Rousse, Bulgaria Part 2

08 June 2011 - We were docked in Rousse today again and we had a full day planned. After a drive through the Bugarian countryside we visited Veliko Turnovo which is built on three hills with the Yantra River winding through it. This is an unusual city whose stone houses seem perched one above the other on the steep bank of the Yatra river. We were taken to see Tsarevets - the place of the patriarchal church and royal palaces, the hill where Baudouin's Tower still rises, linked with the legend of the Latin Emperor Baudouin of Flanders who was captured by the Bulgarian king Kaloyan. We visited the entrance to the old fortress and saw the ruins of the Tzarevetz Castle

We also saw Trapezitsa - where the foundations of 17 medieval churches were discovered. It was a marvel to see the Bulgarian National Revival period architectural ensembles on Gurko Street, the old Nikoli Inn and the St. St. Constantine and Helena Church. The original Samovodene Market has been brought back to life and, as in olden times, skillful craftsmen fashion and sell exquisite objects in the small restored workshops. It was incredible to go from one shop to the next filled with local handmade treasures which you can buy for very little money.

There was a coppersmith making beautiful copper hammered pots that hung outside his shop gleaming in the sun next to window boxes filled with flowers, quite a quaint and beautiful sight.

Next I found a great bead shop where a lady was working away at making fabulous jewelry from the hand made beads she makes. It took forever to decide which to take home as they are all one of a kind individually made. I left with about 20 beads and only parted with a few dollars. It was a great time going from one shop to another viewing all the different crafts. The fun part is that you could buy items as souvenirs which are true items made in Bulgaria instead of having "Made in  China" stamped underneath, which makes each gift you take home that much more special.

One specialty which I fell in love with was the incredible hand made pottery you could find in some many shops. There was an infinite variety of pottery vases, cups, plates and cookware in so many colors, it was impossible to choose. Bulgaria is also famous for roses from which they produce Rose Oil which is exported worldwide. Many other products are made using the famous roses such as rose wine and rose liqueur (which is delicious!) as well as rose  body and bath products. One fun gift to bring home is a small wooden doll which contains a cylinder of rose perfume, really fun.   
After our free time for shopping we went and had lunch at a very picturesque restaurant where we had quite a tasty meal comprising of a wonderful goulash served in locally made pottery. The restaurant was quite large with beautiful grounds with fountains and a swimming pool, an outdoor Bar-B-Que made of stone as well as an area with caged peacocks which made for a really fun lunch stop. During the meal we saw a show with dancers dressed in traditional costumes and local musicians. It was so hot and humid that we were extremely happy to see the frosty bottles of beer, soda and water show up at our tables!

After lunch we were off to the village of Arbanassi which was founded in the late 15th centry by Christians coming from the south-western parts of the Balkan peninsula. It is situated 3km to the northeast of Veliko Turnovo, perching on a high plateau overseeing the Trapezitsa and Tsarevets hills. The settlement saw its bloom in the 17-18th c. when it grew into a wealthy crafts and trade hub. It was during that period that most of its gorgeous houses were erected. The oldest houses of Arbanasi are made entirely of stone and resemble tiny models of fortresses that cannot be seen anywhere else in Bulgaria.

Today Arbanassi is an architectural and museum reserve. It is a picturesque open-air museum of cultural heritage, which includes 80 houses as well as 5 churches, one special one being  "Rozhdestvo Hristovo" (The Church of the Nativity Of Christ) with more than 3,600 frescoes.

From the outside this building looks like a barn but inside is quite a different story. There are no windows but each inch of wall and ceiling space has been painted with extremely well preserved frescoes and the rooms are quite awe-inspiring. 

We got an added treat in our visit to this unique church. We were treated to a performance of some chant and operatic singing from a local ensemble of three ladies and a cleric who were very good indeed. It was quite a spiritual experience to hear chanting in this setting filled with so many incredible frescos. We sat on pews that were aligned against the walls in single file and the whole experience was amazing. 

After this full day many of us dozed off on the trip back to the ship. It was so refreshing to get into a nice cool comfy motorcoach after the sweltering heat of the day! We arrived back at the ship late afternoon. I was happy to find on my bed an envelope with an invitation from the captain to join him at a private cocktail party followed by dinner at his table with 6 other chosen guests. I was looking forward to this and anxiously got ready for this evening as it was the Gala Captain's Farewell Dinner. 

The private cocktail party with the captain was very special and it was so much fun to sip champagne and talk to the captain about his experiences at sea. After about 45 minutes we made our way to the dining room. I was very honored that the captain extended his arm to me to personally escort me to his table. I felt very proud to walk into the dining room on his arm with the eyes of all the passengers on us as we entered, these are the kinds of moments I will treasure always. The captain's table for eight was decorated with beautiful flowers and we were treated like royalty with white-gloved waiters placing silver-domed covered plates in front of us all served at the same time. It was quite magical with wonderful food and flowing champagne. This was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise.   

