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Day by Day Itinerary

Our Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise Tour sails continuously from the Danube River to the Black Sea—which means less time on motorcoaches for our travelers and more time aboard Grand Circle Cruise Line's award-winning river ships. As you cruise, you’ll step ashore in five Eastern European nations—Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania—to visit both Old World villages and rejuvenated world capitals. Enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch in Croatia, witness nature’s amazing Iron Gates while cruising between Serbia and Romania, discover what life is really like here during discussions with the locals, and much more. Plus, you'll visit historic, seaside Constanta, Romania. And once you've immersed yourself in the region’s fascinating culture and history, you can explore it even further on our optional extensions to Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Transylvania, Romania; and Istanbul, Turkey.

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    Depart the U.S. on your flight to Budapest, Hungary.

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    Discover Budapest while cruising the Danube River

    Arrive today in Budapest. You are met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and assisted to your private Grand Circle river ship. Tonight, meet your fellow travelers for a Welcome Drink and an included dinner onboard.

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    After breakfast, join us for a briefing by your Program Director. Then set out to explore Budapest on an included city tour. Budapest is situated on both sides of the Danube River, with Buda (the right bank) to the west and Pest (the left bank) to the east.

    See St Stephen Basilica while touring Budapest

    In Pest, you'll see Heroes' Square, with its Millennial Column set off by equestrian statues of historic ninth-century Magyar leaders who conquered this region. The adjoining colonnade displays more statues of kings, dukes of Transylvania, and liberty fighters who influenced the history of Hungary.

    As your tour takes you over the Danube bridges into Buda, you can see how the imposing Parliament Building dominates Pest on the opposite side of the river. Then, turn your attention to beautiful and historic Buda. Here, you'll visit Castle Hill, where a massive castle complex with its protective ramparts has been designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Mostly destroyed during World War II, the Royal Palace has been lovingly restored, approximating its former splendor, and it now includes the Hungarian National Gallery.

    In your free time, you can also visit the Church of Our Lady, formerly used for the coronations of Hungarian kings. Its popular name of Matthias is in recognition of the Renaissance king who ruled in the 15th century and whose heraldic sign—a raven—is displayed on one of the towers of the church. Dating to the 13th century, the structure is an interesting mix of architectural styles used during reconstruction of the building at different times in its history. Note that during the 150-year Turkish occupation of Hungary, the church served as Eski Djami (Old Mosque) for the Turks. Inside the church, you can view art of Bertalan Szekely and Karoly Lotz, 19th-century Hungarian painters.

    After lunch onboard, you can relax on the ship or explore more of this grand city.

    Budapest offers some particularly fine museums and galleries. The Hungarian National Gallery contains excellent examples of Hungarian art from the Middle Ages on. The collection is comprehensive and somewhat massive, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy it. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Budapest History Museum are also worth a visit.

    When you return to the ship, your Program Director will describe the approaching port area and town prior to arrival so you can prepare for the next day's tour, and so you'll be able to make the best use of your free time at the next day's port-of-call. These are called "port talks," and take place every evening during your cruise.

    Tonight, join your ship's captain for a Welcome Dinner onboard.

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    Discover Fisherman's Bastion and other landmarks in Budapest

    Spend the day enjoying the wonders of Budapest on your own. Or, join an optional tour exploring Hungarian Jewish Heritage. You'll visit the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe, designed in a Moorish style but with Byzantine, Romantic, and Gothic elements. Then you'll see the Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue, the center of traditional orthodox Jewish life here; the Emanuel Memorial Tree, a memorial to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust; and the Jewish Museum.

    After lunch onboard, the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to make further discoveries on your own in Budapest.

    Enjoy dinner onboard tonight. Later this evening, your Danube River and Black Sea cruise begins. Enjoy a scenic cruise through the center of Budapest before departing for Batina.

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    See an organ concert at a cathedral in Kalocsa

    After passing through customs this morning and docking in Batina, you'll set out to explore Osijek, the administrative and economic center of eastern Croatia.

    Situated on the Drava River, about 15 miles from the mouth of the Danube, this area was populated even in prehistoric times, and the first urban settlement was erected by the Romans. But the area's advantageous geographical location made it prey to assault throughout the centuries. It was destroyed by the Huns, rebuilt in the Middle Ages, destroyed by the Turks, and rebuilt again in the 18th century. As a result, Osijek boasts an eclectic architectural heritage, which you'll see on your included city tour.

    Among the more notable sites are the Tvrdja, a unique urban and military complex that lies in the center of the city and was built between 1712 and 1721 by the new Austrian authorities; the neo-Gothic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, with a 290-foot spire; and the striking, 690-foot modern pedestrian bridge that rises over the Drava.

    Reliving its own cruel history in our era, Osijek was heavily damaged during the Croatian-Serbian war. Now peaceful, the city is experiencing a rebirth of civic pride and cultural and economic achievement.

    Following your walking tour, you will visit with students at a local school that's supported, in part, by Grand Circle Foundation. Please note: The school visit is not possible on weekends, or during the summer or national holidays, when school is not in session. Instead, Croatian teachers will join you for an onboard discussion.

    You'll enhance your appreciation for everyday Croatian life as you join a local family for lunch in their home, an exclusive Discovery Series event.

    Later this afternoon, transfer by motorcoach to Vukovar, where you'll meet your ship. Enjoy a short walk through the town and see some of its scars (Vukovar suffered the worst artillery shelling during the Croatian-Serbian war that waged from 1991 to 1995), as well as witness its revival.

    This evening, after dinner onboard, enjoy a Slavonian musical performance.

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    After breakfast this morning, enjoy an included tour of Novi Sad, Serbia's cultural hub and second-largest city. The beauty of the city is in its name—novi sad in English translates to "new garden." Nestled along a bend in the Danube river, Novi Sad is peppered with myriad historical and cultural monuments, verdant parks, bustling squares, a thriving pedestrian zone, and a history-rich fortress standing tall on the right bank of the river.

    After lunch onboard, the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to make further discoveries of Novi Sad on your own. Perhaps you'll choose to explore the Petrovaradin Fortress, built between 1692 and 1780 by the Austrians as a defense against invading Turks. Declared a historical monument 200 years later, this partially-restored fortress is now a museum. Delve deep into the monument's strange past, including a 12-mile network of underground tunnels, a mysterious well with supposed links to black magic, and an iconic clock tower where the size of the minute and hour hands are reversed.

