This site was last updated
trip reports after September 27, 2010,
On September 9, 2010, I began a 35 day
trip to Europe. I started out with 10 days in London. Carl and
TomO left on August 22 and spent a week each in London, Budapest, Bulgaria
and Romania. Joel, Elaine, Rick, Levonne, Nancy, Marv, Pat, Rod and Burt -
my brother and cousins) flew to London from Portland on September 17th.
After some furious London touring, we all flew to Bucharest where we met
TomO and Carl to begin a 14 day deluxe river boat cruise on the Danube.
Here are the details! (Newest
blogs at bottom. Click on thumbnails to see larger photo.)
Tom D in London
I'm staying at the Holiday Inn on Cromwell
Street, 1 block from the Gloucester Road Tube station, on the line
that comes from Heathrow, as it turns out. I am 1 block from 2
other hotels where I've stayed before.
I bought a 30 Day Broadband thingy and a SIM
card for my travel phone ... both for 30 pounds ($45) ... My hotel
wants to charge me 15 pounds a day for Internet. The thingy is a
really bargain if you want to be connected. It's limit is 3 GB
which is a lot and I don't expect to exceed that. If I do, I can
buy more gigabytes for little money.
Here is a pix of me while I'm writing
this. I'm at a little cafe directly across the street from the
Gloucester Road tube station. It's a very cute neighborhood. The
second photo is my view rom the cafe. There is a flower shop, a
Tesco Express (mini market), Starbucks, Burger King, KFC and several
The photo show the hotel where Roger and I stayed (Bailey's) when we
were getting ready for the Baltic Cruise. Next door to it is the
hotel where Martha and I stayed in 2003.
Sept 11: London to Manchester
On Saturday, I took the train to Manchester
where I met Megan Neesom. She is the mother of Paul the
partner of my friend Teddy. She in 87 years old and spent the
day taking me all around the downtown city.
Royal Exchange Theater: This is a
theater in the round, built inside of the old Royal (stock) Exchange
building. The building sat empty for a few years before this
conversion. The theater seats 700 people. Megan and her
late husband Arthur bought seats in their and Paul's name.
The current production is Doctor Faustus.
The theater is in the structure beneath this beautiful dome. The
theater was bombed by the IRA in the 1990's and was relocated during
Megan's mother worked in the Old Wellington in the background.
It was built in 1552 and is one of the oldest of it's type in
Manchester. In 1999 it was moved about 1 block to Shambles
Square, next to the Manchester Cathedral.
Hanging flower baskets on New Cathedral Street.
We went inside the Manchester Cathedral (Anglican). While
we were there we listened to the choir practicing.
This memorial tree is dedicated to the 376 people who were killed
during the World War II blitz in late 1940. The names are
listed on the metal plates wrapped around the "tree trunk".
Tues, Sept 14 - Hayden Bridge (20 mi W of Newcastle)
Today I again boarded the train for a trip to
the North: Newcastle and then a train to a nearby village of
Hexham. This is where This is where Doris (Engelmayer) and
Alistair Wardle live with their children, Rebecca (2.5 yo) and Jack
Train to Newcastle, bridge over the Tyne.
The 4 of them picked me up at the Hexham
train station and we drove a short distance to Corbridge, a
beautiful and historic village, nearby. We were early for
lunch, so we walked around town and stopped at St. Paul's Cathedral
(Anglican). The earliest portions were erected in 574 AD.
Subsequent additions of Roman and Gothic arches, complete the small
At historic St Paul's at Corbridge.
We went back to the pub, called something
like "Old Oak". The menu was large for a pub and they had
several vegetarian things. I had a spinach/cheese/breaded
burger (pictured). Rebecca had sausages, Doris ate lasagna and
Alistair ordered salmon. (The best salmon fishing is at
the river that runs through this area.)
Eating lunch at the pub.
The Romans settled this area and Hadrian
built his famous wall. It goes most of the distance between
from the west to the east and it runs right through this area.
You can visit forts and walls and go on walks there.
After lunch, we dropped Rebecca off at her
twice weekly nursery school (1-6PM) and took the scenic route to
their farm. The countryside is beautiful, rolling hills, hedge
lined fields, narrow roads, green everywhere.
The Wardle family has owned many, many acres
in this area for generations. Over time, adjacent farms were
acquired, along with the farm building and homes. Back
at the farm, Alistair went off to finish his work and Doris and I
viewed the 2 gardens and picked Victoria plums which had fallen on
the ground after a recent strong wind. She will make preserved
from them. The food gardens need to be rabbit proofed, so
there is finer meshed screen all around the perimiter.
Doris at their home, gardens
Doris teaches at a local university.
She is on maternity leave and hope to return to a part time position
later in the year.
