September 13,14, 15, 2014
Today is Monday, September 15, our 94th travel day. We slept last night with our curtains wide open. It rained off and on last night, but the almost full moon shone through the clouds and illuminated the night. Periodically, I woke during the night and watched the mountains of Romania slip by as we sailed east on the Danube, Guests on the starboard side watched Serbia through their windows. The Danube is the natural border through many of these countries.
In the grey rainy morning, we are headed out to the ancient archaeology site of Lepenski, Vir in Serbia. While we have never heard of this place, we are excited to see the dig and learn about this site. One of our shipmates is an archaeologist and he is quite excited to see this dig. Along with other sites, this one is being checked off his bucket list today.
Fortunately, the site is completely covered with a large glass structure that protects it from wind, sun, and rain. And today the skies open and the water came down in thunderous sheets while we were inside the dry dig. The findings here are 8,000 years old, complete villages of people who lived here shortly after the last ice age. It is thought that during the ice age, people lived in the surrounding caves, and made their homes near the rivers when the climate warmed.
Over the centuries, these early people built their homes, lived in their homes, died and were buried in their homes. Then the next generation covered over the remains of the first families and built their homes on the foundational site of their ancestors. When archaeologists discovered this site, the deeper they dug, the more layers of homes and skeletons they found layered one on top of the other for 3,000 years.
These first people were quite tall for this time period, one of the skeleton's measured 6 foot 6, but the average was closer to 5-10 to 6 feet. The oldest skeletons belonged to 70 year olds, which was quite old considering in other places the life span of early people was only 35 years old. And, of the 130 plus skulls that were found, all of them had their full set of teeth except for two that each had a tooth missing. All of this leads anthropologists to think that this was a very healthy variety of humans, and there was no sign of violence such as broken skulls or bones on the remains.
It was a very interesting stop and also a little unnerving as the rain continued and by the time we left the site, the water was cascading down the cliff sides and flowing over the road beds. Our guide today took the time on the way back to the boat to explain the Serbian perspective of the 1991-93 civil war between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. It was very interesting and answered some of the questions and perhaps some of the negative feelings many of us may have been harboring about the Serbians. After Tito died, the generations of Serbians brought up under communism were in a state of confusian. There was no plan for a successor and the Serbians were ignorant of the world living behind the Iron Curtain. They were easily taken over by Slobodan Milosevek, who was a tyrant and criminal and had grand designs to make sure that the former Yugoslavia republic stayed together. While some people claim that the war was political and not religious, others will tell you it was definitely religiously and that was the reason for the ethnic cleansing. Bosnia which was primarily Muslim were hit the hardest for that reason. There undoubtedly people more knowledgeable than we are, still trying to figure out how this tragedy happened.
This afternoon we are going through the Iron Gates, an 84 mile long gorge along the Danube, where the river has carved a narrow passageway between the southern Carpathian Mountains and the foothills of the Balkan mountains. We had all hoped to be on the sun deck enjoying a wide open view of the scenery, but I think most of us will be inside as it is still raining. Too bad. Oh well. I am sure it will still be an experience...a wet one, as we hope to go outside for a bit anyway.
Let's back track a few days starting with Day 94, Saturday September 13.
We started Saturday with a bus trip through Vukovar, Croatia's largest port city at the confluence of the Danube and Vuka Rivers where we were docked and made our way to Osijek. There wasn't much to see in Vukovar other than some of the buildings that are still scarred by the 87 day siege of the Croatian Serbian War in 1991.
In Osijek, we visited the old town square and a monastery and enjoyed some of the local hair-curling grog and an organ recital. Afterwards we were hosted in small groups of 12 in local homes for lunch and chat about the Serbian War from the Croatian perspective...depressing and hard to understand. The mother-daughter duo that we visited lost everything, their home, their furniture, clothing, etc. Most of the people in their village did also. It is amazing to see how they have rebounded and made the best of a terrible situation. Still there are many hard feelings because both Serbians and Croatians lived in this border village, and the Serbians had some pre-warning of the eminent attack and left the village leaving their Croat friends and neighbors unaware and not prepared. So there is a deep sense of betrayal.
Hearing these stories was not pleasant, but the home visit was and the experience was certainly a highlight of our trip so far. We enjoyed tomato soup with pasta, potatoes with spinach, meatballs, salad, and cake. And our hosts Ava and Valerie were very hospitable and openly shared their home and experiences with us. When the war was over, the Croatian government gave families who lost their homes 35 square meters of building materials for the head of the household and another 10 square meters for each additional family members. Their homes are modest and many are still not finished and complete because the funding was really not adequate to complete their homes. It may have been if they were employed, but unemployment is high, and families like Ava and Valerie, enhance their incomes with home hosting. For some River cruiser folks, this experience was too much of an eye opener for them and they actually complained to the tour director about the depressing nature of the visit and the not so nice homes they were in. Really? Spoiled brats!
Sunday, September 14, 2014, Day 95 - Belgrade
Belgrade as you probably know is the Capitol of Serbia, and was the capitol city of the former Yugoslavia. The bombing of the Serbian Army Headquarters by NATO to stop the bloodshed, stills stands in its bombed out state, a bitter reminder of the war. Approximately 65 percent of the Serbs are in favor of joining the EU and only 12 percent are interested in becoming a part of NATO.
Much of Belgrade looks grey and tattered in post World-War II and communist state. There seems to be little money from Serbians and their government to tackle rebuilds and updating. Some buildings downtown look fine and quite "European" and others still look like left over communism. Unemployment is about 23 percent and the average Serb makes about 4-500 Euros a month. The old people under Tito remember fondly when everyone was employed and everyone was financially equal. They have a hard time being motivated to embrace capitalism and then to self-improve their lot. It will take time until the younger generation is native to the idea of capitalism and democracy.
We spent our afternoon at a great folklore music and dance performance of Serbia. University students become word class folk lore performers who earn their tuition and world-wide traveling through their beautiful and energetic art of these students. The Serbian dance looks like a combination of Turkish, Gypsy, Russian, and Israeli dancing. It's amazing to watch the energy, fancy footwork, and gymnastics of these dancers. Again, another highlight of the trip.
All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's Cruising on the Danube between Serbia and Romania