A journey of discovery with AmaWaterways
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The lower Danube
After the usual efficient parking service
from ‘I Love Meet & Greet’ at Heathrow’s terminal three, I was soon on my
way to Budapest, the Siamese-twin capital city of Hungary, to board AmaSerena,
my home for the following week.
This was my third visit to Budapest but
it never fails to impress. AmaSerena treated its guests to a river tour of the
city to admire the beautifully lit buildings before returning to base to pick
up the last of our passengers.
The travel publishers, Berlitz, rate AmaWaterways’s
ships as the best river cruise fleet in Europe and the cabin certainly lived up
to expectations. Like most AmaWaterways cabins it boasted two balconies, one to
sit on and another ‘French’ balcony to let in more light and air. There was a
large bathroom with more storage space than anyone could possibly use, and a
shower with both an adjustable head and a huge overhead tropical rain shower.
There was ample storage space in the
cabin and a large screen Apple computer which also acted as the cabin’s
TV. Free WiFi internet access was
available throughout the ship.
The one week cruise on the lower Danube
covers five countries, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, offering
an interesting and often contrasting view on how Eastern European countries
have developed since the Soviet domination.
After an overnight cruise to the south
of Hungary we moored at Mohacs from where I took a tour to Pecs, the 2010
European Capital of Culture. This peaceful, elegant yet lively university city
is home to a cathedral, bishop’s house and imposing synagogue. It also has recently
discovered ruins that date back six thousand years. However, perhaps the most
interesting structure is the Turkish-built former Pasha Gazi Kassim Mosque
dating back to 16th century. It is now a Christian church but in an
amazing example of cultural friendship the octagonal building is divided into
two, one half mosque the other half parish church. A Christian cross and
Turkish crescent adorn the roof.
Overnight AmaSerena crossed into
Croatia, visiting the wine-making area around Ilok. The Romans originally
established vineyards here and wines are of excellent quality, which I can
personally vouch for. One, Traminac, was served at the Queen’s Coronation and
it is claimed the Palace still buys cases of this lovely vintage.
After lunch AmaSerena crossed the border
into Serbia and we docked at the riverside town of Novi Sad. Its main claim to
fame is the Petrovaradin Fortress. Built high on a hill overlooking the river
it was never conquered but is now home to artists and craftsmen. It is popular
with tourists and visitors can take evening tours of the tunnels originally used
by defending soldiers.
Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is a
fascinating mix of old and new and I spent the morning touring the fortress of
Kalemegdan, again built on a hill to dominate the river in what is now the old
town. A new town has been built on the other bank and is still being developed,
partly though investment from the Middle East. Behind the fortress is a large
park, popular with local families, and nearby a pedestrian area full of shops
and cafes, a popular meeting place for locals.
The following day was spent on board as
AmaSerena as it sailed through the ‘Iron Gates’, a set of gorges with Serbia on
one side and Romania on the other. It is home to a chapel, now used as a
convent, and the nuns were happy to come out onto their balcony and give is a
cheery wave. Other landmarks included a huge rock-carved face of Decebalus,
king of Dacia in the first century AD, and the Trajan Tablet, built to
commemorate the completion of a Roman military road.
That evening we docked at Vidin,
Bulgaria and the following morning I set off for Belogradchick in the Stara Planina
mountains to view its famous mountain-top fortress. Despite its name it was not
constructed as a military building but an observation point, thus providing
stunning views. The rock formation meant that there was little construction
involved since nature provided natural fortifications. On my return to Vidin I
stopped off at the restored riverside fortress of Baba Vida where local amateur
actors put on a short play about their history, much to the delight of the visitors.
The final day found me in Rousse, known
as Little Vienna because of its neo-Baroque architecture. The city was well
laid out, lots of greenery, a large pedestrian shopping area and a beautiful
manicured central square with fountains and flower beds.
On the other side of the Danube opposite
Rousse is Giurgiu in Romania, to where AmaSerena crossed that evening in
preparation for our flight home from its capital Bucharest. The bridge between
Rousse and Giurgiu is the only bridge over the Danube linking Bulgaria and
Romania, aptly named the Friendship Bridge.
Clearly some of the places on the
itinerary are still recovering from their unsettled past. It’s not yet an
over-commercialised tourist area and in many ways so much more genuine for that.
What it also underlines is the advantage of being able to explore more remote
parts of central and Eastern Europe from the luxury base of a river cruise
night Gems of Southeast Europe river cruises from Budapest to Giurgiu (or
reverse) start from £1,811pp for a river view stateroom. Price
includes seven nights accommodation, all meals (with wine, beer and soft
drinks with lunch and dinner), complimentary excursions and free WiFi. Regional
flights on request. Freephone 0800 320 2336 or visit www.amawaterways.co.uk
Love Meet & Greet provides valet parking at
Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports. Prices for one week's parking start
from £105.95. For more details and to book please visit www.ilovemeetandgreet.co.uk
where you can also sign up to receive discount codes via email.
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