Travel diary from a cruise on the river Danube. Sunday June 18th 2006.
Like yesterday I am up early for a pipe and a cup of coffee on the deck. The ship called on Bratislava during the night, and customs are taking care of formalities in the lounge.
At 9:15 we disembark and pass an unmanned border control. A red toy-train takes us through the city, and the local guide babbles in Swedish about what we see on our left and on our right.
At times she gets lost in details, but at least we can understand her Swedish, and she has a sense of humour. The latter is evident when she talks about the latest election and the indecisiveness of the politicians.
Bratislava's castle stands high above the city and the river. The view is splendid although a haze dims the horizon. On the other side of the river are concrete buildings from the sixties packed like Lego blocks.
Farther still are chimneys in silhouette. The guide has chosen the spot with the best view, but it is also the spot closest to the sun. As she carries on with more and more uninteresting details, Helle and I sneak down the stairs and into the shade before our skin gets crisp.
The castle is neither impressive nor exciting, but being the only one they have, we must of course admire it. That is only fair. However it gets much more interesting when the train drives downhill and enters the old city.
The Old Town
There are no cars here - only pedestrians and bicycles. There are winding streets with old houses and pretty fronts. Small cosy squares with pavement cafés and parasols hide around every corner. It is not pompous like Vienna, but there is much more atmosphere that reminds me of Krakow in Poland .
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On the city's central square the guide gets lost in a tale again, and gradually we sneak farther and farther away - the street corners are irresistible. A Franciscan monk is setting up an outdoor altar and a religious procession is taking shape.
The restaurants have reasonable prices and inviting menus, where you can see the weight of steaks and the like. Here and there façades are peeling, but the overall impression is a well-preserved and charming town. It is lively even on a Sunday, and I wonder how it will be when the shops are open. We would like to return to this place!
We settle down at a pavement café and order Slovakian beer. The waiter told us that we could pay with Euro. From the shade we watch life pass by. Next to us two pairs of cycle shorts share a bottle of bubbly, and next to them a baby howls until bribed with ice cream. On our other side an American is trying to make a big cigar burn straight, but takes a puff-pause when the waiter arrives with the food.
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Five minutes early Søren stands stoically in the middle of the square waiting for his lambs. They gather around him silently and apparently from nowhere. Before we go to the ship we have to wait for one who got entangled with the Franciscan procession.
Helle chats a bit with Søren about the first two cities, Vienna and Bratislava, and says that where Vienna is imposing Bratislava is charming. Søren defends Vienna and says that as a first time tourist you always start with the impressive buildings.
Helle replies that the guides seem to control this traffic. "Point taken!", Søren says immediately and earns some more points.
The ship sails on towards Budapest in Hungary. Lunch is a salad buffet, turkey breast with tuna sauce, pasta and broccoli and warm strudel with filling. After a smoke on the deck we dive into a siesta.
A bit of solitude and peace is nice when you are with other people constantly. However a bit past three we go on deck to see how the ship gets through a Slovakian lock.
At 16:30 there is a tasting of the ship's wines. Nicu, the young assistant manager, does not know much about wine, but he does reasonably well anyway. We taste three white and three red from the region.
Of the whites we prefer the Serbian Chardonnay, but the Romanian Dry Muscat is not bad either. The Macedonian Vranac is a clear red match winner. After the tasting I pay for our two extra tours of which one was the concert in Vienna. On the program for the day Søren had written:
"17.30: Payment for extra trips in the bar"
and he was the first to comment on the ambiguous word order.
Supper and Evening Concert on the Ship
We order a red Vranac with our supper. The first course is thin slices of ham with grated celery in a mild dressing, salad buffet and turkey soup with noodles. The main course is pork folded around ham with a mushroom filling. With this oven baked slices of potatoes. I have forgotten the dessert.
We have reached 'Danube's Knee' and the river twists more than before. Now the once flat terrain is hilly with pretty green slopes. As the sun sets and splashes red all over, the orchestra, Elvis (!) and Daniel, plays classical in the lounge. It is a perfect evening for romantic music.
A surprisingly large number of Americans is in the lounge. Most of them usually retire early to their cabins, some with a glass of ice cubes from the bar. Shortly after the first musical chord Helle counts six Americans in deep sleep. Those who keep awake without ice cubes do not increase the bar's turnover.
The Danes have acquainted and are a merry bunch. From our position by the bar Helle and I taste various drinks before we retire at half past eleven. We watch the approach to Budapest through our cabin window.