Sunday, October 21, 2018


October 5, 2018

Osijek, Croatia

Another interesting educational day! We had to cross the border from Hungary into Croatia. Although Croatia is a member of the EU, it is not a member of the Schengen area. Thus, the border is strictly controlled. Our two bus loads of tourists had to exit the buses on the Hungary side of the border and line up, with our passports, in order to cross. Each person, in turn, handed his or her passport to an agent who examined it and scanned it. Then the passport was handed back so that we could advance three steps and hand it to an agent from Croatia, who duly examined the passport and scanned it. The buses drove across the border, and we were permitted to reboard. Our guide cautioned us not to act silly, explaining the guards are very serious. He suggested that we not take pictures of the folks lined up for the crossing, but he did take pictures of a few of us at the border sign while we waited. It was a little intimidating.

I learned a bit more about the EU on our trip. All of the countries we visited are members of the union, but do not use the monetary system. All of those countries are working toward that end, but first must demonstrate economic stability. Employment rates, inflation rates and interest rates must all meet a specific target and be maintained before the EU can be adopted. So, we bought things in many different types of money. Converting from one monetary system to our own was a headache-inducing exercise!
In Prague we used Czech Crowns - 1 crown is less than $.05.
In Germany & Austria we used Euros. One Euro is equal to about $1.15.
In Hungary prices were listed in Forints. 1 Forint was only .0036 of a dollar.
In Croatia we saw prices in Kuna. Each Kuna was about $.16.
Serbians use Dinars as their currency. 1 dinar is ,0097 of an American dollar.
Bulgarians use a Kev which is equal to about $.59
In Bucharest the use Leu, and one Leu is about $.25.
Lucky for us we were almost always in tourist destinations where Euros and credit cards were cheerfully taken as a form of payment. We did get some cash converted in areas we knew we'd have more time for shopping or eating out. It felt strange to use different currency and to get my head around paying what seemed like huge amounts. For example, a packet of Paprika in Budapest cost me $850 Forints!

Our first stop was a visit to the town of Osijek. We toured the relatively new fortification, dating from the early 18th century. The citadel, at one time, was state of the art. Much of the elaborate wall surrounding the town and fortification was torn down in the middle of the 20th century. Our guide related that townsfolk were told they could take the bricks... and they did! What I found most interesting was that the magazine was across the river. A tunnel was constructed under the water to enable powder and armaments to be transported out of sight during an armed encounter.

I found this aerial shot on the Internet. 

You can see the extent of the original walls from this bronze model.

Here are some shots of the fortress and town.
Most of the buildings are in a state of disrepair.

This area has been renovated.

We were treated to an organ concert in the church.

I noticed three layers of paint were exposed on this wall.

We boarded the bus and were taken into the country to a farm named Orlov Put, which means Eagle's Way. Our host gave up city life to realize his dream of owning a farm. His farm is the first certified organic farm in Croatia.

We were treated to an enjoyable lunch.
We had a tasty soup, some sort of stew, sausage made from Mangalitza pig - a Croatian breed that is supposed to be less fatty than other breeds, and bread with lard and paprika. Our beverage choices included still water, bubbly water, white wine and a juice. Both the soup and the juice were made from nettles! Both were tasty!

Our host built everything on the farm, from his house, to all of the furnishings.

This is one shot of the living room in the log house. Like the chairs and tables, the cabinets are unique. Our guide said that one can hear termites chewing on the wood at night. The owner shrugged his shoulders and commented that he will be long dead before the termites take down his building!

We had the opportunity to walk around the farm yard. The barn housed goats, sheep, pigs, geese and cows.

I loved this guy!

Next we traveled to Vukovar to connect with our ship. We had a brief walk through town, from the bus stop to the river. This particular building (like many others) was damaged by heavy bombing in the war with Serbia in the 1990's. The owner plants flowers that drape from the windows. An eerie reminder and a glimmer of hope for beauty to come.

When we arrived at the ship we noticed this installation. It is called the Phoenix, and symbolizes the rise of the fallen.

I recall watching coverage of the war. It was hard to imagine that much destruction... but it was over there... somewhere. I could go on with my own, safe, predictable life. This trip was truly enlightening  about the conflicts and wars and the deep-seated causes. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Budapest & Eger Hungary

October 2-4, 2018

We had three days in Budapest. We had a city bus tour, explored on our own and enjoyed the indoor market and a ruin bar, took a bike ride around the city and along the Danube, and toured Eger for visits to two wineries.

The winery trips were a highlight. After a tour of the tunnels at the first winery (the city is honeycombed with over 60 miles of tunnels, some built before the 13th century to provide safe harbor against invading Turks) we were given a taste of the region's premier wine, Bikavér, which translates to "Bull's Blood". Working in groups we were challenged to make a blend that tasted the same using wines from four different varietals. It was great fun. The owner's daughter judged all of our products as tasting very "American", but declared our table's blend to come second closest to the original. It was an interesting exercise in tuning our tastes!

The second winery was recently carved into limestone cliffs. The owner bought the property, which had previously been used as a limestone quarry, and created a venue for concerts and festivals, as well as his winery. There we had a wonderful "local" lunch while enjoying three different wines.

Gal Tibor Winery
A modern tasting room contrasts with its ancient tunnels

Bolyki Winery
The newly carved-out winery made to look ancient

This cavern was carved out of the limestone by machines.

Pictures of Eger, Hungary

Minaret from 17th Century
Built under Ottoman rule in this area

Statue recognizing women's role in ancient battles,
the woman is depicted throwing rocks from the castle walls.

Ancient Turkish bath

Original city walls

End of town square with castle fortification above

We liked Eger. It is more of a college town than a tourist destination, so we had a better sense of the people, even if we were there for just a short period of time. 

The Original "Ruin Bar" SzimpiaKert
Derelict buildings and open spaces were turned into places to grab an inexpensive beer in the early 2000's. They have an eclectic mix of discarded furniture and unusual "art". 

We came on the trip with friends... and made new friends with others. 

Pictures of Bucharest

Matthias Church
Buda side of the river

This was our only rainy day...
and by the time we finished the driving portion of our tour,  the rain had all but stopped.

Another plague pillar outside of the church

The raven carrying a gold ring was King Matthias' heraldic emblem.
There are different stories behind the ring.
Note the elaborate tile roof which has been dutifully, and beautifully, restored.

 The church is exquisite inside.
It has undergone multiple rebuilding & renovation activities since it was built in the 11th century.

St. Stephan's Statue

A bronze model for the blind depicting Matthias Church, the Fishermen's Bastion 
and the surrounding statues.

The view from Fishermen's Bastion

 The view from the river 

 The Great Market Hall
The oldest and largest indoor market

More pics from the Pest side

We toured Budapest on our first river cruise in 2006. We found the city to be dirty and depressing. There was a lot of graffiti on buildings and trolleys, and the people seemed oppressed. It was a welcome surprise to see how much cleaner and more vibrant the city has become.

Budapest at night is simply gorgeous. The ship moved from a downtown dock one night to one a few miles away where it would be easier to offload and load luggage. Our cruise could be taken as two separate one-week cruises, or as a nineteen day cruise with stay overs at either end. We were doing the complete package, so reveled in the fact that we did not have to pack and have our suitcases outside the door at whatever awful hour our plane reservations would dictate! While we were at the wineries, 80 new passengers were arriving and getting settled in. That night the ship cruised back to the downtown area so we could again see the amazing lights, and be in position for a city activity the next morning.


October 5, 2018 Osijek, Croatia Another interesting educational day! We had to cross the border from Hungary into Croatia. Although Cro...