What to Know Before You Go…Chapter 2

Chapter 2  The Internet, Web Resources, and the Travel Agency

As you start your trip planning and you are trying to determine where you want to go, use the Internet. There are a number of travel sites, but the best way, in my opinion, is to use Google and put in such things as “vacationing in Australia, or Europe, or France, or the Caribbean, etc”. Many site will come up and you can take your time and look at all of the many places that you can see and things that you can do. On our recent trip to Australia, we knew we were going to Cairns as our first step on our journey, so my wife Googled Cairns. From Cairns, which is north on Sydney, we were able to go out to the Great Barrier Reef, rode the train up to and through the Rain Forest, then rode the Skytrain back down over the Rain Forest to sea level, and back to the city of Cairns, which in itself is well worth seeing. We found all of this on the internet….then went to our agent, who had also suggested these attractions, and made the ticket arrangements.

And, you can use a site like Expedia to get an idea of flights into almost any destination in the world. They will give you prices and times, although the prices are often on bad connecting flights , or bad times, but it gives you a very good idea of when and where you can go. Trip Advisor is another good one, as this give first hand experiences from travelers.

These sites, and many others, are great for travel information, but not always good for ticketing. As I have said, and will say many more times, the local travel agent can get the same, if not better, price….they can give you the experiences of other travelers, and they can do the “hard work” for  you, such as the reservations and ticketing. That is their job. But, you can do the pre-planning by using the Internet to get your general idea of where, when, why, and what you want to do.

A word about the Travel Agency. Only the good ones have survived the Internet. And they have survived because they can offer a service that the Internet cannot. As with almost any professional services these days, you can get almost any service on the web. But, you get what you pay for. I have planned and taken trips using nothing but the internet, with sites like www.hotels.com, and  www.expedia.com, and they were good trips. But, for the most part, I was “flying by the seat of my pants”. And, when all said and done, did not save a penny. Now we use an Agency exclusively. And, a couple of other factors as to why to use an agency….(1) some are specialists, like with Cruise Lines…(2) many of the agencies are really experienced. :Been there done that”  is true for many and this experience is passed on to you…..(3) Your individual travel agent in an agency will become “your good friend”, and they will have your interest foremost in their mind as they plan for you. This is that valuable factor…and can make the difference in your travels.

Next section is entitled….”Make a List”….and this is one of my favorites, for many do not do this until they get someplace and say, “I should have made a list of these things to bring”. Stay tuned.

Viking Cruises….Ocean and River

Effective January 1st…I am the Redding agent for Viking Cruises, and am very pleased with this opportunity. We just completed our 3rd Viking Cruise…and I am now “a believer” in Viking. They are great. No wonder they are consistently rated #1 among the Cruise lines.

Viking Cruises, both in their Ocean and River Cruises, offers cruises where you truly explore your destination-through its food, culture, countryside, and customs. You learn about the lands through which you travel via informative talks that bring history to life through cultural adventures, in-depth pre-trip materials, and on-demand programing-all designed to help you experience the most from your travels.

So, just send me an e-mail at    ron@ronlargenttravel.com   and I will get you brochures, information, details on the Cruises, both Ocean and River…and we will go from there. Viking is a winner.

Vienna on up the Danube….Wednesday

We left Vienna during the night heading north and west up the Danube towards Krems….and Gottweig Abbey. Again, this is a spectacular setting with the Abbey right on top of the mountain. The Abbey is fully operational and has both Art and book collections that are world famous. The 2 hours at the Abbey was set up specifically for Viking, and we were told that Viking has donated considerable funds to keep the Abbey open, eventhough it is the home for 43 monks that work in the area.

Back on the ship and traveling up through the Wachau Valley…world famous for wines and picturesque towns and castles…and today was an absolutely gorgeous day with bright sun,….not much wind, but low 40’s…but a gorgeous day. Afternoon on the ship with regular updates and special events, etc….and now off to the Viking Explorer Reception…should be fun..

