At first glance, the countries of Eastern Europe that lie along the Lower Danube might seem like an unusual choice for a vacation. But while the line that Don and I traveled on wasn’t exactly age appropriate, we ended up having a great time and learning quite a bit. I’ll be doing a series of posts that look at different aspects of our cruise.
Poor, with one of Bulgaria’s highest unemployment rates (around 60 percent), Vidin bears witness the struggles that have arisen since the 1989 revolution. When communism collapsed, so did the state-sponsored factories that went with it, and the economy has yet to recover. The population used to be 100,000 people. Now it’s down to 60,000.
So why did our cruise line stop there?
One reason is that the port is home to Bulgaria’s best-preserved medieval fortress, Baba Vidin, which has often used as a movie set. The first stone of the fort was laid in the 12th century, and it’s been repaired (part of the reason that it looks so great is because it was never under a large siege). You can walk inside the fort and up to the top, although visitors need to watch out for potholes that make it easy to twist an ankle (in true European fashion, there aren’t signs warning you about everything the way that there is in the States).
But as cool as the fort was, I was much more intrigued by the Communist art and architecture that still remains in Vidin.
Across the region, most of the Soviet-era monuments glorifying communism have been torn down; Budapest, for example, has a sculpture graveyard outside of town where countless busts of party leaders have been left to crumble. In Vidin, however, the Monument of the Resistance – dedicated to Bulgaria’s anti-capitalist and anti-Fascist forces -still stands, although locals have darkened the faces of the figures with graffiti.
In many Eastern European countries, you’ll see Soviet-style apartment buildings that represent Communist’s legacy. Most of the regimes celebrated apartments as the ideal way to live, and many individual homes were razed to make way for “modern” high rises.
Built in 1894, the Vidin Synagogue was once Bulgaria’s second largest, part of a local community that had arrived from Spain in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, it was bombed during World War II and then seized by the communist government. The state intended on repairing it in the 1980s and had started, until the 1989 revolution stopped all the restoration work. Now the synagogue is a ruin.
The largest building in town is, not surprising, the former headquarters of the Communist Party. It’s now the Town Hall.
Don and I spent our free time walking around, then stopped for one of the excellent Bulgarian beers. Although Vidin is poor, it proved to be fairly lively on a Sunday, with lots of families walking around and people meeting for coffee and drinks at the numerous cafes. Although some fellow passengers on our cruise complained that Vidin was a boring and depressing stop, I enjoyed seeing a “regular” Bulgarian city. You aren’t going to develop much empathy if all you see is castles and cathedrals.
You definitely end up saving money if you use local currency, and the easiest way to get it as at an ATM (I was surprised by how reluctant our fellow passengers were to do this). Make sure you call your bank before your trip and let them know where you’ll be so your account doesn’t get a hold put on it.