42 Dracula on the Danube 2018
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Click Dracula on the Danube to read Rick Archer's Inside Story on the Blarney Stone, the Loch Ness Monster, and how Dracula became the Number One tourist attraction in Romania. 

 
 
 


  
2018 Dracula on the Danube Itinerary 
 

Transylvania Pre-Cruise
October 29   Monday Bucharest, Romania
October 30    Tuesday Transylvania
October 31   Halloween Dracula's Castle
Danube River Cruise
November 01   Thursday Bucharest, Romania
November 02  Friday Bucharest and Giurgiu
November 03 SaSaturdayt VVeliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
November 04 Sunday Vidin and Belogradchik, Bulgaria
November 05 Monday Iron Gate, Serbia
November 06 Tuesday Belgrade, Serbia
November 07 Wednesday Osijek, Croatia
November 08  Thursday Kalocsa, Hungary
November 09 Friday Budapest, Hungary
November 10 Saturday Budapest, Hungary
Prague Post-Cruise Extension
November 11   Sunday Prague, Czech Republic
November 12   Monday Prague, Czech Republic
November 13   Tuesday Prague, Czech Republic
 

A Note from Marla Archer:


Rick and I invite you to join us as we take one of the most interesting trips I have ever run across.   The 2018 Dracula-Danube River Cruise offers you the choice of three separate adventures.


The main body of the trip is an eleven-day river cruise on the eastern half of the Danube River.   Starting in Bucharest, Romania, near the Black Sea, our Viking riverboat will take us on a long journey up the Danube River through the spectacular mountain scenery of the Balkans. 

We will follow a path forged by Roman conquerors, Crusaders, and Ottoman invasion forces from Turkey as we explore a part of the world largely unknown to most Americans.

 

If you have a fascination with the Gothic realm of the macabre, we invite you to participate in a special Pre-Cruise event.  By arriving in Bucharest three days early, you can join Rick and I on a bus trip deep into the Carpathian Mountains to visit the castle of Count Dracula on Halloween.   Incidentally, vampires are reported to visit the castle on this day of year.   You never know who you might meet on this trip.

 

   

At the end of our River Cruise up the Danube, I have scheduled a post-cruise extension that will visit the amazing city of Prague in the Czech Republic.  Please note that both the visit to Dracula's castle and the visit to Prague are additions to the basic river cruise package.   My attitude is once we are here, I want to see it all. 

   

Assuming you survive the trip to Count Dracula's castle, our adventure will explore rugged lands that have been fought over since antiquity.  With the Balkan area placed in the crossroads of civilization between Asia and Eastern Europe, you will see forbidding fortresses along the Danube built to keep out the Mongols and the Turks. 

I hope you will take the time to browse the pictures and the copy of the fascinating places we will visit as well as the scenery that we will see as we travel the Danube towards the spectacular city of Budapest. 

This trip offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the energy of Halloween in a way that will always be remembered.   If you have a bent for guilty pleasures, try to imagine the fun you will have posting photos from this trip back to your trick or treat friends stuck back in Houston.   They will never forgive you.

Marla Archer

   

Velcome to my Castle in Transylvania!!

   

Halloween at Dracula's Castle

 

A Three-Day Transylvania
Pre-Cruise Adventure

 

October 29-November 1

 

   

VIKING PRE-CRUISE VISIT TO TRANSYLVANIA

Viking River Cruise offers an optional three day Pre-Cruise visit into the Romanian countryside that heads in a mountainous area known as Transylvania. 


The destination, of course, is a visit on Halloween to the legendary castle of Vlad the Impaler, better known as Count Dracula.   Vlad the Impaler was an actual ruler of Transylvania in the 1400s who beheaded his enemies, then had their skulls placed on stakes as a warning to any prospective invaders.

 

Vlad's penchant for cruelty was so pronounced that his fame... or infamy if you prefer... spread throughout Europe.

 

As one story after another of Vlad's bloodbaths circulated, all sorts of bizarre legends made the rounds.

 

It was Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897, that first linked Dracula and vampirism.  Stoker had his attention drawn to the blood-sucking vampires of Romanian folklore by Emily Gerard's article about Transylvanian superstitions (published in 1885.  Whether Vlad was actually a vampire or not is debatable, but the legends of Romanian vampires lurking in the forest is something we will definitely learn about first-hand... and perhaps come away with a quite unique experience.

 

On a practical note, we will spend our first night of the Transylvania Pre-Cruise in a hotel in Bucharest.   The following night will be spent in Transylvania.   And then comes Halloween at the castle of Count Dracula. 

 

I don't know about the rest of you, but I will be difficult to recognize.  You see, for this particular part of the trip, I intend to blend in if you know what I mean...


 

   


Although our focus will assuredly be on Halloween at the Vampire Citadel, keep in mind that the scenery of the Carpathian Mountains in Autumn promises to be spectacular.

Here is what is included in this $799 package.

3 nights of accommodations:
Hotel & ship transfers included
2 nights in Bucharest—Radisson Blu Hotel (breakfast included)
1 night in Brasov—Kronwell Brasov Hotel (breakfast included)

Tours
Guided Tour to city of Brasov
Guided Tour to Peles Castle and to Dracula’s Castle

October 29th Day 1 Pre-Cruise in Bucharest

Welcome to Bucharest. Transfer to the First-Class Radisson Blu Hotel, Bucharest (or similar) in the heart of the city, with the former Royal Palace and great shopping at your doorstep. The rest of the day you are free to relax or begin exploring the city’s wide boulevards and gracious architecture on your own. Our Viking Tour Director is available to help plan your time in Bucharest so you can make the most of your visit.

October 30th   Day 2 Pre-Cruise in Transylvania

After breakfast, check out of your hotel and take a motor-coach drive through the Transylvania countryside. Stop for a tour of Peleş Castle, a 19th-century fortification in Sinaia that melds numerous European architectural styles and materials into a harmonious and romantic structure. Continue to Braşov, where you have a panoramic city tour featuring the city’s Gothic-style Black Church.

Check in to the First-Class Kronwell Braşov Hotel (or similar). You have a free evening to enjoy the town square, with its Council House (complete with the ancient Trumpets Tower) and lovely fountain. Our Viking Tour Director is available to help plan your time in Braşov so you can make the most of your visit.

October 31st HALLOWEEN
Pre-Cruise in Transylvania & Bucharest

This morning, check out of your Braşov hotel. Take a short ride to Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. This landmark citadel, built in the 14th century and used by Saxon and Walachian kings, is the best-known of several locations linked to the Dracula legend; it was used by Vlad Tepes, or “Vlad the Impaler,” as his headquarters for his incursions into Transylvania. The castle has Gothic and baroque furnishings and decorative arts on display. After the tour, we return to the First-Class Radisson Blu Hotel, Bucharest (or similar). (B)

November 1st  Day 4 Pre-Cruise in Bucharest

You have the day at leisure in Romania’s gracious capital city, which offers many churches and monasteries, palaces and Palace of Parliament, museums, parks, gardens and interesting neighborhoods. Or, take an optional excursion to Constanţa on the Black Sea coast. The oldest living city in Romania, Constanţa was founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers and is now a fashionable resort town. Arrive mid-morning for a city tour, featuring the iconic seaside casino and Art Nouveau architecture, and a stroll along Mamaia Beach, the “Palm Beach” of the Black Sea. (B)

Pre-Cruise Hotel Information:

Radisson Blu Hotel, Bucharest is located near the Bucharest airport, allowing easy access to the city’s cultural and shopping centers. This contemporary hotel has four dining options, a fitness center, laundry cleaning services and a spa. Guest rooms have a hair dryer, coffee/tea making facilities, a TV and complimentary Internet access.

Kronwell Braşov Hotel is located in the city center in an area recommended for its cultural offerings. This spacious, contemporary hotel has three dining options, a fitness center, laundry/dry cleaning services and a spa. Guest rooms have a private bathroom with a hair dryer, tea maker, TV, Internet access and a phone.


 


 

   
   

ABOUT THE DANUBE RIVER CRUISE and TOUR

   

Group Pricing for 11-Day Danube River Cruise and Tour

Category ES   Explorer Suite 445 SqFt Wraparound Veranda $5824 pp
Category AA   Veranda Suite Upper Deck 275 SqFt $3924 pp
 Category A

Veranda Upper Deck 205 SqFt Fullsize Veranda

$3324 pp
 Category B

Veranda Middle Deck 205 SqFt Fullsize Veranda

$3224 pp
 Category D French Balcony Middle Deck 135 Sqft $2974 pp
 Category E Standard Riverview Main Deck 150 SqFt $2874 pp
 Category F Standard Riverview Main Deck 150 SqFt $2824 pp

Special Group Perk of $100 in onboard credit.
Viking's Promotional Air: $695 per person from Houston
Ground transfers are included when using Viking Air.
A $500 per person deposit is required at time of reservation.

 

BUCHAREST

ROMANIA

Day 1 and Day 2

   
November 1st
Bucharest, Romania


For those arriving at the Bucharest airport, transfer to the superior first-class Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest in the heart of the city for a 1-night stay.

