Our complimentary guided tour of Budapest from AmaCerto started with our guide making an apology.
As romantic as the notion of the Beautiful Blue Danube sounds, the water is actually a golden brown if viewed close up. You have to have a couple of glasses of Champagne before the fast-moving muddy river looks anywhere near the color of a Viagra tablet, she joked.
Cute , but that’s not entirely true.
Sure if you look directly into the water, the color is more drab than sparkling. But we had the good fortune to enjoy a brilliantly sunny day and looking downstream with the sky reflecting off the river’s surface I could see the dreamy blue that inspired Johann Strauss and countless romantics to set this part of Europe to music.
And the city is getting its romantic colors back as well. Anyone who has visited Budapest in recent years can attest to the speed of the restoration of the city’s ornate baroque and neo-classical architecture.
Many buildings were severely damaged in the Second World War and maintenance lingered during the ensuing years of Soviet influence, which gave the city a reputation for being uniformly grey. Now with the Iron Curtain only a memory, the city is still in full restoration mode, with buildings coming back to life in rich tones sandstone and limestone reappearing after cleaning.
That was certainly evident on our first stop on the tour, Castle Hill, where we had to park at our bus and walk uphill through construction sites to get to the Sandor Palace, which itself has been restored from ruins of the original 1806 building and today houses the Hungarian presidential offices.
Another beautiful restoration is the 700-year old Matthias Church and Holy Trinity Square with its ornate column that dates back to 1713. The church has just received a new roof –done in ceramic tiles in a variety of colors. The thing I couldn’t figure out was how any workers could stand on such a slippery surfaces on the steep peaks to install them.
From the bastion at the top of the hill there are dramatic panoramas of the city and the river. Getting back on the bus we toured the bridges across the Danube, linking hilly Buda on one side with relatively level Pest on the other side.
For lunch, we headed to the nineteenth century Central Market, a two story indoor Great Market Hall that has a vast selection of sausages cheeses and fruits and vegetables on the main floor and handicraft and clothes stores on the second level.
The waitresess in the fast food places upstairs that sold everything from sausages to schnitzels wore aprons that read I Love Hungarian Food, but I was struck by how much of Hungarian food today is being influenced by the world, and the offerings included such things as quesadillas and spring rolls.
We were there in the fall, when the specialties included goose liver pate at very reasonable prices and huge mushrooms in a bizarre variety of shapes and hues.
Display cases in the entrance of the market warned that a lot of mushrooms that grow wild in the Hungarian forests are deadly poisonous. I hoped the merchants did their homework when they brought in the mushrooms they were selling.
Back on the AmaCerto at the 6:00 cocktail reception to welcome all the passengers on the week-long trip, all the women were offered a gorgeous long-stemmed red rose.
It was all very apt for this romantic city and the start of a cruise on the passionate Blue Danube.