My wife Lilian and I recently returned from a very enjoyable and interesting 14-day, 3300 km (2000 mile) cruise on the River Danube, from Budapest to the Black Sea and back.
We joined the vessel in Hungary and also visited towns and cities in Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. A lot of tours ashore were included, with guides who were always local to the area and all of them emphasising how very old the civilisation of their country was. In most cases a thousand or more years before the Egyptians and Romans.
In 1972 in Bulgaria for example, a museum curator got a call from a former school teacher who was in possession of some treasure and asked if they would take a look at it. The treasure turned out to be gold artefacts from burial sites in a single prehistoric lakeside cemetery in the Varna region and are now referred to as the Varna Gold, which is determined as being 6,500 years old through carbon dating. Subsequently, Bulgarian archaeologists spent more than 15 years excavating 312 graves and artefacts totalling 13 lbs of gold have so far been retrieved.
We were shown a 2018 Calendar featuring numerous pieces on each of the 12 pages and they are incredible, especially considering their unbelievable age. What a find as well as a game changer for Bulgarian historians who had not realised that their nation was so civilised that long ago. The problem is that no written or readable records have ever been found that would help archaeologists and historians with their research. Either the people in that era did not write information down, or if they did it may have been on surfaces that have deteriorated and disappeared over time.
When talking about the history of their nation, the guides also mentioned the many wars that had troubled their individual countries, including the socialist/communist era after the Second World War, which held back their rate of progress at managing change and integration back into the free world enjoyed by most Western countries. Without exception, all of them were extremely proud of their country, the progress it has achieved so far and are confident they will achieve full and successful integration in time.
In all of the countries, we visited many fabulous and interesting buildings of all ages. We saw and looked around cathedrals, mosques, churches, forts, castles, administration buildings, etc. Some were very old and interesting and some were absolutely fabulous to look at. Fantastic paintings on walls and ceilings plus lots of stunning stained glass windows. Every tour ashore was an experience we thoroughly enjoyed and significantly enhanced our perception of these Eastern European countries.
The 14-day journey along the Danube itself was mostly mile after mile of tree lined river banks, with occasional highlights when passing towns and cities with impressive buildings and other structures to look at and admire. At the Iron Gates section of the river, which forms the border between Romania and Serbia, there is a 43-meter-high carving in rock of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia. Located near the city of Orșova in Romania, it was completed in 2004 after 10 years of creation and is the tallest rock relief in Europe. Nearby are lock systems that we had to go through, which were also somewhat of a highlight.
Another significant feature of the cruise was our newly built and very long river boat MS Robert Burns. Constructed and outfitted to an exceptionally high standard, Lilian and I were very impressed with it, especially the passenger-friendly layout in all parts of the vessel and how incredibly quiet it was, with no vibrations.
Captain Michael Szekely, his entire crew and the Riviera Tour Managers were all exceptional and we were also lucky to be sharing the tour with 150 like-minded passengers, who were really friendly and enjoying the experience as much as we were.
We had a truly wonderful holiday for all sorts of reasons and we have 700 photos to prove it.
There is a link to the Riviera Cruises website here: (www.rivieratravel.co.uk/river-cruises/budapest-to-black-sea).
There is a link to an item about the Varna Gold here: (www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/varna-bulgaria-gold-graves-social-hierarchy-prehistoric-archaelogy-smithsonian-journeys-travel-quarterly-180958733/).
Another link about the Varna Gold, with colour photos is here: (www.altours-bg.com/bulgarian-treasures/).
A link to a Danube cruise, with colour photos is here: (www.texva.com/danubecruise/irongates.html).
JHL MBE SSL Co. Chairman