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The "Intrepids" of Humber Valley United Church on a Danube River Viking Cruise of Eastern Europe: Black Sea, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic & Germany - 19 Sep - 3Oct 2010.  Blog by Janice Hatt, Originally posted day-by-day at
The original reverse order blog is posted at
Link to All Danube Cruise Photos 

Saturday/Sunday, 18/19 September – Romania: Bucharest & Oltenita

The trip from home to Frankfort, Germany was uneventful, though tiring. But unlike previous trips, all 18 members of the group arrived together.  The Frankfort Airport is under renovation so we had apron disembarkation. It was a quick 2-hour hop to Bucharest, Romania, and that too was uneventful.  By the time we assembled on the bus, though, most of us were approaching a zombie state of sleepiness.  We had a short but interesting tour of the city then off to Oltenita and aboard the Viking Primadonna.  We rested a bit and then off to a briefing.  Looks like a good trip!  Dinner was great with lots of laughter, very good food and free-flowing wine, The great ending for the day was standing on our balcony watching the Bulgarian coast go by [ south shore Bulgaria, north shore Romania on this part of the Danube].  The moon is large and bright and so only a few stars in sight.  Hoping for a good rest tonight as tomorrow is a big day on the Black Sea.


Monday, September 20 - Romania: Constanta

We had a lovely stroll on the top deck, watching the sunrise and enjoying riding downward in a lock.  Then we were among the first at breakfast and enjoyed views of Constanta harbour through the panoramic window of the dining room.  At 8:45 we all gathered for a tour of Constanta and the resort town of Mamaia.  There is a great deal of evidence of what our guide called "both the upside and the down side of revolution".  Much of the economic capacity of Romania disappeared along with the communist officials [ in 1989 ].  Many buildings and much equipment are derelict.  We visited a cathedral and a lovely museum.  It started as city hall and gradually a large and interesting collection, especially of local archaeological items.  The Roman baths and their mosaics are still visible and interesting.  Finally we had coffee at the Golden Tulip in Mamaia [ the next-door resort on the Black Sea ].  We had planned to swim in the Black Sea but of all of us only Lizzie actually did -- the chill breeze and cloudy sky scared the rest of us off.  We did dabble our toes in it.  Back at the ship we enjoyed a light lunch.  In the afternoon there was a talk about the role of canals and locks in the history of transportation [ all the while going through one of the many locks going up the Danube ].  The Captain hosted a champagne reception and dinner, after which several Intrepids spent the rest of the evening in the salon.








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All Photos September 20 - Romania: Constanta


Tuesday, September 21 - Bulgaria: Russe,
Veliko Tarnovo, Arbanasi

It looked cloudy this morning and we feared another cool,damp day. Luckily by halfway to our first stop the sky was blue. We were docked at Russe,Bulgaria from where we drove south to the foothills of the the Balkan Mountains that cross the middle of the country. We began with a stop at Tsarevets - the King's Hill in Veliko Tarnovo. It's dramatic at the top of a hill with wall off in several directions. In a way it reminded me of the Great Wall of China.
From there we went to a hotel for morning coffee and cookies, then wandered along a cobblestone street of artisan's workshops and stores. There was some shopping and several people came back with bags. We didn't.
We drove to Arbanasi for lunch. Many courses and quite delicious! There were musicians and folk dancers to entertain while eating.
After lunch we walked to a 16-17th century church which was made to look like a stable to be as inconspicuous as possible on the outside since Christians were subject to persecution under the Ottoman Empire. The inside is lavishly decorated with many fresco icons and religious scenes.It was very impressive. I took a pass on the next stop, which was a salesroom for rose products. Roses thrive in parts of Bulgaria and their products are a big part of the economy. They include rose oil,rose water, brandy etc.
The final stop on this excursion was a wealthy merchant;s home from the 16/17th century. The eastern influences are conspicuous. There is a 'safe room' where the family sought refuge if the Ottomans raided their home.
Then back on the bus for the trip to our new port, Nikopol/Svistor.







