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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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: “Je m’appelle Bond.” (Day 18)

We had a wonderful tour guide in Serbia. For one thing, she was a great story-teller. For another, her English was excellent. She said her name was (what sounded like) Nevana, but she said tourists always get it wrong so I probably got it wrong.

She led us all over the Belgrade Fort, pointing out that what used to be a moat was now a tennis court for Novak Djokovic‎ wanna-be’s and a basketball court for Vasilije Micic wanna-be’s.

(She was the one who described “The Victor” statue as “mooning” the Turks.)

“I learned all my English from TV and movies,” she told us on the bus. “I watched all the James Bond movies until I knew them by heart,” she said. “Sean Connery is the only James Bond.” She deepened her voice and said impressively, “My name is Bond. James Bond.” Then she said, “I went to one of his movies which had a French voiceover and he said–” she made her own voice high, squeaky and nervous, “Je m’appelle Bond. James Bond.” She lowered her head and shook it back and forth with disapproval. “No, no, no! That just doesn’t do it!”

Nevana, about 25, told us about growing up in four different countries. She ticked them off on her fingers. “I was born in Serbia. Then we lived in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  Then we lived in Serbia and Montenegro. Now we live in the independent state of Serbia. And I haven’t moved!”



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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: 21 kinds of mosquitoes (Day 17)


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.

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: “We love you, Lord” (Day 17)

989During the centuries of Turkish rule, Croatians learned to disguise their cathedrals inside buildings that were plain and unrecognizable as churches so they would not be shut down or destroyed. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is in a deceptively non-ecclesiatical building but the altar inside is ornate.

We had had an impressive 4,668-pipe organ recital in Archbishops Cathedral in Kalocsa, Hungary (Day 16). From a balcony high behind and above us, where Franz Liszt played when in town, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue had billowed out into the church, resonating powerfully to its uttermost corners.


In Osijek, Croatia (we had conflicting information about pronouncing the letter “j”. One authority said it sounds like our “y.” Another said it is silent. In the case of “Osijek,” either one works), we heard a very different organ recital. We filed into wooden benches and waited, Viking umbrellas closed and dripping at our feet.

A young man in jeans walked to a microphone on the broad checkerboard platform at the front. He introduced a young blonde woman named Maria, who bowed to us and slipped onto the bench of an organ next to him, no bigger and no more imposing than an upright piano.

Instead of an unseen organist in a balcony overhead, dazzling our senses via a full set of magnificent pipes, Maria began to play familiar choruses, How Great is Our God; Father, We Adore You; and We Love You, Lord. She sang them simply and sincerely, first in Croatian, then in English. After the third song she abandoned the words foreign to us and sang the songs in clear English, inviting us all to join her on the last one, Amazing Grace. A number of us did, gladly, having been singing along with her silently in our hearts and with our lips.

“Of all the churches and cathedrals we’ve toured,” I wrote in my journal, “this was the only one where I felt the presence of Jesus, a rushing in of a unifying and purposeful force that swept all the art and angels, awe and air, candlelight and dark recesses and soulful, uplifted painted eyes, grave, repetitive motions and creaking wooden pews and tired flowers and crisp linen-and-lace and self-conscious bodies and tentative responses to grace together in one heartfelt hug, assuring us, ‘This is what it is all about. It is all about glorifying Me–and I accept all of it, however beautiful or clumsy.'”

Kodak Europe 677

Even though it was Wednesday, it felt like our first true Sunday in Europe.

(Note: Jerry’s picture is better than mine but it doesn’t have the informal touch of the guy in jeans, T-shirt and tennies.)


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