Monday, 28 May 2012

The Glorious Danube - Part 4

Continuing the story of our big Danube River voyage from east to west aboard the classic River Duchess of Uniworld…

A Cruise-Tour

With this cruise, we started in Bucharest and already had one full city tour under our belts before even setting foot on the boat.

That’s because Uniworld like you to really SEE the places you travel through rather than skim over or around them. This is immersion travelling in the best possible sense.

Arriving in the Romanian capital city, behind the old Iron Curtain, we were whisked off for a typical Romanian lunch – including wine – before our feet had barely touched the ground. Then it was off on a fully-guided tour of the city, stopping at key points to get an understanding of the architecture, history – and politics.

Having got a feel for this surprising, vibrant city, it was then time to head for our home base for the next 12 days, the 132-passenger River Duchess, newly refurbished for this particular voyage and a genuine haven of warmth and comfort.

With only 82 in this group, there is plenty of space in which to stretch out, relax and let the onboard service cosset you with friendly, attentive courtesy that is a joy to be around.

A warm ‘welcome aboard’ was swiftly followed by a remarkably humorous reception from Captain Michael Hofmann and his largely east European crew. The feel, though, is more Viennese boutique charm than anything else.

The food also matches it, and our Cruise Manager, Christine, adds to the feeling by ensuring we know everything in store for the next morning’s full-day excursion into the Bulgarian hinterland, to the former capital city of Veliko Tarnovo and the UNESCO World heritage site of Arbanassi village, a 16th century settlement of enormous beauty.

However, there is always an alternative with Uniworld, hence we were also offered a trip to a local nature reserve or the option of simply staying aboard at leisure to enjoy the Duchess’s slow progress along the river, meeting the inland excursion further upstream.

As it turned out, the weather was pretty miserable, it rained much of the day, but Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi were an absolute delight, a glimpse of both modern and historical Bulgarian life that veered from near-poverty levels in the rural areas to breathtaking architecture in the 12th century fortress of Tsarevets.

In arbanassi, we were also treated to a classic Bulgarian meal (see pic above) of Shopska salad (cucumber, tomato, peppers, onion and parsley), vegetable soup and chicken stew, washed down with a rather good Bulgarian merlot that gave everything a certain glow. We could definitely get to like this Uniworld style…!