An Historical and Epicurean Delight

This was my first river cruise and it was a great way to experience the beauty and history of Eastern Europe with my 83 year old mother. It was a Gate One Cruise. We chose this cruise because my ex-daughter in law was from Romania and we’ve been curious about the culture of the country.

Due to flight delays we missed the first day of the cruise in Budapest, Hungary, our 15 hour flight ended up taking 38 hours! We got to the ship, the M/S Amadeus Symphony, at 1:00 AM on the second day. Luckily Mick, the cruise director, was still awake and met us as we went aboard the ship. He was sad that we missed a day but he made us feel welcome and lifted our spirits. He showed us to our cabins, which are nice. Our luggage didn’t make it to Budapest, so it didn’t take us long to unpack our carry-on bags, shower and go to bed.

Budapest is a fascinating city. I really hate that we missed a day there. We took a tour of the city and it was weird to hear our guide pronounce it Budapesh. It’s a beautiful city with so much history that it’s amazing.  There are actually ruins of a city built by the Romans under Castle Hill. The ruins were found when they were laying sewer pipes. There are also hot springs created by the thermal water under the city.

Hungarian Dinner

Appetizers;

‘Hortobagyi Palacsinta’ Stuffed Chicken & Sour Cream Crepes

Soups:

White Bean Soup or

Clear Fish Soup with Root Vegetables

Entrees;

‘Hungarian Goulash’, Braised Beef Stew in Paprika Sauce with Spatzle & Sour Cream

‘Hungarian Foges’, Sautéed Pike-Perch with Herb Rice & Letch Vegetables

Dessert;

‘Somloi Galuska’, Hungarian Chocolate Dumpling with Vanilla Sauce & Fresh Fruit

We started our cruise down the Danube during the night. Osijek, Croatia was our first port of call. On our tour of the area we saw breath taking landscape but also heard some frightening facts about it. For instance, if the land is uncultivated it’s because there are still land mines in the area! That knowledge kind of hampered the enjoyment of the beautiful scenery. Our guide talked a lot about the 91-97 war between Serbia and Croatia. Mom and I wondered if we’d hear a different story when we got to Serbia, but the Serbs didn’t talk about it at all.

This is inside the Croatian church, Mom in the second row.
The Church Alter
Alter inside of church

The Croatian tour took us to an interesting monastery that dated back to the 1400s and to a bird sanctuary. We didn’t really see very many birds; there was a film provided that showed the birds native to the area but it was upstairs and they didn’t have an elevator so I missed it. We then took a boat ride through the marshes; that wasn’t too much fun because of all the bugs in a marsh and not a lot to see. I prefer buildings with historical stories. After we returned to the ship we were fed a typical Croatian meal. It was neat the way the meals coincided with what country we were in.

On Wednesday, August 6th we arrived in Belgrade, Serbia. This was a stop that made me a little uneasy because the US Embassy had been attacked a couple of months earlier. But we found out that the Embassy actually only had a little bit of smoke damage on one of the outside walls. The news service had exaggerated what was going on, as usual. The atmosphere seemed pretty serene when we were there.

Mom and I took a tour of Belgrade and were very pleased with the experience. We visited a fortress that was started by the Celts in 700-600 BC, and then the Romans

worked on it. After the 1300s AD the Ottoman Empire took over the area and added to the fortress. The Bulgarians built on to this structure and finally the Serbs made their mark on the fortress. It was fascinating to see the different layers that were added on top of the previous ones.

Fortress
Fortress

After the tour, Mom & I walked around a retail square in the old part of Belgrade. It was a beautiful area; with trees, flowers and little sitting areas with umbrellas where we could get a snack in front of the stores. It was a wonderful experience. We also got to see a beautiful church, named for the first Archbishop of Serbia, St. Sava. It was covered in white marble.

