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Journal of No. 118


August 20th, 2012

Danube River Cruise Part I - Mostly Prologue and a Glimpse of Budapest @ 01:59 pm


Monday 6 August

Got a lift from Glenn from work to the airport. We made quick progress, obtaining boarding passes, clearing security, obtaining food and a few sundries. Of these, the glasses case seems like a winner, while the neck pillows prove (at least in my case) not to live up to their hype. To skip a bit, I found that at best they provided a novel sensation while still being unable to sleep.

Eventually, we get loaded on to the 747-400. We're pretty close to the back of the bus in row 52, but who cares... we all wind up in the same place. The main boarding excitement is the dozen or so members of an extended Indian family on their first leg back to Hyderabad. First they swap with non family members to consolidate the group. Then, they spend even longer swapping seats within the family until most of the adults are happy, and none of the kids are. Oh, the other excitement was that a delay in boarding was caused by someone having some sort of accident on the jetway... she eventually limped onto the plane.

Lufthansa was testing out a new entertainment system, and it was pretty much a winner. The seatback screen was more like an iPad, with a few games, and quite a lot of pre-loaded music, movies and TV available on demand. I find planes a great venue to watch movies I mightn't otherwise watch (because they probably suck) but kinda want to anyway. This time... John Carter.

I know some people have said nice things about it, but it stank. An interesting comparison came to mind -- recent TV has given us Olympic gymnasts and track-and-field athletes doing amazing things that we can all agree are amazing and borderline impossible. That's exciting. John Carter gave us a guy flying like Superman and it was not exciting... it was bullshit that looked like shit. Not to mention (I'm mentioning it) the grotesque way in which a freshman physics error in comflating weight with mass becomes John Carter's superpower.

Pretty crummy chicken and mashed potatoes, but it was better than the sleep I didn't get. Which means it's...

Tuesday 7 August

Landed in Frankfurt and got a does of German thoroughness and efficiency when it comes to security. I got manhandled for forgetting my ipod in my jacket pocket, but at least I got his phone number. Dr. Pookie had her iPad absconded and swabbed and run through a GC-IMS. We passed both tests and got to wait some more for the flight to Budapest. Strangely, the people in the row in front of us were the same as on the LA-Frankfurt flight. I thought they might be on our tour, but they were clearly speaking some gabble gabble that I assume was Hungarian.

That was when I really had an appreciation for how foreign Hungarian is. The Lufthansa stews gave us the safety announcement in German and English, and then a recording was played for Hungarian. The only words I could pick out were Lufthansa, Star Alliance, Exit, and Oxygen. I can fake enough Spanish and Italian to avoid starvation, but I can't even get slapped in Hungarian. Fortunately, we're not on our own. We get picked up by the tour company, Grand Circle Travel and take a bus trip to the boat. In the seats behind us a grandmother is instructing her granddaughter on what to expect in Europe. She's bloviating about how backward the people are compared to the US, how communists can only construct dull rectangular buildings and how knowledgeable she is from her extensive travels. Granddaughter is apparently surprised that the Europeans are not living in mud huts, "I thought Europe might look like what it looked like in Jesus' time." My diagnosis is homeschooling. [I'm leaving this in, because it's just too funny, but the girl turned out to be perfectly nice and not at all an idiot. [But her grandmother is an odious blowhard.]] After a bit, we're all deposited on the boat, the motor ship River Aria.

Cabin's small, but fine, with the disappointing detail that the two couches that convert into beds are on opposite sides of the cabin, i.e. two beds. All the cabins are like that. Since the client base for GCT skews toward ancient, perhaps this prevents the crew from freaking out about geezer sex.

Becca napped and freshened up while I started on this and kept an eye out for Judith and Carol, who duly showed up. I spent some time with them and then we all assembled for a drink, the safety presentation (at which Costa got mentioned as an object lesson about six times) the port talk, some speechification and dinner.

First impressions, GCT runs way smaller ships and charges way more money than a typical ocean cruise. No doubt the money is due to the lack of economy of scale, since GCT's prices looked very good compared to other river cruises. Otherwise, the experiences are somewhat similar... pimping the extras, and setting the stage for the all-important tips for the crew. I had hoped that would be different on a smaller cruise, but no dice -- a cruise is a cruise no matter how small. The food was prettily presented, but not as good as the larger cruises -- my beef definitely tasted more of canned stew than gourmet. The staff are similar, although instead of Filipinos, the common nationalities are Roumanian (maritime) and Indonesian (service).
All in all, I had hoped the smaller ship would make things classier than the giant floating Las Vegases that are the big cruise ships. Instead, it was just smaller (but pretending it wasn't) like a floating Indian casino.

The reward for staying awake was the night cruise through the city of Budapest, with its monuments, bridges, and buildings all aglow with light.
 
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Journal of No. 118