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Passage to Eastern Europe - Live report 6/10 - 6/26


rjscott
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Our party of 4 is booked on the Viking Rinda, Bucharest to Budapest. Our cruise date is 6/12-6/22, and we added 4 days in Prague at the end to be done independently. Additionally, we also booked our airfare independently and so flew into Bucharest a day early to ensure we didn't encounter any travel delays that would cause us to miss the start of our Viking stay. We stayed at the Radisson Blu, the same hotel, Viking is using for their precruise stays. It is a very nice hotel, with a lovely outdoor pool. The staff is very professional.

We used Bucharest Airport Transfer for our transport to the hotel. I had reserved with them via email back in Feb. and specified 4 passengers with 4 large bags and 4 carryon bags. I even confirmed this the morning before leaving for the airport. However, although our driver promptly greeted us upon our retrieving our luggage, he directed us to a medium- sized sedan. Obviously, this was not going to work. But, he promptly rectified the situation, by calling his office and having another car at the airport within less than 10 minutes, and he only charged us the quoted fee of 17 euros total, which was for one car. Such great customer service! They also do day tours to Transylvania and Brasov for a very goid price. If we'd had more time in Bucharest, we would have done that.

Although we were all tired from a long day of travel, we really did not want to eat in the hotel for dinner, so we asked one of the bellmen for a restaurant recommendation. He recommended La Mama, which served Romanian food. What a find! Great food and very reasonable. And then, there was another restaurant, Chocolate, across the street where we stopped fcr dessert. Yum-o! So, we all went back to the hotel well-fed and ready for bed.

Day 2.

Today we are going to take the HOHO bus around town. One of our party has knee issues, and we think this will be a good way to see the sights and also save on walking. But first, we want to find a breakfast spot. We decide to go back to La Mama, as we noticed the menu showed they offered breakfast. We walked over there, only to discover that the restaurants in Bucharest don't open for breakfast until 10am, and we had arrived just after 9am. However, Chocolate is the exception, and so we go there and have a pastryand beverage and enjoy the lovely morning. We then go back to La Mama for our full breakast. Again, very good food. We did discover that you will not receive water with your meals here; you must purchase water. Also, the same was true for the bread ( but very good bread). And we were most successful using our Visa card, both at restaurants and at a supermarket. However, there will be places which will only take cash or only 'chip and pin' cards and so it is important to ask before ordering if you do not have the local currency. We got caught in that situation today in Old Town at a restaurant. We just wanted to get drinks, and had some local RON, but assumed(wrongly) they would take a credit card. Well, our check came to more than the amount of local currency, so we had to find a ATM b/f we could pay the check. Lesson learned.

So, after breakfast, we find out from the hotel where the nearest stop for the HOHO bus is and as we approach the stop, we see the bus is there, picking up other passengers. We think this is a good omen. Or not. The bus does save us on walking, but it is not what I have come to know a HOHO bus to be. There is no narration, and although we see audio boxes, we are told there are "technical difficulties" and so they aren't working. And, there aren't even lists of the stops, so we have no idea of what we are looking at as we're riding along. Lastly, it is about 85 degrees and either the bus, which appears to be very modern,has no A/C, or they aren't allowed to run it, so it is hot on the main floor. There is some ventilation if we open the little windows at the top of the large windows, but only if the bus is moving. We can go to the open-air top deck, but there is no canopy and the sun is broiling, so hard to choose. We opt to sit on the first floor. We decide to get off at the stop for Old Town. We only knew we were at this stop b/c another couple wanted off. The driver and the ticket-taker point vaguely in a direction and tell us to cross the street. Alrighty! Luckily, we are armed with a map from the hotel, and we find a shop we want to check out, note the address, and head for that map point. Old Town is nice. Lots of shops and restaurants, sidewalk cafes. And walking there I am struck by how Immense the buildings in Bucharest are. My goodness! So we find some souvenirs for family, sit and have a drink and people-watch and go back to wait for our HOHO bus. We are hopeful we will get a different bus this time, one that will have working audio boxes or at least someone to narrate the stops. But, I guess we are cursed, because as we board we see it is the same bus and same crew. (Sigh). Back to the Radisson and we decide to tough it out and sit up top so we can at least see the sights well. It was a pleasant ride at least and it cost $25 RON pp, which comes to about $8.50.

 

Becki

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Hydrokitty,

We asked at a restaurant about the drinking water. The waitress said if in a hotel, the tap water should be fine, but otherwise, no. So, that's why you need to buy bottled water in restaurants. They will give you a choice of still or "gas", and you can buy a small bottle or a large to share. We did notice that in the Chocolate restaurant, they had a water cooler for their employees.

