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All aboard the MOTHER SHIP; Travel; Sail the mighty Danube.

Byline: Karin Wright

I'M not a morning person, but I was up at dawn to see Budapest's magnificent Parliament Building glowing in the early morning light as we sailed out of the city.

Luckily I'd set my alarm, because the boat's engines didn't even rouse us as they started up for the first time to take us up the mighty Danube for seven incredible days.

I'd never been on a river cruise before, and Saga's Filia Rheni II was a brilliant introduction.

Now, I'm not (quite) old enough for a Saga cruise, but I was treating my mum Val for her er eleventyfirst birthday so I figured she'd fancy a holiday partying with her peers.

Poor Mum didn't get much time to chat on our first day - we had just one full day in Budapest before we set off, so there was no time to waste.

We joined the included walking tour which took us up to the Buda side of the city to explore the castle and Fisherman's Bastion, with its great views across to the Pest side.

Travel We were moored just a 15-minute walk from the Great Market Hall, a massive grocery and souvenir store. Looking at all the fresh produce on sale had made us hungry, so we headed down pedestrianised Vaci utca for some heavenly goulash soup.

We managed to clock up 15km wandering around the city's handsome tree-lined streets.

Highlights included the massive St Stephen's Basilica, the National Gallery, the Opera House, the fascinating Jewish Quarter and one of Budapest's famous thermal baths.

Sadly, we ran out of time in this fabulous city but the welcome dinner on board soon made up for it.

Hungarian chef Zoltan and his brilliant team put on a spectacular traditional feast for us.

The food throughout the week was outstanding, especially the fourcourse evening meals served by a very entertaining international crew.

Most of the 150 passengers were Brits, and we had great company at our table every night.

Our first stop was the former residence of the kings at Esztergom - with Hungary's biggest cathedral - and a visit to the pretty little artists' village of Szentendre.

One of my favourite cities on this itinerary was the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. It's small but perfectly formed with a gorgeous Old Town, lovely art nouveau buildings (find the Blue Church) - and a fantastic hot chocolate shop, Maximilian, on the main medieval square. Although it is possible to have three meals a day (plus afternoon tea!) on board Filia Rheni II, we tried the local food whenever we docked. In the street running up to St Michael's Tower, we enjoyed halusky (dumplings with sheep's cheese and bacon) and kapustnica (sauerkraut and sausage soup) with a pint of Zlaty Bazant.

The journey to Linz in Austria was our longest day "at sea" but we were kept entertained by housekeeping's w we brilliant "towel-folding" demo and watching the ship kee de negotiate some spectacularly huge locks. We arrived in Linz at 4pm - just in time for us to find the home of the famous Linzertorte at Cafe Traxlmayr, after a whizz around the town centre, taking in Mariendom's beautiful stained-glass windows.

And so on to Passau (we're in Germany now) which sits at the confluence of three rivers.

We docked here for a full day, right in the centre of the action, so we had plenty of time to explore this city of lovely pastel Bavarian buildings, and the stunning St Stephen's cathedral, which has the biggest organ in Europe - 17,774 pipes.

We also stopped at Melk Abbey - an impressive hilltop Benedictine complex. Learn about its history before ending up in the magnificent library, which leads to the spectacular cathedral. You have to like churches on this trip they get more and more ornate as you go.

Our last stop before turning back for Vienna was Durnstein - another firm favourite of mine not least of all because it's surrounded by vineyards in the gorgeous Wachau Valley. I tried a delicious local white - gruner veltliner - with a slice of apfelstrudel. Heaven.

I may not be (quite) old enough for a Saga cruise, but this trip gave me a very good idea of how I'm going to spend my retirement

FACTFILE: Saga's Vienna and the Blue Danube cruise from PS1,649 on April 11. Includes flights, transfers, three nights in Vienna, seven nights on ship, meals, drinks with meals, some excursions. See saga.co.uk or call 0800 300 400.

CAPTION(S):

BRAVURA BAVARIA: Lovely Passau

TOP DECK: Karin and Val

STUNNING: Budapest at dawn and, right, lunch in Bratislava
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXHU
Date:Feb 4, 2018
Words:766
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