    Or, join us on an optional excursion to Sremski Karlovci, a culture-rich town just 10 miles southeast of Novi Sad. Spend the afternoon exploring the town, including visits to a beekeeping museum and a 300-year-old wine cellar.

    Tonight, dinner is onboard.

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    Explore Kalemegdan Castle while touring Belgrade

    Take in the view along the banks of the Danube this morning as we cruise toward Belgrade, the capital of Serbia (and former capital of Yugoslavia), one of Europe's oldest cities, and the center of political and cultural life in the country. Belgrade and the rest of Serbia are just now emerging from many years of repressive rule, with a welcoming spirit for visitors.

    Enjoy a full morning in Belgrade, beginning with an included tour around this grand old city, which was built centuries ago along important east-west trade routes and used as a gateway to Western Europe from the Balkans. You'll see the Town Hall, St. Sava Orthodox Cathedral—the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world—and the Kalemegdan fortress. You also explore the Tito Memorial, erected to honor Josip Broz Tito, who held Yugoslavia together as an independent country in the turmoil that followed World War II and the subsequent Cold War. After your tour, enjoy lunch onboard. Please note: The Tito Memorial is closed on Mondays.

    After lunch, explore the city on your own—you'll have a shuttle bus to and from the city available for your use. Your Program Director will have suggestions for various local sights and activities for learning and discovery.

    This evening, join a local resident for an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about their lives in this dynamic country. Enjoy dinner onboard.

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    View the Iron Gates as MS River Aria glides down the Danube

    Today, you cruise along a stretch of the Danube that was once a raging river pounding through deep gorges. In the 1960s, Yugoslavia and Romania cooperated on a joint venture that raised the level of the Danube with a series of hydroelectric dams called the Iron Gates. The Danube is now placid through the Iron Gates, its spectacular two-mile-long gorge now underwater.

    Though the river is tamed, the views along the Danube at this point are exceptional. We cruise by fields and vineyards that are sculpted into the riverbank and where farmers pause to watch our passage and wave a greeting.

    Before lunch, join us for an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about Life Under Communism with your Program Director. You can then linger over lunch as we navigate the Danube. In mid-afternoon, join the chef in the galley (the ship's kitchen) for a special tour. This afternoon finds us passing through Iron Gate I and then Iron Gate II in the early evening.

    Join us in the lounge after dinner onboard for a special Crew Show.

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    Encounter friendly staff on the private river ship

    Early this morning, we pass through customs at Vidin, Bulgaria's main port on the Danube. Then travel to Baba Vida, a medieval fortress of two walls and four towers. Baba Vida was the city's main defense in the Middle Ages, and also the most important fortress of northwestern Bulgaria.

    After lunch onboard, we'll set sail for Ruse.

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    Explore historic Ruse on the Eastern Europe cruise

    Arrive in Ruse early this morning, which is situated where the Danube forms a natural border between Romania and Bulgaria.

    Enjoy time to explore this historic city on your own, or join our optional tour to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi, which includes lunch. First, you'll travel by motorcoach to Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of Bulgaria from 1186 until 1394. This cultural center rewards visitors with views of the fortification wall atop Zarevez Hill, the cobblestoned old city, ancient ruins, and a steep ravine plunging down from two towering promontories.

    Then continue on to Arbanassi, a historical village of Bulgarian heritage. Its 80 houses, five churches, and two monasteries reflect a unique, fortress-like architectural style of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the village flourished. Enjoy free time to make your own discoveries. Perhaps you'll visit the Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel, whose plain exterior conceals colorful frescoes depicting some 3,500 figures. While here, you'll savor typical Bulgarian fare at a local restaurant.

    Return to the ship for dinner onboard.

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    View the Black Sea while strolling Constanta's boardwalk

    Early this morning, sail into the Danube-Black Sea Canal, a 40-mile engineering marvel begun in 1949, but not fully completed until 1987. You'll pass through the canal's lock system and cruise by the inland port towns of Murfatlar and Medgidia.

    Following lunch, you'll call on Constanta, a Romanian port on the Black Sea that is the country's oldest continually inhabited city. Dating back over 2,500 years, Constanta boasts a wealth of fascinating architecture and history. Myth holds that Jason and the Argonauts stopped here after recovering the legendary Golden Fleece. On your included tour, you'll explore the beguiling old city, the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, the mosaic-paved Roman Edifice of Tomis, and other highlights of this beloved city.

    Tonight, celebrate your Eastern European odyssey at the Captain's Farewell Dinner.

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    See the Romanian Athenaeum while touring Bucharest

    We disembark shortly after breakfast for motorcoach transfer to Bucharest, Romania. We will arrive in about four hours.

    Upon arriving in Bucharest, you’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and then explore the city by motorcoach. This is an old city that has served as the capital of Wallachia, and later Romania, since 1659. Today, it is noted for its broad, tree-lined boulevards, well-kept parks, and mix of architectural styles that combine Neo-Classical 19th-century structures with monumental 20th-century edifices (the latter built for the most part to satisfy the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu). You'll view the Arc de Triomphe commemorating the exploits of World War I soldiers and drive along Victory Avenue to Revolution Square, where recent events in history are inscribed. You have some time in the late afternoon to relax. Please note: If you have chosen the optional post-trip extension to Transylvania, you will break off from the main group in Bucharest after lunch and continue by motorcoach to the Transylvanian mountain resort of Sinaia—about a 3.5-hour trip. Then, after your three-night extension in Sinaia, you will enjoy the last day of your main itinerary in Bucharest.

    Tonight, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

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    • Meals included:

    Transfer to the airport for your flight home, or begin your optional post-trip extension to Istanbul, Turkey.

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    Fly from the U.S. to Bucharest, Romania. 

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    See the Palace of Parliament while touring Bucharest

    Arrive today in Bucharest. You are met at the airport by a Grand Circle representative and transferred to your hotel. Depending on your arrival time and hotel check-in policy, you may not be able to check into your hotel room immediately upon arrival at your hotel. Your Program Director will advise you of your check-in status and activity schedule for the day when you arrive. If you started your explorations early with our optional pre-trip extension to Istanbul, Turkey, you will join your main group today.

    You have the balance of the day to relax after your overseas flight.

    Celebrate your arrival in Romania with a Welcome Drink, and get acquainted with your traveling companions and your Program Director. This evening, enjoy dinner at your hotel.

