Spellbound & Riding High On An Insight Europe Tour

15 February 2015

There’s a tap on my shoulder and as I turn a woman in traditional Hungarian dress beckons me to follow.

“Come,” she says and I do. After all it’s only mid-afternoon and I am in Budapest’s busy three-storey Central Market Hall that is “perfumed” with the smell of paprika, the mainstay of traditional Hungarian dishes.

I catch up with her, passing stalls of dried red peppers stacked high, colourful embroidered shawls and blouses and quaint wooden ornaments.

My new friend then rushes on to a makeshift stage for a display of traditional Hungarian dancing, beaming at me as the music gets louder and the dancing more enthusiastic.

At the end she presents me with a small bag of dried paprika for a keepsake and waves farewell.

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Dinner Cruise On The Danube

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The sprawling market hall dates back to 1897 and is a great place to spend a few hours soaking up the vibrant atmosphere as well as savouring local dishes, tasting Hungarian salamis that come in all shapes and sizes and sipping sweet Tokaji wine.

 Crusing down the Danube alongside the Houses of Parliament (Getty)

One thing I have discovered is it doesn’t take long to fall under the spell of Budapest, the union of two cities Buda and Pest that twinkles under fairy lights at night.

The best way to experience the city in all its glory is a dinner cruise on the Danube that takes in many riverside sights and introduces you to paprika-laden Hungarian cuisine.

Budapest’s Houses of Parliament, the Heroes' Square, the panoramic views of Gellert Hill and Matthias Church in the medieval castle district, are just some of the outstanding attractions of this city.

It is also the land of strudel and we drop into where you can learn everything you have ever wanted to know about strudel at the First Strudel House of Pest, in the heart of the city.

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Your Turn To Make Strudel

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The unique restaurant is dedicated to preserving the art and tradition of strudel making and the resident strudel maker creates perfect paper-thin pastry stretching the dough until it is just right.

“Now your turn,”says the handsome strudel-maker who makes it look so easy.

Sadly, my efforts reveal gaping holes and finally splits in half, but the good news is we get to taste the professional offerings with not a hole in sight.

 Pastry and cake are delicacies wherever you go

Dinner is in the elegant surrounds of the elegant Gundel Restaurant where royalty and stars have enjoyed a taste of Budapest's finest fare and their signature dessert, the Gundel palacsinta, a delicious pancake.

It’s just one of the many highlights on an Insight Vacations Bohemian Rhapsody tour that features the vibrant cities of Vienna, Prague and Budapest and a look at the countryside.

Travel is by a luxury air-conditioned coach with comfortable business class seats and plenty of leg room. There’s Wi-Fi for checking email, a charging station for your phone and a loo.

Each day we move one seat back so all is fair when it comes to views and I am impressed by the level of comfort and so much space.


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Our dedicated tour director or “travelling concierge” is excellent providing entertaining information including inside knowledge that guide books don't tell you.

Not knowing what to expect on a coach tour, I am now a fan – it is such a great way to travel - you just sit back and watch the world unfold.

You don't have to think about a thing, and everything is organised to ensure you get the maximum enjoyment from your holiday.

 The sign says it all

I also liked the free time embedded into the itinerary and extras such as Insight Vacations' Signature Experiences that provide a unique look into the history and culture of each destination and a chance to try things like the strudel making.

The Signature Dining evenings provide excellent venues for dinner with the group and Dine-Around Evenings offer guests a choice of authentic local restaurants where you can enjoy the best food a destination is known for. There is always an à la carte choice of menu and a glass or two of wine included.

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Where People Love Their Beer

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Accommodation is in unique hotels in great locations such as the Palace Hotel in Prague that dates back to the early 20th century where A-listers such as Mick Jagger have stayed.

It seems Prague residents love their beer and we head to the well-known Strahov Monastic micro-brewery where we learn the secrets of traditional brewing and enjoy a taste or two.

For dinner it’s the underground Peklo restaurant, which translates as "hell" because it is located in an ancient stone and brick-vaulted wine cellar beneath the monastery.

 The folk do love their beer

We also explore the 1000-year-old Prague Castle and its picturesque grounds, enjoy a private tour of St Vitus Cathedral with its stunning stained glass windows and join the crowds to watch the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

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Crystal Shop Filled With Treasure

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Prague is also known for its famous Bohemian crystal and our tour director takes us to the chic Karlova crystal shop filled with treasures, elaborate chandeliers and stunning glass creations. A skilled glass blower shows his techniques and some try their hand at it - again all part of the Signature Experiences.

A tour of Prague's old Jewish quarters that date back to the 13th century is fascinating, especially the old Jewish cemetery with its thousands of moss-covered tombstones.

Another highlight is a night in old Cesky Kremlov, a small city in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.

En route to Vienna, we enjoy wine tasting at the well-known winery Domane Wachau in the famed Wachau Valley, then stop at Durnstein on the banks of the Danube for lunch at one of the many wine taverns that are home to many good local drops.

 

Vienna, home of music and song as well as grand architecture, is our last stop. A private recital by an orchestra complete with opera singers and dancers provides a taste of classic Viennese culture at its best before we head to a cosy restaurant for a tasty Weiner schnitzel and apple strudel with lashings of cream.

Weeks later at home, I discover the paprika packet I was given and make a goulash for dinner in memory of a great trip and my market friend.

For dessert it’s apple strudel and no I still haven’t mastered that paper thin pastry but it still tasted pretty good.

Sue Wallace

Sue Wallace has ridden camels in Oman, watched brown bears chase salmon in Canada and paddled a raft on the Mekong River.After penning travel stories for many years she firmly believes the best stories are always off the beaten track - or around the corner.An experienced travel journalist based in Albury, she writes for international and national newspapers, magazines and websites.