Blue Week, festival that celebrates the international Danube Day, was organized for the fourth time last year. It took place from 28th to July 5th, in three Danube countries – Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, and four towns – Ruse, Drobeta Turnu Severin, Kladovo and Belgrade.
Thanks to the efforts of all involved partners, a series of events were organized – all around themes of culture, nature and active tourism, promoting the ideas of sustainable tourism, biodiversity and cross-border cooperation. A couple of thousand people took part in a variety of activities, or just visited exhibitions, fairs and info centres which were also a part of Blue Week 2014.
The activities in Bulgarian town Ruse – organized by Municipality of Ruse, Focal Point Destination Danube and wineries from the Danube – began in the morning of July 28th, by cleaning the Ruse Quay, which was part of “Do It For The Danube” activities: since we all benefit from the Danube, the idea is to return the favor to our river; all partners at the individual events are therefore invited to implement one relevant participatory activity, that the Danube benefits from. Cleaning the quay in Ruse – organized by “OK project” – attracted a lot of people who were already taking their morning walk along the Danube on this pleasant summer day.
Visitors of Blue Week festivities in Ruse then had the opportunity to enjoy free guided tour at Sexaginta Prista – part of the Roman Emperors’ and Danube Wine Route (RER/DWR) which promotes cultural tourism in the lower part of the Danube. The name of Sexaginta Prista literary means “a city of 60 ships”, since it was a large river port – just like Ruse, modern city built on the site of Sexaginta. Of course, the tour around this place wasn’t an ordinary event: in a Roman Bazaar, visitors could experience the ancient way of life, by tasting wines and traditionally prepared food served by “Real Romans”, dressed in traditional Roman clothes. The tour also offered a Roman cohort, noblemen, artists, craftsmen and potters, minters and merchants, as well as the reenactment of a slave market – which all contributed to a general feeling of “time travel machine”. Confused at first, visitors soon relaxed and let themselves enjoy, like we suppose antique Romans did.
Blue & Wine Expo was organized within the wonderful premises of Dohodno Zdanie, an imposing Neoclassical edifice on Freedom Square in the city centre, built in 1898–1902 to accommodate the local theatre performances. Today, Dohodno Zdanie is a cultural monument and one of the symbols of Ruse. Ten wine regions from four countries took the chance to present themselves at beautifully decorated and branded stands: Muntenia and Oltenia Hills and Dobrogea Hills from Romania; Banat, Morava and Smederevo Region, Negotin and Fruska Gora from Serbia; Ilok from Croatia; Pleven, Vidin and Ruse from Bulgaria – all of these part of RER/DWR. After the oppening words of Ruse mayor and a coreography performed by girls from Ruse schools, all the activities focused on wine and wineries.
Apart from visitors, who enjoyed the wines and fairytale decor of Dohodno Zdanie, wine producers also had a good time, since they had the opporunity to get to know their colegues, exhchange ideas and discuss possibilities for future cooperation.
Meanwhile, in the “public corner” visitors could sit close to the buffet and watch image movies or test their knowledge by participating in our Danube Quiz. In the evening, blue and white lampions were lit and launched in the air to symbolically present the “Flow of friendship”.
DROBETA TURNU SEVERIN AND KLADOVO
The same day, Juny 28th, was quite an experience for the Danube cyclists, taking part in Bike Fest organized by Association Cyclomaniacs from Drobeta Turnu Severin and Tourism Organization Kladovo. A couple of hundred cyclists ride their bykes early in the morning, from Karataš Camp in Serbia, to Drobeta Turnu Severin in Romania – around twenty kilometres, across the state border, along a hilly terrain. After the cyclists from two countries met, they took part in a mass city ride all around the town, which was quite an experience. Since the streets of there are rather wide and only a bit hilly, cyclists of all ages enjoyed it. This was actually an opportunity to enjoy the most interesting sites in the town, in the most interesting way. Apart from a wonderful moving fountain that is lit by different colours lights, the town boasts a number of modern streets and squares, well kept parks and wide alleys which are a tourism attraction for themselves.
One of those modern squares was the venue for afternoon activities which included info centres, bike expo, photo exhibition, stands where one could buy cycle gear of etno fashion. A few hundred visitors also had the oppotunity to enjoy choreographies performed by the youngest inhabitants of Drobeta Turnu Severin, BMX cycling performance, or an attractive raffle. Audience took an active part in these performances: parents, friends and neighbourghs of the dancers and BMX acrobats, as well as the guests from other towns, run around with their cameras and cheered at every move, which made the event joyful and exciting.