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    This morning, you’ll get acquainted with the city by motorcoach. This is an old city that has served as the capital of Wallachia and later Romania since 1659. Today, it is noted for its broad, tree-lined boulevards, well-kept parks, and mix of architectural styles that combine Neo-Classical 19th-century structures with monumental 20th-century edifices (the latter built for the most part to satisfy the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu). You’ll view the Arc de Triomphe (commemorating the achievements of World War I soldiers) and drive along Victory Avenue to Revolution Square, where recent events in history are inscribed.

    See the Romanian Athenaeum while touring Bucharest

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, travel by motorcoach to Constanta, where we board our ship to begin the Black Sea cruise portion of your journey. If you started your explorations early with our optional pre-trip extension to Transylvania, you will join your main group today.

    This evening, enjoy a Welcome Drink and meet your ship’s crew. You'll also attend a ship and safety briefing on your upcoming journey and the ship itself. As you cruise, you’ll receive “port talks,” during which your Program Director will describe the approaching port area and town prior to arrival so you can prepare for the next day’s tour and make the best use of your free time at the next day’s port-of-call.

    Tonight, we enjoy dinner onboard.

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    Encounter friendly and helpful staff aboard the private river ship

    This morning, you'll call on Constanta, a Romanian port on the Black Sea that is the country's oldest continually inhabited city. Dating back more than 2,500 years, Constanta boasts a wealth of fascinating architecture and history. Myth holds that Jason and the Argonauts stopped here after recovering the legendary Golden Fleece. On your included tour, you'll explore the beguiling old city, the Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, the mosaic-paved Roman Edifice of Tomis, and other highlights of this beloved city.

    Following lunch, your Danube and Black Sea River Cruise begins by sailing into the Danube-Black Sea Canal, a 40-mile engineering marvel begun in 1949, but not fully completed until 1987. You'll pass through the canal's lock system and cruise by the inland port towns of Murfatlar and Medgidia.

    Tonight, celebrate the start of your Eastern European odyssey at the Captain's Welcome Dinner.

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    Explore historic Ruse on the Eastern Europe cruise

    Arrive in Ruse early this morning, which is situated where the Danube forms a natural border between Romania and Bulgaria.

    Enjoy time to explore this historic city on your own, or join our optional tour to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi, which includes lunch. First, you'll travel by motorcoach to Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of Bulgaria from 1186 until 1394. This cultural center rewards visitors with views of the fortification wall atop Zarevez Hill, the cobblestoned old city, ancient ruins, and a steep ravine plunging down from two towering promontories.

    Then continue on to Arbanassi, a historical village of Bulgarian heritage. Its 80 houses, five churches, and two monasteries reflect a unique, fortress-like architectural style of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the village flourished. Enjoy free time to make your own discoveries. Perhaps you'll visit the Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel, whose plain exterior conceals colorful frescoes depicting some 3,500 figures. While here, you'll savor typical Bulgarian fare at a local restaurant.

    Return to the ship for dinner onboard.

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    Encounter friendly staff on the private river ship

    This morning, enjoy panoramic views of Bulgaria en route to Vidin.

    After lunch, you'll arrive in Vidin, Bulgaria's main port on the Danube. Here we'll enjoy an included walking tour and a visit to Baba Vida, a medieval fortress of two walls and four towers. Baba Vida was the city's main defense in the Middle Ages and also the most important fortress of northwestern Bulgaria.

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    You have a day of leisurely cruising, and a good opportunity to observe life along the banks of the Danube from your comfortable deck chair as your Program Director provides insights about the region. After breakfast, enjoy a bridge commentary about the Danube River.

    View a monastery in the Iron Gates region along the Danube River

    Later in the morning, join us in a Discovery Series discussion on Life Under Communism with your Program Director. Then, after lunch onboard, join the chef in the galley (the ship’s kitchen) for a special tour.

    This evening, join us in the lounge after dinner for a special Crew Show.

    You will cruise along a stretch of the Danube that was once a raging river pounding through deep gorges. In the 1960s, Yugoslavia and Romania cooperated on a joint venture that raised the level of the Danube with a series of hydroelectric dams called the Iron Gates. The Danube is now placid through the Iron Gates, its spectacular two-mile-long gorge now underwater. In the morning we pass through Iron Gate II, and then through Iron Gate I early in the afternoon.

  • hidden

    Explore Kalemegdan Castle while touring Belgrade

    Take in the view along the banks of the Danube this morning as we cruise toward Belgrade, the capital of Serbia (and former capital of Yugoslavia), one of Europe's oldest cities, and the center of political and cultural life in the country. Belgrade and the rest of Serbia are just now emerging from many years of repressive rule, with a welcoming spirit for visitors.

    Enjoy a full morning in Belgrade, beginning with an included tour around this grand old city, which was built centuries ago along important east-west trade routes and used as a gateway to Western Europe from the Balkans. You'll see the Town Hall, St. Sava Orthodox Cathedral—the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world—and the Kalemegdan fortress. You also explore the Tito Memorial, erected to honor Josip Broz Tito, who held Yugoslavia together as an independent country in the turmoil that followed World War II and the subsequent Cold War. After your tour, enjoy lunch onboard. Please note: The Tito Memorial is closed on Mondays.

    After lunch, explore the city on your own—you'll have a shuttle bus to and from the city available for your use. Your Program Director will have suggestions for various local sights and activities for learning and discovery.

    This evening, join a local resident for an exclusive Discovery Series discussion about their lives in this dynamic country. Enjoy tonight's dinner onboard.

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    Discover local culture at a Home Hosted Lunch in Osijek

    After breakfast this morning, enjoy an included tour of Novi Sad, Serbia's cultural hub and second-largest city. The beauty of the city is in its name—novi sad in English translates to "new garden." Nestled along a bend in the Danube river, Novi Sad is peppered with myriad historical and cultural monuments, verdant parks, bustling squares, a thriving pedestrian zone, and a history-rich fortress standing tall on the right bank of the river.

    After lunch onboard, the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to make further discoveries of Novi Sad on your own. Perhaps you'll choose to explore the Petrovaradin Fortress, built between 1692 and 1780 by the Austrians as a defense against invading Turks. Declared a historical monument 200 years later, this partially-restored fortress is now a museum. Delve deep into the monument's strange past, including a 12-mile network of underground tunnels, a mysterious well with supposed links to black magic, and an iconic clock tower where the size of the minute and hour hands are reversed.

    Or, join us on an optional excursion to Sremski Karlovci, a culture-rich town just 10 miles southeast of Novi Sad. Spend the afternoon exploring the town, including visits to a beekeeping museum and a 300-year-old wine cellar.

