Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise   2 comments

Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise

Mar. 29 – Apr. 9, 2016

Budapest, Hungary; Tvrdja, Osijek & Vukovar, Croatia; Novi Sad, Sremski, Karlovci & Belgrade, Serbia; Vidin, Ruse, Arbanassi, & Veliko Tarnovoi, Bulgaria; Constanta & Bucharest, Romania.


We booked “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea” with Grand Circle Travel.  This two week river boat cruise was our 35th trip with this company.  (The map of our itinerary is copied from the Grand Circle web site.)  We cruised 1,177 miles continuously along the Danube River, stepping ashore in five Eastern European nations.  Interestingly enough we also experienced five different currencies on our adventure.  Our wonderful tour director, Bojana is pictured below.  She was a joy to be around, very knowledgeable and loved sharing learning and discovery experiences.     

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The best part of this trip is the fact that our oldest son, Eric, decided he wanted to see this area of the world on a river boat, so we knew that was reason enough for us to do this trip.  It was so much fun!  In my previous blog I posted our pre-trip before we joined up with Grand Circle.  The three of us went to Vienna, Austria where our oldest daughter and son-in-law live and from there the five of us enjoyed the Easter weekend in the Wachau Valley of Austria.  So now, continuing on with our spring trip to Europe, here is my blog of “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea.” 


An update:  This was the last trip Jim & I took together.  Jim went to his heavenly home on May 9, 2016 when he was killed in an accident on our farm.  Jim & I had 51 wonderful years together.  We raised four children that we couldn’t be prouder of and we’ve had awesome family and friends all of those years.  We loved life together.  Praise God for all of our blessings!  We were not ready for Jim to make his heavenly journey just yet and we miss him so much, but as Christians we know that one day we will be together again.

  I just have to post this sequence of pictures, some of the last we have together.  Memories can’t get better than this!

                 P.S.  On my next blog after this I have a memorial to Jim, “the love of my life.”



SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Grand Circle Travel or Overseas Adventure trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 per person off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer number #561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 each off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip.


Budapest, Hungary:  Jim, Eric & I left Vienna by train early on a Tuesday morning in order to join up with the Grand Circle river boat in Budapest, Hungary.  


Our Grand Circle ship “The River Aria” was docked in a superb location near the ultra beautiful Parliament Building in the main area of Budapest. 


Marilyn waving from our upgraded balcony cabin. 


Budapest, Hungary:  It is situated on both sides of the Danube River, with Buda (on the right hilly bank) to the west and Pest (on the left flat bank) to the east.  Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary, with a population of 1.74 million.  It is the country’s principal political, commercial, cultural, industrial and transportation center. 

The lights of Budapest from our ship at night, with the Chain Bridge connecting the Buda and Pest sides of Budapest. 


The Chain Bridge:  It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, and was opened in 1849.  At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world’s engineering wonders. 


Castle Hill:  This is the historic side of Budapest located on the hilly Buda side.  Matthias Church dates to the 13th century and was formerly used for the coronations of Hungarian kings. 


Holy Trinity Statue:  The tall white statue was built in 1713 to commemorate the victims of the 1691-1709 plague epidemic and to protect the city from future plight.   Fisherman’s Bastion:  The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen who were responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages.  The Bastion has a great panoramic viewing terrace, with many stairs and walking paths and an amazing atmosphere.


Looking from the Fisherman’s Bastion to the Pest side of Budapest.


{All of the following sites are located on the Pest (flat side) of Budapest.}

Hungarian Parliament Building:  It is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, located on the Pest side.  This Gothic Revival style building is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings (1885) and a notable landmark of Hungary. 


Heroes’ Square:  This Millennial Column is set off by equestrian statues of the Magyar leaders who conquered this region during the 9th century. 


St. Stephen’s Basilica:  This Roman Catholic church is named after Stephen I, the first king of Hungary.  It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. 


Outdoor food court in Budapest.  Particularly enjoyed the sign for the “Rooster Testicle Stew.” 


The Great Synagogue:  The largest in Europe, designed in a Moorish style and was built from 1854-1859.  The synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial and the Jewish Museum.


It is estimated that Hungary’s pre-war Jewish population was 800,000.  The extermination phase of Jews in Hungary began after the Nazi invasion in March 1944.  In May 1944 the deportations to Auschwitz began. In just eight weeks, some 424,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After October 1944, when the Arrow Cross  party came to power, thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube and tens of thousands were marched hundreds of miles towards the Austrian border. In all, some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.

Holocaust Memorial at the Great Synagogue:  The weeping willow monument in Budapest to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Each leaf is inscribed with the family name of one of the victims. 


