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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Eastern Europe in Our Rearview Mirror

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

People often ask me if we recommend guided tours or traveling on our own. My answer is always, “It depends.” In the case of seeing the former Yugoslavian countries quickly, we opted for a guided tour with Insight Vacations which went from Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Hungary all within 18 days! (We did go to Bucharest a few days early and were so glad we did.)

Day 1

We arrived in Bucharest around noon since we left Dallas/Fort Worth the evening before. I have to admit that we took the prerequisite nap, at least a prerequisite for us, then walked to Old Town for a little exploration and dinner at Caru-cu-bere, a restaurant with an interesting history and even more interesting building. The facility was built in 1879 by a Transylvanian beer-making family. The church-like stained glass windows feature beer drinkers and the restrooms are located in the "confessionals." We had a pork steak and salad and, of course, beer, before walking around the Old Town and turning in early, exhausted as a result of jet lag!

Romania National Concert Hall

Day 2

The next morning we feasted on a delicious breakfast at our hotel, Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel, while trying to decide our plan of attack. We couldn't get tickets to Ceausescu's mansion (I should have gotten tickets online the day before.) but we took a taxi to the Village Museum, where we saw houses and churches representative of many periods and places of Romanian history. We then walked to Herastu Park for a lunch of corn on the cob from a kiosk and lots of strolling. (Note to self: Don’t travel to this part of the world in the summer. It is hot!) We headed down the Soseaua Pavel Dimitrievici Kiseleff (This street goes by several different names.) after seeing the Arcul de Triumf. The mansions, some in disrepair, are magnificent and reflect some of the money that was in Romania before the war and communism.

We tried to visit the National Art Museum, but it was closed on Sunday due to a special event, so my husband and I visited the most beautiful bookstore in town, Crtureti Carusel. We enjoyed just walking around and watching people, before having dinner at Aubergine Restaurant of hummus and salad with figs, eggplant, and walnuts. We shared an entrée with three pieces of sliced pork loin served atop mashed white potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes and then sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Our upstairs seats allowed us to peek out on those passing below on the street in Old Town.

Day 3

Our third day was filled with beautiful Orthodox Churches. Most museums were closed because it was Monday and a holy day, but the churches were open for worshipers and tourists. We also visited the Cismigiu Gardens where we watched children and families enjoy the beautiful day. Many people had rented rowboats and were rowing slowly as they enjoyed the view. At 6:00 we joined the Insight Tour group for dinner in the hotel before a stroll to the Old Town to take in more of the sights of a resurging nightlife.

Orthodox churches were hidden in niches and around every corner. In fact, much of the reason some survived Tito's domination was that they were built in small places and so did not threaten him.

Romania was originally composed of three factions, Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia. Bucharest is in the region still known as Wallachia. Bucharest was begun on the banks of the Dimovitzi River in the 15th century and became the capital in the 17th century. Victoriei Street is one of oldest routes through the city and a great place for a leisurely stroll.

Each time we walked down Victoriei Street we passed the National Art Gallery, the former palace of the first king, King Carol. King Carol was recruited from Germany by Romania because they didn't have a king, only warring families, and, being the youngest son, he didn’t have a kingdom. He was surprised by the lack of palaces, roads, etc. and began building immediately. He was a strong supporter of education and the arts. (The last king left Romania in 1947 with the advent of Ceausescu.)

We also passed the Romanian Athenaeum, a beautiful concert hall that is the country symbol that Romania uses on its currency. Another eye-catching construction is the Memorial of Rebirth in the Revolution Square. The three-sided, white marble obelisk is surrounded by statues representing the people who fought for freedom and democracy. The nest-like structure skewered by the pyramid represents the martyrs' sacrifices. Red paint was thrown on the base of the monument by vandals, but it has been left as a symbol of blood that was spilled in the fight for freedom.

Ceausescu became the first elected president of the country in 1965. Before that time, he had been Vice President of Communist party. He and his wife came from very humble beginnings but morphed into megalomaniacs of gigantic proportions.

Day 4

Our tour took us to the Palace of the Parliament which Ceausescu built. It is currently the largest administrative building and the second largest building in the world. He never saw it completed because he was overthrown and executed. He would review the building weekly and have anything that he didn't like torn down and redone to his specifications. Upon his death 90% of the exterior was complete while only 19% of the interior was. Everything in the new House of Parliament is Romanian. The building was finally finished in 1995 because it was cheaper than tearing it down.

