Mouse over any Image to see a larger view.
Santana Danube River Tandem Tour
July 10-20, 2008
Prologue: Our first Santana Tandem Tour was in March of 2007 from Memphis to New Orleans, with the Delta Queen Sternwheeler as our hotel and river transportation. During that tour we learned about the Danube River Tour and after a week of touring with Santana, we knew we wanted to join future tours including the first Danube River Tandem Tour.
Wednesday-Thursday 9-10 July: Houston to Prague
The tour began with a two day pre-tour in Prague. Our flight arrangements started with a non-stop Houston to Amsterdam on Continental with a change in Schipol to continue to Prague. We were a few minutes late leaving Houston, but favorable tail winds helped us make an on time arrival with an hour to make the connection to Prague. Unfortunately the equipment for the continuing flight had some mechanical problems which resulted in a one hour delay leaving Amsterdam. We arrived in Prague too late to join the planned activities for the afternoon which included a guided tour of the Prague Castle with a champagne break before a late lunch at the Mlynec Restaurant at the foot of the Charles Bridge. As we waited for luggage in Prague thinking about the sights and fun we were missing we also discovered we were missing two pieces of luggage. We had one half of the bicycle and Becky’s suitcase, but the second bike case and Hugh’s luggage never arrived. We filled out the claim forms to have the lost luggage delivered to our hotel and then joined Ken and Lisa Powell from Springfield, Missouri (who were on the same flight) for the 40 minute ride to the Hotel Pariz on Republic Square in Old Town Prague. Since we had missed the lunch, we were ready to find a brew pub and enjoy some legendary Czech beer and local gastronomy. We walked to the Novemestsky Brewery Restaurant and enjoyed a fresh pilsner with a pork knuckle and beef goulash…followed by a half liter of their dark beer. The beer was not as crisp as the more renown Czech pilsners, but still very enjoyable especially after the events of the day to this point. Following dinner we walked back to the hotel on a route that took us along Wenceslaus Square and the Old Town Square with the famous Astrological Clock. We looked in a few jewelry stores and art glass shops, but we were not ready to make any purchases. Back at the hotel we called it a day and retired hoping our lost luggage would arrive sometime in the night.
Friday 11 July 2008: Prague
The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Pariz is a spread that features every selection that one could wish for in a European breakfast. We gathered in the dining room about 7:00 in the morning and began to meet new and old tandem friends from previous Santana tours. Following breakfast Becky called Continental Airlines to see if they had any new information about our lost luggage…we discovered that KLM had delivered the bags on Thursday night and that they should be arriving at our hotel in very short order. I called down to the front desk and learned that the delivery van had just dropped off the bags. Finally I could relax and change into some clean clothes. The first tour event of the day was a walking tour; there were several choices for tour subjects…we chose one that was themed around the events of the Velvet Revolution of November 17 1989. Our guide had actually participated in the demonstration on Wenceslaus square; her descriptions of the events and history that led to the collapse of the Communist Regime in Czechoslovakia were fascinating. We learned much about the life styles under communism and the dramatic changes that have occurred in the last 19 years. Our tour lasted until 12:30 when all of the other groups met in the Old Town Square for lunch at the Hotel Prince. Becky and I had to skip the lunch to return to the Pariz to meet Conrad, Diane and Vanessa who had just driven from Gorlitz to visit with us for the afternoon. At their wedding three weeks previous, we did not have a lot of time to visit with them so this was a nice chance to reminisce about their wedding weekend. Vanessa was a charmer attracting everyone’s attention wherever we went. We walked from the hotel back to the Old Town Square where we found a sidewalk restaurant situated in front of the Astrological Clock. We ordered sandwiches and a beer and were treated to the glockenspiel as we enjoyed lunch. After lunch we continued our stroll around town until it was time for us to make preparations for the evening banquet. We said farewell to Conrad and Diane and then rejoined the other tandem teams for the 15 minute walk across the Charles Bridge to the Aria Hotel which was the venue for the evening. As we entered the lobby, we were greeted with a glass of wine and then directed to the beautiful garden in the back. There we met and chatted with other couples until we were invited into the dining room. Music from a string quartet greeted as we entered the hall and attentive waiters were waiting to offer our choice of red or white wine and continued refilling glasses the entire evening ensuring a raucous evening of dining, musical entertainment and bacchanalian revelry. The menu was a chef’s masterpiece starting with a fennel cream soup followed with a main course of roast duck and a rhubarb torte for dessert. The entertainment was engaging featuring music and dancing from Czech, Bohemian and Gypsy culture. Lubricated with a bottomless wine glass we joined the dancing and singing as directed by the band leader. I don’t know how to describe a room of tandem riders standing around dining tables with wings flapping and clucking like a chicken but none the less we enjoyed the evening. No doubt this was a precursor to the fun that was in store for the week ahead. We walked back to the hotel in the refreshing night air with Denny and Nancy McGill from Prior Lake, Minnesota. Denny wanted to try genuine Budvar (Budweiser) before leaving the Czech Republic, so we made a brief stop in a sidewalk cafe on the square and ordered a couple of beers while Nancy ordered a Becherovka which is a traditional Czech spicy schnapps like aperitif. Needless to say we agreed that Czech Budweiser was significantly more pleasing than its weak American imitation.
