Travelogue from a Danube River cruise. Saturday 24th June 2006.
From Serbia to Romania
Today we sail for Romania and the clock is set forward one hour. As Helle heads for the shower the loudspeakers announce that Serbian border control will visit the cabins in 10-15 minutes. Helle is about to skip the bath, but then Søren gets the microphone and says that the policemen have just changed their minds - we will not get visitors anyway.
Were they just bureaucrats who wanted to show muscle, or was it to see how cruise manager Gordon would react? We'll never know, and Helle enters the shower.
I get on deck and greet The Morning Team. It is a beautiful morning. The only distraction is the American lady with the morning hair working out on the chessboard. Today she castles in the air with blue socks with red heels. The passport control leaves, and we set course towards The Iron Gate.
This stretch of the Danube is called The Iron Gate. It is the narrowest stretch and was once the wildest. We are to sail some 100 km through gorges. Until Yugoslavia and Romania built a dam in 1972, which raised the water level 30 meters on this side, it was a dangerous passage with strong currents and sharp rocks, where ships had to be towed upstream in the old days.
The weather is grey and low clouds shroud the cliffs. It is beautiful and the deck is crowded despite the chilly breeze. Nobody complains when the sun turns on power and evaporates the clouds and the mist. Previously we haven't been able to see much of the landscape behind the trees on the banks, but now it towers over us on both sides.
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As mentioned the dam raised the waters 30 meters and 25,000 people were evacuated. The sailing nowadays is safer, and the turbines produce electricity for Serbia and Romania.
To get past the dam and 30 metres down we must go through two locks. Skipper has made a reservation for 12:30, and precisely on the clock we glide into the first lock. While the ship sinks slowly in the lock, we sink a baked trout with sprouts and fried potatoes.
Almost an hour after the locks we arrive to the Romanian city Turnu Severin. Formalities are dealt with and at 15:30 we can get ashore. We carry our passports. I hand mine to a constable, who first studies the picture and then me in an attempt to see the likeness.
We have but one bus. First it takes the Americans and then the Danes to the city's historical museum. It is very hot and humid. As we get off the bus, the horizon is an ominously dark grey. O-oh! We thought of sunglasses and shadow - not umbrellas.
Turnu Severin was among the earliest settlements in Europe, and the museum is quite interesting. Of particular interest is the part that deals with and has a model of Emperor Trajan's bridge. On this spot where the Danube is more than a kilometre wide the Romans built a bridge. That was an impressive piece of engineering, when you think of the mechanical tools available to the Romans.
As we tour the museum we can hear thunder approaching. As we are about to leave and go back to the bus, it is just above our heads. Rain is pouring down. Nobody feels like running to the bus or see the remains of the bridge's foundations for that matter. The guide phones the driver, and he manages to get almost to the door. Maybe a few flower beds are flattened by this operation, but they may as well have been flushed away by the torrent.
Everybody wants to return to the ship, but some want to exchange money first. That must be for the last day in Bucharest, because who would dream of shopping in this weather? The roads are like rivers and lakes. The exchange bureau's computers are down because of the thunder, but we pick up some marooned Americans and return to Noah's ark.
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The guide says goodbye and has a hard time not laughing as she expresses her hopes that we enjoyed our stay and will return to visit her city. Well, you never know: the lady with the morning hair seriously believed that we would sail back to Vienna from Bucharest.
The Captain's Gala Dinner
The captain's gala dinner has been postponed to 8 o'clock because of the delay with customs this afternoon. We are met at the bar by the captain, cruise manager Gordon and the two guides. Speeches are made, and the crew gets its tips while we enjoy a pink bubbly. The crew is presented once more and then we enter the restaurant in a single line.
The starter is smoked salmon, grated celery and carrots with shrimps plus a good liver pâté. Next is a pork soup with tarragon and cream. The main course is chateaubriand with potato, mushrooms and vegetables. Dessert is ice cream layer cake. As always there is a salad buffet.
While we eat the ship's musicians play the violin and accordion. One of the American ladies sings a sentimental song about returning to Vienna with her true love. She has a schooled opera voice and doesn't need a microphone.
After dinner Jørgen and Paula give us a few songs in the lounge. Jørgen plays the piano, and Paula sings. Their last hilarious song is about a girl who badly wants to see the world. A sailor lures her aboard his ship by telling her they are bound for Tahiti. 14 days of passion pass before she discovers that she is on a ferry between two Danish towns (Gedser and Hundested).
Paula does it very well, and Helle and I, who have never heard this song before, are sick with laughter. Søren explains to the Americans what it was about, but I am sure they suspect from our laughter that there were quite a few more funny points.
The orchestra takes over. The Danish colony has great fun and many find the dance floor. Most of the Americans retire to their cabins - some with a glass with ice cubes. We retire too after midnight, after we have sung Happy Birthday to Marianne, who is now 30.