We talked about the drives we could take and
things to see, but ended up drinking coffee and talking in their
warm, comfortable kitchen which suited me fine. I'd already
accomplished when I had set out to do for the day
In the kitchen
Portland to Heathrow
Today is the
first day for most of us of a four week trip to Europe including a
15-day cruise on the Danube River through eight countries. In the
afternoon 10 of us boarded a horizon jet in Portland for a short hop
to Seattle where we took the only British Air service from Seattle
for Heathrow Airport in London. The BA aircraft was a little on the
old side of the fleet and after a mildly alarming shudder, we were
off at about 7:30 p.m. We were supposed to be at the airport early
for an international flight, but the mid-day check in at PDX went
very fast. We had a nice lunch knowing it would be late before
dinner was served. We had about 3 hours to wait in Portland and then
another 3 in Seattle. That’s nearly as long as the 8 hour flight to
Our route to the UK was up over Canada,
Hudson’s Bay, Iceland coming in toward London from the northeast. We
all slept some, but these old bones don’t do too well crammed into a
small space. The movie selection was the worst I’ve experienced in a
long while, so after dinner, it seemed better to try to get some
After the 8 hour flight, we ended up at
Heathrow having lost another 8 hours to the time change. Brother,
Tom, had already come to London from San Francisco last week and he
was there to meet us and move to our hotel. It was about 12 noon
local time and although we were all exhausted, it is not a good idea
to go right to sleep. One would have a much harder time adjusting to
local time. So what to do? Heathrow Is west of London about 15-20
miles and it didn’t seem worth the effort to go into the central
city. The choice we took was to go to Windsor, about 20 miles
further from the central. To take a bus would have meant a 1 ½ hour
ride and we decided for 11 of us, cabs were the best deal, although
the fare to Windsor and back was around $200 for 11 of us. Just to
ride the bus from the terminal to our airport hotel, almost in
sight, costs $6 each. 4 of us could share a cab for $16.
Tom, Burt, X, Nancy, Joel, Marv, Rick, Levonne, Blanche, Rod, Pat,
Recent discoveries of the Daniels’ lineage
include our cousin Betty who divides her time between the palace in
London and Windsor Castle. I hadn’t had a chance to contact her
ahead of time for a private meeting, but we were in luck and her
flag was flying over the round tower that is one of the signatures
of the castle. She usually spends weekends at Windsor, but the table
was being laid and entertainment arranged for a special dinner
honoring youth golf, a special interest of Prince Philip. We knew
that the last entrance to the castle was 4 p.m., and we weren’t sure
we would arrive on time, but It turned out we had plenty of time to
get our tickets and go on a self-guided tour. Headsets were provided
giving lots of good information about each area. The castle is huge
and the gardens beautiful. We walked around outside and then went
into St. George’s Chapel, a high gothic building with lots of
decoration and stained glass. We saw the final resting place of
George VI and Queen Mother Elizabeth, a stone over the crypt where
Henry VIII is buried with his favorite wife, Jane Seymour, (At least
she died with her head intact.) and many others. Windsor is the seat
of the Knights of the Garter and there are lots of shields, armor
and plaques in their honor.
Another part of the tour is the State
Apartments, grand rooms where kings and queens entertained housing a
fabulous art collection: Reubens, Rembrandt, Breugel, Hans Holbein,
the younger, etc. in the grand rooms. We saw the grand hall where
the Queen hosted a lavish dinner which you might have seen on a
special series about how she lives on PBS. A smaller dining room was
being set up for last night. On Nov. 20, 1992 (Don’t ask me how I
remember that date), there was a disastrous fire in the State
Apartments that did significant damage. Miraculously, the art was
saved, but roofs were destroyed and there was lots of water damage.
New ceilings were constructed in the medieval way out of oak, sawn
and bent in a green state when it is still pliable. It shows cracks
that occur when it dries out. The restoration was completed five
years later, Nov. 20, 1997 on the Queen and Prince’s 50th wedding
anniversary. It was masterfully done, and it is not possible to see
where it was. One room had a very elaborate oak parquet floor that
had been blackened. It was saved by turning each piece over and
using the backside.
Drooping considerably, we ended our tour and
walked back across the street into the town. We had tried to get
into the private quarter to see HRH, but we were unsuccessful. We
plan to tour Buckingham Palace on Saturday, and maybe we’ll have
more luck. Betts, you know your poor relatives deserve some respect,
too. The tourbus drivers we talked to recommended a pub where they
eat down the street. We were really hungry since we hadn’t had
anything since the sumptuous breakfast we had on the plane. Oddly,
for a British Pub, there were a lot of French words on the menu.
Sept. 17 – More London:
I think I woke up about 2 thinking it was
morning and didn’t really get back to sleep. We see that Pope
Benedict is in town, so we know HRH is busy helping to entertain him
so we’ll lay off trying to find her for a day and find some other
things to. Our plan is to set off for the London Eye before the
weekend and early in the day before the crowds get too large. We had
arranged for a service to take us all into London by car which
worked out to be a good deal and much quicker. This very
enterprising company based in our hotel buys Mercedes, Lexus and
Volvo type cars that are several years old, but able to accommodate
4 or so passengers comfortably. We were able to drive into the city
on the M-4 and see the sights. The cost was similar to taking the
train or tube.
For the celebration of the year 2000, it was
decided to erect a huge ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames just
upriver from Westminster. I think the original plan was to take it
down later, but it has proven to be so popular that I think it is
permanent. It has an egg-shaped car holding up to 25 people takes
about 30 minutes to complete a revolution up to a height of about
135 meters giving the occupants a splendid view of the London
skyline. It was a beautiful, rare(?) sunny day ideal for taking
As we neared the end of the rotation, an
announcement asked us all to stand in the corner for a photo ...
which we did. When we go off, we saw our photo on the monitor.
