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Amsterdam to Istanbul, Aug 2008 on “Sound of Music” Part 2 - Long


Emma Chisit

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Sat 16 Aug. Budapest. Arrived Budapest 8am. Free time in morning, visited City Market (somewhat expensive), Váci utca pedestrian shopping street. Docked close by this area in Pest, walked back to ship along the Danube promenade. (Daily schedule says docked at Belgrád Rakpart Pier #4). Afternoon driving tour 1.30pm to 5.30pm. Mostly on the bus, stops at Heroes Square, Opera House and Castle district. A “private music recital” at the Hungarian State Opera House was much advertised by APT in their pre-trip marketing, turned out to be a glass of cheap bubbly on a staircase at the conclusion of the Opera House Tour, while a woman in costume came out and sang one song. Castle District very crowded, views still stunning, unable to see inside Matthias Church due to a wedding. Very long-winded tour guide, so the promised free time shrank to only 30 minutes, not long enough to do much, let alone see interesting Summer Folk festival nearby. Euros as acceptable as forints for shopping in Budapest. Warned in ship’s newsletter about pickpockets, leaving cabin window open etc, not aware of any incidents. Dinner 6.30pm, then energetic Hungarian Gypsy dancers. All aboard 9.45pm. Sail for Mohacs 10pm (191 km). Stunningly illuminated Budapest views from upper deck & cabin as we sailed.

 

 

Sun 17 Aug. Mohacs, Pecs. Mohacs - somewhere you pass through en route to elsewhere, in this case Pecs. Arrival 7.30am, tour at 8.30 am (hour’s drive to Pecs). Guided tour ( 90 mins), then free time. Depart 12 noon. Enjoyed Zsolnay Ceramics museum. Guide said no photos allowed, found out later in gift shop OK if we paid a small fee (300 forints). Shop only took forints, no euros or credit cards. Pecs on Sunday quiet, most shops closed, forints generally the only acceptable currency. Some walked 15 mins to a shopping mall in search of flu remedies. New, like malls everywhere. Nothing similar when last in Hungary nearly thirty years ago. Afternoon (2.30pm) to glamorous Wunderlich winery in Villány for wine tasting tour (3 hours incl driving time). After dinner local craftsmen demonstrated wheel throwing, ceramic painting (from Zsolnay factory), mask making and marzipan flowers. Not allowed to leave ship after 9pm, border formalities to be completed. Sailed 11pm for Vukovar, Croatia. (After Budapest did not encounter the large numbers of river boats as on earlier part of the cruise. Now there were also border controls (unlike the EU) - reminded us of our olden days of travel.)

 

 

Mon 18 Aug. Vukovar, Novi Sad. Arrived 7.30am, docked close to centre. Passport control took about 30 mins, then an easy walking tour. Important for everyone to visit poor battered Vukovar - prior reading about the war is very helpful and highly recommended. All aboard 11.45. Sailed 12 noon to Novi Sad, Serbia. Arrival 4pm, passport control again (bit longer than in Vukovar), then tour of Novi Sad, including Petrovaradin fortress visit (bussed up), and stroll in pedestrian area (lively, sidewalk cafes). After dinner lecture on Serbia and the Balkans, for a perspective on the history of this troubled region. Sailed 3.30am for Belgrade (according to the schedule!).

 

Tues 19 Aug. Belgrade. Arrived Belgrade 8am. (Docking Pristaniste Beograd) City tour of austerely beautiful, unfinished St Sava’s, Kalemegdan Fortress, buildings destroyed by NATO bombings of 1999, plus free time to wander in pedestrianized Mihailova street. Afternoon shuttle bus to center every half hour; also walkable (15 mins). Local currency again preferred; cannot rely on credit cards acceptance. Keen shoppers in group reported shopping as disappointing. Ship sailed at midnight, so dinner on shore possible, local restaurants looked OK. A lot of people still not well, some are tired - most, if not all, had dinner on board. Pre-dinner entertainment a colourful Serbian dance group, after dinner entertainment a talented classical violinist, Marko Josifoski.

 

 

Wed 20 Aug. Iron Gates.(Clocks forward one hour). The Iron Gates and Kazan Gorge are impressive, even under a smoky haze early on. Also went through the big locks of the Iron Gates. A sailing day only, so some diversions provided for us in case the spectacular scenery wasn’t enough. In the morning Balkan Fruschoppen (sausages and rolls), afternoon Ice Cream Party. In addition to regular feeding schedule! Nautical talk by the captain in the afternoon, in the evening the crew show. Arrival scheduled for midnight in Vidin, Bulgaria.

