Bratislava & Vienna

If I had to pick just one city we visited during our 2 weeks in Eastern and Central Europe that I would want to live in it would probably be Bratislava – a quaint old town with sidewalk cafés and art shops, a booming economy, a cool vibe.

The city of Bratislava has been an important center for a number of different nation-states throughout history – during the medieval Great Moravia, a former capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, a major city in Czechoslovakia, and now the capital of Slovakia.

Danube Discovery Cruise 419

Danube Discovery Cruise 424

Danube Discovery Cruise 425

Danube Discovery Cruise 427

Danube Discovery Cruise 434

Danube Discovery Cruise 454

Danube Discovery Cruise 455

Danube Discovery Cruise 456

Danube Discovery Cruise 462

Danube Discovery Cruise 464

Danube Discovery Cruise 465

While in Bratislava, we sampled the local café specialty – hot chocolate. If you’ve never had European hot chocolate before, you’re missing out. There’s no powdered formula to speak of, just melted chocolate mixed with milk and heavy cream.

Danube Discovery Cruise 460

It was delicious paired with this freshly-baked apple strudel.

Danube Discovery Cruise 459

Just 35 miles upriver from Bratislava is Vienna, Austria.

Danube Discovery Cruise 475

Danube Discovery Cruise 479

Danube Discovery Cruise 483

Danube Discovery Cruise 484

Danube Discovery Cruise 496

The final evening of our trip we attended a classical music concert at Palais Auersperg in Vienna. The concert, given by the Vienna Residence Orchestra, featured the works of Mozart and Strauss. While the music was exceptional, it was extra special because Mozart had actual performed original works in the palace in the late 18th century for Queen Maria Theresia.

Danube Discovery Cruise 500

Danube Discovery Cruise 505

Danube Discovery Cruise 506

Posted in Becky's Adventures | Leave a comment

Hungary

Our first stop in Hungary was the city of Pécs, a former European Capital of Culture and one of the most diverse cities in Hungary.

Danube Discovery Cruise 288

Danube Discovery Cruise 302

Danube Discovery Cruise 305

Danube Discovery Cruise 308

Danube Discovery Cruise 313

In addition to brilliant architecture, one of the most interesting aspects of the city was thousands of locks that had been publicly placed on designated areas. According to tradition, couples who place a lock together will have their love sealed as long as the lock remains closed.

Danube Discovery Cruise 297

Danube Discovery Cruise 301

We then spent several days in Budapest, the largest city on the Danube. (Side note: The hilltop statue in the backdrop of some of these pictures is Budapest’s Liberty Statue. It was erected in 1945 to honor the Soviets for liberating Hungary from Nazi occupation and its inscription originally read, “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945.” However, as the Soviets overstayed their welcome until 1989, and as resentment over Communist rule grew, the inscription was changed to now read, “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.”

Danube Discovery Cruise 317

Danube Discovery Cruise 323

Danube Discovery Cruise 339

Danube Discovery Cruise 348

Danube Discovery Cruise 359

Danube Discovery Cruise 366

Danube Discovery Cruise 379

One of the highlights of our time in Budapest was a visit to the House of Terror. The building was the former headquarters of the German-led Nazis and later the Soviet-led Communists during their respective occupations of Hungary. Many view Hungary as the most liberal and resistant of the former Communist countries, and in 1956 Hungarians tried unsuccessfully to overview the Communist regime. The museum also serves as a memorial to the victims who were detained, interrogated, tortured or killed within the building. Although much of the exhibits are in Hungarian only, sometimes images speak louder than words. (Side note: Photography was not allowed inside the museum, so pictures are only of the exterior).

Danube Discovery Cruise 372

Danube Discovery Cruise 373

Danube Discovery Cruise 374

Danube Discovery Cruise 375

Danube Discovery Cruise 377

As beautiful as Budapest is during the day, it is even more stunning at night.

Danube Discovery Cruise 387

Danube Discovery Cruise 397

Danube Discovery Cruise 401

Danube Discovery Cruise 409

Danube Discovery Cruise 413

Posted in Becky's Adventures | 1 Comment

Serbia & Croatia

A portion of the border between Serbia and Romania is a narrow gorge on the Danube River aptly named the Iron Gates. When travelling upstream, boats must pass through a series of locks associated with Djerdap Dam, which were only built in the 1970s and 1980s. A thick layer of fog when we passed through the first lock at 2 AM added to the eeriness. As we were stuck in the second lock for several hours, we were especially fortunate that an earthquake didn’t hit, as we’d have no place to go.

