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.

Thursday in London…Churchill War Rooms, and RAH

Another MUST…if you are interested in British history…and especially WW II….and what led up to it. How we missed the Churchill War Rooms museum and exhibit is a good question, for this is a great exhibit and history lesson in what happened leading up to the war…and then what Winston Churchill did to lead Britain to victory.

This is a good 2 hours if you take your time…located right off of Whitehall in the heart of the government offices and right around the corner from #10 Downing Street…which was the office for Winston Churchill as Prime Minister….and literally across the street from the War Rooms.

The War Rooms is the entire area where the war was conducted by the Prime Minister. This was the Command Center, the Ops Center, and the Communication Center for the leadership in the Government. It is very well re-created in the exact rooms used back during the War….and shows the various players involved and how they were involved.

The Museum is very well done….and I found it most interesting after going through the Rooms themselves….as it kind of puts all in perspective. The way the tour is set up, the Museum is in the middle, but thanks to Carrie having been there previously….she suggested the Museum at the end, and I agree.

Just a great part of the London history…so put it on your list..

Following the War Rooms, we went to the Royal Albert Hall for the Classic Christmas with London Concert Orchestra and London Concert Chorus…and then the famous Boys Choir.  Another great show…more Classic than on Wednesday with not as much “flair”…but superb classic performance. As good as it gets if you like excellent orchestra and choir, with the massive organ…..just a GREAT EVENING of great music..

Wednesday in London…Royal Albert Hall

Wednesday was a quiet morning…then leaving for the Royal Albert Hall at 1 PM….taking the bus through the heavy traffic arriving at about 1:45…..went to the café to wait for Dawn and Carrie and William…Dawn was there and Carrie came about 2:15…we went up to our seats and the program began.

There are few musical experiences (in my opinion) in the world that can equal the concerts at Royal Albert Hall (RAH)…if you are looking for the total orchestra, band, choir, and soloist all in one performance…but here it is. These RAH Christmas programs run right up to Christmas and start late November….some days with 2 concerts a day.

This concert, which is the first of three for us, featured the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Chorus, and the Coldstream Guards Band, plus a Tenor from the London Opera. The program was entitled Christmas Carols and was a 3 hour concert that included the audience singing Christmas Carols along with the orchestra and chorus, and the huge and unbelievable organ…that is clearly the biggest sound of any organ that we have ever heard. RAH seats about 10,000 and is the main entertainment venue for London, and to a degree, England. It is a wonderful place to listen to concerts…and even though we are in the high up “cheap seats”… I think they are the best in the Hall…for you can get the full impact of the huge musical production. For the program, the variety of music is from classical to modern arrangements of both familiar and not so familiar Christmas songs. I could go on and on…but suffice it to say…this was a wonderful musical moment….a once in a lifetime experience for a music and concert lover like me…performed by some of the best musicians in the world….as good as it can get.

Back to the hotel as we were too late for the Charles Dickens program, so will try and reschedule. Today is the Churchill War Rooms….then a full afternoon of tourist things…with another RAH concert this evening at 7:30 PM…

Should be a fun day…….

 

 

 

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….

 

Europe December 2017..Daily blog post

We left the ATL Airport on schedule (after the phone incident) heading for Amsterdam…an 8 hour flight away. The A300 was great and Audy enjoyed her first class seat. I sat next to a very interesting retired AF nurse….who’s husband and daughter are currently working in Abu Dhabi….and we had a very enjoyable conversation.  Delta served us a great dinner…and the flight went quickly.

We landed in Amsterdam in the early morning and then taxied, and taxied, and taxied for probably 20 minutes….finally arriving at the gate. The Schipol Airport is modern, massive, and super busy….struck both of us as one of the larges airports we have seen. Makes sense in that it is kind of the gateway to Europe. We walked a bit then started towards the gate…had to go through a customs check, which was fast and pleasant…then on to the D61 gate…and then we saw the Aspire Lounge and went in there and relaxed for the hour time….very nice with snacks, etc.

We boarded the KLM flight to Budapest…full flight and arrived on time….busy buy easy airport and got the luggage and met the shuttle service man and off for the 30 minute ride to the Budapest Intercontinental Hotel. We checked in and the girl said we have to go to the Club level…..and we did and a very nice personal check in with the concierge….and the Club Intercontinental is the exclusive Club for the upgraded rooms. Very nice greeting, etc…..and we directed to our room on the 7th floor.

We slept for about 2 hours…then went to the lounge area for some food…and at 6:30 PM left for the St Stephens Basilica Organ Concert. We walked a few blocks and then started to see the Christmas market area with many shops along the pedestrian only street…..and then at the end of the 4 blocks was the lighted tower of St Stephens…..photos on all of this…and then as we walked towards the Basilica we saw and heard the beginning of the light show…got it all on video.

We went into the Church to check out the tickets etc…then went on in to the Sanctuary to admire this massive impressive Church…certainly a showplace for Budapest and a “must” to see for all that visit. We had some extra time so walked down the adjoining street as all of the stores are lit up nicely for Christmas. Very impressive…very safe feeling…very cold at 38 degrees….and a lot of families out walking to see the sights. Very nice.

The concert itself featured the organist, one of the finest in the country, along with a very fine flutist and a male bass-baritone. The concert was GREAT…and lasted about 90 minutes…but, and this is a big but….the organist surpassed any organist we have ever heard, and this is saying something. He was as fast on the keyboard as we had ever seen…and then his feet were moving non-stop. How we thought of William…..a thousand times….as this man was by far the best we had ever seen or heard…and he believed in big volumes. For me, it was one of the “chills run up your back” experiences…..just truly outstanding…and the full house crowd would not let him finish…so we stood in the back for the final number. Audy did get a program, but we are sure he is on YouTube. Clearly a once in a lifetime concert experience for us….

only downside…cold, cold, and cold inside. we sat with coats and gloves….but well worth it. Took our time back to the hotel….great 8 hours of sleep, and now off to breakfast in the Lounge and then the market and the Hop On Hop Off…suppose to rain this afternoon…maybe some snow. We shall see.  A GREAT DAY to begin our trip.