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Pauline Hager

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Cruising the Danube River
by Pauline Hager   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, February 10, 2012
Posted: Sunday, February 05, 2012

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Our vacation this year consisted of touring the Balkan countries, including Austria and Germany with Viking River Cruise.

Volume 7, Issue 2, Febuary 2012

Page Five


 


 

Cruising the Danube
By Pauline Hager

Last November my husband and I booked a cruise up the Danube River with Viking River Cruises to see the Balkan States, including Austria and Germany. The Danube once formed the eastern border of the Roman Empire and now forms the borders of many of the Balkan States. The 16 day cruise tour began in Bucharest, Romania and ended in Passau, Germany.

HagersROMANIA: The weather in Bucharest was balmy in early November, temperature hovering around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We had read the rains were often heavy in November, however, we were prepared with our collapsible umbrellas and heavy waterproof jackets. The tour guide met us at the airport in Bucharest and after a 45 minute bus ride we arrived at the Athenee Palace Hilton Hotel, a very nice abode, indeed. After a light dinner, we returned to our room and crashed in our beds, exhausted from our long flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C. to Munich, Germany and finally to Bucharest.

The next morning, after breakfast, we boarded a bus and toured the city. Our first stop was a beautiful 17thcentury Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Church. Sunday morning services were in progress and the church was filled with worshipers. Orthodox churches built in Europe during that era did not provide benches and the people stood throughout the long service. We looked at colorful frescoes painted on the altar wall, door and surrounding walls and ceiling, as four priests chanted the liturgy. From there we boarded our tour bus and drove to the lavish and expansive Palace of Parliament, also referred to as the “House of the People”, built during the dictatorship of the infamous communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Several blocks long, we were told it’s the second largest building in the world; the U.S. Pentagon being first. This monstrous building, several floors high, is mostly void of furniture due to lack of funds. Our tour guide freely admitted that Romania is destitute partly due to the corruption and wasteful spending during Ceausescu’s rein, and still rampant today. She explained that Romania had been under the yoke of the Ottoman Turkish Empire from the 15th to the 18th Century and has never fully recovered from the corrupt and extortionist practices of the Ottomans and later the communist autocrat rule. Later after a five-course lunch, folkloric musicians and dancers entertained us in their native costumes. We spent the remainder of the day touring this interesting and vibrant capital city. Several hours later, we arrived at our home away from home, The Primadonna, a beautiful Viking river cruise Catamaran on the Danube River docked at the port city of Oltenita. After a five course dinner, we retired to our room and unpacked. I can remember saying to my husband, “Just think, we won’t need to pack and unpack our clothes for another 15 days.”

BulgariaBULGARIA: The following morning we docked at the ancient town of Rousse, Bulgaria. Following a buffet breakfast, our tour bus awaited to transport us to this modern city with a history dating to Roman times. Russe is also a gateway to Romania’s fabled Transylvania region on the other side of the river. Unfortunately we did not take that route, which would have taken us to Dracula’s castle. (That’s a different tour.) We continued onto the countryside to the former Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, a picturesque medieval city set on the city’s four wooded hills above the Yantra River. We stopped at Tsaravets Hill to view the ruins of the royal castle and the steep, winding hillsides. We enjoyed lunch in a local restaurant in the suburb of Arbanas, another historic village. Lunch was accompanied with native musicians and dancers, followed by a guided tour of an Orthodox Nativity Church close by, famous for its beautiful frescoes. Similar to Romania, the Ottoman Empire was in Bulgaria and ravaged the country for several centuries, followed by civil wars and the rise of communism, we were told. The tour guides in all the countries we visited are well-educated and very knowledgeable in their countries’ history and politics. Then back to our ship in time for another five-course dinner. By this time, I was skipping the appetizers and the soup or salad portions, to the amazement of our waiter. There was always entertainment after dinner, but this evening the staff instructed us to join them in the Viking Salon. We were told that due to insufficient rainfall in Northern Europe, the water level in the Rhine and Danube Rivers was getting low. They were having a drought, but not to worry, the river water was high enough for navigation. BUT, just in case, as we sail farther north and find we are affected by this drought, Viking had alternative plans. Again, the captain and staff reiterated not to worry, they were experienced. We were skeptical but they were very convincing. We wanted to believe them although there wasn’t a drop of rain since we arrived. As we sailed farther north, the weather had taken a turn for the worst; cold and foggy every day, but not yet freezing. We seldom saw the sun, and daylight rapidly darkened by 4 p.m.