Marble Church
Marble Church

Mom and I went back to the ship for lunch and then left to check out a souvenir shop we thought we saw a couple of blocks away. When we got there we were so disappointed to find that’s not what it was. As we walked back to the ship we passed some older ladies sitting at stands on the sidewalk crocheting some things. We stopped and looked at the things the ladies were selling. Mom was tired, so she started walking on. I decided to buy a doily with colorful pansies stitched into it. I paid the lady $10 and walked off. As I was walking across the street the woman came running after me & gave me another, smaller, doily with holly stitched on it. She didn’t speak much English but she pointed at Mom and said “for Mama”. It gave me a sweet feeling.

After we got down the ramp leading to the river we decided to investigate some metal buildings that were on down past the ships. We thought they were probably offices but we checked anyway. We discovered that they were shops and found a really cute one where we bought some art work.

Mick, the cruise director, finally got a hold of Air France and found out our luggage was there at the airport. But instead of bringing us the bags they lost, like they said they would, we had to take a taxi which cost $40 and go get them! That will definitely make me shy away from flying Air France again. When we got to the airport, no one seemed to know anything about where our luggage was. It took them more than an hour to find it. Thank God Mick went with us; at least he could speak the language and knew how to deal with the people. Mom and I laughed about what would have happened if Becky was with us. She would have had everyone jumping to get the bags found.

Serbian Dinner

Appetizer;

‘Salat od Hobotnice’, Mussel Salad with Garlic Baguette or

Boston Lettuce with Bacon Dressing & Pumpkin Seeds

Soups;

‘Pasulja’, Beef Consommé with Meat Strudel or

Serbian Vegetable Soup with Sour Cream

Main Courses;

Broiled Filet of Tilapia with Tomato-Garlic Ragout, Mixed Vegetables & Herb Rice or

‘Serbian Raznici’, Grilled mixed Meat Skewer with Herb Butter, Spicy Bell Pepper & Roasted Potatoes or

Vegetable Crepes

Desserts;

‘Makovnjaca’, Traditional Poppy Seed Strudel or

Carmel Crunch Ice Cream with Whipped Cream or

Fresh Fruits & International Cheeses

We had a relaxing sailing day on Thursday, the 7th, which was good considering all of the walking we did yesterday. The ship went through some locks where there were some interesting carvings in these huge stones; I got a video of them. They were kind of like a small Mt. Rushmore. It’s a good thing we got some rest on the 7th because we had to get up at 5:30 AM on Friday.

We docked at Svistov, Bulgaria on the 8th.  Mom and I took a bus tour that took us to Velriko Tarnova. It was beautiful driving along the Blue Danube. The guide talked a lot about the Gypsies that have traveled through and lived in the area for centuries. We also stopped along the way in Arbanasi. It was a really neat area where we saw a hidden church, called the Nativity Church. It’s amazing how recently people had to hide being religious and they did it well.

Gayle and Mom
Gayle and Mom

Bulgaria was established in 681 AD out of the Byzantine Empire; people still speak Russian. When we got to Velriko Tarnova we went to a restaurant that was up a bunch of steps, with no hand rail, but Mick and the guide help me up them. The lunch was very interesting; it consisted of eggplant, coleslaw, chicken casserole (chicken, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and cheese) and dessert. The dessert was a pastry with a very rich syrup poured over it. It was a little too sweet for me, a statement I never thought I’d say.

Mom and I left a little early so we could get back to the bus on time. Mick wasn’t around so my 83 year old Mom and the guide (a tiny girl that weighed less than 100 pounds) tried to assist me. The guide tried to get the bus driver, a big burly guy, to help us but he was an SOB and refused! Finally some of the other passengers came out & helped us.  Everyone was mad at the bus driver; I bet he received very few tips.

