Embarking on river cruise number 2. This time going to the north part of the Danube. Last cruise I ended in Budapest, this time I start there.
Our hotel, Novotel, is perfect. Right on the Danube, Buda side and facing the Parliment building. Quite beautiful views. Food is good too. Room is very nice, basic, has everything we need. This hotel was very well priced for its perfect location and amenities.
First day, after traveling overnight, transferring in Amsterdam at 5:30am, and arriving in Budapest at 10:30, was great! We were tired. One thing I will pay attention to in the future is the departure time from the US. Going to Europe only takes 6-7 hours, depending on your first destination and leaving at 5:00pm you really get no sleep time on the plane and arrive at midnight EST. A good way to mess up your body’s clock.
Budapest is divided into 2 sides with the Danube running in between. They merged in 1873. The first bridge to connect the 2 sides was built in 1849, each side of the river developing its own personality over many centuries and even today they are still very diversely different. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge,
We were supposed to go to France for our honeymoon. But in 1991 we just moved to Tucson a few months before the wedding and then with Desert Storm breaking out and warnings not to travel, we decided to wait. Who would have thought it would take 18 years to get here! Our daughter was doing an exchange program for ballet and that create the moment we needed to take. Let’s go to France and see her dance there! So we planned our trip and here it is!
We decided to start in Paris for 4 days, then on to Versaille for 2, drive to the Dordogne, 2 days, on to Foix to see our daughter, we decided to stay in Carcassonne and visit her from there overnight stay, the drive down to the Mediterranean and follow that along to Arles, 2 days there, then up into Provence, through there to Lyon, overnight, then into the Loire Valley 3 days, and back to Paris to the airport and home. A FANTASTIC route! It was perfect, everything. The only thing we would have done differently is spend one more day in Caracassone because that was an amazing place!
Air France, wow, talk about NO leg room. The man in front of me laid his seat all the way back into my lap. I could have given him a shave! It was so hard to sleep. With great relief we arrived at 6:10am in Paris!
What do you do at 6:10am in Paris! Hint, DON’T take a nap!
Here are my top 5 travel hints!
1. Immediately adjust to the current time zone and you won’t have that exhaustion for the first 2 or 3 days.
2. Use ATM machines to get local cash. It saves you money in service charges and exchange rates.
3. Make sure you let your bank know you will be using your cards overseas. Otherwise, they may reject your purchases thinking it is fraudulent activity.
4. Go to your cell carrier before you leave and get the level of service you will need in the destination you are visiting. The number one theft today for travelers is theft through internet usage in public places like internet cafes. Get services that will help you avoid using public wifi.
5. Don’t overplan! Have a general plan with hotels in the spots you want to stop, but let the local culture, people, etc. give you ideas about what to see and do and take time to “live” in the area and not just travel through it.
Our first hotel, Paris, Marais district! It is walkable to most Paris hot spots, has good connection to the Metro, is filled with quaint cafes, incredible patisseries, and fascinating people watching. We stayed at Hotel St. Louis Marais. Quaint, small, but incredibly well located, clean, reasonably priced, it was perfect!
We dropped off our luggage, grabbed some breakfast and then headed out for to get the lay of the land. Whenever I get to a new city I walk to get a big picture view of what there is to see and do, how far things are, to see things that I want to visit that weren’t on my plan, and get acclimated. I recommend a “hop on hop off” to accomplish this. We weren’t so smart this time and we walked and walked and walked and the blisters started! Not a great way to start out. But still lots of fun.
Day 2, let’s get a closer look. We returned to Champs Elyees because we saw these really cool car dealership showcases and we wanted to explore them. They were so much fun. A view into new cars, new technology, and beautiful cars.
And check this out, the cutest little car.
Lunch is a HUGE baguette filled with ham, tomatoes and butter. Yikes, how much weight will I gain on this trip. Funny though, with all the walking and bread made with much better ingredients than bread made in the US and I gained 0 pounds on this trip!
On to climb the Arc de Triomphe.
Commissioned by Napoleon, the Arc de Triomphe is in the center of 12 converging boulevards. A huge traffic circle! To get to it you go through underground walkways. I wouldn’t want to cross those streets any other way! There are 284 steps to the top and beautiful views of Paris once you get there.
Later, evening hours at the Musee d Orsay. Total immersion in the art of the Impressionists. Unbelievable collection.
Day 3, an exciting visit with our Turkish exchange student, his wife and baby. We were so excited to connect with him and his family. They are now living in north Switzerland right on the French border.