Becki

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End of Day 2-

Back at the Radisson, my hubby goes for swim, while my friend's hubby goes for his workout. I repack us and get our clothes ready for our morning bus ride with Viking. When our guys are ready, we go to dinner a a nearby Italian Trattoria. This is a very nice restaurant with a very large patio seating. It's a beautiful night, so we sit outside and enjoy a lovely meal. There is only one downside to the meal. My friend orders a ribeye, but it is sold by the number of grams per serving, and so the steak is much more costly thanshe expected from reading the menu. According to the waiter, this is how beef is sold in Romania, so a word to those who may be hungry for a steak while here.

Day 3

Our luggage is to be outside our room by 7am, so we get our bags settled and meet our friends for our included breakfast in the Felix dining room. Breakfast is a very extensive buffet and it is good. We then get on our assigned bus for our tour of the Village Museum & Parliamentary Palace. Viking was also offering a tour of Old Town as an alternative. The guide on our tour was a young college student and he gave us loads of information as we drove to the museum and the Palace. Both the museum and the Palace were very interesting, but the Palace requires a lot of walking and has a lot of steps as well, so it is not a tour for those with mobility issues. After those stops, we had a very nice lunch with entertainment by local dancers and musicians. Following that, we made a stop at a Romanian Orthodox church, before heading to Girgiu to join the ship.

Once aboard, we were quickly shown to our cabins, then invited to the lounge for welcome aboard drink and a quick briefing before dinner.

Dinner service this evening was excellent, and the menu choices were nicely varied. Those at our table were split between the Chateaubriand and the sauteed prawns. Since it had been a long days, we all made a fairly early evening of it.

 

Becki

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Hi Becki..thanks for the info. We're doing this tour opposite your itinerary. we start with a pre-trip to Prague and Bratislava then join the ship in Budapest for cruise to Constanta and o'night in Bucharest. Only difference is we're on Vantage but I imagine we'll have a Viking partner all the way! I told DH about La Mama and Chocolat....he didn't believe me that it was a breakfast restaurant!! Well, it does sound too good to be true. I have knee issues, so I appreciate the heads up about the Palace. I think we have an included tour there so I'll be sure and "self-medicate" before we head out :D I'm really enjoying your diary. Thanks!!

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Our friend has knee issues as well, and she did manage the People's Palace, but it was a lot for her. We are in Bulgaria this morning, getting ready for our tours.

 

Becki

 

Have a great trip!! We did this cruise at the end of March on the Viking Aegir. The two Bulgaria stops were our favorite.

 

Tim

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We did enjoy our day in Bulgaria. We did have a bus ride there of about 1.5 hrs, but our guide kept us well- informed and entertained along the way. When we got to Veliko Tarnovo, we had a brief stop for a rsstroom break, some local pastries and then a walk out to a bridge for a stunning view of the area. There was also a monument to the heroes of the wars just off the bridge. We then reboarded the bus for a short drive to the fortress and main shopping district of the town. We stopped at the overlook to the fortress for an impressive view and our guide gave us an overview of the history of this building and area. We then had an option to tour the fortress and the church beyond it (a very good hike over rough terrain) or to spend about an hour in the artisans shops. My husband decided to tour the fortress, while my friend and I hit the shops. Her husband elected to sit in a gave, have a beverage and people-watch. We really enjoyed talking with a couple of the artisans. Some very unique items. There is some uphill walking and uneven cobblestones to walk on, but there are places to take a break, if needed.

From there, we reboarded the bus and went to lunch at Arbannasi. This was a local- style lunch, which was very good. After lunch, we toured a museum of a home of the 17th century and then toured the Church of the Nativity, a feast for the eyes in terms of the paintings and frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings inside.

Upon our return to the ship, we had our safety drill, and shortly after that it was time for dinner. We were cruising down the river by then, so dining by the window made for a very pleasant end to our day.

 

Becki

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Dear Becki:

 

Thank you so much for your descriptive narrative. We'll be doing the same tour and now I know what to do! Due to walking issues I will send DH to fortress and I will either shop or sit and watch the people go by, which is one of my favorite things to do anyway! Has it been very hot? I've got all the major cities on my weather watch and it looks like it's been in the mid to upper 80's.

Enjoy your dinner, I await tomorrow!!

 

Question: do the buses have rest rooms on them?

 

 

Judy

Edited by Hydrokitty
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Thanks, Fran. I used your review as a guide in my planning. ;)

 

We are currently sailing toward Belogradchik. We should have been there already, but the captain told our Program Manager last evening that the currents were very srong and we were unlikely to get to our next port on time. So, we will likely be about an hour late starting today. We are ok with that. We had a leisurely brkfast, enjoyed talking with some Australian shipmates. We're sitting in our cabin right now, looking out our French balcony window, watching the passing scenery.

 

Becki

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Most European water is safe to drink, that said even coming from the UK we always drink bottled water maybe it's out of date but I was told some years ago that your system gets used to your local bugs as it were so different bugs in different countries can cause your system to object. My motto, to save my long awaited holiday is better safe than sorry.

 

Happy cruising.

