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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.