We bring you interesting facts and stories from our top 10 unmissable sights on our Balkan Odyssey journey, which travels from Budapest to Venice through 8 fascinating countries, on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.
The beautiful Balkans are rich in history, vibrant culture and architectural treasures, not to mention the abundance of breathaking scenery, therefore it is little wonder why so many of Golden Eagle’s passengers have enjoyed exploring this fascinating region by private train.
1. Stari Most, Mostar
Mostar, a historic city in South Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a crossroads of many civilisations, cultures and religions. It was one of the most important cities of the Ottoman Empire. Its world-famous Stari Most (Old Bridge) is instantly recognisable by its swooping stone arch and links Christian and Muslim areas of the city. It was originally built in the 16th century, but was destroyed during the Bosnian War in 1993. The bridge underwent reconstruction and reopened in 2004 and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The bridge is the scene for many spectacular events, including an annual diving competition held in July. Divers from around the world plunge 24 meters off the bridge towards the water below. Throughout the year you can watch locals making the same jump and even some brave tourists, though they must be trained by the Mostar Diving Club beforehand!
2. Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum, Budapest
The Hungarian capital is actually two cities separated by the Danube River. Buda, the old city, houses the imposing Royal Palace and is a much greener, more residential area than its counterpart. Pest is much more urban and vibrant, home to galleries, museums and Parliament. By the river, there are stunning views on offer of each city and the famous Chain Bridge, built in 1849, connects the two.
There are also some quirkier, lesser-known attractions to please the palate in Budapest. There is the Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum (no relation to us!), housed in Buda’s Castle District, which first opened in 1896 with a weird and wonderful collection of oddities, before it became a museum in 1948. Dedicated to alchemy, you will find such thing as mummified corpses ground into Powder, dried bats and tiny crocodiles in jars.
3. Shoes on the Danube, Budapest
The ‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a monument that has stood for over 70 years. In 1944, when Hitler overthrew the Hungarian government, thousands of Jews were expelled from the country. Around 20,000 of them were tragically shot along the banks of the river. They were forced to remove the shoes, hence this poignant symbol of remembrance to those innocently killed.
4. Tunnel Museum, Sarajevo
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, is an intriguing blend of Eastern and Western culture, it has mosques and minarets, an ancient bazaar and an atmospheric Turkish Quarter. This compact city has been largely restored after the Bosnian War of the 1990’s, where the city suffered from the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. The scars are still evident on many of the war-torn buildings still in existence. With the city under siege for most of the 1990’s, a tunnel was built beneath the airport runway to link the Bosnian neighbourhood of Butmir with the rest of the country, which was mostly controlled by Serbia. The tunnel was dug by hand by labourers in less than desirable conditions and upon completion, was 800m in length. It was eventually equipped with rails in order to transport food and other vital resources and proved a pivotal link in providing life-saving resources to parts of the country most in need during the war. A lot of the tunnel has collapsed, but the parts still standing now make up the Tunnel Museum, accessible by all tourists.
5. Plecnik Market, Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia, was recently voted Europe’s Greenest City. A delightful combination of ancient architecture and youthful culture, with its luscious Ljubljanica River flowing through the centre. There is a restriction on car traffic in the city, so pedestrians and cyclists are plentiful, meaning a quiet, tranquil visit is an almost certainty.
Plecnik Market, or the Ljubljana Central Market, stretches between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge on the right side of the Ljubljanica River. The design of the market is reflective of the Renaissance era and its construction took place on Vodnik Square after the damage from an earthquake in 1895 was cleared. The market is open six days a week (excluding Sunday) and comprises of a flower market, fish market, bakery, dairy stalls, meat stalls, herbs, spices and arts & crafts.
6. Isola di San Michele, Venice
Explore this magnificent city at your leisure; it is easy to lose yourself down charming alleyways, admiring stunning architecture and absorbing a distinctive culture. Venice is a tale of two cities; a place where historical Churches meet a contemporary art scene.
The Isola di San Michele, across the water from the Cannaregio district, is home to the deceased. The island is encased by a red brick wall and is the only Christian burial ground in Venice.
7. Liberia Acqua Alta, Venice
Venice, is a city unique in its design. Built on a marshy lagoon, its buildings give the impression of emerging from beneath the water. The rising water level problem is evident at the Liberia Acqua Alta, a bookshop that interestingly keeps all of its stock in bathtubs and boats to stop it from being damaged by constant flooding. A quirky display method makes for a wonderful experience exploring the literature kept at this store.
8. For Sale Pub, Budapest
The ‘For Sale’ pub is an establishment that encourages visitors to leave personal advertisements, such as business cards, notes, drawings and painting. Almost every surface of the interior is saturated with such mementos, making for a quirky dining experience.
Budapest is a city worth exploring; whether it be the Opera House, Art galleries, their famous thermal baths, or sampling the delicious food and drink selection available, there is something for everyone. It’s hardly surprising the city was recently included in Trip Advisor’s Top 25 Destinations list.
9. San Servolo Insane Asylum Museum, Venice
Venice is a city filled with iconic monuments: The Piazza San Marco, the principle public square of Venice; Saint Mark’s Basilica, the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice; Doge’s Palace, a beautiful palace built in Venetian Gothic style and the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal are all a necessity. But for something a little left of centre, why not visit the San Servolo Insane Asylum Museum, also known as ‘The Island of the Mad’. It was the official mental asylum for Venice for 250 years, with more than 200,000 patients admitted during its period of activity. Its’ closure in 1978 was caused by a change to the law and since 2006, it has been open to the public as a museum dedicated to the history of the asylum.
10. Nine Views, Zagreb
Zagreb, Croatia’s vibrant capital, is crammed full of culture, art and cuisine. Identifiable by its unique Austro-Hungarian architecture, there are more museums per square foot here than any other city on earth. With over 900 years of documented history, the city is split into three sections: the medieval upper town, Gornji Grad, which contains some of the oldest parts of Zagreb, St Mark’s Church and the Croatian Parliament; Donji Grad, the Lower Town with its vibrant shopping and gastronomy scene is home to the Zagreb Cathedral and lastly there is the modern Novi Zagreb (new Zagreb).
In 1971, artist Ivan Kozaric created The Grounded Sun, a bronze sphere two meters in diameter, which marked the center of a solar system and would be the beginning of the ‘Nine Views’ sculpture. In 2004, artist Davor Preis added to this by creating models of each of the planets to the same scale and placed them in different locations around Zagreb. ‘Nine Views’ was completed very quietly and many locals didn’t realise it was a model of the solar system until a team of physicists discovered each of the planets.