Saturday 12 July 2008: Prague to Vilsford
The planned departure time from Prague was 8:00am. We had plenty of time to pack our suitcases and enjoy the breakfast buffet before gathering at 7:30 to load the busses. The departure route took us through a part of Prague which we had never seen and was not restored from the communist era as nicely as the major tourist areas had been. We drove nonstop to for the hour long trip to Pilzen, the second largest city in the Czech Republic and the home of the Pilsner Urquel Brewery. We had a guided tour of the brewery which included 3 short films explaining the history of the brewery, the process of beer making and the old methods of lagering beer in wooden barrels. We had a tour guide who was knowledgeable about beer and was able to provide answers to many of my more technical questions. The last stop of the tour was in the old lager tunnels which had been hand dug in the limestone almost 100 feet below the brewery. The temperature in the tunnels was 40 degrees which is the optimum temperature for lagering the beer. Unfortunately we were not well prepared for the colder temperature so the 30 minutes visit in the cellars was a bit cool. The tasting was also in the cellar so few people wanted to linger and enjoy the beer preferring to ascend back to ground level and warmer temperatures. Our lunch was in the restaurant at the brewery…this was a huge hall which reminded me of a Munich beer hall. The menu was fixed for the group and the service was prompt…of course there was a glass of Pilsner Urquel included with dinner. From Pilsen we had a 3 and ½ hour drive to Vilshofen where we made our cruise ship, the Amadeus Symphony. We were directed immediately to the upper deck to begin assembling the bikes. Becky checked into our room where she found our suit cases waiting for us. Meanwhile Hugh began to assemble the bike and the rain started to fall. All the parts were quickly attached although we did have a bit of a challenge with the drive chain, but a quick fix trick from Larry Black had us ready to ride. Back in the Panorama lounge, a Bavarian Umpah band was entertaining the guest while they enjoyed the welcoming beers and appetizers. We learned to be ontime for these events because this ships schedule does not accommodate tardy arrivals. At this time the cruise director introduced the ship’s crew and explained the features and services of the ship. Next we were invited into the dining room for our first dinner of the trip; as you would expect the menu offered three entrée choices which were complimented with appetizers, soups and desserts…oh and did I mention that a choice of wine was also included. After dinner we returned to the lounge for a brief explanation of the programs for Sunday and then we returned to our cabin for the night. For those hardy souls who still had energy, the entertainment would continue for several more hours.
