2018 saw me visiting former Soviet bloc nations. I made a return trip to Budapest, which I had seen 30 years earlier, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many changes were evident, but the people were just as warm and welcoming as before.
I enjoyed three days to explore the city before embarking on a river cruise down the Danube toward the Black Sea, arriving in Bucharest, Romania after visiting Serbia and Bulgaria, and sailing through the Danube Gorge.
While in Bulgaria, we visited an amazing old rock-hewn fortress – the Belogradchik Fortress – it is stunning and has a wide and scenic view of the surrounding countryside. It provided a great vantage point to see marauders approaching in days of old.
The people of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania were charming and interesting, and the countryside was gorgeous, especially in Bulgaria and Serbia, where I also visited a fascinating archealogical dig showcasing some of the oldest human artifacts ever discovered in Europe – known as Lepenski Vir.
After several days of beautiful churches, quaint streets, and interesting sites, we arrived in Romania, former domain of infamous dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who wanted everything to be bigger in Romania, including his palace. I found it to be massive, but cold and lifeless.
My hotel, however, was quite wonderful, with lovely views of Bucharest and its busy streets, shops and cafes. I had a lovely lunch in a side lane in a cafe that reminded me very much of Paris.
Finally, it was time to leave the Balkan nations and head to Russia. My flight was at an obscenely early hour, so my taxi arrived at 3:30 AM to whisk me off to the airport for a flight to Frankfurt, connecting with the flight to Moscow. En route to the airport, and confirming my sense that Bucharest was somewhat like Paris, we passed by what appeared to be a copy of the Arc de Triomphe
And so the first part of my 2018 journey ended, in the dark of night in the airport corridors of Bucharest, Romania. Next up – Russia!