. Since it was too early for breakfast the hotel packed a bagged breakfast for each of us. That was a very nice touch. A taxi van or taxi was provided for each group as needed.
Our tour guide Paula Noad was absolutely wonderful. She was informative, helpful, funny and knew her way around all of the cities. She speaks many languages and had no trouble taking care of all of us. Our bus driver was Joseph and he was an excellent driver who got us everywhere we needed to be. Our group was also wonderful and I think I can speak for them in saying this was truly a wonderful tour with wonderful people and we would do it again in a minute!
Some suggestions: We used our ATM card to draw local currency and had no problems doing this. We used a Capitol One card for purchases as they do not charge for purchases in Europe. You should have some small bills/coins for the local guides, bell boys, bus drivers, etc. We did wash out some clothing in a sink and used the hotel’s iron and board once. When buying bottled water, ask for “no gas” or “still” water (usually a pink cap). Otherwise you will get carbonated water that tastes like Alka Seltzer. Coke and soda in general is very expensive. You can drink water, beer and wine cheaper than soda. There is a lot of walking on this tour. Many streets are cobble stone and thick soled shoes are recommended. Ice machines are not available in the hotels in Budapest and Vienna. We would ask the bar for glasses of ice. The Holiday Inn did have ice machines on 2 floors, but they are shut off between 9 PM and 9 AM due to noise. The tour will recommend an amount you should tip the tour guide and bus driver and will provide envelopes. They are worth every penny! If you have any questions regarding this tour, I will be happy to answer them.
I would highly recommend Go Ahead and plan to tour with them again.