From The Black Sea To The Iron Gates
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
After two disagreeable nights and one disagreable day, we reached the Sulina mouth of the Danube. The river makes his muddy presence known far off shore, like the Mississippi, the Ganges, and the Yang-tze-kiang. The land is as flat as a pancake, and Sulina, which consists of a lighthouse and a long row of wooden buildings on piles, resembles the skeleton of a town deposited there by some freshet. You exchange the green plain of the sea for the green plain of the Dobrudja marshes, through which the Danube winds like a brown vein. Much was said about the improvements for navigation at Sulina, but the most I could discover was a long line of posts to which vessels were moored, and which may be the forerunner of a wharf. We passed through a street of vessels nearly three miles long, touching each other stem and stern, on both sides of the river, and then pursued our winding way toward Galatz, comparatively alone.
By and by, however, the hills of the Dobrudja arose in the southwest, and the monotonous level of the swamps was broken by belts of trees.
In the afternoon, we passed the southern or St. George's arm of the Danube, which is now so closed up by a bar at its mouth as to be useless. The northern or Kilia arm enters a short distance higher up, and looking toward it at sunset, over the green levels, we saw the fortress-town of Ismail, built upon its northern bank. This was the famous citadel of the Turks, which fell before Suwarrow, after one of the bloodiest assaults recorded in history. We anchored for some hours during the night, but early the next morning were at Galatz, in Moldavia. I can not say much about this place, for we only remained long enough to exchange our Black Sea steamer for the river-boat of the Danube Company. It is a dull, commonplace town, built over the slope of a long, barren hill.
From Galatz to the Iron Gates, in ascending the Danube, you have two days of monotonous seenery. On one side the low hills of Turkey, heavy, ungraceful ridges, generally barren of wood, and on the other the interminable plains of Wallachia. Except Giurgevo, the Port of Bucharest, there are no towns on the northern shore, but on the southern you pass, in succession, Rustchuk, Silistria, Nicopolis, and Widin, besides a great number of shabby, red-roofed villages, nestled in the elbows of the hills. Immense herds of horses graze on the meadows; rough Wallachian boors in wide trousers and low, black hats lounge about their huts, which are raised on high piles out of the reach of freshets; guard-houses at regular intervals stud the bank, and three slovenly gray soldiers present arms as we pass; coal-barges and flat-boats descend the river in long black lines, and all these pictures, repeated over and over again, at last weary the eye. We passed Silistria at dusk, and I' saw only an in-distinct silhouette of its famous fort. But the scars of battle vanish soon from the earth, and Silistria is as quiet and orderly now as if it had not heard a cannon for a thousand years.
At Gladowa, we entered the celebrated Iron Gates, where a spur of the Transylvanian Alps, running southwestward through Servia to join the central mountain chain of Turkey, attempts to barricade the Danube. But, like the Rhine at Bingen, and the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, he has cut with his crystal sword at the Gordian labyrinth he could not thread, and roars in a series of triumphant rapids through the heart of the terrible hills. Covered with forests of oak, beech, larch, and pine, the. mountains tower grandly on either hand, while through the inter-locking bases the river descends in watery planes, whose slant can be readily measured by the eye. The rocks have been blasted so as to afford a channel for the steamer, which trembles in every timber as she stems the foamy tangle of chutes and whirlpools. Let one of her iron muscles give way, and the river would have his will. A mile and a half of slow, trembling, exciting progress, and we have mounted the heaviest grade, but six hours of the same tremendous scenery await us. We pierce yet sublimer solitudes, and look on pictures of precipice and piled rock, of cavern and yawning gorge, and mountain walls, almost shutting out the day, such as no other river in. Europe can show.
At Orsova, the northern bank becomes Austrian, and we were ushered into the Empire with the same usual suavity. I must confess that as much as I detest the Austrian Government, there are few countries in Europe where a traveler meets with so little annoyance and so much courtesy. All day long, we sat on the hurricane deck, enjoying the superb scenery, but toward evening, the mountains dropt into hills, and the hills on the northern bank flattened out into the great plain of Hungary. We passed Belgrade during the night, and early next morning were at Peterwardein, a fortress in southern Hungary. We arrived at Pesth, the approach to which, for stately beauty, is scarcely surpassed anywhere. We were in a hurry to get on, and so, jumping into a fiacre on reaching the wharf, caught the morning train to Vienna, which we reached in just seven days and six hours from Constantinople—one of the shortest trips on record.