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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 24, April 14, Vidin, Bulgaria

Last evening we docked at one of the oldest riverside towns in Bulgaria.  It was too dark to see the remains of the fort as we approached the city.  I'll was satisfied that it existed without the need to see it.  Hubby was off on the included excursion while I, along with 5 other folks, stay on board.  I took up residence in the Aquavit sun room.  From there I observed the river traffic while attempting to catch up on posts.  I would be attending a bread making class in a local residents home in the afternoon.

The excursion that most of the folks were on is to some rock formations.  There was the possibility of climbing that sounds less than fun for my knee.  Hubby planned to sit in the promised coffee shop at the base of the cliffs and people watch.

As I laid in repose with a blanket provided by Nina, head of staff, I saw buildings from the communist era.  The communist bloc had come to mean the rectangular high-rises built for the people.  That quiet morning gave time for reflection on the trip experience.  The last of this cruise had been through regions that were struggling since the fall of the USSR.  The breakup of Yugoslavia had left battle scarred buildings and people all along that beautiful area. One city had see around 200 wars through the centuries.

Many of the crew, most in their 30's and 40's came of age in post communist rule.  Some saw communism in a more positive light as there was full employment during those years.  In some areas we visited unemployment currently was as much as 34%.  Most of the crew prefer to remain silent on the subject of politics.  Predrag was not one of the silent ones.  As noted before he supports his parents who were unable to find employment.  Most people have noted it will require the death of the generations who lived under communist rule before real change comes.
But for the moment in that town of about 48,000 there was no cannon fire.  No grenades.  No machine guns.  Only the low roar of river barges and cruise ships. Some tour buses were waiting for the Yanks, Canadians and others from different parts of the world to gawk at this old city.

The morning tours returned and lunch was served. At 3 PM a bus took myself and two others to visit a home in Ruptsi for a cooking class. A gentleman, two women and a young girl welcomed us in the courtyard with traditional brandy, bread and dipping herbs.  From the well manicured garden we stepped into the home.  The home was a new build with funds the couple made while living in the States for about 15 years.  They had migrated to the US following the relaxation of immigration laws from Bulgaria.  While living in the States the women had been active in church.  It was while there they began having cooking classes to teach how to make the Bulgarian dishes.
captured from google maps street view.
After finishing our brandy, sipped not gulped as in Hungary, the ladies demonstrated how to make the bread.  The banitsa bread was made with layers of slightly scrunched up phyllo dough alternately layered with a mixture of yogart, oil, white cheese, eggs and sugar if you wished.  The ingredients had been assembled in a greased 15 inch round pan about 2 inches deep.  The bread was popped into the oven, then it was our turn.  As we worked on making the bread, Aunt Rosa supervised all we did.  It was her grown niece's home but Sunt Rosa was in charge.  This second banista was popped in the oven as the first came out ready to sample. 

While our bread was baking and we were eating the first banista, the gentleman showed us how to make homemade yogurt, the Bulgarian way.  We tourists were a little surprised to learn the milk being used was buffalo milk.  Buffalo as in water buffalo, not bison that we were accustomed to in the States.  The yogurt was certainly a bit different than cow or goat yogurt.  The ladies swore by it for cooking.  The yogurt is strained and used as a facial mask for soft, wrinkle free skin.

We three tourists, as it happened all Texas folks, visited, cooked and drank with these warm people.  Stories were shared as we sat around the table eating Banista and drinking a bit more brandy.  Questions asked and answered.  Aunt Rosa even had hand made items available for purchase.  I being a person that sews could not pass up her beautifully made apron.  Goodbyes were said, hugs given and we boarded the bus.

We returned to the long ship with the bread we made under Aunt Rosa's supervision.  It was very tasty and too much for three or four people.  We cut it in pieces and shared with the rest of the ship during the evening cocktail hour.

The cocktail hour was filled with stories of the visit to the rocks, bread making, Kindergarten and other places we sojourners visited on this first day in Bulgaria.  The time had come for disembarkation information to be given.  That meant only two nights left on board this temporary home.  Nostalgia is mixed with joy during the evening.... Hubby and I were feeling the length of the trip by the last few days.  But still not quite ready to leave our new found friends. Tomorrow would be our visit to Russe, Bulgaria.