Spend the rest of the day relaxing, or do some exploring on your own.


November 2nd
Bucharest & Giurgiu

After breakfast, we check out of our hotel and take a morning tour of the city.  The highlight of the day is an 8 hour bus tour of Bucharest.  Don't worry about food, lunch is included.

Founded in the 14th century, Bucharest became Romania's capital in 1859 with the merging of Moldavia and Wallachia.

We will explore Romania's fascinating capital, an impressive collection of unique architecture and grand monuments.  We will see the city's wide boulevards, the Romanian Athenaeum, the Arch of Triumph, and many other highlights.

Bucharest is two cities in one.  There is the lovely 'Old Bucharest' and the rather less attractive Bucharest from its 50 year history under communist domination.

Nicolae Ceausescu was Romania's leader for 25 years (1965-1989).  We will see his expansive Palace of Parliament which happens to be the largest civilian building in the world.  It has 3000 rooms and 24-carat gold ceilings.

We will visit the outdoor Village Museum, where authentic dwellings from all regions of the country have been relocated and reassembled, including rural cottages, farmhouses and watermills.

During our lunch, we will enjoy a lively folkloric performance that recalls the simple pleasures of Romanian rural life.

At the end of our tour, our bus will take us to Giurgiu on the banks of the Danube.  Here we will find our rooms, relax and enjoy a welcome aboard dinner. 

 

RUSE,
VELIKO TARNOVO & ARBANASI
 
BULGARIA

Day 3

 

   
November 3rd
Option 1: Ruse (3 hours)

The Danube serves as a border city between Romania on the north side and Bulgaria on the south side.

The Viking schedule for today offers a choice of two tours... short or long.  The shorter trip goes to Ruse, a city located on the opposite side of the Danube from Giurgiu.  Please note that unless we specify a charge, all tours are included in your cruise experience.

The Ruse tour should take approximately three hours. 

Ruse, often called "Little Vienna", is Bulgaria's most important river port.  It was established in the 1st century

Ruse is a repository of neo-baroque, neo-rococo, Empire, Renaissance and Secession brilliance. During this guided excursion, you will see the city's most beloved landmarks.

By bus, we wander through the city.  We pass the rich, crimson-hued Opera House; the Liberty Monument, the symbol of the city completed around the turn of the 20th century; and the neoclassical Theater and Concert Hall.

Continue to the baroque Old City Center, a collection of architectural styles, and the impressive Sveta Troitsa, or Holy Trinity, Church with its hexagonal tower.

Next we browse the fascinating collection at the Museum of History, which houses 140,000 artifacts and items discovered in Danube castles.  After a stop at the Ethnographic Museum, we return to the ship.
 

 

Option 2:
Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi
(8 hours)

After breakfast, we will disembark at Ruse for a full-day excursion to Veliko Tarnovo,  a fascinating medieval town built around Tsarevets Hill and its hilltop royal castle.

Veliko Tarnovo was once the capital of Bulgaria.  It is an extremely pretty place located amidst tall hills .

Located 50 miles south of the Danube, this location will require an hour bus ride.  Rather than object to the ride, keep in mind you can get a feel for this country that most of us know very little about. 

Here we will see Tsaravets Hill and the ruins of the royal castle. During free time, we can shop for local crafts along Samovodska Charshia.

After a coffee break overlooking the Old Town, stop at the Yantra River bridge for a nice view of the majestic Assenev Brothers monument, a towering obelisk flanked by horses.

Next, explore Samovodska Charshia, a traditional street teeming with handicrafts, or visit the castle ruins and enjoy vistas of the Old Town and countryside.

Afterward, proceed to Arbanasi, rich in history and Greek influence.  Here we will have lunch at a local restaurant.  In the afternoon, we can sample the Damascus Rose products, locally made from the essence of roses.  Afterwards, visit a local merchant house and see the intricate frescoes of the Nativity Church with a local guide.

   

VIDIN AND BELOGRADCHIK
 
BULGARIA

Day 4

 
   

Vidin and Belogradchik


Vidin is a Danube port on the edge of the Bulgarian-Serbian border.   After we dock, we will take an excursion to see the amazing Belogradchik Fortress.

The Belogradchik Rocks are a group of strange shaped sandstone and conglomerate rock formations located on the western slopes of the Balkan Mountains.  The rocks vary in color from primarily red to yellow; some of the rocks reach up to 200 m in height.

With their strange, red-hued cliffs and massifs, these breathtaking mountains strike a dramatic pose. The result of millennia of weathering, river erosion, freezing, and countless other factors, these formations are considered Bulgaria's great natural wonder.

They are also a curiosity for the multitude of fantastic figures and profiles that emerge when you catch them at just the right angle. Silhouettes of people, towers, ships, mushrooms, palaces and animals populate the cliffs. Many rocks have fantastic shapes and are associated with interesting legends. They are often named for people or objects they are thought to resemble.  No doubt we will find the one named for Dracula.

There is a very unusual fortress that is built right into the striking Belogradchik Rocks.  The fort was begun in Roman times and then greatly extended by Bulgarian tsars and the Ottomans.

   

IRON GATE
SERBIA

Day 5

 
   
November 5th

The Iron Gate

The Iron Gate is a spectacular narrow gorge with enormous white limestone cliffs.  It runs for 80 miles with Serbia on the south side with Romania on the north side.

As it turns out, the Danube transits two enormous plains.  As the picture shows, the area south of Budapest is flatlands as well as the Romanian lowlands.   These two plains are separated by the Carpathian Mountains. 

Over the eons, the Danube has somehow carved a deep gorge through the mountains to extend its reach the Black Sea to the east. 

   

This day will mark a highlight of the trip. The Iron Gate is considered one of Europe's most dramatic natural wonders.  

One of the things we will see is the giant rock sculpture of Decebalus.   Decebalus was the last king of Dacia, a large kingdom which encompassed Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.  Deceblus was a hero who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which corresponded to modern Romania.

The sculpture was made between 1994 and 2004 on a rocky outcrop on the river Danube.  Located near the city of Orsova in Romania, it is the tallest rock relief in Europe.

Our trip through this long, winding gorge will be a sublime experience.  As we sit outside in our rocking chairs, we will be treated to unbelievable scenery.  We will sip our wine and take beautiful pictures to our heart's desire.  The comfort of our ship and the beauty around us will make it clear why a river cruise is considered one of the world's premium vacations. 

   

BELGRADE
SERBIA

Day 6

 
   
November 6th
Belgrade

Our next stop is Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.  Belgrade is has been a ping pong ball throughout history.  Thanks to its unusual position at the crossroads of civilization, conquerors coming from every direction have passed through.  As the chart shows, Belgrade has been dominated by many rulers. 

It was conquered by the Romans during the reign of Augustus, and awarded city rights in the mid-2nd century.  

It was settled by the Slavs in the 520s, and changed hands several times between the Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Bulgarian Empire and Kingdom of Hungary before it became the capital of Serbian king Stephen Dragutin (1282–1316).

In 1521, Belgrade was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and became the seat of the Sanjak of Smederevo. It frequently passed from Ottoman to Habsburg rule, which saw the destruction of most of the city during the Austro-Ottoman wars.

Belgrade was again named the capital of Serbia in 1841. Due to its strategic location, the city was battled over in 115 wars and razed 44 times.  Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia from its creation in 1918, to its final dissolution in 2006.

   

Today there are two options, one that is included and one that we would pay extra for. 

The 'Included tour' lasts for four hours.  The Serbian capital of Belgrade overlooks the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.  Ravaged and rebuilt 20 times in its history, many of the city's finest buildings have been gloriously restored.  We begin with a guided walk around the famed Kalemegdan Fortress. Its stalwart walls loom over the Old Town

Visiting this site promises to be a real treat.  Situated on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Sava and the Danube rivers, Kalemegdan is one of the favorite places for Belgraders as well as tourists.  The name derives from the Turkish words kale meaning ‘fort’ and meydan meaning ‘square’ or ‘field’.  The literal translation would be ‘battle field’.

The Kalemegdan location has attracted people since the most ancient times because of its exceptional strategic importance. For this reason a fortification was erected here in the Second century AD as a permanent military camp for Roman Legion.

This was just the start.  Unfortunately, Belgrade Fortress was involved in every dispute throughout history. The fort was constantly changed, strengthened and even demolished.  Today it exists as the perfect place to view the Danube and contemplate the vast history that has taken place here.

We will enjoy viewing many fine monuments and architectural splendor during this enlightening tour of Europe's most resilient city. In the Old Town, medieval gates enclose Orthodox churches, Turkish baths, a soaring monument to "The Victor" and more. You will also enjoy a stroll in the park around the fortress, taking in the picturesque vistas of the river. Later, witness some of modern-day Belgrade during a short panoramic drive. Stop in the Square of the Republic to admire the statue of Prince Michael.

Afterwards, we return to the ship for lunch. We will then have the afternoon free to explore Belgrade in the adjacent pedestrian shopping area or visit one of its many museums, like the Nikola Tesla Museum.