Danube Discovery Cruise 151

Danube Discovery Cruise 153The gorge itself has a number of interesting sites, both natural and man-made. Here’s a Roman plaque that was inscribed in 105 AD.

Danube Discovery Cruise 162

This rock sculpture was etched between 1994 and 2004. Not an easy feat!

Danube Discovery Cruise 165

The Mraconia Monastery had to be rebuilt when the dam was constructed because the original 15th century building was now underwater.

Danube Discovery Cruise 169

In one of the narrowest passages in the gorge, the Carpathian Mountains in Romania are on the left and the Balkan Mountains in Serbia are on the right.

Danube Discovery Cruise 175

After a day on the river, we docked in Belgrade, Serbia.

Danube Discovery Cruise 182

We paid a visit to Kalemegdan Fortress, which was built in the 6th century.

Danube Discovery Cruise 190

Danube Discovery Cruise 191

The top of the fortress offered some of the best views of the city, at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.

Danube Discovery Cruise 198Here are some more photos of Belgrade.

Danube Discovery Cruise 206

Danube Discovery Cruise 212

Danube Discovery Cruise 210Danube Discovery Cruise 213Danube Discovery Cruise 217

Danube Discovery Cruise 219

We only saw a handful of Syrian refugees the entire time we were in Eastern Europe. At a park adjacent to the central bus station in Belgrade, a few trailers had been set-up to welcome refugees on their first stopover from the Middle East.

Danube Discovery Cruise 218

From Belgrade we drove north to the village of Jarak for a Serbian-style feast. Four generations of the same family live on this farm, and they welcomed us the traditional way, with fresh baked bread dipped in salt…

Danube Discovery Cruise 220

…and shots of homemade slivovitz (plum brandy), which is over 100 proof. This “rocket fuel” is supposed to stimulate your appetite.

Danube Discovery Cruise 221

The family had converted part of their home into a restaurant for tourists. Lunch featured tons of fresh veggies grown on the farm, cheese-filled pastries, cassoulet, and goulash. It was delicious!

Danube Discovery Cruise 222

The family patriarch, who is well into his 80s, made sure everyone had plenty of slivovitz to drink. You could tell that he loved entertaining guests.

Danube Discovery Cruise 223

After filling our bellies, we wandered around the farm.

Danube Discovery Cruise 226

Danube Discovery Cruise 229

Danube Discovery Cruise 230

Danube Discovery Cruise 231

Danube Discovery Cruise 233The family also made sure we were well entertained throughout our stay.

Danube Discovery Cruise 235

Danube Discovery Cruise 236

The next morning we travelled further north to Novi Sad, Serbia’s second largest city and a major university and cultural center.

Danube Discovery Cruise 243

Danube Discovery Cruise 245

Danube Discovery Cruise 249

Danube Discovery Cruise 252

Danube Discovery Cruise 254

Danube Discovery Cruise 257

Danube Discovery Cruise 259

Danube Discovery Cruise 261

Danube Discovery Cruise 262

Heading west into Croatia was a rather sobering experience. Here we visited the small city of Vukovar, the site of Europe’s worst siege since World War II. 90% of the city was damaged by the Yugoslav military in the early 1990s during the Croatian War for Independence. While some of the city has been rebuilt, a number of buildings, including this watchtower, have been left bullet-ridden, bombed out, and/or in ruins as a memorial to the past.

Danube Discovery Cruise 264

Danube Discovery Cruise 268

Danube Discovery Cruise 274

Danube Discovery Cruise 275

Danube Discovery Cruise 276

Danube Discovery Cruise 278

According to our guide, the town has over 30% unemployment and many young people have migrated to Ireland for better prospects. Yet she seemed optimistic about the future, and spoke with great pride in her city and country.