Rousse, Bulgaria Part 1

07 June 2011 - Today we had an early start as we docked in Rousse, Bulgaria at 8am. The tour today was a full day tour from Rousse to Varna and the Black Sea. The town of Rousse is located on the high right bank of the Danube River. It is the greatest and the most important Bulgarian town on the Danube River, known also as “Little Vienna” because of its ancient architecture. It is also a regional administrative centre.

Rousse has become the primary river port in Bulgaria and has contributed to the country’s historic and cultural riches. Founded in the 1st century as a Roman military and naval center, the town was called Sexaginta Prista (the City of Sixty Ships). The city’s name changed to Rousse while under Ottoman rule from 1388 to 1878. During the early 1900s, following Bulgaria’s liberation, the Monument of Freedom was erected in the central square. Overlooking the city, the female statue, with a sword in one hand and the other pointing toward the country’s liberators, hails as Rousse’s signature landmark today.

The famous Rousse mound - a prehistoric settlement existed more than 5000 years ago is located within the boundaries of the modern town. About 200 buildings in Rousse are considered part of architectural historical heritage of Bulgaria, 12 of which are especially valuable. Rousse is best-known for its 19th- and 20th-century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture. The city has a lovely downtown pedestrian area, which is filled with people enjoying the music, flowers, and fountains in the summer evenings.

After the tour of Rousse we traveled for several hours towards Varna, on the Black Sea. Varna’s origins date back almost five millennia, but it wasn’t until seafaring Greeks founded a colony here in 585 BC that the town became a port. The modern city is both a shipyard and port for incoming freighters and the navy, and a riviera town visited by tourists of every nationality.

It’s a cosmopolitan place and a nice one to scroll through: Baroque, turn-of-the-century and contemporary architecture pleasantly blended with shady promenades and a handsome seaside garden.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the beach shaped like an old pirate ship. It was very hot and humid and it was refreshing to finally get something to drink. After lunch we were free to walk along the beach or get our feet wet in the Black Sea. This was a topless beach and the men sure got an eyefull. 

In the mid afternoon we took our 2 1/2 hr. bus ride back to Rousse and the ship. I was exhausted when I finally reached the ship but was extremely grateful for having left the air-conditioning on high in my cabin.  

It was very easy to drop down on the bed for my pre-dinner nap, a welcome habit I had picked up in the past two weeks. I would nap from 5pm until 7pm and then get ready for dinner.

Another wonderful day was completed and the cruise was unfortunately coming to an end.   


Vidin, Bulgaria

06 June 2011 - This morning we arrived in Vidin, Bulgaria.Vidin is one of the oldest towns along the Bulgarian Danube bank. Here you will find many farms and the region is well known for wine and ceramics. The Turks built an extensive city wall around Vidin, and by the 16th. century it was the largest town in Bulgaria. During the 18th. and 19th. centuries Vidin prospered from the increase in river traffic. Today, as evidence of the different cultures that settled here you can find churches, synagogues, mosques, a bazaar and ruins of a medieval fortress.

After the tour of Vidin we went to visit the Fortress of Baba Vida.
The construction of Baba Vida was started based on the ruins of an old Roman fortified watch-point called Bononia, which was most likely built over the foundations of an ancient Thracian settlement at the beginning of I A.D. The Bononia watch-point was in use from the middle of I till the end of VI A.D. It formed a part of the Danube border of the Roman Empire. The remains of the fortifications can be still seen today in different places in the town of Vidin. The best preserved section is the base of the northeast corner tower, which later became incorporated into the Baba Vida fortress during its construction.

Walking around the fortress on my own was a great experience since it was very quiet and peaceful and the area was filled with beautiful flowers and it was easy to believe that you were in a time centuries ago. Once can only imagine how life was when you needed such a fortress for protections. The view from the watch tower was amazing and went on for miles. Baba Vida was declared a national cultural monument in 1964 and also in 1964 the fortress opened a summer theater, which held traditional theatrical summer days. Many filmmakers recognize the unique natural scenery of the Baba Vida fortress.  The castle itself inside protects a number of findings and information about the history of the fortress. The entire fortress is tailored for tourism purposes, and visitors today can see the that the fortress is well maintained and in near natural condition and appearance.
After the fortress visit we headed towards a natural wonder, the rock formations of Belogradchick. Belogradchik is situated in an extremely picturesque region with unique rock formations and natural sights. Thus it has become a famous tourism centre with excellent resources for trips, cave and bicycle tourism, mountain climbing, hunting, fishing or even astronomic observation.  Belogradchick emerged during the middle ages with the construction of a fortress amidst the rocks, which determined the development of the settlement. The town is named after the white monastery of the fortress.  