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All Photos September 21 - Bulgaria: Russe,
Veliko Tarnovo,


Wednesday, September 22 - Bulgaria: Vidin, Belogradchik,

Bulgarian independence day!
Early departure from Vidin by bus to Belogradchik for coffee and éclairs (Yum!!). Afterward we wandered up the hill to view the red rock formations and a town square where a band was playing. We danced a bit to the great interest to those around us. 
At the beautiful fortress at Belogradchik rock we climbed to the very top to enjoy the view of the amazing rock formations and down into the town.
In all the villages we could see wonderful private gardens - tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, grapes and much other food. They try to be self-sufficient. Buildings are rough brick or stucco, often whitewashed Drystone walls and red tiled roofs and chestnut trees everywhere on narrow rough roads and streets. Our guide explained that they try to maintain authentic Roman roads :)
The Danube Valley is fertile and the climate moderate.
Under communism there were attempts to introduce heavy industry-those failed after communism ended [ and factory derelicts are evident ].
The city of Vidin lost half its population when the chemical industries shut down and is returning to its roots as an agricultural, fishing, tourism and administration centre.
The communists left Bulgaria with a huge debt with which they've struggled ever since. They are receiving EU funds for infrastructure projects. Sitting in our cabin after lunch I could see many barges and ships plying the Danube. 
My Uncle Max warned me that the Danube is not blue, and most of the time that's true,but yesterday evening for a few moments it was blue. In any case it flows through beautiful country.
This afternoon, while Larry napped, I walked into Vidin and through the open air market. Some very tempting produce as well as a lot of clothing, shoes, toys and so on. We had no local currency so it was all window shopping.
The town centre is a very large open square with a war memorial and fountain. There's a lovely church and long pedestrian street. Kids were out with firecrackers, celebrating Independence Day.
Later in the afternoon we attended a ship lecture on the Eastern Orthodox Church and icon painting. The icons were gorgeous and they were for sale, but we resisted[ like where would you put it ].
After dinner moar of the Intrepids headed for the music quiz in the Lounge. We danced up a storm, but sadly didn't snag any prizes.

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All Photos September 22 - Bulgaria: Vidin, Belogradchik

Thursday, September 23 - Serbia:(Iron Gate), Donji
Milanovic, Kostolac, Viminacium

Luckily, we moved from Eastern European Time to Western European and so gained an hour of sleep, because we had to be on deck by 7am to experience the passage through the Iron Gate. The scenery is spectacular - high mountains surrounding the river on both sides, interesting buildings,ruins, carvings, and caves, all in the narrow, fast-flowing part of river. 
We moved into Serbia, docing at Donji Milanovic for customs and immigration formalities.
We were able to go ashore and see the sights. We even did a bit of shopping (a water colour). The church was lovely, and we were able to look through the door in the icons and see the altar. This was a surprise after the churches in Russia where those doors were tightly closed. It is a nice town and we saw more evidence of entrepreneurial initiative than in either Romania or Bulgaria. Lots of lovely handmade goods for sale.
We sailed on up the river for several hours before stopping at Kostolac to visit the Roman Ruins at Viminacium. The excavations there have been underway for more than a century, but strip-mining for coal in the close vicinity has some urgency to it. Already part of the burial grounds have been destroyed. We sampled local wine (not bad) and learned more about the country.
Kostolac is largely a resort town with few permanent residents, but the houses are very nice.
Across the river in Romania we could also see large estates. That area looks more prosperous than the ones we visited earlier.
After dinner it was time for (ta-da!!) the Canadian Quiz. We had a fine time and I think the guests did too! [ Janice did a great job hosting the event. ]











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All Photos September 23 - Serbia:(Iron Gate), Donji
Milanovic, Kostolac, Viminacium

