Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A yachting holiday in Croatia - but first we had to get there by car from Bucharest

I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine.

I just came back from a truly wonderful yachting holiday in Croatia and shall try to write it up though, as Tolstoy said, happiness writes white.

I had no time on the yacht to blog nor any desire to. It was a completely unintellectual holiday and that was its charm.

Here goes. We met in front of Europe's biggest building, the House of the People, in Bucharest at the very Communist hour of 4.45 a.m. and drove through bewitching countryside to the border with Serbia. Thank God Romania does not yet have motorways and every long distance car journey through eighteenth century countryside is enchanting. 

We stopped at Orsova, a river port which felt wonderfully clean and utterly remote from anywhere. I love places like that to eat breakfast in but no doubt for living in they can get on your nerves. Stopped in Orsova, I had my first cappuccino for many years made from the 'plic', that is, powder from a packet. How easily one forgets - this was once part of everyone's life in Romania.

I finally saw the Iron Gates the canyon through which the Danube flows between Serbia and Romania. Yes we took a speed boat tour for ninety minutes and yes it was huge fun. We wandered around a very beautiful cave where the Austrian army sheltered from the Turks for eight months. 

If you think Communist art is kitsch, Iron Guard art might have been even worse had they come to power. The Iron Guard were Romania's equivalent of the fascists, but in some ways a mystical and religious movement too. The statue carved in the rock is of King Decebal - but not drawn from life. It was paid for by Guardist multimillionaire Iosif Constantin Drăgan in 1991. 

Iosif Constantin Drăgan was treasurer of the Guard and when Carol II dissolved it Drăgan is said to have fled with a million dollars to Mussolini's Italy, where he founded Butan Gas. He came back to Romania in 1990 and was until his death the richest man in Romania. He lived very quietly and was known principally for his extensive collection of extreme-right memorabilia and his marrying a lady almost sixty years his junior. She is now the richest woman in Romania.
Danubian castle near Iron Gates. Looks like a theme for Thomas Campbell or some romantic poet.

Then the drive along the Danube to Serbia and the river ran alongside us like an endless lake. Many fine things were on our way including the tower of a medieval castle. The rest of the castle had been submerged by the water when Tito and Ceausescu built the Iron Gates hydroelectric dam. The tower was just as monuments ought to be - found by chance amid longish grass, though to my dismay I saw a board announcing that a government body was in the process of reviving tourism in the area. A Hungarian man, who was not of my opinion, shouted loudly that it was a disgrace that the tower was left in this state, which would not happen in Hungary. When I pointed out reasonably enough that I liked it the way it was he started to shout that Transylvania would be Hungarian again one day. Even if this were true it was not a winning debating gambit with a crowd of Romanians who jeered him good humouredly. They can afford to be good humoured as they own Transylvania and don't expect to lose it.

Friday night was wonderful Serbian food (grilled meats, of course, but so very well grilled) and slivovitz, with torrential rain in Skadarlija,
.that Montmartre-like street which is Belgrade's only sight. The gods hurled thunder at us as we feasted. I recommend the restaurant, the Dva Jelena, which was doing business before Austria Hungary invaded Serbia a hundred years ago.

I like Belgrade because there is so little there to like. Madalina said

I wonder which way to the city centre.
And I replied
This is the city centre. That's the parliament there.
But in two years according to a billboard the riverside, at present a truly dreary area, will become a sort of little Dubai with Middle Eastern money. It seems very slightly odd that Serbs, who fought so hard against the Muslims in Bosnia, are now becoming an economic satellite of the Gulf states.

Saturday, after dull hours on the motorway, was a heavenly ride in an open-top car through the literally idyllic Bosnian countryside. Bosnia is the most beautiful part of the former Yugoslavia and this was the most simply beautiful part of the entire holiday. Alas we had no time for Sarajevo, the most interesting Balkan capital.


  1. Your comment about absence of motorways is bizarre to say the least. What Romania desperately needs is a proper motorway network linking it to the rest of Europe. Not only will it bring much needed investment - and jobs, it will also reduce the number of pointless deaths due to poor road conditions and excessive environmental pollution due to endless traffic queues. If one is not built soon from Pitesti to Sibui, do not moan about lost jobs when Renault moves production of Dacia to Morocco where there is an infrastructure to get products to market.

    I might also add that as a driver there is nothing quaint about a prehistoric road network - it is a real pain trying to drive here, requires excessive concentration and there certainly is no time to take in the glorious countryside. In contrast, drigin in the Alps demonstrates that with a proper motorway network you can get from A to B comfortably, safely and take in the scenery without having to watch out for the myriad of hazards on Romanian roads.

  2. Actually, I think it is perfectly feasible for motorways to be built and used by those who prefer the speed and safety that they offer, while leaving the pre-existing road system (much less trafficked after the motorways have been built) to be enjoyed by those who prefer such quaintly old-fashioned means of transport. Be tolerant - there is room for both options! And, by the way, I wholeheartedly share Paul's view of the journey - any journey - through Bosnia, which is surely one of the most beautiful regions of Europe. How sad that historically, this wonderful country has been witness to so much cruelty and bloodshed.

  3. Enjoy the read ! Especially as I am planning a trip to Eastern Europe later in the year

    1. You could go Venice, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, then Iron Gates but that way you miss Transylvania, so perhaps better via the Alps Vienna, Budapest and Transylvania.