Danube Discovery Cruise 270

Danube Discovery Cruise 271

Danube Discovery Cruise 277

Posted in Becky's Adventures | Leave a comment

Romania & Bulgaria

Bucharest, like many cities in Eastern Europe, is a mix of old and new. Much of the cities were largely destroyed during decades of war in the 20th century. In some instances, war-torn buildings have been rebuilt, but oftentimes the ruins are left as haunting reminders of the past. The hotel we stayed at on our first night in Romania is the perfect example of this juxtaposition – the ruins of a bombed out theatre served as the entrance, with a modern-day skyscraper built to accommodate hundreds of guests.

Danube Discovery Cruise 011

Danube Discovery Cruise 009

While we didn’t have a room with a view, the hotel was located in the heart of the city.

Danube Discovery Cruise 010

Danube Discovery Cruise 012

As I learned during my 2 weeks in Eastern Europe, the region is home to the “world’s second largest” of many things. Here’s the People’s Palace, perhaps one of the most beautiful buildings erected by Romania’s Communist dictatorship, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.

Danube Discovery Cruise 096

Romania is divided into 3 regions – Wallachia in the south, Moldavia in the east, and Transylvania in the north. After recovering from jet lag in Bucharest, we headed north to Transylvania. Along the way, we stopped to visit Peleş Castle, former summer residence of the Romanian royal family.

Danube Discovery Cruise 023

Danube Discovery Cruise 024

Danube Discovery Cruise 033

Our next 2 nights were spent in Braşov, one of the largest cities in Transylvania.

Danube Discovery Cruise 080

Danube Discovery Cruise 040

Danube Discovery Cruise 045

Here’s the view from our hotel room.

Danube Discovery Cruise 042

The highlight of our visit to Transylvania was a visit to Bran Castle, commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle.

Danube Discovery Cruise 060

Danube Discovery Cruise 052

Danube Discovery Cruise 053

To be fair, dozens of rulers have lived in this castle since its 14th century construction. Vlad the Impaler and his father Vlad Dracul probably stayed there at some point during the 15th century, although neither of them played a significant role in the history of the castle.

Much of the castle is decorated in early 20th century décor, when Queen Marie lived there.

Danube Discovery Cruise 057

She loved the castle so much, that for a time her heart was buried within its walls. While her heart now resides in a museum in Bucharest, its original coffin is still at Bran.

Danube Discovery Cruise 058

Bran Castle, while still owned by the Romanian royal family, now largely serves as a museum – partly to dispel the vampire mythology associated with Vlad the Impaler. While historical accounts do suggest Vlad impaled many of his victims (causing them to bleed out to a slow, painful death), and even nailed helmets to the heads of those who crossed him, most Romanians I talked to consider him to be a national hero. His brutal deeds were largely targeted toward the encroaching occupation of the Ottoman Empire into region, not just senseless, random killings. The real vampire, according to the Romanians, is the 16th century Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory.

Danube Discovery Cruise 064

At Bran Castle, there’s also a small display of medieval torture instruments. This scale was used to determine if a woman was a witch. The accusers would guess the woman’s weight and add stones and a Bible to one side of the scale to equal their guess. The accused would sit on the opposite side, and if she was found to be lighter than the stones and Bible she was confirmed guilty.

Danube Discovery Cruise 075

Following our time in Transylvania, we headed south to Giurgiu to board Der Kleine Prince for a 10-day cruise on the Danube River.

Danube Discovery Cruise 099

Danube Discovery Cruise 100

Our first stop on the cruise was Vidin, Bulgaria, which we enjoyed exploring on foot.

Danube Discovery Cruise 112

Danube Discovery Cruise 118

Danube Discovery Cruise 123

Danube Discovery Cruise 124

Danube Discovery Cruise 125

Danube Discovery Cruise 126

Danube Discovery Cruise 143

Danube Discovery Cruise 144

Danube Discovery Cruise 149

Danube Discovery Cruise 150

The visit to Bulgaria culminated in a visit to the 10th century medieval fortress Baba Vidin.

Danube Discovery Cruise 127

Danube Discovery Cruise 131

Danube Discovery Cruise 132

Danube Discovery Cruise 136

Danube Discovery Cruise 142

Posted in Becky's Adventures | 6 Comments

AIDS 2014 Melbourne in Pictures

086

001

003

006

008

093

083

022

055

IMG_1656063

076

082

 

090

094

100

101

103

106

107

109

112

113

116

117

118

119

Posted in Becky's Activism, Becky's Adventures, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment