Visit Eastern Europe on a River Boat: Leave the Driving to Viking

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After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff

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A Walking Tour of Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Established in the 7th century A.D., the ancient and scenic port city of Dubrovnik lies in the southernmost part of the Republic of Croatia, – almost directly across the Adriatic Sea from the “spur” in the boot of Italy. It is a beautiful city of colorful red-topped tile roofs and cobblestone streets, all of which looks very much like it did centuries ago.

The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Among the city’s many admirers was Lord Byron who called Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” A century later the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.” If you visit Dubrovnik, you will see that it is indeed worthy of high praise.

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To spend time in Dubrovnik is to feel the drama of a city tossed through time and finally settled in recent history as a place of peace and beauty.

Early Dubrovnik

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The years have put many unique stamps on Dubrovnik. The city may very well be the world’s first planned community. As early as 1272, there was a town diagram, and in the following two centuries, the avant-garde citizenry opened a pharmacy (still in operation), a home for the aged, a quarantine hospital, and an orphanage.

Libertas

Most extraordinarily, 74 years before Columbus discovered America, the aristocracy in Dubrovnik abolished slavery and slave trading. In honor of the visionary proclamation, they adopted a new flag that was seen throughout the trading routes of the world. Dubrovnik’s mighty fleet of merchant ships sailed under a white flag inscribed with the word Libertas (Latin for “freedom”)

The wall

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Dubrovnik is renowned throughout the world as the “ancient walled city.” The wall that surrounds the city was originally constructed in 900 A.D. – and was further fortified in the 15th century. The wall, which is a popular walking attraction from which all aspects of city life can be viewed, is 1.3 miles long, 10 feet thick along the sea, and 20 feet thick elsewhere. There are substantial fortifications on all four corners.

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A cruise-tour group rests at the ancient water cistern

Although some of the fanciful architecture dates back to the 7th century, most of the public buildings were rebuilt after a great earthquake killed 5000 residents, and leveled many dwellings in 1667.

A couple from Florida enjoying the ocean breeze on the wall

Florida cruisers enjoying the pleasant Adriatic breeze on the Dubrovnic wall

Old wars

In the succeeding centuries, Dubrovnik suffered bombardment by a Russian fleet, and conquests by Napoleon, the Nazis, and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In 1973, the old city declared itself a demilitarized zone in hopes that it would never again be a casualty of war. Unfortunately, fate was not yet ready to bestow peace on Dubrovnik.

Recent conflicts

23-100_1936In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, and on October 1, 1991, under a mantle of dispute, Serbians of the Yugoslavian People’s Army laid siege to Dubrovnik. Once again, the ancient city with so many historical treasures was barraged as if it were a common piece of dirt, and the rest of the world stood by and watched. The attacks lasted until May 1992 when the Croatian Army liberated the city.

Most of the damage from the latest conflict has been repaired. The renewed city has taken its rightful place as the jewel of the Adriatic – complete with storybook architecture and picturesque twisted streets and alleys.

Bucket list

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We highly recommend Dubrovnik to photographers and tourists interested in antiquities, history, and architecture. The old city is a superb vacation site with an ideal climate and gracious and hospitable inhabitants – both to be enjoyed in a genuine fairytale setting.

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Click here for more information.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Cruising Through the Rainforest of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

100_1572We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

100_1596The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

100_1567At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

DSC02269We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

100_1619At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

100_1629The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Driving in Italy: Gardone Rivera and The Shrine of Italian Victories

By Bob and Janice Kollar

A Surprise Discovery in Gardone Rivera

We selected the town of Gardone Rivera on the shores of Lake Garda because of its proximity to the Sirmione Peninsula, and the archaeological site of well preserved “Roman Ruins”.

We usually plan some “open time” in our travel itineraries to allow us some flexibility to explore an interesting town, or museum, or just take a spontaneous side trip.

The “Vittoriale degli Italiani” (The Shrine of Italian Victories) Museum worked out perfectly and it was only five minutes from our hotel.  We actually discovered a fascinating introduction to one of Italy’s most famous, as well as, interesting personalities… Gabriele D’Annunzio.

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D’Annunzio’s Villa

 The final residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio is now a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments.  A review of this incredible man’s life makes an excellent read, and provides an entertaining glimpse into the political side of Italy’s history leading up to World War II.

In the era before World War I, he was one of Italy’s most influential politicians, and a charismatic leader adored by his followers.  He served valiantly in the Navy, Air Force, and Army as a true war hero known for his boldness and outright courage. His many medals and awards are on display in the museum.

D’Annunzio was also regarded to be a national treasure.  A “Renaissance Man”… he did it all as an artist, poet, journalist, playwright, and one of Italy’s most popular, as well as, controversial writers of the 20th Century.

But another part of his lore was derived from his legendary affairs as he boasted to have seduced over 1,000 women.  Being married to a young aristocrat with three sons did not stop him from his constant affairs (sometimes multiple at once) throughout his adult life.

At 5’ 4” and not terribly attractive (some said ugly) he possessed a sexual magnetism that proved to be quite irresistible.  Perhaps this attraction also attributed to his outlandish, exhibitionist lifestyle, his purported suave Italian demeanor, and presumably his many erotic publications that may have peaked their interests… it had to be something!

The Era of the Fascist Regime

During World War I D’Annunzio became a powerful figure and began asserting his very strong ultra-nationalist doctrine.  But at the same time Benito Mussolini was developing his movement with a more extreme right leaning tilt.  After the dust settled, Mussolini had more power, influence and aggression than D’Annunzio and created a more dominant form of Fascism.