Day 23, April 13, Danube Sailing and The Iron Gates

Whew, I don't know about you, but I was getting tired as we neared the end of the European Sojourn.  It was great to have a day to sleep till 8, have a little later breakfast and just chill.  Time to sit on the upper deck, relax and enjoy the Blue Danube as it wound its way in the Carpathians.  April 13 was a total sailing day not docking until about 10 that night.  We crossed into another time zone losing another hour.  To this point the Danube has been generally somewhat wide and shallow.  For the very early part of the day the river remained about the same.

Small villages dotted the shoreline.  Locals fished and boated while ignoring the passing cruise boats.
The relaxed day meant even some of the crew were topside enjoying the beautiful, sunny morning. Since many of the crew called this area home you could see their pride as we enjoyed their homeland.  

One of the crew's mom drove a couple of hours just to be able to stand on the shore and wave as the boat passed. The mom and son were both on their cells talking to each other.  We all waved as the horn for the ship was sounded. Never did figure out which crew member it was.

We were in the area named the Iron Gate.  For several miles we had sailed through a series of much more narrow gorges. Most every one was on the observation areas for photos. The climate has changed with the narrowing of the gorge.  Winds pick up so jackets and scarves felt good.

The river began to widen a bit.  Just beyond a small riverside church the tallest rock sculpture comes into view.  The rock sculpture of Decebalus is a 42.9 m x 31.6 m.  It was started in 1994 to honor King Decebalus.

Per Wikipedia, "Under the face of Decebalus there is a Latin inscription which reads "DECEBALUS REX—DRAGAN FECIT" ("King Decebalus—Made by Drăgan"). The carving was placed opposite an ancient memorial plaque, carved in the rock on the Serbian side of the river facing Romania. The plaque, known as the Tabula Traiana, records the site of Trajan's Bridge and thus commemorates the final defeat of Decebalus by Trajan in 105, and the absorption of the Dacian kingdom into the Roman Empire. Drăgan wanted the Serbs to carve a giant head of a Roman Emperor, as if confronting Decebalus on the opposite side of the river, but the Serbs refused."

The Tabula Traiana was originally 50 meters lower. The original spot was flooded with the construction of a hydroelectric dam in late 1960s and the monument was moved just above the waterline.

Once we passed the king's sculpture the river is slightly wider.  The ship is about 14 miles from Iron Gates Dam and Locks.  Time for a little strolling on the walking course.  Gotta work up an appetite for lunch that is in only an hour or so.  Mid afternoon would be a Serbian tea so we made a few extra laps.  No need to let the goodies go to waste!

One more narrow gorge with the rocky cliffs and we begin seeing a few farms and vineyards.  In the photo with the bridge there were what appeared to be a couple of hay shocks.

After passing Orşova we came to the Iron Gates Dam.  Walking to the opposite side of the ship the dam came into view.
It takes a while to arrive at the locks so time was passed watching our new Canada acquaintances play shuffle board, gulls flying overhead and the scenery pass.

 The light picture (left) was taken just as we pulled into the first lock.  Another picture at the same zoom was made several minutes later.  Finally only the base of the lamppost was visible from the same vantage point.  Once the first lock lowering was complete, the ship moved to the #2 lock.  The process of water being pumped out was repeated.

Watching a ship being lowered in a lock is interesting the first several times. These were the 68th and 69th locks on this cruise.  We chose to return to the room and freshen for lunch so several of the following views were from our tidy little stateroom.

After going through the two locks we were on the bottom side of the 200 ft dam.  Conveniently located for dam workers (?) was a nicely appointed tavern.  We did not stop for a sample.  Instead we continued this day of cruising immediately sailing past Drobeta-Turnu Severin.  Like so many cities there were ruins of past regimes, Roman, Communist, Hapsburg.
Is this considered a flock of cranes?
Severin Medieval Fortress
Within 30 minutes of leaving the locks the landscape had changed again.  No more of the limestone sheer faced hills.  The land became more gently rolling hills. Still there are the onion topped churches in the villages.  Riverside homes are still to be seen.
 Now cattle graze among the ruins while a horse drawn wagon rumbles along the road.

A few moments later we saw a shepherd with his flock of goats.  We were later told these were cowboys, not shepherds.

