Europe 2009 – A Trip Down the Danube to Budapest


The rubbish trucks follow the same schedule here as they do in Vienna. At 5:30 I heard the engine as it pulled into the parking lot outside my window. Then there was that clanging and crashing sound of glass being dumped. It lasted for almost a minute. I tried to sleep a little longer, but ended up getting up and started my preparations to go.

The boat to Budapest doesn’t leave until 10:30am, so I have plenty of time. I am going to head out a little early so I can take my time getting to the river. It’s not a long walk, but when you have a big pack on your back it’s not a bad idea to take a breather every once and a while.

I stopped at a small sandwich shop near the river that had some breakfast sandwiches. I’m not sure what the food will be like on the boat but I’m sure it will be expensive. I had time to sit and eat, since I already have my ticket and just need to wait for the boat.

When I got to the dock I found a seat and started my wait. A couple soon joined me and we struck up a conversation. They are from Perth (second people I met from Perth) and are on holiday for 5 weeks. I can’t imagine being gone that long. But considering where they are coming from, you want to make the most of the time it takes to get to and from there.

Just about the time a huge group of priests and nuns are walking thru the waiting area, the captain comes in an announces the Budapest boat is ready to board. Both myself and the couple are disappointed to see how small the boat is. There is no outdoor deck, so photos might be a little difficult.

Inside it is like the interior of an airplane. Of course the windows are larger, but they are all scratched up from years of traveling up and down the Danube. It’s actually pretty full, most of the people got on at Vienna.

They come by with a menu and I am glad I ate before I boarded. It is pretty pricey.

Because it is a small boat, it’s not as smooth as I expected. It’s a little hard to type and read the screen on my laptop because my body is shaking around. Also, the seats could use a little more padding. I think my ass will probably be numb by the time we arrive.

There is a WiFi connection, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It would have to be a satellite link with motion tracking to work and even then I don’t think it could hold a signal, considering how much the boat is rocking.

It’s not as bad as the ocean, since I’m not getting sick (at least not yet). But I don’t think I want to try and watch a movie. That might not work well and I would miss what scenery I can see.

Suddenly you could hear the engine noise change and feel the boat coming to a stop. Up ahead I can see what I imagine is a lock. From looking at maps in the past, I knew that there had to be a lock to go through because of a dam on the river. We had to wait for a while to actually make it into the lock. Once inside they opened up the upper observation deck and I managed to go out and take a few pictures. It was pretty amazing how fast and far the water dropped. They said it would take 30 minutes, but it seemed like it wouldn’t take that long.

Bobbing up and down and watching the walls rise around me was a little nauseating. Hopefully I won’t toss my breakfast. Probably not and I have some tonic water in my bag to help ease my stomach. We finally reached to low mark. The next step is to open the large door ahead of us. I’ve never done anything like this before. It is a lot more interesting than the train.

There is a door on either side of the boat that is open during the trip. So, when there is something that deserves a photo you can go to one of them. Of course about a dozen other people want to do the same thing and the doors are only big enough for two people at the most. There were a couple of times that I had to go get in line to take a picture.

They had a GPS system on a screen that updated where we were. For most of the time we had Slovakia to the left and Hungary to the right. On occasion the border would move one way or the other and we would be fully in Slovakia or Hungary. The border follows the river slightly. But it’s not like it is the line determining the border. At some point we started to move more south and Slovakia slipped off to the north.

It was an interesting selection of people. Americans, Germans, Canadians and some I’m not quite sure. The guy in front of me was working on a presentation for when he went back to work. It turns out he is an FBI agent and specializes in finding corruption in public offices.

Once we actually entered Hungary I noticed the architecture became a lot more interesting. There were a lot more cities built right up against the river, with the churches right there on the edge. Of course that may be because there are high hills on either side and they can’t really get to far from the river.

We finally started to approach Budapest and they ask everyone to take their seats. There is a huge church on one side of the river and some people just have to get up to take a picture. We manage to make our way to the dock and in a short time we are deboarding the hydrofoil.

They took all the bags up for us. That will save me a few hundred yards of lugging my backpack. After I find it, I make my way past all the people waiting on a taxi (which is pretty much everyone) and study my map one more time to verify I am heading in the right direction.

I’ve already located the street that the hotel is on. It’s not too far and I should be able to walk it with no problems. It takes me a little time to get to the street but not that bad. I didn’t write down the actual address, so I have to pull out my notebook to call up the directions. I am standing next to a Burger King. On the directions it says “Turn on the street with the Burger King and you are here”. Considering it is another block and a half, that is a little misleading.

I find the entry to the hotel and press the call button to be let in. The reception is on the 1st (what we call 2nd) floor and in a small office off the main hall. Since I made my reservation online, there are only a few extra things to write down for them. I’m not really sure why they need the city I was born in, but whatever.

It’s not so much a hotel, but an apartment building for travelers. I have a kitchen with a fridge and I even have a clothes washer (if I hadn’t already washed my clothes in Bratislava).

I take a small rest before I’m back out on the street heading to the train station. I need to make my reservation for tomorrow’s night train to Bucharest. There are two of them, one at 7pm and one at 11pm. I originally thought I would take the later one. But I just don’t want to sit around the train station that long. I would rather get to Bucharest a little early and take my time finding the best way to the apartment and do some other exploring.

I also find the baggage lockers, since I will have to check out in the morning and I don’t want to lug my Backpack around all day.

Now that all that is out of the way, I need to exchange some Euros, do a little exploring and get something to eat.

I can’t imagine why you would want a currency where a 10,000 (yes that is ten thousand) is a common bill to carry around. But, hey when in Budapest…

Next on the agenda is exploring and food. This is a parallel operation and I am checking everything out. I remember passing a pedestrian zone on the way up and figure there has to be some touristy Hungarian restaurant in there somewhere. I am not disappointed. I find a place that has it all: Hungarian food, Beer and Wifi. I have it back at the hotel also. But you can never check your facebook enough.

I ordered a goulash to start with and then a small steak with mushrooms and potatoes. Of course it is in some sauce with paprika in it. The steak is a little tough, but all in all not a bad meal. That and a couple of beers added up to a pricey meal. But it’s the first real expensive meal I’ve had so far on this trip.

I’m going to head back before it gets too late. If I were with someone else I might be willing to stay out a bit. But being just me, I think it’s better to get back before dark. Besides my feet are already hurting.

I discover when i get back that I have worn a hole in both socks. Considering I purchased them just before the trip will tell you how much walking I’ve been doing. I’m going to keep my eye open for a shop that might have some new insoles for my shoes. The ones that are in there now are as thin as a cracker and that probably has a lot to do with why my feet hurt and why I wore a hole in my socks.

Before I made it to the hotel I stopped at a market next door and bought some provisions for the morning and a couple of beers for the evening. After making my way back up to the room, I get myself cleaned up and relaxed with the beers and prepared for sleep. I wanted to get an early start the next day.

Author: Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Alan Stiebing has been traveling for over 20 years. He blogs and photographs his experiences and passions for and other digital and print outlets.

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