We finally had our first completely sunny day! Perfect weather to watch our beautiful, early morning sail in! I had heard it was a view not to be missed, and was so excited, that I beat my alarm clock by 20 minutes. That was a good thing because the river was high, which meant the ship went faster... by 7:30 a.m. we were surrounded by magnificent buildings on both sides.
After our ship docked, we had an overview tour of the city... driving around the Pest side and walking around Fisherman's Bastion on the Buda side. We got a glimpse of many of the key sights, including: Andrashy Ave, St Stephen's Cathedral, Hero's Square, Doheny Synagogue, and drove across the Chain Bridge, which was the first permanent bridge (built mid 19th century). We also went into Matthias Church in Buda. I really enjoyed this one! The moorish influence was obvious (it was used as a mosque under Turkish rule in 1541), the colors were very warm, and it was very different from any of the other churches we had seen; as was the pyrogranite tiled roof.
On our own, we had pre-purchased tickets for a Parliament tour. This was our only "non-Viking" group tour (all others were private). As the guide first spoke, I couldn't hear a thing and realized I needed to remain in the front through the rest of the building. I really missed Viking's Quietvox system!
The Parliament tour was unique for two reasons: it was the only building we toured that was a currently operating facility; and it was the only palace type building that seemed to appreciate the common people, as evidenced by the statues of pages amongst the nobility.
With our tours finished, we stopped at the Four Seasons for cocktails, and purchased tickets to an evening river cruise from the concierge. Then, we decided to walk across the Chain Bridge to a wine shop our morning guide had mentioned. We purchased two Hungarian wines, and headed back to sit on the top deck of our ship. There we sat under the historic bridge, with a nice bottle of wine and friends, surrounded by incredible sights. It was very surreal and one of my favorite memories!
After dinner we enjoyed our evening cruise and another special moment of the day. If I didn't know I was in Budapest, I could have bet I was on a Disney ride along the river. That's just how perfect the illuminated buildings popped! Unfortunately, all my night photos came out blurry...too difficult to keep the camera steady enough on a moving boat.
We headed back to the ship to get some sleep.... surprise! The ship was missing! It threw us for a moment until we realized the Njord had moved to a difference dock location a bit further down the way, on the other side of the bridge. They had announced the move at dinner, but we had gone to a restaurant in the city and missed the news. As we found, the ships move in and out of spaces easily and quickly, at a moments notice... another difference between an ocean cruise and river cruise.
Interesting tidbits from today: Budapest has a baroque atmosphere; Buda is hilly, Pest is flat (Buda and Pest are split by the Danube River); Buda is generally residential, Pest is generally commercial; the first free elections were in 1990; the Vishla is a Hungarian hunting dog (we saw one!); lard, onion, paprika and sour cream are the most commonly used ingredients (I was definitely needing a really good salad when I got home!); and, Budapest is hoping to become the "Queen of the Danube" once again someday.
Tomorrow: More Budapest