The Optional Tour of Belgrade lasts six hours.

Here is Viking's promotional writeup:

Explore the rich history and culture of Serbia's capital, set where the graceful Sava and Danube Rivers meet. Once the center of a civil war, Belgrade today is an exuberant, forward-looking city. Drive with your guide to the ancient Kalemegdan Fortress, the pinnacle of the city. Enjoy a guided walk through the surrounding park.

Then, during a panoramic tour, pass the Church of St. Sava, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world; the imposing Town Hall, once home of the Obrenovi? dynasty; the Moscow Hotel, where Albert Einstein and Robert De Niro stayed; and Republic Square. Next, tour the Tesla Museum, dedicated to the life and work of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor who helped advance electricity (closed Mondays; you will visit the Tito Memorial instead). Later, descend underground into a vast labyrinth owned by the wine-making Panajotovi family. Enjoy lunch and wine tasting in these fascinating cellars.
 

Side note: Since we spend the evening in Belgrade, you will have the option to dine aboard or experience some of Belgrade's nightlife. We depart very late this evening.

   

OSIJEK AND VUKOVAR

CROATIA

Day 7

 
   
November 7
Osijek & Vukovar


Vukovar is a city in eastern Croatia.  Located at the confluence of the Vuka and the Danube, it is Croatia's largest river port.

Today's point of interest is Osijek, a town 20 miles to the northwest of Vukovar.  Here again each guest has two choices.

The "Included Excursion" lasts 4.5 hours.   Here is the write-up:

See the highlights of Vukovar and Osijek, and stop to meet a Croatian family along the way. You will meet your guide and make the short drive to Vukovar, passing the Vuka River, the palace of the former Count Eltz and the city's main street, lined with buildings that carry echoes of Northern Europe. As you arrive in Osijek, you will pause to visit a local family in their home and learn about their daily lives. After, continue to the Osijek Citadel complex for a walking tour. Enjoy a concert in the Rising of the Holy Cross Church. Then explore Holy Trinity Square, see the town's only surviving gate and stroll the picturesque promenade along the Drava River. See more of the town by coach, passing green parks and driving along European Avenue, the most scenic street in Osijek, lined with elegant baroque and Belle Epoque buildings.
 

The "Optional Tour" is titled Croatian Countryside & Wine Tasting.  It lasts 3.5 hours.  Here is the write-up:

Discover the rich and varied history of Northern Croatia and sample some of its delicious wines. Since Roman times, this region of the country has been coveted, thanks to its strategic location on the Danube. During this enlightening excursion, you will drive with your guide to one of the area's renowned museums, a castle with fascinating medieval origins, where you will browse a rich and revealing collection of artifacts dating back centuries. As you tour the castle chambers and halls, Croatia's past comes alive in priceless relics that have survived the ages. You will also turn to the fruits of the earth when you descend into a wine cellar in the historic town of Ilok. In these dim corridors, you will taste two white wines and one red and experience for yourself why its prized grapes and hearty vintages have helped put Croatia on every oenophile's map

   

KALOCSA

HUNGARY

Day 8

 
   
November 8th
Kalocsa

We sail into Hungary in the morning, arriving in Kalocsa after lunch.  Our tour will last approximately 3.5 hours.

Our tour begins with a short bus drive into the city of Kalocsa.  In Holy Trinity Square, we will see the splendid cathedral and admire the Archbishop's Palace. After a short organ concert at St. Joseph Church, we continue on to the Bakodpuszta Equestrian Center.

The people of the Hungarian Puszta region have long relied on the horse for transport, settlement and defending their land. Many locals worry that their country's equestrian connection is being lost to a motorized world, so they hold fast to rural ways and to their four-legged comradesYou will witness expert horsemanship during a thrilling show.

The evening promises to be very special.  Expect our wait staff to be dressed in traditional Hungarian garb serving all the local dishes.  Considering Kalocsa is the paprika capital, no doubt we can expect some spicy goulash. 

   

BUDAPEST

HUNGARY

Day 9, Day 10, Day 11

 
   
November 9th
Budapest:  Day 9


Marla's Note: 

Rick and I visited Budapest on our previous Danube Cruise.  I had the absolute best time in this city.  There are some very wonderful things to see.  To begin with, our hotel is right on the Danube.  There is an incredible walkway that parallels the Danube and allows visitors to reach all kinds of places on foot.

I am proud to say I set a personal record of 32,000 steps in one day just by walking up and down this walkway.  My only problem was that I had three broken ribs from a fall two days earlier.  If not for the broken ribs, I would have visited even more places!

Trust me, there are plenty of sites left on my 'must-see list' for our next trip.  Along with Paris and Barcelona, Budapest is one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited.   I give it my highest recommendation.
............

Budapest is one of Europe's hard luck cities.  It has been under the domination of various empires for many centuries.  Stretching back to the Habsburg Dynasty of Austria, then came the Germans, then came the Russians.  It is hard to believe, but Hungary did not become a free country until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. 

Fortunately, Budapest sprang to life in a hurry.  Despite all its past tragedy, today it is a vibrant, beautiful pearl on the Danube River.  

On our first day in Budapest, we will disembark after breakfast, get on a bus and take a tour of Budapest.  For those of you who have never been here before, Budapest was once two cities: Buda is on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east. 

Today our four-hour tour begins in Pest.  Our bus will take us down the elegant Andrássy Avenue, the Champs-Élysées of Budapest.  We will stop briefly to see the Hungarian State Opera House.  Our next stop is at Heroes' Square, a wide-open plaza of monuments and statues commemorating the Magyar state.

Now it is time to cross the Danube using the famous Chain Bridge.  The Chain Bridge was the first span to ever connect the two halves of the city when it opened in 1849.

Across the river, we will explore the Buda side of the city.  Here you will visit the Castle District with its massive hilltop castle complex, the turreted Fishermen's Bastion and Matthias Church, named for the country's most popular medieval king.  Then our bus will climb the heights of Buda Hill which will take us to the Citadel, an impressive mountaintop fortress which afford us panoramic views of the Danube the city.  

At the end of our tour, we will check in to the deluxe Budapest Hilton for a 2-night stay.  We will then have the rest of the day to sightsee on our own.  
 

November 10th
Budapest:  Day 10

This is the final day of our trip.  You have four things to chose from.  There are three optional tours offered by Viking.  Or you can simply branch out on your own. 

If you do decide to go out on your own, there is the beautiful Margaret Island within walking distance.  There is also a fabulous city park with a giant lake for paddle boats and a lovely city zoo.  Another place to visit might be the giant fort on the hill across the Danube from your hotel.  Our friends Bill and Sharon said they walked there and it was great fun. 

The Jewish Quarter is another important place to visit.  Although this trip will be a bit somber for obvious reasons, the history of the synagogue is simply amazing. 

The important thing is that this is your day to explore Budapest on your own.  Take a walk, ride the city's innovative, efficient metro, or take a taxi.  There are many very interesting places to visit. 

If you are interested in the optional tours, here is a description:
 

Optional Tour 1:

Royal Palace & Gardens
DURATION: 3.5 HOURS TOUR

This is one of Hungary's Largest, Most Important Palaces

Visit one of Hungary's most beloved monuments, built by a count in the 1760s. Gödöllö Royal Palace was built by Count Antal Grassalkovich, well-respected among the monarchy and a confidante of Empress Maria Theresa. But when the last direct male descendant in the family died, it was bought for the royal couple as a summer house. In the 20th century, Soviet troops used it as a barracks and transformed some wings into rest homes for the aged. Restoration began in 1985 and continues today. Upon arrival, you will tour the elegantly adorned rooms of King Franz Joseph's suite. See the lush furnishings and finely detailed woodwork of Empress Elisabeth's private apartments. And pause in the impressive Grand Hall to imagine the royal court gathering for ceremonial occasions. Later, there will be time to admire the French-inspired gardens and vast, beautifully manicured park surrounding the palace.

Optional Tour 2:

Dohány Street Synagogue & Jewish Budapest
DURATION: 3.5 HOURS

Immerse Yourself in a Cherished History

Explore Budapest's Jewish history and heritage, including the Jewish Quarter and massive synagogue. A century ago, Budapest had a thriving Jewish community. In the years leading up to and including World War II, half of the city's 250,000 Jews were killed. The 19th-century Moorish-Revival Dohány Street Synagogue (Great Synagogue), the largest in Europe, was converted to a stable. Today, a rich Jewish history is preserved, as you'll see with your guide. During a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, once the Budapest Ghetto, admire the Great Synagogue with its glittering interior. In the synagogue complex, browse religious relics at the Jewish Museum and view the "Tree of Life" memorial to the 400,000 Hungarian Jews killed by Nazis. Note that the synagogue is not open to tours on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

Optional Tour 3:

Szentendre & the Margit Kovács Museum
DURATION: 4 HOURS

Hungary's Renowned Rich and Thriving Artists' Center
Stroll the delightful streets of Szentendre, a colorful village of galleries and artists, and pay a visit to one of its renowned museums commemorating one of the town's beloved. With cobblestone streets, pastel facades and a red-roofed townscape, Szentendre overflows with charm. In the 1500s, the Hungarian-Serbian community laid the foundations of what we see here today; at one time, eight Serbian Orthodox churches served this rural hamlet. The town holds fast to its roots. And today, it is home to a thriving artists' community, embodied in the richly hued houses and decorated storefronts. Journey here with your guide and amble along the narrow, picturesque streets, pausing to browse inviting galleries that display the work of local artists. You will also visit the Margit Kovács Museum; this artist's early 20th-century ceramics and other sculptures won her international accolades as they captured a rich tableau of past times in the Hungarian countryside.

 

November 11th
Budapest:  Day 11

 

Marla's Note: 

For some, this is departure day back to the USA or perhaps another European destination.  After breakfast, you check out of your hotel and proceed to the airport for your flight.

Viking also offers a three night extension in Prague, the Czech Republic's capital.  Known as the 'City of 100 Spires', Prague is an architectural wonder in the middle of Europe. 

Rick and I will be continuing on to three nights in Prague.  We hope you will consider joining us.

   

PRAGUE
CZECH REPUBLIC

 

A Three-Day Post-Trip Extension
 

November 11-November 13

 

   

VIKING CRUISE EXTENSION
TO PRAGUE

Extend your journey by discovering Prague, the Czech Republic's vibrant capital.  Prague is an unusually beautiful city, well-worth a visit before returning home.  Viking offers a $699 Package to extend your Danube trip to Prague for three nights. 

INCLUDED:
3 nights in the Hilton Prague Hotel
3 breakfasts
Guided City Tour
Services of a Viking host
Hotel & ship transfers are included

November 11th, Day 1
Prague
, Czech Republic

Prague is located 300 miles to the northwest of Budapest.  Considering its proximity, if you have the time, it makes sense to see one of Europe's great capitals. 

Viking will transfer us by coach from our Budapest hotel to the Hilton Prague Hotel which overlooks the Vltava River near the historic Old Town and the shopping district.

The journey will allow you to see the countryside of Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.  After arriving arrive in Prague in the late afternoon, we will check into our hotel and have the evening to ourselves.  Dine at the hotel or sample some of the hearty local cuisine.   

Afterwards take a stroll and see the city's monuments such as the National Theater, Prague Castle and the beautifully illuminated Charles Bridge.

A Viking host is available to help you plan your time in Prague so you can make the most of your evening visit.


November 12th, Day 2
Prague
, Czech Republic

Prague has a rich history which makes it a popular tourist destination.  Prague is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.

We begin our day with a morning guided tour of Prague.  Prague is very similar to Budapest in that its major locations are built right along the majestic Vltava River.  A highlight of our tour will include a visit to the famous Prague Castle.

Our afternoon will be free, so after lunch, enjoy an afternoon and evening to visit the city's landmarks and museums.


November 13th, Day 3
Prague
, Czech Republic

This day is completely unprogrammed.  We have an entire day to do whatever we want.  Now that yesterday's bus tour has covered the highlights, this is your chance to go back and check out what interested you the most. 

Perhaps visit the Old Town or check out some of Prague's modern sights such as the Frank Gehry-designed Dancing House.  This is an unusual office building inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Walk across the Charles Bridge, see the mesmerizing Astronomical Clock and the poignant Lennon Wall, and stand in historic Wenceslas Square.  

Wander past the colorful cottages in Golden Lane, where Franz Kafka lived and worked.  Or go see the Jewish Quarter with its Altneuschul, Europe's oldest, active synagogue.

About our Hotel:

Hilton Prague Hotel is located between the Business District and Old Town. This airy, comfortable hotel includes five dining options, a fitness center, laundry and dry cleaning services, a sauna, a pool and complimentary Internet access in public areas. Guest rooms feature a hair dryer, coffee making facilities, a TV and Internet access with an additional fee.

   


Viking Air Promotion

Marla's Note:  Viking has an extremely valuable promotion that is $695 round trip (per person) from Houston.  I highly recommend you take advantage of this generous offer. 

 

Custom Air Travel

Some of you might have special travel concerns.  In this case, I suggest you consider using Viking Custom Air.

Viking Custom Air is an exclusive custom air department designed for guests who have specific travel needs or special requests.  

Depending upon your travel schedules, requests and flexibility, Viking's team of experienced Viking Air Plus agents can assist with the following services whether you are traveling on economy, Premium Economy or Business Class air:

1. Deviate from the planned route to an alternate destination city or stay extra time before or after your cruise or cruise-tour.
2. Stopover in another destination such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, or a U.S. gateway
3. Nonstop flights or the most direct air service available
4. Reservations with airlines that accept frequent flyer mileage
5. Travel on specific airlines or air routing
6. Confirmation of flight schedules at time of reservation; no waiting once deposit and Guest Information Forms are received
7. Coordination of family, friends or groups traveling together from the same or different cities

Marla's Note:  Viking Custom Air is not offered 50 days or less before departure. A $50-per-guest non refundable fee applies, as well as any additional fees based on the difference between the selected air and the air price paid.

Date or city deviations and stopover fees are typically between $100 and $300 additional. Airlines have advised that seat assignments are subject to change therefore are not part of the Air Plus program.

About the Viking Embla

Review of the Embla:

The Embla is a super sleek ship. It has large windows that bring in an abundance of sunlight. Its design is contemporary with classic Scandinavian touches that maximize light and space. Accommodates 190 passengers at full capacity and a crew of 45.

It has quiet, environmentally friendly hybrid engines, solar panels and an organic herb garden on the large sun deck.

The all-new Aquavit Terrace—an indoor/outdoor area at the bow of the ship for viewing, relaxing and casual dining.

The Aquavit Terrace’s indoor/outdoor configuration has glass walls that open to reveal scenic views on warm days. On cooler days, the expansive windows still provide spectacular views. The adjoining Observation Lounge has expansive windows that showcase the river views and plenty of comfortable couches and cozy chairs. While the lounge is large, it can feel crowded at times and it is advisable to get there early for a spot during lectures and briefings.

The Middle Deck lobby is a striking, light-filled, welcoming area with colorful artwork and a staircase leading up to the Observation Lounge. The concierge desk and a small boutique offering Viking River gear and books are in the reception area on the Middle Deck along with coffee and tea stations open 24 hours a day, with cookies served in the afternoons. The ship’s library had a great selection of itinerary-related books and two computers with free Internet access

Accommodations: The 95 outside rooms and suites aboard the Viking Embla have a functional modernity and neutral color palette. The spaces are targeted to today’s traveler, with plenty of plugs (including American outlets), reading lights, a hair dryer, a telephone and a refrigerator.

Each stateroom on the ship features plenty of storage, from the typical large space under the bed for luggage to a spacious closet and eight separate additional drawers. Extra pillows are available. Bathrooms are small but comfortable, with L’Occitane amenities, a bowl-style sink and plenty of shelf space for toiletries. There’s also a large vanity and mirror/

French balcony staterooms featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.

Turndown service is offered each night in addition to morning housekeeping, and printouts of the next day’s itinerary and other important information. The flat-screen TV provides a sizable selection of included entertainment, from itinerary-themed movies and documentaries to Hollywood hits.

Fine cuisine, exemplary service and immersive, culture-rich itineraries.

Al fresco dining aboard Viking Embla-- Imagine waking as the mist rolls off the river, stopping in the lounge for a frothy cappuccino, and heading out to the Aquavit Terrace to silently cruise through the early morning light. That is one definition of a Viking happy hour.

Another one is in the more traditional sense: unwinding in the late afternoon with a pint of beer or glass of wine, chatting with friends and enjoying a delicious light bite. With the Aquavit Terrace equipped with grills and plentiful seating, each of these al fresco “happy hours” will be yours to indulge in.

Fine dining aboard Viking Embla:

The chefs create a variety of tasty offerings for you, with freshly prepared seasonal local vegetables, European specialties adapted to satisfy the tastes of the passengers, and homemade soups prepared daily. For breakfast, choose from selections of pastries, cereals, breakfast meats, egg dishes, fresh fruit and selected cheeses. At lunch, select from the soup and sandwich bar, or a choice of entrées and dessert. And for dinner, you are treated to a five-course gourmet menu with regional specialties. You can also select from regional wines to perfectly complement your meal.

There are two main dining areas: a large traditional restaurant and the Aquavit Terrace, which serves a more casual breakfast and lunch buffet daily. Seating is open

All meals aboard are prepared by local chefs under the guidance of Viking's European management team

Service is lighthearted and seamless, with a wait staff that remembers individual preferences. The dinner menu has a large selection of rotating daily specialties from the region, though simple chicken and fish are always an option, as well as several dessert choices. A buffet is always offered at breakfast and lunch, with hot items to order

All meals, coffee, tea, soft drinks, house wines and beers with lunch and dinner are included. A Silver Spirits beverage package can be ordered for those desiring a wider selection of premium wines and beers. Complimentary bottles of water are available in each stateroom and refreshed each day. There also is no corkage fee for those who find a great bottle of wine ashore.

