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Home » Great Railway Journeys » EUROPE – Balkan Explorer on "The Danube Express” 2015

 

 


Balkan Explorer trip on board “The Danube Express”  2015

 

 

 

This trip visits the following cities:- 

VENICE - TRIESTE - LJUBLJANA - ZAGREB - SARAJEVO - MOSTAR - DUBROVNIK - BELGRADE - SKOPJE - THESSALONIKI - SOFIA - PLOVDIV – ISTANBUL

 

Absorb the unique blend of culture, ancient tales and architectural treasures on this fascinating voyage aboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Meandering through verdant landscapes and along turquoise coastlines, this exclusive rail cruise delivers a captivating exploration of the Balkan nations and their surrounding countries.

 

A great vacation idea, travel in some of the finest rail accommodation available in Europe

 

 

Views of the Danube Express, the carriages used for this trip.

 

 

Danube Express Deluxe Sleeping Cars, each deluxe sleeping car has just five spacious yet intimate en-suite cabins offering every convenience and comfort so you may sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery as it rolls by.

Private bathrooms feature a shower with constant hot water, washbasin and toilet. There is a heated towel rail, shaver socket and hairdryer and a range of toiletries are provided.

Bedrooms have individually controlled air-conditioning, lighting with dimmer switches, individual reading lights, power sockets and a safe.

 

Co-ordinated fabrics complement wood panelled walls and brass fittings. Two comfortable armchairs provide daytime seating and a free-standing chair adds flexibility. Cupboards and a full length wardrobe provide ample storage whilst the large picture window and full length mirror enhance the spacious feel. A second window will open for fresh air and for that perfect photo opportunity.

During dinner each evening the living room is converted into two comfortable lower beds by your attendant who is also on hand to bring early morning tea or coffee or perhaps later, a glass of wine.

 

Heritage Class

Each carriage has eight sleeping cabins with an upper and lower bed. A toilet is available at one end of the carriage and a shower at the other end. Each cabin has wood panelled walls, remote controlled air-conditioning, power sockets and hanging space.

A full length couch provides daytime seating. The large picture window will open for fresh air and for that perfect photo opportunity. During dinner each evening the cabin is converted into two comfortable beds by your attendant who is also on hand to bring early morning tea or coffee or perhaps later, a glass of wine.

Saloon Cars

For this journey we will be taking two managers saloon cars which, as well as providing two additional seating areas, incorporate four single cabins and one large cabin with small double bed and en-suite toilet and shower.

The single cabins have access to a toilet and shower at the end of the carriage. These two carriages are not air-conditioned but we do not consider this will be a requirement at this time of the year.

 

Restaurant and Bar Cars

There will be two restaurant cars and one bar car included in the train formation which we expect to be 12 carriages in total.

 

 

2015 Departures

Westbound.     July 3 - July 14                         Eastbound             July 11 to July 22           

 

 

 

Day 1                     Venice, Italy.

Arrivals day in Venice where you will be met and transferred to the five-star Westin Europa and Regina hotel for a two-night stay. The hotel enjoys a spectacular location beside the Grand Canal, a short stroll from St. Mark’s Square. Today is at leisure to explore this wonderful city. Tonight enjoy a welcome reception & dinner, plus the opportunity to meet your fellow travelers.

 

Day 2                     Venice,Italy.

Veniceis a truly captivating city of romance; its unrivalled beauty takes away the breath of first time visitors and regulars alike. Today we will have the opportunity to take a walking tour around the highlights of this spectacular city. Walk through the winding lanes beside theGrand Canalto St. Mark’s Square, which for 1,000 years was the heart of Venetian life. We also see St Mark’s Basilica and stroll through the Rialto Market.

For a truly iconic experience, take a gondola ride in the Basin of St. Mark’s and along the Grand Canal followed by a short stroll through the artists’ district of Dorsoduro, where we will stop to take in the city’s most breath-taking views from the Academia Bridge, before returning to our hotel. Alternatively, spend the day exploring this magnificent city at your leisure.

 

Day 3                     Trieste, Italy.

This morning we transfer from the hotel, by boat, directly to Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal.  Here our private train, the Golden Eagle Danube Express, is ready to receive us.  Mid morning the train will thread its way out Santa Lucia station onto the 3-mile causeway over the Venice Lagoon and on to on our first stop at the Italian port city of Trieste, for an afternoon tour.  We stop at the vast Piazza Unita d’Italia, the main town square, and can climb the hill to the famous Church of San Giusto built around a medieval complex that dates backs to the 13th century. We will go inside the church for a close-up view of the splendid Byzantine-style architecture enriched with precious mosaics.

 

We also offer a Freedom of Choice option to visit the Museum of the Risiera di San Sabba. This former rice-husking facility became the site of the only extermination camp in Italy.

 

Day 4                     Ljubljana & Zagreb,      Slovenia &Croatia

Ljubljana is a delightful city, a combination of ancient architecture and a youthful culture. Our morning city tour includes visits to Preseren Square, Three Bridges, Dragon Bridge and Plecnik Market. We enjoy lunch back onboard the train as we travel onwards towards Croatia’s elegant capital Zagreb.

 

This afternoon we will tour Zagreb, a central European city with over 900 years of documented history. We will take a walking tour of the upper town and ‘Kapitol’ (the ancient town centre), which abounds in Baroque atmosphere and cultural monuments. We will also see the ornate buildings of the lower town and its wide boulevards.

 

Day 5                      Sarajevo & Mostar; Bosnia & Herzegovina.

