EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Johnny Reb’s (Day 23)



Before we left Long Beach, we were telling the manager of our favorite BBQ place about our upcoming trip. He was enthusiastic, making us promise to bring back pictures. “If we can have one of your sacks with your logo on it,” we said, “we’ll take pictures of it in the places we go.”

He did and we did. We advertised Johnny Reb’s in Austria, Hungary, Romania, and the Paris Airport, where we changed planes to come home. (I looked in vain for the Eiffel Tower from the airport windows.)















We were blown away by the response of the whole roadhouse staff when we took them the prints. They all made a fuss over us, put the pictures up by the register and gave us three comps.

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Bulgarian double wedding (Day 20)


Vidin, Bulgaria. Jerry and I were sick; our colds had gone into bronchitis, with bone-shaking coughs, especially Jerry’s, which kept waking him up at night. In Belgrade, I had suggested we not go on the bus tour but he would go. At certain points along the way I suggested we stay on the bus while others got off to see various sights but he said he was fine, even though he was hacking and sneezing and soaked with a cold sweat.  And then I was set on getting one of those 500 billion dinar notes and Jerry insisted on sprinting down with me to buy it and we ended up missing our Viking bus back to the ship and having to spend an extra 30 minutes seeing the same sights over again on the next one.

He’s like a dog. He’ll never admit he’s sick. Admitting you’re sick makes you prey. If he’s suffering you can tell by his eyes and for days, Jerry’s eyes have been tired and watery, sunken.

But today when I broached the possibility of our not going on the tour, missing Bulgaria completely (I had to fight for the name of the country as I started to write this–Transylvania? Bratislava?), he was a little lamb about it.

“We can go up on the sundeck and sit in the shade and read our books,” he said, after a fit of coughing. “And later, if we want to, we can go ashore and walk around by ourselves.”

“Why, yes we could.” I hadn’t thought of that. Unlike some of our stops, there was a town right at the end of the gangplank. “It’s supposed to be over 90 today,” I said, as if he hadn’t already agreed and I still needed to convince him. “You’d be miserable after four hours of that kind of heat.”

1169We watched wistfully as our fellow passengers filed off the boat for their tour of the Rocks of Belogradshick, “resembling silhouettes of people, towers, ships, mushrooms, palaces and animals” and the “many terraced courtyards” of the Belogradshick Fortress.

We went instead up to the vacant sundeck and sat in the shade. Behind us, across the river, were misty islands and inlets. Before us, to the left, was a row of rundown buildings. To the right, a row of trees.

The groups who had gone on the four-hour tour came back happy but tired. They reported that the rocks of Belogradshick didn’t look that much like anything and some of them said they hadn’t made it up all the 148 steps to the fortress.

Jerry and I took naps, Jerry sitting up so he wouldn’t cough. When we woke, even though the day was at its hottest, I felt a sudden urgency to walk the plank and be able to say we’d been on Bulgarian soil. Jerry came too, weary and congested but loyal to a fault.

At the end of the gangplank was a portable metal sidewalk stretching as far as we could see in both directions. We stepped over it and entered a neat, empty public square around an 8-pillared gazebo. 1188

(This is the square. We entered it from the left, where the ship was docked.)

There was a souvenir store on one corner with all kinds of interesting jewelry, including some with lumps of what the shopkeeper confirmed was turquoise though her knowledge of English did not extend to answering whether the country mines it or imports it. There were unique wood carvings, including a cane with a wiggly stick nailed across the top which she confirmed with a smile was a shepherd’s crook. There were jolly, colorful paintings of peasants dancing in circles in village squares.

We didn’t linger. I didn’t want to get the shop lady’s hopes up. I would have liked to buy several things but we had no space in our luggage and no local currency–levs, in this case. Not even Euros. Our last 30 Euros had been lost or stolen the last time Jerry took his money out of his pocket. He hadn’t noticed until later because he was punk.

I felt so isolated from the people whose countries we are visiting. We couldn’t communicate with them. Coming out of the store on Vidin’s main street I tried to make eye contact with an approaching woman but she averted her eyes and ignored my smile with what seemed like sullenness and resentment. Rich tourists taking advantage of our poor country, I read in her expression.

1175We turned right, into the park. We passed a statue of parent and child and beyond the statue real parents with real children running, laughing and climbing on playground equipment. I didn’t have the courage to invade their space and privacy with my camera. What was the point? How could we communicate?

There was a small restaurant in the park. From its open door came the recorded English lyrics of some discordant heavy metal music. Out front, a big man in a suit leaned, bored, against a white limo decorated with white streamers and bows.

“Wedding?” I asked. I pointed at the open door of the cafe and then at Jerry and myself, wearing our color-coordinated shirts and holding hands.

He shrugged. “No English.”


He brightened a little but I already knew more than he could tell us. Glancing away, I noticed a crowd milling about the park. I caught sight of a bride and groom, both in white. There was no sign of a church or even a magistrate’s office; from the looks of it, the wedding was over and the bridal party–no, bridal parties, there were two couples in white–were posing for photographs. Kids were chasing each other and carrying snow cones and large Mickey Mouse balloons from nearby kiosks.

