Black Sea to the Eastern Europe
July 1 ~ 17, 2005
Grand Circle Travel
This trip began with a drive to Syracuse and then a
short plane ride to Newark airport. After a 3 plus
hour wait, it was off to Frankfurt on a Lufthansa 474.
It was a good flight. At 10:35 am, I flew from Frankfurt to Bucharest.
A Grand Circle Travel rep met our tour group members
at the airport and we were bused to our Sofitel Bucharest hotel.
The hotel was my home for the first two days of this tour.
As you can see the flags were blowing in the strong
rainy breeze on Sunday morning as we began
our traditional city tour.
This reduced number of photo stops because of the rainy weather.
This is one of several downtown churches which we saw.
This one was unique in that the areas with the light colored
brick were as spots where tank shells hit the building during
the 1989 that led to the over throw of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.
Across the street from the church pictured above was
the Plata Revolutiei where the revolution of 1989 began.
From the balcony of the former Central Committee
of the Communist Party building seen in the rear of
this photo is the spot where Ceausescu delivered
his last speech. The balcony is marked with a
white marble triangle in front.
A Memorial is built near Piata University buildings
to those persons who lost their lives in the revolution of December 1989.
This is the Romania Academy where military officers are trained.
The Palace of Parliament building. Ceausescu’s greatest folly,
begun in 1984, initially took 20,000 workers, 790 architects
and uncountable billions of Lei to build. When the dictator
died only the exterior and three rooms were completed.
Work on the building continues today. It is the second
largest building in the world only the United State’s Pentagon is larger.
This is the oldest building in Bucharest. There are church
services being conducted each day. Fire destroyed most
of the city in the mid eighteenth century.
The Sunday afternoon was the first opportunity for
an optional trip out into the countryside to visit the
Caldarusani Monastery. This was a 25 mile ride to
where the Monastery was located on the shores of
Caldarusani Lake. Above is a picture of the monastery.
There were colorful frescos lining the walls. Services
are held there each day by the 25 monks living there.
The building was built by Neagoe Basarab between 1637 and 1638.
A last picture of the courtyard at the Caldarusani Monastery.
Our first full day ended with dinner at a local
restaurant including local entertainment.
On Monday morning, July 4th, we were
greeted with more rainy weather.
This is a picture of the House of the Free Press/Media
that housed Bucharest’s one newspaper during the
communist controlled years. It is now the home to
several publishing enterprises. It was a gift to Romania
by the Soviet Union many years ago.
This is a view of the Hotel Sofitel in Bucharest.
It shares space with the Romanian World Trade Center.
Monday, July 4th we bused to Sinaia, for the beginning
of our pre-trip extension to Transylvania. The sun broke
out around noon as we drove to Sinaia.
This is the New Montana Hotel which was our headquarters
for our three nights stay in Sinaia. A modern hotel with
very hard uncomfortable beds!
Sinaia is described as the “Pearl of the Carpathians”.
This resort town is a tourist haven for the Romanian
citizens who want to travel out from Bucharest
some 70 miles away. Above is one of several shopping
areas in the business section of Sinaia. There are
several ski areas in the nearby area. We had time to
explore Sinaia after we settle in.
Late in the afternoon, we traveled to the nearby
Rhein Azuga Wine Cellars where we saw the
processing of sparkling wines. The winery uses
the traditional methods to create their sparkling
wines. After a tour of the wine making facility we
had a tasting opportunity and then a delightful dinner.
Have you wondered where old wine bottles go
when empty? At the Rhein Azuga winery this
is the spot before eventual recycling.
I am resting on one of the wine gathering carts that
were use years ago to help in harvesting the wine crop.
I would like to note that we sang the Star Spangle
Banner at dinner to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day!
Tuesday morning dawned with sunshine. We were
off on an optional tour to The Bran Castle. The castle
is 42 miles from Sinaia. The Castle was built
between 1377 – 1382 on a 197 feet high rock, in the
pass between Bucegi and Pistra Mountains. This is a
photo of our tour group arriving at the
village at the base of the Castle.
I am standing in the village waiting for our local guide to
begin our tour to the Bran Castle seen in the background.
Onward to the Castle entrance! We had to climb
several set of stairs to reach the fourth floor of the Castle.
A view of the inside of the courtyard of Bran Castle.
