|Parliament, Budapest, Hungary by night. Photo by Judy Wells.|
Houses topped by red-tiled roofs and a Mediterranean climate to go with them.
|Sleeve detail, museum, Vukovar, Croatia.|
|Work in progress, woodcarver and icon painter, Street of artisans,|
|Icon, Ruse, Bulgaria. Photo by Judy Wells.|
|Orthodox church, Donji Milanovac, Serbia. Photo by Judy Wells.|
|Roman Necropolis, Pecs, Hungary.|
|Turkish style home built by a Bulgarian merchant. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.|
|German armaments from World War I, Kalemegdan Fortress, Belgrade, Serbia|
|Art Nouveau-style hotel, Budapest, Hungary.|
Stubborn independence, centuries of wars and pride in having achieved freedom at last.
All of this, like the Danube that flows through them, you find in all five countries.
Some mornings you have to consult the ship's itinerary to make sure where you are. Then try to remember what the cruise director said about the currency at last night's port talk.
Each country has its own and, despite European Union membership, some don't accept euros, some will accept low denomination dollars if they are pristine but never any coins other than their own. Change will be in their currency. Souvenirs often cost more when you whip out a credit card.
Fascinating, frustrating and unforgettable. You will return to America feeling incredibly fortunate that you call it home.
|Vantage River Splendor|
I was on the Vantage River Splendor along with about 168 others. Almost all were Americans, some of whom were on their 12th trip with the line. Why? They liked the atmosphere aboard, the amenities, the food, the itineraries and the price.
Taking the mountain airBanner Elk, NC, quite a bit.
Kids in tow?
|Mr. Pickles is a local star.|
|Angora goats personify cute.|
Take a tour of the Apple Hill Alpaca Farm where owner Lee Rankin and her staff will introduce you to the resident llamas, Mr. Pickles the pig, chickens, donkeys, angora goats, horses and dogs as well as the alpacas.
May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, part of Lees-McRae College. During the summer and on weekends they have animal presentations. We met a barred owl, a red-tailed hawk, a crow and a baby bobcat and observed a Canada Goose receive acupuncture treatment.
Wildcat Lake is just the ticket. Fishing piers, canoes and kayaks are available too. No charge.
|Disc golfers often lose discs,|
|Master brewer Billy Smith selects a flight for tasting.|
Flat Top Brewing Co.
|Banner Elk winery|
|All ages get up and dance at Concerts in the Park.|
I've saved the best for last: Banner Elk has become the gourmet center of the high country.
I had two favorites.
|Chef Bill and Anita Greene.|
|Chef Patrick Bagbey.|
First timers' expectations are usually low approaching the nondescript strip of stores where the restaurant is located. Once inside the picture brightens considerably with attractive painted vignettes on the walls and white linen service. Framed Wine Spectator certificates of excellence help, too.
|Eggplant with crawfish.|
Two other spots are worth mentioning.
|Andy and Les Broussard.|
See, you never know about those one stoplight towns.#Visitbannerelk