Holocaust Shoe Memorial:  Thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube.  The location of this memorial is close to the Parliament and beside the Danube River in Budapest. The shoes represent Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.


And now our 1,177 mile cruise on the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Constanta, Romania began.

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In the night we cruised from Budapest to Batina, Croatia.  At Mohacs we arrived at the Hungarian border and the authorities required a face check of every passenger with our passports.  So about 4:30 in the morning we all marched to the lobby so they could see our sleepy faces.


Tvrđa (Citadel), Croatia:  We docked at Batina, Croatia and took a coach about 12 miles to Osijek.  We first stopped at Tvrda which is the old historical city of Osijek in Croatia. Tvrda has a Habsburg star fort built on the right bank of the River Drava.  All five planned bastions and two gates were complete by 1715.  Tvrđa was the largest fortress on the border with the Ottoman Empire.


This single-nave St. Michael’s Church with two towers (1725–1748) was built by the Jesuits on the foundations of the Kasim-pasha’s Mosque.  Tvrda It has the best-preserved and largest ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia.


Church of the Holy Cross & Monastery, Tvrdja:  The Franciscans spearheaded the renewal of Catholic life in Slavonia in the years following the Ottoman occupation, and built this monastery church to serve as their spiritual center.  The accompanying monastery was the site of a theology academy and in 1735, Slavonia’s first printing press.


Elementary School Visit In Osijek, Croatia:  We had a special treat when we visited the elementary school in Osijek.  This school in supported, in part, by the Grand Circle Foundation.  The students put on a wonderful musical performance for us. 


The Battle of Vukovar, Croatia:  Before the war of Independence Vukovar was a mixed community of Croats, Serbs and other ethnic groups.  Between August and November 1991, there was an 87-day siege of Vukovar & surrounding villages by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), and supported by various paramilitary forces from Serbia.  This area remained occupied by Serb hand until 1998, when it was reintegrated into Croatia.  The war ended with Croatian victory.  A total of 20,000 people were killed in the war, and refugees were displaced on both sides.

The Vukovar water tower:  Heavily damaged in the battle, the tower has been preserved as a symbol of the conflict.


Home Hosted Dinner with survivor of the Battle of Vukovar:  We joined a local family for lunch in their home.  It was indeed a learning experience.  The young man at the end of the table told us how one morning in 1991 they received a phone call from a friend at the other end of town telling them the Serbs were marching in and killing everyone in sight.  His family had a small farm so they quickly turned all their animals loose and escaped with the clothes on their back to a large town further inland.  He said that town was under constant seize but was never occupied.  The Serbs occupied their home in the countryside for 7 years.  When they returned in 1998 most of it was unrecognizable but they have worked and rebuilt everything. 


Vukovar, Croatia:  Serbia is located directly across the Danube River.   Our ship was docked in this area of Vukovar next to the memorial to the 20,000 people killed during the Battle of Vukovar.  Many of the building are still waiting for repairs from the battle, and many are renovated.     


Novi Sad, Serbia:  It’s the second largest city in Serbia with a population of about 250,000.  The city lies on the S-shaped meander of the river Danube.  It was a very pleasant town and Jim, Eric & I enjoyed strolling around the Old Town, shopping a bit, having a cup of coffee and eating ice cream, not once but twice. 


Sremski Karlovci:  It is a small town located about 8 miles from Novi Sad and has a population of approximately 9,000. It is renowned for its numerous and richly decorated baroque and neo-classical buildings.


Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas:  It was erected in 1762. It is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Serbian baroque architecture. 


Jovan Zivanovic Apiculture (beekeeping) Museum and Winery:  We learned about beekeeping and also visited the 300 year old wine cellar.  We enjoyed samples of both the wine & honey.


Yes, this is April 2, and all day it was Jim’s birthday.  That evening it wasn’t the usual dinner at the ship, we were taken to the countryside in Serbia for dinner.  Talk about a fun birthday celebration.  He had local gypsies serenading him and then the lighted birthday cake!  A great evening. 


Belgrade, Serbia:  Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, and former capital of Yugoslavia.  It’s one of Europe’s oldest cities, and the center of political and cultural life in the country.  Belgrade and the rest of Serbia are still emerging from many years of repressive rule. 

Tito Memorial:  This memorial honors Josip Broz Tito, who held Yugoslavia together as an independent country in the turmoil that followed WWII and the Cold War. 


St. Sava orthodox Cathedral:  It’s one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. 


