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Trip Report Europe on our own after Avalon Imagery riverboat damaged in lock

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I am posting this on both the Germany and the Austria forums because both were very helpful to us in our last minute planning.

We(age 53) booked our first river cruise in February for September 26, Budapest to Amsterdam, 14 nights, Avalon Imagery ("Magnificent Europe" itinerary)
to celebrate our 30th anniversary. It was the most expensive trip we have ever purchased and greatly anticipated.

The morning of the day we were leaving for the airport we were advised the boat had been damaged in a lock and our cruise was cancelled. Many alternatives were offered by Avalon but we did not want to just settle for a completely different itinerary or wait until next May to travel. So, we decided to use our nonrefundable airfare (into Budapest and out of Amsterdam) and just go for it on our own. It turned out to be the best trip of our lives!

The amazing thing is that now that we are home and relishing our wonderful memories and pouring over hundreds of great pictures, we both agree there is NOTHING we would change about the trip, the cities we chose, or the hotels we stayed in! We truly loved it all!

My only regret is that I only had one hour to re-pack and had to rush out and buy a smaller suitcase for the train travel. Wish I had gotten an even smaller one and taken half the amount of clothes.

Hotels:
Where possible we decided to spend 3 nights in each city.
Laptop and Internet access at our hotels and fantastic travel forum communities made this trip a success and possible to book at the last minute.
Used Trip Advisor for hotel reviews and hotel availability and ended up using Booking.com for good rates at several hotels.
When that showed sold-out also booked directly on hotel website.
We selected very nice hotels in good central locations. All of them were very very comfortable with excellent beds and bathrooms and many included wonderful huge breakfast buffets.

Trains:
Bought Eurailpass, first class, 4 country (Hungary, Austria, Germany, Netherlands), 10 days in 2 month period, $582 per person.
Fortunately I have a travel agent friend who works for an agency that was able to issue this on the spot with a rush fee.
Trains were fantastic and so easy to just flash the pass.
One very important tip I got from the Fodor's forum was to use the DB Bahn rail website: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en
rather than using RailEurope for schedules.

Air:
British Airways: SFO change LHR to Budapest, return Amsterdam change LHR to SFO
Very happy with their service. On time, luggage arrived, free drinks, good food, excellent movie selection, Terminal 5 in LHR is very nice.
Paid $30 per person at time of booking to reserve seats 51B/C on transatlantic flights, 2 seaters in rear of plane, well worth it.

Our itinerary (inspired by Avalon Imagery "Magnificent Europe"):

BUDAPEST - 2 nights

Surprised to find the Budapest airport so clean, modern, easy.
Took the ASM airport shuttle directly to hotel, HUF4490 for 2 pax, approx USD20.00
Easily found outside baggage claim, they take credit cards, no advance reservations needed

Hotel: Intercontinental
Pest riverside near Chain bridge.
Danube river view room, 6th floor. We arrived at the hotel about 8pm and to see that spectacular view from our room was one of the highlights of the whole trip!!! Minutes after our arrival, Hungarian champagne was delivered to our room for our 30th anniversary. Fabulous location, spotless and very comfortable room, and excellent hotel staff. Hopefully we will return to Budapest again and will definitely stay at the InterContinental.

Dinner: Cafe Kor
Because our flight was due to arrive late evening on a Friday night I faxed our hotel(InterContinental) ahead of time to make dinner reservations for us at Cafe Kor. It was easy walking distance from the Intercontinental and enroute to the restaurant we were awed by the gorgeous St Stephen's Basilica all lit up with a full moon. Our flight had been delayed and we were late getting to Cafe Kor but they had held our table and we had one of the most delicious dinners of our entire 16 night trip! My veal, mash potatoes, and asparagus were especially delicious. With beer and a bottle of wine it was only about $51. Staff was very friendly and helpful. We don't like super fancy places - this was perfect for us. Lively crowd and good food. Very happy with our choice.
After dinner we enjoyed a beer at an outdoor cafe overlooking St Stephen's. It was a fun and lively area.

Spent our one full free day wandering the Buda side, Palace and Castle district. - really good feeling about Budapest.
Enjoyed watching the Budapest marathon Sunday morning from an outdoor cafe (even though it was raining)

Very nice 3 hour train ride Budapest to Vienna

VIENNA - 3 nights

Hotel: Altstadt Hotel in the 7th district, Spittelberg area.
They upgraded us to a junior suite, room #15 for our anniversary
We liked the hotel so much we extended our original 2 night stay to 3 nights.
The staff, at the front desk, in the breakfast room, maids, were so friendly and helpful. Probably the best hotel staff we have ever encountered during our travels! Outstanding breakfast included in room rate, including incredible spread of cereals, breads, cheeses, meats, juices. Once seated at your table you are offered eggs prepared however you wish and pots of coffee or tea. The coffee was delicious! As far as location, we purposely chose this "Spittelberg" area. It is about a 20 minute walk to the main center of sites in Vienna. We ended up having dinner every night in the Spittelberg area close to our hotel. We enjoyed the area very much.