    This evening, after dinner onboard, enjoy a Slavonian musical performance.

  • hidden

    See an organ concert at a cathedral in Kalocsa

    After docking this morning and passing through customs in Vukovar—site of the worst artillery shelling of the Croatian-Serbian war—you'll take a short walk through the town and see some of its scars, as well as witness its revival. Then you'll set out to explore Osijek, the administrative and economic center of eastern Croatia.

    Situated on the Drava River, about 15 miles from the mouth of the Danube, the area the city occupies was populated even in prehistoric times, and the Romans erected the first urban settlement. But the area's advantageous geographical location made it prey to assault throughout the centuries. It was destroyed by the Huns, rebuilt in the Middle Ages, destroyed by the Turks, and rebuilt again in the 18th century. As a result, Osijek boasts an eclectic architectural heritage, which you'll see on your city tour.

    Among the more notable sites are the Tvrdja, a unique urban and military complex that lies in the center of the city and was built between 1712 and 1721 by the new Austrian authorities; a neo-Gothic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, with a 290-foot spire; and a striking, 690-foot modern pedestrian bridge that rises over the Drava.

    Reliving its own cruel history in our era, Osijek was heavily damaged during the Croatian-Serbian war that waged from 1991 to 1995. Now peaceful, the city is experiencing a rebirth of civic pride and cultural and economic achievement.

    Following your walking tour, you will visit with students at a local school that's supported, in part, by Grand Circle Foundation. Please note: The school visit is not available on weekends, or during the summer or national holidays, when school is not in session. Instead, Croatian teaches will join you for an onboard discussion.

    You'll enhance your appreciation for everyday Croatian life as you join a local family for a Home-Hosted Lunch, an exclusive Discovery Series event.

    Later this afternoon, transfer by motorcoach to Batina, where you'll meet your ship. Dinner is onboard this evening.

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    After breakfast, you’ll set out to explore Budapest on an included city tour. Budapest is situated on both sides of the Danube River, with Buda (the right bank) to the west and Pest (the left bank) to the east.

    In Pest, you’ll see Heroes’ Square, with its Millennial Column set off by equestrian statues of historic ninth-century Magyar leaders who conquered this region. The adjoining colonnade displays more statues of kings, dukes of Transylvania, and liberty fighters who influenced the history of Hungary.

    See St Stephen Basilica while touring Budapest

    As your tour takes you over the Danube bridges into Buda, you can see how the imposing Parliament Building dominates Pest on the opposite side of the river. Then, turn your attention to beautiful and historic Buda. Here, you’ll visit Castle Hill, where a massive castle complex with its protective ramparts has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mostly destroyed during World War II, the Royal Palace has been lovingly restored, approximating its former splendor, and it now includes the Hungarian National Gallery.

    In your free time, you can also visit the Church of Our Lady, formerly used for the coronations of Hungarian kings. Its popular name of Matthias is in recognition of the Renaissance king who ruled in the 15th century and whose heraldic sign—a raven—is displayed on one of the towers of the church. Dating to the 13th century, the structure is an interesting mix of architectural styles used during reconstruction of the building at different times in its history. Note that during the 150-year Turkish occupation of Hungary, the church served as Eski Djami (Old Mosque) for the Turks. Inside the church you can view art of Bertalan Szekely and Karoly Lotz, 19th-century Hungarian painters.

    After lunch onboard, you can relax or explore more of this grand city.

    Budapest offers some particularly fine museums and galleries. The Hungarian National Gallery contains excellent examples of Hungarian art from the Middle Ages on. The collection is comprehensive and somewhat massive, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy it. Parliament, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Budapest History Museum are also worth a visit.

    This afternoon, continue your discoveries in Budapest on your own.

    Tonight, dinner is onboard.

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    Discover Budapest while cruising the Danube River

    Spend the day enjoying the wonders of Budapest on your own. Or, join an optional tour exploring Hungarian Jewish Heritage. You'll visit the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe, designed in a Moorish style but with Byzantine, Romantic, and Gothic elements. Then you'll see the Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue, the center of traditional orthodox Jewish life here; the Emanuel Memorial Tree, a memorial to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust; and the Jewish Museum.

    After lunch onboard, the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to make further discoveries on your own in Budapest.

    This evening marks the last night of your Danube River and Black Sea cruise.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, disembark and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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Questions and Answers

Want to know more about one of our vacations? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 13 days, with 10 nights aboard a private Grand Circle river ship, and a single 1-night hotel stay
  • Return flights to U.S. often require departing from ship or hotel in early morning

Physical requirements

  • You must be able to walk 1-3 miles unassisted and participate in 2-3 hours of physical activities
  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 58-82°F during cruising season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • March and November weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time

Terrain

  • Travel over diverse terrain and uneven walking surfaces, including steep paths, hills, riverbanks, 25-50 stairs without handrails, and cobblestones, which can be slippery in wet or colder conditions

Transportation

  • Travel by 49-seat coach and 140- to 164-passenger river ship

River Cruising

  • Throughout the River Cruise season, weather conditions and tides affect European river depths; water levels may require adjustments to your itinerary

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on local and international cuisine
  • Meals onboard feature a variety of entrée options, including vegetarian

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • U.S. citizens do not need a visa for the main trip.
  • Turkey (optional extension): Visa required
  • Austria (optional extension): No visa required.
  • Czech Republic (optional extension): No visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Private Grand Circle River Ship

    All of our Rhine, Main & Danube river ships made Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    Custom-built for Grand Circle with our travelers’ needs in mind, your private river ship has a passenger capacity of 140-164, with all outside cabins. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available in select common areas, but connectivity is limited in certain locations. Your cabin features a flat-screen TV, direct-dial telephone, individual heating and air-conditioning controls, twin beds that convert to sofas, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • M/S River Adagio

    The M/S River Adagio was ranked #26 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll.

    One of the largest ships in Grand Circle's own deluxe fleet, the M/S River Adagio was built specifically for cruising the widest part of the Danube and the deeper waters leading to the Black Sea. Enjoy personalized attention from the ship staff, and up to four experienced Grand Circle Program Directors. And with no more than 164 fellow Grand Circle travelers aboard with you, you'll find it easy to make friends and share your experiences.

  • M/S River Aria

    The M/S River Aria was ranked #35 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    Launched in 2001, the M/S River Aria has a capacity of 164 passengers in 82 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, and Sun Deck. Your ship has an international crew of 38 and up to four English-speaking Program Directors.

