Stress Free River Travel and True Viking Hygge

By on October 1, 2018

Experience has taught me, it is a good idea whenever possible to arrive a day early when taking a cruise with Viking River Cruises to avoid any travel complications en-route that might delay your cruise departure or rendezvous time with a traveling companion who may be joining you on the cruise. I’ve learned that early arrival or extending departure also provides some valuable additional time to investigate European cities at the beginning or end of my cruise.
 
Such was the case with my recent Danube Waltz cruise which departed from Budapest and ended in Passau, Germany. I arrived one day early and began a twenty-four hour seek and see adventure that included an evening sojourn in the City Center of Budapest, dinner at Kollazs Brasserie & Bar in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, three thrilling turns on the Budapest Eye and more. The next day it was off to the Jewish Quarter to tour the Dohany Street Synagogue, shop for paprika at the Great Market Hall, get a close-up view of Buda Castle, and relax by the river’s edge to enjoy a glass of Hungarian wine.
 
 
My inner child was beyond excited to see my daughter Kathleen waiting for me in the Budapest airport when I arrived on KLM from Amsterdam to begin our eight-day adventure through five countries on the Viking Valhjalm. My eyes could not seem to see enough as our limo driver hurried through busy traffic to The Prestige Hotel, a very grand looking hotel, located just one block from our ship dock and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences building.
 
The interior of The Prestige Hotel, a 19th-century townhouse, designed by neoclassical architect Josef Hild, is today what I would call Hungarian royalty meets Hollywood, with stark white walls & mirrors, and a gargantuan crystal chandelier hanging from the atrium above oversized pieces of bright orange modern furniture. Thankfully, our sweet silver gray twin room was more to my liking for a traveling mother/daughter duo, but the refrigerator filled with fantastic Budapest style beverages and snacks got huge kudos for originality. The hotel houses a Michelin Star Restaurant called Costes Downtown (given the 5th star of its kind in Budapest), where renowned Portuguese Chef Miguel Rocha Vieira is at the helm.
 
Our highly anticipated arrival dinner in Budapest was at Kollazs Restaurant & Bar in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace and is a culinary experience no visitor to the Hungarian capital should miss. The Kollázs Brasserie & Bar is a contemporary European brasserie in a landmark Budapest location. The Hungarian word for “collage,” Kollázs highlights creative combinations in all aspects of the Magyar dining experience. It is a warm atmosphere where sommelier Gabor Becker and the staff are dedicated to providing a memorable experience, and they can be depended upon to do just that. Gresham Palace is considered one of the most magnificent buildings in Pest, and one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.
 
The hotel sits graciously at the entrance to the historic Chain Bridge, built to join Buda and Pest in 1849, and its spectacular arcade entrance is awe-inspiring, featuring metal and stain glass window designs that are remarkable, as well as exquisite marble floors that overwhelm visitors with a feeling of space and grace. Today it is home to a beautiful spa with a pool, featuring signature Omoravicza products containing local healing minerals beneficial to the skin, very chic shops. and a bevy of gorgeous hotel suites for guest enjoyment.
 
The back story on this hotel with a history is that in 1880 the London Gresham Life Assurance Company bought the Nako House (the original neo-classic palace built in 1827) as its foreign headquarters on the current site, but then in 1903 decided to demolish the Nako House and build a new venue from the ground up as a monument to Sir Thomas Gresham, the sixteenth century financier to Queen Elizabeth I. In its day there were luxury apartments on several floors for the country’s elite, including Hungarian Government Minister Count Gyula Andrássy, a close personal friend of Elizabeth Queen of Hungary.
The impressive Kollazs Brasserie menu features appetizers of superb Foie Gras with rhubarb compote and elderflower jelly or an encrusted caviar egg served on white asparagus with crème sauce. The veal entree with sweetbreads and vegetables create a combination of perfect preparation and picture-perfect presentation that was so impressive. A coveted Kollazs specialty is their signature sea bass baked In sea salt (for 2 people), served with green salad and fresh vegetables. The fish is baked in a one-inch thick layer of salt, and then completely cleaned at the table to be served with a warm sauce of light oil and sweet Hungarian peppers.
Our wines were selected for us by sommelier Gabor from their exceptional wine list and included Grof Buttler, EGRI Chardonnay, 2013, Hungarian and Markrurt Kadarka 2015 Szekszard. Additional wines featured on their menu include Barta, Late Harvest Furmint, Tokaj, Hungary, 2010 Lenkey, Édes Szamorodni, Tokaj, Hungary, 2007 Oremus, 5 Puttonyos Aszú, Tokaj, Hungary, 2006. For Kollazs reservations: +36 (1) 268-6000.
 