Sunday 13 July 2008: Passau to Linz
For over a year since we had decided to join this tour, we had heard stories of riding with Wolfgang in his wolf pack. Wolfgang is a bikeshop owner from Rosenheim who is legendary for his riding abilities. We debated over time whether we were up to the challenge of riding with his group and now we had to make our choice. During breakfast we continued to talk with teams who had ridden with him and tried to assess our skills against theirs. We wanted to join his ride because he would be riding the ridge from Passau to Ashach through the beautiful Austrian high meadows. Ultimately after listening to his route talk and description of the route we chose to go along knowing full well if we held up the group on the first climb we would be asked to return to the river and ride the gentle course along the Danube. Fourteen teams joined the wolf pack this morning for the 45 mile ride through the foot hills of the Alps. The first 6 miles were flat until we reached our first climb and the moment of truth. We had a 2 mile incline with a 1000 foot elevation climb…the test we had to pass to remain in the pack. We started shifting gears and put our total effort into the challenge. About 30 minutes later we reached the summit…we weren’t last, but by no means the fastest either…none the less we had earned the right to remain. After a brief rest and a route explanation, we continued upward…we rode less than a mile before my chain broke and was laying on the street. Fortunately Doug Miller and Becky Day from Golden, Colorado stopped to help remove the broken link and reconnect the chain but with one less link. Wolfgang and the pack waited for us at the next turn and we were relieved to realize we would not have to find our way back without benefit of our guide. We continued to climb another 1000 feet elevation but these were shorter and gentler climbs. The vistas were spectacular and the roads and bike paths were perfect. About half way through the ride we stopped a small village for coffee and a break…some took a snack at a local gasthaus while others explored the village. The mayor of the town found our pack and posed for pictures with our bikes and colorful jerseys. Soon we were on the road again but now we enjoyed some downhill miles…we still had some minor climbs to go but the toughest were behind us. We did have to control speed on the descents because we were in a tight pack and the road had many blind turns. This was my first opportunity to use my rear disk break for a drag break…it worked well but I did have to adjust the pads after each long descent. The final six miles were totally downhill into Ashach…we had just completed 46 miles with the Wolfpack and arrived a few minutes ahead of the ship which gave us enough time to enjoy a beer at the beer garden next to the dock. When the ship arrived we carried our bike to the sun deck and then joined everyone in the dining room for lunch. By this time the rain had started but the afternoon program did not include a ride but a visit to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The camp was about a 45 minute bus ride from the dock. This was a level 3 camp for the worst political prisoners…it was cruel and brutal for anyone who had ever spoken against the Reich. Dreary and depressing in a constant rain…I was happy to return to the bus after the hour-long tour and think of more pleasant subjects. Back on the Symphony, we dried our wet hair and then joined friends in the lounge for happy hour. Warmed with a proper measure of schnapps and a cold beer, exchanged our thoughts about the sight we had seen and the routes we had ridden. Dinners on a cruise ship are always a pleasure and this night was no exception…Becky chose the chef’s selection of broiled sea bass while Hugh chose the lamb. The choices of wines for the evening were an Austrian white and a red. Both were dry and pleasant but neither remarkable. Following the meal we returned to the lounge for a game of bingo and the announcement of the next new Santana European tour beginning on the Champs Eleysee with a bullet train ride to Strasbourg and rides through the Alsace Belgium and Holland…sounds very tempting. We left the lounge anticipating a much needed sleep.
Monday 14 July 2008: Grein to Krems
After the breakfast, Bill gave his route talk, describing the route along the Danube to Melk where we needed to be by 11:00 for the tour of the Melk Monastery and Cathedral. The path was wide, smooth, flat and fast. We were rarely more than a few feet from the river and the only traffic was tandem bicycles with an occasional local single (half) bike. We joined a pace line that was moving about 21 miles an hour with occasional accelerations to 23 mph when the trail conditions were appropriate. We rode non-stop for 35 miles until we reached the parking area at the entrance to Melk. Here Bill directed everyone through the Hauptstrasse pedestrian zone up to the baroque monastery. We broke up into groups of 35 with an English speaking guide to lead us through the imperial wing and ultimately to the library which housed over 200,000 volumes many of which were hand scribed over 600 years ago. From the library we entered the Nave of the Cathedral just as the noon prayers were beginning and were thrilled by a brief organ prelude to the service. We emerged from the Baroque complex to our waiting tandems for the 10 minute sprint back to the ship for lunch. Lunch was quick because our schedule required that we be at the Aggstein Castle Ruin in time to meet our transportation to the citadel where this famous Austrian castle stood guard 300 meters above the Danube river. After a 30 minute self guided tour, we boarded the buses for the descent to our waiting bicycles and sadly watched the windshield wiper on the bus windshield start to wipe rain. It was not a downpour…call it a heavy drizzle…so decked in iridescent rain jackets and a shower cap over the helmets we