River waltz­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

Palace with its el­e­gant baroque fa­cade and French clas­si­cal gar­den. The palace in­te­rior was re­fash­ioned by Maria Theresa, arch­duchess of Aus­tria, queen of Bo­hemia, Croa­tia and Hun­gary, in a lav­ish ro­coco style. But this palace has its darker side. It was here that Napoleon stayed when he in­vaded Aus­tria in 1802 and 1805, and where the last Aus­trian em­peror ab­di­cated in 1918.

The evening is a high point of the trip: a con­cert in the lush sur­round­ings of the Liecht­en­stein Mu­seum. Af­ter cham­pagne, we are en­ter­tained with mu­sic, opera and bal­let per­for­mances of the works of Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven. Even the most re­luc­tant con­cert-go­ers en­joy it and we leave de­ter­mined to re­turn to Vi­enna.

Next, in Bratislava, the cap­i­tal of Slo­vakia, I climb the me­dieval tower of St Michael’s Gate to get a view over the old town: the church where Hun­gar­ian royalty was crowned, the Fran­cis­can square and the Pri­mate’s Palace. But there are more re­cent ad­di­tions: stylish art nou­veau build­ings and bizarre com­mu­nist struc­tures from the Soviet era, in­clud­ing the New Bridge from the top of which you can see Hun­gary, Aus­tria and Slo­vakia.

Bu­dapest is our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion and we dock in the cen­tre of the city be­tween Buda on the hill and Pest on the vast plain op­po­site. Af­ter a morn­ing coach tour, I set off to dis­cover the city. Buda or Pest? It is dif­fi­cult to de­cide, but the coach guide has tempted me with sto­ries of ther­mal baths, so I plot a route that takes me along streets bustling with shops and restau­rants and through the old Jewish quar­ter to the Szechenyi Baths.

It is ini­tially dis­con­cert­ing to re­alise that this sumptuous build­ing with its col­umns and foun­tains is the equiv­a­lent of a pub­lic bath but, once I grasp spa pro­to­col, it is great fun. In one pool I get caught up in a fast-mov­ing jet stream, crash­ing into peo­ple of all ages and na­tion­al­i­ties. In an­other, I watch a group of men play chess, stand­ing waist-high in the ther­mal wa­ters.

I then rush back to the boat for my last sup­per, in this in­stance su­perb tra­di­tional Hun­gar­ian fare. At mid­night I leave the boat to view the city from the sus­pen­sion bridge. From here I can see the flood­lit par­lia­ment build­ings and the art nou­veau ho­tels (in which I am de­ter­mined to stay next time).

I can hear gypsy bands on the boats trav­el­ling down the Danube and I see the Scenic Emer­ald, nes­tled be­low the Royal Palace on the hill. Eithne Nightin­gale was a guest of Scenic Tours.

Check­list

Scenic Tours of­fers a range of Euro­pean river­boat cruises on its new so-called ‘‘ space ships’’, which claim to of­fer 20 per cent more room in pub­lic ar­eas and state­rooms than most Euro­pean river cruise boats. More: 1300 136 001; www.scenic­tours.com.au.

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