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Most people fly into Budapest, Hungary to begin their Viking Grand European river cruise. Not me. I arrived the slow way…by train.
One transatlantic crossing, four hotels, four countries and nine trains. That’s how I began this three-river cruise voyage. I finally arrived at this stunning yet austere city on the Danube.
Viking Lif Grand European river cruise began in Budapest
Even though this was my fourth visit to Budapest, I had always arrived there on a river cruise, never by train. The reservation agent at RailEurope advised me to arrive into Keleti station. Good advice.
Little did I know that this train station was once one of Europe’s most beautiful structures. It’s been carefully restored and reflects much of its original grandeur of 1884.
Since I had never arrived into Keleti, I asked Viking River to arrange for a driver to meet me at the station. Yes, I’d have to pay for it, but traveling alone and in a new city, this was my comfort zone.
I didn’t even have to walk to the end of the long platform when I saw the driver holding a small piece of white paper with my name on it. In five minutes, we were in the taxi, en route to the Viking Lif.
Weary but excited, I looked forward to the Viking Lif “Longship.” It would be nice to unpack for a fortnight. In two days, we’d begin our Grand European river cruise and travel nearly 3,000 miles on the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers.
After all that travel, pack and unpack, I was definitely ready for two lazy weeks on this Viking River cruise.
With a 4:30pm arrival in mid-October, dusk arrived in Budapest just shortly after I did. By 5pm, I was in my stateroom and began to settle in.
I immediately inspected the bathroom and was very happy to find an assortment of L’Occitane toiletries, a spacious shower and plenty of countertop space.
A quick peek outside to watch the sunset over the Buda side of the city.
Then back inside for our first passenger get-together. It was time for the welcome aboard briefing that quickly covered the entire Grand European river cruise itinerary. Promptly at 7:00PM, we were dismissed. It was time for dinner.
Dinner was fun…sort of like the first day at overnight camp. “Where are you from?” “What cabin are you in?” “You’re traveling solo???” The usual suspect questions. But it’s good to get to know with whom you’ll spend the next two weeks.
After dinner, I had to step off the ship and do a little walking. Docked at the Chain Bridge in the heart of Budapest, a walk across the bridge was a must. There were plenty of people out for a late-night stroll; locals walking arm in arm and older couples with arms entwined. I even spotted a few folks from Viking Lif.
Like everyone else, we were all pretty exhausted from our long travel day. And the morning would bring my first Viking River city tour: a trip to the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue.
Solo Traveler Tip:
Traveling solo on a river cruise, dinnertime can be awkward as there are usually mostly couples and the tables are for even numbers. I’ve learned over the years to arrive early and stake out a table. Then it’s up to whomever wants to join me to sit there. It’s a lot better than my wandering around looking for one empty seat and then asking people if they mind if I join them.
WHAT TO DO IN BUDAPEST ON YOUR OWN: Top 10 places to visit in Budapest, especially if you have a pre- or post-Danube river cruise stay.