We were all standing with our backs to the camera!!!
Eye on London
Upon disembarking, we walked across a fairly
new footbridge next to a train bridge going into Charing Cross train
station awarding us with more views of Parliament and Big Ben. All
the areas across the river from the familiar skyline have been
cleared out with numerous new buildings set in open land. Our goal
was Trafalgar Square after hitting up some banks for cash exchange.
We have pretty good luck changing money at cash machines, but
traveler’s checques must be dealt with in a bank. Credit cards
usually exchange at a good rate and some credit unions have very low
fees. This is all good since London requires large amounts of cash!
The exchange rate is about 1 pound for $1.60 but the prices seem to
be closer to equal. A hamburger for £8 pounds looks pretty good ‘til
you remember that’s about $12. The rate is a little more in our
favor than it has been, but it’s certainly no bargain. A few years
ago, the British would fly to New York to do their Christmas
shopping because they could buy their ticket and more with the
Soon it was time to think about Lunch and
Elaine had read about a must-go-to place called Gordon’s Wine Bar,
the oldest one in the city. It is a hole-in-the-wall and you go down
stairs, pick up your food and go into a cave-like cellar to eat. It
was a good choice. It turned out that it was several doors down from
the hotel where Rick, Levonne and Mark had stayed in 2005.
Next it was back to Trafalgar Square with
the imposing Lord Nelson column anchoring a plaza enclosed by
buildings such as the London Gallery and St Marin in the Fields
church famed for its music. It had been 45 years since Elaine and I
had been there and it was interesting to compare our memories with
the reality of today.
Then on to the tube to make our way to
Westminster Abby. We could walk around outside, but everything was
roped off for the Pope. The security was tremendous and streets
closed off. We decided to go on to another site and try another day.
It was back on the tube to ride out to see St. Paul’s cathedral,
Christopher Wrenn’s masterpiece built after the London fire around
1700. We were too late for a full tour, but if we would just wait
half an hour, we could get in without charge for a vesper service
sung by the choir. If we said we were genuinely interested in being
a participant in the service, they let us beyond the ropes up closer
to the unaccompanied men’s choir. If we had understood, we could
have taken the empty seats in the choir. The reverberation is
unbelievable in this huge edifice with beautiful mosaics and other
decoration. After 45 years it only seemed grander to us. The service
lasted about 45 minutes.
Big Ben, Westminster
Our next stop was Covent Garden. I wanted a
book of German road maps to replace one I had lost and there is a
large travel store in this area. We had to walk a bit not knowing
which end of the street it was on ending up at Leicester Square. It
was dinner time and there are lots of restaurants. We found an
Italian one that was very nice. By then it was time to find our way
back to the hotel catching the Piccadilly Line which goes to
Heathrow and then find a bus to the hotel, about an hour trip
altogether. We had had a long day and were past due for bed.
Saturday Sept. 18 –
Still More London:
We arranged to have the same service into
London so that we could tour Buckingham Palace. We were a bit
concerned since thousands were expected to hear the Pope in Hyde
Park. Traffic didn’t seem to be that bad and soon we were at the
gates. Surely we would see the Queen or cousin Prince Chuck today.
The system for tours works great and although we had our tickets
ahead of time, I think we could have walked in. It has only been in
recent years that the palace is open for tours and only for several
months each year. They are self-guided, and you have a headset
describing all you are seeing. They are very thorough and have lots
of options for commentary about a variety of things. The tour
includes the staterooms which take your breath away with furnishings
and art that is unbelievable—more so even than Windsor. One leaves
the palace through the 60 acre grounds where the Queen has her
garden parties with 1000’s each year. Since she wasn’t able to see
us this time, surely we’ll get our invitation soon.
Buckingham Palace Scenes
We learned that Westminster was closed again
today for papal events (I don’t know why he would have priority over
us) so it seems that we will miss it for the second time. It was
closed 45 years ago when we were there also. We decided we would
have to settle for the crown jewels at the tower of London. It was
back on the tube for a ride to Tower Hill. I had purchased Oyster
Cards before we left on this trip and we could use them for
transportation. When we ran out of money on the card, we could add
more. They worked great. We were able to use them 2 days for about
£15. After touring the tower, we went to Piccadilly Circus for
dinner at a Lebanese restaurant and then back to the hotel so we
would be ready to get up at 4 for a flight to Bucharest, Romania
Tower of London
Sunday, Sept. 19 – 20: London to
Wow! Four a.m.
was early for a wakeup call, but our flight to Bucharest was at
7:25. We had our usual drivers come by and pick us up. We could have
struggled with our suitcases onto a bus, but these guys agreed to do
it for the same price. Heathrow‘s international terminal is new and
easy to maneuver. Our plane was only half full and it was a smooth
3-hr flight with a hot breakfast (better than we got from Seattle),
and constant beverage service. Bucharest’s international airport is
quite a contrast. Much smaller of course, it looks like most of the
rest of the country, needing repair and refurbishing. Jets no longer
used sit in the weeds at the side of the runway.