A lot of visitors used the opportunity to “write a letter to a friend”, which meant that they wrote something to a virtual friend, somewhere along the Danube – the letters were put in a large bottle and procedeed further on. The idea of the Danube as a river that unites people living on its banks, was also promoted by the languages of the programme – which were both Romanian and Serbian at the same time.
The cyclists then made a return ride to Karataš Camp in Serbia, from where the day started and where it would end. With the assitance of local police and custums authorities, the cyclists made it with no problems: all ages, different sizes and experiences, they managed to ride along the curves on both banks of the river, and across the bridge that connects two countries, but at the same time represents the state border. They, and a lot of people who opted for a car ride instead of cycling, used the afterfnoon and the evening to explore Kladovo – one of the most beautiful Serbian cities, with its green alleys, cosy restaurants and hotels, as well as the remains of Fetislam, medieval fortress overlooking the river.
Meanwhile, in Karataš Camp – facility near the Danube, mainly used for sports teams to prepare for major competitions, there was a party going on from the evening, until morning of the next day, with DJ and live music, cycle games and rides.
In the late evening, blue lampions were launched into the Danube water.
Preserving and getting to know the nature, were the main themes of Belgrade events on July 5th, organized by Tourism organization of Belgrade and other partners. Located at one of the most beatiful spots in Serbian capital – just below Nebojša tower and medieval fortress of Kalemegdan, DCC stand attracted a few hundred visitors who had the opporutinity to take part in Danube quiz and win interesting prizes, enjoy a photo exhibition, and to inform about the river and its tourism potentials.
While enjoying the Danube breeze, visitors also took a chance to learn something more about the Great War Island – an oasis in the centre of the city, which got its name because it was used as an invasion spot during a number of wars. Enthusiasts from “Supernatural” movement made a series of presentatitions about biodiversity and ecological importance of that the island, as well as other river islands nearby. Most of the visitors were unaware that the Great War Island is declared as international IBA (Important Bird Area) zone, since it hosts around 160 bird species (which increases to even 200 in the times of migration). One of those is white-tailed eagle, an endangered species famous for its size – it is third biggest eagle in the world, and the biggest European eagle. The Great War Island, that lies at the confluence of river Sava and Danube, is a home to seven pairs of these remarkable birds.
Meanwhile, on a boat anchored nearby, visitors could sit and rest, enjoy refreshments or listen to old Danube fisherman telling stories about the river: that afternoon, one could – for example – learn that the river storm is “announced” by a white crest on waves, or something about a “specfic Danube scent”.
This of course wasn’t the end of the day. One of the most attractive activities was kayaking/pedaling, well prepared and well secured by Wild Serbia, which promotes adventure, eco and active tourism. In a number of organized tours, visitors, jounralists and VIP guests could see and feel the Danube for themselves: the tour (which is an introduction of a new Danube eco kayak tours which will start in September 2014), included a ride around the Great War Island, by Danube beaches, smaller river channals, Sava and Danube banks covered with hundreds kinds of trees, bushes and plants.
Those who were not afraid to take the paddle in their hands, also had a unique opportunity to take “a river side view” of major Belgrade attractions, usually seen from the “land side”: famous Victor, statue that overlooks the confluence of Sava and Danube, as well as most of the city; Museum of Modern Art, landscapes of New Belgrade and Zemun, and, above all, walls and towers of Kalemegdan.
Visitors, who in most of the cases had no kayaking experiences, felt a bit insecure in the beginning: some of them were afraid that they would turn the kayak upside down, and some that they wouldn’t know how to row. These fears dissapeared the moment they observed their city from an unusual perspective. After more than half an hour of active kayaking, they were all wet and quite tired, but said it was worthed. “You’ve made our day. No, not the day! Every time I look at the river, I will remember this experience”, one of them said.
Belgrade event, as well as Blue Week festival 2014. ended with an exhibition and tasting of wines coming from twelve wine regions, all part of Danube Wine Route.
Forteen wineries, situated in different landscapes and climate, offered their wines, so a visitor of Blue Week in Ruse could feel “local touches” in taste, scent and color: Stefania Costea- Vie Vin Vinju Mare S.R.L, Dan Jalea, Ionut Paraschiv, Cireasa Dorin – Vinuri de Măcin (Romania), Miloš Kalapiš, Vlastelica Rasko, Goran Jovšić, Jovica Bela -Turistička organizacija Smederevo, Ivanovic Winery, Davorin Majhenšek (Serbia), Ivica Miličević – Tourist Organisation Ilok (Croatia), Iliana Georieva – Danube Wines, Dimitar Ivanov – Union of Enologists, Emil Raynov – Wine Union JSC (Bulgaria).