Danube Odyssey, Part 4
Caprice jewelry plant and art colony of Szentendre
Rising again at 7 a.m., we repaired to the Hilton restaurant where I enjoyed scrambled eggs, half a ham sandwich, banana slices, a wedge of
|Lewis wears yarmulko in Dohany Synagogue|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Vantage Travel guides Ananda Hilgeman and Maria hustled our "yellow group" onto a tour bus and we departed shortly after 9 a.m for a 30-minute ride to the artists' colony of Szentendre, which was named after St. Andrew. Along the way we stopped for over an hour at the Caprice Jewelry Factory on the outskirts of Budapest, which seemed to us to be a waste of time. We saw a few gem cutters at work behind thick glass and a huge room filled with glass cases of jewelry. About a dozen, well-dressed employes hawked the plant's output, mainly bracelets and necklaces decorated with smallish diamonds and other precious stones.
Only a few of our 37 fellow passengers made purchases. My thinking was that the president of Vantage Travel must have had a special reason to offer up his customers to Caprice and its stiff prices. It seemed to me that the "jewel factories" close to Amsterdam's tourist hotels have both nicer merchandise and better prices. Neither compares favorably in any way to the showplace Tiffany's in Manhattan in terms of quality of stones, cut, design and display. However, it turned out that Caprice was Vantage's only tour location that seemed blatantly misplaced.
There was light rain and fairly heavy traffic on the four-lane highway to Szentendre. We drove past some Roman ruins by a museum and the remains of an aquaduct that I would have much preferred visiting over the jewel plant, which is owned by a company based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Szentendre was first settled in the 14th Century by Serbs and Greeks fleeing the advancing Turks. Its narrow, cobbled streets are lined with cheerfully painted houses, many of which now contain art galleries and crafts shops plus a good number of tacky souvenir purveyors.
We walked perhaps a half a mile on cobble-lined streets, passing to both left and right a series of wooden stall shops that reminded me of a midway promenade. All offered tourist merchandise and some of the crafts of central Europe that included fine embroidery work as well as "I was there" junk. Betty purchased several thimbles for her collection and a distinctive hat for warmth.
We stopped at a tidy restaurant to have something to eat and were joined by our fellow travelers Margaret Bell and Patty Mayell, We learned Patty is a a retired social studies teacher whose background gave her and Betty (also a retired teacher) lots to talk about. We learned Patty
had taught in New Jersey, raised seven children and has a home with a pool about a block and a half from the ocean at Vero Beach, FL.
Our stateroom, No. 310, on the River Explorer is quite nice and surprisingly roomy due to the intelligent design. It has two, fold-down, twin beds that make into couches for daytime use. It is on the waterline and has two picture windows that give great views of the river and passing scenery. The room is equipped with a small bathroom that contains a shower, plenty of closet space and drawers and a small table under the windows. The room is roughly in the middle of the boat and is only a short walk from the elegant dining room and a well-lighted, big room at the bow, or front of the boat that is equipped with easy chairs and comfortable couches. There is enough seating to hold the maximum of about 170 passengers for daily briefings on the coming excursions and other activities.
Unused at this frigid time of year are several dozen deck chairs and chaise lounges on the boat's topside deck that is covered with Astroturf. We also didn't see much use of the boat's small fitness room and its weights and exercise bikes.
The boat's dining room serves breakfast in a large, circular bar in the restaurant. Just about every imaginable morning food is available on the buffet line and a pair of white-hatted cooks gladly cook eggs to order. Lunch offers a variety of salads and sandwiches on the circular buffet line as well as table service of one's choice of foods. Salads and some desserts are available on the buffet line at dinner, when generally one's choice of a range
|Gilded Dohany Synagogue features 'Christian' pulpit|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The bar sold the excellent German brand of Holstein beer on draft along with a selection of bottled beers and wines as well as liquors favored by Americans.
Our first day on the boat included a "welcome orientation" featuring complimentary champagne and talks by several crew members about boat safety and the interior of the boat, followed by an excellent dinner. I had broiled halibut and Betty had pork tenderloin. The ship cruised up and down the Danube at Budapest so passengers could see what a fine job the private section has done to showcase both sides of the river with decorative spotlights and bright lights on landmarks. I was reminded of Paris since none of the tawdry reminders of Soviet rule could be seen after dark.
We were told that Budapest was named for the hilly sided development at the location called "Buda" where inhabitants had most of the castles and the cross-the-river side called "Pest" where the commercial aspects of the old Hungarian Empire thrived. November is typically one of the least pleasant months in these parts, when skies are often cloudy and snow is fairly frequent. That is the way it is this week, with highs in the 30s and lows below freezing at night. I suspect the endemic cold had something to do with the large size of public buildings, usually faced with stone and topped with tile roofs.