On Cruising the River Danube: Part 4 of 4

This is the last installment about the cruise we took on the Danube River this past summer. It was a fabulous trip. Besides recommending it, we look forward to our next river cruise (whenever and wherever it may be).

When moving downriver from Germany, changes in socio-economics in easily seen. Especially in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. However, these countries also offer many wonderful sights to visit. This part travel from Belogradchik to Bucharest

 

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Located atop the foothills of the Balkan Mountains, Belogradchik is a small town with two unexpected sites: interesting natural rock formations (Belogradchik Rocks) and an ancient fortress built within the rocks (Belogradchik Fortress).

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Cetate, Romania

Describing our several hours in Cetate is difficult. Listening to the poet who was a dissident during Romania’s Communist era was enlightening. To me, the part of Cetate that we saw felt like a commune – but it isn’t. They grow many of their own crops, nurture their own livestock, make wine from their organic groups, and promote their own art. Here’s Cetate’s website.

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Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

We spent the day on a bus trip into Bulgaria from Rousse. As the City of the Tsars, Veliko Tarnovo is home to castle of Bugarian kings. After lunch, we hiked up to the castle for wonderful views of the city and surrounding region.

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Arbanassi, Bulgaria

Located above Veliko Tarnovo, Arbanassi is a village with an old church that has unique frescos. Because photography was not permitted inside the Church of the Nativity of Christ, click here for a link to Google Images search result.

 

Bucharest, Romania

After disembarking the ship in Oltenita, Bucharest is about a 90-minute bus ride. As Romania’s capital and largest city, Bucharest is busy. To me, it’s a big city without much to offer. Sure their is the second largest Parliament building in the world, the Avenue of the Fountains, old palace, and a vibrant Old Town sector, but our highlight was the food tour we took in the evening through a local neighborhood.

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Hope you enjoyed the 4-post trip down the River Danube. I don’t know if I’ll return to Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, but I’m very glad that I got there at least once.

Previous Posts

Part 1 (Prague to Linz)
Part 2 (Melk to Budapest)
Part 3 (Budapest to Iron Gates Gorge)

On Cruising the River Danube: Part 3 of 4

 Please excuse the interruption, but a beach walk will return next week. 

………..

Because we cruised 75-80% of the Danube, parts 3 and 4 of this series features the lower Danube -downriver from Budapest  through Hungary to Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. This portion of the river is less travelled by river cruisers.

 

Budapest, Hungary

As I mentioned in the previous post, Budapest was our halfway point. We hiked the top of a hill on the Buda side for an awesome view of the city. Visited the nearby Cave Church. The view of Budapest at night is spectacular, and a must-do for visitors.

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Pecs, Hungary

Located about a 40 minute bus ride from our dock in Mochas, Pecs (PAY-ch) is Hungary’s fifth largest city. It’s early Christian necropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the location of interesting archeological excavations.

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Belgrade, Serbia

I recall Belgrade as the capital of Yugoslavia. Although not dominated by the Soviet Union, Marshall Tito had a different view of Communism – so Yugoslavia remained an arm-length from the USSR. Belgrade pleasantly surprised me.

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Donji Milanovac, Serbia

This small town served as a base for the 20-minute bus ride to an archeological site (Lepenski Vir) dating back to 6000 BCE. That’s old! Thought is that the culture worshipped the mountain. Before docking in the town, the ship passed the museum. The actual site is now well below the water level.

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Iron Gates Gorge

The Iron Gates is a spectacular natural beauty separating Romania and Serbia. From the time we entered the region at 7 AM, there’s no better view than from the ship’s top deck. For me, this region served as one of my top highlights of the trip.

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Previous Posts

  • Part 1 (Prague to Linz)
  • Part 2 (Melk to Budapest)

On Cruising the River Danube: Part 2 of 4

Both the previous post and this one focus on the Upper Danube River. This happens to be the section that most river cruises take (between German and Budapest) in one direction or the other. This post features from Melk to Budapest.

 

Melk, Austria

Melk Abbey majestically sits above the city of 5,000+. Founded in the 11th Century, this UNESCO World Heritage site is magnificent inside and out. Here are two Google Images searches: Exterior; Interior: plus a 4-minute video from Rick Steves.

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Wachau Valley

Protected by UNESCO, The Wachau Valley very scenic. A great day to sit on the top deck and watch the world go by.

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Durnstein, Austria

Durnstein is a small town located in the wine-growing region of the Wachau Valley. The medieval sector (with its narrow streets) is full of shops and free of automobiles. I hiked to the Durnstein Castle ruins sitting high above the town that offers wonderful views of the area.

