The Danube. Hungary and Slovakia. January 2019.
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary
River Cruise on the Danube
River cruising only gives the traveller a taster particularly of cities and time on shore is limited. However, it is very enjoyable drifting along past settlements and watching people on the banks. The cruise was from Budapest, in the eastern part of the river, to Linz on the west near the German border. Coming from the UK, which is of course an island, I am always surprised at the many countries in Europe with different languages and cultures sitting so close to each other. Travel between them, whether by boat or train, is very easy.
The source of the Danube is in the Black Forest in Germany and the river flows from there to the Black Sea. It is 1,785 long miles and passes through ten countries. The river formed the border of the Roman Empire and has been steeped in history for over two thousand years.
We flew from Edinburgh to Budapest and travelled on to the river boat on the Danube. We had immediate access to our cabin as the boat had not sailed the previous week due to low water levels. These levels had been a problem throughout the summer and autumn due to a drought and lack of water flowing into the river. It was the last cruise of the season and we were very lucky it went ahead – although there were some adjustments to the ports of call.
Buda and Pest were originally Celtic Settlements then Roman. The history is very colourful having been invaded by Mongols and an Ottoman stronghold. Budapest was formed in 1873 from the two cities on either side of the river. It has many palatial buildings and baroque churches and towering above everything is Buda Castle rebuilt in the 17th century. Hungarian is possibly the most complex European language and said to be very difficult to learn.
Budapest has many hot thermal springs although we did not have time to partake of them. In 1849, the Chain Bridge was opened linking Buda and Pest and it is still the oldest permanent Bridge across the Danube. After a city tour we managed to spend time in the Great Market Hall where the street food such as Hungarian Goulash looked and smelled delicious. This is the land of paprika made from capsicum annuum peppers, which were on sale in the market. There is a thriving café culture and we visited a cafe in Buda with a 200 year old Cherrywood counter.
About 40 miles west of Budapest lies Esztergom, which was the capital of Hungary until the mid-13th century when the royal seat of King Béla IV moved to Buda. It was the main residence of the rulers of Hungary until a thousand years ago. The ruined royal palace is overshadowed by the magnificent domed Cathedral. This Renaissance basilica was consecrated in 1856 and is over 320 feet high. I climbed to the top on the spiral staircase which afforded wonderful views over the old town to the River Danube and beyond. The basilica is the biggest building in Hungary and the country’s largest church with capacity for 8,000 worshippers. It houses the largest painting in the world on a single piece of canvas – the Assumption of the Virgin by the Venetian artist Grigoletti.
Hungarians or Magyars, as they call themselves, are not Slavic and their origins are believed to be from the Ural Mountains in present day Russia. After leaving Budapest we continued up river on our very comfortable cruise ship to Slovakia, a new country for me.
We stopped at Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia since it gained independence in 1993. In the past this was the capital of Hungary. The historic old town is a delight with a town hall dating back to the 14th century, the medieval St. Michael’s Gate, many Baroque Palaces and the narrowest house in Europe. It was rather wet the day of our walking tour so it was difficult to capture in photographs the picturesqueness of the town. The main square is Hlavné Námestie where you can find the Town Hall and the Maximilian Fountain, featuring a statue of Knight Roland from 1572. Roland was a popular and iconic figure in medieval Europe with its minstrel culture.
At times it was like bing in a fairy-tale –Bratislava’s most appealing art nouveau building is St Elizabeth Church and I managed to visit it. St Elizabeth Church is completely blue with blue majolica tiles on the lower exterior and painted on the upper parts of the walls. It was closed but I peeked in through the metalwork and the interior was also blue.
The street sculptures in Bratislava were also very amusing –the one I particularly liked was of a man emerging from a man hole in the pavement!
This is only part one of the Danube Cruise and next month part two will be about Austria.
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