Cruising the Danube with Mona: The Iron Gate and Serbia

As mentioned in my September 1st post, we spent the first days of our river cruise visiting Romania and Bulgaria, and Day 5 all on deck, cruising the Danube, admiring the scenery, and snapping pictures.

The most spectacular scenery was the dramatic gorge of the IRON GATE, a narrow and formerly very dangerous passage on the Danube. The Iron Gate divides the Carpathian and Balkan mountains, forming part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania. It is about 2 miles (3 km) long and 530 feet (162 meters) wide, with towering rock cliffs that make it one of the most dramatic natural wonders of Europe. 

Our cruise ship approaching the Iron Gate dam,
and going through the Iron Gate dam.

In the 1960’s, a massive lock and dam were built to help control the speed of the river and make navigation safer. The joint development project of Romania and Yugoslavia on the Danube River (including a dam and hydroelectric power plant) was completed in 1972, providing equal amounts of energy to each country and quadrupling the annual tonnage of shipping. The name Iron Gate is commonly applied to the whole 90-mile- (145-kilometre-) long gorge system.

Our cruise ship going through the locks.
The crew member changing the flag as we entered Serbian territory.
Our cruise ship cruising in the open again.

On our way to Serbia we passed the rock sculpture of Decebalus, a colossal carving of the face of Decebalus (r. AD 87–106), the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which corresponds to present-day Romania.

It was commissioned by Romanian businessman Iosif Drăgan and it took 10 years for twelve sculptors to complete it. The lead artist sculptor’s name was Florin Cotarcea. According to Drăgan’s website, the businessman purchased the rock in 1992, after which the Italian sculptor Mario Galeotti assessed the location and made an initial model. The first six years involved dynamiting the rock into the basic shape, and the remaining four years were devoted to completing the details.

Under the face of Decebalus there is a Latin inscription which reads “DECEBALUS REX—DRAGAN FECIT” (“King Decebalus—Made by Drăgan”).

The carving was placed opposite an ancient memorial plaque, carved in the rock on the Serbian side of the river facing Romania. The plaque, known as the Tabula Traiana, records the completion of Trajan’s military road along the Danube and thus commemorates the final defeat of Decebalus by Trajan in 105, and the absorption of the Dacian kingdom into the Roman Empire. 

The Tabula Traiana marker laid by the Roman emperor Trajan over 2000 years ago can be seen on the left bank of the Danube.
You will also pass a beautiful Orthodox Church built on what appears to be a pier.

On Day 6 we arrived in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, and previously capital of Yugoslavia, situated at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.

Overlooking the city of Novi Sad with a spectacular view of the Danube and surroundings is
Marshal Vauban’s unconquerable Petrovaradin Fortress. Dramatic events in the recent past
have shaped both the present and the future of this region, resplendent with natural beauty and
a proud history. Located high on the right bank of the Danube River in the city of Novi Sad, the Petrovaradin Fortress (Petrovaradinska Tvrdjava) has played a significant role in Serbia’s history. Over the centuries, the site of the fortress has been used by the Romans, Byzantines, Celts, Turks, Hungarians and Austrians. Starting in the 17th century, the Austrians spent nearly a century building new fortifications, including new walls, water moats and channels with movable bridges and control gates. A 16-kilometer long system of underground tunnels was completed in 1776.

 Pobednik (in Serbian Cyrillic ‘The Victor’) is a monument in the Upper Town of the Belgrade Fortress, built to commemorate Serbia’s victory over the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Cast in 1913, erected in 1928, and standing at 14 metres (46 ft) high, it is one of the most famous works of Ivan Meštrović. The park is also one of the most visited tourist attractions in Belgrade and the city’s most recognizable landmark, a good place to watch the sunset over the city.

The Temple of Saint Sava  is the largest Orthodox church in Serbia, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches and it ranks among the largest churches in the world. It is the most recognizable building in Belgrade and a landmark, as its dominating dome resembles that of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul that has been converted to a mosque, after which it had been modelled. Every day, its grandiose bell towers with almost 50 bells announce noon. The interior is famous for its exquisite mosaic work. It was under remodeling when we visited.

The city center has a lively pedestrian area and charming outdoor cafes. There were colorful cows statues everywhere.

Tennis champion Novak Đoković is the big hero of Belgrade–and a generous one. We heard of Restaurant Novak 1, Tennis Center Novak, Nova Vita hospital…

We were treated to a special performance of local folkloric dances before the river ship sailed away from Belgrade.

When going on any cruise you shouldn’t forget your books. Here are two newly released novels for your entertainment.

