I woke up early, took my shower and then when I peeked out the window, there was a black wall facing me. When I went to investigate, I discovered we were in a lock. A really really big lock. I bumped into Carol who had a pretty problem in topology -- the strap on her bag had somehow gotten a twist in it. I managed to make it better, but not perfect. It was still a strange Moebius bag.
By the time we both gave up, the Aria was nearly at the top of the lock. Soon got some breakfast and then spent some time watching the Danube go by. The next event was a meeting with out color group -- the whole ship of 150 passengers is broken up into 4 groups, each with its own Program Director. Daniel is ours and he kicked off the meet & greet. I was impressed that he managed to give a nuanced picture of communism in Hungary (his native country). One set of his grandparents had been wealthy before communism came, and they lost nearly everything and were understandably bitter. The other set were of the peasantry and suddenly found a route to social mobility that was never possible before. Everyone said a few words of introduction. The old bat said a few more than necessary as is her wont. Meanwhile, this ship had arrived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.
We couldn't quite convince Carol to ditch the ship's lunch so we'd have more time ashore, so we struggled through a lackluster lunch before venturing out to Bratislava.
The historic center of Bratislava is quite nice. I hadn't expected much, but the streets are lines with cafes and shops and are many are pedestrian only. Slovakia is on the euro, so an ATM stop was a first requirement. The next thing that caught our eye was a faux synagogue... a memorial with a film showing on a loop inside.
Many of the broad pedestrian streets are on the former lines of hte city walls and gates, but the Michael's Gate is still there and houses a museum of arms and armor. Nice little collection with some non-European items from India and Japan. We climbed a lot of narrow, low, stairs and ultimately got out on the railed balcony or parapet with nice views around the city.
From there we cruised across to visit the church of St. Elizabeth, aka the Blue Church, for obvious reasons. A small relatively modern art nouveau church, but the bright color really makes it pop.
We struggled back and found a cafe we liked the looks of and had some time in the shade with some beer to cool off. I had some of the standard Pilsner Urquell that's ubiquitous in Central Europe, followed by a smaller glass of Šariš, the main Slovakian brew. It was their dark beer that was very yummy without being at all heavy.
Refreshed, we wandered about and did a little shopping before returning to the ship. We may attempt dinner ashore, but most of the party are pretty pooped right now, so we may settle for the ship's chow, which the schedule lists as Hollywood Dinner, with kinda crummy sounding menu items tarted up with movie stars' names.
Before facing Hollywood, Judith and I took a short walk. She wanted to walk across the Danube on a bridge & we didn't really have much opportunity in Budapest. This bridge was not very picturesque, but it served us well. The pedestrian walk is quite populated with people on foot, on bikes, and even Segways, but the road surface is entirely gone, and the bridge is blocked at both ends. There's also a railway bridge attached to one side, which may yet run for all I know. The auto traffic has presumably been diverted to the two modern bridges to north and south, but the foot traffic may have to stay here, which is maybe why this bridge is still standing. Took a few pics our on the bridge and returned.
Dinner on the ship. We went for a wee cognac after dinner when the lounge got taken over by the crew talent show. I'll say no more. Tomorrow Vienna.
Friday 10 August
Shortly after breakfast, the bus took us from the ship to tour the city. After seeing a few sites, like the Riesenrad and the Ring road (which follows the course of the former city wall) the bus let us off near the Volksgarden and its roses. We walked past some of the Hofburg complex and finally to the Cafe Central, where they had reserved a fabulous room for us to have a coffee or hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was heavenly.
Thence we walked about the old part of the city seeing more of the Hofburg, St. Stephen's cathedral, and the pedestrian shopping streets, the Spanish Riding School (where the Lippizaners hang out), the exposed Roman ruins, and other minor sights. Afterwards, we had our free time in the city.
We trekked to the Kaisergruft, the imperial crypt of the Hapsburgs beneath a Capuchin church. From Matthias down to the present day, the Hapsburgs are buried here in elaborate sarcophagi and monuments. Maria Theresa, Sisi, and a host of others. The latest internment was in 2011, with Otto von Hapsburg, born the Crown Prince in 1912.
We took a quick peek in the church itself -- I was a little disconcerted by the grave marker saying that a military man was part of the Dragoner Regiment, but it appears that's the German word for dragoon -- before heading back to get picked up by the bus. Actually, we walked a bit to get to the actual pick up spot, and saw a bit more of the Hofburg, including the portion that now houses the National Library, which is rather grand. The bus trip took us through a bit more of the city before leaving us at the Schwedenplatz.
Adventurers (like us) left to see more of the city, while others headed back to the ship. We strolled up to the Stephansdom and looked it over, inside and out. They're cleaning the exterior and it's interesting to see the huge difference in color between the cleaned stone and the sooty black. We stumbled upon Mozart's dwelling place in the neighborhood, and then back down the street to find the restaurant the guidebook recommended, the Griechenbeisl, which has been there since 1447.
I had the very tasty Zwiebelrostbraten with taters, while the ladies opted for goulash. Carol got adventurous with steak tartare as a starter. We all tried a bite; nice enough, and I liked that it had been spiced with paprika, but Carol thought it distracted one from the taste of the meat. I sampled the King Ludwig white beer - the brewery is still owned by the Wittelsbachs (aka the Bavarian Royal family), and also Stiegl, an Austrian beef from Salzburg. Both excellent, but very different styles.
We ate outside, but peeked in to see the Mark Twain room, the walls of which have been signed by luminaries like Mozart, Beethoven, and (obviously) Mark Twain. A business luncheon was going on in there, so we could get a close look, but a peek was enough. There's a also a wishing well of sorts for 'lieber Augustin', a musician much beloved in the city, for keeping spirits in the city up through plague and Turkish invasion. People drop coins throuhg a grate in the floor onto an effigy.
Then down to the bus stop and back to the ship. Next is dinner and the second day in Vienna.
Tafelspitz at dinner.... okay, but not amazing. Food has been lackluster of late, but tomorrow night's menu looks much more interesting. Why the variation. We have formed many hypotheses, but reached no conclusions.