Europe River Cruise

By Ilona Kauremszky
Special to

It’s for Mummy.

Growing up in Budapest Hungary in the fifties was not easy. As kids slurped on sodas, wore poodle skirts and danced the hand jive in that faraway place called Amerika (a Hungarian word for North America), Mum was dodging sniper attacks and hiding in the basement of her high-rise in Buda with her family and neighbors. Everyone was terrified. Some endured horrible flashbacks from World War II. It occurred, after all, only a short time earlier.

“You couldn’t buy anything let alone walk the streets safely,” she would recall over and over years later.

Mum’s family, The Steiner’s, fled the war torn streets of Budapest and on a frosty winter night made the harrowing escape to Austria. Once there my nagypapa (meaning grandfather) Karcsi (Charlie) had a choice and there weren’t very many of those back then I’m told. Would he fly or sail to the west? The aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution left the opulent streets and her Budai neighborhood an empty shell so he knew he would not see his haza(meaning home) again.

He was afraid of flying. Instead they sailed from Genoa Italy on a Trans Atlantic cruise. Mum loved it. She was only 12 years old.

Sure Mum’s been on a cruise – twice now; once when she arrived to Amerika and the other time was four years ago. I surprised her with a Danube River cruise. She was in her glory. Everything felt like only yesterday to her.

Along the streets of Budapest Mum would point out the Opera House, the various Metro stops with the reasons why each stop had meaning, and of course the pastry shops that remained open even during the Communist years despite everything else crumbling around them. Then we crossed the river to the Buda side to her neighborhood. We walked the route she took to school. The neighborhood is an Embassy Row of residences. Some of her classmates had famous parents. They were singers, actresses and writers.

Our ports of call all had a fabulous tie-in. The Danube’s rich history and Hapsburg connections gave Mum so much joy. She became the life of our small boat’s community. “Where’s your Mum?” became a common phrase on the trip whenever I wasn’t by her side.

But sadly my Father who also emigrated from Hungary during the ’56 Hungarian uprising passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. My parents were planning to visit Magyarország (Hungary) later this year.

“Nagypapa’s heart was broken,” I relayed to my young nephews in a sad attempt to ease their grief.

This eight-day river cruise along the Danube River would be a tribute to him. Daddy loved to sail his boat whether it was at our cottage or near our home in Niagara Falls.

He never did take that European river cruise.

But maybe Mum and I could. A river cruise does wonders to the soul. Every morning there’s a newfound optimism as passengers embark on a full day of activities. It’s where you mingle with others, break bread with new friends, and explore places you couldn’t even imagine.

I know it would mean the world to her.

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