Ceausescu started the building after visiting China where he saw the large squares where the general population was addressed. He came home to emulate this and give himself more publicity. He also constructed a large street, Boulevard Unirii based on the Champs de Elysee, but, of course, longer, to show the world that Romania was again the Paris of the East. (He also had the Arcul de Triumf built using the Arc de Triomphe as a model.)

Unfortunately, the Parliament Building was closed so we visited the Cotroceni Palace which was built by King Carol for his nephew and heir, Prince Ferdinand and his wife, Mary. The house, built from 1679 - 1681, featured central heating and vacuum systems. This tour didn’t waste time so we headed in the afternoon to Brasov, the home of DRACULA’S CASTLE!

Bran Castle was the setting of Stoker's Dracula, even though neither Stoker nor Vlad the Impaler, upon whom Dracula is loosely based, ever visited the castle. Vlad the Impaler, prince of Wallachia, was raised in Turkey, so he knew the military strategies of the Ottomans and was a formidable opponent for them. As his name implies, one of his favorite ways to kill an Ottoman was to impale the body on a spike with the point entering through the anus and exiting at the neck without touching any vital organs. The result? A very slow, painful death.

Our guide to the castle, Vlad, kept us laughing with jokes about his relationship to Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) including the fact that he doesn't have many reviews because he is charged by his great-grandfather to bring fresh blood so he starts a tour with 50 people and ends with 20.

Bran Castle and the surrounding Saxon-styled town are built in the Carpathian Mountains. The castle was begun in the 1200's by the Teutonic Knights and finished in 1378 by Saxons. It became the summer Castle for Queen Mary and King Ferdinand. The castle is full of twists, turns, and hidden staircases, but no blood-hungry vampires!

Brasov itself is a fun small city. We stayed in the "new" part of the Aro Palace Brasov which is located across the street from an inviting park and close to the City's Old Town with pedestrian streets and the Biserica Neagr (Black Church).

We had dinner our first night at Sergiana Restaurant, just around the corner from our hotel. The restaurant has a romantic setting in man-made caves that also keep diners cool.

Bran Castle (aka Dracula's Castle)

Day 5

Brasov was a great city to walk around and explore, including the Black Church which is so named because of a large fire that destroyed the majority of it in 1689. The church has been rebuilt and now houses the largest Oriental carpet collection outside of Turkey. We had to show the size of Strada Sforii, one of the narrowest streets in the world by touching both walls at the same time. (The "Rope Street" was built by firefighters to give them quicker access into various parts of the city.

Catherine's Gate was the only original gate remaining from the Medieval period. The Schei Gate is another impressive structure and the only one that Romanians living in Schei were allowed to use to enter Brasov.

We spent a most enjoyable evening at the ski resort town of Poiana Braov at the restaurant Vanatorul. Upon our arrival we were met with music, palinka, a traditional Romanian brandy, and appetizers of rolled meat. We experienced a wonderful dinner of Deer Carpaccio and pork spareribs. The saxophonist and accordionist were excellent musicians and showmen.

Day 6

Peles Castle, the summer palace for the Romanian royal family, was built in Sinai on the trade route between Transylvania and Wallachia. Located in the Carpathian Mountains, the backdrop is beautiful rolling hills and mountains covered with green fields and evergreen trees. The castle was commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883.

Peles Castle was the first European castle to have electricity, It even had hot and cold running water, central heat, and a central vacuum system. The stained-glass roof in the foyer opens mechanically. Every one of the 160 rooms was decorated in a different style. The 60-seat theater, where the first movie in Romania was shown in 1906, displays ceiling paintings and frescoes by Klimt and Matsch.

We left Peles Castle and headed for Bulgaria, which is about the size of Maine, but a lot hotter! Bulgaria was settled by the Bulgars who brought their own yeast; thus it is a great beer and bread country. A few interesting tidbits:

· Bulgaria uses the Cyrillic alphabet.

· Bulgaria and Romania are home to many Roma and Senti people who were brought as slave labor by the Turks.

· Bulgaria is the top rose oil producer in the world, so every gift shop in the country had this overpowering aroma.

Our first night was spent at the Yantra Grand Hotel in Veliko Tamovo, the former capital city of Bulgaria. The hotel reflected the fact that Bulgaria has not changed as much since the 1990's as Romania.