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Most European water is safe to drink, that said even coming from the UK we always drink bottled water maybe it's out of date but I was told some years ago that your system gets used to your local bugs as it were so different bugs in different countries can cause your system to object. My motto, to save my long awaited holiday is better safe than sorry.

 

Happy cruising.

 

I've heard that too -- and follow the advice too. But I've always wondered why the local bugs aren't in the spring water [this applies to the advice to drink Coke too]??? So generally I play it really safe by sticking to beer and wine. ;)

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My husband had spent a great deal of time traveling internationally on business in Europe, and so wasn't concerned about asking for tap water in Bucharest. However, when he was told at two different restaurants that they didn't serve tap water, only bottled, that is when we asked about the reason for that. Perhaps we were misled, but, better safe than sorry.

 

Becki

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We finally arrived in Belogradchik at 9:30, so not too far past our expected arrival time. We actually docked at Vowing, and had a drive to the Rocks at Belogradchik. It was about a 1.5 hr ride, but it was scenic, and our guide was interesting to listen to. When we arrived at Belogradchick, we first had a stop at a hotel for a beverage, pastry and restroom break. We then reboarded the buses for a short drive to the Rocks at Vilek Tarnovo. This is quite a natural phenomenom. There are several large rock formations to view and for those who are hearty, they can climb up 200 or more steps for stunning views of the landscape below. Upon return to the ship, there was time for exploring Vidin. However, since it was Sunday, not a lot was open, and it was raining. However, my husband and I decided to take advantage of our time to explore. Right after leaving the ship, there was a very nice souvenir shop; actually more of an artisan's shop. I ended up going back with my friend later to purchase some locally made goods. A short walk later we spotted a war memorial. We then noticed the spires of the church, so headed in that direction. We took some photos of the church, but were unable to go inside as they were just locking up when we got there. Just across the street from the church is a shopping mall. We had been advised that the mall shops would not be open but that the grocery there would be. So, we went there to stock our fridge with a few Coke Zero, as that is my morning "coffee". There was also a pharmacy open, if anyone would need any supplies along those lines.

 

Becki

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My husband had spent a great deal of time traveling internationally on business in Europe, and so wasn't concerned about asking for tap water in Bucharest. However, when he was told at two different restaurants that they didn't serve tap water, only bottled, that is when we asked about the reason for that. Perhaps we were misled, but, better safe than sorry.

 

Becki

 

I have been told that numerous times as well.....even when we lived in London!!! :D But I totally agree with you, Becki, it's such a small thing, why take a chance and ruin your trip. I will say this fyi anyone planning a trip to a place where you really cannot drink the water(like parts of Asia, Africa, etc).....NEVER NEVER NEVER buy bottled water from a street vendor....I actually watched a guy in Cairo outside the museum refilling empty water bottles from a garden hose and then "gluing" the tops back on!!!!

 

It sounds like you're having a great time in spite of the weather and delay...I can't believe we leave Thursday and I can't wait to go!!

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Hydrokitty, we are having a great time. We always carry a travel umbrella apiece, so we don't let a little rain keep us from enjoying our time in port. About the water from street vendors; I'd been told the same thing about buying from them in Mexico. If the bands on the bottles were "cracked" then you could tell they'd been refilled. Ugh!

 

 

Becki

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Today we were cruising thru 2 large locks, one during early morning. The second was after breakfast and we were able to go up on the top deck while we navigated this lock. This Iron Gate lock was the largest in Europe and 5th largest in the world. We then cruised along the Danube Gorge, enjoying very scenic views of the gorge and surrounding villages. It was a gloomy day with intermittent rain, but the views were still worthwhile.

 

There was a presentation in the lounge on 'Canals & Locks' in the afternoon and after that a very nice afternoon tea. This evening was the cocktail party for 'Explorer Society' or Viking past passengers, which was a pleasant event.

 

Tonight there was a passenger talent show in the lounge.

 

Tomorrow we are in Belgrade.

 

Becki

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Hydrokitty, we are having a great time. We always carry a travel umbrella apiece, so we don't let a little rain keep us from enjoying our time in port. About the water from street vendors; I'd been told the same thing about buying from them in Mexico. If the bands on the bottles were "cracked" then you could tell they'd been refilled. Ugh!

 

 

Becki

 

One thing I learned living in London, you never leave the house without an umbrella (brolly) and for ladies, it will be color coordinated with your outfit!!! As a result, I have an umbrella that's small enough to fit in my purse. It would never hold up in a heavy wind storm, but for a little drop of rain, it's fine!

So this guy in Cairo that was refilling water bottles....he had a small tube of glue and he was actually glueing the bands together so they didn't appear to be cracked. Only thing that would be missing is the "pssss" when you open the cap. We were told if it didn't hiss, don't drink it!!!

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Water is safe to drink, in some locals, in all of the EU countries. However, it is not safe to drink everywhere, within all the countries. Better to be safe than sorry. I stick to the beer and wine myself, with a bit of bottled water to keep hydrated.

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