Belgrade Fortress:  This imposing fortress is on a rocky ridge at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava rivers.  At the end of the first century A.D. the Romans built a fortress here, since then it’s been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.  The fortress is now the site of several museums and Kalemegdan, a vast park.


Exploring the busy downtown of Belgrade on a Sunday afternoon.


Day 8 was spent cruising on the Danube.  It was a delightfully sunny day and we enjoyed being on the top deck to watch the sites go by. 


The rock sculpture of Decebalus:  A carving in rock of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which is now modern Romania. The sculpture was made between 1994 and 2004.


The Danube was once a raging river pounding through deep gorges.  In the 1960’s Yugoslavia & Romania cooperated on a joint venture that raised the level of the Danube with a series of hydroelectric dams called the Iron Gates


Vidin, Bulgaria:  It’s a city in the northwest of Bulgaria, on the banks of Danube River.  Vidin is a border town with Romania to the North and Serbia to the west.  Vidin is currently the poorest city in the EU, but it is a pretty town with many historic and cultural landmarks.  Tourism has experienced a decline except for groups that come along the Danube on cruises.

Baba Vida:  This is Vidin’s main landmark, built in the period from the 10th to the 14th century.   It is said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in the country. The castle has got a nearly square shape, its angles pointing at the four geographical directions.


The Vidin synagogue deserted after the Jews were forced to leave.  Next is the Mosque of Vidin. 


When Derick was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria he sent home his favorite baking dish–the Bulgarian traditional clay-pot covered baking dish.  It arrived home broken.  I purchased his replacement in this little shop. (first picture), and carefully carried it home.   

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Cruising from Vidin to Ruse, Bulgaria.


 Ruse, Bulgaria:  It’s located on the Danube and the Danube River forms a natural border between Bulgaria & Romania.  Ruse is known for its 19th and 20th century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture.  We docked in Ruse, but just saw an overview of the city since we chose to do an optional excursion to Arbanassi & Veliko Turnova.


 Arbanassi, Bulgaria:  It is located near Veliko Turnovo and is known for the rich history and 17th- and 18th-century churches.  The cute little town has 80 houses, five churches and two monasteries and they reflect the fortress-like architectural style of that time when the town flourished.  

The Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel Church, Arbanassi:  This 300 year old church has a plain exterior with a flat roof.  Under Turkish rule, churches couldn’t be taller than a mosque and they couldn’t have domes. The architect created a dome (important to Orthodox Christians) on the inside by lowering the ceiling around it.  The walls are all covered with frescoes.  Inside the church a men’s cappella group sang for us.  It was beautiful. 


Konstantsaliev House:  This house is among the largest of the richly decorated houses that have been preserved in Arbanassi.  This 400-year old house has been turned into an interesting museum. It had an upstairs guesthouse with a carved ceiling, a family bedroom (where they all slept together), a nursery, kitchen and dining room.


Lunch at Mexaha Restaurant in Arbanassi:  We were greeted with the traditional hot bread fresh out of the oven, and then enjoyed a delicious lunch at this cute restaurant.


Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria:  It was the capital of Bulgaria from 1186 to 1394.  The town is situated on 3 hills and presents a unique architecture with the houses seemingly stacked one above the other on the hills that slope downwards to the Yantra river. 


Tsarevets Fortress:  From 1185-1395, Bulgaria was the largest and most powerful state in Southeastern Europe, and Tsarevets Hill was the main fortress of the Medieval capital of Veliko Turnovo. 


The Bulgarian countryside as we traveled from Veliko Tarnovo to Ruse.  We saw lots of shepards out with their sheep and cattle. 


Back in Ruse, our ship was honored with a serenade by the Ruse Men’s Band. 


Danube-Black Sea Canal:  On our last day of cruising, the MS River Aria sailed the European canal system that links the North Sea to the Black Sea.  The Canal was notorious as the site of labor camps in the 1950s Communist Romania, when, at any given time, several tens of thousands political prisoners worked on its excavation.  More than 40,000 forced laborers died building this canal under Stalin from 1949-53.


The 40 mile canal was begun in 1949 and not fully completed until 1987.  We are passing through a lock.


Port of Constanta:  It was interesting to see the off-shore drilling as we passed by.  The port is the main container hub in the Black Sea, and all direct lines between Asia and Black Sea call in Constanța.


I found this article in the Constantza Port News:  Thursday, 07 April 2016
 River Aria opens the cruise season in Constanta Port.


“Today, April 7, at 13 o’clock, the river vessel River Aria will open the cruise season in Constanta Port.  The vessel comes from Ruse (Bulgaria) with 143 American tourists who will finish their cruise in Constanta. They will be disembarking tomorrow, April 8, and will be transported to the Otopeni Airport.”

