While in the Czech Republic in August, I spent a couple of days in the sizzling heat in Plzeň. The city was alive with festivals, and I spent hours during the day exploring the town by bike. I found this grotty bike path by the river that I never knew existed. Photo by Mark Baker.
By the time August rolled around we'd already had two months of sunshine and baking heat. Little did we know then, the heat wave-drought was just getting started and I'd be paying a price for all this sunshine in September. Turns out that the river levels in Europe were too low to support a cruise boat. This is central Plzeň on a typically hot August day in 2018. Photo by Mark Baker.
I made the jump in mid-August from the Czech Republic to Romania, connecting the dots via a long day's drive from Český Krumlov to Arad, Romania. Once in Romania, I bounced around the country like a pinball. Here's one of my favorite cities, Brașov. I wrote a bit about the craziness of that trip in a story about the Black Sea port of Constanța: "Abandoned on the Furthest Shores of the World." Photo by Mark Baker.
In August, while in Romania, I made a trip to the derelict Baths of Hercules (Băile Herculane), which I'd first read about in Patrick Leigh Fermor's "Between the Woods & the Water." My blog post, "The Ruins of Hercules" caught the attention of a group promoting the reconstruction of the baths, though the place was still in pretty poor shape during my visit. Photo by Mark Baker.
Late August in Bucharest and paying my annual visit to the long-closed, legendary backpacker flophouse, Hotel Banat. On this visit, it looks like the hotel is still searching for a buyer to restore it to its decadent glory. Photo by Mark Baker.
In September, I took the first of two river cruises for the year up and down the Danube, working as a destination expert for National Geographic. The first cruise, 15 days, ran from Budapest to Amsterdam, via the Main and Rhine rivers. It was a learning experience for me in nearly every conceivable way -- something I wrote about in "Part 1: A Scenic Cruise on the Danube." This picture is from the Rhine in Germany. Photo by Mark Baker.
Amsterdam's riverboat harbor in early October, on the last day of the 15-day cruise from Budapest. This photo was taken on the sundeck of the boat at about 7:30am -- the passengers were still having breakfast and I'd come up top to get some air and find some peace. Photo by Mark Baker.
From the riverboat dock in Amsterdam, I hopped a train down to Luxembourg for a college re-union. This is the view from the window of my hotel, the Cravat, in the center of town. We had a blast at the reunion and Luxembourg will always remain one of my all-time favorite places anywhere. Photo by Mark Baker.
From Luxembourg, I flew back to Prague for a weekend to wash my clothes. A couple of days later I was on a plane for Sofia, Bulgaria, for Lonely Planet. The weather held through the month of October and into early November. This is Sofia's famous Nevsky Cathedral surrounded by the yellow leaves of autumn. Photo by Mark Baker.
From Sofia, I rented a car and drove all around Bulgaria. From the city of Ruse, I went to Varna, Burgas, and then here, the medieval Bulgarian capital of Veliko Târnovo. This is was the view over the river and town from my hotel window. Photo by Mark Baker.
By the time November rolled around, my trip to Bulgaria was winding to a close. One of the last stops was the Bulgarian wine metropolis of Melnik, near the Greek border. It was a little slow this time of year, but it's a pretty place and the wine is excellent. Photo by Mark Baker.
The year of travel was not quite over. From December 2 to December 9, I river-cruised once again with Scenic and National Geographic along the Danube. This was a "Christmas Markets" cruise, though we didn't actually visit that many markets. This is the town of Dürnstein, along the banks of Austria's Wachau Valley. We docked here and hiked to the castle at the top of this photo. Photo by Mark Baker.