river cruise

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 […]

Bucharest, City of Visions 7/6/15

Bucharest is nicknamed Little Paris, and even after the communists demolished scores of historic buildings, the architectural wonders could keep a visitor rubbernecking for years.  In Bulgaria the Turks once decreed that no church could be taller than the mosque, so the Orthodox Church started at sub-basement level to allow lofty ceilings.  In Bucharest, the communists dealt with soaring church spires by dwarfing them into obscurity with crowds of skyscrapers. Nicolae Ceaușescu tried to dwarf them all.  His People’s Palace is the world’s heaviest and second largest building, a beautiful monstrosity of marble, wood carving, crystal, and gilt.  Ceaușescu began his career as a reasonable communist dictator.  He was popular, criticized […]

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 […]

market building

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 […]

Bombs Over Belgrade 7/1/15

After yesterday’s Croatian atrocity stories, I was curious to hear Serbia’s side.  Our Belgrade guide blamed politicians for stirring up tensions between different peoples in order to break off a little piece of their own to rule.  (Pretty much sums up human history doesn’t it?)  Slobodan Milosevic, she said, orchestrated the attacks on Croatia.  The Serbs finally got so fed up with him that a million gathered in protest.  When the military refused Milosevic’s order to fire teargas on them, he decided not to “contest” his lost election after all. We Americans were the attackers in Serbia, and Belgrade is a shining […]

Croatia: Beauty amidst the horrors 6/30/15

Our director warned us that the Croatians were depressing, and mass slaughter is hard to present with any gaiety.  Atrocity blow-by-blows drain the thrills out of bombed-out, bullet-riddled buildings in short order.  Until the bombing, Vukovar boasted the finest historic buildings in Croatia.  Now the city is struggling to restore them to their original glory in hopes of boosting a shattered economy.  Of course, magnificence doesn’t grow on trees, so the rebuild drags on in desolation. A church that survived the bombing was a definite change of pace for us.  The guitar concert there was a nice way to boost our interest in […]

Impressive Pecs 6/29/15

Pecs (“C”s are pronounced “ch”) Hungary was founded by the Romans in the 4th century.  We toured an excavation of their burial crypts.  The burials included valuables which attracted numerous ransackings over the centuries.  Desperate people sometimes lived in the crypts too, but a millennium and a half later, many of those walls still stand.  One supports a ceiling still adorned with Christian frescos.  That’s staying power. The newer historical buildings are impressive too.  Exquisite cathedrals lost their wow-power a couple weeks into this cruise, but this one is exquisite and exotic.  Those Ottoman Turks knew how to do beauty.  Even the […]

Last Grab at Budapest 6/27/15

Before our trip, a woman just back from Budapest told me not to miss the baths there.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Was I going to take an actual bath with soap and maybe a vigorous scrubbing by a hefty washer woman?  Well, sort of.  The baths were beautiful swimming pools–some indoor with marble and mosaics, some outdoors surrounded by gardens, some steaming, some cooler to cold.  Any number of spa treatments were offered as well.  My masseuse wasn’t hefty, but she certainly had the attitude.  “Take it off,” she said of my swimsuit–no towel, no drape, no options.  She gave my muscles what-for, […]

Holloko Hoedown 6/26/15

On our side trip to an olden town in the hill country, I climbed down into a wooded gorge lush with oaks, bird cherries, and flowering vines.  Just outside the gorge, heavy equipment clattered and roared, but the gorge was blissfully quiet–nothing but bird song and buzzing flies.  Clearly I’m seriously nature-deprived when even fly-buzz soothes my soul. The village is called Holloko, which means Raven Stone.  Other than a requisite castle ruin on the hill the building are all modest homes.   We were welcomed with cheesecake that looked more like strudel with cottage cheese on top.  Then a group of dancers in traditional costumes chanted to accompany time worn footwork. The home-hosted lunch included do-it-yourself […]