After lunch, on to Montmartre. Quite a hike as the area is on a hilltop 420ft high. Once a haunt of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec it still has a bohemian feel. Place du Tertre is a bustling little neighborhood and one block from Sacre-Coeur. The views from the front of the church are magnificent. Paris from a whole new point of view.
We ended our visit in Paris with the Eiffel Tower. The crowds were huge (get your tickets before you leave for your trip or book a “skip the line” tour. To avoid the crowds we took the stairs, 670 of them! A great way to get the real feel of the tower. If you don’t choose to climb the stairs you can take the elevator, no worries.
So this post doesn’t get long and boring, here is the rest of the trip via pictures and captions. Enjoy!
Versaille – Stayed at the Hotel Du Cheval Rouge, the old stables for Versailles. Walking distance to the palace. Our first day “the President was entertaining visitors” Versaille was closed except for the grounds. This was an unexpected good thing. You should leave one day for the grounds and one day for the palace and subsidiary buildings.
On to Dordogne, we stayed at Chateau de la Fleunie. There I ate the best foie gras I ever had in my life!
We visited a littel town called Sarlat. There a fine merchant set us up by opening a bottle of wine, giving us cups, plastic silverware and with a sandwich in hand we rented a canoe and floated along the river looking at castles.
On to Carcassonne with a little side trip to Foix to see our daughter dance ballet.
Carcassonne was amazing! If you follow this route, spend more than an overnight there. It is a 13th century medieval city of towers, a cathedral, turrets, cobblestone streets, a huge fortress. The shops are crowded but you can wander throughout the walled city and find plenty of places where you can explore on your own.
Drove from Carcassonne to the Mediterranean Sea. We passed through quaint villages and beautiful landscapes. We followed the Med all the way to Arles.
Next stop Arles, a city of Roman ruins and where Van Gogh painted Starry Night. Along with exploring the city itself, We explored south to the Camargue to see the horses and visti the beach. Then headed out and north into Provence.
Lately, when talking about travel, I hear a lot of people say “I want to go on a river cruise!” It has become a popular bucket list item. All the Viking River Cruise ads on Downton Abbey have put the idea of a river cruise into all of our heads. So, I thought, I have never been on a river cruise. I am a travel planner. It’s time to see what the hype is all about.
I recruited my friend Deb to go with me and then we booked a river cruise called The Black Sea Voyage, with AmaWaterways on the Ama Prima. Deb has never been to Europe before, I have many times, so I picked this because of the adventurous places it offered, not realizing until later that traveling to Eastern Europe wasn’t really going to give Deb that “Imperial European Cities” first impression. She said twice though “this exceeded my expectations” when we returned, so I guess I’ll believe her.
Anyway, I digress. We flew into Bucharest, Romania and then went to the port city of Rousse. First day we explored Bucharest. Then we moved up the Danube to the countries of Bulgaria, through the “Iron Gates” to Serbia, Croatia, and ended in Budapest. (The full Black Sea Voyage started in Istanbul and ended in Vienna with land portions you could add on. We just did the river part.) The drawbacks to visiting these less traveled places was that we had to take a motor coach to get to the cities for excursions. On river cruises visiting Western European cities you often just get off the ship and the city is right there. We experienced that in Budapest and it was really quite lovely. I can imagine how wonderful it is to see Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, etc. that way.
Here is our cruise map:
I’ll start with first impressions. Having mainly experienced large ship cruising, this was VERY different. When we are trained to sell river cruises we are told, big ocean ships, you sell for the ship, river cruises you sell for the destination. The ship is small and intimate. The staterooms are small but well appointed. The Ama Prima was luxurious! Very beautifully decorated. It is more like being in a five star hotel than being on a cruise ship. It’s wonderful, you get to sail up the river in your five star hotel, never have to pack and repack, and you can see many wonderful sites and cities.
We were welcomed onboard like we were regular customers. The staff showed us around, brought us to our room, introduced us to our housekeeper and then left us to get situated. There was a welcome reception in the lounge where you met the crew and Captain, your cruise director, drank champagne and learned what to expect, how meals, etc. were organized, how to prepare for excursions and of course safety. It was quite humorous sitting in a beautiful salon, sipping champagne and watching the crew demonstrate the life saving equipment. Big change from thousands of people lined up on deck waiting for announcements and instructions!
A typical day…
Breakfast, a huge buffet, separate grill for eggs, specialty items, unbelievable pastries, champagne, mimosas. then grab your travel card and head for the buses.
Go on the excursion you chose (all included by the way!) then return. The crew greets you with a warm cloth to wipe your face and a drink.