Friday, September 24 - Serbia: Belgrade, Kovacica

Another fairly early morning for the Belgrade tour. There were vendors of home-made items at the waterfront. Again we admired the beautiful workmanship and were pleased that they were not aggressive about selling. Our guide today was particularly good, conveying the important historical and political facts in an interesting way. The weather was perfect all day, too. 
We passed several embassies on our way to the Kelemegdan Fortress. The embassies are impressive and beautiful, as are many buildings in Belgrade. We walked through the Fortress, moving backward in time. This point of land at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers has been a crossroads and strategically important location for millennia. Consequently, its history is blood-soaked. The views and fortress itself, though, are wonderful.
We then drove to Republic Square and walked through pedestrian streets to a hotel for a soft drink, then back to the bus.
It's a bustling city for sure, with many signs of growing prosperity. However, we also saw some pretty grim residential areas, and a lot of damage remaining from the NATO bombing 11 years ago.
Traffic is pretty heavy and in many places has out-stripped the capacity of the streets. 
Our last morning stop was the church of St. Sava. It is simply awesome! Huge and white, with the largest open area I've ever seen in a church, under a huge, high graceful dome. At noon the bells in the bell-tower all rang out.
After lunch on-board, we got back on the buses to visit the town of Kovacica. It is north of the Danube and so not on the Balkan Peninsula. It sits in the midst of a vast, flat, fertile plain. It is the home of many "naive" style artists. At the main gallery, we saw much of their work and had it explained. 
As well we enjoyed a performance by a small local orchestra and ate really delicious strudels.
We also visited the home and workshop of a famous violin maker, Jan Nemcek, who showed us how he selects wood and many of the violins he has created. Quite amazing!
On return to the ship we decided not to eat in the dining room, but just to snack in our cabin.
The evening entertainment was a Serbian folk dancing group who amazed us with their energy - to say nothing of their many costume changes!
[ Before the entertainment a historical expert lectured on Serbia today. There was pretty good history but when he got to the last 10 years his comments where very Serbia-serving on issues such as Kosovo and Bosnian war. Tomorrow there will be another point of view from the Croatian as he pointed out. ]


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All Photos September 24 - Serbia: Belgrade, Kovacica

Saturday, 25 September - Croatia: Vukovar, Osijek

We were slowed down today by the breakage of one of our two engines this morning. That put our arrival in Vukovar, Croatia down a bit as we lost a lot of speed. However we had a really interesting talk on the history and present situation of the European Union.
It's cool, cloudy and breezy, but we're hoping that the possibility of rain is unrealized. In this light the "blue" Danube is definitely brown.
Just as we arrived in Vukovar the rain begain. However it was light enough that we soldiered on.
Vukovar was one of the most damaged places in the war of 1991; it was the first line of defence against the Serbs. 1200 of the towns people held out for 3 months against the professional Serb Army but secumed at last. [ As a reward for this the the Serbs drove most of the families out of the town, killing many along the way and burying many, including the whole hospital patients and staff in mass graves. Unbelievable! ]. Most buildings, including the large and beautiful church, were destroyed, or badly damaged. Some are still in a state of collapse; others show much damage from shrapnel but many have been rebuilt and repaired [ giving the town a very surreal look ]. The reconstruction of the church is still ongoing on the inside.
From Vukovar we drove to Osijek. Though it did come under attack too, the UN peacekeepers arrived in time to save it from such great destruction. We toured the fortress which dates back to Roman times but the visible part is more recent [17/18 century].
We visited a lovely church and a pub [ Yes!! ] on the way back to the bus. On the trip back we saw fields with warnings of land mines! They are left from the 1991 war and records were not kept of where they were placed;[ about 15% of the land is uncleared ]. That means that the farmers can only use those fields that have been cleared.
On our return to the ship we went to the lounge for our normal briefing of the next day's activities. To our surprise Marek was joined by the Captain and another officer, all in full uniform [ my thinking: this can't be a good sign! ]. Well it turns out that the strain of driving the ship on the single engine caused it to fail as well so we are down to no engine at all. We cannot leave Vukovar on schedule. Engineers are on rushing in from Spain tomorrow to assess the problem and we'll get another report at 6:15 tomorrow.
We all felt like we would rather be "stranded" in Budapest or Vienna but we will see how this goes.
Later in the evening Marek gave a marketing presentation on other Viking Cruises that can be enjoyed. Afterwards we gave him a jolly hard time on the challenges of his presentation, given the current circumstances.



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All Photos 25 September - Croatia: Vukovar, Osijek

Sunday, 26 September - Croatia: Dakovo, Vukovar

Since we were not able to see the horse show in Hungary we were taken by bus to a Lippizaner stud farm in Dakovo, Croatia. The horses are really beautiful and on Sunday they do not go out of their boxes so we only saw them over the edges and through the bars of the stalls.
It was rainy and cool, but just as we boarded the bus to return to the ship, the sun came out. We got back to the ship and rain set in again. 
After lunch we walked through the town.
Later we joined the rest of the Intrepids for drinks and speculation about whether and when we'd set sail from Vukovar.
At the daily briefing our hearts sank when champagne was passed around as we gathered. However, the news was good. The engineers had arrived and had succeeded in repairing one engine!! We would depart at 10pm and spend a whole day underway, attempting to make our way to Budapest.
After yet another tasty dinner, we were well entertained by a lively 6-piece local band playing traditional Croatian music on traditional instruments with lots of the unique short, sharp whistles and shouts of "HOPA,HOPA!"










