The Captain has an announcement …
After an anxious late-night wait moored up at Mohacs on the Hungarian/Serbian borders, we 104 passengers had finally exited the EU and were starting day 4 of our 14-day cruise on the Danube. In Serbia’s capital city, Belgrade, a fascinating optional guided tour awaited us. The coach took us past Tito’s residence, the blackened shells of government buildings bombed by NATO in 1999, and the refugee camps, while the young tour guide explained a little of his country’s turbulent history. Our walking tour of the ancient fortress afforded stunning views of the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava.
During a stop for refreshments and entertainment by local musicians I explored the city’s bohemian quarter, discovering amazing murals and pretty restaurants lining steep, cobbled Skadarlija Street – a cultural hub for artists in the19th century. A tour of St Sava – one of the world’s largest orthodox churches – completed our visit and we were soon back on board the MS Serenade 2, Shearing’s latest addition to their cruise fleet on the Danube.
Our journey continued through the magnificent Iron Gate Gorge with its towering rock carving of King Decebalus. Serbia was on one side and Romania on the other as we passed through various locks, held captive in fierce late summer heat as the ship slowly rose and fell with the water levels and the crew calmly dealt with a small pack of stray dogs that hoped to use the opportunity to jump aboard to seek scraps of food. After a busy first few days exploring cities, it was quite pleasant to spend the whole day on board ship, relaxing on the sundeck, swapping holiday tales and catching up on reading.
As we prepared for our evening meal an announcement was made asking everyone to meet in the lounge bar as the Captain had an announcement to make. The rather tightlipped expression on our cruise manager’s face made us feel this was not going to be good news.
The captain informed us that the river levels were too low to continue our journey safely. Rather than risk being stranded on sand banks, the ship would moor in Bulgaria at Nikopol where the coaches would collect us for the optional excursion to Ruse, known as ‘Little Vienna’. The following day, the ship would turn around and moor at Turnu Magurele in Romania from where coaches would transport all passengers to the Black Sea for an overnight stop at a beachfront four-star hotel. A visit to Bucharest would also be included. Shearings had clearly worked hard to put together this package to ensure passengers could enjoy the original itinerary, albeit with longer than planned coach travel.
Those who had prepaid for the original optional trip to Bucharest had their money refunded as everyone would now be visiting the city. However, we had not planned to visit Bucharest, having spent several days on a working tour of the city a few years ago. We were also concerned about the prospect of long coach journeys on bumpy roads as my partner’s back was painful. While most of the passengers packed overnight bags and set off on the coaches the following day, we, along with 10 other passengers, opted to stay on board.
During this ‘becalmed’ period we received excellent customer service from the remaining crew and, after getting over the disappointment of not being able to get the internet to download a map to go off exploring, or to catch up with ‘The Archers’, I enjoyed a back-to-basics technology detox, knitting blanket squares for the Seamen’s Mission with materials supplied by Gill, completing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and generally lazing about. I even did some ‘adult colouring in’ though I was disappointed to find that ‘adult’ simply meant countless tiny, fiddly bits on floral elephants. Meanwhile, our adventurous colleagues generally had a great time in Bucharest and and the Black Sea.
Returning up the river via the scenic Iron Gate Gorge, we headed for Novi Sad in Serbia. Here, we were lucky enough to catch the tail end of some traditional folk dancing in one the city’s squares where they were also celebrating a honey festival with stalls full of honey and beeswax. Sadly there was no time to visit the Damien Hirst exhibition. There seemed to be a lot to see in this city with its interesting alleyways full of curious shops, churches and museums. However, there was no free time and we returned to the ship as we would be sailing back into the EU and once again had to face the uncertainty of whether customs officers might insist on viewing each and every one of us along with our passports.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.