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Vienna, Austria

Vienna – the center of the Hapsburg Empire for 500 years – and the city where classical music is the real king. The city was busy – very busy. Maybe too busy, so the city didn’t grab me as it should. However, that evening we attended a private concert by a chamber orchestra composed of  12 fabulous musicians who sounded like a large orchestra. The evening was unquestionably extra special.

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Bratislava, Slovakia

Whereas Vienna disappointed me, Bratislava captured my heart. I love old-city-sectors in Europe, and Bratislava is my kind of place.

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Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, a vibrant, opulent city, is where 102 passengers disembarked and 104 replaced them as 36 of us had reached our half-way point. Because we spent two-full days there last year as part of our Rick Steves tour, we wanted to do different things. We our visited an exhibit of a Hungarian artist (Miska Roth), toured the Hungarian Opera House (great but under renovation), and enjoyed some Hungarian cake. For more information about this wonderful city, here are links to four past posts: Budapest, Liberty Square, The Bronzed Shoes, and Tidbits.

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Past Post in the Series

Part 1 (Prague to Linz)

On Cruising the River Danube: Part 1 of 4

Our first river cruise was a good one, so thought I’d share a bit of it with you. My first thought was 2 posts: the Upper and Lower Danube – but those posts would be too long with too many pics in each post. (That’s a self-imposed standard.)  So, I’ve decided to spread this trip over 4 posts, but in order of occurrence. This post features Prague to Linz.

 

Prague, Czech Republic

Although not located on the Danube, Prague is a common beginning (or end) point for Upper Danube cruises. We first visited Prague last year at the start of our Rick Steves tour. Because we loved it this city by the River Vltava , we didn’t mind returning. For more details and images of Prague, here’s a past post.

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Terezin, Czech Republic

Until last year’s trip, I had never heard of Terezin until our guide mentioned it. After reading about it in Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter, and then watching a documentary on it, I couldn’t pass a tour opportunity to visit. Terezin served as a town and a military installation. The Nazis took it over and turned it into a “model city” for interned Jews. It is an interesting, yet horrific, story. I’ve very glad I visited.

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Regensburg, Germany

A bit more than a two-hour bus ride from Prague (and before boarding the Avalon Passion), we spent the afternoon in Regensburg. Because it wasn’t bombed in WW2, it’s medieval city is still intact – and vibrant!

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Passau, Germany

Our first cruise stop was Passau. This city of three rivers is where the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers meet. Interesting how the Inn’s murky water affects the Danube from this point and beyond. (From here down, it’s not blue.) Someone saved a young Adolph Hitler from drowning in the Inn.  After an Old Town tour, we hiked up to the castle for a scenic view.

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Linz, Austria

Linz is one of the larger cities in Austria. Although not one of my favorite stops, my dad was part of the army that liberated Linz in WW2. From Linz, some passengers went to Salzburg. Because my wife is a mega Sound of Music fan, she wanted more than a couple of hours.

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On Venice 2018

 

After our days in Trieste, we took a train to Venice, actually our departing airport. Because we’ve been to this beautiful city before (but I hadn’t posted about it), our one-night stay would be in Mestre – the mainland side of the city. Besides, the airport is on the mainland and Mestre hotels are much cheaper.

As the train was approaching the train station (Venezia Mestre), I noticed our hotel is directly across the street. Then I learn that a train goes to the islands (Venezia Santa Lucia Station) every 10 minutes for 2 euros. Plus, the airport shuttle is a very short walk from our hotel (Best Western Plus Hotel Bologna). Cheaper, close to rail and the airport bus are all good things!

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With the weather being wonderful, we had to go to Venice to just wander. Part of the fun of this glorious setting is trying to get lost – because you can’t! The historical city is wonderful – after all, Venice is Venice.

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Our trip has ended, and what a trip it was. All the stops in the Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe tour were worthwhile and memorable. Then add-on stops to my birthplace and a touch of Venice was like extra ice cream and toppings on an already magnificent sundae.

 

Picking our favorite stop is not an easy task because the locations were so different. The three major cities were different from each other, then toss in the extremes of a natural wonder of a Plitvice (a Croatian National Park) to the horrors of Auschwitz, and a relaxing seaside locate as Rovinj, it was quite the tour.

Three important references for readers.

