Here’s a little unsolicited advice: Keep your passport current. You never know when you might need it.
Chris and I had been planning to take our little trailer, the June Bug, on a trip along the Oregon Coast in September. But then we stumbled upon a last-minute screaming deal on a Danube river cruise. And, unlike the screaming deals I’d seen in the past, this one offered a free cabin upgrade and some prime sailing dates – including late-September. We’d been wanting to try a river cruise, and this was our chance! So we jumped on it.
It was an eight-day cruise, and I started thinking about how silly it was for us to travel all the way to Europe for only eight days. No, we needed to add things to this trip to make it worthwhile.
So we did. And we came up with a crazy little itinerary that made sense only to us. But since we visited a few out-of-the-way places along with some more popular stops, I thought I’d share the highlights.
This post is only for fun. It doesn’t delve into the mechanics of how we did or found certain things, or how we kept the trip affordable. I’ll be sharing a lot of those details later in a “Travel Tips” post.
So for now let’s get to the fun stuff!
We would be flying into Frankfurt, Germany and arriving mid-afternoon. Since we’d probably already be tired when we arrived, I wanted us to spend our first night somewhere charming and fun – but close to Frankfurt.
Well, the little village of Bacharach, on the Rhine River, is only about an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt. And we could catch the train right there at the airport. Once we figured out the slightly confusing ticket vending machine, we were on our way!
That short train ride transported us to a whole different world.
When we arrived in Bacharach, it was late afternoon. We were determined to stay up until at least 9 p.m. to adjust to our new time zone.
We dumped our luggage off at the B&B, which was located on a hill above the town center. Our host recommended a little-known hike that started across the street from the B&B. It wound through the vineyard hills and ended up in town.
Who could resist that?
Bacharach’s history of wine trading goes back hundreds of years. And the vineyards themselves seemed very old, with ancient-looking stone steps that lead workers to the terraced vines.
Several ancient towers dotted the hillside. The hike went right through some of the towers.
The sun was getting low in the sky by now, and we reached town just before dark to enjoy a late al fresco dinner. Not bad for our first part-day in Europe.
The next day, we rented bikes from our innkeeper and rode along the Rhine River. I had been dreaming about doing this since we first decided we were going to Bacharach!
As we rode, we saw castles on the hills along the Rhine. We stopped at the one our innkeeper had recommended: Rheinstein Castle.
Rheinstein Castle was built in the 1300s.
Later, Prince Frederick of Prussia owned the castle, and it was renovated.
But now the castle is open to commoners. And for us, it was definitely worth the stop.
We headed to Strasbourg next because Chris had been wanting to visit that city for some time. Strasbourg is located just across the border between France and Germany.
And that border has shifted several times in the past. So the city feels as much German as it is French.
The outskirts of the city were unexceptional but, once we got into the old town center, we found a college town with both old-world charm and a youthful energy.
Strasbourg has a huge Notre Dame cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg). Construction began in the 11th century and continued for several centuries after that.
Actually the photo above doesn’t really show how massive the cathedral is. Check out the photo below to see how huge just one entryway is!
One thing I hadn’t realized about Strasbourg is how much water there is. Several forks of a river with the funny name of Ill (yes ILL) run through the town center.
We took a sightseeing boat cruise – a great way to get acquainted with the highlights so we could come back to them later on foot.
Strasbourg is a very user-friendly, walkable town. There were an incredible number of charming restaurants and cafes, and several museums, within walking distance of our hotel.
We try not to eat too many sweets, but on day two of our visit we caved in and tried a local pastry at a charming patisserie. Plums were in season, and this pastry, some sort of plum torte, did not disappoint.
So we’d started in a small village (Bacharach), moved on to a medium-sized city (Strasbourg), and now we were headed to a big city – Budapest!
To me, Budapest was a study in contradictions: It was gritty yet glamorous. Stunningly ornate architecture sat side-by-side with stark Communist-era buildings.
Even the name Budapest is, in a way, a contradiction. The city that is now Budapest was once actually two cities: One called Buda and one called Pest. Buda was on the west side of the Danube, and Pest was on the east side.
And the two sides of the city are as different as night and day. The “Buda side” is clean, quiet, classy, and set on hills. This is where Castle Hill is located.
The “Pest side” is bustling, flat, noisy, and, in places, decaying. But the urban decay is embraced. Pest is home to the “Ruin Pub.”
Sooty, quirky ruin pubs are popular nightlife attractions in Budapest.
But I also enjoyed visiting Budapest’s rooftop bars. There was a wonderful rooftop bar just around the corner from our hotel.
From there, the city was all around us. And at night, it’s gorgeous.
Budapest takes advantage of the thermal springs it sits on. Soaking in a thermal bath in Budapest is a highly popular passtime. We spent a relaxing afternoon getting massages and “taking the waters” at the beautiful Gellert Bath and Spa.
But it’s not all fun and games in Budapest. The city is steeped in a rich and sometimes sad history. A small memorial museum on the grounds of the Hungarian Parliament Building help us remember the unsuccessful 1956 Hungarian uprising.
And Heroes Square pays tribute to the important figures that shaped Hungary for over a thousand years – including the seven Magyar chieftans who, with their armies, conquered the area in the ninth century.
They are widely considered to be the ancestors of today’s Hungarians.
At this point, Chris and I had been on our own in Europe for over a week. But that was about to change, because it was time to start our river cruise right there in Budapest.
To read about what happens next, check out Our European Adventure Part 2.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Disclosure: Affiliate links appear below.
Rick Steves’s article about Strasbourg, which appeared in our local newspaper, is what caught Chris’s interest and ultimately took us there.
Had it not been for my Rick Steves Germany guide book, I probably would never have learned about Bacharach.
And we would have been lost trying to navigate the confusing world of Budapest’s thermal baths without our Rick Steves Budapest guide book.
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