My host agency, Gifted Travel Network, chartered an entire river cruise for our symposium. Thus, we were able to basically take over the ship including the lounge area which became our classroom with a view. I must say that it was a beautiful setting for learning.
The Group Symposium could not have been more perfectly timed for me. I have been working on securing an incentive group of 140 for a local corporation since the day I left for Portugal and yesterday, all of the paperwork was signed and deposit made! While I have already worked with large groups before, the symposium served as a refresher on best practices. I also left inspired to help more groups. If you are affiliated with a group that is interested in traveling together – whether that is a knitting group, an alumni group, a corporation, a church, or a myriad of other options, please reach out. Ask any of my clients, I never pressure anyone – let’s just start a line of communication about what is possible.
I also left Group Symposium inspired to lead another women’s river cruise group like I did last March. I have received so much interest in doing another one, so I am looking at options for fall 2024. Stay tuned …
We actually visited the exact same places that Rob and I visited when we took our Danube river cruise last September. I made sure to do different tours, like this coffee house and Sacher Torte tour in Vienna. I also accidentally ended up on a beer tour in Bratislava which I ended up leaving because I don’t like beer. But that is what is so great about river cruises – you can break off from any tour you are on and make your way back to the boat easily. In fact, you can do your own thing the whole time if you want. There is so much flexibility on a river cruise and no stress getting back to the boat because it is located so close to where you visit each day.
Despite just sailing this same stretch of The Danube mere months before, I did see things I had not seen last time. We were sailing in a different direction but also during different times of the day. Things we likely passed by while I was sleeping last time were now announced on a speaker in the public areas so we knew where we were passing.
For example, we passed by the spot along the Danube between Austria and Slovakia that was part of the iron curtain. Devín Castle in Slovakia was once situated right above the checkpoints along the iron curtain. Although the castle was open to the public, the area surrounding it constituted a restricted military zone and was heavily fortified with watchtowers and barbed wire – it is amazing that this was going on during my lifetime. I also took a different tour in Dürnstein which is a small town – yet I saw a whole new side of it. We also had a unique experience there at night and were able to visit homes of some of the 650 growers in the 3,321 acres of vineyards in the Wachau Valley and taste their wines. The best difference between my September trip and this one, was the fact that it was beautiful and not raining when we sailed through Budapest …
Our arrival in Budapest was stunning. The sun was shining as we sailed between Buda and Pest which used to be two different cities. Now, connected by 14 bridges – residential and hilly Buda and trendy Pest – have become the perfect match that compliment each other. My favorite time of day in Budapest is at night when the refelctions from the lights the bridges and each side of the river dance along The Danube. I am not sure if I have ever been to a place more beautiful at night.
When Rob and I were there in September, it was dreary so I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped to accomplish. I really appreciated the extra time in Budapest which allowed me to check all things I wanted to do off my list: thermal baths, Castle Hill, and the ruin bars which were opened in the abondoned buildings, factories, and stores of the Old District in Budapest. Once the site of the Jewish ghetto, the historic Jewish Quarter sadly became dilapidated in the decades following World War II, after the deportation of 10,000s Jews. The ruin bars were started in the early 2000s as an experiment and gave birth to the trend of using alternative spaces.
I also enjoyed eating local cuisine which included some sort of sandwich with goulash inside and a traditional chimney cake filled with ice cream!
River Cruise Expo
That afternoon, we were basically let loose on the ships. We ate lunch and dinner on different cruises, toured them, and even stayed for after parties with live bands. The next day, there was a trade show that allowed us to meet with even more travel industry partners, then back to the river cruises for meals and educational experiences. Overall it was a wonderful trip and I’m excited to incorporate my new learnings into future River Cruise bookings.