Vienna, Austria….Day 6…Tuesday

Vienna, Austria……ship was delayed in the locks leading into Vienna on Monday night…and we first heard about it early Tuesday morning with the daily announcements. Apparently late Monday night the winds picked up on the Danube and by the time we got to the locks….too high to go through….so we were put on hold in the River for about 2 hours….there were then additional delays and finally cleared the locks at 5 AM…which made us about an hour late to get into Vienna. In that it was a full day, plans were changed and we proceeded to dock at another town about an hour drive away from Vienna. We then boarded Viking buses…and off we went into Vienna, through beautiful farm lands and small towns…arriving about 10 into Vienna.We then had the included panorama tour of Vienna, as well as the walking tour of the Old City….a magnificent old city with gorgeous buildings….just a beautiful place to see and walk through, etc.

Being late, Viking decided to give us a 25 Euro credit per person for lunch….and we ate behind St Stephens church at a great restaurant….finishing up by 2 when we met up again, and then went on the optional tour to the Schonbrunn Palace.

The Palace is a showplace for Emperoress Maria Theresa and the Hapsburg Dynasty….and I cannot say enough in this blog about her and her reign…and I bought a book at says it all, including her 16 children. A powerful woman like Queen Victoria in England……Maria Theresa being the daughter of Charles VI. The Hapsburg Dynasty in Central Europe in itself is a Masters Thesis…what a fascinating story of reign for 650 years. This is a MUST visit….

Back to the ship for dinner…then on to our Optional Concert of Mozart and Strauss by the Vienna Residence Orchestra. This is a small chamber orchestra obviously hand picked as they put on quite a show of music and humor to this private concert. Just a thrilling and fun performance with soloists, ballet dancers, and a great orchestra….a fun evening and well worth it…even for non-music lovers.

Back to the bus by 11…a great day in Vienna…one of the World’s Great Cities…and the 2nd one we have been part of on this trip…the other Budapest.

More to come……

 

Budapest and on to Viking River Cruise

We had decided early on to do some “catch up” on our last day so started off by going to the old Train Station that Audy had remembered. Still there and still old…but a new section built on as well as a huge underground West End Mall…that runs back under the entire busy traffic corner. Then went across the street to the Libri Department store…found a good cap for me and some clothes for Audy…great prices.

Back to the hotel to pack and get ready to board the ship…and left the room about 4 PM to taxi to the boat dock about 1/4 mile away. The greeting from Viking starts at the curb when they get your luggage and take it directly to your room (we had it all labeled in advance)….and immediately felt at home and very comfortable. The folks at the front desk were perfect…check in took maybe 2 minutes.

These Viking River Cruise boats, which are also called shipped, and referred to as a ship by the staff…..are specially made long boats made in Germany…and made for this specific purpose…to transport people up and down and around the Rivers of Europe and the world. Initially designed for the European Rivers…they now are used worldwide, and have become very popular. Viking River Cruises was one of the first to do this…and they are the largest fleet now, and voted #1 by a number of Travel rating services. Clearly #1 at this stage for us.

The first night was introductory…dinner at 7, etc…an outstanding briefing on what was planned for Monday….just a great professional opening experience to start the Viking River Cruise.

Monday started with an early sit down or buffet breakfast in the restaurant, and they only have one big restaurant, but there are options for sit down or buffet, and very well laid out. At 8 we exited the ship and boarded the Mercedes Benz busses for the 4 hour Budapest Panorama Included Tour. . Very well done, and saw areas, such as the Hero’s Square, that we had not seen before…and ended up on Castle Hill at the Matthias Church. This in itself is almost worth the trip to Budapest, but the guide gave us a complete tour of the magnificent church, which sits on the top of the Buda hill overlooking Budapest and Hungary, for that matter. Photos, of which I have many, will attest to both the indoor and outside grandeur. I know this will sound like a record, but one of the most outstanding churches we have ever seen, or been in.

So, in Budapest, 2 magnificent churches, St Stephens Basilica and Matthias Church….the overwhelming Parliament Building right on the river, and the Castle Hill area and Gellert Hill overlooking the Danube River….which is the center of the entire area as it goes under the 9 massive bridges, including the historic and famous Chain Bridge.

The 4 hour bus tour ended up about 30 miles to the north, where we caught up with the Ship and re-boarded….lunch was ready…and off we went up the River…and the days activities on the Ship began. A full schedule from lectures  to a Champaign welcome party to the Captains briefing …all very well done.