departed for the 20 minute ride to the current powered ferry at Spitz. Fortunately the rain lasted less than 15 minutes and we were soon back on a fast dry path alongside the river. As soon as the ferry was filled to capacity we drifted to the north bank guided by a cable and powered by the current. Once we regrouped, we began the final 12 miles of the day riding through the famous vineyards of the Wachau Valley. There were several small wine villages with narrow cobble stone streets which provided a fairy tale atmosphere to the ride. We were headed to Stein-Krems where the Symphony was docked. We arrived about 4:20 after a memorable ride of 57 miles over some of the most scenic bike paths we have ever experienced. Once back on board the Symphony, we had a little over an hour to clean up and change for the next activity…a walking tour of Stein-Krems and a visit to two wine houses to taste a selection of local wines from the Wachau valley. The tour was titled a wine tasting….but it was truly a wine drinking experience. Each house offered three wines…a Gruner Vetliner, a Riesling and one house had a dessert apricot wine while the other house offered a Pino Blanc for the third selection. Needless to say the mood was very buoyant as we returned to the ship for dinner. Local wines continued to flow at dinner with a selection of either white or red…both were fine but everyone at our table was more interested in water after an hour of non-stop wine consumption. An Austrian Brass Quintet (2 Fluegel horns, 2 Baritones and 1 Bass) provided musical entertainment during dinner and later in the lounge although we elected to return to our stateroom for the evening.
Tuesday 15 July 2008: Vienna
The ship has moved during the night and docked at Nussdorf at the outskirts of Vienna. The schedule for the program for today was moved up a few minutes to try to accommodate all the planned activities. Tandem riding was not the main course for this day…we were going to see Vienna. We started with a short bus ride from the dock to the Schoenbrunn Palace…the Summer Palace of the Hapsburgs. Bill divided us into two groups…the first group would go to the Marionette Theater for the 9:15 performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute while group two would tour the palace and then attend the opera. We were in the group scheduled for the first performance of the opera but we had a few minutes to visit the gardens before the puppet performance began. The opera had been abbreviated to one hour and narrated in English by Mozart. The marionettes were quiet lifelike and extremely well synchronized to the dialogue and music. The narration was useful to me to explain the story and the characters. Following the performance, our group moved to the palace for an hour long guided tour of the Imperial Rooms. Our guide gave an excellent detailed description of the Hapsburg history and the features of each of the 40 rooms we visited. We could not move through the palace as scheduled due to enormous crowds that were also touring. Bill and Robert made a quick assessment of the situation and soon had us on our way to the center of the city to meet our guide for a walking tour of important palaces, buildings, streets and churches. Vienna is a very robust international city with a history predating the Holy Roman Empire. Our guide explained the history and the function as well as the architecture of each of the buildings we were seeing. As interesting as our guide and the city may have been, hunger at 2:00 in the afternoon had a greater hold on our attention. Steve and Laurie, Denny and Nancy and Hugh and Becky left the tour at the St. Stephen’s Church and found a pleasant outdoor restaurant. We all tried local specialties and were pleased with both the food and service. After lunch we strolled back to the S-bahn stop at the National Opera and jumped on a D tram headed for Nussdorf. We were back on the ship around 3:30 which gave us almost two hours before the afternoon ride through the Vienna Woods. We enjoyed the few hours of downtime to relax, but soon we were moving the bike from the sundeck to the shore for the short 16 mile ride. Bill gave his route talk and soon twenty teams were rolling on the Danube River. Unfortunately, road construction had changed the roads since Bill had scouted the route a few months previous. Needless to say we had some “tandem” moments trying to decide if we had chosen the correct route (a misspelling on the route cue sheet also added to the confusion), but we soon found the group and continued the ride together. Bill had said we were going up and over the ridge…we just didn’t know it was a 4 mile climb ascending 700 feet over a series of switchbacks. But the grade was only 6 to 7 percent and not very difficult; we regrouped at the top and then enjoyed an equally long coast downhill back into Nussdorf. Back on the Symphony, we stored the bike on the sundeck and prepared for happy hour and dinner. We met in the Panorama lounge and started to exchange stories of how we managed to find the route through the maze of construction…almost everyone had a different version of the experience. Dinner in the dining room featured the most famous Viennese specialty…the Wiener schnitzel. Of course there was a selection of red or white local wines and no shortage of either. The dessert was also a local Austrian specialty called Kaiserschmarren which a pancake like treat that is topped with plum syrup. On the previous day’s ride through the Wachau wine regions, we had stopped in a local shop to buy a bottle of Apricot Schnapps. We borrowed and ice bucket from the bar to chill the bottle and then after dinner we passed the bottle around our table and the adjoining tables until it was empty. Without a challenge…this was the smoothest schnapps with a wonderful apricot finish. I hope we can find a similar bottle back in Houston, but my fear is that there isn’t enough produced to be exported.
