10 things you may not know about the Danube and Eastern Europe

by | Sep 18, 2020 | Europe, River Cruise, Travel

Seilebost Beach, Isle of Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK

10 things you may not know about the Danube and Eastern Europe

by | Sep 18, 2020 | Europe, River Cruise, Travel

I was inspired to write this blog post on 10 things you may not know about the Danube and Eastern Europe after attending AmaWaterways’ latest Webinar Wednesday (actually it started off as a social media post, but it got too long haha). The presenters were giving insights into some of the destinations visited on a cruise of the lower Danube in Eastern Europe. As I wrote some notes, I decided this would make a great topic for this week’s featured Travel Trivia post on Facebook and Instagram. Several hours of research and reams of text later, I decided a blog post would be better.

September Travel Topic: Travel Trivia

Each month, on my social media channels, I focus on a different travel topic. This month’s topic is Travel Trivia. Each day (or almost each day) during September, I’ve been sharing little pieces of travel trivia on Facebook and Instagram. Each week, I’ve been researching and gathering even more travel trivia for a Friday Feature post entitled 10 things you may not know about…

Last week it was about the Caribbean, the week before it was national parks and this week, inspired by AmaWaterways’ latest Webinar Wednesday, my featured post is all about the Danube and Eastern Europe. However, since this week’s social media post is far too long for Instagram, I decided to share with you here on my blog. So here are:

10 things you may not know about the Danube and Eastern Europe… or do you?

1. You probably know that the Danube River is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga in Russia. But did you know that it flows through 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe?

That’s right. Rising in the Black Forest region of Germany, the Danube flows through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine and Romania where it empties into the Black Sea. Apparently, its watershed also includes 4 more countries: Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Czech Republic. Because the Danube flows through so many countries, it goes by various names including Donau in German, Dunaj in Slovak, Duna in Hungarian, Dunav in Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian, Dunărea in Romanian, and Dunay in Ukrainian.

Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

This famous bridge spans the Duna between Buda and Pest.

2. The Danube creates a natural border between many of the countries it flows through.

However, sometimes it is only a partial border, with areas on one side of the river belonging to the opposite country. One such border is the 140 km stretch between Croatia and Serbia. Unfortunately, since the break up of Yugoslavia in 1990, this border has been contentious with both countries laying claim to the same section of land. One of the main reasons for the dispute is that the river’s course has changed (both by natural forces and man-made) since the boundaries were marked in 19th century. Apparently the dispute is still unresolved, which means you would cross the border multiple times while cruising this stretch of the Danube. A good example is Gornje Podunavlje, a nature reserve located in both Serbia and Croatia, where the border meanders back and forth several times across the Danube.

Gornje Podunavlje Nature Reserve

Gornje Podunavlje Nature Reserve

Source: Wikipedia

3. Speaking of Croatia and Serbia, did you know… when you cross the border from one to the other, you don’t just cross from one country to another?

You also cross a border between two former empires, the Habsburg and Ottaman, two religions, Catholic and Orthodox, two alphabets, Roman and Syrillian, and from a European Union country to a non-European Union country. Germany, Austria, and Croatia, for example, are primarily Catholic, while Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria are strongly Orthodox. This makes for an interesting journey if you’re cruising the Danube.

Orthodox Church located near the Danube in Apatin, Serbia

Orthodox Church of the Holy Apostles

A familiar Orthodox Church located near the Danube in Apatin, Serbia

4. Another interesting natural border along the Danube you may not know about is the one between Romania and Serbia, known as the Iron Gates.

Sandwiched between the southern Carpathian Mountains to the North (Romania) and the Balkan Mountains to the south (Serbia), here the Danube flows through a stunning series of narrow gorges, known as The Iron Gates, which form part of the boundary between the two counties. As the Danube narrowed through the gorge, the water flowed over rapids making navigation of the river difficult. In 1972 and 1984, two hydroelectric dams (Iron Gate I Dam and Iron Gate II Dam) were constructed at each end, 50 miles apart. Each dam has a power station, sluices and a lock system that raises the water level by 115 feet, making this narrow section of the Danube much safer to navigate. (Another piece of interesting trivia regarding the Iron Gates gorge that you may not have known – I did not know until I researched this post – it is mentioned in two novels written by Jean M. Auel in the Earth Children’s series. I read these books and I did not know this!)