Our room is more spacious than and on the Cruise Ship….and each room has a full glass window-wall to view the river and the villages and cities  that we pass. The beds are comfortable; the rooms are so quiet….the bathroom is plenty big, and the storage areas are great.

At this point, for us…this is the nicest set up we have had on the Cruises…can’t wait for the rest of today.

And, Viking Cruises will be added to my list of Cultural Events and Activities that I will be emphasizing…as this is among the very best way to fully appreciate the culture and history of Europe and the world for that matter….this will sell, as it has over the years, and I am happy to be part of “this world”.

After the trip I will start listing the upcoming Viking Cruise Ship trips, programs, tours, etc…and having been on 3 of them within the past year…can give first hand experience thoughts…so stay tune…all for now…Tuesday morning, Dec 12th……

 

Hungary, Budapest…Day 3

Saturday..Day 3 began as a cloudy and cold day…we had the usual delightful breakfast in the Club Lounge….then decided to Ride the Yellow Hop On and Hop Off bus….to see more of the city. About the Hop On Hop Off….there are actually 3 or 4 companies that call themselves Hop On Hop Off….and basically all of them are the same and three of the four wear the Red Coats….so it is a bit tricky to get the correct bus. And,   a couple of the lines have a covered top, which is critical in this cold weather. In any case, you can pick and choose the bus…and we chose one that did not have the cover…so we sat inside the bus. You don’t see as much, but much, much warmer.

The ride was fine and when we concluded we decided to take the small streetcar that runs along the River up to the Parliament Building. This is a must see building and is the one featured on may many of the ;publications. Magnificent building. We went down into the Visitor Center…sold out for Saturday and Sunday….and the best way to get a ticket is on the internet. Probably well worth it, and more after the Viking Tour on Monday.

Upon returning to the Hotel, we decided to go straight on to the Restaurant that had the small museum that Carrie had told us about. We got there and it was full…but did go downstairs into the museum…very interesting and well worth it. The restaurant was full of Viking Pre Trip folks, and the food looked like full meals, etc,,..and pretty expensive…so sent down to Costa Coffee again….and again, pretty much sold out…so went back to Perfetto, where we were the night before. It was also jammed, but the manager saw us and got us a seat…big lunch of salad, sspaghetti, and lasagna…mine was great.

We then returned to the hotel and on our way heard the demonstration and saw the police cars…later found out it was a political demonstration to cross the Chain Bridge…which is the main bridge…. a big crowd of people walking with flags, etc….woman’s voice over the loud speaker in English…but not much more.

Had a nap and at 5:45 PM went down to catch the bus at 6:15 for the night light bus tour….as we were going to take it up to the Matthias Church, for the concert……and it was gorgeous going up and seeing the lights…definitely recommended.

The Solti Concert Orchestra and Choir and Soloists was the best of the best, and the setting in Matthias Church is unmatched in the world. Definitely another MUST SEE. Absolutely  supurb musicians, with the concert master actually leading the orchestra on the first 3 numbers, which was a first for me. For me, the 90 minute program was perfect, as the quality of the musicians and the singers and soloists were the best that one could find anywhere. The magnificent church is probably perfect acoustically…..as you could hear every instrument and voice as is right next to you. The full house audience….probably 90% of them followers or the orchestra or patrons….would not quit at the end, with 3 “curtain” calls. Just a “once in a lifetime experience” for me.

We went next door to the Hilton for a “potty break” before heading back to the hotel using the taxi…10 minutes back and a good nights sleep.

Some observations…

  1. Budapest is a huge city that literally features its old and functional and beautiful buildings, and to see them lit up at night is a MUST.
  2. The River has allowed massive development on both sides, and both sides have these gorgeous buildings. Thinking of other cities in Europe, I cannot think of another one with this setting, with these magnificent buildings, palace, and parliament buildings being so prominent. London is a 2nd at this stage.
  3. The city just goes and goes, and the bus tour is a necessity….as traffic is very heavy and the road lanes run in all directions.
  4. The  attitude of the people is very friendly….there is evidence of policemen around…but a very, very safe feeling all of the time. A lot of English is spoken, so it is easy to get around……
  5. Today we are going to change plans and go to the Central Train station…then back to the hotel by about noon…get ready for the River Boat…and will leave the room about 4…that is the plan.

Should be another great day….