… and don’t forget your pacemakers!
This friendly reminder from Gill, our cruise manager, caused slight consternation among a few passengers, especially those with real pacemakers! It also revealed those who had not paid full attention to Gill’s welcome speech. We were about to disembark from our luxurious cruise ship, the MS Serenade 2, for the first of the 11 city tours we would enjoy during our 14-day Shearings’ cruise ‘The Spectacular Danube to the Black Sea’. The ‘pacemakers’ are actually the Quietvox listening devices provided in every cabin. These enable passengers to hear the tour guide’s commentary from a considerable distance (even, as I can confirm, when you’ve popped into a shop or toilets).
The first city on our itinerary was Vienna – home to Mozart and the magnificent Lipizzaner horses. Our luxury coach tour of the city passed by many buildings of interest including the State Opera House, Johann Strauss House and the Hapsburg Imperial Palace. Our walking tour included glimpses of the wonderful white horses and allowed us 25 minutes free time in the city centre. As we were sailing for Hungary later that day we were unable to take advantage of the evening excursions advertised in the Shearings’ Shore Excursions booklet that included a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city and a Mozart and Strauss concert.
Back on board a sumptuous 6-course Gala dinner awaited us. We had opted for the ‘All-inclusive’ drinks package and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the house wines included in the deal. There was no allocated seating in the dining room. Gill preferred to allow friendship groups to form and then have the option of reserving tables in groups of 8 and 4 for the rest of the trip.
After coffee, I consulted my home-made spreadsheet to see what adventure awaited us the following day. With such a busy itinerary covering 7 different countries, 5 different currencies, 6 included tours and 8 optional tours, I needed to set this information out in an easily assimilated format. However, you quickly learn that on river cruises there are five key elements that are completely beyond anyone’s control: weather, river depth, current, locks and border controls. Any or indeed all of these can conspire to wreck the proposed schedule leaving you with no choice but to go with the flow.
Thus, when we arrived at the Hungarian town of Kalocsa quite late on the following afternoon, thanks to the ship’s unexpectedly slow progress, we were somewhat disappointed to find it mostly shut. I had been looking forward to visiting the Paprika Museum. Most of my fellow passengers settled down in bars and ice-cream parlors while I ventured off in search of photo opportunities.
I discovered the delightful Viski Karoly museum. They were clearly about to close and wouldn’t take my entry fee in euros. As I had no forints, they kindly allowed me in for free so long as I took no photos. (Photography incurred an additional fee.) I thought we had misunderstood each other when the young assistant then approached me holding out two felt objects that looked like donation bags. To my amusement and surprise, these turned out to be slippers to wrap around my feet with string. Treading carefully, I climbed a flight of stairs where a room was ceremoniously unlocked to reveal a stunning display of Hungarian history, ancient guns, solid wood furniture and brightly coloured hand-embroidered clothing. A further room contained row after row of glistening minerals and rocks.
Back on board, we set sail for Serbia. This entailed leaving the European Union and our experiences at the border provided a possible portent of things to come post-Brexit. After a filling dinner and a few drinks we were all ready for bed. Unfortunately, the customs officers had different ideas. Moored up at Mohacs the ship’s crew prepared all of our passports for examination and stamping. Not unreasonably, bearing in mind this is a border crossing, the customs officials and border police normally expect to board the ship check each person’s face against his or her passport. By 11.30pm we were tired and ready for bed but our charming hotel manager, Hans, warned us that we faced the indignity of being hauled to of bed to present ourselves. Making a fuss would likely result in further delays, as he had experienced on a previous cruise when an angry passenger nearly got himself arrested. Fortunately, the excellent record keeping by the ship’s reception staff and their calm, professional manner, along with their excellent hospitality (they offered the officials drinks and sandwiches) enabled us all to get to bed by midnight.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.