The Iron Gates

05 June 2011 - This morning I could sleep in as we set sail on the Danube towards Vidin, Bulgaria. During the day we will sail through what is called "The Iron Gates". From its headwaters in Germany’s Black Forest, the Danube winds its way through ten European countries to drain into the Black Sea. For much of its course, the river moves lazily through wide valleys, but as it enters the border region between Romania and Serbia, its banks narrow into a series of high cliffs. Here, the river carved a passage through the lower Carpathian Mountains to its north and the Balkan Mountains to its south, creating a series of four steep gorges. These gorges are known as the Iron Gates.

The Iron Gates of the Danube River originally consisted of four narrow gorges and three wide basins spread over several miles of the river dividing Romania and Serbia. In the 1960s, a huge lock and dam was built to control the speed of the river and make navigating this section of the Danube River safer.  Today, the river flowing through the Iron Gates is peaceful, and it is 130 feet higher than prior to the dam and power station. The effect of the dam can be felt on the river for over 100 miles, and two locks, spread more than 50 miles apart, anchor each end of the Iron Gates. Over 23,000 citizens living along the river had to be resettled after the dam was complete.

Along the way we can see an interesting carving of a ruler high up on a massive rock, this is very impressive that this could have been done. We also got to go through some locks which is also very interesting as we are taken from one level to another and we see the ship go lower and lower with cement walls encircling us.....very unusual. The Great Kazan (kazan meaning "boiler") is the most famous and the most narrow gorge of the route: the river here narrows to 150 m and reaches a depth of up to 53 m (174 ft). East of this site the Roman emperor Trajan had the legendary bridge erected by Apollodorus of Damascus. Construction of the bridge ran from 103 through 105, preceding Trajan's conquest of Dacia. On the right bank a Roman plaque commemorates him. On the Romanian bank, at the Small Kazan, the likeness of Trajan's Dacian opponent Decebalus was carved in rock from 1994 through 2004.

Dinner this evening was great as usual. I had a Caesar salad, beef consomme and a roasted breast of Duck cooked in a red wine and orange sauce...stupendous! 

Viminacium, Serbia

04 June 2011 - This morning we arrived in Kostolac, Serbia. After breakfast I was anxious for today's tour which was a visit to the archaeological site of Viminacium.

 Viminacium was devastated and destroyed in the middle of the 5th century, and it remained forgotten and buried like Pompeii, which disappeared under a flood of lava from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. That analogy and the recognition that the remains of the Roman town and the military camp represent a site of exceptional interest explains why Viminacium has been called the Balkan Pompeii.
What distinguishes Viminacium from other archaeological sites and makes it particularly important is the exceptional wealth of finds contained already in its surface, arable layer. As a result, more than 13.500 graves have been explored in the past twenty-five years and more than 32,000 finds have been deposited in the vaults of the Museum.
However Viminacium lies in the way of the expanding strip mine "Drmno". The experts and authorities, though aware of the importance of energents for the development of the country, are nevertheless trying to find means to preserve as large a part of the site of Viminacium as possible, for they consider it an exceptionally valuable testimony of the past which should be bequeathed to the future generations. According to the planned development of the "Drmno" strip mine, the zone of the Roman town and the military camp will not be endangered before 2040. Viminacium, however, covers as area of more than 450 hectares, and the town is directly menaced by the advancing mine.

Some exceptional monuments are located in this area. They include an aqueduct nearly 10 kilometers long, some late classical basilicas, agricultural estates of Roman veterans, villae rusticae, and Roman roads which connected Viminacium with the neighboring towns. Some of these monuments have been discovered by the methods of remote detection, the analysis of aerial photos, geo-radar and magnetometric examination, and some have been archaeologically explored.

I found it incredible to not only see artifacts of this ancient town but to see actual skeletons lying there only a few feet where I walked! This was truly amazing.

We returned to the ship for lunch and set sail at noon for Donji Milanovac, Serbia. After a full lunch it was nice to go on deck and watch the small villages slide by as we sailed along the Danube.

We arrived in Donji Milanovac, Serbia at around 7pm. Dinner this evening started with melon and Prosciutto then a rich cream of sweet corn soup. The main course I chose was beef Stroganoff which was wonderful. Dinner could not be complete without chocolate ice cream topped with whipped cream.  

After dinner we were entertained by the Triola Band from Skadarlija playing Old Town Music.