I am standing by the Castle water well. This fortress
preserves elements of Gothic Style. The Castle has a
wonderful and colorful history which ranges from
defense from Ottoman raids to the rule of Vlad the Impaler.
The most significant modern times connection related
to the Castle is its connection to Dracula. The best selling
fiction devised by the Irish writer Bram Stoker in the
manner of English Gothic novel was promoted by the 20th c.
English speaking film industry. Dracula’s name has been
attached to Bran Castle in Gothic fiction and films.
Needless to say there were unlimited Dracula items
for sale in the shops at the foot of the rock
that the Castle is built on.
After our visit to Bran Castle it was time for a good lunch.
And we were not disappointed by our meal
at Mouciu de Sus village. Pictured above is the restaurant where we dined.
Our day of touring ended with an interesting bus ride
back to Sinaia, we passed a local funeral procession
marching to their local cemetery. Many farmers were out
gathering their in hay for storage for use next winter.
Also we saw many striking views of the Carpathian
Mountains of the way back to our hotel.
I awoke the next day to cloudy skies and the
promise of rainy weather. This was our last full day in Sinaia.
On our day long tour we stopped first at the Sinaia Monastery.
It was located high over the city. The Monastery was
interesting in that there were only rugs on the floor
for the persons who came to worship.
The bell tower at the Sinaia Monastery.
On the steps of the Monastery. Some of our group is in
the back entering the Monastery.
Our second stop of the morning also on the edge of Sinaia.
This is a shot of the Peles Castle. The Peles Castle is
one of Romania’s most important museums. It is the
final resting place of several Romanian monarchs. King Carol,
I started the Castle in 1973. Work on the Castle progressed
for many years. It is a beautiful structure with many
interesting artifacts throughout.
I am standing by a ornate fountain in the very
beautiful gardens of the Castle. Many statues
adorned the gardens.
The rain had let up and as I was boarding our bus
these two youngsters let me take their picture.
They were in the area near the Castle where locals
were trying to sell us local crafts including
lace articles made in China.
We bused to Brasov for our lunch stop and shopping.
Lunch was at the Sirvl Vamii restaurant in down
town Brasov. By the time we finished lunch it was
raining again. This photo is of the old city hall and clock
tower in the middle of the very larger open square in down town Brasov.
Brasov is the third largest city in Romania.
A photo of the front of the Black Church in downtown Brasov.
This was originally known as St. Mary’s Church. The building built in 1380,
was partially destroyed after the great fire of 1689. After the
fire it became known as the Black Church.
The weather started to improve on the way back to
Sinaia and we stopped to get a photo of the Carpathian Mountain
that had a large cross on top. It was a memorial to
Romanian fliers who lost their life. Queen Elizabeth of
Romania commissioned the cross and its placement
on the mountain. You can just se it in the middle of this photo.
At five o’clock, we had an optional tour to visit the
home of the famous Romanian composer, George Enescu.
We were treated to a short concert and a tour of the
composer’s home. It is a very interesting museum.
On Thursday morning, we were bused back to
Bucharest where we joined up with our tour
for our embarkation to the River cruiser.
Our next stop was our first port of call, Constanta,
Romania on the Black Sea.
After lunch, we were bused to the train station that
was the personal railway terminal of the former Communist
leader of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu.
We had a delightful 2 ½ hour train ride to Constanta.
At last we embarked on the Grand Circle River
Cruiser, River Aria. We spent our first night on board
tied up to the dock in Constanta.
The next morning we had the usual city tour before
sailing away from Constanta.
This is the former city hall that now serves as a museum
displaying artifacts from the various archeological
sites found in the city.
The Casino built in 1909, an example of the Art-Nouveau
style of architecture. The building was completely
renovated in 1985-1987.
The harbor at Constanta was very large and busy.
It serves as a major Black Sea port. The mouth of the Danube River is nearby.
This is the Black Sea Beach called Mamaia. It is a strip of
beach that is 5 miles in length between the freshwater Lake Mamaia
and the Black Sea. It is Romania’s most popular beach. There were
many sun bathers and swimmers this day.
After our morning city tour, we returned to the River Aria for lunch.
At 1:00 p.m. we sailed out of the harbor at Constanta for the
Danube River. This photo was taken when we entered our
first lock of the Danube River Canal.
This very large statue was located along the canal.
The formal title is; Bright Future for the Youth.
Its nickname is: Victory of Socialism against People.
