Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
We arrived in Budapest with time for a bus overview of Pest before lunch. I tried to get my camera ready when the guide said we would pass the Jewish synagogue. I missed it and have very little sense of the city.
Sunset, dinner and dark; then we left, to get the full effect of night-time illumination.
We were still in Hungary the next day: the small town of Mohacs. But I missed it altogether, since I felt rotten.This unusual condition, fortunately, lasted only one day.
We had steady, gloomy rain the following day in Vukovar and Novi Sad, Croatia. It brought to mind a pathetic fallacy: Nature wept here in sorrow for the terrible massacres which took place less than twenty-five years ago.
The following day in Belgrade,
Serbia, we were surprised,that our guides said nothing about the torture and killing perpetuated on their neighbors in the name of re-instating “Greater Yugoslavia.” This was in great contrast to the candidness of our guides in Cambodia and Vietnam this past January. These guides skipped that awful part and spoke, instead, of how much everyone ‘adored’ President-for-Life Tito. Kalemegdan Fortress was as foreboding a place as I’ve seen: guns at every turret and parapet. It’s part of a War Museum. Phil, our most intrepid fellow passenger, took the afternoon shuttle back to town and reported that it was the most comprehensive war museum he’d ever seen.
We were underway all the next day, traveling through the Danube’s Iron Gates. To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing of the Iron Gates until a friend of mine recommended that I read something by Patrick Leigh Fermor, a young Englishman who looked a little like Colin Firth and walked, in the mid-1930’s, from Rotterdam to Istanbul. Then he wrote several books about his adventures. I read The Broken Road, his last, in which he tells of Bulgaria, Romania and the Iron Gate. We visited towns where he’d spent considerable time: Vidin, Bulgaria; Bucharest, Romania; then Tarnovo and Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Soviets imposed industrialization and collective farms when they took over after WWII. They built factories and brought people in from the countryside to work in the factories (hence the vast, deteriorating Soviet-era apartment blocks). When the Soviet Union dissolved and Communists released their hold on the Balkans, controlled markets and raw material supplies dissolved, too. Guides said that unemployment in Bulgaria and Romania is still ~25%. People who grew up in towns don’t want to go back to work on the farms–although apparently most of the land has been restored to families of the prior owners.
But the heavy history of Bulgaria goes back much, much farther. One of our group observed at this point, “I will never complain about anything, ever, again.”
We cruised overnight from Vidin to Giurgiu, Romania. Buses came early to take us to Bucharest, where we saw much more presence of western corporations, including Microsoft. Anecdotal curiosity: our first Bulgarian guide said that medical care is much worse under privatization because individuals cannot afford to pay private doctors, many of whom are emigrating to countries where they can make more money. Our Romanian guide said that medical care is now much better than under the Soviets and Ceausescu.
It was cold again, so we walked a relatively short time at the Village Museum and returned to the ship after lunch, rather than continuing with the walking and shopping in city center.
Our intrepid explorer Phil did opt for the Parliament tour after lunch. He reported later that most of the rooms he saw were essentially falling apart. It’s the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon), a showplace that was completed in 1997. But it is not being kept up.
In the evening, after all were aboard, we crossed to the Bulgarian side to Rousse, for one more night of shipboard diversion.