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Iron Gate:    The Iron Gate is a region of the Danube where the river is narrow and cuts through granite (guess it should be called the granite gate).  It is a region where the river leaves Serbia and near the border between Romania and Bulgaria.  In past times the river could not be navigated through this region but in the 1800s a channel was blasted out for ships to pass.  We passed through this region the going downstream at night and upstream at about 6 PM when I took this picture.  It was cloudy all day but the sun came out for about five minutes so I could take a couple decent pictures.  The history of this stretch of the Danube is very interesting. 

 

Ceausescu's Palace:  The palace of the despotic Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu (Chee-ow-ches-kew), who was finally killed on Christmas day in 1989 a few years before the palace was completed.  When you walk into one of the main ballrooms you stop and say WOW!   The are like 100 yards long, all marble from the walls to the floor.   There is so much echo that 10 people talking in a room sounds like you are in a train station.  Click on the above link and you can get a much better photo of Ceausescu's mega- palace. 

 

Standard Cathedral:  We must have visited a dozen huge gothic cathedrals, mostly Catholic, but some Eastern Orthodox.   Austria, Slovakia, Hungary , and Croatia are (basically) Catholic countries, whereas Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria are mostly Eastern Orthodox.   The church in this photo is a Catholic church in the historic town of Pec (pronounced paych) in southern Hungary.   If you click on Pec you will go a webpage made by some local people of Pec.   Our boat docked at the town of Mohacs (pronounced MO-hach) and we were taken by bus about 20 miles to Pec.   Mohacs is also a historic Hungarian town, remembered by ALL Hungarians (they have LONG memories in that part of the world) as the place where in 1526 the Ottoman Turks destroyed the Hungarian army, thus starting 150 years of Ottoman rule in Hungary. 

 

Bratislava Fortress   Another day another medieval fortress.   After a few days they got to be tiresome.  We heard so much history of Greek, Roman, Turk, and Hapsburg invaders it was starting to go in one ear and out the other. This fortress is in uh, ... er, .... Bratislava, Slovakia.  We wish local guides would stop lecturing about all the ancient history of the place you can get in books and (nowadays) on the web and tell more about what is going on in their country today.

 

Vienna Coffee House:   There are dozens of coffee houses in Vienna where people congregate.  Coffee was brought to Europe in 1683 with the Ottoman Turks invaded Vienna.  The Turks failed in their attempt to capture Vienna but left bags of coffee beans outside the city walls when they left.  The Viennese didn't know what to make of these strange beads (some thought they were camel feed), but one Viennese man had traveled to the Middle East and knew what they were and started the first coffee house in Europe in Vienna.  The drink caught on and the rest is history.   Vienna now even has a Starbucks which seems to be very popular when Susan and I visited it a couple of times.  Not old world which bothers some Viennese no doubt.  

 

Another Viennese coffee house:   Another photo of Cafe' Central, one of the classier coffee houses in Vienna.  Don't order just a simple  'cup of coffee' or they think you're right off the turnip truck. You might want to order a strong black Mazagron or Franziskaner with brandy or a Einspanner.  It's delicious!  We just walked in, took a picture, and walked out.  A cup of coffee goes for about $5 and a pastry for more.   I guess you have to pay for Roman columns, pictures of Maria Theresa on the wall,  and waiters in red coats.

 

Veliko Turnovo:  Bulgaria was really a surprise in our minds.   The country seems more modern than we imagined and the places we visited were very clean (not that we expected them to be filthy).   We visited this old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Turnovo and were there on Palm Sunday of the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox.  As in Hungary and Serbia, the people in these parts have long memories when it comes to the Ottoman Turks who ruled the area for 500 years (in some parts anyway).  We heard the phrase "the Turkish yolk" more than once from our tour guides.   One tour guide got so choked up talking about Bulgarian women being ravished by Ottoman Janassaries she got tears in her eyes ... and she was talking about something that happened 500 years ago!

 

Black Sea:   Our riverboat, Viking Europe, didn't actually reach the Black Sea since the Danube  degenerates into a series of small channels at the Danube delta.   The boat COULD have passed through one of the channels (or through a 50-mile canal) to reach the sea and we wished it did, but it would have taken 3-4 more days and most riverboats stop where the delta begins and busses passengers to the Romanian coastal city of Costanta.    Susan and I dipped our fingers in the sea to make our trip complete.       

 

Slobodan Milosevic:   Slobodan Milosevic has seen better days.   This fading poster on a Belgrade lamp post speaks volumes as to the fading popularity of the past Serbian dictator.  For a brief history of the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s, click on Yugoslavian war We kept a low profile in Belgrade since we knew most Serbians were not interested in talking about the NATO bombing of some Serbian bridges and buildings.  It did seem a bit strange though visiting a country as a tourist when your own country (NATO) dropped bombs on it only six years earlier.   Nowadays people in Serbia are probably thinking more about joining the European Common Union to improve their lot in the world.  

 

Schoentrunn Palace    Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna was (one of) the residences of the Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire,  and empire that ruled much of Europe for upwards of 500 years until 1918 when WWI shook up the power structure of Europe.  If you want to take a peek inside one of the rooms of this over 1000 room abode, just click on the mirror room and put your mouse at the edge of the picture and you can a 360 degree view of Maria Teresa's sitting room.   We visited the place in April which was good since tour busses were already starting to swarm around the place.  I would hate to be there in July when the crowds arrive en mass.   

 

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