It all started out with a friendly frisk from the TSA at O'Hare International Airport. While I knew my titanium knee would set the screening machine off, that wasn't what they were looking for. Once the older TSA frisked me, realizing that the bulgy area in my upper arm was not a terrorist substance, merely a bulgy upper arm, she smiled knowingly and sent me on my way to enjoy our very first riverboat cruise down the Danube River.
Like everyone else who watches PBS, the commercials for Viking Cruises had grabbed my attention. And when my husband suggested we do this to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, I had our passports out and was headed to our favorite travel agency, Pack Your Bags in Hegewisch, before he could reconsider.
There are about a half dozen companies that do these cruises, and we went with Avalon Cruises to get the itinerary we wanted. When you're going down the Danube, there are just so many places a riverboat can stop.
Trying to explain what we were about to do, it was just easier to say we were going on a Viking cruise since people understood what that meant. . . or so I thought. When I told that to someone on the phone, he said, "Oh, you're going biking through Europe." I told him, "Well, it's obvious you haven't met me yet. That's Viking with a 'V'."
The trip began in Budapest, Hungary, where we had dinner at a tiny Hungarian restaurant and were serenaded by an incredible violinist while we sat in a booth that came complete with a huge fuzzy sheepskin as part of the décor. We couldn't help but stop to take a photo of their local Burger King, as this is where our daughter Jonna had her purse stolen more than 15 years ago when she was there studying the Hapsburg empire.
When I sent her the crime scene photo, she replied "Ah, and look. That woman in the picture has my camera, my passport and is carrying my purse." I love overseas sarcasm.
There are so many wonderful squares and fountains all over Budapest with magnificent statues on buildings that were not destroyed by WWII. After having been under communist rule for so many years, when they achieved their freedom in 1989, they did not destroy the many statues from the Russian regime as so many other countries did after the fall of communism.
The Hungarians have a wonderful sense of irony. Instead, they put them all together in one park on the outskirts of town. This way, those who lived under the regime will never forget; those who did not will have a reminder of those days of terror.
There is still a statue of a communist soldier downtown that Budapest agreed to leave standing. Near it is a beautiful Hungarian statue. At night, the only one lit is the Hungarian statue.
"We agreed to keep it, not to light it up," laughed our Hungarian guide.
More tales from the Vienna woods later.