The following morning we arrived in Vidin, Bulgaria. After a hasty breakfast our tour bus took us to the Rocks of Belogradshick, famous for its red-colored rocks, formed by millennia of weathering, river erosion and other natural forces. If you allowed your imagination to roam, you visualized figures resembling silhouettes of people, towers, ships, palaces and animals. After a buffet lunch aboard ship, we rode to the fortress of Baba Vida, built between the 10th and 13th centuries, and one of the last remaining intact Bulgarian fortresses. We returned to Vidin, and as we drove around this old city, we saw several Orthodox churches, circled the Osman Pazvantoglu Mosque and the ruins of a Jewish Synagogue built in 1894, reminiscent of the many cultures that live or have lived in Vidin through the centuries.

Roman BathsSERBIA: Our next stop was Kostolac, Serbia. We arrived in the afternoon and time for lunch before touring the ancient Roman town and military camp of Viminacium, built during the 1st through 5th century. The town is known as “The Balkan Pompeii” because of its remains and gravesite discovered during recent excavations. We visited Porta Practoria, the north gate of the former military camp. Excavation was still in progress as we visited the Roman Baths, which no respectable Roman town would be without. We also visited the mausoleum where the 3rd century Roman emperor Hostilian is buried, including viewing some beautiful fresco paintings. There was a notice on the wall in the tourist center that read the United States Government is funding this project. (No amount given.)

During the night we sailed by the town of Turnu Severin, where a dam with two locks was built to make this portion of the Danube navigable. As I slept, a loud noise woke me up. I jumped out of bed and looked out through the glass door leading to our balcony. The full moon glimmered on the black water and on a massive concrete wall alongside our ship. We were going into the lock of the dam. Our cabin was far below the top of this massive concrete wall. Claustephobia set in. The ship was so close to the wall. I felt I could touch it. It was closing in on me and any minute I would suffocate and drown. Eventually the water rose, lifting the ship to pass the dam. My panic attack subsided. We had traveled through the Panama Canal, but we were outside on deck in broad daylight, enjoying the experience. The next morning we woke up in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. This ancient city has a long history of captivity, starting from the 3rd BC century with the Celtics, then the Romans in the 1st century and later the Turkish Ottoman and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. What shocked me was the bullet holes left in buildings and shells of buildings bombed by NATO during the conflicts between the Serbs and their Muslim and Orthodox neighbors in the 1990s.

Driving along Embassy Row the tour guide informed us that the United States is building a “monstrous” new U.S. embassy there. The construction workers are changed every two or three weeks for security reasons. We stopped at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkan states. This magnificent structure, started in the 19th century, is in a prolonged state of construction, interrupted by constant wars and lack of money. As we entered this mammouth church, we were not allowed to walk on one side as there was heavy construction equipment parked alongside the debris. Otherwise, it is a beautiful church, its walls covered with glorious frescoes.

Belgrade is another interesting and vibrant city in spite of its turbulent past. Once we left the cities in Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia, the scenery changed, especially in Romania. Instead of neatly harvested fields, dried grass and weeds cluttered the fields and trash littered the yards. Peeling paint covered the stucco of many houses and almost all roofs were rusty, galvanized metal instead of colorful tile roofs seen later in Northern Europe. Large pot holes lined the narrow roads; on one occasion we thought the bus was going to fall into one. We saw families riding in open, horse-drawn wagons, hunched over in the cold wind. It was obvious as we cruised north that Western Europe is more affluent and advanced than Southern Europe. One reason, explained a tour guide, is that these southern countries inherited the corrupt ways of doing business from their former occupiers, and it will take a long time to change.


Click on this: next co

Volume 7, Issue 2, Febuary 2012

Page Five


 


 

Cruising the Danube
By Pauline Hager

Last November my husband and I booked a cruise up the Danube River with Viking River Cruises to see the Balkan States, including Austria and Germany. The Danube once formed the eastern border of the Roman Empire and now forms the borders of many of the Balkan States. The 16 day cruise tour began in Bucharest, Romania and ended in Passau, Germany.

HagersROMANIA: The weather in Bucharest was balmy in early November, temperature hovering around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We had read the rains were often heavy in November, however, we were prepared with our collapsible umbrellas and heavy waterproof jackets. The tour guide met us at the airport in Bucharest and after a 45 minute bus ride we arrived at the Athenee Palace Hilton Hotel, a very nice abode, indeed. After a light dinner, we returned to our room and crashed in our beds, exhausted from our long flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C. to Munich, Germany and finally to Bucharest.