We soon linked up with our Viking Guides and
were put on a bus for the ride to Olineta on the Danube River, about
1 ½ hours away. Since the airport is in the north of the city, we
had a chance to drive through the middle of town.
Romania is the third largest country in
Europe with about 22 million people; the capital, Bucharest has a
population of 2.3 million. It was called the Paris of the east in
its earlier days with wide boulevards and streets radiating out from
traffic circles. Older buildings are ornate contrasting with the
newer Soviet Modern style. The government building that houses
parliament was built in the 80’s and is the 2nd largest building in
the world next to the Pentagon. It still is not finished.
For about 25 years from 1965, the dictator
Ceauşescu, ruled the country with an iron hand until he was
overthrown just before the collapse of the Soviet Union and executed
with his wife Elena on Christmas Day after an aborted escape
attempt. As they faced the firing squad, they still didn’t believe
they would be killed, Elena saying, “You can’t kill your Mother and
Father.” The guides we’ve had were quite direct in their assessment
of the era. Lasting legacies are hard to overcome. Most of the
factories, dependant on a captive market in the eastern bloc,
closed. Our guide’s parents went back to university and studied for
new careers. The farms had been collectivized under the Soviet
model. After the revolution, it was decided to give the land back to
the original owners. Now the farms lie fallow since most of the
owners can’t get to their land, and haven’t the capital to make them
productive. Romania could feed 80 million people, but currently only
8 million and depends on imports. Romania needs to rebuild the
irrigation system that was stolen after the revolution for example.
Now, a member of the European Union, the country seeks loans from
richer countries in the west.
Ceausescu preserved the churches, but
cajoled priests into telling on people who confessed. 90% are
Eastern Orthodox, the rest, a variety of other faiths. Romanian is a
Romance Language, about 80% from Latin so it is much like French,
Spanish and Italian. I hadn’t remembered that Romania fought with
the German’s against the Russians in WWII. Afterward they have had
an uneasy relationship with the Russians, and although communist,
they didn’t think of themselves so much as a Russian Satellite. We
arrived at the ship The Primadonna at about 1:30 in time for a light
lunch. We had time to unpack and roam around aboard which didn’t
take long since this is a small ship with 150 passengers. Some of us
have staterooms with a balcony, others (I won’t mention who) chose
the cheaper ones with a porthole barely above water. It’s kind of
nice to lie in bed watching the water splash up on the window
through the moonlight. This ship is the only one on European rivers
that is double-hulled. That means those on the lowest deck have to
go up stairs and over and down to visit those on the other side. In
the middle of the ship there is a glass window where one can see the
water rushing by. The purser said he had a button to push and
dispose of anyone who caused trouble.
Dinner was very nice and we had two tables
for our group. Afterward it wasn’t long before eyelids were
drooping, and we were ready for bed.
Oh, by the way, I was pulling your leg about
HRH Betty and Prince Chuck. As you saw, we had a very nice visit and
appreciated having them for guides.
Monday Sept 20, Constanza, Romania
With the gentle sound of water, the double-hulled ship glided
through the Black Sea Canal taking a shortcut from the Danube to the
Black Sea town of Constanza, the major port of Romania. There were
locks at either end of the canal, and we slept through them on the
way down. We were amazed to see the size of the port facilities.
After we docked, we were taken by bus on a field trip to various
sites. First stop was the museum to see the artifacts from Roman
times: beautiful glassware (the picture is of an early baby bottle),
statuary and jewelry mostly found in the tombs of the patricians.
Although not too large, the collections were in good condition
obviously a source of pride for the locals. We had a guide on our
bus from the area, and she was a fount of information. We were
issued hearing devices that are connected by radio to our guide. You
don’t feel like you need to push to the front to hear. Several
Japanese passengers have joined us, and their interpreter can use
them without having to bother us.
The museum was followed by a visit to an orthodox church with
rich carpets on the floor and beautiful icons on the walls. There
are chairs around the sides for the elderly, but usually the rest
stand during the service. There is chanting and singing, but no
organ or other musical instrument. Down the street was a mosque with
a minaret, which we didn’t go in. Romania was ruled by the Ottoman
Empire for centuries, but most left when the Turks were defeated so
I don’t believe the mosque is currently in use.
Constanţa had been a major Roman city, and there was a large
market area with mosaic tile floors and brick walls on multi levels.
Much has been destroyed by time and earthquakes, but archeologists
have been working to restore what they can. There are so many
antiquities in the Balkans that need to be excavated, but that takes
time and money.
A little further on, we visited a huge casino built in the
earlier part of the 20th century. It was massive with lots of Art
Nouveau windows and decoration. During the world wars, it was used
as a hospital. Despite the red cross on the roof, it was bombed. It
is mostly in rack and ruin, but were told it is used occasionally
Mamaia was our next stop, a wide strip of resort area with a
lagoon on one side and the Black Sea on the other. It is all hotels
and other recreational facilities. It is a favorite place to come
when it is hot inland. Out destination was a modern hotel where we
could have coffee and cake while sitting on the terrace above the
beach. There was ample opportunity to get a sample of sand for
Mary’s kids and put our toes in the water. Since it was a cool day,
no one went swimming.
