At the end of the Danube to Black Sea canal we turned left and headed upstream on the Danube, which is the border between Romania and Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia. In Bulgaria we spent time in three towns, Veliko Tarnovo, Arbanasi, and Vidin.

Veliko Tarnovo

We awoke in the town of Ruse, Bulgaria on the southern side of the Danube River, almost due south of Bucharest. An early morning bus took us first to the historic town of Veliko Tarnovo. After a short stop for coffee overlooking the valleys and distant mountains, we spent some time browsing the local artisan shops along a nearby narrow street. Next we stopped at Tsarevets, Bulgaria’s primary fortress between 1185 and 1393.

Tsarevets Fortress


Our next stop was the picturesque town of Arbanasi, just a few miles away. After a delicious lunch of traditional Bulgarian bread and Kawarma stew at a local restaurant, we walked to the nearby Merchant House Museum. The 17th century Konstantsalieva’s house provides a glimpse into the life of a wealthy family under Ottoman rule.

From there we walked to the Church of the Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel. During the Ottoman Islamic rule of Bulgaria, there were many restrictions on Christian churches, including their height. Like many of its time, the floor of the 17th century Church of the Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel was set several feet below grade so as to allow for higher ceilings without exceeding the external height limits. The brightly colored frescos with extensive gold highlights cover all the interior surfaces. We also experienced the church’s impressive acoustics, as Orthodox-VT, a male quartet, sang several slavonic chants for us. Their rich a cappella harmonies were mesmerizing.

Orthodox-VT quartet


Overnight our ship sailed further along the Danube to the town of Vidin, Bulgaria. Here we first visited the Baba Vida Fortress overlooking the Danube, whose construction began in the 10th century. The name Baba Vida means “Granny Vida.” According to legend the fortress was built by Vida, one of the daughters of a Bulgarian king who had inherited the town of Vidin and lands to its north. A statue of Vida welcomes travelers in the parkland adjacent to the fortress. At various times through the middle ages the fortress withstood an eight-month siege by Byzantine forces; was captured by the Hungarians; and was later under the control of the Ottoman empire.

Baba Vida Fortress

A friendly stray white dog ran out to greet us as we approached the entrance and accompanied us on our entire tour, even digging a depression in the soil so he could be comfortable for the extensive presentation by our guide. He and several other strays live on the fortress grounds, but apparently he’s the only one that enjoys the company of visitors. In Bulgaria and other former soviet countries the migration from rural to city areas after the fall of communism left many homeless dogs roaming the country. The government has a program of neutering and immunizing strays, and locals tend to provide food for them as needed.

From the fortress we walked back to the ship through the riverfront parklands, stopping briefly at the Osman Pazvantoğlu mosque which is currently inactive but open for visitors.

That evening we walked from the ship to a nearby concert hall for a private performance by the Vidin Sinfonietta Orchestra, which is financially supported by the Grand Circle Foundation. The performance was truly world-class.

Vidin Sinfonietta Orchestra

Next: Serbia and the Iron Gates


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