The next morning, after breakfast, we boarded a bus and toured the city. Our first stop was a beautiful 17thcentury Romanian Orthodox Patriarchal Church. Sunday morning services were in progress and the church was filled with worshipers. Orthodox churches built in Europe during that era did not provide benches and the people stood throughout the long service. We looked at colorful frescoes painted on the altar wall, door and surrounding walls and ceiling, as four priests chanted the liturgy. From there we boarded our tour bus and drove to the lavish and expansive Palace of Parliament, also referred to as the “House of the People”, built during the dictatorship of the infamous communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Several blocks long, we were told it’s the second largest building in the world; the U.S. Pentagon being first. This monstrous building, several floors high, is mostly void of furniture due to lack of funds. Our tour guide freely admitted that Romania is destitute partly due to the corruption and wasteful spending during Ceausescu’s rein, and still rampant today. She explained that Romania had been under the yoke of the Ottoman Turkish Empire from the 15th to the 18th Century and has never fully recovered from the corrupt and extortionist practices of the Ottomans and later the communist autocrat rule. Later after a five-course lunch, folkloric musicians and dancers entertained us in their native costumes. We spent the remainder of the day touring this interesting and vibrant capital city. Several hours later, we arrived at our home away from home, The Primadonna, a beautiful Viking river cruise Catamaran on the Danube River docked at the port city of Oltenita. After a five course dinner, we retired to our room and unpacked. I can remember saying to my husband, “Just think, we won’t need to pack and unpack our clothes for another 15 days.”

BulgariaBULGARIA: The following morning we docked at the ancient town of Rousse, Bulgaria. Following a buffet breakfast, our tour bus awaited to transport us to this modern city with a history dating to Roman times. Russe is also a gateway to Romania’s fabled Transylvania region on the other side of the river. Unfortunately we did not take that route, which would have taken us to Dracula’s castle. (That’s a different tour.) We continued onto the countryside to the former Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, a picturesque medieval city set on the city’s four wooded hills above the Yantra River. We stopped at Tsaravets Hill to view the ruins of the royal castle and the steep, winding hillsides. We enjoyed lunch in a local restaurant in the suburb of Arbanas, another historic village. Lunch was accompanied with native musicians and dancers, followed by a guided tour of an Orthodox Nativity Church close by, famous for its beautiful frescoes. Similar to Romania, the Ottoman Empire was in Bulgaria and ravaged the country for several centuries, followed by civil wars and the rise of communism, we were told. The tour guides in all the countries we visited are well-educated and very knowledgeable in their countries’ history and politics. Then back to our ship in time for another five-course dinner. By this time, I was skipping the appetizers and the soup or salad portions, to the amazement of our waiter. There was always entertainment after dinner, but this evening the staff instructed us to join them in the Viking Salon. We were told that due to insufficient rainfall in Northern Europe, the water level in the Rhine and Danube Rivers was getting low. They were having a drought, but not to worry, the river water was high enough for navigation. BUT, just in case, as we sail farther north and find we are affected by this drought, Viking had alternative plans. Again, the captain and staff reiterated not to worry, they were experienced. We were skeptical but they were very convincing. We wanted to believe them although there wasn’t a drop of rain since we arrived. As we sailed farther north, the weather had taken a turn for the worst; cold and foggy every day, but not yet freezing. We seldom saw the sun, and daylight rapidly darkened by 4 p.m.

The following morning we arrived in Vidin, Bulgaria. After a hasty breakfast our tour bus took us to the Rocks of Belogradshick, famous for its red-colored rocks, formed by millennia of weathering, river erosion and other natural forces. If you allowed your imagination to roam, you visualized figures resembling silhouettes of people, towers, ships, palaces and animals. After a buffet lunch aboard ship, we rode to the fortress of Baba Vida, built between the 10th and 13th centuries, and one of the last remaining intact Bulgarian fortresses. We returned to Vidin, and as we drove around this old city, we saw several Orthodox churches, circled the Osman Pazvantoglu Mosque and the ruins of a Jewish Synagogue built in 1894, reminiscent of the many cultures that live or have lived in Vidin through the centuries.