An after-dinner walk seemed to be in the flow and we began walking toward Erzebet Square to the Budapest Eye, a light-filled Ferris wheel with 41 (8 seat) gondola’s that seats a total of 332 people when full. The Budapest Eye offers a birds-eye view of the Danube, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the city center that is enchanting. We truly enjoyed this ten minute (3 turns) ride taking photos and falling in love with the beauty below us. The Ferris wheel is open until 11:00 p.m and tickets cost 6 euro for children, 9 euro for adults, and a discounted 8 euro for seniors.
 
From the Buda Eye, we walked leisurely toward the city center where we discovered Onyx Restaurant, the Two Michelin Star renowned Hungarian restaurant where patrons sit on gilt chairs under crystal chandeliers. I’ve read about and longed to visit this venue, and now that I know its location perhaps on my next visit, I will be walking through the Oynx gold adorned doors to join guests like the ones I viewed (through the window) looking extremely pleased with the divine food and service.
 
Across the courtyard we were drawn to the Sky Bar, a favorite dance club where local people have fun dancing in a venue with great views of the city center below, including a birds-eye view of small hotel cafes packed with people eating dinner and chatting over cocktails. On our return walk toward our hotel, we came upon the harbor, dotted with twinkling lights, and could see our Viking Vilhjalm ship docked at the shore waiting for us to embark on our journey the next afternoon.
 
Following a great nights sleep got an early start transferring our bags to check-in on the Vilhjalm, so we could continue our walking tour of Budapest including a visit to the Great Market Hall, where endless stalls filled with meat, produce, wine, gift items were on display. We stopped at Anna’s, the outdoor cafe across the street, to split a delicious sandwich, people watch and continue through the Jewish Quarter for a tour of the astonishingly beautiful Dohany Street Synagogue.
Our guide Elizabeth was well informed and so kind. This synagogue is second in size only to the synagogue in New York, which is the largest in the world, and I was overwhelmed by its size and beauty. With a tight schedule before our return to the ship, I was disappointed to realize we had no time to sip a champagne in the healing waters of the thermal baths. I have, however, done this on prior trips and recommend it highly to recover from jet lag and experience what has been a favorite pastime of Budapest locals for centuries.
 
Our first night on the Vilhjalm was amazing. It was Kathleen’s birthday and the crew went all out with a special cake, champagne for all, and a staff song. The dinner and cake with a group of new friends and cruise companions were sensational, and my birthday girl seemed genuinely surprised. I was so happy to be back with my Viking family and slept like a baby in my Art of Hygge inspired cabin (Hygge is considered a Danish obsession with happiness in a cozy living space). Prior to my trip, I found a book The Book of Hygge at the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art in Solvang, California which explains this happiness first Danish approach to living.
 
Breakfast on the Viking Ships is always amazing, especially the first day when the staff is calling you by name and trying to get to know your personal preferences. Following this introduction, we quickly boarded the big beautiful Viking tour bus to Buda for a tour of St. Matthias Church, where Sisi and her Emperor husband were crowned King & Queen of Hungary, Fisherman’s Bastion, along with time for shopping and enjoying a pastry in one of the charming cafe’s. An unexpected highlight of the ride back to the ship was what they call “The Shoes” monument on the bank of the Danube. The shoes represent those of Jews and Romi who were shot by the German’s when they learned they had lost the war. It is a very touching site.
 
Lunch and relaxing become one on Viking Ships and we were happy to sit on the top deck and watch the harbor action. After dinner that night, the Captain and crew offered Palinka (fruit flavored brandy made from fruits grown on the Great Hungarian Plains) shots for toasting as we cruised the Budapest Harbor, which was lit up like a holiday tree. It is a beyond beautiful sight to see, and all the guests were totally charmed by the monuments and important buildings on both the Buda and Pest side glowing under the spotlights. Oh, did I mention, there was also lively Hungarian music being played to complete this memorable experience.

During our summer night cruise around the Budapest harbor, a feeling of sheer gratitude rushed over me to realize how lucky I was to share this perfect evening in Budapest, a city I have come to love, with my daughter on the week of her birthday. I somehow know I will always be that excited young child to see the Chain Bridge over the Danube, and people sitting in the warmly lit Kollazs enjoying their elegant Magyar dining experience, and I am already waiting with baited breath for my next Hygge filled Viking cruise sojourn in Budapest. For information on Viking River Cruise or ocean travel visit: http://vikingrivercruises.com/.

 
Bonnie Carroll

About Bonnie Carroll

Bonnie Carroll has been a food/travel/lifestyle writer since 1983. She is the founder & publisher of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News, does travel and food reporting on KZSB1290 radio, and contributes to a variety of national and international travel/lifestyle publications. Her first children's book C.C. Charles was published in 2002 and she is currently working on a second book. Her first great grandchild is expected this summer. Contact her at [email protected]

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Stress Free River Travel and True Viking Hygge