When we reached Cernauode, we left the Danube Canal
and entered the River. This photo shows one of the
Vantage Deluxe River Cruisers docked. This ship is
very similar to the River Aria we are sailing on.
River traffic sailing up the Danube River.
A beautiful Danube River sunset as we sail to
Rousse (Ruse) on the River Aria.
The city of Ruse is our next port of call. Our ship board
information sheet referred to the city as Rousse (Ruse).
It is the fourth largest city of Bulgaria. We docked at 8:00 a.m.
After breakfast we set out for an optional tour which
included a drive around the city of Ruse. Then we bused
out into the country to visit the villages of Veliko Tarnovo
and the Arbanassi.
On our way to Veliko Tarnovo, we had a short photo opt
at a sunflower patch. There were literally hundreds of
such fields of sunflowers growing in Romania. The seeds
when pressed provide cooking oil and the hulls become
cattle feed. The many sunflower fields made for very
colorful vistas as we traveled about. Can you find the
local farmer and his donkey with a load of hay?
This is how the houses were built on the hillside
in Veliko Tarnovo. This city was an early capital of Bulgaria
from 1186-1394, but the arrival of Ottoman armies put an
end to that. The town is situated on three hills high above
the curving valley carved by the Jantra River.
I am pictured with Diana who was a tour guide
trainee on our tour. She was a neat gal and helped me to better
understand what some of the sights we visited.
This is the Church of Saint Michael & Mathew in the
village of Arbanassi. It was a very old and small building
that had been refurbished as a museum. No services
are held in the church.
While visiting the church, we were treated to a performance
by of a group of singers who sang chants for us.
This stop ended our bus tour to these two Bulgarian sites.
The day was a bust due to the fact that there was not much
to see and too much time was set aside to shop. The shopping
areas were very sparse and had limited things for sale.
I should ask for my money back!
On Sunday, July 10, 2005, was a day of River sailing.
We were headed up stream for our next port of call.
Danube River traffic.
A walled city along the Danube River.
The perfect ending to a day of Danube River cruising!
I was greeted on Monday, July 11, by sunny skies and
beautiful River scenes as we sailed up the Danube River Gorge.
This is the Serbia Montenegro side of the Danube.
Beautiful rock formations were around every bend.
This is the famous Golubac Castle in the Danube River gorge.
We docked at Veliko Gridiste in the late morning.
After our morning of sailing through the Danube River gorge,
we had lunch on board the River Aria and then went ashore
for our afternoon tour of Belgrade.
There were all types of ships at the Port of Veliko Gridiste.
The river is muddy from recent rain falls.
Our first photo stop was at the large St. Sava
Orthodox Cathedral in Belgrade.
Our next stop was a walking tour of the Belgrade Fortress.
This fortress had a commanding view of the Sava and Danube Rivers.
Around the fortress were displayed various pieces
of military equipment. The equipment represented
Yugoslavia’s various pieces of armament use in wars gone by.
I am standing on the top of the fortress with the Sava River
in the background. After our tour of various sights of
Belgrade, we were bused to a downtown hotel to hear a
lecture about Serbia and its history. By late afternoon,
were we experiencing light rain and it was time to head
to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Then to the River Aria
which had sailed up to Belgrade when we were touring the city.
Tuesday, July 12th and we started the day in Belgrade.
It was raining and we had a last tour Belgrade scheduled.
It was to Tito’s Memorial on the outskirts of Belgrade.
Due to the rainy weather, I elected to not take this tour
but to stay on the River Aria instead.
I would like to note that I saw several building that were
bombed by NATO Air forces in air raids in 1999.
They were examples of the pin point skill of the pilots
as it appeared that only the building targeted was struck.
Others very close by were not harmed.
This is a view of the Belgrade Fortress from the deck
of the River Aria on the Sava River.
We are headed for the Danube River a short distance away.
An island of trash caught in the Sava River.
The River was awash with empty plastic bottles.
A view of a small village along the Danube River.
Around four in the afternoon were arrived at Novi Sad (New Garden).
This is a picture from the River of Petrovaradin Fortress,
called the “Gibraltar on the Danube.” The fortress was built
between 1690 and 1776.
After docking we had a brief walking tour of Novi Sad.
My tour group is in front of the Bishop’s
residence in downtown Novi Sad.
St. Mary’s Church dominated the city square.
On the way back to the ship I saw this statue in a city park.