Joel, Marv, Nancy, Levonne, Rick
Back on board, the ship turned around and began the journey up
the canal to the Danube, a pleasant afternoon of sailing. The river
is very wide at the point with numerous islands covered with scrub
trees reminding me of the lower Columbia. At times we could see
farming enterprises, lots of cane berries and at one point some wind
turbines. While we will continue to see Romania on the right side of
the ship for hundreds of kilometers, this is our last visit to the
Special local tomatoes from Vidin, Bulgaria, called Beef Hearts!
Piano Player, Primadonna River Boat, Bellevue Room
Atrium, lobby area on Primadonna River Boat
Spa, sauna, Jacuzzi, Primadonna River Boat
My Shower, Cabin and Bathroom on Primadonna
top of the mountain, Belogradshick, Bulgaria: TomD, Carl, Rod,
Two Days in Bulgaria The Danube flows west to
east and forms the border of many countries. On the east before it
flows into the Black sea, it forms the frontiers of Romania on the
north and Bulgaria on the south. After 2 days in Romania, we turn
our attention to the neighbor on the south. Bulgaria is distinctly
different from its neighbor. Bulgarian is a Slavic language related
to Russian or Serbian and as we were proudly told a number of times,
the Bulgarians developed the Cyrillic Alphabet which is recognized
by the European Union along with the Roman and Greek. Signs are
harder to read, but the Bulgaria’s membership in the EU requires
that there be dual signage especially for road signs. There is a
remarkable amount of English used as well.
We hit the deck early (for us) to board the
bus for our day’s tour inland. Our group is assigned to the same
bus, and everyone is very congenial. There is a small group from
Japan with a guide and interpreter. As our guide speaks to us, she
is using the radio to translate for them. It’s very smooth and not
obtrusive. We were headed to Veliko Tarnovo, a lovely former
Bulgarian capital about an hour and a half ride through the gently
rolling farmland. The farms seem more prosperous here, wheat, corn,
sunflowers and vineyards. We were told about the valley where damask
roses were grown to make rose oil, a very valuable commodity. We
stopped at a shop where we could sample a rose brandy and buy
lotions, soaps and handcrafted souvenirs. I think our guide got a
We went on to the small village of Arbanasi
where we toured a very old orthodox church, the Nativity, from
Ottoman times. It was purposefully low and plain so as not to
compete with mosques. Inside, we found hundreds of frescos of icons
painted to tell all the Bible stories. A docent very descriptively
and enthusiastically explained them to us. It is no longer used as a
church since an integral part of the service involves candles and
the smoke would be damaging. Through the centuries the walls and
ceilings had become black, and they have all been cleaned and are
bright and beautiful with lots of gilt.
From the church, we walked down the street
and toured a home that has been restored to the way it would have
been several hundred years ago. It is a chalet-style house of brick
with a tile roof and spacious well-lit rooms. It even had indoor
plumbing, or I should say a hole dropping down into a cellar.
A short walk took us to a sprawling
restaurant for lunch. Our group was lucky to sit outside in the
sunshine treated to a typical Bulgarian dinner. Salad was wonderful
tomatoes & cucumbers with feta cheese followed by soup. The main
course was a goulash of chicken, onions & peppers. While we dined,
we were treated to dancing by traditionally dressed performers
accompanied by flute, accordions and drum.
Soon it was time to reboard the buses for
the ride back to Veliko Tarnovo to a do some shopping on a street of
local craftspeople. We managed to find a few knickknacks to take
While we were on tour, our ship moved
upriver to the city of Svistov where we were taken on our return.
Most of the time while we’re on board, the ship is moving.
Bulgaria is a country of about 7.5 million
down from 9 twenty years ago. There is a negative growth rate and
many have left the country for jobs. A number of those who remain
depend on money sent home to live. Pensions are low and retired
people often return to the villages where they can have a garden,
cut wood for heating and generally live off the land. Large farming
operations lease land for agriculture, but much is still fallow
after the days of collective farming. Most Bulgarians are Eastern
Orthodox Christians, although after 50 years of religion being
outlawed, most would consider themselves atheist. Our guide thought
that religion didn’t seem relevant to young people as it has not
changed or reformed for hundreds of years. There is a great distrust
of authority and a legacy of communist times is the opinion that all
politicians and businessmen are crooks. Organized crime moved in
after the fall of communism. The newest president has tried to bring
corruption charges against some of the kingpins, but the courts
found them non guilty leading the EU to demand judicial reform.
By the next morning the ship had reached
Vidin in the northwest corner of Bulgaria. At 8:30 we were back in
the bus for a trip to Belogradschick about an hour away, high up in
the Carpathian mountains. The sign on the bus said: “Well-bred
people don’t eat on the bus. It is forbidden.” From there it was a
short drive to the odd-shaped huge sedimentary rock formations
pushed up from a primal sea and eroded away through the millennia.
One can see a school girl with their backpack about to be attacked
by a bear, etc. At one point in the narrow valley, a fortress had
been constructed going back to Roman times. We had the option of
hiking to the top of the fortress for a splendid view of the
surrounding area. The guide claimed 200 steps, but being a
compulsive counter, I can attest to many more than that. We could
look down on the prosperous vacation village and see other rock
formations for as far as the eye could see.