Available on Amazon
He adopted two minority children but lost his wife. Finally things settle for him, until the lovely surgeon he hires turns his life upside down.

Released September 22

Available on Amazon
A biracial lawyer and jack of all trades, he fights discrimination to win the heart of the pretty blonde travel agent.

Release Day October 5

Fellow Floridians, Beware of toilet lizard and iguana aggression

From Dave Barry– Miami Herald

Here in South Florida we’re accustomed to lizards, of course; they’re everywhere. When I moved here decades ago, the lizards were one of the things I had to adjust to, along with the hurricanes, the 250 percent humidity, and the fact that Miami drivers actually speed up for stop signs. But the lizards didn’t bother me, because even though there were a lot of them, they were small and cute and non-threatening. They seemed to spend most of their time just standing around doing nothing, like members of a miniature highway-repair crew.

The most aggressive lizard behavior I’d see was the occasional male lizard trying to attract a sex partner by displaying the skin flap under his chin, which is called a “dewlap.” Apparently it is a strongly held belief among male lizards that the chicks really go for a guy with a big dewlap. It’s kind of like weight-lifter human males who believe human females are attracted to large biceps and consequently wear tank tops everywhere, including funerals. But I was not threatened — nor, for the record, attracted — by the dewlap displays. I left the lizards alone, and the lizards left me alone. If I encountered lizards, say, on a sidewalk, they always respectfully skittered out of the way, in recognition of the fact that I was, compared to them, Godzilla.

But lately the lizards are different. I don’t know what’s causing it. Maybe it’s global climate change. But what’s really disturbing is that many of these appear to be a new kind of lizard: They’re bigger, and they’re uglier. They’re not the cute li’l Geico Gecko types. They’re
more along the lines of junior-varsity velociraptors. And they have an attitude. More and more, when I encounter sidewalk lizards, they do not skitter away. At best they casually saunter off in an insolent manner. Sometimes these lizards don’t move at all: They just stand there defiantly, giving me that beady lizard eyeball, clearly conveying, by their body language, the
message: “Why should I fear YOU? You have a small dewlap!” Which, much as it pains me to admit it, is true.

Perhaps you think I’m overreacting. Perhaps you’re thinking, “OK, maybe the lizards are getting bigger and more aggressive. But why should I care? I spend most of my time indoors anyway, so this issue doesn’t really affect ME.”
Oh really? Let me ask you a question: While you’re indoors, do you ever have occasion to use a toilet? I ask because of an alarming report I saw July 8 on NBC6 TV news. The report begins with a camera shot looking down into a toilet bowl, which contains a large iguana. This exchange introduces a report concerning retirees Janet and Bruce Bleier, who, since moving to Hollywood, FL. from Long Island, have encountered not one, but TWO commode iguanas. The first time was in October, when Bruce went to use the bathroom late one night.

Janet discovered the second iguana. She offers this advice to NBC6 viewers: “Look before you sit.” In both cases, the Bleiers called Harold Rondan, proprietor of a company called Iguana Lifestyles, who came and took the iguana away. (Iguana removal is a major industry in South Florida.) Perhaps at this point you’re thinking, “OK, so this one couple had two iguanas show up in their toilet. It’s probably just a fluke. It’s not like it’s an epidemic.”

Oh really? Well perhaps you would be interested to know that on July 10, just two days after the NBC6 report about the Bleiers, another local station, WSVN 7News, carried a report about another Hollywood resident, Michelle Reynolds, who came downstairs one evening and looked into her toilet. Guess what she found? She found an iguana. A LARGE iguana. “He took up most of the toilet bowl,” she tells 7News. There’s video of the iguana being removed, again by Harold Rondan of Iguana Lifestyles, who identifies it as a Mexican spiny-tailed iguana. Even by iguana standards, this is an ugly animal, and it does not look happy. You can tell by its facial expression that its goal in life is to grow much bigger so that one day it can come back and eat Harold Rondan of Iguana Lifestyles.

And that’s not the end of our story. On July 11, one day later, the Bleiers were once again on the local TV news. It turns out they had yet another toilet iguana. This was their THIRD.
So please don’t try to tell me this isn’t an epidemic.
I spoke by phone with Janet Bleier, who said she and her husband are trying, with the help of Hollywood authorities, to figure out how the iguanas are getting in, but so far they’ve had no luck. “We never, ever, walk into one of our bathrooms any more without checking. Even if we’re not going to use the toilet, we look.”