Day 7

Veliko Tarnova, one of Romania's oldest towns, is towered over by the Tsarevets Fortress, citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The area once housed over 400 homes, the royal palace, an execution rock, and 23 churches. It also is the home of the Patriarchs Complex, also called the Church of the Blessed Saviour.

Because of its formidable location, the fortress fell victim of many wars and skirmishes. Originally built by as a stronghold for medieval tsars, the structures came under the ownership of the Ottomans, Romans, Slavs, Bulgars, and maybe more!

Our tour next took us to Arbanasi, a once-wealthy village near Veliko Tarnova. There we visited the Konstantsalieva House which was built in the late 17th century and is now a museum. We also visited the 15th century Orthodox Rozhdestvo Hristovo (Nativity or Birth of Christ) Church, constructed in the 1600's. The church is comprised of 5 rooms, none of which have windows. The extreme plainness on the outside hides a rich interior.

Lunch of one of my favorites, shopska salad, was on a beautiful patio. Shopska Salad has English cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, green peppers covered by lots of grated feta cheese. My husband, who isn’t a big fan of Greek salad, loves it.

Our next stop was Sofia, Bulgaria's "new" capital (since the late 1800s). The city was founded by the Romans in 46 A. D. and many Roman ruins are being excavated now. The Romans named the city after Celtic tribes found here. Sofia, like most of the area, is a mixture of cultures and remains from the Ottomans.

Day 7

Sofia looks very similar to Budapest and Bucharest because it was built in the second half of 1800s and many of the same architects were used. As in all of Europe where the communists ruled, there is an immense difference between Communist and pre-communist buildings. Over 12,000 buildings were destroyed during WW II. Before then, Sofia was nicknamed Vienna of the East.

Sofia has been conquered too many times to list here, but, fortunately, religion is still present and seems to be tolerant of other religions. There are synagogues, mosques, and churches scattered throughout the city.

Our hotel, the Hilton Sofia, was a nice walk from the Old Town. We simply walked across a footbridge and around the convention center, with its beautiful open area and fountains, to reach the pedestrian area of Vitosha Boulevard. Our tour of Sofia included a stop at the Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky. The Ivan Vazov National Theater provided a beautiful square complete with fountain that we traipsed through frequently as we explored the city with the tour and then on our own. The St. George Rotunda is a chapel built inside a square of buildings, a surprise to sightseers when they peer in the large archway.

One of our favorites was the Russian Church with its onion-like gold spires. Roman Ruins hiding around many corners added another depth to the city. Sofia was a great walking city, especially since we got to, literally, follow their yellow ceramic brick road.

We had dinner at Aubergine, the same name but a totally different restaurant than in Bucharest. We followed Google maps down a small street off the tourist path to discover this gem. Randy loved the pork loin while the bruschetta with eggplant, cheese and caramelized walnuts was a delicious novelty.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Day 8

On our way to the Rila Monastery, we stopped for a photo op at Kocherinovo which is in the western migratory route for storks. Bulgaria is on two migratory routes, east, along the Black Sea coast, and west. Over 5,000 stork couples were identified in Bulgaria last year.

We continued our drive toward the Rila Monastery winding higher in the Rila Mountains along a poplar-lined road. We traveled through the village of Rila with grapevine-lined trellises providing shade in both the front and back yards of the homes. The sweet odor of Linden trees permeates the air in Rila as it does in towns throughout Romania and Bulgaria.

Rila Monastery is the oldest and largest monastery in Bulgaria. Although it has been rebuilt several times because of enemy destruction and fires, it is still a working monastery. In fact, glimpses of monks can be seen while touring the beautiful church with its vivid artworks both inside and outside the building. Rila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Day 9

Skopje, capital of Macedonia, is a city being rebuilt and still not touristy. Construction is everywhere you look with appealing to the tourism industry in mind. The city is on the Vardar River which flows through the town and gives rise to beautiful statue-lined bridges. As the birthplace of Mother Teresa, the city proudly displays her name and history.

Alexander the Great is also revered, as witnessed by statues of him, his father, and his mother displayed throughout the Old Town. In addition to buildings, Skopje is erecting beautiful statues, and lots of them!

Even though the city memorializes Mother Teresa, Mosques, minarets, and calls to worship overshadow the town since most of the population is Muslim; however, churches also existed as long as they were not taller than the minarets. Ironically, on a hill overlooking the entire city stands the Millennium Cross which is lit at night.