Roman BathsSERBIA: Our next stop was Kostolac, Serbia. We arrived in the afternoon and time for lunch before touring the ancient Roman town and military camp of Viminacium, built during the 1st through 5th century. The town is known as “The Balkan Pompeii” because of its remains and gravesite discovered during recent excavations. We visited Porta Practoria, the north gate of the former military camp. Excavation was still in progress as we visited the Roman Baths, which no respectable Roman town would be without. We also visited the mausoleum where the 3rd century Roman emperor Hostilian is buried, including viewing some beautiful fresco paintings. There was a notice on the wall in the tourist center that read the United States Government is funding this project. (No amount given.)

During the night we sailed by the town of Turnu Severin, where a dam with two locks was built to make this portion of the Danube navigable. As I slept, a loud noise woke me up. I jumped out of bed and looked out through the glass door leading to our balcony. The full moon glimmered on the black water and on a massive concrete wall alongside our ship. We were going into the lock of the dam. Our cabin was far below the top of this massive concrete wall. Claustephobia set in. The ship was so close to the wall. I felt I could touch it. It was closing in on me and any minute I would suffocate and drown. Eventually the water rose, lifting the ship to pass the dam. My panic attack subsided. We had traveled through the Panama Canal, but we were outside on deck in broad daylight, enjoying the experience. The next morning we woke up in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. This ancient city has a long history of captivity, starting from the 3rd BC century with the Celtics, then the Romans in the 1st century and later the Turkish Ottoman and Austrian-Hungarian Empires. What shocked me was the bullet holes left in buildings and shells of buildings bombed by NATO during the conflicts between the Serbs and their Muslim and Orthodox neighbors in the 1990s.

Driving along Embassy Row the tour guide informed us that the United States is building a “monstrous” new U.S. embassy there. The construction workers are changed every two or three weeks for security reasons. We stopped at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest Orthodox Church in the Balkan states. This magnificent structure, started in the 19th century, is in a prolonged state of construction, interrupted by constant wars and lack of money. As we entered this mammouth church, we were not allowed to walk on one side as there was heavy construction equipment parked alongside the debris. Otherwise, it is a beautiful church, its walls covered with glorious frescoes.

Belgrade is another interesting and vibrant city in spite of its turbulent past. Once we left the cities in Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia, the scenery changed, especially in Romania. Instead of neatly harvested fields, dried grass and weeds cluttered the fields and trash littered the yards. Peeling paint covered the stucco of many houses and almost all roofs were rusty, galvanized metal instead of colorful tile roofs seen later in Northern Europe. Large pot holes lined the narrow roads; on one occasion we thought the bus was going to fall into one. We saw families riding in open, horse-drawn wagons, hunched over in the cold wind. It was obvious as we cruised north that Western Europe is more affluent and advanced than Southern Europe. One reason, explained a tour guide, is that these southern countries inherited the corrupt ways of doing business from their former occupiers, and it will take a long time to change.


Click on this: next column

 




water towerCROATIA: Awaking in Novi Sad the following morning on the Danube River (by now the fog and cold intensified, with no rainfall in sight,) we were bused to Vukovar, a pivotal location during the Serb-Croatian War. Due to the large town’s location near the junction of the Drava and Danube Rivers, it bore much of the brunt of the wars in the 1990s. Eighty-five percent of the city was destroyed and later rebuilt, but there were still many signs of the devastation. This city looked more like a war zone than did Belgrade, with many buildings pocked with bullet holes and several shells of buildings throughout. Entering the town, a bombed water tower with half of it destroyed, greeted us. On our way back to the ship, people were lining the main streets with candles to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the war. That evening we gathered in the Viking Salon once again. We were informed that the river water was too low to navigate and we must leave The Primadonna tomorrow morning and travel by bus to a sister ship. After dinner, back to packing again; what a disappointment!

