Grand Eastern European River Cruise

River cruise from Bonn to the Black Sea on the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube–June 11 to July 7, 2015


Cruise Makers

Our River Navigator cruise director and concierge do everything but sing us to sleep at night.  They give us maps on our way out the door to take tours, suggest things to see at every stop, and never stop working or smiling.  I really suspect that Veronika’s positive energy is some sort of superpower, so many details, so flawlessly executed, and all the while exuding FUN. Still, I’d have been in a bad way without Laszlo.  He showed up beside my dining chair a couple days into the cruise and said, “I’ve been shopping for you.”  He had gluten-free pasta, bread, cereal, and flour, so I could […]


Eastern European media list

Reading ahead ups my enjoyment of a trip no end.  Big cities, and architecture never did much for me, but after reading Chicago’s history and triumph in building skyscrapers on mud, I couldn’t wait to see them. Before our cruise I searched for something to read about Eastern Europe and came up short.  Maybe I can save someone else from a similar fate by sharing this list of books and movies our guides mentioned is noteworthy. Our cruise director introduced  Sissi–Forever My Love by telling us that she grew up watching it every year around Christmas.  It has the feel of a sixties-era Disney production–cutesy music, hokey characters, cheesy humor; but I was so glad to […]


Team Inspiration

Steve is driven about getting out early in the morning, so while I sleep, he goes up top and talks to whoever’s there.  Often it’s Bruce, a fifty-year-old arborist, who looks like a kid amongst all these seasoned seniors.  Bruce is traveling with his 93-years-young father, Jim.  Jim doesn’t need an escort.  He walks with the best of us and shows no slippage in the knowhow department.  On one of our first stops, Bruce passed us on a street somewhere in Franconia and asked if Steve had seen Jim.  He sounded concerned, so we asked other passengers to keep an eye out as […]


Smart Travelers Speak “Stupid”

Two of our friendliest fellow passengers are Ray and Nedy, who both immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Before I tell you about their travel smarts, I have to tell Ray’s story.  Baby Ray was born during World War II, and when the Japanese invaded, he was put in line to be bayoneted.  Just as his turn came, the soldier fell dead.  He’d taken a bullet from an American sniper. Ray and Nedy learn everyone’s names, especially staff members.  They believe in using the local language, even if it’s only a few words.  To reinforce the rudeness of […]


Danube Dogs

In the back garden of a historic house, a sleepy pooch sported a metal strip about the size of a jumbo bobby pin on its ear.  Why?  When Bulgarian dog catchers nab a stray, they neuter it, tag it, and release it back onto the street.  We watched two of these mutts work a lock as our ship passed through.  Trotting alongside, they waved their tails and greeted the boat so eagerly, my heart ached to feed them or at least scratch behind an ear.  The six homeless fellers bedded down around our Black Sea port suggest that Romania’s policy must be similar. Is it kinder to put homeless […]


Euro-conomy

I told a young fisherman wearing a Colorado sweatshirt, “I am from Colorado.”   His response was short and awkward, a clear tipoff that his English is as bad as my German.  That’s false advertising, dang it. Being unable to communicate with most locals, we cruisers satisfy our  curiosity by asking our guides about daily life.  The Hungarian said her health care is free except that she needs to tip the doctor in advance to have a better chance at good care.  I hope we aren’t headed down that road. In Bulgaria a guide joked that money is so short that when a Bulgarian tells his friends about buying a new car, they ask, […]


Wanted: Happy-Thought Nazis 7/7/15

Our cruise director warned us before we disembarked that no matter how nice the hotel, leaving the ship always feels as if we’ve been expelled from paradise.  She was so right.  Our farewell banquet at the  hotel had little of the charm we’d been steeped in on the River Navigator.  We could hardly hear our table-mates.  The was service was slow.  The staff didn’t understand about gluten free.  And mostly, we’d lost the staff we’d come to think of as friends. Friendships were viral on this cruise, and I suspect that even for the Navigator,  we were a special group.  Early on I noticed that a number of us were militant positive thinkers.  No whine went unchallenged […]


market building

Romanian Finish Line–the Black Sea 7/5/15

In Constanta we visited an excavation of a Roman market from the third century, lots of big round-bottomed jugs (amphorae) Roman architectural flourishes, and an elaborate mosaic floor.  It blows my mind to think I’m looking at relics created by ancients, but I have to admit that I missed most of what our guide said.   My brain is so punch-drunk from 3 weeks of nonstop wonders, it takes an electrifying narrative to hold my attention. The museum down the street displayed lots of delicate glass bottles used for cosmetics.  Makeup was critical in the Roman women’s effort to compete with the beautiful Dacian locals.  One woman was buried with enough gold jewelry to dent […]


Bulgarian Celebration 7/4/15

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 […]


Small Town Serbia 7/2/15

The women of tiny Donji Milanovac were ready for us with an impressive line-up of stands selling mostly lace work.  I pulled a pretty green sweater on over my blouse to see if it fit and looked around for a cruise-mate to tell me if it worked.  The lady selling the sweater had it handled and pulled out a mirror then showed me where to stand for the best light.   Having been relocated in 1970 due to a new dam this town of 1,500 has only a couple historic monuments and buildings to attract tourist trade, so the residents have to hustle.  Smiling boys sold honey beside out gang plank.  A kitten greeted us, yowling to be petted as we […]