The on-board library provided travel books and literature relevant to the area we were passing through. (I read their book of three stories by Mor Jokai, 20th century–just barely–Hungarian novelist). The TV in each room, at least for the second half of the trip, when it was working, provided movies like The Budapest Hotel, documentaries like that of the unique design and building of the Franjo Tuđman suspension bridge in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and a wonderful playlist of classical music written by local composers.
With those and the speakers and dancers and musicians Michael brought on board, we could get a pretty good introduction to the history and culture of at least parts of Europe without stepping off the ship.
As we were being bussed around Croatia I noticed in the distance the startling rays of what looked like shrouds on a ship, fanning out from the top of its mast. Only it was considerably taller than any mast. Later, in our cabin, we watched the documentary about this impressive 1,699 foot-long suspension bridge, which was chock-full of technical detail about piers supporting a pre-tensioned girder, a span of 1,065 feet, and a single pylon 464 ft tall. But the progress of the construction of the bridge was presented in an entertaining and sometimes heart-stopping way by a young man in a hard hat who discussed it casually from buckets being drawn up to the top of the girder and from scaffolding alongside the workers at the top of the pylon, the view falling away to the Drava River far below.
The documentary about the Danube Delta. took us down the less-traveled tributaries of the river, the part traversed only by crudely-hewn wooden boats paddled by brown-skinned men naked to the waist, who lived with women we occasionally saw hanging laundry on lines outside the few shacks along the shore.
I expected more variety in the scenery. The only variety was in the shape and width of the river and beds of gray-green rushes alternating with bushier gray-green trees. I expected to see more color. I expected to see samples of the hundreds of types of birds the narrator claimed lived in the delta; I think we saw three. The film was pretty monotonous; Jerry wandered away but I watched to the end in case I missed something.
I came away with one fact and one surprised observation. The observation: these brown men paddling their homemade crafts on a brown river seemed so far from any of the big cities and what we associate with “civilization.” I would have expected them to speak some dialect appropriate to isolated tribes on the Amazon or Zambezi Rivers. Yet we would hear them call greetings to their wives in languages that were obviously European. It seemed strange–maybe it shouldn’t have, maybe all rivers share a common lifestyle–that they lived the life of primitive peoples yet were probably close enough to button on shirts in the evening and take their wives to dinner in Vienna or Budapest.
Oh, and the fact? In the Danube Delta there are 21 types of mosquitoes.