Danube Odyssey, Part 2
Two nights at the Budapest Hilton West End
It was a 30-minute bus ride on a busy street ringed with Soviet-style apartment buildings from the Budapest airport to the Hilton West
|Betty, Lewis in Budapest's Sad Fisherman restaurant|
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We arrived at the Hilton before 10:30 a.m. and were disappointed that we could not check in until after lunch. We went around-and-around with a series of desk clerks - who were unanimously surly and indifferent to the busload of paying guests - but we were unable to get into our rooms. It seemed clear to me that Vantage had screwed up by not making arrangements with the Hilton to accommodate their guests whom had paid $350 each for the pre-cruise add-on of extra time in Budapest to see that historic city's sights. We ended up sitting (and steaming) on an uncomfortable chaise in the lobby for nearly two hours, disgusted with the unhappy beginning of our river odyssey.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and was named in 1873 when the communities of Pest (on the flat and featureless, left bank of the Danube River) and Buda (built on the hills on the right side) amalgamated. The city, formed where a Roman outpost sat during the 1st Century, has longed tapped area hot mineral springs for medicinal uses. Its population is more than 2 million and Budapest is important in culture, light manufacturing and electronics.
Unlike much of Europe, Hungary is not part of the Euro monetary system. It has its own currency based on the country's Florints ($1 equals 171 Florints), making for some difficult translation of comparative values. We suffered with the conversion to Euros elsewhere, with the Euro roughly equal to the official rate of $1.45 (the boat made a little money on the exchange, giving a rate of $1.67 per Euro). The Euro is the strongest currency in the Western world now, resulting in wealthy Europeans traveling to the U.S. to shop. We still remember the favorable exchange rate we experienced in Ireland in 1991 when 92 cents was worth 1 Euro, pointing to a loss of more than 50 percent in buying power for American shoppers in recent years. There were no "good buys" on this trip but at least there were not an appreciable number of vacationing Americans clogging up the tourism channels.
According to the Fodor's guidebook, "Hungary sits, proudly but precariously, as the crossroads of Central Europe, having retained its own identity despite countless invasions and foreign occupations of the East and West. Hungary's total area is less than that of Pennsylvania. About 30,000 buildings in Budapest were destroyed in World War II and in the general uprising against the Soviets in 1956. Many of the antique houses and other structures built during the Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance periods survive
We warmed to Budapest somewhat once we got into our spacious, modern room on the Hilton's 3rd floor and napped for several hours.
|Travelers Margaret Bell (left), Patty Mayell|
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Other passengers we met that evening and later included Don and Mary Dorsman of Garretson, SD; Francis and Jane Dugan of Cincinnati, whose friends include a former bigwig at Scripps-Howard Newspapers where I worked in the 1970s and early 1980s; and Max and Sonia Mittleman of Sherman Oaks, CA. With me (at 64 years old) and Betty (at 61), it seemed that we were among the youngest passengers; some in the lively group appeared to be in their 80s.
Dinner that evening was in the pricey, hotel restaurant, where I had grilled salmon and Betty went for turkey cooked with vegetables. Both dishes were delicious. I went to bed after reading the Europe edition of USA Today, picked up at the hotel amid several piles of English and European newspapers. We noted that the business travelers at the Hilton and on the Lufthansa flight seemed to be better readers of newspapers than their American counterparts and the hospitality industry reaches out to them.