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Danube River Cruise - Viking River Cruises

Bucharest to Nuremberg European River Cruise - From the Black Sea to Bavaria


A Danube River cruse from Bucharest near the Black Sea across eastern Europe to Nuremberg is a wonderful way to see this fascinating part of the world. I had previously sailed with Viking River Cruises from Budapest to Amsterdam, so this cruise completed my river journey across Europe.

Twenty years ago, travel to parts of Eastern Europe was difficult for those living in the West. Then, just as this previously inaccessible area became more travel-friendly, war broke out. Today, the great news for travelers is that sites once a mystery to us have opened their doors and embraced tourism.

Eastern Europe Cruise Map

Bucharest - Capital City of Romania

Belogradshik Rocks, Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria
LatitudeStock - David Forman/Gallo Images/Getty Images
We arrived in Bucharest in the early afternoon and were met by the efficient Viking River Cruises' staff for the short bus ride to the Athenee Hilton Hotel in downtown. After a quick nap and a buffet dinner with our cruise group, we took a short walk in the early summer evening, strolling by the lovely Atheneum and library.

It was a beautiful night in Bucharest, and the central city area near the hotel was quite lovely. Bucharest was dubbed "the small Paris" in the 1930's, because Bucharest has (1) many buildings with a Parisian/French look, (2) wide boulevards and traffic circles, and (3) its own Arc de Triomphe, a gift from Paris. Many Romanians also love the French language.

Bucharest and Nikolai Ceausescu

Memorial of Rebirth in Revolution Square - Bucharest, Romania
Memorial of Rebirth in Revolution Square in Bucharest (c) Linda Garrison
Nikolai Ceausescu controlled Romania for over twenty years until the 1989 revolution. The last ten years Ceausescu was in power, relationships with Russia and the Western powers deteriorated significantly. Although Ceausescu and his circle of family and friends continued to live lavishly, Romanian citizens could not get enough food or other necessities. The people revolted, a military coup overthrew the Ceausescu regime, and he was quickly executed only two hours after his trial.

Even 20 years later, remnants of Ceausescu and the many years of Communist rule are evident in Bucharest. These range from the grandiose Parliament Palace to the dreary, utilitarian apartment and office buildings scattered around the city.

Bucharest - Morning Tour of City of Bucharest

Bucharest - Parliament Palace in Bucharest
Parliament Palace in Bucharest (c) Linda Garrison
Our first morning, we did a bus tour of Bucharest, taking in many of the important sights like the Patriarchal Cathedral. The highlight of the morning was a tour of the Romanian Parliament Palace building, which was started in the last 5 years of the Ceausescu era. About 80 percent was completed before the 1989 Revolution, and they are still working on the rest.

This building is the second largest in the world under one roof (after the Pentagon), and it was quite impressive. The excesses were similar to those seen at the Hermitage or Versailles, but so new. They even built an artificial hill in flat Bucharest, so that Ceausescu could stand on the balcony and look out over the city. Fortunately, he didn't live to see his monument completed.

Bucharest - Village Museum and Transfer to the Viking Neptune

Bucharest Village Museum House
Bucharest Village Museum House (c) Linda Garrison
After the interesting bus tour of Bucharest and stops at the Patriarchal Cathedral and the Parliament Palace, we went to the Village Museum, which is an outdoor park museum featuring buildings dismantled from the four regions of Romania and reassembled in this park. Although Romania is a small country, some of the regional architectural differences were dramatic.

We had a late traditional Romanian lunch and musical entertainment at a restaurant near the park before starting the 1.5-hour drive to the Viking Neptune docked at Oltenita.

The Viking Neptune is identical to three other Viking ships, so the layout was quite familiar. Although we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Romania and Bucharest, it was exciting to finally board the ship.

Viking River Cruises - Viking Neptune

Viking Neptune on the Danube River at Oltenita, Romania
Viking Neptune in Oltenita, Romania (c) Linda Garrison
Having sailed on the Viking Europe and Viking Spirit with Viking River Cruises, boarding the Viking Neptune was like returning home. Like many river cruise ships, the cabins were small but functional, with plenty of storage space and a large picture window. Our luggage had been brought from Bucharest via separate truck and was already in the cabin.

We unpacked and joined our new cruise mates in the lounge to meet the program director and two tour managers. Two excellent program changes had been made since our last cruise with Viking River Cruises. The first was open seating on the three buses (rather than the same assigned bus each day), and the second was the use of audio devices, which made hearing the tour guides much easier.