Wednesday 16 July 2008: Vienna to Bratislava
As the new day began we experienced a natural phenomenon for the first time on this trip…a sunrise and clear skies! At breakfast, Bill explained that we would be leaving Austria today and entering Slovakia. There were a couple of route options…both involved riding through the Donauinsel (a long spaghetti shaped island in the middle of the river that ran almost the entire length of Vienna); the difference was where would you cross over to the island. We chose the longer option which had us riding about 5 miles north to the first ferry crossing and then taking a bridge over to the northern end of the island. There were about 10 teams that chose this route…we had a friendly tail wind while we were on the island…most of the group formed into a pace line and rode the paths at a 23 mph pace. One of the surprises that Bill had not explained in his route talk was that the island was a favorite location for the naturalist sunbathers of Vienna. Apparently they were also happy to see the sun for the first time in several days and were in abundant numbers along the path to soak up the rays. They were certainly undisturbed by the tandems that were speeding by. At the south end of the island we crossed over to the north bank of the Danube and continued South to Hainburg. The path left the river and followed the top of a levee for several miles…this was a popular section because there was a lot of local bicycle traffic…unfortunately the surface was not as good as we had grown accustomed to…here we had rough aggregate asphalt…sometimes gravel….some had packed cinders and others just hard packed dirt; to add to the surface condition the path was not as wide as those we had already ridden…but no one seemed to mind and enjoyed riding in the bright and warm sunshine. Forty-five miles into the days course, we arrived in Hainburg for our lunch stop; the Symphony was docking as we rode into the town’s city park on the bank of the river. We had lunch on board the ship…the most common conversation topic was the experience of riding along a path lined with sunbathing naturalists. The afternoon ride was a short 10 mile cruise across the Slovakian border into Bratislava the capital city. We knew we would have to wait for the ship, but that only provided some quality time to sit in an outside cafe along the shore to enjoy some beverages after 57 miles on the bike. By coincidence the café we chose was the pontoon where the Symphony would dock for the evening....we had a ringside seat to watch the crew make the ship fast to the landing. We rolled the bikes up to the sun deck and then showered and changed for our afternoon visit through the old city. Bratislava is a beautiful city with colorful buildings, wide boulevards, narrow passages, bustling squares, interesting sculptures and numerous sidewalk cafes. We did not go inside any of the shops, but chose just to see as much of the old town that time permitted. We did walk up to the castle which is now the seat of the Slovakian government. The castle sits high above the city and can be seen for miles as you approach the city. We returned to the ship in time for dinner…this evening’s menu offered more regional specialties and local wines, but the main attraction was the dessert…the famous Sacretart. Some of us adjourned to the sundeck to catch some fresh air and enjoy the moon rise before we joined everyone else in the Panorama lounge for the evening’s entertainment of Slovakian music and folk dancers.