Bulgarian Dinner

Appetizers;

Smoked Fish Tartar with Pumpernickel or

‘Schopska Salata’, Tomato, Onion, Bell Pepper, Olive and Bulgarian Cheese

Soups;

‘Pileschka Supa’, Chicken Broth with Vegetables and Potatoes or

Cream of Green Bean

Main Course;

Grilled Fillet of Trout with Garlic Butter, Mixed Vegetables & Boiled Potatoes or

‘Kawarma ot Svinski Partchenca’, Sautéed Strips of Pork Filet with Paprika, Chili, Onion & Tomato served with Mashed Potatoes or

Spinach Tortellini with Herb Sauce

Desserts;

‘Baklava’, Bulgarian Nut Filled Cake or

Hazelnut Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce or

Fresh Fruits with Section of International Cheeses

On the 9th we arrived in Tulcea, Romania; the country I’ve been eager to see.  Mom and I walked around and found a gypsy lady in a small wooden structure selling crafts. I tried to find out how much things were but she didn’t understand English. She pointed to her watch and motioned for us to come back in an hour. We strolled around and looked at the buildings and then went back to see what she had figured out. When we got there she called someone on a cell phone and then handed me the phone. I explained what I was looking at and he told me how much the things I wanted cost. I bought a beaded necklace and bracelet for $20. Aren’t cell phones a blessing?

Mick the Cruise Director
This is Mick, the cruise director.

We docked at Cernavoda on August 10th and disembarked the ship at 10:00 AM for a tour of Bucharest. I was very excited to see the city from which my son, Demian’s ex-wife came. I took a lot of videos of Revolution Square and the huge Congress building; there’s been so much recent change. It was fascinating to see the Congress building and hear about the six floors underground. It sounded like a real maze, but that could be my not being able to visualize right the structure that he was describing.

Mom and I checked into the Radisson Hotel. We went to our room and made sure our luggage got delivered before we did anything, being without our bags on the first part of this trip was enough. We then went and talked to the concierge at the hotel. I was very disappointed to find out a day trip to Transylvania was $700! I guess Dracula will just have to come looking for us.

It was a little nerve racking because we kept hearing reports about Russia and the former region of the Soviet Union, Georgia threatening each other and that was too close to where we were.

After a $60 a piece lunch at the hotel, Mom and I walked around the area near the Radisson. We walked by an interesting church and the National Library then arrived at the National Art Gallery. The National Art Gallery wasn’t air conditioned, I think it was just broken but it made it too uncomfortable to stay very long. Mom went out side to sit on one of the benches in the trees to cool off. I got caught trying to video some of the art and had to put my camera back in my purse. Most of the paintings were very dark in color and when there was a woman in a painting, her head was usually covered in a scarf.

Mom outside the National Art Galley
Mom outside the National Art Galley

When we got back to the hotel we saw two couples that were from our ship. We were telling them about where all we had gone in our little excursion in the city of Bucharest and they told us how much they admired us. They thought we were very adventurous because we didn’t let Mom’s age or my handicaps keep us from traveling and enjoying life. It made Mom and I feel very proud.

The next day we took our final group tour with our shipmates. It was a city tour of Bucharest. It’s really a fascinating city, with centuries of history. The streets and sidewalks are immaculate, I was wanting to go to the history museum but it was closed; shoot that’s two things I didn’t get to do around Bucharest. I did buy a doll and a beaded egg that were cute. We had lots of fun on this tour.

Me being silly.
Me being silly.

The last day of trip was another exciting one. Mom woke up and misread the digital clock; it said 21:45 and she thought it said 2:14 which put her into a panic because we were supposed to be in the hotel lobby at 2:50! She woke me up and I joined into the panic until I looked at the clock and realized that she wasn’t reading the military time on the hotel clock. It was then 21:50 or 9:50 PM. I started laughing and pointed out the difference. We tried to get a little more sleep before our 1:30 AM wake-up call.

We got to the airport in Bucharest at 3:30 and went to check in. When we got to the counter we were told that they had an electronic record of my ticket but not Mom’s! I showed them our print out of both of our electronic tickets but they said we had to buy a new ticket for Mom and then apply for a refund. I went ahead and put the ticket on my credit card; it was $1504. That was better than risking the possibility of having to go through the mess we had at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris on the way in.

Our flight back to the US was on a Lufthansa plane. The plane and staff were really nice, which helped make the end of our journey enjoyable. This was definitely an experience to remember. We got to see places that have been going through major turmoil for 2000 years and munch on some very interesting meals.

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