Our hotel, the Bushi Resort and Spa, was nestled next to the Mustafa Pasha Mosque which allows tourists, respectfully covered and shoeless, to enter. The inside is beautifully simple and definitely worth a quick stop.

Also nearby is the Skopje Fortress, built in the 6th century, which provides a wonderful view of the city. Unfortunately, the fortress is not well maintained, so a quick trip was enough.

We visited the Church of the Holy Savior, another example of the Turkish tolerance for other religions, as long as there were no outward signs such as belfries or towers.

We walked through the Ottoman Old Town Bazaar after dinner. Most of the stores had been closed all day since it was Sunday, but there were still stores to see and lots of ice cream and fresh corn to buy.

Nighttime brought relief from the heat, so we enjoyed walking over many of the paths we had taken earlier, including over the Stone Bridge, along wide mostly pedestrian streets, and through Macedonia Square.

Day 10

We left Skopje and headed to Tirana, Albania via one of our favorite stops, Ohrid, a resort city nestled on the lake with the same name.

The majority of people in Ohrid are Orthodox, but there are places of worship of all religions, all 365 of them! St. Sophia Church was built as a church, converted to a mosque during the Ottoman occupation, and reconverted into an Orthodox church. Because the church existed before the great schism between Catholic and Orthodox churches, this church contains images of saints from both. Also among the 365 churches, two hospital churches, St Nicholas for men and Our Holy Mother for women, lie within the Old Town. The churches are a perfect backdrop to the visit of Paul and Erasmus to the area during Biblical times.

As we walked through the Old Town, we noticed that the red-tiled buildings got larger at each level to make use of the limited space. Because much of the town now has UNESCO designation, any new buildings or constructions must be approved.

Randy and I enjoyed lunch of seafood pizza and shopska salad at the Restaurant Alexandrija while overlooking peaceful, blue Lake Ohrid, one of the deepest in Europe. We only wish we had had more time to visit this city.

Day 11

Our time in Albania was limited to one evening and one stop, other than the required breaks for our driver and us.

Albania is mountainous country that is pockmarked with 750,000 bunkers, a leftover from Enver Hoxha's dictatorship. From end of WWII until the 1990's, Albanians were not allowed to leave country and religion was illegal. Since Hoxha's death, Albania is trying to catch up with its neighbors. Construction is on every corner. The government gave all religions land to build so churches, synagogues, and mosques are being built.

We stayed at the Plaza Hotel in Tirana which was centrally located close to the main plaza and mosque. We were able to walk to a local farmers’ market and saw many coffee shops filled with locals enjoying a coffee or glass of wine.

Day 12

We entered the walls of Kotor, Montenegro through the Sea Gate which was constructed in 1555 while the city was under Venetian rule. We had a quick, but informative, city tour of the Old Town that included St Tryphon's Cathedral and Trg Sv. Luke before leading us back through the warren-like narrow lanes to the Clock Tower, our meeting place.

We had a quick, but excellent, lunch at Plantaze of grilled calamari stuffed with ham and cheese. Delicious! Unfortunately, we had only an hour to spend in this charming town, so we quickly paid our bill and headed back to the bus and on to Dubrovnik, Croatia! (I would definitely recommend at least ½ day in Kotor just to wander the crooked, narrow streets and explore.

Border crossings, at least in a charter bus, were time-consuming and tedious. In addition, they generally involved a bribe of two to provide any kind of expediency.

Our next stop was Cavtat, that can be a day trip from Dubrovnik, but you could also use it as a base for exploring Dubrovnik since buses and a ferry run between the two. Cavtat is a beach resort town with beautiful views and a laid-back vibe. Walking on the boardwalk, eating at an outdoor café overlooking the water, with a cup of cappuccino and an ice cream would be a great way to spend a day.

Cavtat’s crowning glory is the Racic Mausoleum which was built in 1921. and, from its setting on top of the hill, overlooks the town and the water. The sculptures both inside and out are fantastic. The mausoleum was designed by the Croatian sculptor and architect Ivan Mestrovic.

Days 13 and 14

Dubrovnik is wonderful like the rest of Croatia! See my post on Dubrovnik for more information.

Day 15

Bosnia (the shortened name of the country) was our next stop with Mostar being the first city we visited. Mostar is most famous for its Old Bridge that crosses the Neretva River. To get to the bridge, we walked past the largest mosque minaret in town and through the Ottoman-style bazaar with all its many vendors. Copper is produced in the area, so, of course, we had to stop and buy earrings!

