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

Ten Reasons to get More Sleep #RachelleAyala @Mimisgang1 #mgtab #BookReview

We’re having a global brain climate crisis!

Last month, I had my entire worldview about sleep overturned. I went from a sleep denier to a sleep advocate once I realized the detriment I was doing to my health by burning the candle on both ends. I also read Matthew Walker’s entire book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. My emotions went from skepticism to alarm to curiosity to concern as Dr. Walker laid out the reasons for every adult to get at least seven hours of sleep [babies and children obviously need more]. I highly recommend the book because it is footnoted with a lot of research and backed up by real-life experience. He talks not just about the quantity of sleep but also the quality of sleep and the importance of each of the stages of sleep.

Here are at least ten reasons why you should get more sleep. [Note: page numbers are approximate and come from a PDF file which might not correspond to the printed book, but you should be able to flip forward or backward to find the referred material.]

  1. Drowsy driving is dangerous. When you don’t get enough sleep, you drift off for a few seconds into unconsciousness. A few seconds at sixty miles per hour is lethal. While drunk drivers are slow to respond, drowsy drivers don’t respond at all because they are asleep. All it takes is a few seconds of oblivion. A study showed that later start times for high school students reduced accidents by 70%. To put it in perspective, anti-lock braking technology which was hailed as revolutionary reduced accidents 20-25%. (pg. 226) It is estimated that every 30 seconds, someone gets in an accident that is caused by drowsy driving. Even worse, truck drivers are 200-500% more likely to get into an accident. (pg. 106)
  2. Lack of sleep devastates your immune system. Even a single night of sleep deprivation (four hours versus eight) swept away 70% of natural circulating T-cells. These are the cells that fight infection and cancer. (pg. 136). In fact, studies show that if you didn’t get several nights of good sleep before a flu shot, your subsequent immunity is roughly 50% of your well-slept counterparts. You can imagine what a lifetime of sleep deprivation can do to your immunity and ability to ward off cancer.
  3. Lack of deep NREM sleep and dementia/Alzheimers go hand in hand. The brain uses deep NREM sleep to clean out the amyloid plaques (or debris) between the neurons. The less deep sleep, the more amyloid, the more amyloid, the less deep sleep. How can we prevent this downward spiral? Start getting more sleep whatever your age. Those of us who are already past midlife will have a disadvantage but we can still try to clean up as much as we can by sleeping more. (pg. 120)
  4. Unhealthy sleep, unhealthy heart. Here the data is clear. Study after study shows how even a single night of short sleep raises blood pressure, calcifies the coronary arteries, and elicits the fight-and-flight emergency response system and speeds up the heart. Deep NREM sleep soothes and calms the fight-and-flight branch of the nervous system. (pg. 126)
  5. Sleep and lose weight. When we find ourselves needing to lose a little weight, we immediately turn to dieting and exercising. While these two activities are proven to work, they will get a significant boost if we also increase our sleep. No matter how strong your willpower is, you can’t beat these two hobbit-like hormones, leptin and ghrelin. One (ghrelin) makes you crave food and turns you ravenous, and the other (leptin) signals that you’re full and there’s no need to eat. Sleeplessness unleashes the ghrelin (cookie) monster while a full night’s sleep allows leptin to do its job. Research shows that giving people five or six hours of sleep a night caused them to increase their caloric intake by 300 every day or 70,000 a year (10-15 pounds). (pg. 129)
  6. Sleep enhances learning and memory retention. One experiment showed that sleeping before learning improved learning. Not only that, sleep the subsequent nights increased long term memory. Sadly, even one night of disrupted sleep on the third night after learning decreased retention. For example, a college student sleeps well all week, but goes out drinking on Friday night. That one night of disturbed REM sleep washed away their progress. It’s unknown how many consecutive nights of adequate sleep will make these newly formed memories safe. Dr. Walker says his class groans when finding this out. (pg. 199)
  7. Sleep and emotional stability. Dreaming reduces stress. Studies have shown that the stress chemical noradrenaline is entirely shut off ONLY while you’re dreaming (REM sleep). (pg. 153) Deprive someone of REM sleep, and their minds will attempt to make up for it by dreaming or hallucinating while awake. This research is so unethical that no attempts are made to recreate the studies from the 1960s when young people were deprived of REM sleep. Their hallucinations could not be distinguished from psychosis. (pg. 224)
  8. Sleep Deprivation and Bad Decisions. Another alarming fact is that medical doctors and residents are chronically deprived of sleep with the thinking it would “toughen them up.” Many of us are unaware, but the doctor who came up with this tough training regimen was a cocaine addict and made many mistakes himself, including leaving young residents in the middle of surgery alone while he had the shakes. This legacy has killed countless patients, and yet, the medical profession prides itself on it’s sleeplessness. Perhaps they should be ashamed if we equate sleeplessness with being naked. It would actually be safer for patients if they were naked rather than bereft of sleep. The stats are chilling. (pg. 230)
  9. Sleeplessness makes you Unpopular. Research was done where observers are asked to rate the attractiveness of random people. Each person had a picture taken when he or she was well rested, and another picture taken when he or she was sleep deprived. Even though the individuals were the same, the raters who didn’t know the purpose of the study rated the pictures of the sleep-deprived state as less attractive. Perhaps that’s why we call it a beauty rest or beauty sleep. (pg. 134) Furthermore, sleep-deprived individuals are less able to pick up on social cues. They tend to attribute negative thoughts to others by defaulting to a fear bias. (pg. 158) Imagine what happens when a nation or world of sleep-deprived individuals ascribe negative motivations and exhibit fear-based responses toward each other.
  10. Great sleep make great creativity (and sex). Ending on a positive note, sleep has always been the source of creation, whether of the arts or procreating new human beings. Dreaming and a good night’s sleep gave us the periodic table, neurotransmitters jumping across synapses, Paul McCartney’s Let it Be and Yesterday, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (pg. 163) Sleep also keeps testosterone levels healthy (pg. 132). Take that, you alpha males bragging about how little sleep you get. Under-slept men have smaller testicles and lower sperm count, the testosterone level of a man ten to fifteen years older, and a dulled libido. Under-slept women have irregular menstrual cycles and are more likely to suffer miscarriages. (pg. 133). Therefore if you want to birth and raise healthy babies, make it a habit to prioritize sleep, and give your children great sleep habits, too. It’ll increase their learning, social attractivness, emotional stability, and overall health.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD

I hope you read the book for yourself. Dr. Walker covers tips for a better night’s sleep. These do NOT include sleeping pills, alcohol, and caffeine. Unfortunately, all of these chemicals disrupt normal sleep patterns. Sleeping pills are habit forming. Alcohol sedates the cortex but creates nonrestful sleep, and of course caffeine with its long half life make getting to sleep difficult. You also cannot “bank” up or “makeup” for sleep by bingeing on it over the weekend. What’s lost is lost. You can only go forward and give yourself at least eight hours of sleep opportunity a night.

Within a month I’ve increased my average sleep time from 5 hours a night to 7 hours a night. I wear a Fitbit Charge 2 to track my sleep so I don’t have to record it every night. I also go to bed earlier and have had to shift my writing time, because I used to write late into the wee hours of the night. My latest book, Not My Boss, was written before I added 2 hours a night of sleep. It’s available in a new Workplace Romance Boxed Set, Madly in Love with a Coworker. My self-driving car romance, Nick’s Christmas Ride, is written with 7-8 hours of sleep a night and will be in the new Author’s Billboard Christmas set coming in late October. I’m still proud of my late nights with Not My Boss: Can office pranks, HR violations, and a doggy fashion show get Dixie the divorce she thinks she wants?

Madly In Love With A Coworker, 99c or Kindle Unlimited

Cruise with Mona on the Blue Danube: Romania and Bulgaria

Our itinerary from Bucharest to Vienna, sailing along the Danube River for thirteen days.

We flew from New York to Bucharest, capital of Romania for a two-week cruise along the Danube River on Avalon Waterways River Cruises, but first we spent two days in Bucharest. On our first evening, we walked through the wide avenues of the city center and discovered the new place on our own.