On embarkation day, while the crew is preparing staterooms for the arriving guests, you can relax in the ship’s lounge or leave your luggage with the staff and explore Passau on your own. You will be given access to your stateroom around mid-afternoon, at approximately 3:00 p.m. If you arrive during lunchtime, a light lunch buffet will be available in the lounge


Staterooms are confirmed and cabin numbers are assigned when a deposit of $500 per person (plus travel insurance, if applicable) is received.

I encourage you to confirm your cabin as soon as possible. The pricing that I am offered will be recalled when the the ship occupancy level within that category is classified as "sold out".

All bookings must be made through Marla Archer.

Marla@ssqq.com

713 862 4428

Aquavit Terrace

Main Lobby

Main Dining Room

French Balcony

Dance Area

 

 

Dracula on the Danube!!


Rick Archer's Note:
  This is an article I wrote for the July 2017 SSQQ Newsletter.  It goes a long way to explaining why Marla and l love to travel.  It also helps explain why I find Marla's upcoming 2018 'Dracula on the Danube' river cruise and preceding land tour so interesting. 

 

Dracula, the Loch Ness Monster and the Blarney Stone

Rick Archer's Note:  I doubt seriously anyone has ever written an article that includes Dracula, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Blarney Stone.  I wish to be the first, so I decided to undertake this pioneering effort.  No doubt a Pulitzer beckons.

Once in a while, a trip comes along that catches my fancy.

On Halloween 2018, Marla and I will be visiting Dracula's Castle in Transylvania.

No, I am not pulling your leg.  This is really going to happen.   Believe it or not, we already have 18 people going on this trip.

Every now and then, an idea crosses my path that is so unusual, I say to myself, "I am not going to get a chance like this again!!"

The Dracula event will be part of a Danube River Cruise on a Viking ship.   Marla and I intend to go all out.  I will dye my hair black, sharpen my teeth, and don the most fearsome Dracula outfit I can find. 

Marla has an even better idea.  Ordinarily a very modest woman, for this event Marla has promised to put Elvira to shame.  And you know what?  She has the figure to do it.  

To me, Dracula on the Danube is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who agree with me.   Even though this particular river cruise event is 18 months away, it is nearly sold out.

PS - I am not kidding! 


THE BLARNEY STONE

In June 2017, Marla and I took a lovely three-week cruise around the British Isles. 

To be honest, I think I enjoy river cruises a bit more than ocean cruises.  While the ocean cruises have far more ways to entertain their passengers, my preference is to get a feel for the culture of the area I have visited.  As a rule, a river cruise is far superior to an ocean cruise in this regard.  A river cruise gets you inside the country and lets you see how the people live.  You typically get the whole day to explore a town or an area of interest. 

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a river cruise in England.  Can anyone guess why?

It really isn't that complicated... there simply are not any long rivers in England nor are they big enough to sustain a river cruise boat.   The River Thames and the Severn River are both 200 miles long.  By comparison, the Rhine River is 800 miles long and the Danube 1,800 miles. 

The solution, of course, is not to take an inland trip, but rather use a mid-sized cruise ship to make a circle around the British Isles.  Considering we saw a new location virtually every day, this worked out just fine.

My favorite spot on the trip turned out to be Blarney Castle in southern Ireland.  I enjoyed this visit thoroughly for all the wrong reasons.   The highlight of the day was supposed to be the opportunity to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. 

Theoretically, kissing the Blarney Stone is said to bestow the gift of gab upon the smoocher.   My enthusiasm was dampened a bit when Marla said I didn't need any further help.  Undeterred, I climbed the steep castle steps anyway.  A writer like me can use all the gab he can get in pursuit of that Pulitzer.

The word “blarney,” meaning skillful flattery or nonsense, supposedly came into use following an incident involving the head of the McCarthy family and the famous Queen Elizabeth I, ruler of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603.

It seems the queen sent the Earl of Leicester to seize Blarney Castle but the talkative McCarthy managed to keep stalling him. The queen grew exasperated by the earl’s reports about the lack of progress in the matter and uttered something to the effect that these reports were all “Blarney.”

This is just one of several explanations for the legend.  The whole thing sounds sketchy, so I am going to invoke another word, “blasphemy,” and suggest this Blarney Stone idea is ridiculous.   For one thing, the particular rock that one kisses is identical to one thousand other rocks in the castle wall.  There are no distinguishing features to the Blarney Stone.  It is just a stupid rock like all the rest.  Even weirder, people are supposed to kiss the stone upside down.  If you don't believe me, a quick Google image search will turn up the necessary photographic evidence.

Truly, kissing the Blarney Stone is something of an ordeal.  First you lay on your back and hit the back of your head on stone for the effort.  Then you grip parallel metal bars with both hands.  Then some impatient Irish supervisor grabs your head and smashes your face against this rock and screams at you to kiss the d.mn thing.  Thanks to his shove, my face hit that rock so hard I thought my nose was broken.  It was the most painful kiss since Helen Stewart cut my lips with her braces in the Eighth Grade.

So here is my act of Blarney Blasphemy... I think the whole thing is a ridiculous tourist racket.  There, I said it.  No doubt my punishment will be swift; however it could hardly be any more painful than kissing that rock.

But you know what?  The Blarney Stone is one of the best tourist rackets I have ever visited.  There were tourist buses upon tourist buses upon tourist buses.  I think there were anywhere from 300 to 900 tourists wandering around the Castle grounds looking for a rock to kiss. 

And you know what?  I totally endorse a visit to Blarney Castle, but with one caveat.  I suggest you skip trying to kiss the Blarney Stone.   Marla and I discovered an incredible Forest/Garden right beside the castle.   This well-groomed forest had trails aplenty.  In addition to 'Powerscourt Estate' near Dublin, this forest was one of our two favorite spots on the trip.  It was the most enchanting place to walk imaginable.

There are paths touring the forest with signs pointing out the various attractions such as several natural rock formations with fanciful names such as Druid's Circle, Witch's Cave and the Wishing Steps.  There was a tunnel where your wish was granted if you walked the steps backwards with your eyes closed.  Trust me, that was a lot more fun than kissing the Blarney Stone.  This garden was pure magic.

Now let me tell you the sad thing about kissing the Blarney Stone.  Marla and I both complained about the early start time for our tour that day.  However, this turned out to be a hidden blessing because our tour bus was the first one there.  We kissed the Blarney Stone without any wait.  When we descended the castle steps, we were greeted by a line of tourists that stretched three hundred yards long.   The problem is that it takes each tourist half a minute to a minute to get into position to kiss the rock.  This slow process creates an endless line. 

I estimated those people would stand in that line for two hours in order to kiss the Blarney Stone, then leave immediately without seeing anything else.  Consequently they would never know that the true magic of Blarney Castle was that Magic Forest.  Oh well.  I consider myself fortunate to have been spared this misfortune.   Word to the Wise... skip the Blarney Stone, enjoy the Forest.


THE LOCH NESS MONSTER

As tourist attractions go, another source of mythological nonsense is the Loch Ness Monster.   I actually researched the Loch Ness Monster once.  It is a very interesting story.  Feel free to read my review of how the tale began and how the hoax was eventually unraveled.  History of the Loch Ness Monster

I have to tell you, that Loch Ness story was the best thing to ever happen to this area.  In a manner similar to the Blarney Stone, countless people visit this lake as a sort of pilgrimage.  Marla and I did it back in 2010.  I recall just sitting on the grass for an hour waiting for that stupid monster to appear. 

People are so silly.  Count me as one of them.  I love the Loch Ness Monster story!  Until the Dracula legend came along, I assumed the Loch Ness Monster hoax was the greatest tourist racket in history.  Don't worry, we will get to Dracula shortly.

What is curious about the Loch Ness Monster is that people continue to try to out-do the crazy tale even to this day.  Here is a terrific Loch Ness story that you probably have never run across before.  It took place back in 1972.

By the way, no, I did not make this story up.  Do you think I am clever enough to write a story about how to catch a monster using 'hormone sex bait'?   Even I have my limits.   Yes, indeed, long-time readers of the Travel Newsletter will quickly conclude I am far too dull-witted to come up with a story this clever... unless, of course, kissing the Blarney Stone has magically amplified my powers.

 

The Body of Nessie Found!!    (April Fool's Day - 1972)

On the morning of Friday March 31, 1972, an eight-member team of scientists from Yorkshire's Flamingo Park Zoo was having breakfast in the dining room of the Foyers House hotel, on the shore of Loch Ness.  They were there on a joint mission with the Loch Ness Phenomena Bureau to prove the existence of a monster in the loch. They had developed a new form of "hormone sex bait" that they hoped would lure Nessie out of the depths.

 As they dug into their bacon and eggs, the manager of the hotel approached them. Someone had just called, she said, to report seeing a "large hump" floating in the loch near the hotel. Intrigued, the team put down their knives and forks and walked outside. Sure enough, a large, dark object was bobbing up and down in the waves about 300-yards offshore.