First free day we spent wandering the central area of Vienna. After lunch took the metro to Schonbrunn Palace with free entrance to the gardens.

Second free day: Vienna Sightseeing tour #5, full day Wachau Danube Valley and Melk Abbey via bus and boat. The brochure mentioned Durnstein which we were hoping to see but it was just a drive-by. We did enjoy the one hour boat ride out of Spitz to Melk Abbey. This is a beautiful area and if we had more time would love to stay 2 nights, maybe in Durnstein.

2-1/2 hour train Vienna to Salzburg

SALZBURG - 3nights

Hotel: Bristol
We booked (based on Trip Advisor recommendations) a double standard room through Booking.com (630euro approx $839 for 3 nights, $279 per night) and the hotel upgraded us to a very nice "Imperial" superior double room (#367) overlooking the Mozart Residence. The room and bathroom were very lovely. We really liked the location next to Mirabell Gardens and opposite Mozart's Residence. The breakfast buffet in the gorgeous chandeliered dining room was excellent and staff very friendly and attentive.

First free day: wandered old town, chocolate cake and cappuccinos at Demel, fun lunch at Stadt Alm overlooking the whole city, got wonderfully lost strolling in the Mönchsberg.

Second free day: Salzkammergut lake region
Took local bus #150 along route #158, 45 minute ride to St Gilgen (22 euro rt for 2 pax). Strolled through town toward water and stumbled upon Wolfgansee ferry, 26 euro rt for 2 to St. Wolfgang. Very beautiful. Wonderful day.

Dinner: Alter Fuchs - very fun and delicious!

Train from Salzburg, Austria to Bamberg, Germany (change of trains in Munich during Octoberfest- very festive)

BAMBERG - 3 nights

Hotel: Best Western Hotel Bamberg
We booked this hotel based on Trip Advisor recommendations.
We planned to take two day trips via train from Bamberg: one to Wurzburg and one to Nuremburg so we liked the fact that the hotel was located equidistant between train station and old town. High tech, very comfortable, very clean room with wonderful full breakfast. Very friendly staff.
We felt fortunate to get a room for 3 nights. When I first checked availability through Trip Advisor all of the booking sites were sold-out. I then checked directly on the Best Western website and did get a room. Phew!
After visiting both Wurzburg and Nuremburg, we were so happy we had decided to spend the 3 nights in Bamberg.

Train from Bamberg to Cochem on the Mosel

COCHEM - 3 nights

Hotel: Hotel Karl Muller
We booked this hotel based on Trip Advisor recommendations and through Booking.com.
Very well located with a comfortable room overlooking beautiful Mosel river.
We loved the town of Cochem and were so happy we used it as a base for day trips.

First free day: A great day on the Rhine
Easy train connections from our home base of beautiful
Cochem on the Mosel (departed at 9:58am) to St Goar (via Koblenz). Strolled around there for about an hour and easily hopped on the large
and lovely KD Line "Goethe" liner (flashing our Eurailpass).
Cruised 70 minutes to Bacharach. Spectacular scenery
and castles. Disembarked in Bacharach to enjoy the town and
have lunch. Train back to Cochem arriving by 5pm.

Second free day: had a fantastic adventure to Burg Eltz - the castle that Rick Steves'
claims to be the best in Europe!!!
We took the train from Cochem to Moselkern (dept 10:25am arr 10:41am)
Followed the signs through the cute village town to Burg Eltz.
It took us exactly one hour to walk from train station to the castle - guidebooks say the walk is 90 minutes.
It was a beautiful walk through a forest along the stream and then the
castle suddenly comes into view. Unfortunately there was scaffolding and a huge crane as they are trying to keep this gorgeous castle (first built in 1157) from crumbling. Great guided tour. On the walk back down to town, we stopped at Landhotel Ringelsteiner Muhle for a wonderful lunch and beer. Back in Cochem by 4:30pm. A very memorable day!

Train from Cochem to Amsterdam - change in Cologne (Koln) - had one hour layover so decided to see if we could see the cathedral. It looms large and magnificent right outside the train station! It took our breath away. We each ran over to see it while one stayed with luggage inside the train station.

AMSTERDAM - 2 nights

Hotel: Radisson Blu Hotel
We had an easy walk from train station, through China town to hotel
Our room and bathroom were very well laid out and comfortable.

One free day: Canal Bus "Hop On Hop Off" boat - bought the combo ticket that included Rijksmuseum
33.50euros pp. We stayed on for one full loop plus half of the second one that took us to Rijksmuseum. Not sure that the"on/off" option would work well during the summer when boats are full and not that frequent. Happy to have our museum ticket as we went to the head of the line.

Dinners: We ended up having Thai food for both our dinners in the nearby China Town area and it was quite good and actually a welcome change after all of the bratwurst and schnitzel in Germany and Austria!

Transportation to the airport: We left the hotel at 5am and walked to the train station to catch the train directly to Schiphol airport - train takes only about 20 minutes and our railpass worked for this. Very easy!

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