Narrow gorge along the Danube between Serbia and Romania known as the Iron Gates

Iron Gates on the Danube

A narrow gorge along the Danube between the Carpathian Mountains in the north and the Balkan Mountains in the south that provides a natural border between Romania and Serbia.

5. Did you know…in South Eastern Europe your dollar goes a long way compared with other regions of Europe?

If you’ve ever had Europe on your bucket list but thought you couldn’t go because it’s too expensive, then South Eastern Europe would be a great option for you. Hotel rates in this region, as well as the price of beer, are lower than in other areas of Europe. You’ll find the most affordable hotels in Romania, where cities such as Bucharest have been rated as being the least expensive in Eastern Europe. According to an AmaWaterways insider, a glass of beer in Romania is around $1 US.

Decebalus rock sculpture, Danube, Romania

Decebalus Rock Sculpture

A rock sculpture of Decebalus, the last king of Dacias, now Romania, carved into the Iron Gates gorge cliffs

6. And you may not know that Saint Sava in Belgrade, Serbia is the largest orthodox church in South Eastern Europe.

In fact, according to a native of the area, when the 50 bells ring from the church’s towers at lunch time, you can hear them all across the city. I’m not sure if this is entirely true…I guess one would have to visit and stand the other end of the city at lunchtime to find out. Located on the Vračar plateau, on the eastern part of the Svetosavski Trg square, the cathedral is thought to be on the site where the remains of Saint Sava are buried. I’m not going to go into the gruesome story but you can read more about Saint Sava here.

Narrow gorge along the Danube between Serbia and Romania known as the Iron Gates

Saint Sava Orthodox Church, Belgrade

Not only the largest orthodox church in Serbia and Eastern Europe, but also one of the largest orthodox places of worship in the world.

7. I bet you didn’t know the Palace of Parliament, in Bucharest, Romania, is the heaviest building in the world!

The Palace of Parliament, which is also the second largest administrative building after the Pentagon, has 1100 rooms on 12 levels and can be seen from the moon. Construction began in 1984 but according to Atlas Obscura, the building which has tons of steel, marble and other construction materials, is yet to be completed, even though some rooms have already been refurbished. The creation of the oppressive communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu (1965-1989), and an historical legacy of that violent era, 40,000 inhabitants were displaced overnight and 9,000 homes, as well as several monuments and churches, including a 16th century monastery, were demolished to make room for the building. The Palace of Parliament is the world’s heaviest building literally and figuratively!

Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

The largest and most oppressive building in the world.

8. Another titbit you may not know about Bucharest is that it is known as the Paris of the East, due to its bel epoch architecture and lively culture prior to the communist era which lasted for 40 years.

Like Bucharest, signs of the bel epoch can be seen in the architecture throughout many cities in Romania. Sighișoara, in Transylvania, the birthplace of Dracula, is a good example of the bel epoch. One of the most colourful cities in Romania, its historic centre has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1999. Many of the walled streets and buildings have been well preserved and are virtually all that remain of the Transylvanian Saxons culture.

Colourful Bel Epoch architecture of Sighisoara, in Transylvania, Romania

Colourful Bel Epoch architecture of Sighisoara, in Transylvania, Romania

9. No doubt you’ve heard of Hungarian goulash, but did you know its origins can be traced as far back as the ninth century?

Yes, back then, it was a simple stew of chopped meat, onions and spices, eaten by Magyar shepherds, who prepared it before setting out with their flocks. After it was cooked, they would dry it in the sun and then carry it in bags made from sheep stomachs. When it was time to eat, they would add water to it and reconstitute it as stew or soup. Yummy!

Hungarian Goulash

Hungarian Goulash

10. Baba Vida, a medieval fortress located next to the Danube in Vidin, northwestern Bulgaria, is said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in the country.

The 10th century Roman castle is shrouded in legends and folklore, and played an important role historically, including one in which it was a stronghold that withstood an eight-month-long siege by Byzantine forces. Unfortunately, it was eventually destroyed, but rebuilt in the 14th century and still remains today.

Baba Vida, a fortress in Vidin, Bulgaria

Baba Vida, Vidin, Bulgaria

A medieval fortress located next to the Danube in Vidin, northwestern Bulgaria, said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in the country.

How many of these facts about the Danube and Eastern Europe did you know?

Let me know in the comments!

Sources: Britannica, Atlas Obscura, World Atlas, UNESCO, Geography.name, AmaWaterways, Serbia.com, Wikipedia.

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