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EAT, PRAY, LOVE ON BOARD THE AVALON ENVISION
 
(2019 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: ILONA KAUREMSZKY



Beneath the Buda Hills of Budapest awesome moments happen when you least expect it.

Tucked away from the famous banks of the Danube River some cruise guests on board Avalon Waterways’ newest suite ship are peering at cave rock formations that appear more like flowers, witches and perhaps even Niagara Falls.

“See there’s Niagara Falls,” laughs Attila our Hungarian guide whose quirky humour has intrigued one of our group members who happens to be Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love and the godmother of Avalon’s newest river ship, the Avalon Envision.

As our local guide narrates stories in one of the three cave systems we are visiting on this shore excursion, the experience turns from awesome to beyond amazing. First, Budapest sits atop an underworld of more than 200 caves that burrow deep beneath the Buda side. Who knew? And there I am edging past tight crevices, giant corridors, ascending steel staircases, and standing by ancient shell fossils with Liz and her mom, Carole, and sweetheart, Simon.

Throughout this subterranean world bouts of silence could deafen until an angelic voice erupts into Leonard Cohen’s classic, Hallelujah. And there’s Liz swaying to the melody, eyes shut, and adding her own earthly layer of vocals. Other voices soon fill this rocky chapel of sound in a beat of love.

A CHRISTENING

As I sail on board the Avalon Envision on a thrilling three-day Danube River cruise, I realize there are delightful moments to be experienced on a river-cruise christening ceremony.

It’s spring and Budapest is abloom in seasonal colours. Ranked as the No. 1 European destination in 2019 by Brussels-based European Best Destinations, the central European capital, which beat out Paris, Berlin and London, buzzes with activity. I observe spa lovers relaxing at one of many thermal hot springs like the Gellért Thermal Baths decorated in mosaic Zsolnay porcelain tiles. I watch museum goers enter the newly restored Museum of Fine Arts and foodies tour the Great Market Hall in Pest. Then there are the sightseers checking out the popular city districts while we cruisers anticipate the big moment. 

In the distance, the Buda Hills and the regal Buda Castle with the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion evoke a fairy tale setting overlooking the romantic Danube River. Together, they create a memorable backdrop to an inspiring river ship debut. “We come from the water, we are made of the water, we are drawn to the water. Our lives are rivers meant to be explored and enjoyed,” Liz relays at the blessing. Before the bottle of Hungary’s finest Törley sparkling wine smashes over the bow she announces, “Onward! I christen thee the Avalon Envision.”

ON THE DANUBE

Over three days there are ample delightful opportunities. For Liz, the cruise engaged her Eat Pray Love instinct in new ways. The eating segment began on her first night in a Budapest café where she enjoyed goulash, dumplings and beer with her mother. “I don’t think it has to be any fancier than that,” she offers but points out the culinary offerings on board are packed with intense variety. One night I dine on roasted duck breast (sült kacsamell) and herb-crusted veal tenderloin. There are other meal options in the ship’s Avalon fresh program, which is included in the à-la-carte dining menu.

For love, it meant introducing her new sweetheart, Simon, to her parents for the first time, “bringing these people together whom I care about and giving them this beautiful environment in which to get acquainted.” For pray, she notes, before our interview, she had meditated for 45 minutes with her balcony window open—a unique river ship design and an industry first. 

ENVISION EXPERIENCES

For onshore excursions, Avalon Waterways offers a new Avalon Choice program to satisfy three sightseeing styles: Discovery for hands-on learning, Active for high-impact fun and Classic with expert guides.

To channel a Liz Gilbert vibe on board the Avalon Envision, some of us sign up for active excursions as Liz did. We can head to the Buda Hills for eye-opening cave tours or paddle in one of the canoes provided by the cruise company on a quiet nature-rich stretch of the Danube with family and loved ones.

One morning with the Hungarian Parliament only metres from our docked river ship, I am off to explore the picture-perfect building on a Classic tour. Avalon guests are led by local tour guides and receive VIP treatment. Before heading into the Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival landmark, we stroll past historic landmarks like St. Stephen’s Basilica and take time at the Szamos Café to sample the Hungarian sparkling wine, Kreinbacher Brut Classic with its light grapefruit notes. It’s no surprise this bubbly won a gold medal at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. Yum!

We shuffle into the North Wing avoiding the queues which translates to more free ship time later. We see the Golden Staircase, the Congress Hall, and the Dome Hall that is home to the Holy Crown of King Saint Stephen, considered Hungary’s founder. Two rotating guards carrying a sword stand at attention protecting the nation’s most important national icon. Our tour guide rhymes off a list of building statistics and facts from the 40 kilos of gold to the Domed Hall’s 96-metre height, a number that symbolizes the country’s founding. In 1896, Hungary celebrated its millennial anniversary of 896 with monumental grand urban designs that included the inauguration of the parliament building.

Back in my Panorama Suite, it’s easy to dream big. For eat, pray, love moments, you could linger inside your spacious wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windowed quarters, sipping a cappuccino, watching the world go by as you bury your toes beneath your Egyptian super-combed cotton bed sheets and European-style duvet. 

Perhaps it’s time you indulge in some eat, pray, love moments on the Danube aboard the Avalon Envision.

Travel Planner

Located just steps from your ship, the five-star Four Seasons Gresham Palace exudes timeless elegance with fine dining, luxurious accommodation, and a spa that features exclusive signature treatments. Or soak in the views and experience the bustling capital at the 364-room Budapest Marriott. Another wonderful option is the Hotel Kempinski Corvinus Budapest, a luxury property nestled in the heart of Budapest and highly rated for its impeccable service and extraordinary experiences.

Invest in a Budapest card available online or at the airport. Cards range from 24 to 120 hours for free entry to Budapest’s top attractions plus other discounts including free public transit. (budapestcards.com)

For information on Avalon Waterways’ ships and itineraries and on Hungary, visit:

Avalon Waterways: avalonwaterways.com

WOW Hungary: WowHungary.com

 
 
 
 
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