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All Photos 26 September - Croatia: Dakovo, Vukovar


Monday, September 27 - Hungary: Kalocsa

Most today was devoted to getting us as far along the river as possible. We had to stop for a couple of hours at the Hungarian border for formalities, but couldn't leave the ship.
The program director, Marek, gave a morning talk about his home country, Slovakia - very interesting [ a small country, he said, but cute - and on most maps of Europe (he had found one where it was missing) ].
In mid-afternoon we stopped for a couple of hours at Kalocsa, were we could walk among the fields, stop at a small souvenir shop or have a few beers at a couple of local spots. Larry walked several kilometers [ 11 round-trip; Jan thought I would miss the 6pm departure ] into town.
At the daily briefing we learned that we will get a full day in Budapest tomorrow.
In the evening, Marek was busy once again relating the story of Vlad the Impaller, aka Drakula. Very funny. Sweet dreams!











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All Photos September 27 - Hungary: Kalocsa


Tuesday, September 28 - Hungary: Budapest

Wonderful Budapest! Our tour left early ( we still have 24 hours to make up) and we were driven around both sides of the city divided by the river Danube. It is a wonderful, beautiful city. Highlights were pointed out.
Our first stop was Hero Square in the centre of the city. It is vast and impressive, with towering monuments depicting people or events of the past and surrounded by exquisitely decorated buildings.
We stopped at. the Citadel for panoramic views of the city, then on to Mathias Church with its gorgeous interior and more fantastic panoramic views from the terrace.
From there we made our way to a very old restaurant near the river for a delicious noon meal. On the way we passed a memorial consisting of many pairs of shoes, caste in metal, along the edge of the Danube. Towards the end of the Second World War many Jews were simply lined up here, shot and thrown into the water.
We then had free time so Larry, Lizzy, Mary Angelica and I walked to the great synagogue we had had pointed out on our drive around. MA had a look, then went back to look at the market. The rest of us took the tour inside and in the garden. Inside we were privileged to see the great gold doors opened, the screen removed and the Torahs revealed! What an amazing sight!
Walking through the arcade to the garden, we saw photos and memorial stones of many of those who died in the ghetto in WWII, and in the garden the silver tree with names inscribed on the leaves, and a lovely stained glass memorial.
We then had to hoof it back to the bus, to head back to the ship, which had gone on ahead to the next port ( to make up time ).
Carol wanted me to print the story of Princess Margaret into the Blog. So here's how I remember it: She was the daughter of King Steven and his wife Queen Elizabeth (Cici). In gratitude for something (coronation by the Pope? a victory over the Turks? conversion of the population? ) he promised that he would give his daughter to God. He built a convent/abbey/monastery on an island in the Danube where she became a Religious and spent the rest of her life dying at the age of 24 or 27 roughly. The island was named for her. (Carol - maybe you should Google it). [ Larry:Typing this up I did Google it, and here is the real story: "In the middle Ages it was called the Island of Rabbits and it functioned as royal hunting reserve. In the 13th century King Béla IV. founded a nunnery on the island after the Mongol Invasion. The king made a vow to sent her daughter, Princess Margaret to a Dominican nunnery if he could rebuild the country devastated by the Mongols.
The Mongols had to suddenly return to their homeland so King Béla had a chance to reorganise and rebuild the country. Faithful to his vow Béla sent the 11-year old Margaret to the convent. Since then the island has bore her name."]


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All Photos September 28 - Hungary: Budapest

