Monday, September 22, 2014

Romania-my 75th Country Visited!

Romania

Country Background

This nation's history can be traced to the Roman colony of Dacia. However, there are both strong European and Turkish influences, as Romania was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1877. Romania's political history of the past century has been marked by instability, violent revolution, and a current move toward economic restructuring in hopes of joining the European Union. Between 1930 and 1940, there were more than 25 different administrations.
      
After World War II, newly crowned King Mihai was forced to abdicate, pressured by the Communists, and Romania became a "People's Republic." In the 1960s, Nicolae Ceausescu took over the Communist Party leadership and instituted increasingly oppressive measures. He was overthrown and executed in late 1989. Currently, the Social Democratic Party forms a nominally minority government, which governs with the support of the opposition Democratic Union of Hungarians.
Romania has a chain of resorts, a "string of pearls," along the Black Sea coast. The largest urban center and seaport is Constanta. The sun, air, Black Sea water, and thermal mud treatments at these resorts are said to have restorative powers.


My Visit on October 5, 2014

One of the two following Itineraries:


Guide 1: For Bucharest tour - 10pax group - the price is 125$ or 90euros per person. The tour is for 11 hours, starting as early as possible, 6.30-7am, 2.30-3h transfer on highway with comfort stop. Bucharest tour by minibus, visit the Palace of Parliament, stroll the streets from the old part of Bucharest where there are lunch opportunities, afternoon continues the tour of the city, reaching the north part and visit the Village Museum, 3-6pm return to the ship. The price includes: transportantion - 16 seater minibus with AC, english guiding, entrance fees to Parliament and Village Museum.


Guide #2 Bucharest City tour - 100 euros/ person or 140 $/ person
The schedule for the day would be the following:
half past 6 - half past 9 - drive from Constanta to Bucharest
10 - 15. - visit of capital of Romania which will include:
- visit to Ceausescu's Palace/ Parliament Palace
- tour of Bucharest to include all the important monuments (by our bus)
- short visit to the historical center of Bucharest - opportunities for lunch
- visit to Village museum - after lunch
15 - 18 - drive back to Constanta
Price includes: 11-hour trip with A/C minivan, English guiding, entrance to Parliament Palace and Village Museum in Bucharest.
Price does not include: photo tax inside Parliament Palace, lunch (around 10 - 15 $/ person - Romanian currency or credit card), incidentals and personal expenses.



Photos and complete post will follow......................

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

Bulgaria-my 74th country visited!

I spent time in several interesting cities in Bulgaria from the ports of Burgas and Varna.



Country Background

The Bulgars, a Central Asian Turkic tribe, formed the first Bulgarian state in the late 7th century. In 1389, Bulgaria was overrun by the Ottoman Turks and nearly 500 years later regained independence with Russia's help.
Bulgaria fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when the country held its first multi-party election since World War II and began moving toward democracy. In 2001, Simeon Borisov Saxe-Coburg, the former king of Bulgaria who was forced from his throne after World War II, returned to power as prime minister.



Bulgaria has a lively mix of ethnic groups — Bulgars, Slavs, Thracians, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, and Turks. Some villages have a church, some have a mosque, and some have both. The former Soviet satellite is a peaceful nation — a rarity in the Balkans.

Bulgaria relies on the Black Sea for fishing, commerce, and tourism at major beach resorts. Varna is the country's largest seaport and second-largest city. Bourgas and Sozopol are the primary fishing ports


My October 2014 Visits

Burgas Port to Nessebar Pomorie Sozol, Ravadinovo


8:00 Meet your guide at the port and departure to Nessebar

8:30- Arriving in Nessebar, The Old Town

Walking tour in The Old Town that features: The churches of St. John the Baptist, Christ Pantocrator, St. Sofia, St. Spass (visit inside, entrance fees included), St. Paraskeva and Arch. Michael and Gavrail, St. Stefan (visit inside, entrance fees included), the Roman baths, The Turkish hammam etc.

11:00 departure to Pomorie

11:30 a visit to the monastery of St. George

12:00-12:30  a visit to the Thracian Tomb

12:30 departure to Sozopol

13:30 arriving in Sozopol, walking tour in the Old Town+ 20 min time for a coffee

14:45  departure to Ravadinovo

15:00 visit the castle

16:00 departure to Burgas

16:30  arriving in Burgas

Duration of the tour: 8.5 hours

Price per person: 65.00 Euro (includes: transport, guide, the entrance fees for St. Stefan and St. Spass church in Nessebar, the monastery and the tomb in Pomorie, Ravadinovo castle)
 
My Observations: TBD
 
Varna Port
Itinerary:
Meeting at port;
> Drive to the Archaeological Museum - visit;
> Walk from the Archaeological Museum to the Cathedral – visit;
> Drive to the Aladzha monastery - visit; Walk around the monastery;
> Drive back to Varna; LUNCH at: a Varna Restaurant
The White House Restaurant and hotel
> After lunch: Drive to Galata Cape overlooking the town great panorama of the whole city and resort area;
> Return to Varna downtown: follows a walk after lunch in the sea gardens viewing exteriorly the Planatarium; Aquarium, Public Beaches, Naval Museum;
> Roman Baths –visit;
> Drive to Stone Forest - visit;
> Drive back to Port of Varna;
My Observations: TBD
 
 

The Black Sea a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea is steeped in history and culture, a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.



