September 3, 2023 The Cruise Begins
We had originally signed up for a 2.5 hour bike ride tour of Bucharest through Avalon (complimentary) which would depart at 9am, but it was such a long day yesterday that we decided to sleep in a little.
We are definitely not as impressed with this hotel – our bathroom smells like a cat used it. Our phone rang at a little after 2 am – the front desk said the panic alarm in our bathroom had gone off. Since we were both sound asleep in bed when the phone rang, it must not be working properly. The phone rang again at 8 am – once again the bathroom alarm.
We had breakfast at the hotel – we asked to sit outside, which may not have been the smartest idea, since smoking is allowed at outdoor dining areas in Romania. After breakfast, we waited until 11:10am, which is when the Avalon rep told us to be in the lobby. We then boarded a bus with those who had come back from the bike tour, and were taken into town – ironically the exact same place we had gotten off the bus just 14 hour earlier. The guide
led us past our previous hotel and into Old Town, where she recommended Caru cu Bere for lunch. This was the third recommendation we had received for this place – the first was from a client of Vic’s with whom we had spoken while at the Denver Airport, and he gave us a list of recommendations. The second was from our guide on Friday, and now this was the third. So we decided we had better try it.
We had only finished lunch about an hour and a half before, so Vic just had soup and I had some fruit with sorbet. We arrived just after noon, and by the time we were leaving it was getting very full. We made sure to go inside – what a beautiful building!
Our guide had pointed out a large bookstore, so that’s where we headed next. It was 4 floors of books (including one below ground), and the top floor was a café. A good selection of books in English, toys, and lots of people in the shop.
It was soon time to meet back up with our guide at our bus, and then a 1.5 hour drive to our ship in Oltenita.
This is our 3rd Avalon river cruise, and walking on board we felt like we were home.
The staff were there to greet us, and we were directed into the lounge where we got a briefing on the schedule for the rest of the day: 5:30pm those with dietary concerns could meet with the chef in the Club Lounge (aft on deck 3), 6pm all meet in the Panorama Lounge for the safety briefing and introduction of the officers. 6:45pm port talk
(description of tomorrow’s excursions), 7pm dinner, 9pm entertainment.
Our room is a Panorama Suite, the ones with the bed that faces the window, which is a sliding door that opens up. I was pleasantly surprised to see a bouquet of flowers in the room – a gift from my Avalon sales managers I sat down on the bed, and ah…. Heaven! I tried to purchase a mattress from the same company after our first river cruise, but sadly they only sell them in Europe. LOVE this bed!
We had signed up for an excursion tomorrow in Svistov – Arbanassi & Veliko Tarnova, Gems of Bulgaria, which was listed as 9 ¼ hours. After our very long tour yesterday, we debated changing to the 3.5 hour tour that hiked to a waterfall, but finally decided we would be sorry if we didn’t do the historic tour. We will just make sure to get to bed early.
Dinner was good – I had a watermelon and feta salad, Vic had beef carpaccio and soup. For the entrée, I had perch (fish) and Vic had pork wellington. We skipped dessert, deciding to head to bed for our wake up call.
September 4, 2023
We got up at 7:30am in Nikopol Bulgeria, got ready, and went to breakfast. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, and they have a very nice variety. You could order eggs made any way you want, lots of baked goods, fruits, cold meats and cheeses, yogurt, and you could also order Belgian waffles or Eggs Benedict from your server.
Our excursion was scheduled to leave at 9am, so at 8:45 we went upstairs to the front desk to get our “Vox” box – the device used by tour guides with the provided ear pieces during tours.
We had a 90 minute drive to a castle (recently built) where we had samples or rose liqueur and rose brandy. There were also small treats, coffee, and tea. Then we got back into the bus and drive just a few minutes away to the town of Arbanassi.
During the ride, the driver gave us some history:
· In the 800s Bulgarian czars adopted Christianity, and developed Cyrillic letters.
· In the 1000s, Byzantines captured.
· By the end of the 1100s, two noble men organized uprising, and they were from Turnikov, started 2nd Bulgarian kingdom, became first two czars, and founded dynasty. Lasted 200 years.
· They were the first kingdom in Europe to enter Renaissance. Ottoman (feudal) conquered, and put them backwards in progress, lasted 500 years. Muslims against Christians.
· At end of 1800s, Bulgaria liberated by Russians, after Russian-Turkish war. 12th war between Turkey & Russia. 3 kings/czars, then Communism. In 1989 they became a Parliamentary republic. Their President has just representative functions.
The whole town of Arbanassi has only has about 200 residents, and is quite old. We walked through the small narrow streets to the Nativity Church, which was built in the 1400s. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the walls and ceilings are painted with 2,000 Biblical scenes and more than 3,500 images of saints so that people could see the stories from the Bible because many people couldn’t read.
It was now raining, but we had raincoats and umbrellas. Some people didn’t, so they headed right back to the bus.
Then we walked just down the street to the Konstantsalieva House (constructed in the 1600s) and our guide led us on a tour. Because of the Ottoman influence, they used the Asian style of sitting – cross legged. There were a number of rooms with large raised areas which were used for seats during the day, and beds at night. This house would have held up to 25 people, as extended families all lived together.
Back on the bus, and we drove to the city of Veliko Tarnovo, which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire from the 12th to the 14th centuries.
We stopped first at a brewery, founded in 1892 by two brothers. It has been updated many times, with the most recent modernization in 2004. They produce many brands, and their most popular is a lager. All their processes are now automated, so only 15 people work on the production line. The company employs 200 including administration, packaging, maintenance, transportation, etc. The yeast, hops, and equipment all come from Germany. There are 4 breweries in Bulgaria, and this is the only one owned by Bulgarians (the biggest is owned by Canadians).
Then we drove to Hotel Yantra, where we lead downstairs for lunch. There was a cucumber/tomato/cheese salad, soup, pork kebabs with potatoes, and ice cream for dessert. This and the earlier refreshment stop were paid for by Avalon.
During our beer stop, some people started talking about not wanting to go up to the castle because it was raining. There was further discussion at lunch, and determined that anyone who didn’t want to do the hike up there could stay at the hotel, and the bus would come back an hour later to get them.
We left the hotel around 3, and drove a small distance to the entrance, and then hiked up to the top of Tsarevets Hill, where the first fortress was built between the 5th and 7th centuries. It was rebuilt between the 8th and 10th centuries, and again in the early 12th century. The Ottomans conquered them in 1393 and the buildings here were demolished. The communists rebuilt the church for the 1300-year celebration in 1981. The Communists (who were atheists) painted it, celebrating history but with no religious references. 22 successive kings (czars) lived in a large palace (almost 10,000 sq ft), and we saw the remains of that. It is now often used for concerts and performances.
Back down the hill, onto the bus, to the hotel to pick up the others, and then 1.5 hour drive back to the ship. Happy hour, port talk (during which we met a couple from Kentucky, Kurt and Kristen). Dinner onboard (excellent locally caught halibut and beef sirloin) and Kurt and Kristen joined us, and then to our room.
A note – when I sat down to dinner, a waiter (Dragos) came over to our table with menus, and he pointed out the things I could have because he had already spoken with the chef. Awesome!