  • M/S River Concerto

    The M/S River Concerto was ranked #14 in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 40 River Cruise Ships in the World” 2014 Readers’ Poll

    The M/S River Concerto was launched in 2000. This ship has a capacity of 140 passengers in 70 cabins, all with outside views. Ship amenities include an elevator, restaurant, bar and lounge, library, Sun Deck, fitness center, and sauna. Your ship has an international crew of 34 and three English-speaking Program Directors.

SEE THE ENTIRE GRAND CIRCLE FLEET

Main Trip

  • Ramada Plaza Bucharest

    Bucharest, Romania | Rating: First Class

    Located just north of the city center, this First-Class hotel’s amenities include a restaurant, bar, and sauna. Air-conditioned rooms feature a telephone, satellite TV, safe, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

Extensions

  • Dorint Hotel Don Giovanni

    Prague, Czech Republic | Rating: First Class

    This First-Class hotel is just an eight-minute subway ride from the city center. Enjoy the on-site restaurants, bar, and health club. Your air-conditioned room has a telephone, radio, cable TV, minibar, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Ramada Encore Vienna City Center

    Vienna, Austria

    Set in the heart of the Austrian capital, the Ramada Encore Vienna is just steps from the Midlinger Haupstrasse, a popular shopping and dining street. And with easy access to two subway stations, the hotel is an ideal home base for exploring Vienna. Each of its 122 guest rooms features air-conditioning, TV, high-speed Internet access, safe, and private bath with shower.

  • New Montana Hotel

    Sinaia, Romania | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    Enjoy modern comfort and attractive mountain architecture at the centrally located, Superior Tourist-Class New Montana Hotel. Amenities include a restaurant, bar, indoor pool, game room, hair salon, and currency exchange. Your room features a balcony/terrace, cable/satellite TV, telephone, minibar, and private bath with shower.

  • Ramada Plaza Bucharest

    Bucharest, Romania | Rating: First Class

    Located just north of the city center, this First-Class hotel’s amenities include a restaurant, bar, and sauna. Air-conditioned rooms feature a telephone, satellite TV, safe, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Wyndham Istanbul Old City Hotel

    Istanbul, Turkey

    Located in Istanbul's historic city center, the Wyndham Istanbul Old City Hotel is close to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul University, and public transportation. Amenities include a health club, three restaurants, and an indoor pool. Air-conditioned rooms feature cable/satellite TV, telephone, Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2295
w/ standard air $3395
Approximate travel times

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Eastern Europe to the Black Sea vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

   

Her ship awaits ... Docked in Budapest, Hungary, the M/S River Aria welcomes 7-time traveler Maria Bruce, from San Diego, California.

Thumbnail 1 Thumbnail 2 Thumbnail 3 Thumbnail 4 Thumbnail 5

How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your Grand Circle vacation, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Partner since: 2005
Total donated: $357,315

Supporting a World Classroom: Croatia

By funding improvements at local schools, the Foundation's World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society's most precious resources: its children. As you travel through Eastern Europe, you'll visit Dobrisa Cesaric Elementary School, where our donations have helped introduce these students to new technology that facilitates global interaction and learning.

"It was truly a moving experience. The interactions with the students and their optimism about the future contrasted with a sense of hopelessness that was felt by other generations. It was a realistic emphasis on the youth and change for the better in the future."

Denise & Russell Schaller
Corrales, New Mexico

"The visit to this school was the best GCT experience I have ever had (I have been to several schools) … After driving there through a city that still has many bombed out buildings and ruins from the latest war, hearing the kids sing "It’s a Wonderful World" brought tears to our eyes …"

Christina & Robert Miller
Riverside, California

Dobrisa Cesaric Elementary School

Partner since: 2005 • Total donated: $53,000

Amidst the still-visible scars of the Croatian-Serbian War that raged from 1991 to 1995, the Dobrisa Cesaric Elementary School stands as a beacon of hope. Here, students simultaneously study their region's rich local traditions and the multifaceted global society that this young nation is just beginning to enter into.

Donations from Grand Circle Foundation have enriched both the school's facilities and their curriculum, ensuring a comfortable and stimulating learning environment for its pupils. Among the efforts funded by Grand Circle Foundation are the construction of a new library, installation of bicycle racks and benches for the school park, and the addition of air-conditioning and new lockers for the students. Further donations have gone to purchasing a digital camera for the school's journalism club, a new laptop computer, an LCD projector, and technology for Internet access.

School in session:

Late January to early December, with summer break lasting from June 15 to September 15

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Drawing paper
  • Pens and pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Books in English for early readers
  • World maps
  • Souvenirs from home (postcards, etc.)
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

Brotherhood, Unity & Turmoil

Marshal Tito and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia

by Tatjana Bojovic, Program Director, Serbia

While Yugoslavia was a communist country, Tito refused to let Stalin dictate its policies, leading to a bitter rift ...

When Yugoslavian leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, his was the largest state funeral in history, attended by dignitaries from 128 countries. This tribute was impressive, considering Tito was a communist leader during the Cold War. Tito’s independence from Russian communism and “benevolent dictatorship” over Yugoslavia made him popular during his 35-year rule, but wars and ethnic strife following his death have tarnished his legacy.

Born Josip Broz in 1892 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tito fought against Russia during World War I. He went on to participate in Russia’s 1917 October Revolution and later joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). When the CPY was outlawed in Yugoslavia, he assumed the surname “Tito” to avoid notice.

Tito rose to power during World War II. After the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Yugoslavian monarchy fled the country. Tito’s communists organized the Partisans, a resistance group who fought fiercely against occupation. Post-war, Tito became Prime Minister and worked to rebuild the country and unite its six republics (Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia). The war had stirred up ethnic tensions between republics, which Tito suppressed—through sometimes brutal means—under the Yugoslavian national slogan of “brotherhood and unity.”

While Yugoslavia was a communist country, Tito refused to let Stalin dictate its policies, leading to a bitter rift between the former allies. Stalin sent assassins to Yugoslavia, leading Tito to write in a letter in 1948, “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle [...] If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.”

Throughout his life, Tito pursued a policy of “nonalignment,” maintaining diplomatic relations with Western countries and opening Yugoslavia’s borders to international travel by both visitors and citizens. These measures helped to give the country a favorable international image. The Non-Aligned Movement, a formal organization based largely on Tito’s principals, exists to this day and has 120 member nations from around the world.

