Sunday, May 29, 2011

Syfogin Kostolac, Serbia and the Roman Camp Viminacium

For a history buff this stop has to be heaven but for someone more interested in the gastronomic delights of the area, this stop was a dog. The cute river weekend houses were interesting and the gypsy children play in from of their dilapidated apartment building added a touching photo op. We did not go into the town of Kostolac but landed on the banks of the Danube north of the city. Except for the large coal fired power plant, it looked like the residents enjoyed a quiet life fishing and cooking outside on their grills.
Kostolac is a small Serbian town slightly removed from the Danube river The remains of the Roman capital Viminacium are located some 15 miles to the east of Kostolac. Viminacium was the capital city and military camp of the Roman province of Moesia (today's Serbia). The archeological site occupies a large area that is in competition with the strip mining operation for the local coal. The city dates back to the 1st century AD and contains archaeological remains of temples, streets, squares, amphitheatres, palaces, hippodromes and Roman baths. It lies on the Roman road Via Militaris, that’s the Military Road for most of us. It was built in the 1st century AD and ran from Belgrade to Constantinople.
Viminacium was one of the most important Roman cities and military camps in the period from 1st to 4th century. It’s exceptional strategic importance was reflected both in the defense of the northern border of the Roman empire and in turn of communications and commercial transactions.
To enter Serbian waters we needed to clear Serbian Customs. This had something to do with catching old war criminals and admittance into the European Union. My sweetheart came through with flying colors and I was the one in the line grumbling about state’s rights. This had something to do with the absolute lack of iced tea on this trip.
After this fun filled day it was back to the ship to contemplate my new sense of history over a cold glass of the local Serbian Chardonay.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vidin, Bulgaria and the Iron Gate

Vidin is a port town on the southern bank of the Danube in northwestern Bulgaria. Vidin's main landmark, the Baba Vida fortress, was built in the period from the 10th to the 14th century. In the middle ages, Vidin used to be an important Bulgarian city. Of course, I missed all this while looking for a cold local beer. The beer was good but I missed the historical tour. The beer only cost 2 Bulgarian Lev, not to be confused with the Romanian Lei of which I still have plenty of, or about $1.50. That would have been 150 Lei but the countries don’t take the others currency. Money changers make a good business in these countries but be advised, nobody, but nobody wants Romanian Lei. Mine are now part of my coin collection.
The Iron Gate is a gorge on the Danube River. The Iron Gate is considered the gateway to Transylvania. The riverbed rocks and the associated rapids made the gorge valley an infamous passage. This gorge forms part of the boundary between Romania and Serbia. To enter this region your riverboat must be raised to level of the river behind the Romanian-Yugoslavian lock. We accomplished this at about two in the morning. I woke up to loud crashing noises and reached for my camera. The only pictures I got were those inside the lock before I fell back to sleep. The construction of the joint Romanian-Yugoslavian dam that would finally tame the river commenced in 1964 and was completed in 1974. The construction of these dams gave the valley of the Danube below Belgrade a long reservoir, and additionally caused a 100 foot rise in the water level of the river.
Back on the ship we head for the small Serbian village of Kostolac, the site of the Roman Camp, Viminatium. The seventh Roman legion was stationed here in the first century AD. But before that it’s time for another dinner watching the sunset over the Danube.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

As we leave Bucharest the country becomes progressively depressing. Quaint county farms and villages that remind me of the west side of Calvert, back in the good old USA. For those who have never been to my home town, the west side is perpetually stuck in a time lock of the eighteen hundreds. After a two hour ride we arrive at Oltenita, Romania. Our river cruise ship, the Primadonna, is moored to a small dock on the banks of the Danube. Here I must point out that the word Danube, and all if it’s derivatives, means Brown. Forget about the “Blue Danube” that only exists in Schubert’s mind. As we board the ship and are handed our first glass of champagne, things begin to look up. The ship with it’s open atrium in the center is modern, spacious and comfortable. With room for only 140 guests we soon begin to meet everyone on board and at dinner time we all dine in the beautiful dining room with meals equal to any you will find on the large sea going cruise ships. The first nights cruise takes us to Russe, Bulgaria. The one problem with a cruise on this part of the Danube is that the sights you want to see are usually a two hour bus ride from the port. Today’s bus ride took us to Veliko Tarnovo. Veliko Tarnovo is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria, having a history of more than 5 millennia, as the first traces of human presence dating from the 3rd millennium BC are on Trapezitsa Hill. After a shopping tour of the town we had a traditional lunch in the village of Arbanasi. Goulash served with the local wine and beautiful dancing girls in their native costunes. After lunch it was a sleepy ride back to the ship on the Danube.