Signs along the road from Ruse, Bulgaria to the Baltic mountains warn, not of deer crossing, but horse-drawn farming equipment. I didn’t see any, but Steve spotted a team working a field. We’ve seen lots of farmland. In Germany it was mostly vineyards, but now it’s wheat, corn, and sunflowers for cooking oil. Our guide told me that there are bears, wild boars, and jackals in the mountains. Gypsies in this area once kept dancing bears, but that’s illegal now.
Our destination was Arbanassi, a small city surrounded by wooded hills with a five-star fortress atop one. The fortress is mostly reconstruction, but I’m not a purist. Its 6-foot stone walls contain an elaborate church, a palace, 3 former drawbridges, and lovely views of hillside villages below. On an opposing hillside is an old home–maybe mansion–that belonged to a wealthy Ottoman merchant. The whole family slept in one huge, hard bed, except when the mother gave birth and was quarantined with the baby for 40 days. Seclusion gave them a better chances at survival, but 40 days alone in one room with a newborn?
Back at the ship the local philharmonic orchestra serenaded us from the dock, helping us celebrate July 4th with sometimes recognizable patriotic melodies. They were fine musicians, they just gave it their own twist. Our fireworks fix came from sparklers atop the Baked Alaska which was paraded during the captain’s dinner. I seriously dislike liver, but foie gras is such a big deal, I had to try a half-smidgeon of the duck liver appetizer. I was pleasantly surprised for a second. Then the ghastly taste settled into my tongue and wouldn’t go away. I don’t know what I’d have done without the large bowl of cleansing cucumbers I’d gotten as a salad substitute. I’m sure it was wonderful foie gras. All our food was excellent and heroically presented. Next time I’m offered duck liver, I’ll take its picture and set it free.