The ethnic and nationalist tensions Tito had held back for half a century exploded a decade after his death, leading to the Yugoslav wars that killed 125,000 people in the 1990s. Many in the former Yugoslavia blame Tito’s repressive and autocratic regime for covering lingering ethnic hatred with a veneer of communist ideals. Today, Yugoslavia is gone and its former republics face uncertain futures as independent countries, leaving Marshal Tito’s dream of “brotherhood and unity” a relic of the past.

History, Food & More

Learn more about the history, art, culture, and cuisine you’ll discover on this trip by reading the features below. These articles were collected from past newsletters, Harriet’s Corner, and special features created for Grand Circle by our team of writers.

Brotherhood, Unity & Turmoil

Learn more about communist leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito and the rise and fall Yugoslavia.

Read More »

Getting It Right in Bucharest

See how the city still has its own personality after absorbing centuries of influences from many different nations.

Read More »

The Romani People

Demystify Europe’s largest minority and find out how the Romani lived at society’s edge for centuries.

Read More »

History, Food & More

Brotherhood, Unity & Turmoil

Marshal Tito and the rise and fall of Yugoslavia

by Tatjana Bojovic, Program Director, Serbia

When Yugoslavian leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, his was the largest state funeral in history, attended by dignitaries from 128 countries. This tribute was impressive, considering Tito was a communist leader during the Cold War. Tito’s independence from Russian communism and “benevolent dictatorship” over Yugoslavia made him popular during his 35-year rule, but wars and ethnic strife following his death have tarnished his legacy.

Born Josip Broz in 1892 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tito fought against Russia during World War I. He went on to participate in Russia’s 1917 October Revolution and later joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). When the CPY was outlawed in Yugoslavia, he assumed the surname “Tito” to avoid notice.

Tito rose to power during World War II. After the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, the Yugoslavian monarchy fled the country. Tito’s communists organized the Partisans, a resistance group who fought fiercely against occupation. Post-war, Tito became Prime Minister and worked to rebuild the country and unite its six republics (Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia). The war had stirred up ethnic tensions between republics, which Tito suppressed—through sometimes brutal means—under the Yugoslavian national slogan of “brotherhood and unity.”

While Yugoslavia was a communist country, Tito refused to let Stalin dictate its policies, leading to a bitter rift between the former allies. Stalin sent assassins to Yugoslavia, leading Tito to write in a letter in 1948, “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle [...] If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.”

Throughout his life, Tito pursued a policy of “nonalignment,” maintaining diplomatic relations with Western countries and opening Yugoslavia’s borders to international travel by both visitors and citizens. These measures helped to give the country a favorable international image. The Non-Aligned Movement, a formal organization based largely on Tito’s principals, exists to this day and has 120 member nations from around the world.

The ethnic and nationalist tensions Tito had held back for half a century exploded a decade after his death, leading to the Yugoslav wars that killed 125,000 people in the 1990s. Many in the former Yugoslavia blame Tito’s repressive and autocratic regime for covering lingering ethnic hatred with a veneer of communist ideals. Today, Yugoslavia is gone and its former republics face uncertain futures as independent countries, leaving Marshal Tito’s dream of “brotherhood and unity” a relic of the past.

History, Food & More

Getting It Right in Bucharest

by A.C. Doyle

The second largest building in the world commands a hilltop overlooking the center of Bucharest. Known as “The Monster” to locals, it was built out of ideological hubris by longtime dictator Nicolai Ceausescu. He never lived to witness its completion, though he nearly bankrupted the national treasury and worked countless slave laborers to death over the twenty years of its construction. In mid-December of 1989, during one of his regular speeches from the balcony of his former headquarters, the crowd, who had been emptied from factories and bussed to the square against their will, began a revolt that spread throughout the country. Soon the military joined in, eventually executing the dictator and his wife on Christmas Day in front of a worldwide television audience.

Ceausescu had prepared a new and grander balcony on The Monster, from which he had hoped to hector his cowed proletariat for years to come. Instead, for the dedication of the new building, someone else appeared on the balcony. The not-yet-disgraced King of Pop, Michael Jackson, strode out and waved to the hundreds of thousands gathered outside, then announced: “Helloooooo, BUDAPEST!”

Stunned silence followed. Such was Bucharest’s fate. After decades under Europe’s most draconian socialist government, and prevailing through the only revolution of the former Eastern bloc that was not “velvet,” they were greeted by the biggest star in the West conflating their name with ... that OTHER capital.

By any other name …

Bucharest (Romanians pronounce it BYOO-kah-rist, rhyming with the communion wafer) is a city of such improbable contrasts, you couldn’t blame it for having an identity crisis. But this is not the case. The city has absorbed centuries of Ottoman, Saxon, Austrian, French, Roma, and Russian influences, but still has its own determined personality. If there are incongruities, the locals take them in stride. Indeed, a sense of the absurd is a Bucharest hallmark. The Surrealist movement found some of its most influential artists here, such as playwright Eugene Ionescu.

While Ceausescu managed to uproot much of the old town and replace it with social-realist architecture of the drabbest sort, a great deal of the old charm has been preserved. Bucharest was once known as “Little Paris,” and the blueprint for its 19th-century redesign was indeed created by Baron Haussmann, who gave Paris its famous, tree-lined boulevards and wide vistas.

Many of the architects who laid out Bucharest’s downtown were French, or Romanians who had studied at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts. They adorned the city with wide avenues, gracious mansions, and public buildings designed in the Belle Epoque style. There are absolutely beautiful parks, heroic statues overlooking classically laid out public squares, and even an arc de triomphe of their own on the Soseaua Kiseleff. In warmer weather, don’t miss Cismigiu Parcul, the central park of Bucharest, whose charming lanes and islands lure joggers in the morning, strollers in the afternoon, revelers in the evening, and lovers at night. There are many bars and restaurants on both the shorelines and the islands, accessible by various private and public boats.

The medieval section of town is called Lipscani. While it is a bit neglected, and could benefit from the sort of facelift Prague and Vilnius have enjoyed, it is dustily evocative. The fine university dominates one side of it, and both day and night its cafes and bars are buzzing with young Romanians. The old town is dimly lit at night, but dreamily so, and an hour or so on foot will allow you to cover most of its charming streets, some of which are cobbled in wood. You can also see the real castle of Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian prince whom we have come to know as Dracula (the one promoted by the Romanian government as Dracula’s Castle lies a few hours north, in the Transylvanian city of Bran, where Vlad had been imprisoned for a while.)