 

Early morning arrival into the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo which is an intriguing blend of Eastern and Western culture; it has mosques and minarets, an ancient bazaar and an atmospheric old Turkish quarter. Discover the city’s poignant history through a truly absorbing tour detailing the horrors of the Balkan War. Sarajevo suffered from the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The scars of war are still evident as we travel past war-torn buildings and we make a special visit to the Tunnel Museum under Sarajevo Airport. Your guide, who lived through the 1992-1996 conflict, brings to life in touching fashion the struggles the citizens of Sarajevo faced during the siege of the city.

Discover its history and see locations that include the National Museum, Olympic Stadium Kosovo, and Oslobodjenje newspaper tower the story of Sarajevo and its citizens during the Balkan wars on a 3-hour driving tour of the city's siege sites.

Learn the reasons behind the collapse of Yugoslavia and the conditions Sarajevans lived under when it was still Communist Yugoslavia under Tito. Hear about the reasons for the Bosnian Liberation War, and the estimations of war damage and numbers of war casualties. Although a survivor of the war, your guide will have fun stories to tell too, with touching descriptions of the things that gave them the will to go on when life was at its most difficult.Know the story of Sarajevo and its citizens during the Balkan wars on a 3-hour driving tour of the city's siege sites.  

 

This afternoon we tour the historic city of Mostar, the crossroads of many civilizations, cultures and three religions. Mostar was one of the most important cities of the Ottoman Empire. The town’s renowned stone arch bridge linking the Christian and Muslim areas was re-built in the summer of 2004. We also visit Turkish House and the mosque before walking through the narrow, bazaar streets, where you can shop for traditional souvenirs and handicrafts.


Day 6                     Dubrovnik, Croatia.

 After breakfast we leave our train for a scenic drive along the Dalmatian Coast to Dubrovnik.  Since its foundation in the 13th century Dubrovnik has been attacked many times but it is now restored as one of the great cities of the Mediterranean, essentially unchanged for 700 years. We will tour the city travelling through Ploce Gate to visit the Franciscan Monastery with one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, the Old Harbour, St. Laurence Fortress and the Rector’s Palace.  We have lunch overlooking the Adriatic and have free time to wander the narrow streets.  Late afternoon we head back to the train for dinner as we depart towards Serbia.

 

 

 

Day 7                     Belgrade, Serbia.

Arrive this morning in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the former Yugoslavian capital. Located at the strategic meeting point of the Danube and Sava Rivers, this truly cosmopolitan city has fortifications from Celtic times, medieval tombs and Turkish baths. We spend a full day here and our city tour includes the ‘House of Flowers’ –the mausoleum of Josip Tito, the Town Hall, Republic Square and Knez Mihajlova Street, as well as ‘Varos’ Gate and a visit to the mighty Kalemegdan Fortress.

 

Day 8                     Skopje & Thessaloniki; Macedonia & Greece.

 

This morning we arrive in the little-visitedSkopjeand discover a city where the Ottoman influences are still strong. Explore the narrow streets of the Old Town with tiny shops and mosques with ceramic-tiled interiors. Meander through the Old Bazaar area, brimming with things to buy, and cross the 15th-century Stone Bridge which links the bazaar to the modern town.

We return to the train for lunch onboard and continue through the afternoon crossing intoGreecefor an early evening arrival intoThessaloniki. We soak up the evening atmosphere of this vibrant city by heading to Aristotelous Square, and will enjoy an al-fresco Mediterranean seafood dinner.

 

Day 9                     Sofia & Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

The site of Bulgaria’s modern capital, at the foot of Mt. Vitosha, was first occupied by the Thracian tribe of Serdi. On our morning tour we will spot sections of Roman wall, admire the ancient church of St George, the golden domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Turkish Bashi Mosque.

We enjoy lunch on the train as we travel from Sofia to Plovdiv. The second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia, ‘The City of Seven Hills’ is one of the oldest cities in Europe with more than 200 known archaeological sites. We spend the afternoon here exploring the Roman Forum and Amphitheatre. We’ll visit the charming Old Town including its medieval walls and Ottoman baths.

 

Day 10                  Istanbul, Turkey.

This morning we arrive into Istanbul where we stay two nights at the iconic five-star Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. The hotel was built in 1892 to cater for guests taking the Orient Express and it was here that Agatha Christie wrote her famous book ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. A fitting Grand Hotel to end our tour.

Note: Continuing engineering works associated with the new Bosphorus tunnel could mean that the train stops on the outskirts of Istanbul and our buses will transport us to the city centre.

This fabled city that spans Asia and Europe is our final stop on our tour so there is ample time to see how old meets new, east meets west when we visit Istanbul’s must-see historic sites. One of the most famous monuments in both the Turkish and Islamic worlds, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) is a superb creation in the classical Ottoman style and features six towering minarets and 260 windows illuminating its vast main chamber, which is decorated with more than 20,000 Iznik tiles.

Now a museum, Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian, and was one of the largest basilic as in the Christian world. After the Ottoman conquest, it was converted to a mosque and is today one of the most magnificent museums in the world. Take a moment to linger here to admire the fine Byzantine mosaics. 

This afternoon is at leisure for all guests to explore this wonderful city, or relax at this luxurious hotel and spa. 

 

 

 

Day 11                  Istanbul, Turkey.

Today we visit the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi. This stunning palace is the largest and oldest in the world and was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853. With its treasury and exotic buildings overlooking the Golden Horn, your visit to Topkapi promises to be a truly fascinating experience. 

We also visit the Grand Bazaar which is one of the world’s largest covered markets, with 58 streets and over 4,000 shops. In operation since the 14th century the bazaar is especially known for its jewelry, leather, pottery, spices and carpets.  The Egyptian Market or Spice Bazaar will also be visited on the Golden Horn.

 

 

Day 12                  Istanbul, Turkey.

Following breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for onward departures. There is also an option to extend your stay in Istanbul for additional nights to explore more of this fascinating city.