Terence O'Brien, the leader of the team, immediately swung into action. He directed the team into their boat, and they headed out to investigate. Twenty minutes later, at around 9 a.m., they returned, dragging behind them a bizarre object. It appeared to be the dead body of the Loch Ness Monster.

 

Word Spreads

Within hours, news of the discovery had reached the rest of the world. Television news anchors solemnly informed their audiences that the Loch Ness Monster had been found, but was dead.  The frenzy was on.  Reporters rushed to the loch to get more details.

Local residents confirmed that something weird had been dragged out of the water. Robert MacKenzie, a 23-year-old Inverness musician, said, "I touched it and put my hand in its mouth. It's real, all right. I thought it looked half-bear and half-seal... green in color... with a horrific head like a bear with flat ears. I was shocked."

Other witnesses told reporters the creature had been between 12 and 18 feet in length and must have weighed up to 1½ tons. They said it had a green body without scales and seemed like a cross between a walrus and a seal.  What was curious was the strange appearance.  No one had ever seen an aquatic animal quite like this before. 

Eventually reporters contacted Don Robinson, Director of the Flamingo Park Zoo, who was stunned.  Based on the reports given to him by his team, this sounded like the Real Thing.  Robinson said, "I've always been skeptical about the Loch Ness Monster, but this is definitely a monster, no doubt about that. From the reports I've had, no one has ever seen anything like it before... a fishy, scaly body with a massive head and big protruding teeth."

The British press had a field day.  They dubbed the creature "Son of Nessie."  The next morning, April 1, the discovery made front-page headlines around the world.

The April 1, 1972 headline in the Los Angeles Times proclaimed 'Green and Scaly Monster Hauled out of Loch Ness'.


High-Speed Chase

Meanwhile, the creature itself was no longer at the Loch.  After dragging the carcass back to the shore, the scientists from the Flamingo Park Zoo had sent a telegram to their boss, Don Robinson, and had then quickly loaded the body into their truck and taken off. They intended to transport the monster back to the zoo for study.

Mrs. Margrete Good, manager of the hotel, later told the press, "The zoologists were thrilled to bits.  They said this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them."

But when the local Inverness police heard that the scientists had hightailed it with the Loch Ness Monster, they were infuriated.  These were English scientists, after all, removing Scotland's most famous lake monster — upon which depended a vast, lucrative tourist trade.  The value of this monster was virtually incalculable.

Immediately the police radioed their colleagues in the Fifeshire County police department, explained the situation, and asked them to chase down the fleeing truck and apprehend the monster-nappers.  They cited a 1933 Act of Parliament that prohibited the removal of "unidentified creatures" from Loch Ness.

Sirens wailing, five police cars sped off.  They soon caught up with the team of scientists.  The terrified zoologists readily cooperated with the angry police determined to rescue a national treasure.  They  pulled over to the side of the road.  Then they opened the back of the truck to show the officers what they were carrying.  Sure enough, according to the subsequent police report, lying inside the truck was a large "green and scaly" creature.  The monster had been recovered.

The police officers, not quite sure what to do next, radioed back to the station for advice.  They were told to take the monster to the nearest town, Dunfermline, where it could be examined by Scottish scientists.

 

The Monster Identified

In Dunfermline, the police searched around for an appropriate scientist to examine the creature.  They eventually persuaded Michael Rushton, general curator of the Edinburgh Zoo, to make a 20 mile drive and have a look at it.

When Rushton arrived, he walked slowly around the carcass a few times, poked it once or twice, and then announced his verdict.  It was indeed a strange creature, but it was no lake monster.  Instead, it was a bull elephant seal, whose natural home was the South Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from Scotland.  Furthermore, the body showed signs of having been frozen for an extended period of time.

Rushton told the press, "It is a typical member of its species. It's about 3 to 4 years old... I have never known them to come near Great Britain.  Their natural habitat is the South Atlantic, Falkland Islands or South Georgia. I don't know how long it's been kept in a deep freeze but this has obviously been done by some human hand."

 

Confession

How a bull elephant seal came to be floating in Loch Ness remained a mystery until the next day, when a hoaxer stepped forward to confess.  John Shields, the Flamingo Park Zoo's education officer, admitted it was his doing.

Shields explained that an expedition to the Falkland Islands had recently brought the seal back to the UK.  It had lived briefly at the Dudley Zoo, but died soon after arrival.  When he learned of this, Shields realized it offered a golden opportunity to prank his colleagues, who he knew were about to go up to Loch Ness to search for the monster.

Shields gained possession of the elephant seal, shaved off its whiskers, padded its cheeks with stones, and kept it frozen for a week.  Then he dumped it in the Loch and phoned in a tip to make sure his colleagues found it.  He timed the prank so that news of the discovery of the Loch Ness Monster would make headlines on April 1 — April Fool's Day, which happened to also be his 23rd birthday (and possibly his last birthday).

Shields admitted sheepishly the joke got out of hand when his colleagues decided to remove the dead animal from Loch Ness and were chased down by the police.

He also noted that the creature wasn't quite as impressive as initial press reports had claimed.  It was only nine-feet long and weighed 350-pounds.  Still, it had been a very strange thing to find floating in the Loch.

Police Superintendent Inas McKay of Inverness gave the press the final, official verdict on the incident: "The case has been closed.  It's just an April Fool's Day joke."


Epilogue

Having determined that the dead animal was not the Loch Ness Monster, the police had no further interest in it.  So they returned the carcass to the team from the Flamingo Park Zoo. The team brought the seal back to the zoo, where they put it back on ice and displayed it to crowds for a few days before properly disposing of it.

But this wasn't quite the end of the story. The prank turned out to have unintended consequences for other visitors to the loch. Two weeks later, 28-year-old Norman Slater, a school teacher from Kenosha, Wisconsin, went on a fishing trip on the Loch. While floating along, he dipped his hand into the water. He later said that, as soon as he did so, he detected, by means of his extrasensory perception, the presence of six large creatures in the water — a family of Loch Ness Monsters.

Slater said that he saw a particularly vivid image of a creature 70-90 feet in length, with a large neck and a slim, worm-like body. Its bottom portion was white while its top was dark brown and scaly. He said the creatures "seemed to be just lying around on the bottom." Slater also claimed to see images of underground passageways connecting the Loch to the sea.

However, alas, Slater was a victim of bad timing. He complained that, despite the obvious scientific importance of his vision, because of the recent April 1st prank he couldn't find any reporters willing to take him seriously.  Slater could barely contain his disappointment.
.........
 

Rick Archer's Note:  

Now, aren't you glad I shared that story?  Can you imagine those poor well-meaning scientists fearing for their lives when five police cars with sirens wailing tracked them down?   And to think their own colleague set them up for this terror and subsequent humiliation!   That is just too funny for words.  It sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit.  Or better yet, another scene in 'A Fish Called Wanda', my favorite funny movie.  Let's call it 'A Fish Called Nessie'.

Dracula!!!

Okay, now it is time for the Main Event.  First the Blarney Stone... myth and travel racket.  Then the Loch Ness monster... myth and travel racket.

So now it is time for Dracula.  You know what?  I am going to let you in a little secret.  Dracula is a myth too.  But as for travel racket, hmm, there's a good story there.   And that unusual story is the reason for this Pulitzer-nominated article.

First of all, perhaps I should reveal my motives.   I would like lots of people to come with Marla and me to Transylvania on this weird 'Dracula on the Danube' river cruise over Halloween 2018.   This promises to be a very interesting trip.

So I thought that if I shared a little background information, I might tweak your interest and persuade a few people to join us.

As most people know, Dracula is an 1897 Gothic horror novel written by Irish author Bram Stoker.  It introduced the legend of Count Dracula, and established many conventions of subsequent vampire fantasy.... stakes through the heart, invisible in mirrors, must be invited into a room, garlic repels, etc.

The novel tells the story of Dracula's attempt to move from Transylvania (Northern Romania near the Black Sea) to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse.  The book contains exciting details of the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.  The beautiful Mina is the target of Dracula's desire.  Her fiancé Jonathan Harker and Professor Van Helsing are desperate to save her.  

Dracula is a very persuasive monster.  He has no need for hormone sex bait.  Just his irresistible stare alone is enough to make any woman vulnerable to his approach.

Anyone who has ever read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' will agree this is the creepiest, most terrifying horror story ever written.  This eerie tale had me biting off every single finger nail on both hands.  I was so nervous I almost started on my toe nails.  I absolutely could not put this book down. 

So what do you suppose Dracula has in common with the Blarney Stone and the Loch Ness Monster?  This isn't that tough a question, so think about it for a moment.

Think

Think

Think Think Think

Think some more

No, the answer is not that it is a myth like the Blarney Stone and the Loch Ness Monster; I already told you that.

However, if you guessed that Dracula is Romania's Numero Uno Tourist Attraction, ta da, go to the head of the class! 