“Well-bred people don’t eat on the bus. It is
After a coffee and éclair break at a local
hotel, we were heading back to the boat. Serenading us as we boarded
the bus was a local band in the square. Apparently they were
celebrating a bank holiday commemorating an independence day of some
sort. We were a little puzzled by a sign on a smart little shop
“Weiner Salon.” Could it be Dachshund Grooming, or……?
Our guide had some jokes to tell us about
communist days. In former times there was shop called George’s. You
could go in and see meat to buy. During communist times, the name
was changed to Meat Market, and then all you could do was go in and
see George. Or, the communist President was in his bedroom combing
his hair which was odd since he was bald. His son walked in, saw his
dad and said “Oh my God!” His dad replied “We’re at home now, you
can call me daddy.” Apparently they only felt free to tell these
jokes after the fall of communism. Our guide said that there was one
thing she was nostalgic for and that was the curiosity they had as
youth to find out all they could about the West. Now, she though
kids didn’t care much about anything. The afternoon was free time to
stay aboard ship or walk around the town. Dinner is usually not over
until nine and soon we’re collapsing to get ready for another day.
Joel, TomO, TomD
TomO, Blanche, Carl, Rod, Nancy, Marv, Pat
Burt, Levonne, Rick, Elaine, Joel, TomD
Thursday, it must be the Republic of Serbia (Република Србија,
in Cyrillic and Latin characters.)
With German efficiency (this is a German
registered boat, I think) we were ordered to be up at 7:00:
“Achtung! You vill be out on the Sundeck to start sailing through
the Iron Gate.” Since we’re rather lackadaisical, it is good for us
to be moved along. The Iron Gate is four successive deep gorges
going between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains in the Danube
where it narrows travelling through steep cliffs, a magnificent,
awe-inspiring section of the river.
As it presented major difficulties to ships
navigating up and down, Tito of Yugoslavia and Ceaucescu of Romania
built a hideous dam to raise the water level 35 meters. We were
asleep and didn’t see it as we traversed the two locks. The area
still looks much like the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and
Oregon with beautiful vistas.
We could see the guard houses from former
times: when the ball was up, a ship was coming downstream, etc. Rail
lines on the banks were used to pull the ships upriver. Thousands of
people were relocated and villages flooded. At one point we could
see an ancient face carved in the rock. It dates back to 2001; an
American paid $1 million for it. There was some fog, but Photoshop
can take care of that.
Our port of call was Kostolac in Serbia, the
left side of the river. Landlocked Serbia is one of the countries
formerly a part of Yugoslavia. Just a short way from the ship are
two large coal-fired power plants fueled by coal mined in the area.
Just as in West Virginia, they are now using a strip-mining
technique. As they began to open the mines, they ran into the ruins
from an early Roman Garrison in one of the further reaches of the
empire along the Danube called Viminacium, the Balkan Pompeii.
Excited archeologists called for a halt in mining until they could
survey the extent of the settlement. With the use of modern ground
penetrating radar and satellites, they were able to determine where
everything was. Then they arranged for a cessation of mining in
sensitive areas until 2040 by which time they think they will be
able to finish the excavations. The archeologists monitor all the
mining and are finding graves every day.
Our first stop was the baths that have been
partially reconstructed from the remains strewn around. They have
erected a large tent for protection, and the results are impressive.
Going by other baths which have been reconstructed in Europe, they
can determine what this one should look like. There was central
heating from adjacent furnaces and various pools for bathing. An
aqueduct nearby brought in water from springs in the hills which was
cemented and enclosed with tiles and had cleanouts at various
places. There was even a common latrine flushed with water.
Originally men and women bathed together, but after Christianity
came to the empire, men and women used the baths on alternate days.
Our next stop was the garrison of Porta
Pretoria where the soldiers lived, and the third, the mausoleum not
too much different from those we have today. Some were buried in
built up graves, others in larger structures and many were cremated.
Apparently as today, it was a matter of personal choice or means.
Most of the graves contained a lamp, coins to pay to cross the river
Styx, and glass containers of water since the dead are always
thirsty. Actors in costume were at this site and a black robed and
hooded man pounded his stick on the ground as he lead us down into
the underworld. It was dark and the ceiling low, but we could step
into areas where we were looking up into a grave where we could see
frescoes that depicted something about the deceased’s life. Emperor
Hostilian was buried there in the 3rd Century a.d. Coming out of the
mausoleum, we were ushered to the Taverna where we were given a cup
of wine or water and our guide passed around “fortune cookies”, clay
shards with sayings written on them in Latin and English.
Sometime before we awoke, we docked at
Belgrade (the White Fortress) , Serbia, just up the Sava River from
where it comes into the Danube. Belgrade was on the dividing line of
the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. A city now of 1.5 million
in a country of 7 million citizens, it was the capital of the former
Yugoslavia and now of the country of Serbia. It has been through
major trauma since the fall of communism—the NATO bombing in 1992
and rampant inflation. I now own a 500 billion Dinar bill from that
period. It was very hard on most, but as our guide Milan said, if
you owed money, it worked in your advantage. His parents had bought
an apartment with the price of $100,000 set by the government and
were able to pay it off for about $500.