Divers stand on the bridge's railing while their companions raise money from tourists. Once enough (whatever that is) is obtained, the diver jumps from the bridge to the river below, approximately 80 feet! The original bridge was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans. It was destroyed during the 1990 wars but has been rebuilt. Crossing the bridge was difficult because the marble has been worn smooth and is extremely slippery. Thank goodness for stops along the bridge that prevented us from falling.

We had our first taste of cevapi, beef sausages with pita bread. The food in most of the former Yugoslavian countries is still relatively inexpensive, but good.

Our next stop was Sarajevo, a city that, within two decades, hosted the Winter Olympics and underwent a major siege.

The drive into town showed the paradox that exists, one building was very modern while the next had entire floors destroyed by mortar shells.

The Hotel Holiday, originally the Holiday Inn built for the Olympics, has been rebuilt. From here, the first shots were fired. Later the hotel became the location where the journalists stayed.

Our hotel, the Swissotel Sarajevo, was conveniently located near two shopping malls. The hotel is owned by Muslims who prohibit alcohol to be sold on the premises; however, they don't forbid alcohol to be brought in by guests, so there is a steady stream of tourists to the grocery store across the street.

One of the most meaningful and memorable nights of the trip was spent in the home of Amila, a Muslim Sarajevan who opened her home to us and prepared a wonderful traditional dinner. She was so kind to share stories of her life during the 1992-1995 siege. She actually preferred Communism under Tito because she and her husband had jobs and vacations.

She emphasized that the war was not really a religious war since they had many intermarriages throughout the countries. The leaders, however, found that the only difference between the people was religion, so they used it to try to gain power.

Amila shared her experience of escaping from Sarajevo to the outskirts before she fled to Croatia with their daughter, just before the area where they were staying with her in-laws suffered significant damage from mortar shells.

Even now, the situation is not great for her. As a teacher, her job is very dependent on the ruling party. Principals are appointed by the party, so every time the ruling party changes, a different principal is appointed. These principals bring their own party teachers.

Day 16

The next day we visited the Sarajevo Tunnel of Hope. During the siege, when Sarajevo was surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, the only link to the outside world was this tunnel which ran under the airport runway. The tunnel, which is 800m-long, 1m-wide, and 1.6m tall, ran between two houses. The tunnel was built by hand with workers working non-stop in eight-hour shifts. The construction started at both ends and, miraculously, connected in the middle.

The house showed significant damage from the constant shelling. An average of 330 mortar shells fell per day and, on July 22, 1993, 3,777 mortars fell. Outside was our first experience with a Sarajevo Rose. Everywhere a mortar killed three or more people, Sarajevans spray painted the pockmark as a flower to remember those who were killed and their heroic struggle. Our guide, Lejla (Laila), was excellent!

Sarajevo's Old Town contains many historical sites including the Ottoman Bazaar, Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. Roman ruins, sahat-kula (lunar clock), City Hall, and the Sebilj Brunnen (Fountain). There are also lots of opportunities for shopping. The items that most tempted us were the Bosnian coffee sets, but we controlled our shopping impulses and settle for a cup of their wonderful coffee after lunch.

We also saw the Latin Bridge and where Franz Joseph and Sofia were assassinated which was the catalyst for WWI. Currently it is a road construction site.

We had lunch at Petica of cevapi again. The restaurants in the bazaar are extremely specialized so we left there to get baklava for dessert and washed it down with Bosnian coffee which looks very similar to Turkish coffee but better.

That night we visited Tito's bunker which was amazing in its size, redundancy, and complexity. The complex was built to house 350 soldiers and maintenance people and a small team of leaders including Tito and his wife.

The 6500 square meter complex took 26 years to build, from 1953 to 1979. Workers were blindfolded, told they were working on a secret munitions factory, and changed often to provide total secrecy. The site is still difficult to reach, on narrow winding roads that finally end in a small house where the opening is located. because of new technology, the bunker was obsolete before it was ever completed.

The bunker was never used, but the electricity continues to operate. If air conditioning is ever out for more than 48 hours, the complex will be ruined by all the humidity. The water cistern is still kept full of fresh water. Tito also had an underground airport constructed for $6 billion!

Those soldiers who were last to leave the area were to destroy the bunker. They refused so future generations can see what great amounts of money were spent to ensure Tito's rule would continue. The bunker now houses modern art, some of which addresses Communism and Tito.

