Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Glorious Danube - In Transit

Continuing our epic river-cruise along the Danube on the River Duchess of Uniworld, travelling through eastern Europe...

Romania to Serbia, Part 2

That night’s Captain’s Dinner was also memorable, not least for our utterly captivating host, Captain Michael Hoffman, who regaled us with tales of life in Romania, his 5-hectare watermelon plantation – and the fact he ran away from home at 14 to avoid being a farmer!

The food was once again excellent, accompanied by complimentary wines from Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria. There may not be a lot of actual entertainment on board (this is small-scale cruising after all) but the evening meal is easily ‘entertainment’ in its own right, taken in suitably leisurely and graceful fashion.

Next morning it was another vista – and another country. This is Serbia, and the city of Belgrade, situated on a smaller tributary of the Danube but wreathed in a gloomy morning overcast and rain, giving little clue to its previous reputation as ‘The White City.’

Our day started with a fascinating modern history talk provided by a visiting Serbian professor, who gave us the full local story in perfect English. It was sobering to hear an internal view of the terrible conflict of 1991-95, where the former Yugoslavia practically tore itself apart with civil war between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, a vicious and bloody struggle that saw many atrocities on each side – plus a heavy bombardment of Serbia by NATO forces.

The shocking sight of a former military ministry building in Belgrade left in its devastated state following direct hits by two Tomahawk Cruise missiles was the most startling view of the day, but the city has suffered mightily over the years (some 44 recorded battles going back to invasions by the Celts, Goths, Ottoman empire and others) and is in amazingly spry form all things considered.

After a coach tour of the main parts of the city – taking in the immense 17th century Kalemegdan Fortress, Marshall Tito’s tomb and the main shopping district – we were able to enjoy some time at leisure on our own and discovered the gardens around Kalemegdan, where the elderly locals gather to dance to accordion music, play chess and enjoy each other’s company – a gathering you suspect that has happened for generations in totally timeless fashion.

That evening, there was another treat in store back on board – a folk music and dance display by 11 members of a major local traditional troupe, all of them young, all of them enthusiastic and passionate about their culture. The violinist alone would entrance a much larger audience than the 80 of us in the Blue Danube lounge, and the 45-minute display was just a taste of their full three-hour 200-performer show (which is, amazingly enough, going on tour in the USA this autumn, including our home of Orlando!).

Dinner that night featured several Serbian specialities to round out an unforgettable and thought-provoking visit to this intriguing country. Next stop, Croatia…!

This ‘Imperial Capitals of Europe’ voyage can be booked at www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk, with Titan Travel (in the UK only) at www.titantravel.co.uk or, for more on river-cruising in general, seek out the luxury cruise-agent specialists of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link.