After breakfast, we left the ship for a tour
of the city beginning at the Kalemegdan Fortress that looms over the
city with its medieval gates and dry moat. It is a huge park now
with lots for people to do. The city zoo famed for its white
animals, including white lions.
Downtown in Republic Square, we had
refreshments in a hotel and some time for shopping on the wide
streets, some pedestrian only. There are hundreds of outside café’s
where people gather in the afternoon to stroll along and sit for
hours with a coffee or a drink, visiting and watching others go by.
The weather was perfect for a fall day when rain is all too common.
Rick, Burt, Carl
"X", "Y", Carl, Burt, Marv, TomD, Nancy, Joel, Elaine, TomO,
Levonne, Rick, Blanche, Rod, Pat and "Serbian Smarty Pants"
Another stop was the huge new Serbian
Orthodox church, St. Sava’s, the founder of the Serbian Orthodox
Church. Modeled on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the domed edifice
was begun early in 1935 without much progress. During the occupation
in WWII, he Nazis used it as a parking lot. There wasn’t much
interest during the 45 years of communism which discouraged religion
and churches. About 1992, construction began again and now the
edifice is complete. What remains is to complete the surface on the
inside walls which will be covered with mosaics that are being
constructed in various workshops. There will be special gilt tiles
made by putting gold leaf between glass sheets and firing them. They
are angled to reflect light and make the surface glitter. I would
love to see it when it is completed. Much of the money has come from
small donations of the people in difficult times.
In the evening, we were treated to a
performance by a representative group from a folkloric company
dedicated to preserving the music and dance of the regions. There
was a tremendous amount of energy expended by these young people. We
don’t know what they were singing about but presumably it was about
eternal issues, love, war, death, life, etc.
Yugo (Yugoslav car) jokes told by two
speakers today: The Yugo is very fuel efficient, it’s usually in the
garage being repaired; or, the Yugo has heater strips embedded in
the back window. They’re very helpful to keep your hands warm while
pushing the car.
These are photos of us in Gordon's Wine Bar where we had lunch one
day in London (2 blocks from Trafalgar Square)). The tables
were in underground caves.
Data Center in the Bellevue Bar: TomO, Rick, TomD, Joel
Joel, TomD, Rick, Burt, Carl, Blanche - Serbia Mousaka
Joel, Burt at farmers market
Typical Serbian crafts ... embroidery, lace, crochet, etc.
This morning we are having a leisurely time
sailing up the river from Serbia to Croatia. It is very windy, but
we are snug inside looking at the homes and vacation houses along
the river. It is surprising to see them so close to the water since
flooding could be a problem. It appears by the vegetation that the
river is full. The first glimmer of trouble is evident when an
announcement is made during the morning lecture that one of the
engines has quit and we would be late to our next port of call. At
least it won’t be that late and the schedule is to be adjusted
Along the Danube
Our lecture is an overview of the European
Union given by our Hungarian hostess, Mercedes. She does a very
informative presentation of the development of the union since just
after WWII. Of immediate interest to tourists is the fact that once
you enter a member state, you are through passport control and can
go from member country to member country without having to show a
passport. Many have adopted the Euro as currency, so it is not
necessary to change money as has to be done in other countries. So
far we have been in non-euro countries and have had to deal with
various currencies. Usually shops will take Euros or dollars
particularly if they are tourist oriented. It is possible to
bargain. I asked about something and was told it was 3 Euros. I
asked about dollars and she said 3 dollars, a much better deal.
Catholic church and tower of fortress, somewhere in Croatia.
Mid-afternoon, we disembark at the city of
Vukovar (city on the Vuko River, Croatia) for a bus tour. In 1991
Croatia declared its independence from Serbia and was attacked by
the Serbian army. The intricacies of this conflict lasting until
1997 are not to be sorted out here, but the effect of the suffering
is evident. We are taken first to a Benedictine monastery and church
that was largely destroyed in the war. A moving film documents the
plight of Vukovar’s residents as the bombing and shelling destroyed
90% of the city. The church has been rebuilt with lots of work left
to do in the sanctuary. Everywhere, bullet holes, shrapnel and bomb
damage are evident, and fifteen years later homes are still being
rebuilt. The progress is slow, and many from the area have left.
Much of the money has come from overseas and the EU.
This bombed out house with flower boxes was on the cover of National
We next we are bused for 45 minutes to the
town of Osijek. There we experience light rain and put our raingear
into play for the first time on the trip. After some time in a
church and gift store we end up at at coffee shop:
Nancy & Marv
Carl, TomO, Blanche
TomD taking pix of Rod & Pat
Taking wedding pictures, in the rain.
We are on our way back to the ship, where we
learn that both engines are down and repairmen are being flown in to
assess the damage. Since one of the engines is new, the company
making it needs to come so as not to void the warranty. They’re in
One joke today: Nixon, Breshnev, and Tito
were meeting with God. Breshnev ask God when the Russian Ruble would
stabilize. God said 2030 at which point Breshnev burst into tears
and said he would never live so long. Nixon asked when men would get
to Mars, and God said 2050 at which Nixon burst into tears and said
he would never live so long. Tito asked when Yugoslavia’s economic
plans would be accomplished, and God burst into tears saying
“I’ll never live so long.”