Ride to Varna, Bulgaria and the Black Sea

Black Sea Beach in Varna, Bulgaria
Black Sea Beach in Varna, Bulgaria (c) Linda Garrison
Our first morning on the Viking Neptune, we awoke in Silestra, Bulgaria on the Danube River dividing Romania and Bulgaria. The ship had sailed from Oltenita during the night. It was a busy day, with lots of time on the bus to see the Bulgarian countryside. We rode for two hours on narrow, rolling country roads to Varna on the Black Sea.

The ride was lovely, and we passed by thousands of acres of farmland, mostly growing sunflowers, corn, wheat, and barley. The wheat and barley were about ready for harvest, and the golden wheat color contrasted wonderfully with the green sunflowers and corn. Although most of the farmers use modern equipment, many people were hoeing weeds in the field or riding in horse or donkey work carts laden with tools.

Varna Archaeological Museum and Boat Ride on the Black Sea

Varna Archeological Museum in Varna, Bulgaria
Varna Archeological Museum in Varna, Bulgaria (c) Linda Garrison
Arriving in Varna, our bus went first to the Archaeological Museum. It has many artifacts from as far back as 4200 BC, including the "world's oldest gold", which predates Mesopotamia and Egyptian gold. The exhibit had an interesting map of a necropolis where many pieces of gold jewelry were found. We spent an hour at the museum before riding to the Varna beach on the Black Sea for lunch.

Our lunch at Mr. Baba's Restaurant was in a "pirate ship" right on the beach, so we walked down to the beach and put our feet in the water.

After lunch, our bus group did a boat ride on the Black Sea for about an hour while the other two buses toured the museum. The day was gorgeous, and we all enjoyed looking at Varna and the ships in the harbor.

An Evening in Rousse, Bulgaria on the Viking River Cruises' Viking Neptune

Downtown Rousse at Night
Rousse, Bulgaria (c) Linda Garrison
The Viking Neptune had moved upstream during the day, so we met the ship at Rousse, Bulgaria. The return ride from the Black Sea to the Viking Neptune was another long ride.

After the daily briefing and drinks in the lounge, we savored a delicious dinner of tomato/mozarella salad, soup (two choices, both were good), lamb chops, and an apricot sorbet (with fresh fruit chunks in it) covered with Grand Marnier.

After dinner, a Bulgarian folklore group boarded the ship for a show in the lounge. However, after sitting all day, five of us decided to walk into Rousse. We explored the pedestrian streets, enjoyed a concert and people watching in the large open park, and topped off the evening with a local beer in a quiet outdoor bar.

Veliko Tarnovo - Ancient Capital of Bulgaria

Shopping Street in Old Town Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Shopping Sreet in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria (c) Linda Garrison
We left the ship at Rousse at 8:30 am for the two-hour drive to the Bulgarian hill town of Veliko Tarnovo, where we stopped at a nice hotel for cookies, drinks, and a bathroom break. On the way to Veliko Tarnovo, we passed by miles and miles of wheat, barley, sunflower, and alfalfa fields, just like the day before. Bulgaria is certainly an agrarian country. The Communists tried to turn Bulgaria into an industrial state for over 45 years and failed. Now, it has returned to its agricultural roots.

After the short break, our bus had an hour of free time for shopping in the numerous shops of the tourist town. The shopping was interesting, with lots of wood carvings, silver jewelry, pottery, and souvenirs.

Arbanasi - Historical Village near Veliko Tarnovo

Church of the Nativity of Christ in Arbanasi, Bulgaria
Church of the Nativity of Christ in Arbanasi, Bulgaria (c) Linda Garrison
Lunch was at the mountain town of Arbanasi, which is popular with Bulgarian tourists. We were met at the restaurant door with homemade bread, which we dipped in honey and paprika. Very tasty. While dining, we enjoyed entertainment by a Bulgarian dance and music troupe.

After lunch, we walked the short distance to the Nativity Church, a small Eastern Orthodox church in Arbanasi dating back to the 15th century. The designers intentionally designed the plain exterior to hide it from the Ottoman rulers of Bulgaria. The interior was ornate and fabulous, with hundreds of murals and icons on the walls. Very interesting. After touring the church we went to a traditional "rich man's" house from the same period done in the Ottoman style.

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