Published: July 8th 2011June 10th 2011
We spent one whole day cruising down the Danube so I thought I would tell you a little about the river. It is the 2nd longest river in Europe and the 25th longest in the world. It srarts in the Black Forest region of Germany and ends about 1,766 miles later on the Romanian coast and then empties into the Black Sea flowing from west to east. The Danube river basin is more than 300,000 square miles and includes parts of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia, and Ukraine.
While I mostly knew the 'Danube' as a pretty Strauss waltz, in reality it has shaped the destinies of many countries. The river was used to transport cargo such as salt, wood, and ores. The Roman emperors recognized its strategic location centuries ago and sought to control it. There are Roman ruins strewn along its banks. Today it is still one of Europe's greatest assets in part because it provides a water route between four national capitals on its banks: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.
The river is calm and seldom is wider than the Mississippi. It twists and turns and every bend brings a different vista. While it doesn't have all the castles that the Rhine offers it does, in my opinion, make up for it in its uncrowded waters and wide variety of cities and countries that span its length.
So today is Croatia. A small country( about 21,000 sq. miles), with a population of about 4.5 million. It is considered a Mediterranean country and has over 1,000 islands off its coast. Who knew that Croatia had a 3,500 mile coastline on the Adriatic Sea? If any country needs a PR make over it is Croatia. If you do consider coming avoid the overpriced, slightly seedy and tacky resort hotels and go to a 'sobe'- it is sort of like a B&B( but may not serve meals. To avoid the resort sprawl go to any of the Old Towns' where you can see old medieval lanes or visit taverns where local fishermen go to drink 'slibberwicz'- the national fire water. It is a potent plum brandy that will burn your gut. But, sadly, I am not on the coast today- perhaps another trip
Today I am in Vukovar a smallish city of about 30,000. Luckily we were there on a market day and the local produce was proudly displayed. Tomatoes as big as softballs and as red as Christmas bows; small ping-pong ball size potatoes ( the way they like them over here); enormous basketball size green cabbages piled alnost as high as the rafters; and the prettiest boxes of deep vermillion red cherries. So tempting that many of my fellow travelers bought large boxes of them.
After the market we walked through several neighborhoods. I was saddened to see so many beautiful buildings still full of bullet and shrapnel holes. Others were half empty shells with brick work destroyed by bombs. Many of the buildings surrounding the large cobblestone plaza have been restored. But, as our guide told us, it takes a lot of money to re-build and they have many other urgents needs. We visited the Franciscan Monestery, still in the process of being restored. It has a magnificient floor to ceiling gold gilded altar. There must have been 15 little cherub statues 'fluttering' around the altar. In the center was a statue of Mary and baby Jesus. We wer told that it is over 500 years old. It was hidden during the bombings to save it from being destroyed.
Today was a day that I always look forward to on any Grand Circle or OAT trip- the home hosted lunch. It is exciting to me to be able to visit in a local home and see what the neighborhoods are like. Today we drove for about an hour to the city of Osijek. It has about 160,000 people. The area around it is known for its good hunting, fishing, birding, and bicycling. Because the area hosts so many eco- type tourists it has a lot of 'sobes'- B&B type places. Our bus of 40 was divided into groups of 10 and each was dropped off at a different house.
The one I went to was clean and sweet. it had two bedrooms for rent upstairs. We were ushered into the dining room which was an extension of the large open kitchen. The table was set for 12 as the owner and her sister joined us. Our hostess was a widow and she lived there alone. She has 2 children and 3 grandchildren. She spoke very little English but her sister spoke some so we were able to have some conversation. The starter was a wonderful vegetable soup with little spaetzels ( like gnocchi). This was followed by a plethora of salads, fried zucchine, a hot potato and kale mixture, and some mystery meat patties. The dessert was a golden vanilla cake stuffed with those wonderful cherries. yum! When we all got back to our ship and talked about our exzperiences it seems that every group had differnt food and a different home situation. It was delightful to hear from Oh, and lest those who were at actual working farms with pigs, goats, and chickens walking around. Oh, and lest I forget, we had a plethora of beverages to choose from : water, cherry brandy ( homemade), lemonade, wine, and the ever popular and potent Slibberwitz.
Several of our group presented the hostess with a small gift representing the area where they came from ranging from postcards to baseball memorabilia to a homemade jam. We were all thankful for her preparations and the care she took in making our visit so pleasant.
I don't know if any other company does these home visits. It is only one of the reasons why I chose to travel ( when on a group tour) with Grand Circle and.or OAT. Next stop- Hungary.