Thursday 17 July 2008: Komarno to Visegrad
The Symphony had moved south during the night about 100 kilometers south of Bratislava to Komarno…actually the boat was docking as we were preparing for breakfast. During Bill’s morning route talk, he presented two options for the day…the first along the river to the lunch stop at Esztergom and the second a longer route which went inland and into the hills and vineyards overlooking the Danube…we chose the longer, hilly route as did five other teams. Bill warned us that we would see the worst surfaces of the trip as we rode through the small communities, but assured us that all would be suitable for our bikes. The first climb up to Tata was easy enough but we had trouble finding the correct road out because the roads were not well signposted. We found no one who spoke any of the languages we knew, but with some crude sign language and map pointing, we got a man on a motor scooter to lead us out of town…we lost about 20 minutes while on this merry chase. The next climb took us up to the vineyards with a super view of the river below…the signs inviting us to stop in for a tasting were tempting, but our schedule would not permit this diversion. The descent down was over a rough road that had patches of loose gravel…we had to brake the entire way to ensure everyone’s safety. Our pack of 4 teams continued on to the ship over some questionable trails but we managed to find the Symphony docked and serving lunch in Esztergom. We had covered 57 miles and were ready for some ice water, lunch and a break. Two of our teams chose to remain on board for the afternoon cruise to Visegrad…we thought the final 14 mile ride along the river would be nice afternoon ride in the sunshine with a tail wind. Lynn and Beth lead the route for this final leg as they had done all morning. Lynn has a GPS device which proved essential as we were searching for obscured roads. The ride to Visegrad was barely longer than 35 minutes…we arrived about an hour and a half before the ship which provided plenty of time to enjoy a beer with other teams at a local beer garden and walk the two block town. As soon as the ship docked, we boarded and cleaned up for the evening program; we had about an hour to relax before we marched up to the King Solomon Tower for an evening of historical narration, wine drinking, and Knight competition. Two drummers dressed in period costumes lead our troop of tandem teams up to the medieval tower…we were greeted which a hot spicy pastry and a cup of wine…our host warned us to keep the wine cups ready because they had a bad habit of refilling them. We were ushered into the arena where we were entertained with a show of medieval weaponry including battle stars, bow and arrow, crossbows, spears, swords and shields. Following the show, we were invited to try our luck at the targets with the battle stars. From the knight’s tournament we returned to the ship for dinner…tonight’s menu featured Hungarian specialties including goulash and local wine. Following dinner there was a pajama party and karaoke singing in the Panorama lounge, but after 70 miles of hill riding and a lot of Hungarian wine…we chose to return to our stateroom for the evening.
Friday 19 July 2008:Arrival in Budapest
Friday 19 July 2008:Arrival in Budapest We woke up to cool temperatures and a slow drizzling rain…ideal conditions if you’re seeking a break from Houston’s hot, dry summers. At breakfast, Bill gave his route talk and explained that we may encounter some issues as we entered Budapest, but as long as we kept the Danube River on our left we would eventually find the Chain Bridge and the good ship Symphony. Many teams elected to ride the final thirty miles on board the ship…we were determined to make the triumphal tandem entry into Budapest. Our route continued south on route 11 until we reached the ferry crossing to Szentendre Sziget Island. The ferry was small and would only accommodate 6 bikes. Once on the island we regrouped and enjoyed some of the best rides of the trips as we sped through farm land on low traffic roads. At the south end of the island we ferried back across the river and continued toward Szentendre. Shortly after resuming the ride we had our one and only flat of the trip which was not a problem but we lost companions as we changed the tube. But not to worry, we soon caught up with several teams in Szentendre…this is a quaint artist colony which is worth a stop for coffee and stroll through the main square and perhaps a stop at an ATM machine. We had less than 10 miles to go but maybe this would be some of the most challenging in terms of finding the preferred route. We shared the bumpy road / path with a significant population of huge snails and found the trail along the river which ended abruptly at a construction site. We joined with Hal and Lucy Moorman for the last few miles; we had to continue on instincts because the instructions did not accommodate the detour. We searched for the trail and asked for instructions but it seems the Hungarians took delight in sending us in the wrong direction. After 20 minutes of chasing false trails, we chose to take the busy road which led into town…this was the most direct and quickest route…but more traffic than I really liked...however the drivers gave us space as long as we kept to the right edge of the road. We later discovered that the bike trail was a few feet to our right, but crowded with pedestrians. As we approached the Chain Bridge we found the exit and rode across the Danube into Pest….we had entered from the Buda side. We had ridden 32 miles…some in the rain and sometimes not certain of the route…but all was soon forgotten as the clouds started to break up and we saw the ship. The Symphony was docked at the foot of the bridge in front of the Four Seasons Hotel. We had plenty of time to take the bike up to the sundeck and then clean up for lunch and a free afternoon to discover the sights in Budapest. We made our way to the square and down the pedestrian street into the market building. We strolled the aisles looking for appropriate souvenirs…Becky bought a leather purse. We had to be back at the boat for the 6:00 departure to the Budapest Palace for a performance of the Rajko Gypsy Orchestra. The palace was only a 10 minute walk away. The orchestra members are all ethnic Gypsy who have been selected to attend the special music school to preserve their culture. The orchestra had 10 violins, a couple of violas, a bass, a clarinet and a hammer dulcimer. They played for a solid hour and never looked at a note of music…the tempo was quick and lively and the dancers were extremely energetic…the hour past in a flash and we all left we a new and keen appreciation of this little known tradition. Back on the Symphony, we enjoyed the late dinner…however the Hungarian wines offered for the evening were unremarkable. There was no scheduled program for the evening…we did go up on the sundeck to enjoy the lighted bridges and buildings along the river and then bid a pleasant good night to everyone.