 

 

Thurs 21 Aug. Vidin. Bus tour to Vidin and Belogradchik (8am - 1pm). Spectacular scenery around Belogradchik, dramatic performance at Bada Vida fortress. (Very hot seats in sun). Vidin very much a frontier town on the Danube, not yet developed for mass tourism. After lunch briefing on Romania and disembarkation process, as tomorrow’s tour to Bucharest is a long one. Also packing! Evening Farewell Cocktails and Dinner.

 

Friday 22 Aug. Bucharest. First of four long days, with bus travel. Docked Giurgiu, Romania 5am (At Pontoon Km 49). Bucharest city tour 8am - 6pm, including one hour’s travel each way. First city stop at a mall for restrooms. Lots to buy here, compared to last visit 1980. Even Body Shop, sushi bar. Our group, however, swarmed the pharmacy for flu remedies. Parliamentary Palace closed due to Romanian Grand Prix (Disappointed) so viewed it from afar. Visited ‘Revolution Square’ and an Orthodox Christian church; had lunch at vast local restaurant (Pescarus) on attractive lake (with local folkloric performance); then explored Village Museum (Muzeul National al Satului), a collection of buildings from all over Romania). Finally National Treasury, described in Ship’s newsletter as a ” guidebook must - see sight” (Not in mine). Thrilled to see Village Museum at last (could not visit previous trip), but did not feel we had truly “seen” Bucharest. Would have liked to walk around pedestrianized downtown area of “old” Bucharest (Lipscani Street, Covaci Street) and visit Peasant Museum (Muzeul Taranului Român), which is considered by guidebooks a “must- see” sight. I think tour operators want to keep groups “contained” on buses, to avoid encounters with possible pickpockets, life…

 

 

Saturday 23 Aug. Veliko Turnovo, Nessebur in Bulgaria . Bags out 7am, disembarked Rousse 8am for bus trip to Nessebur. Three buses for 85 passengers so could spread out a bit. Bus reasonably comfortable, toilet, working A/C. Arrival in terraced Veliko Turnovo about 10am. Rest stop, then into town to see artisans’ street Samovodska Charshiya. Steep walking, cobblestoned. Some went to the citadel, others rested in lunch stop hotel (many feeling effects of flu, poor night’s sleep). Good view of Tsarevets citadel from hotel, had Bulgarian lunch there also, quite nice. Same problem as yesterday’s lunch, rather heavy food for lunchtime. Bulgarian guide on our bus would not stop talking. Long day of bus travel, in afternoon through winding roads in Carpathian Mountains. About four hours drive after lunch to Nessebur (approx arrival 5.30pm), one rest stop en route. Iberostar Sunny Beach Resort hotel, in an area popular with package tourists. Over-developed. OK for a night’s stopover. Taken for pleasant dinner at old town Nessebur restaurant, Kapitanska Sreschta. Return 10.30pm.

 

 

Sunday 24 Aug. Canakkale, Turkey. Bags out 6.30am, depart 8am for two hour trip to border. Hotel provided vast breakfast buffet at 6.30am. (Wonder how long all the food had been sitting there?) Mostly edible. Now on Turkish buses, still have chatty Bulgarian guide. Buses similar to Bulgarian, without toilet. Lead bus got lost, other two followed dutifully, this unplanned detour delayed us 50 mins. Took about 30 mins to pass through Bulgarian border, then farewelled Bulgarian guide, anticipating blissful silence. Turkish guide took over, more succinct, thank goodness. Crossing into Turkey took about half an hour to process passports; time for comfort stop, money exchange. Paid 15 euros each for the visas which APT’s Turkish agent had organised in advance. (Before we left Oz, there had been confusion over these visas, with conflicting information from Turkish consulate and APT; some had paid $A75 to get them beforehand, most hadn’t, and it seemed that there was no need to. ). Lunch in Café 288 restaurant in Kirklareli, half an hour from border. First Turkish food on trip, would have better. Long afternoon drive to Gelibolu for 5pm ferry across Dardanelles to Lapseki (half hour trip, ferries run every hour). Then about 90 mins drive to night stop at Kolin Hotel, Canakkale. Only 5 star hotel in town, so doesn’t have to try hard, and it didn’t. Appreciation or not depends on “room luck”. Some had rooms with working A/C and view of Dardanelles, some (us) had rooms with inefficient A/C and view of busy road and supermarket. (Advice to anyone staying here, ask for a room change if it is hot when you check in, as it will not improve). Buffet dinner average, maybe a health hazard as some hot food was cold, but interesting local desserts. Expensive beer and wine. Slept poorly due to hot stuffy room, despite being tired from another long day of driving.