Dracula easily rules at the top of the European monster food chain.   He easily beats out Frankenstein, the werewolves, the banshees, and the ghosts that haunt every castle.  Sexy, dark, mysterious, deadly, sinister... more than 200 films have been made and 1,000 novels have been written about Dracula and vampires in general.  Writers such as Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer and Anne Rice have helped the vampire legend grow.

Oddly enough, as famous as Dracula is in the West, Dracula was unknown in Romania until 1990.  Blame it on Joseph Stalin and the oppressive rule of communism.   Let us never forget how fortunate we are to live in America.  Paradoxically, Stoker's classic was virtually unknown in Romania since the communist regime would not allow a translated copy within in its borders. 

Even before the fall of the Iron Curtain, 'Dracula Tourism' presented Romania with a dilemma.  Transylvania was identified in the book as the homeland of Dracula.  Every gypsy on the European continent felt compelled to make a pilgrimage.   On one hand, Dracula was Romania's unique selling point.  The notion of Dracula had considerable potential to be exploited for economic gain.  

On the other hand, the whole notion of vampires, dark medieval forests, and the supernatural was starkly at odds with Romania's self-image as a modern, un-superstitious European state.  

For fifty years, the communist regime advocated a Godless Material World that left little tolerance for supernatural nonsense such as vampires.  Therefore, during the communist period (up to 1989) the Romanian state did almost nothing to encourage such tourism.  On the other hand, the State reluctantly tolerated it.  

Under their nose, some discrete local initiatives were developed to cater to the teeming Dracula enthusiasts.  Certain men connived to build hotels in key locations and conduct tours through the rugged Transylvanian landscape.  These underground figures were almost as shadowy as Dracula himself.  Risking long stays in ice cold prisons, these entrepreneurs operated at the margins of legality in an unforgiving communist state.

In the post-communist period after 1989, the attempts to censor Dracula disappeared.  Since then, the private sector in Romania rose swiftly to exploit the commercial possibilities of the Count.  However, even to this day, the Romanian state remains ambivalent about Dracula and continues to be reluctant to encourage or promote 'Dracula tourism' on a large scale.  Proposed Dracula-themed amusement parks on a Disneyland scale have been nixed on several occasions.  Can you even imagine the Haunted Houses?  Or the castle for that matter.  For every Cinderella-style castle at Disneyland, how cool would an imaginary Dracula castle be?   As such, Romania's dilemma with Dracula remains unresolved.  Hmm.  They might want to reconsider.  I for one would enjoy visiting that Haunted House. 

Dracula presents Romania with a unique dilemma.   On the one hand, it has the potential to generate much needed foreign currency through tourism, but on the other hand it fundamentally collides with Romania's sense of its own political and cultural identity.

Fortunately, that seems to be changing.  Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain, knowledge of the classic Bram Stoker novel has circulated among the Romanian people.   They take pride in their mythical hero... as well they should!  Slowly but surely Dracula's status as a folklore figure has become just as popular as say Robin Hood and Davy Crockett in other lands. 

Oddly enough, after doing a little Internet poking around, I discovered that Bram Stoker never actually visited Romania.  By relying on traveler's accounts, Stoker produced a vivid portrayal of a sinister, backwards region where the forces of evil ran wild.

As Jonathan Harker, the main character, narrates, "Before my arrival, I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the uncharted regions of the Carpathians.  I dare to enter the blackness.

In other words, Harker's journey to spooky Transylvania was akin to a trip to Skull Island, home of King Kong.  Only the brave would dare such a trip into the heart of darkness.

Stoker was a proud participant in an unusual English literary tradition.  During the 1880s and 1890s, authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells wrote adventure tales in which fantastic creatures threatened the British Empire.  Invasion literature such as the creepy H.G. Wells tale 'War of the Worlds' was a perfect example of this curious literary trend.    

Bram Stoker was the business manager for a popular theater in London.  Stoker wrote sensational stories in his spare time.   Obviously,

'Dracula' was his tour de force.  Stoker spend considerable time researching his book.   Before writing 'Dracula', Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard's 1885 essay "Transylvania Superstitions" which included content about a vampire myth. 

So how Did Bram Stoker come with the name 'Dracula'?

As we shall see, this is a very hotly debated subject.  Due to the lack of documentation, many historians assumed that a larger than life historic figure from Romania known as 'Vlad III Dracula', aka Vlad the Impaler, was the model for Stoker's Count. 

This man was the second son of Vlad Dracul, hence the name 'Vlad III'. 

To make a long story short, Vlad III became ruler of an area that adjoined Turkey.  Powerful Turkish Ottoman ruler Mehmed decided to attack.  When Mehmed entered the town of Targoviste at the end of June 1462, the Ottomans were horrified to discover a "forest of the impaled" (thousands of stakes with the carcasses of executed people).

The sultan's army viewed large stakes upon which twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted.   The Turks were dumbfounded when they saw the multitude of men on the stakes.  There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails.  Horrified, the sultan's army was more than happy to retreat back to the safety of Turkey.

Let's face it... 20,000 victims impaled on stakes?  Unbelievable!!  Vlad's reputation was well-known in certain European circles.  Indeed, books describing Vlad's cruel acts were among the first bestsellers in the German-speaking territories.  It stands to reason that Vlad's reputation for cruelty and his family's unusual name may have given rise to the name of the vampire Count Dracula.  Since 'Dracula' is a very unusual name, surely there was a link.  

However, only recently has this theory been discounted. 

The truth is that there is no evidence that Bram Stoker was even aware of the name Vlad III.  Don't worry, we will get back to Vlad the Bad soon enough.   But for now, let's concentrate on how Stoker came up with the name.

The key year was 1890.   Stoker was the business manager at London's Lyceum Theater.  The theater was owned by Henry Irving, a talented actor who starred in many of the plays.  Henry Irving was an intense man.  It was Irving's unusual personality as well as his interest in the macabre that likely made him the eventual role model for the character of Dracula.

Stoker had become acquainted with Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian professor who took an interest in a horror play known as "The Dead Heart."   In April 1890, Stoker wrote about the night he and his friend Henry Irving dined with Vambery after a performance.  Transylvania had once been a part of Hungary.  During this dinner, the Hungarian-born Vambery regaled Stoker and Irving with tales of Transylvania folklore.  Perhaps Vambery's tales included Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) and his atrocities. If so, these tales surely set Stoker's imagination aflame.  However, later research would cast doubt on this likelihood. 

What is clear is that Arminius Vambery got Stoker very interested in Transylvania. 

Shortly after his fascinating dinner with Vambery, Stoker vacationed  in Whitby, England, in the summer of 1890.  While at Whitby, Stoker came across a copy of William Wilkinson's book 'An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia', territories which were part of Transylvania.   Stoker copied several sections of the book into his notes.  Wilkinson's book contains references to multiple warlords named Dracula, and some of the sparse details on one such Dracula make it into Stoker's text - that he crossed the Danube to attack Turkish troops and had some success.  However, that is the extent of it.  There is no reference to a "Vlad," no mention of a nickname Tepes or "the Impaler," nor any detailing of the Impaler's legendary atrocities.

More likely, Stoker borrowed "scraps of miscellaneous information", according to one expert, about this bloodthirsty tyrant of Wallachia.  Nor does there exist a single comment about Vlad in Stoker's working notes.  'Dracula' scholar Elizabeth Miller remarked that aside from the identical name and some brief mention of Romanian history in the novel, the background of Stoker's Count bears no resemblance to that of Vlad III Dracula.

Elizabeth Miller warned that we can't assume that Stoker's notes are the end-all, be-all of the creation of Dracula, but they do provide the only factual information we currently have about Stoker's research.  Best of all, Stoker's personal notes offer strong hints exactly where Stoker got the name "Dracula."

So why did Stoker choose the curious name of Dracula? 

Well, we can infer that from his own notes.  He copied information from a footnote from Wilkinson's book that read in his own notes, "DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL," using those capital letters.  In addition, 'Dracula' meant  'Son of the Dragon.  The footnote explained that Wallachians gave the name "Dracula" to people who were especially courageous, cruel, or cunning.  Stoker chose the name, it appears, because of its devilish associations, not because of the history and legends attached to its owner.

These facts directly contradict the Urban Legend.  Think about it.  You know that Bram Stoker's character Count Dracula was loosely based on Romania's Vlad the Impaler.   For that matter, EVERYONE knows that Vlad and Count Dracula are linked.  That's what I thought and I bet my Readers thought the same thing as well.  We all believe that. 

But it isn't true!!

It disappoints me terribly to say this, but it is doubtful that the Impaler was the basis for the famous vampire.  Boo hoo!  This hurts as bad as finding out there is no Santa Claus.  Maybe even more.  Admit it... Dracula and Vlad the Impaler were meant for each other!!

So where exactly did the bogus Urban Legend come from?  Who turned Vlad III into the supposed inspiration for Count Dracula? 

There is no dark conspiracy here.  It happened for two reasons.  One, many of Stoker's notes were more or less misplaced in the attic of Stoker's great-grandson and not discovered until 2011.   Two, in the absence of Stoker's notes, the connection between Vlad Dracula and Count Dracula made perfect sense. 