We drove back to Konjic, the nearest town, for a dinner at Restaurant Vidikovac overlooking the Neretva River.

Day 17

The drive from Sarajevo to Belgrade is along winding roads dotted by picturesque towns, each of which is topped by the minaret of a mosque and a steeple of a church.

We crossed the Drina river which was the border between the eastern and western Roman Empire. The middle of the river is now the border between Serbia and Bosnia.

Our bus again had to stop and pay a bribe to get through quickly. Corruption and bribes are everywhere in the Balkan countries. Our Sarajevan family host shared a story about getting a traffic violation when she didn't have any money. She promised to bring the officer pastries the next day and, sure enough, he was standing in front of the police station when she drove by the next day with the pastries.

We arrived in Belgrade in time to walk to the pedestrian area of the Old Town where, as in most large cities across the world, the names of the stores are the same, Zara, H&M, etc. Even though it was a Sunday, many stores were open. We walked through St. Marks Orthodox Church and a few of the 50 parks in the city. St. Mark built in 1930s in this country where approximately 80% are Greek Orthodox.

The National Parliament building next door was also constructed in the 1930s. (Serbia has been a parliamentary democracy since 2002.)

The next day our excellent guide, Milos, showed us more of Belgrade and gave greater insight to the changes that they are undergoing. Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is changing from neutral communism toward capitalism, free market, and democracy. Belgrade means white city because white stone was used originally. Serbia uses both Cryllic and Latin alphabets, both of which are phonetic alphabets taught in school.

Serbia was once part of Roman Empire. In fact, only Italy was the birthplace of more Roman emperors. Constantine was born here. After Romans, Huns crossed the Danube to conquer Serbia. In the sixth century, the Slavs came in. In 870 Christianity was brought to Serbia by Saints Cyril and Methodius.

The borders continued to change frequently. It was an important site because from here, the ruler could control both the Danube and Saba rivers. Between 1100 and 1300 the kingdoms of Serbs ruled, but this period was ended by the Ottomans. By 1465, Turks controlled all of Serbia until 1878 when the Congress of Berlin treaty was signed.

Belgrade was fought over 115 times and razed completely 44 times in its history. Belgrade has been bombed more than any other capital city in Europe in 20th century. It has been the site of five civilizations, Romans, Byzantine, Slavs, Ottomans, and Austrian- Hungarian

Sarajevo has very widespread damage from the siege; no building seems to have escaped. In Belgrade the destruction was much more targeted and less pervasive because in Sarajevo they were targeting civilians while in Belgrade they were targeting the government. What each country in the former Yugoslavia saw as fights for independence basically began as civil war since they were all part of one country. To this day, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro all speak the same language although they each call it by their countrys name.

We visited the beautiful St. Sava church, the largest church in town. St. Sava brought both education and religion to Serbia. (There is no connection between the Sava River and St. Sava.) The broken and uneven pavers surrounding the church sound like hundreds of wooden xylophones playing.

We visited the Belgrade fortress towering above the city. The fort was built in Roman times and continued through all periods because of its commanding view over the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. At the top of the hill is the Victor statue which was originally to be placed in the student garden. There was such an outcry from this conservative country about putting the statue of a naked man in an obvious spot where everyone could see it that they erected it at the top of the mountain in the fortress facing away from the city!

We drove to Topola, which means poplar tree, and was the birthplace of the Serbian uprising against the Ottomans. We visited the Oplenac Mausoleum where all the members of Karadjordjevic Royal family are buried. The Karaorevi family ruled Serbia interchangeably with the competing Obrenovi family, after the Ottoman Empire was expelled from Serbia, and before WWII during which the communist party took over. The Mausoleum, St. Georges Church, was built by King Peter I on a hill overlooking beautiful valleys and hillsides covered with grapevines. The entire crypt is covered with intricate, brightly-colored mosaics.

After the visit to the museum and the mausoleum, we drove into town of Arandjelovac for dinner, and a sample of plum brandy (Rakija) the national drink of Serbia, at the Aleksandar Bistro then back to Belgrade for a final night before heading to Budapest.

After the visit to the museum and the mausoleum, we drove into town of Arandjelovac for dinner, and a sample of plum brandy (Rakija) the national drink of Serbia, at the Aleksandar Bistro then back to Belgrade for a final night before heading to Budapest.

Days 18 and 19

Budapest is wonderful! To keep this post from going on forever, I’ve written more in my Budapest post.

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