The heart of Bucharest is fairly compact, and most sites can be seen in the course of a day or two. There are a number of fine orthodox churches—a heartening sight when you consider that Ceausescu destroyed at least 26 churches and 7,000 homes to build his “Palace of the People” alone. So don’t be perplexed to find a delicate chapel, sitting forlornly on concrete rollers in the middle of a grim block of modern workers’ flats. It was likely ripped from its 400-year old foundations to make room for some bureaucratic behemoth.

Speaking of behemoths, “The Monster” itself is actually attractive, in an odd Art-Deco-Meets-Renaissance-Revival way, particularly at a distance, as you gaze up at it through rows of lovely gardens representing every county in Romania. You can see it from a great distance, by the way: at 3.76 million square feet, The Monster is second only to the Pentagon in size. Among its oddities: a lobby that spans 300 feet … a three-ton crystal chandelier with 7,000 bulbs … a hall with a sliding ceiling large enough to let a helicopter in. It is a veritable museum of the absurd.

The gypsy beat

Periodically you will pass Roma (gypsy) settlements, both in Bucharest itself as well as on the roads leaving town toward the provinces, where copper-complexioned men work at stone-cutting and metalwork, and lushly beautiful women tend the crops, their colorful scarves and sashes billowing in the breeze. There are anywhere from half a million to a million gypsies in Romania, and still several thousand who are true nomads, traveling in their covered wagon “duplexes.” The Roma people arrived in Romania during the 13th and 14th centuries, and many were slaves up until their emancipation in 1850. Roma people have been persecuted through the ages, here as elsewhere. But today, they run one of Romania’s largest unions and have a seat in Parliament. Of their 21 castes, an increasing number tend to avail themselves of the national education and healthcare systems, and often complete higher education. Many members of the national symphony are gypsies, and of course their own native music is an aural wonderment of devilishly quick reels and dizzying chromatic scale inflections, dating back to the fifth century BC, but incorporating many modern elements as well.

Beyond Bucharest

From Bucharest there are stunning roads winding up into the Carpathians, where the castles and monasteries and Renaissance towns of Transylvania all beckon, not to mention the Carpathians themselves, the most rugged mountains in Europe. Sinaia, Brasov, and Sighisoara are not to be missed. Bucharest is also quite near the sunny resorts of the Black Sea, including Constanta, its largest port and the eastern terminus of Grand Circle’s river cruise of the Danube.

When you come, don’t repeat Michael Jackson’s gaffe. Get it right: say “Helloooooo” BUCHAREST, grab a 90-cent glass of wine, and toast the lovely people and places abounding in this rare unpolished gem.

What’s in a name? Remember, the root word of Bucharest, bucur, means “joy.”

History, Food & More

The Romani People: Demystifying Europe’s largest minority

by S.M. Nichols from Currents

Movie goddess Rita Hayworth descended from a Spanish Romani family whose patriarch introduced the bolero to the world. British actor Michael Caine counts South London Romani horse traders in his family tree. A secret letter that surfaced after Charlie Chaplin’s death claimed his mother gave birth to him in a “Gypsy caravan.”

“Diamond Jim” Brady, famed as much for his outsized appetites as for his fabled fortune, is reputed to be of Romani ancestry. Even President Bill Clinton’s roots have been traced to Charles Blythe, who was crowned “King of the Scottish Gypsies” in 1847, according to Romani scholar Ian Hancock (whose heritage is also Romani).

With a worldwide population conservatively estimated at twelve million, it seems the Romani (pronounced as rom-uh-nee)—popularly, though inaccurately, called Gypsies—would be well represented in all walks of life. However, their marginalization throughout history dictated against conventional mainstream success. For centuries, they lived at society’s edge: by dictum, by discrimination, and by their desire to preserve their cultural integrity.

So, who are the Romani?

A history on the move

Using linguistic and cultural clues and, finally, genetic markers, investigators now agree the Romani (also known as Roma) can track their origins to northern India. A mass exodus from the region occurred around AD 1000 at the time of the Muslim invasion of the Hindu Rajput kingdoms. These displaced Indians moved west and spent about 250 years within the bounds of the Byzantine Empire.

By the 1300s, though, they had arrived in the Balkans along with the Ottomans, perhaps as soldiers or servants of the Army. It may have been at this juncture that they first identified themselves as Romiti, past residents of the Sultanate of Rum. Disturbingly, within 100 years, the Romani became slaves in the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (today, Romania) and did not regain their freedom until 1856.

Not all Romani, though, had settled in these principalities. Many had moved on to other parts of Europe. Perhaps, because of their dark skin, foreign language, dissimilar clothing, and uncertain origin, they were sometimes met with suspicion and fear. In addition, the Romani’s adherence to strict rules of ritual cleanliness, not practiced by gadže (pronounced gah-jeh) or non-Romani people, kept them at a distance and may have contributed to their “outsider” status.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, laws began to appear that constrained the Romani’s movements or outright banished them. Expulsions were ordered in parts of Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, England and Denmark. Spain, England, and Portugal deported Romani to the countries’ respective colonies. In the 18th century, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI ordered them killed throughout his domain. At other times, less “extreme” measures prevailed, such as forced labor, branding, child abduction, banning of the Romani language, and the outlawing of Romani marriages.

During World War II on the grounds of racial purity, the Nazis rounded up the Romani, shipped them to ghettos, and exterminated them in concentration camps. Between 200,000 and 800,000—more by some estimates—lost their lives in the Baro Porrajmos or “great devouring.”

In their bid for survival, the Romani have kept on the move.

A scattered people

Circumstances, not choice, led to the Romani’s nomadic lifestyle. Harassed and discriminated against, they traveled in kumpania, or small family groups, camping on the outskirts of towns and villages and fleeing when rousted by local authorities.

Through the centuries, the Romani split off and became identified by regions or countries. In Central and Eastern Europe, the Romani call themselves Roma; in England, Romanichal; in Germany, Sinti; in France, Manouche; in Scandinavia, Romanisæl; and in Spain, Wales, and Finland Caló or Kale.

Today, about 1.8 million Romani live in Romania, constituting approximately eight percent of the country’s population. Slovakia has the highest concentration of Romani, accounting for 9.75 percent of the population, according to Migration Information Source. Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, and Spain have between 200,000 and 800,000 Romani residents each. The Romani make up Europe’s largest ethnic minority, totaling about ten million.

In the 19th century, Romani also migrated to North and South America in sizable numbers. In the U.S., the Englishspeaking Romanichal came first, followed by Eastern European Roma, many newly liberated from slavery. Today, the U.S. Romani population is estimated at one million. Brazil also welcomed an influx of Roma, and about 600,000 Romani now live there. Argentina is home to more than 300,000, with another 100,000 in Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Uruguay combined.