It stands to reason that scholars have connected Count Dracula with the Wallachian warlord Vlad III, nicknamed "Vlad Tepes" or, in English, "Vlad the Impaler." After all, Vlad III was a member of the House of Dracula, and is one of a handful of historical figures whose title is rendered as "Voivode (Warlord) Dracula" in English-language texts.  Plus they both had that curious obsession with stakes. 

Vlad the Impaler's official name was 'Dracula'.   Wouldn't a figure known as "the Impaler" make a perfect vampire?  The number of movies that treat the life of Vlad Tepes as Dracula's backstory are an indication of just how neatly the historical warlord and the fictional vampire fit together in some people's minds. 

Nor has Hollywood helped one bit to clear up the confusion.  In 2014, the movie 'Dracula Untold' was released.   Here's the synopsis:

"As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom."

As we know, if Hollywood says it's so, then it must be true. 

Here is something else that is interesting.  After visiting websites that debunk the connection between Bad Vlad and the Dark Count, I found comments below that argue with the experts.  In other words, The People want the connection to stand! 

And there is more dissent.  Some scholars have argued, quite bizarrely, that the absence of pertinent details from Vlad Tepes' life and legends in the text of 'Dracula' is somehow evidence of Stoker's knowledge of the tales and his desire to explicitly fictionalize them.  This is another example of the deep-seated desire to keep the two figures linked.

Ask any guy on the street.  "Maybe they weren't linked, but they shoulda been!!"

Without a doubt, the power of this yearning can be traced to a 1972 bestseller that gave rise to the Urban Legend.  The book that popularized the Vlad-Dracula link was 'In Search of Dracula', written by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu.  

This book became a boffo bestseller that caught the public mood in America at a moment when popular interest in Vampires was on the increase.  'In Search of Dracula' lit a bonfire.  Shortly thereafter, one Seventies vampire movie after another hit the silver screen.

·        Salem's Lot  (good one!!)

·        Nosferatu

·        The Vampire Lovers

·        Twins of Evil

·        Dracula (excellent remake with Frank Langella)

·        The Night Stalker

·        Dark Shadows (remake of the popular 60's TV show)

·        Blacula

·        Love at First Bite

·        Vault of Horror

·        Fright Night  (1985, my absolute favorite vampire movie!)

 

 

'In Search of Dracula' was one heck of a hot book for a while.   The book assured us all that it was telling 'the true story' behind the legend of Dracula - a biography of Prince Vlad of Transylvania, better known as Vlad the Impaler. 

This book was a fantastic exploration of the figure the vampire legend was supposedly built upon.  If you thought Caligula was a sicko, well, this book make about Vlad the Impaler made Caligula seem tame.  Vlad the Impaler repelled the invasion of the King of the Ottoman Turks by placing the heads of 20,000 Turkish prisoners on stakes.   

Bad Vlad was Very Bloody... you know there was something seriously evil, sinister and twisted about this dude... and the book promised us it was all true. 

In fact, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu liked the 1972 book so much he attempted to make Vlad a national hero.  Don't laugh.  If the national hero of Sicily can be the blood-soaked Marlon Brando Godfather, making Vlad the national hero of Romania made perfect twisted sense as well.  However, Ceausescu was not at all pleased when his own people began to refer to him as 'Dracula'.  Now the joke wasn't so funny anymore.

As the inconvenient facts began to leak out, years later both McNally and Florescu eventually stepped back from their claim that Vlad and his atrocities had actually inspired the story of the wicked Count Dracula. 

However, the damage had been done!! 

Count Vlad and Count Dracula had permanently become fused and confused in the public mind. 

Along the way, Vlad's Castle, i.e. Bran Castle in Transylvania's Carpathian Mountains, was incorrectly identified as the inspiration for Count Dracula's Transylvanian castle.   Sure, why not?  Why not just keep adding to the myth?

This was perfect!  Now we had a real-life Transylvanian castle at the center of this brooding fantasy.   Transylvania, the mysterious Land of Evil!   Transylvania was perfect since no one in the world had actually ever been there.  What you don't know becomes perfect fodder for the imagination. 

What other region could surpass the mystical visions of shrouded, misty forests with shadowy demons and vicious wolves hiding behind every tree?   Or driverless coaches pounding up the treacherous trail towards the foreboding castle perched high upon a cliff?  And what about that ominous black-coated figure stalking across moonlit cemeteries with wolves howling in the dark?

Once Bran's Castle was associated with the mythology, well, now we were getting somewhere.  A tourist attraction was born!   Never mind that Bran Castle had NOTHING to do with Count Dracula.  How inconvenient.  Soon every tour brochure on the planet had permanently linked this innocent castle with the dark Vampire legend.  Tsk Tsk.

But you know what, I'm with Hollywood.  I say why let the truth get in the way of a great yarn?   I mean, since everyone wants to pretend that Vlad the Bad and Count Dracula are one and the same, what is stopping us from nominating Vlad's ancient Castle as the Shrine to the Vampire Empire!  Who would object?

It was pretty cool in a way.  One hundred years had passed since the publication of 'Dracula'.   In shocking fashion, suddenly the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989.

One hundred years after its publication, Bram Stoker’s novel was able to become a major blessing for Romania.  Starting in the 1990s, the vampire legend attracted tourists from around the world in much the same way Salem Village became a wiccan shrine in Massachusetts.

So what's the real story about Transylvania?   Over the years, Transylvania, an obscure mountainous region in north central Romania that has changed little since the days of Bram Stoker, has become synonymous with the name Dracula. 

For one hundred years, Bram Stoker’s novel has fed everyone's imagination with the tales of a predatory vampire who lived in a ruined castle up high in the Carpathian mountains.  The vampire's castle was said to be surrounded by lonely, spooky forests.  Although most of the action unfolds in Victorian London, it is the description of Transylvania...dark, wild, untouched by science and modernity... that is the novel’s most evocative achievement.  After Stoker got through describing Transylvania, it was not at all difficult to imagine demons and werewolves baying at the moon throughout the region.  Stoker's depiction of this frightening, misunderstood region was awakened our fears.  Here was the land that God had offered to the Devil.  It was hidden in a remote, unexplored recess of Europe that no one dared enter.

The novel gave rise to a thriving vampire subculture.  At its center stands Transylvania, the natural home for the supernatural.  And through the circuitous process known as modern myth-making, today we have Bran Castle which serves as the symbolic link between the natural and the supernatural. 

As I have pointed out, in October 2018, Marla and I are taking a river cruise on the Danube River that originates in Bucharest, Romania.   Marla and I have signed up for a three-day tour that takes us to visit the horrors of Bran Castle on Halloween. 

So let's have some straight talk about that excursionNow you know the truth that Bran Castle and Bram Stoker are not related.  However, on the other hand, every person and their uncle could care less.  We all like pretending that Vlad and the Count are one and the same.  It makes the legend more fun.  Since it is all mythology to begin with, there seems to be a worldwide movement to expand the mythology.

So, yes, I openly admit that Bran Castle is Romania's answer to the Blarney Stone myth and the Loch Ness Monster myth.  But just because Bran Castle is the newest European tourist racket doesn't keep it from being fascinating. 

You see, I believe that Bran Castle has magnetic properties.  In my mind, Bran Castle is the lighthouse that calls unusual people from every corner to come celebrate Halloween in Romania, the birthplace of the greatest monster myth in literary history.  Let's all experience the creepiness of Transylvania together.

Indeed, I anticipate every person on the planet who loves Halloween will feel the magnetic tractor beam emanating from Bran Castle on Halloween.   By silent acclaim, Bran Castle has been granted celebrity status by the masses of people who love the Bram Stoker novel.  It may not be the true shrine, but it is the designated shrine.  Like Bethlehem on Christmas, people are drawn to Bran Castle on Halloween.  It is the place to be. 

I am talking about 'interesting people', you know, the kind of people who stay hidden most of the time, but show up for strange events like this. 

Maybe you guys don't know us very well.  Our two favorite shows are 'Game of Thrones' and 'Walking Dead'.  This trip is right up Mystery Alley for us.

I of course will dress as Dracula.  I can't wait!!  I have already begun to file down my incisors and work on my Transylvanian accent.  Marla will come as the dark-haired Elvira clad in dark robes that will both reveal the glory of her ample curves and her macabre personality as well.  If you haven't guessed by now, Marla and I intend to be just as weird as everyone else.  It should be a very interesting trip.

One more thing.  Marla and I are not alone in our oddity.  Since I first announced this trip, in the space of a two weeks, 10 people have signed up to join us on this adventure.   That speaks to the unusual nature of this trip.

I understand that 'Dracula on the Danube' is over a year away, but you have to realize that this trip is turning into a cult phenomenon.  The space on this riverboat is 75% gone.  So if you have a secret weird streak of your own and you would like some company, then by all means contact Marla and plan to explore the Dark Side with us. 

 

 

 

   

 

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