BudaHUNGARY: We disembarked at Novi Sad and had to be bussed to Kalocsa, Hungary. We lunched at a very old family restaurant, followed by a visit to an equestrian ranch, which houses Puszta horses. These stately horses and the Magyar cowboys put on a superb horsemanship performance, starting with a horse parade, followed by the cowboys cracking their long whips and the horses performing various exercises, such as a horse sitting on its haunches, then lying with its body on the ground. The cowboys wore brilliant, royal- blue costumes and wide brim, black cloth hats. Very colorful! By now the temperature had fallen into the 30s. I was so cold I could not appreciate the show. Nor could I wait to get on the warm bus to take us to Budapest, an hour’s drive. It was barely light even though it was only 4 p.m. I fell asleep on the bus and when we arrived in this magnificent city, I opened my eyes and thought I was still in dreamland. The city’s bright lights illuminated this enchanting town. This portion of the Danube River divides the city in two. The Buda Hills, the Castle Hill District and the Old City are on one side of the river, and the elegant boulevards of modern Pest on the other. Nine lit-up bridges join the two sections. The Buda Castle, formally the Royal Palace, was beautifully displayed with Christmas lights, including the massive House of Parliament, among other Baroque-style buildings. We stayed at the Budapest Hilton for two nights, located inside the walls of the castle on Castle Hill. The view from the top of this hill was spectacular. I fell in love with this enchanting city. On day two, we departed from Budapest by bus. Two hours later we boarded our next ship, The Viking Sky. It was newer but not as wide or roomy as the catamaran, but still pleasurable and comfortable. We were back to unpacking again and then to our new dining room for a five course meal. Naturally I mystified the waiters because I refused the appetizers, soup or salad and dessert.

CastleSLOVAKIA: The following afternoon we arrived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This ancient city (settled over 2,000 years ago) borders two other countries, Austria and Hungary, with a long, distinguished history. We drove by the Medieval Town Hall complex (Hungarian jewels were once stored here), fortification at St. Michael’s Tower, Baroque-style Trinity Church and Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral (For over 300 years, Hungarian kings were once crowned there), and lastly a Hapsburg-era Baroque Palace. An interesting place to visit but as the day wore on fog crept in and engulfed the city. By the time the bus driver drove up a hill for us to view the city from up above, the fog was so dense it was impossible to see below.

AustriaAUSTRIA: Our ship docked in Vienna shortly after breakfast the following day. We rode to Vienna’s Ringstrasse, a section of the city lined with imposing palaces and grand residences. We drove by the apartment where Mozart lived until his death. (We had visited Vienna years ago and toured inside at that time). Later we enjoyed a brisk walking tour of the medieval Innere Stadt (Inner City), a hustling and thriving center. Vienna is a beautiful city with its elegant palaces, castles, cathedrals, museums and many other attractions. We stopped at a café and had applestrudle and coffee, back to the ship for lunch and later returned to the city to tour Schonbrunn Palace, considered the Versailles of Vienna. Back to the ship for dinner and later that evening we attended a Mozart and Strauss concert at The Kursalon concert hall. This elegant salon seated about 100 people. The individual pillowed chairs, beautifully draped windows, and living room atmosphere gave me a sense that I was back in time in 1865 Vienna, enjoying this wonderful chamber music concert. Exhausted but elated, we returned to our ship, which remained docked in Vienna until midnight. By now, the thermometer hovered between 31 and 33 degrees, night and day. Layering our clothing, we kept sufficiently warm to venture outdoors. The following morning we continued cruising to the picturesque Wachau Valley, noted for its fine wines. We visited the ancient town of Durnstein and attended an organ recital in a lovely old church. Our next stop was Melk. Our bus took us to a 900-year-old abbey perched on sheer cliffs, high above the river. The abbey’s library housed well over 50,000 medieval manuscripts. The view from the top of this hill overlooking the valley, the river and the villages below was spectacular. Sailing north, a light fog had shrouded the narrow valley along the river, and high above in the hills the evergreen trees were shimmering with frost, a picturesque winter wonderland. We sailed into the night, and awoke to another ancient village, Linz, an important spiritual and culture center in Austria for over 1,000 years. In the year 1,089 the ruling family’s residence became a Benedictine monastery, which we visited. The brick façade homes and shops were old and quaint-looking. Walking through these towns, I amazed at their antiquity and felt I was in a different era. A major restoration was started in 1978 to preserve these buildings. Our last city in Austria was beautiful Salzburg, famous as the location for the film, The Sound of Music. Our walking tour included Salzburg’s Old Town area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the apartment where Mozart was born.  We visited the Hohensalzburg Fortress just above the city center. On our free time we toured the city, walking on narrow cobbled roads and peering inside the dozens of shops lining the long streets. Soon we stopped at a crowded café and had a LARGE bowl of hot soup to warm us up.