Saturday 20 July 2008: Budapest, Hungary.
This will be our last day to ride on this tour, but instead of a point to point route we would be on a guided city tour. The morning began with the usual breakfast selections in the dining room. I have become accustomed to a slice of smoked salmon in the morning and will miss it when I return. We moved our bike from the upper deck to the shore for our 8:00 departure of the city tour. We had about 16 bikes in our group and were led by a delightful young Hungarian girl on a route of bike lanes and low traffic streets to many of the significant sights in the city. She provided an excellent history of the country and city as she explained all of the sights along the route. The weather was perfect which added to the pleasure of pedaling through Budapest. At each major site she would stop and explain the significance of what we were seeing and answer any questions that we may have. At the Parliament Building she discussed the 1956 Soviet suppression of the revolt and the changes that have happened in Hungary since the Soviet collapse in 1989. From the Parliament, we continued across the Elizabeth Bridge to Buda. We did not ride up the hill to the top because the cobblestone paving was too rough for high performance wheels and tires. We did cross back into Pest on the Chain Bridge which was closed to vehicular traffic for an arts and crafts market. The bridge was lined with vendor stalls where one could purchase all sorts of art and craft collectibles. We managed to ride across on the pedestrian path of the bridge which was vacant because everyone was shopping on the bridge. The Symphony was docked at the bridge where our tour ended after almost three hours of Hungarian history and 9 miles of bike riding. The next item on the agenda was to disassemble and pack the bike for the trip home. Unlike the rush to assemble the bike in the rain in Vilshofen, we had ample time in glorious sunshine to break down, clean and pack the bike into its cases. We changed out of biking attire for the last time and got ready for lunch…conversations at lunch including a lot of reminiscing about the trip and dreaming and scheming about the next one. We had the afternoon free to explore Budapest on our own. We had not visited Buda and we wanted to visit the Saturday Market on the Chain Bridge…we could do both and still have time to get ready for the Farewell Cocktail Party. Most of the arts and crafts on the bridge fell into the dreck category, but some were unique and attractive. Since we were on the way to Buda we reserved any purchase for the return crossing. We rode the funicular to the top and began to explore the old fortifications, shops and sights. There are some marvelous views and plenty of tourist friendly places where one could spend both time and money. As we walked around the town, we understood why our guide did not want to bring our bikes up there…the stones would have been very treacherous for our bicycles. Soon we had seen as much as and walked as far as we wanted and the time dictated that we return to the ship. As we returned across the Chain Bridge, we stopped to buy a piece of pottery we had admired on the trip over. The farewell cocktail party began at 6:30; everyone was greeted with a glass of sparkling wine and waiters circulated through the lounge with trays of hors d'oeuvres. Carrie, the cruise director, presented the crew for our recognition and discussed the disembarking procedures. The final Captain’s Dinner was a special menu featuring Chateaubriand or grilled salmon with a potato crust. Of course there was a wine selection and multiple courses of salad, sorbets and soups. The wait staff parade of sparkling baked Alaska was a fitting closing to this wonderful tour. The outside evening was a wonderful night…the ship that had been rafted on our port side pulled away revealing a spectacular view of the lighted Chain Bridge and the buildings of Buda. We adjourned to the sundeck for a farewell drink and to enjoy the wonderful view under a brilliant full moon. Each us revealed our most significant highlight of the trip…it was interesting to listen other perspectives of the tour highlights. But the hour was growing late and we had a very early departure for the airport on Sunday morning. We said farewell promising to meet again somewhere on another Tandem Tour.
Mouse over any Image to see a larger view.