Viking Passage to Eastern Europe

Cathedral of St. Sava

The Cruise

We decided on this cruise to learn more about Eastern Europe and the countries along the Danube, namely Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Budapest

Prior to joining the ship we spent two nights in Budapest. Having been there before and seen the highlights, such as the Hungarian Parliament, we crafted our own tour around the Street Art/Mini Statues sprinkled around the city. Whilst each of these little gems are interesting in their own right, it was simply a rough route to discover some of the amazing architecture and hidden delights of the city. So whether it was seeing the worm overlooking the Danube, the dead squirrel or finding the life-size Colombo statue, it’s a city with so much to see.

Viking Lofn

Lofn is the Norse goddess of comfort, so even the name fits with Viking’s signature goal for its clients, exploring the world in comfort. It’s a small ship, with just 190 guests, which made it feel very intimate and cozy. The public areas were spacious and well-appointed, whilst the cabins were relaxing and high quality. Ecologically friendly, Lofn is powered by a hybrid propulsion system that is also smoother and produces less vibration for an improved ride.

Vukovar and Osijek

The price of human conflict was brought into sharp focus at these two destinations in Croatia. The breakup of Yugoslavia was another dark chapter of human history. Ruined buildings stood as a reminder of the war with Serbia, as did scars from a shrapnel wound on our guide’s leg. The home visit highlighted the long term impact of the conflict and the cost to life. Not only in lives lost but the economic impact and mental issues it left behind. That said, the buildings in Osijek that have been restored or rebuilt, were very pleasing on the eye and hopefully better times are ahead for this region of Croatia.

Belgrade

A strategic and beautiful location at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers has been both a blessing and a curse for the Serbian (and former Yugoslavian) capital. It has been regularly fought over because of this position, having been destroyed and rebuilt twenty times. Whilst the Kalemegdan Fortress is the signature landmark of Belgrade, plus a treasure trove of information on “Who has ruled Belgrade”, the wow factor visit had to go to the Cathedral of St. Sava. Arguably only second in magnificence to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, with whom it shares the unenviable distinction of also not being finished.

Scenic Cruising

Watching the changing scenery of the Danube as we sailed along was one of the pleasures of this cruise. None more so than the Iron Gate, where the river passes through the narrow gorges that carve through the Carpathian mountains to the north and Balkan mountains to the south. This stretch of the Danube was once a treacherous stretch of rocks and rapids, now tamed by the first Iron gate dam opened in 1972 (and a 35m decent to be enjoyed via the lock). The 141 ft carving of Decebalus is also an amazing sight near the city of Orșova.

Communist Era

A common theme across the countries visited on this cruise was the impact on people’s lives of the communist regime, contrasted with the periods before and after. Whilst there was plenty of visual evidence in the architecture of the places we visited, it was the impact on freedom, focus of the economy etc. which was most interesting. Each of our guides were very open about the impact on their lives and their particular country. With each passing day we built up a picture of how living through this era may have been and the legacy it left. This was an extremely interesting and informative aspect of the cruise.

Bucharest

Whilst there are plenty of grey blocky communist era structures in Bucharest, the regime did have some magnificent aspects. The Romanian Parliament building (for example) is huge and (with some 3,000 rooms, crystal chandeliers etc.) is the second largest administrative building (after the Pentagon) in the world. Bucharest teems with life, with 2 million cars sharing the city streets with trams and busses, whilst the Old Town bustles with bars and restaurants offering cuisine from many cultures. We enjoyed discovering many of the magnificent buildings, with columns, domes, balconies and covered passageways that wouldn’t have been out of place in London or Paris.

Transylvania

We selected to do the post cruise extension to Transylvania and headed out of Bucharest for a scenic drive through the Carpathian Mountains. We visited Peles Castle, built by order of King Carol I, a warren of some 170 rooms, lavish furnishings, art and artefacts. We also enjoyed exploring its well kept gardens. Exploring the towns of Sinaia and Brasov, where we had coffee with a teddy bear and a magnificent dinner in the cellars respectively, was also fun. Next was Bran castle, a medieval fortress on a rocky outcrop. Despite the desire to encourage tourism by linking it to Dracula, it has nothing to do with Bram Stoker’s character. Nonetheless, our guide’s tales of Vlad the Impaler and other local goings on added an enjoyable spooky aspect to the trip.

Brain Food

As seniors we are often encouraged to exercise our brains and this trip provided a wealth of information and insights to think upon and digest. Its an area poorly understood by many, outside of sensational news headlines and beach resorts, so this was a highly educational and interesting journey for us. Never let it be said I miss a Dracula tag line, so Viking…fangs for a great trip. As with all Viking cruises, executed with professionalism and in comfort.

I’d like to thank Viking Cruises for their support on this cruise.

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Steve Aldridge

Award-winning travel writer

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