In case you think this epidemic is confined to Hollywood, I urge you to Google “toilet lizards.” You’ll discover that this has been going on for a while now, and not just in Florida; it’s happening in warmer climates all over the world.
So I repeat: The lizards are up to something. But what? Are they planning some
kind of coordinated attack?
I don’t have the answers. But for now we all need to do our part. This means keeping our toilet lids down, of course, but it also means standing up to the lizards and letting them know we’re not afraid of them, even though we actually are. The next time you encounter a lizard, either on the sidewalk or, God forbid, in your bathroom, look it straight in whichever eyeball is closest to you and tell it, in a firm, clear voice:
“We know what you’re up to.“ If it’s a Mexican spiny-tailed iguana, you should say this in Spanish.
Also, if you have a dewlap, you should display it. They respect that.

I was lounging peacefully on my chair, admiring the ocean, but something was rubbing right under my …
Try to imagine my scream when I saw that big iguana
coming from under my lounge chair.

I hope you enjoyed Dave Barry’s article, especially if you don’t live in South Florida!!!

I have two gifts for you–a free book BABY PLANS and a new book, published yesterday, HEALING PLANS.

HEALING PLANS
He’s a widowed surgeon, with two adopted minority children. She’s a lovely surgeon dedicated to her career, and she can bring him love, passion, and… a miracle.
FREE TodayBABY PLANS
Competing colleagues and past lovers, they meet at the artificial insemination clinic. Zach is researching the procedure for his article. Audrey is secretly getting a baby. When her secret explodes, all hell breaks loose,
but artificial insemination works in many ways…

Travel with Mona to France-The Loire Valley

A Writer’s Inspiration: France

Of all the countries I visited, France has always been my favorite. Maybe because of its rich culture and history, or maybe because I am fluent in French and have several friends living in Paris who always welcome me.

With its cobbled streets, stunning Basilica, artists, bistros … Montmartre is full of charm! Perched on the top of a small hill in the 18th arrondissement, the most famous Parisian district has lost none of its village atmosphere that appealed so much to the artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Sacré-Cœur basilica is a masterpiece of grace and grandeur. You can see this entirely white landmark from all parts of Paris. Built at the end of the 19th century in the Romano-Byzantine style, it is dedicated to the heart of Christ and is an important place of worship in the capital. It houses the largest mosaic in France, measuring no less than 480 m²!

A narrow street with cafes in Montmartre.
A unique view of the Tour Eiffel from the
balcony of my hotel room
Perched on the Butte (hill) Montmartre, the basilica is accessible by funicular from the Place Saint-Pierre or via the lawns and steps from the little public garden ‘Square Louise Michel’. 

If you go to Paris, you’ll probably climb the Tour Eiffel or use the elevator after staying in line for an hour. You’ll visit the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Les Tuileries, many more monuments and must-see places and of course Versailles.

Although Paris would inspire any visitor with fabulous dreams, there is more to France than its capital. A few years ago, my husband rented a car and we toured the Loire Valley.

The valley is known for its dry white wines,
and sparkling-wine 
Blois, a hillside city on the Loire River, is the capital of the Loir-et-Cher region in central France.

The châteaux of the Loire Valley (French: châteaux de la Loire) are part of the architectural heritage of the historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours along the river Loire in France. They illustrate Renaissance ideals of design in France.

The châteaux of the Loire Valley number over three hundred, ranging from practical fortified castles from the 10th century to splendid residences built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux in the Loire Valley, the nobility, drawn to the seat of power, followed suit.

The Chateau de Chambord, the most sumptuous one, was built by King François I and inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. The chateau remains one of the most famous and visited buildings in France. Chateau de Chambord was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The château d’Amboise was built over an old roman fortress. Throughout France’s troublesome 16th Century, the château d’ Amboise was the home of King Henry II and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life here, as a guest of King Francis I. Although he lived in the neighboring château of Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Royal Château of Amboise.

The château de Chenonceaux, called the Ladies’ Castle, is famous for its architecture which bridges the Cher River. Founded on the pilings of a mill in 1513, the château was completed in 1522. The château was confiscated by Francis I in 1535. Henry II presented it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. On his death his queen, Catherine de Médicis, forced Diane to give it up. Chenonceaux was extensively restored in the 19th century. The village was occupied by the Germans and slightly damaged in World War II.

The château de Chaumont, built in the 10th century, is one of the oldest castles in the Loire Valley.

Villandry is better known for the magnificent gardens surrounding the castle.

The château de Blois has been the residency of several French kings. It is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English out of Orleans.

The château de Cheverny was built between 1630 and 1640, because a young wife was caught cheating on her husband.