Romani can be found in Russia, Canada, and Australia as well as various Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Officially, Turkey reports about half a million Romani, although some place the figure at twice that. Estimates of local Romani populations are often unreliable. Many Romani do not declare their ethnicity on official documents, and some countries do not collect ethnic data. Despite the distances between them, the Romani have never lost their identity.

A proud shared identity

They may speak a mix of Romani and the local language. They may practice the majority religion. They may live in longstanding settled communities. But no matter where the Romani find themselves in the world—generation after generation—they uphold Romanipen.

Romanipen embodies the laws, behaviors, practices, and spirit of what it means to be a Romani. A complex cultural concept reflecting the Romani’s Indian roots, it is grounded in maintaining karmic spiritual balance. For the Romani, all of life and the world exist in one of two conditions at all times: “pure (wuzho)” or “polluted (marime).” Breaking a cultural taboo defiles a person, and his “cleanliness” must be restored. Otherwise, he risks bad luck or ill health.

For some Romani groups, strict rules govern every aspect of everyday life. Men’s and women’s clothes must be washed separately. A person must shower rather than take a bath to prevent contamination from water touching the lower body. Petting dogs is prohibited because of their habit of licking themselves. Depending on the violation’s seriousness, a Kris (tribunal of elders) may convene to determine guilt or innocence and mete out punishment, usually a period of isolation.

Because gadže do not observe these purity laws, the Romani consider them “unclean.” As a result, they may limit contact with them, further widening the gap between the two cultures. However, gadže who adopt Romani customs—as many have in the case of intermarriage—become pure and are embraced by the community.

Gadže who do marry a Romani immediately find themselves plunged into one of the most joyous traditions of Romanipen—the three-day wedding celebration. Though wedding rituals vary from group to group and often incorporate local religious ceremonies and contemporary mores, many customs abide in some form—even if only symbolic.

Typically, on the first of the three days, the bride’s female friends and relatives prepare her for the wedding by helping her bathe and braid her hair. On the second day, the groom and his family present gifts to the bride and her family, and the families dine together to affirm the marriage. On the third day, the groom’s family escorts the bride to the high-spirited abiav, or wedding feast, where guests fill a hollowed out loaf of bread with money for the couple. At the celebration’s end, the bride’s mother unbraids her hair, and her mother-in-law helps her knot her diklo (head scarf), which she will wear from then on to signify she is a married woman.

Abiav, diklo, gadže, kumpania—the essence of Romanipen also lives in the enduring Romani language.

A deeply rooted language

The mystery of the origins of the Romani first became unraveled through their language. An 18th-century Hungarian scholar and landowner, Stefan Valyi, recognized similarities between the Romani spoken by his Gypsy laborers and Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language of Vedic literature. Later research confirmed its linguistic roots in northern India.

Today, linguists classify Romani as an Indo-Aryan language, with a strong Greek influence absorbed during the Romani’s 250 years in the Byzantine Empire. The four main dialect groupings are Southern or Balkan, Vlax or Danubian, Central, and Northern. The Romani diaspora has spawned more than 60 sub-dialects and created creoles, the mixing of Romani with other languages, for example Anglo-Romani (England) and Scando-Romani (Scandinavia). However, in Spain and Hungary, where it was banned for long periods, some no longer speak any form of the language.

Although it is said proudly that “Amara čhibasa, varekajgodi šaj tradas and’e ljumja” (With our language, we can travel anywhere in the world), many support the adoption of Vlax Romani as the standard for public discourse and the classroom. Vlax, derived from the language used by the Wallachian and Moldavian slaves, has the greatest number of speakers worldwide.

Making their way

Resourceful and resilient, the Romani became highly skilled at portable trades, such as woodworking, horse-trading and basket-weaving. They would move on when demand was satisfied or when forced. Over time, the chosen work evolved into family professions. Various Romani clan names match their traditional trades, including argintari (silversmiths and jewelers), lingurari (spoon-makers), or fierari (blacksmiths).

The Romani have also sustained themselves by employing their musical skills, contributing an artistic legacy to the world. In Romania and Bulgaria, the lăutari (musicians) performed—and still do today—at almost all weddings. In Spain, flamenco and bolero grew out of Caló musical strains. The famed guitarist, Django Reinhardt, a Manouche born outside Paris, is considered the first outstanding European jazz musician. The classical composers Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, and Joseph Hadyn all wove Romani melodies into their works.

For many, the image of a fortune-teller (drabarni) comes to mind when thinking of Gypsies. Fortune-telling harks back to the Romani’s ancestral homeland and has served two purposes for them. First, it provides regular income most anywhere in the world. Second, because many gadže ascribed fearful, magical powers to the Gypsies, to some degree it has protected the Romani. Romani, however, never give readings to other Romani, restricting it to gadže only.

Though widely accepted in India, divination is deemed somewhat disreputable in the West. This practice, along with Romani violation of discriminatory laws meant to drive them out of town—if not out of existence—such as the prohibition of horse grazing, campfire bans, trespassing ordinances, and mandatory work permits, may have contributed to a reputation for crime. Robbed of legal means to live and work, some were forced at times to resort to petty thievery to feed themselves and their families, according to Romani academic Hancock.

Today, Romani work in all professions and the majority live in stable communities. However, this Romani saying may best articulate the frustration of being stereotyped for so long: Kana jekh Rrom si došalo, sa’l Rrom si došale (When one Romani is guilty, all Romani are guilty).

The Decade of Roma Inclusion

In 2005, twelve European countries in partnership with a host of international organizations launched the Decade of Roma Inclusion. This ambitious political initiative has aimed “to eliminate discrimination and close the unacceptable gaps between Roma and the rest of society” (romadecade.org). The Decade focuses on improving Romani access to employment, education, housing, and health care in each member country.

The nations include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Spain. The United States, Slovenia and Norway participate as observers. Some of the partner organizations are the World Bank, Council of Europe, European Commission, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, International Romani Union, European Roma Rights Centre, and European Roma and Travellers Forum.

Romani organizations in Europe and around the world work to promote the identity and rights of the Romani people. Through the centuries, attempts to thoroughly assimilate the Romani—to make them like us—have not succeeded, and this rich, robust culture and its people have survived. Perhaps, if instead, we work to integrate the Romani—to make them part of us—we will enrich ourselves as well.