I told Jerry, “People don’t mind strangers taking pictures at a happy family event like a wedding!” 1181I headed for two little girls festive in billowing white dresses with ruffles around their necks. When I held up my cell phone and asked, “May I take a picture?”several people hastily summoned a woman who spoke some English.

She was their mother. She introduced the girls to us as Anka and Elena, then patted her stomach to introduce us to their third daughter-to-come, Petya. She beckoned her husband over to be in the picture, too.

She indicated it would be all right to photograph the wedding party. When I brought my cell phone back to her and showed her the picture I had taken, she pointed to the grooms and said they were her cousins.

The woman below, who gathered four girls together for a group shot, was Anka and Elena’s grandmother! 1179

So we didn’t miss out on Bulgaria after all. Just a stone’s throw from our ship, we celebrated a family wedding with real Bulgarians!

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Blade in mist (Day 19)

Kodak Europe 240On our misty day cruising down the Lower Danube, Jerry took this shot of a lone and ghostly wind turbine on a cliff above us.

When we got home and mentioned it to friends from Arizona, they described a semi they had seen hauling one blade of a similar turbine from Arizona to California. “The truck was maximum length, with an extension. The base of the blade filled the truck–and the blade stuck out 20 feet beyond the end of it. It was marked ‘WIDE LOAD.’ Police cars were leading and following it, flashing their lights.”

How many truckloads must it have taken to set up this scene?


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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: “A Taste of Balkan” (Day 18)

1051 1066 1071 1068 1055 1049 1054 1057 1074Between preparing, serving, clearing away and washing up after all our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and multiple-course 2-hour dinners, the kitchen staff managed to roast and slice all kinds of meats, chop and mince ingredients for all kinds of salads, saute all kinds of vegetables, bake all kinds of breads, assemble all kinds of casseroles, arrange all kinds of cheeses, whip up all kinds of sauces, and make all kinds of desserts.

They surprised us with all these at “The Taste of Balkan” night, using table and counter space throughout the public areas of the ship–the restaurant, the Aquavit Terrace, the forward deck. In each area we could join queues past foods of all kinds, so that if you went to any one single area you could get a full meal and by going to all the areas you could get full but different meals.

They even invited us to climb down the steep companionway into the galley where there was a spread of salads with assorted dressings, and raw vegetables with a variety of dips, hot meats, various vegetable dishes, quiches and other entrees as well as an ample selection of puddings, tarts, baklavas and chocolate volcano cakes.

Here’s the thing. If the kitchen staff had prepared nothing but the “Taste of Balkan,” and spread the dishes out over the entire voyage, there would have been plenty for all 188 of us passengers–and the staff could have taken those three weeks off and gone home to their families.

1059I’m just sayin’.


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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Genetically modified crops (Day 18)

I’m not sure this applies to all of Eastern Europe but in Serbia we were told that farmers are not allowed to grow GMO crops. One farmer tried it and the government burned down his field. That’s why I don’t have a picture of it.

Wish it were that simple in our country!

(When we got home we heard that besides poisoning the people who eat most American corn and soy products, Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide sprays are wiping out the milkweed that sustains the Monarch butterfly. The Center for Food Safety reports a 90 percent population decline since the 1990s.

“That would be like losing every person in living in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio,” a release by the organization said.* They are joining the Center for Biological Diversity in petitioning to having the Monarch added to the endangered species list.

Jerry and I bought the last milkweed at a local nursery and planted it in our back yard. We aren’t gardeners and we haven’t been able to keep flowers or vegetables alive. But the weed is thriving. And I’m delighted to report that a Monarch was checking out our back yard just this morning and I’m sure will know it’s there when she gets hungry or ready to lay her eggs.)

You can order Metamorphosis, a magnificent DVD on these beauties who may become extinct at


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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Dry Serbian humor about a wet subject (Day 18)

1038Rain-swollen rivers did not cause problems for us. Our ark just floated a bit higher than we would have otherwise. But it did cause problems for people living along the shore. When we were docked in Belgrade (at the confluence of the Sava River and the Danube) we saw posters asking for donations to help those affected. Our tour guide, Nevana, is Serbian but she cheerfully shared “flood jokes” which she said were circulating among her people.


Serbian child: “Daddy, where do the Sava and Danube Rivers meet?”
Father: “In the living room.”

Serbian child: “Mommy, can I go out and play?”
Mother: “Yes. Just be sure you don’t go too deep.”

Kodak Europe 729


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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: A genuine Dalmatian (Day 18)

In Serbia, having heard that Dalmatia is part of Serbia, I was tickled to see a Dalmatian on someone’s leash. Jerry and I both got pictures of it. His is better. 1004 Kodak Europe 723


My dad once said that every dog in Chihuahua, Mexico is a genuine Chihuahua. So I guess the dog alongside the black spotted “fire engine mascot” could also be a genuine Dalmatian.

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