I was dreaming of riding a silver gondola over foam capped blue waters, rolling hills with tiny stone villages on either side, and turreted castles around the next bend in the river when the sound of running water awakened me.
My cruisemate, Edrie was taking a shower.
“Danube so blue,
You flow straight through
The meadows and lakes,” I said, hurriedly slipping into my clothes and stepping out onto our small balcony
Although I was greeted by a warm breeze, a gorgeous sunrise, and rippling waters, I hated to admit it, but at this moment the river waters appeared to be a little more like the muddy Pearl back in Mississippi than the blue in Johann Strauss’s waltz, The Blue Danube.
“So be it,” I said.
Edrie Royals and I, along with our other Jackson friends, Margaret Vise, Carol Kirkland and Ann Barksdale were now beginning our third day on an Eastern Europe river cruise.
So far it had been had been a serene and peaceful journey as our ship had glided the Danube for the two previous nights towards Vidin, Bulgaria. I stepped back inside and checked with Edrie on our plans for the day. Viking had offered two tours this morning: an excursion to see the town of Belogradchik and the Belogradchik Fortress with unusual rock formations or an optional home-hosted cooking demonstration.
“I’m not much interested in cooking anymore,” Edrie said. “I think I’ll do the tour.”
“So be it. I’m with you,” I answered, so she and I signed for a journey into a scenic region of Bulgaria.
And I had something else on my mind. As always when I make a trip, I look for only one souvenir for myself, a decorative accordion player. This fascination began when
I was a child. I was taking accordion lessons; and after World War II, I found a small ceramic angel playing an accordion, a piece made in occupied Japan. I now have a collection of more than 200 from all over the world.
I had this on my mind, so before I stepped on the bus I met our guide, Albion, and mentioned what I was looking for. “I don’t know if you can find any on the tour,” she said.
“But be sure and come to the ship’s entertainment before dinner tonight. The best accordion player in Vidin is playing. And my son will sing and dance with him.”
“So be it,” I said. “I’ll be there for sure.”
The town of Belogradchik is about one hour from Vidin and on our drive to the town and Fortress we passed through several small villages and saw much of the countryside.
This region is famous for its production of food, the fields were spread as far as the eye could see - deep hues of green and gold.
Belogradchik is recognized as an extremely picturesque region with unique rock formations and natural sights and is a famous tourism center. The Fortress is one of the best preserved in Bulgaria.
Delighted and hopeful, I found a small souvenir shop which offered trinkets, pottery, embroidery and knickknacks.
No accordion players.
So be it.
When the tour was over and we returned to the ship there was free time to explore Vidin’s city center. For a short while I strolled a few of the pedestrian streets of Vidin looking for a musical memento. As I often do, I then opted to go off on my own. I turned away and wandered along the riverbank which was lined with tall trees that provided shade and seemed to be a favorite spot for the locals to relax. There were a few playgrounds, ice cream stands and cafes.
A dog came out of a little copse of trees, and rubbed against my ankle; he and I were happy to see each other. I had a companion and quickly named him, Cruiser.
A figure who looked like a bundle of dirty, ragged laundry and who had been asleep on a bench rose. His sweat lined face colored like an old leather purse, he shuffled toward me. I had no Bulgarian money. When I shook my head and raised empty hands the beggar dropped his shoulders, as if I had let him down, sank to his haunches, and once again blended with the bench.
Still the same old me, I seem to attract not only animals, but also the downtrodden.
So be it.
I checked my watch. It would soon be time for the evening entertainment that Albion had told me about so I turned toward our ship, with the dog following me.
“So be it. I can’t take you with me, Cruiser,” I said before I boarded the Viking Jarl. As if he understood, Cruiser licked my hand goodbye. There is something taming and soothing about a dog lick and I pressed and held it against my chest.
Almost as soon as I got back on the ship and freshened up, it was time for the local entertainment. As Albion had said earlier, “You will hear the best accordion player in Vidin.” And, I’m sure he was. Maybe one of the best I’ve ever heard.
I spotted our guide, Albion who nodded her head to me and pointed to the stage. A group of young singers and dancers wearing red, white, and black embroidered costumes typical of this area, sang high-pitched songs and swayed and danced Bulgarian rhythms with the accordionist.
It was easy to recognize Albion’s son as he sang and danced. Her pride in him was written on her face and brought tears to my eyes. Once again, placing my hand over my heart I was vaguely aware that this had been another of those moments I would remember long after the trip is over.
The only accordion player I had seen this day was the one on a stage. He was six feet tall and would not pack into a suitcase. I had no memento of Vidin to put on a shelf.
Only songs and a dog lick, both of which I had pressed to my heart.
“So be it,” I said.