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The Dictator and The Poet         

Photo Credit —  Vogue Italia  —  Corbis

D’Annunzio supported Mussolini and his rise to power but did not participate in the Fascist political party, remaining neutral. One consistent thing; he did not like Germans and the Nazi movement and continually counseled Mussolini to avoid an alliance with Hitler… to no avail.

 Eliminating the Competition

On the evening before a fateful assembly to determine the “meeting for national pacification”, the Poet was thrown out a window of his Lake Garda Villa onto the courtyard and his active career came to a bone crushing halt.

Two months later, Mussolini did his march on Rome and took control of the country. IMG_7242

The Bone Crushing Courtyard Landing Zone

 Mussolini and his followers adopted a great deal of D’Annunzio’s ideas, his approach to government, his skills with motivating and influencing masses of people, the elaborate nationalistic ceremonies, etc… right down to the Roman Salute.

 Maintain and Control

The Dictator kept D’Annunzio on the side lines and out of his way.  Mussolini was known to have said… “With a rotten tooth, you either pull it out, or fill it with gold!  With D’Annunzio I have chosen the latter treatment.”

So he vastly enhanced D’Annunzio’s villa into a monumental residence, and provided him a constant supply of cocaine… in essence he literally paid him to remain out of politics… the window drop would have done it for me!

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Vittoriale degli Italiani

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Entrance to the Auditorium

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Garden Sculpture atVittoriale degli Italiani”

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Amphitheater

Also on display at the museum are his books, uniforms, medals and art work as well as a few of his war relic mementos… such as a torpedo boat, the front half of an armored cruiser, and even the hero’s airplane.

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D’Annunzio’s Actual Combat Aircraft IMG_7227

One of Many Military Installations

 On March 1, 1938 D’Annunzio died at the age of 75 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His funeral was a large Fascist state affair and Mussolini walked with his coffin.

Mussolini was quoted to say… “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”

In Summary

The visit to Lago di Garda and the town of Gardone Rivera provided us with memories of beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine, and exposure to the absolutely wonderful, warm and friendly people.

A definite highlight was the surprise history lesson.  By leaving some “open spots” in your daily itinerary, it is amazing what rewards come your way.

Please follow us in the next article… Exploring the Roman Ruins of Lago di Garda.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

This Oceanside Vacation Paradise is an Easy Drive from Sydney, Australia

Everyone who travels has special places tucked away in their memories. One of our favorite places is the little seaside town of Kiama on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. The town reminds us of a quiet Carmel, California, while the nearby thundering surf is reminiscent of the awesome power and beauty of Big Sur.

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Every few years, we make it a point to visit good friends in Sydney, Australia. The weather in New South Wales is very similar to that of our home in California, but of course the seasons are reversed. We look forward to our Australian getaways because Sydney is a beautiful city, and the people of Australia are about as hospitable as you can find. Additionally, there’s a special enjoyment in sharing life’s pleasures with old friends in foreign lands.

Getting to Kiama is part of the fun

When our Australian pals are working we can take the train from their suburban home in Turramurra to just about anywhere we want to go, and that includes Kiama. The trains in Australia are inexpensive, clean and always on time.

It’s a lovely two and one-half hour train ride to Kiama from Sydney, and if you prefer to drive the scenic highways, the trip will take a fast 90 minutes.

When you pick up the scent of the brisk clean ocean air, and hear the clamoring of sea birds, you will know you have arrived in Kiama – and it’s time for your mind and body to downshift.

First things first – food

After checking into any one of the comfortable bungalows or hotels along the coast, we recommend a walk to Kiama Harbor for a bite at Barnacles takeaway. This is our favorite al fresco restaurant and it is only a few steps from the local boat ramp. It’s not fancy, and the fresh fish and fries are served in heaps on butcher paper – but oh, my goodness, is there any other way to eat fish and chips!

Enjoy your meal while you watch the fishermen clean their latest catch and dispose of the remains in a most ecological manner – feeding the patiently waiting pelicans and seagulls.

Time for a walk

It’s fun to walk off your meal with a brisk stroll among the Norfolk Pines and Kiama Harbour Cabins up to the scenic lighthouse on Blowhole Point. Just beyond the great white tower, you will find one of the two highly charged blowholes in Kiama.

The ocean in this area is wild and magnificent. The sea pounds the coast with a mighty “woomph,” that pushes a rushing geyser of foamy brine through natural holes in the rocks and then high into the blue Australian sky. “Kiama,” is derived from an indigenous word meaning, “where the sea makes a noise.” For those who have enjoyed the famous blowhole on Oahu in Hawaii – you ain’t seen nothin yet!

Unique among the family attractions in Kiama are two extraordinary salt-water rock swimming pools. There is one on each side of Kiama Harbor. Harnessing the tidal action of the ocean, these unusual pools are as beautiful to look at, as they are to enjoy for a refreshing swim or frolic.

If you have the shopper gene, Kiama has its fair share of charming boutique shops and interesting restaurants. If you would like to mail trinkets to friends back home, you can’t miss the town’s bright pink Italianate Post Office.

Next winter when you are looking around for a new warm weather adventure; give a thought to a balmy vacation in a beachfront bungalow in Kiama. You may never want to leave.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © Judy Bayliff – unauthorized use strictly prohibited.