 

 

Monday 25 Aug. Gallipoli – Anzac Cove – Istanbul. Breakfast buffet rather ordinary, at least the Western style food, however the Turkish style breakfast of various feta cheeses etc was OK. Had to leave hotel by 7.30am to catch 8am ferry from Canakkale to Eceabat (half hour trip, ferries run every hour). By about 9am were at the site of Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, which has special significance for Australians and New Zealanders. Many were influenced to take this trip with APT because they were the first company to offer this inclusion. (Scenic Tours is now doing something similar). We were given a good explanation by the tour guide, and also an Australian documentary and the movie Gallipoli were shown on board the bus.

The visit to Gallipoli was moving, it is part of the very fabric of our society in Australia. We grow up hearing the stories of the battle, but seeing the site put it in context at last. Someone in our group recited the Ode of Remembrance, and the group sang our national anthem. And then we left our compatriots behind in the cemeteries. Most were so young.

Upon leaving Gallipoli (after about 2 ½ hours there) we had lunch at a seafood restaurant Ilhan on the harbourfront in Gelibolu (Best meal since leaving the ship). Then we dozed or watched the videos en route to Istanbul, with a rest stop after a couple of hours. Whole trip was about four hours, we were on the outskirts of Istanbul by about 5.30pm. This was also a long (and emotionally tiring) day. Our hotel in Istanbul was the Ritz Carlton, and we appreciated the comfort. This time we did have a view - of the Bosporus. The hotel isn’t near anything much and it’s a pedestrian-unfriendly hike to Taksim Square for restaurants. Everything was expensive in the hotel , but we did have dinner there (Cintemani) at vast expense (20 YTL for a glass of indifferent French wine, for example) because we were too tired to venture forth. It was an OK meal, beautifully presented. My pide was too salty, but they took it off the bill when they saw I didn’t eat much, and insisted I eat a fruit plate instead. Staff in the hotel were friendly and efficient, we appreciated the dishes of Turkish Delight in the lobby.

 

 

Tuesday 26 Aug. Istanbul Lovely breakfast buffet in the same beautiful restaurant. Final day of the tour, Istanbul sightseeing . City walls, hippodrome, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, getting ready for Ramazan next week. Unfortunately, Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays. Lunch at Orient Express restaurant in the old train station was an interesting experience. Obligatory carpet shop stop after lunch, and then time to explore the wonderful Grand Bazaar. Farewell Dinner at Kalamari in Kumkapi, a lively area with wandering street performers. Pretty ordinary food, slow service, but there was a belly dancer.

 

 

Wednesday 27 Aug. Istanbul Everyone went their separate ways today, in our case a flight to Kayseri to travel independently around Turkey. First to leave hotel with a 6am transfer for an early flight, so we missed the wonderful breakfast buffet. Appreciated the pastries and juice set out by the hotel for us to nibble while checking out, and the fact they stored our luggage till we returned to Istanbul – to stay at another hotel in the more central Sultanahmet area. But that is another story…

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Emma - Your two part day-by-day narrative brought back wonderful memories of our Budapest-Istanbul AMA cruise last October. The details and opinions were especially appreciated.

 

Are you ready to share details of your post cruise travel in Turkey?

 

WIT

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Thanks WIT, we appreciated your cruise description very much; it was so helpful to us, that's why I was inspired to do a review. As for the post cruise Turkey touring; well, it so happens.... Please see part 3 (and final!) which I posted earlier. Tried to post yesterday after parts 1 and 2 but the forum was down - hoped it wasn't me who broke Cruise Critic!

 

To eedee2, thanks also. You'll see opinions of boat etc in Part 3. I agree the time in port is often short. Information in the APT brochures about itinerary was quite broad, which is why I did such a detailed review, focusing on timing. It was information which I would have liked to have had beforehand, as I collect information prior to any trip we do and sometimes too much! Obviously, for example, there's no point in having a list of some restaurants to try in port if you are only there from 8.30am to 10.30 am! We didn't find out until the evening before how much time we would spend in any port. Obviously another cruise might have different sailing schedules, but I thought my information might give some indication.

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