Departing Budapest to our next port, the truly beguiling Slovakian capital of Bratislava may only be a mere 200 kilometres up the imposing Danube, but by ship that still equates to a good 16-hour slog against the tide.
And, it must be said, if you’re travelling 16-hours anywhere, a luxury cruise ship lauds it over the plane/car/train option any day.
U by Uniworld’s A river cruiser departs Budapest bang on sunset, providing spectacular views of the city’s castles and monuments on Buda’s right and Pest’s left all accompanied to some cool techno grooves courtesy of A’s onboard DJ.
Dinner aboard the A is buffet-style with an option for every palate (the pescatarians at my table particularly glowing in their reviews). I’m no sweet tooth but was reliably informed the all-you-can-imbibe dessert selection was glutinously good, too.
With full bellies and aching muscles from climbing Budapest’s treasures during the day, the 16-hour journey to Bratislava is made unequivocally more fine snoring away in your cabin on the A’s super-soft beds, feathery doonas and corpulent pillows.
And, rest assured, sleeping’s a breeze aboard a river cruise ship. There’s barely a sense of you moving, save an odd engine rumble or slapping wave.
The A arrives in Bratislava early the next morning but not before an 8 am yoga session on the top deck courtesy of some way-too-handsome Solvakian instructor that has the ladies swooning and my chronic lower back pain swooning, too.
Disembarking at the truly sensational Bratislava, you can either take on the easily navigable city by yourself and a trusty guidebook, the (complimentary) guiding hand of one of A’s knowledgeable staff or, as many ship goers did, a paid local guide that includes transport, lunch and apparent hilarious take on the city’s less than hilarious communist past.
And if you’ve never seen Bratislava then immediately add it to the travel bucket-list. A wonderful Renaissance city full of history, sensational architecture, its landmark castle, bonkers history and, now, a modern makeover that’s brought a funky restaurant/cafe/bar scene with it.
Bratislava’s not only easily done on foot (save the hike up the hill to the castle), you can pretty much do the ancient part of the city in half a day and then tackle the city’s cool little outdoor restaurant scene for lunch (a monster chicken salad and half-litre of the local Urpiner beer costing this reviewer the grand sum of five Euro, or about eight Aussie).
But Vienna awaits and we’re soon back on board chugging towards the Austrian capital to dock in the late evening. A definite highlight along the way was experiencing one of the Danube’s locks as you (that being the ship) miraculously rises some 15 metres in the space of about 10 minutes.
And proof that the A indeed likes to party, post-dinner we’re given a crash course on Vienna’s train system and soon off to experience its very lively river and canal bar scene. A half-litre of the local brew will set you back about eight AUD and, on our return to the A post-1am, it’ll also ensure (as it did this reviewer) a remarkably sound sleep, too.