(So I guess this is way there were TV reporters with cameras when we disembarked the ship.  They interviewed a couple of our passengers, but I didn’t  see that in the news article.)

Constanta, Romania:  This city is the country’s oldest continually inhabited city.  It dates back more than 2,300 years.  It has a population of approximately 285,000 and is the fifth most populated city in Romania.  The Port of Constanta is the largest port on the Black Sea and one of the largest in Europe.

We toured the historical area of Constanta, beginning with the The National Museum of History and Archaeology.  The Glykon Snake is considered a unique piece in the world, representing a deity of the Romanian mythology (2nd century BC).


Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul:  Built between 1883 and 1885 it was the first Orthodox settlement built in the area of Constanta after the release from Ottoman domination.  The inside of the Cathedral is remarkably beautiful. 


I think Jim is walking with a bounce to his step today!


 Then a visit to Mamaia Beach on The Black Sea.


Our farewell dinner and our farewell to the Captain, hotel manager & tour directors on the awesome MS River Aria.


 We disembarked the River Aria one last time and went by coach to Bucharest, Romania.  I have to share this fascinating poster that I saw in a restroom at a truck stop on the highway as we en route to Bucharest.  Don’t know if it’s a left-over from Communist times or what. 


Bucharest, Romania:  It is the capital and largest city of Romania, as well as its cultural, industrial, and financial center.  It has a population of approximately 1,900,000 within its city limits.  The late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was all about fine architectural buildings and broad tree lined avenues, so we saw all of this in our bus tour of the city.


Palace of the Parliament:  It’s the seat of the Parliament of Romania and the it is the second largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon in the United States).   It was former dictator Ceausescu’s most infamous creation.  Ceausescu had between 20,000 and 100,000 workers on the project.  It is said that thousands of workers died here.  This 3,000 room palace was built in 1984 and is still unfinished.  A picture from the front and from the back shows how huge this building is. 


Revolution Square:  This is the building on what is now called Revolution Square where Dictator Ceausescu stood on the balcony in front of 100,000 people that had been forced to come listen to him.  He was overtaken by the crowd during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.


 The Romanian Revolution, Dec, 1989:  It started in the city of Timisoara and soon spread throughout the country, ending when Dictator Ceausescu was giving a speech in Bucharest to 100,000 people.  The crowd began chanting anti-government slogans & booing, and violence erupted on the streets with more than 1,100 people were killed. The Ceausescus escaped by helicopter, but were captured.  After a one-hour trail, the Ceausescus were found guilty of genocide and other crimes, and killed by a firing squad.  Thus ended 42 years of Communist rule in Romania with Ceausescu ruling Romania for the last 21 years of the 42 years.  He earned the reputation as being a brutal dictator. 

This man, 27 years ago, was one of the people that led the Romanian Revolution.  He is showing us the picture of him (front & center) on a captured military vehicle.  GCT arranged for this hero to tell us about communist times.  He told of the brutality the people of Bucharest endured; the freezing cold with no heat, no food, very little water, cruelty, and among other things you couldn’t even be in a group of over five people or you would be shot. 


I copied this photo from Wikipedia, and the caption reads, “Protesters rejoice after taking control of a military vehicle in Bucharest.”  Our guest speaker is front & center on this vehicle.


  On this trip we traveled in Eastern Europe, and in every area we learned of the atrocity and horror many and most of the people endured from the time of Hitler; to countries being occupied by tyrants; and through the time of Communist rule.  The Eastern European’s are a strong and resilient people to be admired.  Not only did we learn their history first hand from many remarkable people, we also saw and enjoyed the wonderful, beautiful area in which they live. 

Here in America twenty-seven years ago Jim & I were happily going about our daily life and raising our children in freedom, not giving much thought to the struggles of the Eastern European people.  People….stand tall for freedom and daily thank those that have protected, and those that continue to protect our freedom.  God bless freedom and God bless America!


Posted May 4, 2016 by marilynfarmer in Travel

2 responses to “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise

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  1. Wonderful pictures….Thanks so much for sharing! We’ll be on this cruise on 3 weeks and your travel blog has me looking forward to this journey even more than ever.

    • Hi Carol, thank you & glad this blog makes you look forward to your journey on this cruise even more. I would say you selected a good time of year to do this cruise. When you are in Budapest get directions to go to the outdoor food court, it was fun. Try to go hungry even though I know that will be hard to do with all the great food on the ship. Don’t miss the “Shoe Memorial” in Budapest. We were docked very close to it so hopefully you will be also.

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