The remainder of this day was filled with lunch, afternoon tea and just lounging in the shade top side.  Cameras were on chargers as were we.  Hope you enjoyed cruising with us on this day nearing the end of our European adventure.  The next day would be a chance to learn how to make a type bread and Hubby to visit some rock formations.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Milestone

As a child in Texas in the 1940' through the mid 1960's it was common to see 'colored' and 'whites only' signs.  These signs were on everything from restrooms to water fountains to entrances to buildings and the local Ritz theater.  The 'n' word was used without thought by most white people.  Even my own step-grandmother said blacks had no soul.  One nearby town proudly strung banners at the entrance to the town.  The banners read, "Blackest Land, Whitest People".

The signs are gone.  Blacks and other minorities are part of the political process.  While it was the Republican party that freed the slaves, the Democratic party seems to have a larger percentage of minorities on the convention floor in 2016.  Do not doubt that the ability to be on the convention floor did not take a lot of work, protests, compromise and down right under handed haggling.  Change in politics takes getting a little dirty.  Always has.  Just seating black delegates at a Democratic convention required LBJ and MLK to strike a deal in 1964.  Women had been seated as delegates by Republicans in 1982.  It was 8 years later before the Democrats seated a woman as delegate.  Women did not even have the right to vote but they were still part of the process.

In the 1972 there was an amendment for equal rights for women submitted to the states for ratification.  The ERA.  I still have my button that says, 'People of Faith for the ERA'.  A couple of my friends in UMW and I attended a Legislative Workshop in Jefferson City, Missouri.  This workshop was arranged by the conference United Methodist Women.  My friends and I were in our late 20's and early 30's.  We scheduled a time with our district's Senator.  During the meeting we noted our support for the ERA.  The middle aged white man literally patted my shoulder and said, "You girls don't worry about this.  I know what is best for you."  We left that office swearing to work to get that man out of office.

Tonight the Democratic party listened as Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for president of the United States.  Ms. Clinton's candidacy is mired in controversy.  Mud slinging has begun.  Well, actually, the mud slinging toward Ms. Clinton has gone on for decades.  A lot of this is because she chose not to kick Bill to the curb because of his womanizing.  That is rather interesting as in the 1970's the stigma a divorce would bring a woman was just beginning to crack a little.  Today it is so accepted that the Republican candidate is 3 times divorced.  The much revered President Reagan was the first divorced president.  BTW Ronnie married a two months pregnant Nancy.  Guess she learned the hard way about just saying no.

My own life is so full of bad choices, missteps, and bad judgement therefore I will not dis any of the candidates.  Do I trust Ms. Clinton?  As much as any politician and more than most.  I voted for Nixon and look how that turned out....

The ERA has never passed as an amendment but a woman is running for president of the US for the first time in history.  We have come a long way.  But there is still a very long way to go for everyone.  Change takes time so do not lose courage and continue to feel the Bern!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Not Much Happening

Yes, not much going on these days.  The quite is nice after the busyness of the past year.  I am continuing to work on strengthening my knee and improving my overall condition.  The weight loss is going s l o w l y almost to the point of nonexistent.  But I continue to spin as stationery biking is called these days.  Depending on how much walking I have done in a day, I spend from 15 to 30 minutes on the bike.  Every other day I am adding in a little rowing time.  Hope to work up to 15 minutes on that machine eventually.

The air conditioner for our apartment is still not functioning properly.  We have all the fans running on high to keep the place cool.  Thank the Lord we are having a 'cool spell' right now with highs in the low 90's F (33 C).  See that is down from the 100 + over the last two weeks.  So it is shorts and sleeveless shirts for us two.  Plenty of iced drinks and not a lot of activity though I did vacuum and mop today.

The exercise room is on a different air system and feels like an ice box when I first walk in for the spinning.  Unfortunately, there are no lounge chairs nor TV reception in that area.  In a different building there is a lounge area with chairs and TV.  Should the temperatures go back up we will probably spend some time in the the lounge area!  And of course there is the pool.

With the grandkids in Canada, and step grands with their dad, that activity is nil.  That will all change in a week or two.  Grandparent shuttle time will resume for a week.  Then it will be watching DJ the dog for a few days.  A sister time will be sandwiched between fall soccer tournaments in Dallas and San Antonio.  Life will get busy again for us two old retired folks.

We are so fortunate to have a roof over our head, food to eat, friends and family that love us.  What is a little warm weather to complain about, anyway?  Here are a few photos from our late June time on Lake Travis with all the kids.  That's all for now, folks!