It was a beautiful spot.
Next port of call, Vukovar!
On July 13th, we disembarked at Vukovar, the site of the
worst artillery shelling of the Croatian-Serbian war.
We had a brief drive around Vukovar and then on to Osijek, Croatia.
This is part of the walled defenses of Tvrdja, a unique urban
and military complex that lies in the center of the city.
This complex was built between 1712 and 1721.
Many buildings were pock marked by bullet and shell from the
This is a view of the Drava River which flows through Osijek.
We are about 15 miles from the mouth of the Danube River.
Osijek has a colorful history, the first settlement
was erected by the Romans.
But the advantageous location made it prey to
assault throughout the centuries. It was destroyed
by the Huns, rebuilt in the middle ages, destroyed
by the Turks, and rebuilt in the 18th century.
Osijek has very large gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter and
Paul with its 290-foot spire. I am pictured with another
tour member; Carroll Yingling, we are next to a shrine made
out of scrap metal from shells used in the attack on Osijek
during the Croatian-Serbian war. This shrine is near the
Lady of Osijek Sanctuary, a Franciscan monastery and
Church of the Holy Cross.
A picture of Osijek’s old water well located in the town square.
It is not in use today.
At noon time, we ventured to the local airport where
we had a lecture on Croatia; the topics covered were
Croatia’s history and future. At the airport was stored
was this machine for the removal of land mines that
were buried in the ground all around Osijek
and other places in Croatia.
After our lecture at the airport, we were bused to a
small village near Osijek for a home hosted lunch.
This is the picture of our tour group after enjoying a
delightful meal with good fellowship. After this stop, we
were off to the Hungarian port of Mohacs to re-board
our River cruiser. Tonight we were to celebrate our last
evening on board the River Aria with the
traditional Farewell Drink and Dinner.
Sailing to Budapest!
It is our departure day from the River Aria and
day dawned with bright sunshine as we sailed into Budapest.
I am finding the morning sunshine and arriving at
Budapest to be something to smile about!
This is the famous Gellert Baths Spa hotel from the River.
This is my fourth visit to Budapest and it is fun to
see sights that I had visited before.
We had a city tour immediately after disembarking
from the River Aria. We had sailed under the famous
Chain Link Bridge that crosses the Danube River in
Budapest. We drove over this bridge to begin our tour.
Our first stop was the Hero’s Square.
It is a very impressive spot!
It celebrates the many heroes’ that Hungary
has had over the years.
The square is the location where various dignitaries
place floral memorials to recognize important
national events. Today a ceremonial wreath
was going to be laid to memorialize the many
persons who were killed in the bombings in Britain.
A rear view of the Basilica of St. Stephen’s which
was finished in 1905. The church is named after St. Stephen,
Hungary’s first king. The Basilica is a very large structure.
The next stop was across the Danube River in the Buda
section of the city. This Gothic church is the Matthias Church
that was completed in the beginning of the 20th century.
It is a commanding presence in the Buda section of the city.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is a great place to take
photos of the Danube River and its many buildings.
This refurbished site is a photographer’s dream come true.
I am in front of the finely worked equestrian statue
of King Stephen the Saint by Alajos Strobl.
A beautiful summer day to take a photo of the
Hungarian Parliament building across the Danube.
Our city tour ended early in the afternoon and
we checked in to our hotel for our 3 day stay in
Budapest. It was time for me to unpack one more
time and do some exploring of this interesting city.
I should note that the River cruise part of the trip
was not up to the standards of earlier cruise that
I have taken. It appears that Grand Circle Travel
Company is in a cutting corners mode when it
comes to River travel trips.
Over the next two days, I was able to visit many of the
places I had seen during earlier trips to Budapest.
Budapest is a very interesting city to visit and sightsee.
The Little Princess statue sitting on the railing
in the park along the Danube River.
On my way to Buda Castle, I discovered that there as a
festival being held on the Chain Link Bridge.
This is a photo of a group of young Hungarians dancing
as part of the festival. Many people
were in traditional costumes for this event. After
walking across the bridge, I rode the funicular located
at the end of the bridge to Buda Castle.
Standing by one of the beautiful fountains outside Buda Castle.
Buda Castle. There is a very good museum located in the Castle.
A last look at Budapest! It was a beautiful day and a
great way to end my River cruise and visits
to Bucharest and Budapest.