Author: David Guarino
Date of Trip: April 2014
Major Shore Excursions from Avalon Danube River cruise
The ship arrived in Budapest in the morning and we were immediately impressed with the view from the riverbanks. It turned out that Budapest was our favorite place on the trip. In the morning we took the included the city introduction bus tour. We covered a lot of areas relatively quickly, which would have been quite difficult using public transportation or very costly by taxi. First stop was Hero’s Square (Hosok Tere) and views of Széchenyi Baths and City Park. Next was Castle Hill and Halászbástya (Fishermen’s Bastion) with its magnificent views of the city. Last part was a drive through town.
After lunch, we joined the optional Jewish Heritage tour group, with visits to Dohány (Great) Synagogue (Zsinagoga), the Jewish museum and Kerepesi Cemetery. We also enjoyed strolling through the Jewish District (Ghetto). Took lots of pictures. In the late afternoon, we walked around parts of the town near the ship including viewing Shoe’s on the Danube tribute, Parliament (Orszaghaz), Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum (Hungarian National Museum), Szent István Bazilika (also went inside) and Liberty Square. The architecture and landscape was spectacular. We also enjoyed the Budapest by Night (optional) tour, with great views of the city by night from the Buda Hills and the new Palace of Fine Arts/National Theater.
The next day (own our own time), we headed off to the Great Market hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok) via a trolley – easy to board and disembark. The market was exceptional, with lots of places to buy gifts, paprika and food. We had a typical Hungarian lunch at a food stand in the market – nice time. in the afternoon, we then took the old subway (line#1) to the Main Opera house (Magyar Állami Operaház), followed by a guided tour of the building (well worth the time). We ended our excursion with a walk down Andrassy Street and late lunch. (Found out later that the Old Metro and Andrassy were on the World Heritage list).
Prague and Kutna Hora
The first morning, we were on the Avalon sponsored city tour – both bus and walking. First stop the Prague Castle with an inside look of Vitus Cathedral – the most important and largest church in Prague. The guide was quite good and gave a thorough description of the many facilites on the ground. We were next driven to the old town area and walked the uniquely tree-lined Parizska (“Paris”) street, near the Jewish Quarter, and ended up in the town square. Of course, we had to join the many tourists to watch the Old Town’s Astronomical Clock, built in 1410 and once the envy of all of Europe.
The tour ended in the town square, so we decided to go head down Old Town’s winding lanes, which were carved out long before cities had rectilinear street grids, which is a big part of the city’s charm. We found our way and did the obligatory “Stroll Across Charles Bridge, the 600-year-old crown jewel of Czech heritage. We returned to the square, but first stopped at the Klementinum and other small churches. We continued to walk the backstreets heading east this time and stopped in a local restaurant for a typical Czech lunch. Luckily the waiter spoke perfect English. Food was OK – little bland but the sauerkraut was excellent.
We found our way to the Municipal House Hall (Obecni Dum) – One of the most stunningly beautiful buildings in Prague. This lavishly decorated Art Nouveau edifice had been meticulously restored. The building itself is a combination of stone word, gold trimmings and stained glass windows. We bought tickets for the evenings performance of The Best of Classics. We then returned to the hotel on the Metro – which was way underground, but relatively fast once we got to the boarding area. It was a several block walk to the hotel from the Florenc station. We returned to the Hall via hotel furnished car, grabbed a quick bite at a nearby diner and then enjoyed the concert. The Smetana Concert Hall, is also in a beautiful Nouveau style and one of the two largest concert halls in the city.
On day 2, we were picked up at the hotel for a local company tour to Kutna Hora (another UNESCO World Heritage site). The town of Kutna Hora was a nice diversion from Prague. It is a living, working city with no pretensions and it had much to offer. First stop was at the Ossuary (Bone Church) at Sedlac – quite unique and well worth the visit. Next was St Barbara’s Cathedral – another magnificent building. Our guide then escorted us through the town – a gem indeed.
On day 3, we joined the escorted (optional) tour of the Jewish Quarter in Prague, known as Josefov or the Prague Jewish Ghetto. These buildings form the best preserved complex of Jewish historical monuments in the whole of Europe. We first walked by the Old-New Synagogue and the Jewish Town Hall and various buildings in the area, We went inside of the Spanish Synagogue. The tour ended at the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is the most remarkable of its kind in Europe, with many jagged tombstones jutting upward in the crowded plots.
We participated in the included city tour, which was a combined bus ride around the city and a guided walking tour of the downtown areas. The guide pointed out showcases of gilded architecture, including the neo-renaissance Vienna Opera House, Hofburg Imperial Palace complex with the stables for the Lipizzaner stallions. At the tour ended, we entered St. Stephen’s Cathedral, walked along the delightful pedestrian Kärntnerstrasse, stopped to enjoy a piece of decadent cherry strudel in a Viennese coffee house.
Schönbrunn Palace together with its gardens, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and deservedly so. Our Avalon optional tour to Schonbrunn Palace took several hours in the afternoon and was a definite must-see place to visit. It is another of the opulent palaces of the wealthy European Royals, even though it was only the Hapsburg’s summer home. Our tour guide escorted our group throughout the impressive interior, but no pictures could be taken