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 Ancient Egypt

After a non-stop flight of about ten hours, we had a glimpse of the pyramids from the plane and landed at Cairo International airport. My husband had spent a month organizing our April trip with an Egyptian travel agent from the comfort of our home. He even booked a car with an English-speaking driver for the time spent in Cairo.

Our driver received us at the airport and drove us to Le Meridien, a five-star hotel, at about a mile from the airport. We were spending only one night, and flying early next day to Luxor. We had a delicious dinner of shish-kabob, avoided salad and fruits and sipped a cold Stella beer. We’ve been advised to stay away from any food that wasn’t grilled or fried, and drink sparkling water, to make sure the bottles weren’t filled with tap water.

After a night of rest we badly deserved, our driver took us back to the airport before dawn, and we flew to Luxor in Upper Egypt where the temperature could reach 110o at mid-day in summer. A new driver sent by the cruise-line met us at the Luxor Airport, loaded our luggage, and drove us to the first historic site.

In the time of the Pharaohs, Luxor was called Thebes, the most important capital of the civilized world. The Colossi of Memnon are two monumental statues representing Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE) of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. They are located west of the modern city of Luxor and face east looking toward the Nile River.

The figures rise 60 ft (18 meters) high and weigh 720 tons each; both carved from single blocks of sandstone.
The statues depict the seated king on a throne ornamented with imagery of his mother, his wife, the god Hapy, and other symbolic engravings.

Temple of Hatshepsut was a funerary shrine to Queen Hatshepsut, a place for people to appreciate her power. The temple is cut into the stone of the cliff-side to make it seem as though it is a part of nature. Queen Hatshepsut was the the most powerful, female pharaoh.

You must walk up a long ramp to enter into the temple (reminiscent of the horizon).
We can see the symmetry of the columns (Egyptians didn’t know how else to hold up a roof!)
Though we can tell that she is female, she has many male physical features: her breasts are de-emphasized, she has the classic beard of the pharaohs, and wears the royal male headdress. Her masculine depiction is consistent with the upkeep of continuity and stability for Egyptian rulers (there is no word for “queen” in Pharaonic language–she truly saw herself as a king). 

By the time we finished visiting the Temple of Hatshepsut it was so hot we couldn’t wait to hide in a shady place. Our driver took us straight to the Nile River and our cruise ship.

During a pharaonic festival, the procession of gods would begin at Karnak and end at the temple of Luxor. Each god or goddess was carried in a separate barge towed by smaller boats along the Nile River. Large crowds consisting of soldiers, dancers, musicians and high ranking officials accompanied the barge by walking along the banks of the river. The people were allowed to ask favors of the statues of the kings or gods that were on the barges.

Cruising the Nile River
Aboard our comfortable ship
Along the Nile River
I bought table clothes and robes (galabeyas) embroidered with pharaonic designs. The merchants would throw them up to the ship and we threw the money in plastic bags. They were so cheap.

We spent two days in Luxor walking or rather rushing from one temple to another until I begged our guide to slow down. We could have easily spent four days for a more relaxed tour of the monuments.

Inside a ruined temple
One of several obelisks

The Luxor temple was not built in adoration to a god or to a god figure of the kings and pharaohs; instead, Luxor Temple was built in dedication to the rejuvenation of kingship.

One of the entrance with pharaohs statues.
An entrance with an obelisk

Its construction began by Pharaoh Amenhotep III and was completed by Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

A statue of Ramses II with
his beautiful wife Nerfertari standing by his feet
The Alley of the Sphinxes, the path of pharaohs, once connected Karnak to Luxor. It was a 2.7 km long road, with 250 lamb-headed and 807 human-headed sphinxes on both sides of the alley. In total, there are more than 1000 statues whose age exceeds 3000 years. The avenue was built during the reign of the 18th dynasty of pharaohs (about XVI century BC) and was used for the solemn processions of the rulers. It had been covered with sand for thousands of years. Its restoration began in the middle of the XX century.

On Day two, we visited the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, This great national monument of Egypt has no equal. Built around 2055 BC, it is not a single temple, but temple within temple, shrine within shrine, pylons, chapels, and other buildings where almost all the pharaohs, particularly of the New Kingdom, wished to record their names and deeds for posterity.

As the new pharaohs changed entrance pylons, erected colonnades and constructed temples, they often reused valuable blocks from earlier periods. In the core of the Third Pylon built by Amenhotep III, for example, there were blocks of no less than ten temples and shrines from earlier periods. Though most of the structures were built in honor of Amon-Ra, his consort Mut and son Khonsu, there were numerous shrines within the complex dedicated to what might be called “guest deities’, like Ptah of Memphis and Osiris of Abydos.

In addition to the temples of Luxor and Karnak, Luxor boasts the famous Valley of the King that harbored more seventy tombs, including the tomb of Tutankhamen—famous King Tut. It is assumed that many more tombs are still hidden under the desert in this area. We visited four of the tombs going down the steps under the rock to admire the incredibly well preserved sculptured and painted walls. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures.

Tomb of Tutankhamen: White color: gypsum, calcium carbonate. Black color: carbon suit and coal. Red color: red ochre and red iron oxide. Blue color: from a mixture of copper, calcium and sand. Green color: malachite

To visit the Temple of Edfu, where the god Horus is honored, the cruise provided a horse carriage for our transportation. It was a lovely ride.

At night, we stop in a town called Kom Ombo and climbed a hill right out of the ship to visit a double temple dedicated to two different deities: the local crocodile-headed god Sobek (or Set) , and the first “god of the Kingdom”, the falcon-headed god Horus.

