Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Danube bound - first leg

Neither of us was finally ready to leave until after lunch on Tuesday, both of us apprehensive about this new adventure, something different for both of us. A taxi collected us after lunch and took us to start our train and bus trip to Bristol airport. A delay on final leg of the journey between Filton Abbey Wood and Temple Mead stations increased apprehension, but we were checked in for the Ryanair flight by six, with a good hour and a half to spare before boarding the flight to Budapest. We landed at eleven fifteen CET, and by the time we’d retrieved our luggage and boarded a bus to take us to where MV Jane Austen was moored in the Danube, it was half past midnight when we arrived. 

We were greeted with sandwiches and a drink, so it was nearly half past one before we got to bed. The view of floodlit Buda and the Danube from our cabin, just above water level was enchanting, but as it was late, it wasn't long before most of the lights were switch off, so there were few decent opportunities for photographing. At two the cruise ship began its engines and slowly made its way upstream through the suburbs and into open countryside. Glimpses of the night time riverside were enough to make it hard to settle down to sleep, and after four hours it was first light, and even harder to stay in bed, with so much to photograph.

At six thirty we docked at Esztergom, Hungary’s ancient capital, and still the see of the country’s equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s about 45 miles by river from Budapest, and the Danube passes through some beautiful mountain scenery whose deciduous forests run right down to the water’s edge. There are several small towns and villages along the way, but for the most part, there are no roads or railway lines visible along the water’s edge.

After breakfast, we walked into the older part of town, close to the landing stage, then up the steep hill to visit the huge Renaissance Cathedral, with one of the largest domes in Europe, some 70 metres high internally. It was already busy with visiting tour groups, many of whom had come in coaches which were parked in the grand square with its imposing buildings, just outside the walls encircling protectively what at one time would have been the Archbishop's castle. There was a wonderful view from the terrace at the west end of the cathedral, overlooking the great bend in the Danube. 

We learned in a talk given earlier that the opposite bank of the river wasn't Hungary but the Republic of Slovakia, formed when Czecosolvakia divided peaceably in the early 1990s after several years of arguing about a common post USSR future. Over the water is Euro-land. The Czeck Republic kept the Koruna (Crown), Hungary keeps the Florint, although the Euro is also acceptable currency, especially for visitors, except you get your change in Florints! The Florint is another antique sort of currency, like the old Italian Lira and Greek Drachma, with lots of zeroes after the numbers that matter most.

There were fine churches, museums and other places of interest to visit in the town, but after such a short night's sleep we were too tired to contemplate doing more, so we had a drink in a snack bar in the castle grounds, then walked back down to the ship ahead of the tour group that had ascended by road train, here called a 'Noddy train' from their toy like appearance. As we were eating lunch, the ship slipped its moorings and headed up river towards Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic, currently looking forward to hosting the next turn in the Presidency of the European Commission, with its influx of bureaucrats and special diplomatic and business events. 

We sailed for the rest of the day and were still going steadily into the night negotiating several locks, of which only one was in daylight hours. We were to tired to keep a night time sightseeing vigil, and that was that.

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