Danube Cruise Eastern Danube Cruise, May 2017

Eastern Danube Cruise, May 2017

In May of 2017 Marguerite and her group of women friends embarked on a journey to Eastern Europe with Vantage Travel. The first four days were a pre-trip to Warsaw and Krakow; the remainder of the trip was on the MS River Splendor, a river boat for about 160 passengers and 46 crew that took us from Budapest to Bucharest in 8 days and 7 nights. Marguerite did not take final optional tour to Brasov, Romania.

Warsaw, Poland

Seven of us arrived in Warsaw for the pre-trip: Chris Davis, Martha Shepherd, Gretchen Turner, and Marguerite (photo at left) and had dinner at a local restaurant. Donna Gebbis, Sandra Thornton, and Margaret Pudvin (not pictured) were also on this part of the trip. We tried some Polish food but found it very heavy and not particularly tasty.

While in Warsaw we took a city tour and visited Old Town, the historic heart of the Polish capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto where some 400,000 Jewish citizens were imprisoned after the Nazi conquest of Poland in WWII; three quarters of them perished in concentration camps. We also saw the monument erected to Fryderyk Chopin and visited the Chopin Museum.

On the Road to Krakow, Poland

We left Warsaw with 67 other travelers who were on the pre-trip. It took two buses for all of us and was more people than we like to travel with -- long lines for bathrooms and crowded restaurants.

En route to Krakow we stopped at the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochow. The monastery is famous for the portrait of "The Black Madonna" that was painted many years ago. The paint has aged so that the madonna looks dark. She was not painted to be black!

Krakow, Poland

During the walking tour of this elegant city, once the seat of Poland's royalty, ten centures of architecture are on display. The route included Wawel Castle, the coronation and burial site of Polish kings.

Marguerite, Chris, and Gretchen enjoyed the tour in their rain gear!

The castle is a popular place for children and many were there that day. A scale model of the castle showed how very large it is. There were also small chapels built inside the grounds that are almost on top of each other, one with a beautiful gold dome.

Auschwitz and Birkenau

We spent a somber afternoon at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and the nearby "death camp" of Birkenau. There is also a museum and memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million people who perished there. There is a "killing wall" where thousands of prisoners were shot; displays of suitcases, shoes, and other personal effects, and many posters of statistics. All very, very sad.

The River Splendor Ship

Budapest, Hungary

We arrived in Budapest, Hungary, and were joined by Nedra Mathis, Marguerite's dear friend from when they were 10 years old, and 7 other travelers from the Atlanta area. Our group of 15 was known as "Gretchen's Cruisers" and usually ate together and traveled on the same bus. Nedra and Marguerite shared cabin 427 on the top A deck.

The first night on the ship was the Safety briefing and dinner, then the next day started with a city tour of Budapest, Hungary's capital. The tour included views of the city from Fisherman's Bastion, a magnificent terrace overlooking the Danube and lots of walking to see other sights.

We also took an optional Jewish Heritage Tour that included a large temple and adjacent cemetery commemorating the lives lost during the holocaust. There was also a lovely metal willow sculpture in the garden with over 4000 names. We also visited a large shopping market in the late afternoon and bought paprika (sweet and hot) to bring home as gifts!

Kolocsa, Hungary

We began with a city tour with a visit to the beautiful Kolocsa Cathedral that had recently been renovated where we heard a brief organ concert. The Cathedral is the home of one of four Catholic archbishops of Hungary. The campus also includes a seminary for priests, and colleges for training teachers. Then we went on to a restaurant where travelers were invited to participate in workshops on folk painting, folk embroidery, and making of traditional Hungarian paprika bread. We also visited the Paprika museum that included lots of information about how paprika is made as well as some lovely embroidery.

Vukovar, Croatia

The Baroque city of Vukovar is situated on the banks of the Vuka and Danube rivers. We visited a very interesting church that was badly damaged during both WWI and WWII. The Alter of Our Lady of Sorrows was built in 1919 in memory of parisioners killed in WWI. In the Croatin War of Independence (1991-1997) the alter was destroyed. The remaining fragments were built into a new alter. The Vukovars wounded Jesus was found in the pile of rubbish in 1998.

A home hosted lunch was enjoyed by all of the travelers who were divided into groups of 12. Our visit was to a family with a large garden, sheep, chickens, and ducks! We had an interesting meal with cabbage salad, potatoes and minced meat patties, washed down with homemade wine that was quite tasty. A nephew who speaks English very well interpreted for the family that included grandparents, parents, and various other relatives.

Belgrade, Serbia

The city of Belgrade is located on the edge of the Carpathian Basin, at the confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube. It is a very old city. Belgrade's recent history has left the city somewhat disheveled, but bold redevelopment is currently underway. We visited the Kalemegdan Fortress and Military Museum that included lots of big guns as well as some beautiful views.

That evening Gretchen's Cruisers enjoyed a special dinner with a view of the sunset.

Cruising the Iron Gates

The next day was a "sea day" as we cruised through The Iron Gates of the Danube, a series of gorges with two sets of Locks. We also listened to a presentation on Bulgaria, Romania and the EU Expansion what was most interesting. A special visit to the Ship's kitchen allowed Marguerite to meet the Executive Chef and ask lots of questions about how they turned out so many meals in such a small kitchen!

Ruse, Bulgaria

A full day in Veliko Turnovo, a 12th century Bulgarian capital, was very interesting. Houses perch above the winding Yantra River much as houses perch beside the Pacific ocean in San Diego!

We had lunch with delightful university students, then continued on to the village of Arbanassi where we visited an old home and heard a wonderful performance at the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Here are some photos of the ship that had been our home for a week.

Bucharest, Romania

We disembarked after breakfast and took a city tour of Bucharest, Romania's capital. There was lots of evidence of communist times, including scores of ugly apartment buildings wherein each person was only allotted 150 square feet of space and most apartments were only about 500 square feet. There were also some huge buildings, the largest of which, the Palace of Parliament, is the second largest building (after the Pentagon) in the world. For the past ten years things have gotten much better (according to our tour guides) as the people are now free; however, the older people often miss communist times because their needs were met and they didn't have to work very hard. Now the young people are leaving the Eastern European cities for jobs and a better life in other countries.

Our Group

Our group enjoyed a lovely final dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel before heading home the next day. Gretchen's Cruisers included:

Back row: John Parks, Karl Parlato, Gisela McCellan, Nedra Mathis

Middle row: Dora Parramore, Susan Goslin, Margaret Pudvin, Martha Shepherd, Marguerite Dill, Cheryl Parlato, Chris Davis

Front row: Gretchen Turner, Sydney Parks, Donna Gibbas, Sandra Thornton

It was a very good trip with many lovely people, but we all decided we prefer small group travel with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), Grand Circle, or Road Scholar. Marguerite's trip home was over 24 hours with no sleep, and she was very glad to get home!

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