Set (with the crocodile head) and his wife
Horus (with the falcon head)

The next day we stepped from the ship into small boats that took us to the island of Philae, and the lovely temple of Isis, goddess of fertility. Built during the reign of Ptolemy II (Egypt’s Greco-Roman Period), the Temple of Isis at Philae is dedicated to Isis, Osiris, and Horus. The temple walls contain scenes from Egyptian mythology of Isis bringing Osiris back to life, giving birth to Horus, and mummifying Osiris after his death.

On Day 5, we disembarked at 4:00 am. A new driver led us to his car and waited with a convoy of 100 cars, with several police cars driving ahead, beside and behind us for tourist protection. After a two-hour drive, we arrive to Abu Simbel, site of two temples built by the Egyptian king Ramses II.

In the 1960’s CE, the Egyptian government planned to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile which would have submerged both temples (and the Temple of Philae). Between 1964 and 1968 CE, a massive undertaking was carried out in which both temples were dismantled and moved 213 feet up onto the plateau of a cliff. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the temples where the statues and paintings beat everything we have seen before.

If you have a chance to take a cruise on the Nile River, you’ll never regret it. The sceneries are fabulous, the monuments unbelievable, and the shopping so inexpensive.

My book THE GODS OF DARK LOVE is the story of Isis and Osiris. It’s part of the box: Tangled Paranormal Nights which is free.

The Gods of Dark Love: The jealous god of storms Seth killed his brother Osiris and chopped his body. The goddess Isis, who loves Osiris, brings him back to life, and searches for one last missing part. But Osiris’s past threatens to separate them more than Seth’s mayhem and curses.

NEW RELEASE on August 2nd

KISSING PLANS, (Love Plans Series, book 6) available at Amazon

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

The Statue of Liberty

From the moment of its dedication, the Statue of Liberty has been an enigmatic monument.

The colossal statue was a gift from France and the brainchild of French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi to symbolize America’s message of liberty to the world.

The sculptor behind the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was born in 1834 in France, in the Alsace region on the border of Germany. When Auguste was nine, his mother Charlotte moved with her children to Paris and allowed them to study under some of France’s most accomplished artists, braving the city’s civil unrest for her sons’ education.

After completing his first commissioned work at age twenty, a large bronze statue of Napoleonic General Jean Rapp, Bartholdi traveled with a group of French cultural ambassadors to photograph works of antiquity in Egypt.

They encountered desert landscapes where ancient cities lay in ruins but colossal statues remained, inspiring Bartholdi to write “These granite beings, in their imperturbable majesty, seem to be still listening to the most remote antiquity. Their kindly and impassible glance seems to ignore the present and to be fixed upon an unlimited future.”

As an emerging artist, Bartholdi actively searched for commissions as well as inspiration, and he secured a meeting with Khedive Isma’il Pasha of Egypt, the ruler overseeing and funding the French construction of the Suez Canal. Bartholdi presented a figurine for a colossal lighthouse depicting an Egyptian fellaha, a female serf, entitled Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia. This design was ultimately rejected by the khedive.

In 1865, a French political intellectual and anti-slavery activist named Edouard de Laboulaye proposed that a statue representing liberty be built for the United States. This monument would honor the United States’ centennial of independence and the friendship with France.

The Statue of Liberty was built in France between 1875 and 1884. Bartholdi required the assistance of an engineer to address structural issues associated with designing such a colossal copper sculpture. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, just prior to creating his famed Eiffel Tower, was engaged to design the massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework that allows the Statue’s copper skin to move independently yet stand upright.

Construction of the Statue was completed in France in July 1884. The massive sculpture stood tall above the rooftops of Paris. For its trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the frigate Isère, the Statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The ship arrived in New York Harbor on June 17, 1885.

Back in America that same year architect Richard Morris Hunt was selected to design the Statue’s granite pedestal, and construction got underway. The pedestal was completed in April 1886. The statue was reassembled on Liberty Island in 1886, although the torch has been redesigned or restored several times since its installation. Finally, on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in front of thousands of spectators.

The sculptor behind the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi found his inspiration in the Land of the Pharaohs. You can take an armchair trip to Egypt, visit the Pyramids of Giza, and cruise along the Nile to Upper Egypt and the famous temples by reading SECRET KISSES.

Katy Mahoney, Hoda Seif, and Sarah Kohn. Three girls from different backgrounds and religions pledged to maintain their friendship forever.

On Graduation Day, Katy meets Hoda’s oldest brother Tarek, a dark and handsome medical graduate who can’t take his eyes off her. The graduation celebration ends with Hoda and Omar breaking off their engagement, Hoda exchanging a secret kiss wit Liam, Kathy’s cousin, and Omar befriending Sarah and renting a room in her house.

Three best friends, three secret and forbidden romances.

For five years, the three friends meet and exchange confidences and advice. Sarah is concerned about Omar’s narrow-mindedness and decides he has to change. Katy knows she’ll have a battle royal on her hands with her pious Catholic mother. And Hoda is in a worse shape. Her family’s religion forbids her to marry an infidel.

Will they choose the men they love and break with families and traditions? Difficult choice.

ON PREORDER

Kissing Plans: From best friend to lovers. But she’s engaged. What better way to get rid of the unpleasant fiancé? Finding him a girlfriend.
Family Plans: A plane crash destroyed their lives. Can it bring them together despite the painful secrets it uncovered?
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.