Learning more about her homeland

Vienna native makes new discoveries when traveling to Eastern Europe

By Inge Saenger, 7-time traveler from Potomac, Maryland

My husband Rudi and I share a travel philosophy: Discover everything the world has to offer. Wherever we go, we want to learn about the history, culture, and people of all the countries we visit. There is always something interesting to learn, no matter where in the world we go. Our Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise Tour was no exception.

Rudi and I enjoy a view of the Danube River in Vidin, Bulgaria.

Having grown up in Europe during and after WWII—often under very difficult circumstances—we thought we knew a lot about the area we visited. What made this trip so interesting to us were the details we learned in the Life Under Communism talk and the changes since the Iron Curtain fell.

Thanks to our excellent Program Director Edit Szugyi, we were given insight into the struggles under the times of war, occupation and communism, and also the issues of today. Edit was able to explain the most difficult and controversial topics objectively, with compassion, but never in a way that would have been offensive to anyone from any culture. He is very educated and insightful and can have an intelligent conversation about any topic. He was resourceful too! For example: I mentioned that I wished I had a copy of the Cyrillic alphabet so I could try to decipher some of the signs in Bulgaria. An hour later, Edit handed me a list of the alphabet!

Our optional Horse Show tour and visit to Kalosca was one of our favorite parts of the trip.

Grand Circle does a great job exposing travelers to all aspects of each country they visit with detailed itineraries and information in advance. But our favorite events are the spontaneous ones. Even though we assumed that the visit to the mosque in Vidin, Bulgaria, was planned, it was on a whim that the imam asked if we wanted to hear a call to prayer. Then he turned on his microphone and performed, just for us. Other musical highlights of the trip were a wonderful performance by children in a Croatian school, supported in part Grand Circle Foundation, and a performance by four cantors in a beautifully decorated Eastern Orthodox church in Bulgaria.

These talented cantors put on a show in Bulgaria.

One of the most interesting spots we visited was the Great Synagogue in Budapest on the optional Hungarian Jewish Heritage tour. Edit gave us a well-thought out overview and guided us through the difficult times that place experienced with compassion, while also remaining factual. Especially interesting was the memorial to the Holocaust victims in the courtyard of the synagogue, a gift from the famous actor Tony Curtis: a statue of weeping willows with the names of the victims engraved in each of the leaves. The symbolism of the trees combined with their physical beauty was most impressive.

The Emanuel Memorial Tree is a beautiful remembrance of a tragic time in history.

It was also fascinating to see how much construction was going on in the region. Almost all of the countries we visited on this trip now belong to the European Union, and received government support to help with rebuilding efforts. But they have to build within a limited amount of time, so you see them working on improving their special sites and infrastructure all over the place! Yet you could also see Old World traditions still thriving alongside this urban revival.

It was so interesting to see how traditional ways of life, like this market in Vukovar, Croatia, still thrive today.

We would suggest that anyone who goes on this trip adds Prague as an extension, as we did. Budapest and Prague were definitely the jewels of all the places we visited—with the Danube running between Buda and Pest, and the Moldau running through Prague.

There were so many wonderful Gothic and Baroque buildings to admire in Prague. I especially enjoyed viewing the 15th-century astronomical clock at the Old Town Hall.

Eastern Europe has experienced a multitude of influences from many cultures throughout thousands of years. Rudi and I believe that this trip would be of interest to anyone, from any culture, who wants to experience the many different faces of Eastern Europe to the Black Sea.

If you’d like to learn more about this trip from our travelers, check out this video featuring Grand Circle Cruise Line travelers like Inge describing—in their own words—what made their experiences in Eastern Europe to the Black Sea so memorable.