We have all arrived safely in Sofia after very long treks to get here. But McGillians are hearty, and we had the largest dinner contingent. Our table was decked with McGill sign and flags, and many of us were sporting our McGill red. We all look forward to a good night’s sleep so we can explore this lovely Bulgarian capital tomorrow.
Days 2 & 3 – Sofia
On our first full day of our Great Danube Adventure, we toured the beautiful city of Sofia, following a kick-off lecture about Bulgarian history. And what a special treat today, as it is St. Sofia Day. We saw the Bulgarian president and enjoyed formal religious and military ceremonies with a parade before dignitaries.
And as we McGillians were marked in red and with signs, we actually just by chance met one of our proud Bulgarian alumni, who was just thrilled to see McGill in his hometown. Stanislav Maleshkov is a Desautels grad, and he was so happy to see us. It just was more evidence for us all that McGillians are at home around the world. We ended the evening with a traditional Bulgarian dinner high up in the mountains overlooking Sofia. We were treated to folk dancing and music of the region.
Day 4 – Sofia-Vidin
We have had a wonderful day today leaving Sofia and crossing highly varied geography in Bulgaria to get to the Danube. We stopped for lunch at what is known as one of the seven wonders of the world, where moon-like rock sculptures are carved into the landscape from thousands of years of formations resulting from a receding ancient sea. At Vidin (Bulgaria), we had our first glimpse of the Danube and all proclaimed, “It is so blue! It is not just the song!” We embarked on our beautiful river boat and set sail under a full moon rising over the Danube and Romania. And we all celebrated the birthday of a McGill alumna with sparklers and an accordion and singers. A truly delightful first few hours aboard the m/s Amadeus.
Day 5 – Romania
We had a magical day today as we continue to sail up the Danube. Our morning visit to Romania with rigorous customs checks left us inspired about the future of Romania while sober about the challenges and realities ahead. We passed through the largest locks as we sailed through the Iron Gates with Romania starboard and Serbia port. The McGill spirit was lively at our private reception. Fellow passengers aboard the m/s Amadeus were thrilled with the special map McGillian Pierre Langlois, BSc(Agr)’78 made up for all. More evidence of McGillians in service to others. We raised our glasses with pride knowing that today a McGill graduate of the Class of 1980, John McCall MacBain, had donated $120 million to extend the Rhodes Scholarships to other parts of the world.
Day 6 – Serbia
We awoke this morning docked in the port of Belgrade, Serbia. After customs clearance, we headed for the city. We were all surprised by the vibrancy and prosperity of Belgrade, a beautiful capital city. Life is all around the city despite a history of conflict. We saw buildings in ruins due to bombings, but we also saw beautiful homes in neighborhoods on one of the nine hills overlooking Belgrade. We proudly flew the McGill banner in an historic castle overlooking the city. Upon our return to the boat, we were treated to Serbian folk dancing. We then set sail again at sunset and watched the ancient skyline of Belgrade disappear against beautiful pastel colours in the sky as we continued our Grand Danube Adventure, headed north, now, to Hungary.
Day 7 – Mohács and Kalocsa
We have had a very enjoyable day. After a morning lecture and a quite rigorous customs clearance, including individual face checks coming into the European Union zone and into Hungary, we were driven through the great Hungarian plains. We toured a paprika factory and an historical peasant home. Later, we visited a traditional farm and were treated to a marvelous Hungarian horse show by very talented Hungarian cowboys. We also tasted traditional paprika brandy and peach brandy. We returned to the boat for dinner and celebrated another birthday in our group. Tonight we are enjoying another full moon shining off the Danube as we approach the heart of Hungary.
Day 8 – Budapest
We awoke this morning in enchanted Budapest, a feast for the eyes. After an early breakfast, we toured the city, visiting the castle and being mesmerized by the views. Some of us had a delightful tour of the opera and were treated to a mini-concert. Some of us also visited the Budapest synagogue, the largest in all of Europe. After dinner, the captain of the ship gave us an evening cruise to see the illuminations – bridges, parliament, castles and majestic ornate buildings all bathing exquisitely in light. With sparkling bubbly for all, we bid adieu to this wondrous place with a unanimous resolve we would never forget what we saw.
Day 9 – Bratislava
We sailed into Bratislava, Slovakia about noon today. Earlier in the morning, we had an excellent lecture on the history of this area, and so were well prepared for our afternoon walking tour. What we did not expect was the beauty of the old city and the mix of preserved buildings from several different centuries and architectural styles. These make for a most interesting, handsome and charming pedestrian cityscape. We were struck by the musical and historical political ties to Vienna, Budapest and Prague. We were impressed with its relatively recent non-violent transformation from communism and the split of the old Czechoslovakia into two republics. We also observed a prosperous and lively atmosphere of hope and ambition for the new and small nation of Slovakia. Unanimously, all were delighted this was a stop on our Grand Danube Passage. This evening, we enjoyed a Pirates Night on the m/s Amadeus Brilliant. Many among our McGill contingent impressed the crew with creative pirate costumes, showing once again the innovative spirit of McGill graduates. The evening was topped off with karaoke and dancing performed by several of McGill’s distinguished travellers. We sleep tonight in anticipation as we shall awake in Vienna!