PassuaGERMANY: The following morning we entered German waters. After a buffet breakfast, we attended an interesting lecture on the formation of the European Union. The lecturer stated that the official language of the European Union is English. We continued to sail until we reached Passau, our last stop on the Danube River. This elegant city called “City on Three Rivers” has a history that stretches back 2,000 years, having standing walls built by the Roman armies. By now it was late November. Many Christmas Markets were already in progress with hundreds of colorful ornaments on display. One of the shops displayed a lovely Christmas centerpiece. I asked the price and found I did not have enough euros to pay for it, and credit cards were not accepted. I was ready to leave when I asked “do you take American dollars?” The owner’s eyes lit up. “Yes, we do,” and we almost made the sale when he realized he didn’t have the proper change to give us. Instead, he asked if I would take two Marzipan Mozart chocolates, equivalent in value to the balance. I accepted. It’s good to know the U. S. dollar is still mighty. The following morning we boarded yet another bus for a two hour ride to Munich to catch our plane back to San Diego. With all the bus rides, I should have titled this travelogue “Cruising the European Highways.” Even with all the inconvenience and disappointment we experienced, including the cold weather, I found the trip to be interesting, and I would like to return to the Balkans, but not in wintertime.


Hager

Pauline Hager

blank

Pauline was born in Clinton, MA to Greek immigrant parents. She attended San Diego State University and graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Education. She has written two books: "Memoirs of an American Housewife in Japan" and "Giorgi's Greek Tragedy." Pauline lives with her husband in La Jolla, California.


Thanks Pauline for a wonderful travelogue,... J. Wolf



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water towerCROATIA: Awaking in Novi Sad the following morning on the Danube River (by now the fog and cold intensified, with no rainfall in sight,) we were bused to Vukovar, a pivotal location during the Serb-Croatian War. Due to the large town’s location near the junction of the Drava and Danube Rivers, it bore much of the brunt of the wars in the 1990s. Eighty-five percent of the city was destroyed and later rebuilt, but there were still many signs of the devastation. This city looked more like a war zone than did Belgrade, with many buildings pocked with bullet holes and several shells of buildings throughout. Entering the town, a bombed water tower with half of it destroyed, greeted us. On our way back to the ship, people were lining the main streets with candles to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the war. That evening we gathered in the Viking Salon once again. We were informed that the river water was too low to navigate and we must leave The Primadonna tomorrow morning and travel by bus to a sister ship. After dinner, back to packing again; what a disappointment!

BudaHUNGARY: We disembarked at Novi Sad and had to be bussed to Kalocsa, Hungary. We lunched at a very old family restaurant, followed by a visit to an equestrian ranch, which houses Puszta horses. These stately horses and the Magyar cowboys put on a superb horsemanship performance, starting with a horse parade, followed by the cowboys cracking their long whips and the horses performing various exercises, such as a horse sitting on its haunches, then lying with its body on the ground. The cowboys wore brilliant, royal- blue costumes and wide brim, black cloth hats. Very colorful! By now the temperature had fallen into the 30s. I was so cold I could not appreciate the show. Nor could I wait to get on the warm bus to take us to Budapest, an hour’s drive. It was barely light even though it was only 4 p.m. I fell asleep on the bus and when we arrived in this magnificent city, I opened my eyes and thought I was still in dreamland. The city’s bright lights illuminated this enchanting town. This portion of the Danube River divides the city in two. The Buda Hills, the Castle Hill District and the Old City are on one side of the river, and the elegant boulevards of modern Pest on the other. Nine lit-up bridges join the two sections. The Buda Castle, formally the Royal Palace, was beautifully displayed with Christmas lights, including the massive House of Parliament, among other Baroque-style buildings. We stayed at the Budapest Hilton for two nights, located inside the walls of the castle on Castle Hill. The view from the top of this hill was spectacular. I fell in love with this enchanting city. On day two, we departed from Budapest by bus. Two hours later we boarded our next ship, The Viking Sky. It was newer but not as wide or roomy as the catamaran, but still pleasurable and comfortable. We were back to unpacking again and then to our new dining room for a five course meal. Naturally I mystified the waiters because I refused the appetizers, soup or salad and dessert.

CastleSLOVAKIA: The following afternoon we arrived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This ancient city (settled over 2,000 years ago) borders two other countries, Austria and Hungary, with a long, distinguished history. We drove by the Medieval Town Hall complex (Hungarian jewels were once stored here), fortification at St. Michael’s Tower, Baroque-style Trinity Church and Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral (For over 300 years, Hungarian kings were once crowned there), and lastly a Hapsburg-era Baroque Palace. An interesting place to visit but as the day wore on fog crept in and engulfed the city. By the time the bus driver drove up a hill for us to view the city from up above, the fog was so dense it was impossible to see below.