And another joke: Vukovar has storks
returning each year to the same house on the same date. (This part
is true). Stork one ask stork two what he was bringing to the
family. He said that he was bringing a girl to a family of 4 boys.
Stork one said “Oh, that’s so nice. They will be so happy.” Stork
one then asked stork three the same question. He said, “I’m bringing
twins, a boy and a girl to a childless couple.” “Oh how nice, that’s
even better than stork number two.“ Then stork three asked stork one
the same question. “Oh, I’m not bringing anything this year. I’m
going to a nunnery and scare the heck out of them.”
TomD, eating AGAIN!!
It’s the next morning now and rumors are
flying about the mechanical troubles. We are not exactly in the best
place to bring in the repair people, and so far no estimate of time.
One passenger put it in a philosophical manner. “Viking has the
responsibility of taking care of me until Oct. 3, and I’ll leave it
up to them.” Viking and God, I guess. We learn that the Spanish
repairmen are being flown to Budapest five hours away by train. The
will be brought here by taxi (where the roads are not super
The tour bus pulls up to take us out to
visit a farm that raises Lipizzaner stallions. We were supposed to
go to a similar place in Hungary today, but Hungary seems farther
away than ever. After an hour’s drive, we walk through 3 horse barns
and look at horses, drink a few sips of plum brandy, and hear about
economic stimulus plans by the government to aid them and board the
bus to return to the ship. The Lipizzaners have a long bloodline and
are used for dancing as done in the Spanish School in Vienna, or
dressage. Most are colts are born black and turn mostly white by 3
years of age. This farm boards horses, has a riding club and offers
therapeutic classes for children. At present training only occurs in
the summer, but the new hall (“arena,” one guest corrected her),
designed for 1000 spectators. This farm was very proud of the fact
that Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Anne visited in
1972 and were presented with 4 horses and a carriage. “She should
have given YOU horses since she is so rich” retorted one of our
group. The guide patiently explained that they had been extremely
honored by the visit and to receive a signed photo of the queen.
On the way back we drive on a brand new toll
throughway. 400 kms. have been constructed of the arterial road
which will stretch the full length of the country. There are hardly
any other cars on Sunday morning, maybe because there was too much
partying on Saturday night. We travel through flat farmland with
canals for irrigation, I presume. Lots of corn is left un-harvested
which seems odd to me. It is rather short and planted close
together. Occasionally we see something like cabbage and lots of
stubble. I think there is/was millet, too. In one place we saw
warning signs for land mines.
Upon our return we learn that the mechanics
have landed in Budapest and should arrive by car between 2 or 3 this
afternoon. We wonder if they brought any spare parts? We are
considering a walk in the town this afternoon. One minute it is
sunny, the next pouring down rain. “But it’s a warm rain” said our
usual waiter George from Bulgaria. “Not cold like in Austria and
This afternoon Elaine and I get off the boat
and walk for an hour around Vukovar. It is Sunday so nothing much is
open. We have umbrellas, but don’t have to get them out, as we pass
several churches, many homes and businesses more interspersed that
we would see at home. One church looked fine from afar, but when we
got close, only the steeple was intact. Churches here have very high
steeples and are visible from far away. Most of the people are Roman
Catholic. Nearby is the town cemetery and it is very large. People
appear to be buried in crypts that are about a foot above the
ground. Often families are in the same crypt. Most of the monuments
are black granite and have pictures of the deceased, either
photographs in glass or etched on the stone. As with the rest of the
town, many stones had bullet holes.
Aboard ship, we go for our nightly briefing.
We are greeted at the door with champagne. Something’s up. Either we
are being prepared for bad news (which seems to be the consensus),
or we are celebrating. The captain, first officer and tour director
stride in exactly on time and the captain addresses us in German. I
catch a few words “Heute …sechs Uhr” but have to wait for the
translation. The repairs have been made to one engine and we will be
underway after clearing customs at about 22.00 hours.
A treat after dinner is a music presentation
of Croatian folk music with six young men playing small guitars, a
bass and a very small guitar-like instrument called a pearl. We were
told that a group like this would always play part of the time
during a wedding celebration.
As we prepare for bed (partiers we are NOT)
the engine fires up and we’re off. Hungary, here we come. We will
need to travel all day tomorrow to make it to Budapest. Something on
our itinerary will have to be left out. Some of the passengers get a
little testy and the tour director has to plead with them not to
shoot the messenger.
A joke leftover from our Belgrade tour
guide: We have our Silicon Valley here in Belgrade. No, it’s not
high tech, it’s a street filled young women with surgically enhanced
body parts. That guide was quite dramatic. At one point, he
burst into song with a rendition of “Summertime, and the livin’ is
easy…” I didn’t know that Serbian folk tunes had African roots.
Just so you know who the “I’s” are, usually
Joel writes these messages with the help of several editors. Tom
manages the web-site that brings them to you. We all appreciate the
many responses we have had. The computer network on the boat while
free is challenging at times. We have learned where the hottest
spots are and ways to work around the foibles.
Public drinking fountain in Belgrade, Serbia
trip reports after September 27, 2010,