Wednesday, September 29 - Slovakia: Bratislava -
Austria: Vienna

During the night we were awakened by thumps and bangs as we travelled through a lock. We woke up in time to watch the docking process in Bratislava.
At dockside we were met by our local guides and a little "choo-choo". It took us on a short tour so we could see the highlights, then we had a brief walking tour of the old city. 
During the free time that followed, some people visited St. Martin's Church, where many coronations took place when Bratislava was Hungary's capital.
The rest of us wandered to the little market and did some shopping. Then aboard the buses to drive to Vienna (only an hour and a quarter).
On arrival in Vienna we went straight to a restaurant for what was the first disappointing meal of this trip. They were so understaffed that eventually Lizzie and Elsie started carrying dishes of food from the kitchen. The strudel was excellent though.
From the restaurant we left for a bus tour of Vienna, seeing the highlights 
When we disembarked from the buses we were at Stephanplatz and immediately went into the church. It is magnificent!
From there, we had a walking tour and some free time. It was chilly, windy and damp but luckily we felt only a few drops of rain.
Wandering along the edge of the stables of the Spanish Riding School we were lucky enough to be able to glance into the courtyard and see the ring of stable and several Lipizzaner Stallions hanging out of their stalls. This was a better Lipizzaner visit than the farm in Croatia by far! Great surprise!
Eventually Larry and the two Johns, Mary and I made our way to an Australian pub near the Opera House for a drink. Back at St. Stephen's we went inside again and were lucky enough to hear a very good choir rehearsing.
Half a day seems very little for Vienna and it's really unfortunate that our engine troubles meant that both Bratislava and Vienna were short-changed. As of tomorrow though, we're back on schedule.
Lovely buffet dinner on-board tonight enabling those who opted for the Mozart Concert to get away.

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All Photos September 29 - Slovakia: Bratislava -
Austria: Vienna

Thursday, September 30 - Austria: Wachau Valley, Melk

This morning we transited the Wachau Valley which is a particularly scenic and historic part of the Danube. Marek pointed out sites of particular interest, such as the ruins of the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned. 
Following that we had an entertaining session on Coffeehouse Culture and a demonstration of apple-strudel making. Looks pretty easy; maybe we should try it.
After lunch we walked through the town of Melk to the Benedictine Abby, shopping a bit along the way. We had visited the Abby in 2002, but much has been added since then, and the Church itself is still extremely impressive. [ Anne, we looked at the cherubs - were you in the organ loft, or one of the 6 or so niches up along each side?].
Once back on board, we started our celebration of Sally Joe's birthday with a round of 'Ladies' Dreams' [ or what we used to call Harvey Wallbangers ] in the bar.
Then, after our daily briefing, we continued it and our celebration of John and Sue's 38th anniversary with champaign, speeches, laughter, tears, stories and finally cake.
We had to dash to hear the last half of Marak's story of Mozart ( the true story ) and by then we were ready to witness the ship's entry into the next lock and go to bed.










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All Photos September 30 - Austria: Wachau Valley, Melk

Friday, October 01 - Czech Republic: Cesky Kumlov,
Ceske Budejovice (brewery)

It was another early start as we set out for Cesky Kumlov, Czech Republic at 8:30am by bus from our docking in Lintz, Austria.
The countryside was lovely and Marek entertained with jokes.
Cesky Kumlov is a fantastic place - kind of like an idealized medieval town. There is a castle and narrow cobbled streets, little shops, and a beautiful church, to say nothing of the stories of love, betrayal, ghosts and vampires.
After a very interesting walking tour John, Mary, Lizzie, Marie Angelica and I wandered around until we found a tiny restaurant where we had a great and inexpensive meal. We watched the creation of ham and cheese crepes right by our table (the only one in the place).
A brewery tour then followed, but it was a disappointment.
Back at the ship we had a champagne reception with the captain, and then the Captain's Farewell Dinner; it was really delicious.
Afterward we took the Intrepids group photo and retired to our cabins.












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All Photos October 01 - Czech Republic: Cesky Kumlov,
Ceske Budejovice

Saturday, October 02 - Germany: Passau

In Passau, the end of the Danube cruise.
We had a luxurious later start this morning and a really interesting walking tour of the town. Since our tour guide has a PhD in Fine Arts, we got an authoritative story on the decoration of the many buildings we saw.
In the late morning we headed to the huge beautiful cathedral (another St. Steven's)for an organ concert. Since this is the largest church organ in the world, it was quite amazing! The 30 minute concert showed the full range of possibilities.
We wandered back to the ship for lunch, after which I left Larry aboard and walked back into Passau with Mary, Maria Angelica and Lizzie.
Now it's time to pack up and get ready for the next adventure. [ our pickup is at 7:30 for our transfer to Munich Airport where we will pick up our car. ]
The Captain's Farewell Dinner was lively and fun. We sung "Go Down In Peace" afterward, then went down to the lounge for a viewing of the official ship photo collection and the raffle draw. I'd had my eyes on an orange pashmira all week and couldn't believe it when I won it!



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All Photos October 02 - Germany: Passau