Soon, I will embark on a 12-night (round trip from Istanbul), cruise of the Black Sea (plus Greece).  I will visit ports in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria.  I will have visited 4 of the 6 countries bordering the Black Sea, including Russia.  Of note, The Ukraine was originally part of the itinerary before the military conflict with Russia, earlier this year.
The Black Sea
 
Named Pontus Exinus ("the inhospitable sea"), the Black Sea was navigated and its shores colonized by the Greeks as early as the eighth century before Christ and later by the Romans in the third to first centuries B.C.

 
 

Many of the colonial and commercial activities of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Byzantine Empire, centered on the Black Sea. After 1453, when the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople (and changed its name to Istanbul), the Black Sea was virtually closed to foreign commerce. Nearly 400 years later, in 1856, the Treaty of Paris re-opened the sea to the commerce of all nations.

Among its vast historical riches, the Black Sea region is home to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the Golden Fleece, and the Biblical account of Noah's Ark. Troy, Constantinople, Istanbul, Sevastopol, Odessa, and Yalta are just a few of the names in this coastal area that have been etched in world history.

From the Crusades to the recent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea has witnessed often-tumultuous religious and political change. In the face of countless conquests through the ages, the people of the Black Sea region have endured, and today represent a remarkable mixture of cultures and religions.

 
 

Today, this ancient sea means many things to the people who live on its shores. Still vitally important as a regional trading center, with major ports dotting its coast, the Black Sea continues to provide its inhabitants with treasured resources — major commercial fisheries, a diversity of marine life, world-class beaches, and perhaps a more tangible record of our past than previously imagined. The recent discovery of ancient wooden ships in the Black Sea, well-protected from shipworm attack in the oxygen-deprived waters, points to the new wonders these ancient waters may yield.

The Black Sea and its six bordering countries — Bulgaria and Romania on the west, Ukraine on the north, Russia and Georgia on the east, and Turkey on the south — each have rich histories and cultures worthy of considerable exploration.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lovely Seville, Spain


Seville

 
 
 

Today (4-1-14), I made my second visit to the Andalusian region of Spain.  Known for the cliché symbols of matadors, flamenco dance & music, gypsies, bulls, horses, strolling guitarists, beaches, and tapas bars, the region was ruled by the Moors for 500 years and it is reflected in all aspects of the culture including architecture, art, music, cuisine, and more.

Our ship docked in the port of Cadiz, the oldest and most continuously inhabited city in Western Europe and the wealthiest trading port there during the 18th century.  I will visit this city during my next visit.

I decided to take a day trip to Seville, the capital of Andalucía and Spain’s 4th largest city, a 1.5 hour drive north of Cadiz.  Upon arrival, I was delighted to see the famous white-washed houses with wrought-iron balconies, brightly lined with bougainvillea: ornate majestic palaces, and its mixture of Renaissance and Moorish architecture.



 

We began our 3-hour walking tour with a visit to the impressive 11th century Alcazar (Palace) with its maze of rooms, exquisitely decorated patios, and exotic gardens (that even house wandering peacocks).  It continues to serve as the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family.





 

Although say Seville’s Alcazar and gardens reminded me of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace and Granada’s Alhambra, I appreciate this one most--Perhaps because it felt slightly less pretentious amidst all its opulence.

 

Next was the impressive Plaza D’Espagne, (which today mainly consists of Government buildings) an impressive august structure designed to serve as the centerpiece of the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition This event showcased magnificent stately pavilions from all the Spanish colonies including Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Cuba (and even the US) (where several famous sci-fi films were shot) the backdrop is the verdant, beautifully landscaped Parque Maria Luisa which emits a blend of fragrances from wisterias, orange trees, giant fichus trees, magnolias and more.  What impressed me the most were the Plaza's tiled 'Alcoves of the Provinces' where there are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.



 
 




Of note, the Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie seriesStar Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Themed on the Planet Naboo.  It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.

 

A visit to the awe-inspiring 15th century Gothic Cathedral (the world’s 3rd largest after St Peters in Rome and St Paul’s in London) followed.  The Giralda (bell tower) symbolizes the city and dominates its skyline.




Our walk through the Santa Cruz Barrio (former Jewish Quarter) delighted me with its narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed houses, flower covered balconies, and hidden squares.  I really smelled the scent of orange trees as we wandered through the city and its parks. 



 

The residents were friendly and accommodating to our group.


































I look forward to a return visit to this charming city.