My wife Diana and I recently travelled through Europe on an Avalon Waterways river cruise along the Danube River and the Black Sea. We had a most enjoyable time sailing from Vienna to Bucharest.
Prior to the cruise we stayed in a hotel in Vienna. Our initial transfer from our pre-cruise hotel to the ship was a little chaotic, but was amusing for us to watch at least. Between over enthusiastic guests, luggage and guides there was a little mass confusion. Eventually someone figured it all out and we were on our way. We arrived at Avalon Waterways Artistry in about 45 minutes and went directly on board.
This was our first river cruise so we really didn’t know what to expect. We chose a window room on the lower deck, since we generally don’t spend a lot of time in our room anyway. The window on this level was very near the waterline and turns out that on occasion the window is sometimes three inches or so below the waterline! For us this turned out great because the window is constructed so it has this little cove around it and creates this water sloshing noise, which sounded like a waterfall or fountain and was very soothing and semi-fascinating. The room itself was large enough to be comfortable, with two nightstands and a desk unit built into the forward bulkhead. No coffee table, no couch as on a standard cruise ship, but we won’t miss them – the air-conditioning works great so I’m a happy camper.
The food overall was good. The breakfast buffet on the ship is very good. They have a custom egg chef as well as scrambled eggs on the buffet line; however the sausages are only ok. You can get to everything reasonably well even at the busiest times. Dinner onboard was very good and served in a fairly efficient manner. The dining room is very noisy as the ceiling is low and the wine and beer are included and flow freely. It can be very difficult to hear people around your table. One evening a fun Gypsy trio roamed the dining room playing Hungarian music and taking requests. One of the bonuses of sailing a river cruise is in many ports you can go back out after dinner and we took advantage of that whenever we could.
Budapet, Hungary – When we first arrived the captain took the boat through the town and then made a u-turn to go back to our dock. We docked just upstream from the Liberty Bridge on the Pest side, a very good location – half block from the tram that takes you over to Buda or into downtown Pest and one block from the pedestrian only shopping street and close to the city’s open-air market. About one hour after docking the busses pulled up for the city sights tour, which was quite enjoyable.
Kalosca and Pecs, Hungary – Next up was the two small Hungarian cities of Kalosca and Pecs. One of the oldest towns in the country Kalosca was founded in 1009 by Saint Stephen. On our tour we visited the Kalosca Cathedral of St. Mary (actually the bus had to drop us off a few blocks from the site because the roads are too narrow), Trinity Square, the Folk Art Museum and the Paprika Museum. Next up was the city of Pecs, where the first university in Hungary was founded in 1367.
Novi Sad, Serbia – For the first time we visited Serbia, which overall was more metropolitan that I expected. We saw the old city center which includes the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, the Bishop’s Palace, Liberty Square and a Mc Donald’s – also unexpected. After, we drove out of Novi Sad past Petrovaradin Fortress on to the Krusedol Monastery. We concluded with a visit to a Bulgarian winery for a tasting and tour.
Belgrade, Serbia – This capital city has about 1.6 million residents. We saw the Cathedral of Saint Sava before heading downtown to the pedestrian shopping district for some free time. Then it was off to Kalemagdan Fortress – at one time the entire city resided within the fortress walls. The evening brought us a lovely folkdance performance.
Sistov, Bulgaria –We docked in Sistov but drove 2.5 hours through agricultural land to see two cities in Bulgaria, Veliko-Taranovo and Arganassi and then onto Rousse to meet the ship. Each home we passed had a lovely garden instead of a lawn and the countryside was great. We visited Tsarevgrad Fortress – built on an island in the river and the village of Arbanasi, where we saw the Turkish merchant Konstantsaliyata.
Bucharest, Romania – We docked in Oltenita, which is just a wide spot in the river. When we arrived in Bucharest I was pleasantly surprised – as I had heard it was not a very nice city but I was egregiously misinformed. The city is extremely pleasant. Sure it has a lot of that ugly Communist era architecture but that’s hardly their fault. We only stopped two places, the Palace of the Parliament and the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral. Our tour ended at the Roman Art Museum – which has a wonderful collection of Roman sculpture, mosaics, grave makers and other things Roman.
During the scenic cruising portions of our trip Barbara, our Cruise Director, would be up on the Sundeck to provide commentary for part of the day when we passed interesting places like Esztergom Basilica, where Saint Stephen I (the first king of Hungary) built the first cathedral in Hungary or when we sailed through the Danube River’s Iron Gates – including a fortress and hydroelectric dams. Even without the commentary we found it interesting to see sights such as little groups of very small houses that couldn’t have been more than one room.
All in all this river cruise portion of our vacation turned out really nice, despite some rainy weather which cannot be helped. Avalon Waterways handled it seamlessly and what can be better than having your tours included each day! I hope you look forward to reading about our next adventure.
Thanks for reading!
Rod Longenberger, Cruise Specialists Client