While visiting so many famous castles, I visualized gallant aristocrats entertaining beautiful women in lavishly decorated galleries and plush gardens. Stories played in my mind. I don’t write historical romances but kept thinking about the settings.

A year later, my niece related her summer training in France. As a Harvard University student in Architecture, she was offered the unique opportunity to work on the restoration of a chapel in a French castle. When I asked jokingly, “Was the owner a haughty old man?” My niece answered: “He was a young, handsome count and the five girls in my team had a crush on him. He dated my friend.”

Oh, oh. Château . Handsome count. Training on a historical chapel. Maybe looking for a historical statue. I had an epiphany. Here was my story premise. Below is the château I used in my story. When I pitched it to an agent at the RWA conference, she suggested I change the plot to make it a romantic suspense. I took her suggestion to heart and upped the stakes with a missing statue and the murder of a professor. THE MISSING STATUE was born.

THE MISSING STATUE: Are his statue and chateau worth endangering the life of the impetuous young woman who’s turned his life upside down? https://www.amazon.com/dp/B010FX4OOY/  

“… is a great romance with an excellent mystery.” ~Publishers’ Weekly

This is a wonderfully exciting romantic suspense novel. The characters are appealing and the setting is very romantic, a chateau in the Loire Valley. There is an interesting cast of characters. The plot is full of action and the reader is never sure who is on the side of good or evil.” ~ Romance Studio
“Murder, mystery, and intrigue seem to follow Cheryl as she assists Francois on his project. A great contemporary romantic read.” ~Review Your Book
Mona Risk brings old-fashioned romance back into style… full of mystery and intrigue.  I loved Ms. Risk’s injection of humor into the story. A sweet mystery romance you’re guaranteed to enjoy.” ~ Two Lips Review


If you have a chance to go to France, do yourself a favor and visit the châteaux de la Loire. I promise you won’t regret it.

I have three new books on pre-order.

KISSING PLANS: From best friend to lovers. But she’s engaged. What better way to get rid of the undesired fiancé? Finding him a girlfriend.

FAMILY PLANS: The plane crash devastated two families and revealed painful secrets. Can a brighter future arise from those ashes at Christmas time?

HEALING PLANS: He adopted two minority children but lost his wife. Finally things settle for him, until the lovely surgeon he hires turns his life upside down.

The Memory of a Dog

“Dogs are often known for their loyalty, intelligence and maybe even their short attention spans. But a study published in Current Biology found that a dog’s memory may be better and more complex than we previously thought.” Global News

I just read an article on Google that couldn’t be more appropriate.

Bosty is a happy dog who loves to play with friends.

He was due for a grooming appointment at the same place where his mommy has been taking him for four years.

Professional dog grooming comprises the cleaning and hygienic care of a dog, including bathing, hair removal, nail trimming and ear cleaning. Good groomers also check for signs of health problems by looking out for swelling, parasites, heat, cuts and thrush. Regular dog grooming helps a dog stay fresh, keep calm and enjoy a coat that’s free of tangles and fleas.

Bosty is always happy to go out, whether walking or riding in the car to run an errand with his mommy.

Today, when the car stopped in front of his usual pet groomer store, Bosty stared through the window and barked. His mommy opened the door for him to jump out. Instead he shook his head, backed up to the other end of the car and cowered on the floor, whimpering and refusing to move. There was no way to make him move from his corner. His mommy gave up and returned home.

It turned out that at his last grooming, the tech cut near his ear by mistake, a tiny cut that must have hurt him, although his family didn’t notice and the store didn’t report it.

Now Bosty will go to a new dog groomer.

FREE on March 19 and 20 (today and tomorrow)

IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS: A Romantic Comedy: Can Sylvia turn her life and career upside down for Baby Clementine and for James who wants her to stay with him for reasons he has trouble explaining?   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077B78S4D/

Sweet and Sassy in the Snow

on Count Down Deal 3/24 to 3/29

Spirit me away from icy loneliness, shelter me with warm hugs, and cover me with soft kisses!

Find forgotten (or new) passions in this box set of winter and snow-themed romances by award winning novelists. From Navy aviators to bad boy escorts, lawyers and park rangers to exotic dancers, join our troupe as they battle betrayals and kidnappers, strong emotions and challenging weather to survive and find comfort in each other’s arms.

FAKE FIANCEE:

A sweet Romance and Romantic Suspense

Her German shepherd is her only friend until a senator’s son refuses to take advantage of their fake engagement and teams up with her dog to protect her. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NAW3TRE/