AustriaAUSTRIA: Our ship docked in Vienna shortly after breakfast the following day. We rode to Vienna’s Ringstrasse, a section of the city lined with imposing palaces and grand residences. We drove by Mozart’s birthplace. Later we enjoyed a brisk walking tour of the medieval Innere Stadt (Inner City), a hustling and thriving center. Vienna is a beautiful city with its elegant palaces, castles, cathedrals, museums and many other attractions. We stopped at a café and had applestrudle and coffee, back to the ship for lunch and later returned to the city to tour Schonbrunn Palace, considered the Versailles of Vienna. Back to the ship for dinner and later that evening we attended a Mozart and Strauss concert at The Kursalon concert hall. This elegant salon seated about 100 people. The individual pillowed chairs, beautifully draped windows, and living room atmosphere gave me a sense that I was back in time in 1865 Vienna, enjoying this wonderful chamber music concert. Exhausted but elated, we returned to our ship, which remained docked in Vienna until midnight. By now, the thermometer hovered between 31 and 33 degrees, night and day. Layering our clothing, we kept sufficiently warm to venture outdoors. The following morning we continued cruising to the picturesque Wachau Valley, noted for its fine wines. We visited the ancient town of Durnstein and attended an organ recital in a lovely old church. Our next stop was Melk. Our bus took us to a 900-year-old abbey perched on sheer cliffs, high above the river. The abbey’s library housed well over 50,000 medieval manuscripts. The view from the top of this hill overlooking the valley, the river and the villages below was spectacular. Sailing north, a light fog had shrouded the narrow valley along the river, and high above in the hills the evergreen trees were shimmering with frost, a picturesque winter wonderland. We sailed into the night, and awoke to another ancient village, Linz, an important spiritual and culture center in Austria for over 1,000 years. In the year 1,089 the ruling family’s residence became a Benedictine monastery, which we visited. The brick façade homes and shops were old and quaint-looking. Walking through these towns, I amazed at their antiquity and felt I was in a different era. A major restoration was started in 1978 to preserve these buildings. Our last city in Austria was beautiful Salzburg, famous as the location for the film, The Sound of Music. Our walking tour included Salzburg’s Old Town area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the apartment where Mozart lived until his death. (We had visited Salzburg several years ago and toured inside at that time.) We visited the Hohensalzburg Fortress just above the city center. On our free time we toured the city, walking on narrow cobbled roads and peering inside the dozens of shops lining the long streets. Soon we stopped at a crowded café and had a LARGE bowl of hot soup to warm us up.

PassuaGERMANY: The following morning we entered German waters. After a buffet breakfast, we attended an interesting lecture on the formation of the European Union. The lecturer stated that the official language of the European Union is English. We continued to sail until we reached Passau, our last stop on the Danube River. This elegant city called “City on Three Rivers” has a history that stretches back 2,000 years, having standing walls built by the Roman armies. By now it was late November. Many Christmas Markets were already in progress with hundreds of colorful ornaments on display. One of the shops displayed a lovely Christmas centerpiece. I asked the price and found I did not have enough euros to pay for it, and credit cards were not accepted. I was ready to leave when I asked “do you take American dollars?” The owner’s eyes lit up. “Yes, we do,” and we almost made the sale when he realized he didn’t have the proper change to give us. Instead, he asked if I would take two Marzipan Mozart chocolates, equivalent in value to the balance. I accepted. It’s good to know the U. S. dollar is still mighty. The following morning we boarded yet another bus for a two hour ride to Munich to catch our plane back to San Diego. With all the bus rides, I should have titled this travelogue “Cruising the European Highways.” Even with all the inconvenience and disappointment we experienced, including the cold weather, I found the trip to be interesting, and I would like to return to the Balkans, but not in wintertime.


Hager

Pauline Hager

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Pauline was born in Clinton, MA to Greek immigrant parents. She attended San Diego State University and graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Education. She has written two books: "Memoirs of an American Housewife in Japan" and "Giorgi's Greek Tragedy." Pauline lives with her husband in La Jolla, California.


Thanks Pauline for a wonderful travelogue,... J. Wolf



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Books by
Pauline Hager



England and China: Armchair Travel Series

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