Early in the morning the Amawaterways Amacerto slowly glided out of the dock on the “Pest” side of Budapest and then the engine roared to life shaking my headboard with vibration to wake me up. Instead of being annoyed though a tingle of anticipation went down my spine as I knew the cruise had begun. I awoke to a beautiful tranquil sunrise from my balcony. So began my 7 day family river cruise from Budapest to Bucharest. These are the tours we chose and places we visited.
Day 1: MOHACS, Hungary
PECS Excursion – Our first tour took us to the UNESCO World heritage site “Early Christian Necropolis of Pecs” which was composed of a early mausoleum. We also visited a church with it’s four corner tower which was quite unique and looked more like a fortress than a catherdral.
Day 2: Vukovar, Croatia
Croatian Wine Tasting Tour – introduced us to the Traminac white wine which apparently supplies the British Royal family for special occasions (Yes that includes the upcoming wedding of Meghan Markel and Prince William). The most interesting story was of how during the soviet occupation, the wine maker used to stash bottles of the rarest wines behind a wall which he then covered up.
Day 3: Novi Sad, Serbia
Frusk Gora National Parl Hike – took us up a mountain with a monument to serbian resistance fighters. It was very peaceful as we walked through the trails and up a watch tower in the middle of the forest. I would say that the hike wasn’t as long and scenic as I thought it would be and perhaps the bike tour of the town may have been a better choice.
Petrovardin Fortress Evening Walk – was well worth the late night departure time which made it too dark to take any meaningful pictures amidst the twisting tunnels and walls. The history is fascinating though as it was the most secure fort in the Austrian Empire where the Royal Treasures were kept during the invasions of the Turks. Our guide said that to this day some gold diggers search for it within it’s labyrinth of tunnels and constantly try to drill into the walls in search of a hidden passage or vault.
Day 4: Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade City Tour – A relatively mundane city pretty much like all the rest of Eastern European cities but given the recent difficult times they endured this is understandable. The highlight was seeing the reconstruction of the Serbian Orthodox church of Saint Sava which they need more funds to build the ceiling mosaics. They have finished the first dome as seen above.
Day 5: Belgrade, Serbia
Cruising The Iron Gates
On this day we spent it on the Cruise ship as it traversed a three docks of hydroelectric dams to get to the next part of the Danube.
We admired going through the Iron Gates which had several highlights like a stone face carved into the hillside (no one knows who made it) and an old Roman monument that used to mark the way for invading armies.
Day 6: Vidin, Bulgaria
Belogradchik Fortress hike – The first thing they may need to do is change the impossible to spell name! Perhaps it is better known as the Kaleto Fortress. Seriously though this could have been the fortress used for the Eyrie, the principal stronghold of House Arryn in the Game of Thrones. My husband could almost imagine the archers lining the battlements as the Lords of the Vale marching up the walkway to ascend to meet Lord Arryn… yes he was in his fantasy world once again.
Travel Tip: The climb up is worth the view. Just be careful since there are steep ladders on the way up.
This is definitely one of the best spots on the tour….. We call these moments “HIGHLIGHT!” (My husband kept call it “FANTASTIC!” like his uncle so told him to get a new term)
Day 7: Rousse, Bulgaria
Arbanasi Village was the first stop on the way to our final destination. It was surprisingly quite popular with tourists with little guest houses and sports cars parked on the road perhaps due to the upcoming music festival. We stopped by the Nativity church which had beautifully painted black backdrops for the murals which was quite unique. Many were also set below ground as churches could not be taller than the mosques after the Turkish occupation.
Veliko Tarnovo Excursion after a total of 2 hours from the ship we (yes it is worth it you HAVE TO TAKE this tour) we finally arrived at the Fortress walls of the Tsaverets which was the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire. A terrible story was told on our way there about Basil the Bulgar-Slayer who was a Byzantine Emperor that once captured 30,000 Hungarians and blinded everyone but 99 out of every 100 solider to return home. This so shocked their leader Samuel that he fell stricken and died two years later and thus the second empire came to be. Truly fear and horror in this side of the world back then!
The Tsarevets fortress was built on a imposing mountain surrounded by a natural river and seemingly impregnable…. nevertheless apparently a guard was bribed to open the gate and thus the fortress fell after three months to the invading Ottomans. They are still uncovering many remains of the former palace as most of what was there was burned down.
The church at the top was rebuilt but they could not replicate the art so they decided to install their own modern interpretation which came out quite different and dramatic in my opinion.
As we finished the last of the land tours we got on the cruise to sail to Bucharest. This part onwards we did on our own with the family on a separate tour. I will write a review of the Amawaterways on the next post. In the meantime I am off to catch the flight home! Cheers!