  1. I will probably do more posts about this trip with some tidbits. Time will tell.
  2. I didn’t realize that I posted very little about our Italy-Croatia cruise of how knows how many years ago. Maybe I’ll go back in time. Thoughts?
  3. Click here for all the posts about this tour.
  4. Although it’s also in the previous collection, click here for my review of Rick Steves’ Europe tours.

To see more of the island wonderland known as Venice, watch the 2+-minute video below. Thanks for coming along for my journey.

On Lake Bled (Slovenia)

About 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Ljubljana, Lake Bled is a lake at the edge of the Julian Alps. Surrounded by mountains and forests with a medieval castle on a rocky face high above the lake and a small island within the lake, this setting is very picturesque. The large lake, 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m) is without motor boats.

Water from multiple natural springs feed the lake. The bluish-green water is clear, tranquil, and smooth as glass. Lake Bled is large: 6,980 feet by 4,530 ft (2,120 m by 1,380 m), and without motor boats.

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Our morning ride to Bled Island was on a plenta – a flat-bottomed wooden boat seating 20 passengers propelled and navigated by an oarsman. In 1740, Empress Maria Theresa granted 22 families exclusive rights to transport people to the island, and that tradition remains today.

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Bled Island is small, large enough for a church and several buildings. The church is a popular wedding site and has several traditions. It is good luck for the marriage if the groom carries his bride up the 99 steps before ringing the bell inside the church and making a wish. The wish will come to true if the bell rings three times on one pull of the rope.

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After returning from the island, we walked the 3-mile (5 km) paved path circling the lake. The walk provides beautiful views of the island, the castle, the town, hotels, and relaxing views across the calm water. Along the way we passed the Slovenian Olympic Rowing Training Facility. Lake Bled has hosted the World Rowing Championship 4 times.

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High on a cliff above the lake sits Bled Castle – a medieval castle that protected the people since 1004. Today, the castle houses exhibits, a museum, restaurant, wine cellar, chapel, banquet hall, and a printing shop – but it also provides outstanding views of the lake, the island, the town of Bled, and the surrounding countryside.

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Enjoy this very short video (17 seconds) of Bled Castle at night.

 

We were told that Lake Bled is very busy in the summer months. We were fortunate because our visit was in early October – the crowds were down and the weather was excellent. The boat ride, the walk around the lake, the hike to the castle, lunch at the castle, and a group meal was a delightful way to end our Rick Steves’ Europe tour – but, for us, our vacation was not over! Meanwhile, enjoy the 2-minute video about Lake Bled by Rick Steves.

Next Stop: Trieste

Click here for past posts of this tour.

On Rick Steves’ Europe Tours

Embed from Getty Images

My wife and I enjoy travel – especially in Europe. Through the years we’ve watched many episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS – plus we found his tour books to be the best – but, we’ve never taken any of his company’s tours.

However, we know at least five couples who have taken his tours – some multiple times – and everyone endorsed them! So, this past late September-early October, we ventured on our first Rick Steves’ Europe tour to a land we didn’t know – Eastern Europe. (After Bled, we continued on our own.)

 

Several broad points about Rick Steves’ Europe tours – especially two very important limitations:

  • Group size in the mid-to-upper 20s (so there is plenty of room on the full-sized bus)
  • One carry-on luggage and one backpack per passenger – after all, travelers are responsible for carrying their own to/from the hotel

For the tour,

  • A tour guide was with us the entire time (we had a wonderful Czech named Jana)
  • When in a new location, local guides shared their expertise
  • Most hotels are for multiple nights (which allows ample opportunities to do some laundry)

As a philosophy, Rick Steves’ tours want travellers to get the most of their experience by emphasizing history, culture, and interacting with the people because he wants travellers to understand the people, their place, and what is important to them. Besides the local guides, our activities included

  • tasting wine at a winery
  • visiting a school and meeting with an English teacher and her students
  • tasting honey at a local producer
  • eating local cuisines
  • being entertained by traditional music.
  • having two transit day-passes in Budapest good for buses, trams, and subways
  • after leaving each country), Jana led us in a toast to that country with a local liquor and toasting in the native language

The hotels exceeded our expectations. All were clean, spacious, conveniently located, and with a hearty breakfast to start our day.

Rick Steves’ Europe offers tours throughout Europe – and a surprising number of offerings, plus each frequently offered. I invite anyone interested to visit ricksteves.com. Regarding this tour, the previous post featured Prague, and my plan is to post at least one stop a week.

Bus touring isn’t easy and isn’t for everyone. However, I can honestly say that we would not hesitate to take another Rick Steves’ Europe tour. Actually, we even have our eye on another Rick Steves’ Europe tour in the future.