The massive statue, cast in bronze, represents Carol I of Romania, the first King of Romania and founder of the Romanian Dynasty. During his reign, Romania conquered its independence from the Ottoman Empire, in 1877, in the course the Russo-Turkish War, known in Romania as the War of Independence.
Posing in the downtown area for a first picture in Bucharest.
Created in bronze in honor of the former Romanian politician, Iuliu Maniu, who served three terms as prime minister of Romania. The statue is located in Revolution Square in central Bucharest.
Kretzulescu Church is an Orthodox Church built
between 1720 – 1722. It is located on Calea Victoriei, at one of the corners of Revolution Square,
next to the former Royal Palace.
We were lucky to attend a wedding while visiting the old church. I was impressed by the elegance of the guests.
The Romanian Athenaeum is a concert hall in the center of Bucharest and a landmark of the Romanian capital city.

On Day 2, our first morning in Bucharest, Avalon Cruises took us on a tour of the city and a visit of the impressive Parliament Building. The former Royal Palace now houses the National Art Museum.

Parliament Building is the world second-largest
government building after the Pentagon.
The Royal Palace Square was the scene of riots in 1989 which led to the collapse of the communist dictatorship. I took this picture from the balcony of the Parliament Building.
Inside the Parliament Building,
the grand marble staircase
Inside the Parliament Building, one of the formal rooms

 

In the afternoon a short moto coach ride took us to Oltenita where our cruise vessel was docked. Before dinner the crew welcomed us with a reception and then we sailed to Silistra, a port city in Bulgaria. By the way, the blue Danube is far from blue, more like dark greenish black. We were told you see it blue only when you’re young and in love.

On Day 3, after breakfast, we travelled by bus to Varna, a naval base and sea resort on the Black Sea.

Varna is one of Bulgaria’s most popular destinations. While just over 335,000 people call the city home, during the summertime, its pristine Black Sea beaches fill up with over 1 million people, drawn to the sunny weather and fun nightlife.

It was a gorgeous day. Many sunbathers were topless. By the way, the Black Sea was blue, not black, rough with whitecaps and strong currents.

A most enjoyable lunch on the Pirate ship.

We had lunch on a pirate ship in the Black Sea.

The Dormition of the Mother of God Cathedral in Varna: we didn’t visit.
Lunch with the pirates!

On Day 4, we continued our bus trip to Veliko-Tarnovo. Often referred as the “City of the Tsars“, Veliko Tarnovo is located on the Yantra River and is famously known as the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, attracting many tourists with its unique architecture.

The Patriarchal Cathedral on top of the Tsarevets Hill
Standing at a café on top of a hill.

The old part of the town is situated on three hills, rising amidst the meanders of the Yantra. The city was a natural fortress with ancient stone houses clinging to the steep stones. Tsarevets Hill is home of the Royal Fortress, palaces of the Bulgarian emperors and the Patriarchate, the Patriarchal Cathedral, and also a number of administrative and residential edifices surrounded by thick walls.

Entering the gate to the fortress
The Royal Fortress
A view of the city from the top of the hill.
A view of the fortress from the top of the hill.

We spent Day 5 on the ship sailing through the Iron Gates–A story for another day.

(The Danube cruise blog will be continued on October 1st)

May I offer you my newly released book FAMILY PLANS, (Love Plans Series, book 7) just released on August 25. It’s on sale at 99 cents for a few days.

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

Family Plans on Amazon

 

Left inconsolable by his wife’s death in a plane crash, Tim Kent dedicates himself to his daughter, Brianna. He allows her to get closer to her best friend Debbie whose father died in the same plane crash. When Tim meets Erin Perkins, Debbie’s mother, he’s impressed by the beautiful, young woman struggling to raise six children on her own while working at an exhausting job. He does his best to help her. Attraction develops between them. While Brianna practically lives with her friend Debbie and shares Erin’s motherly attention, Tim acts as a surrogate father for the six fatherless children. But the sorrowful plane crash that brought them together threatens to separate them when shocking secrets are revealed.

 

How to deal with Stress

At some point, anxiety and stress affect everyone. They can manifest differently in different people, and the level of anxiety one experiences can vary. According to professionals, there are ways to manage anxiety, even if it feels out of control.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, here are some easy ways to cope when you’re feeling anxious or stressed:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head. [Yoga and swimming in the pool do wonders for me]
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand. [ During the pandemic, I snacked on dry fruit and nuts, and added 10lbs].
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. [When stressed, I increase my intake of alcohol and coffee]
  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below. [How come I feel so tired when stressed?]
  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly. [Easy]
  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary. [Easy]
  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get. [Who cares about perfection when stressed?]
  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think? [When I’m stressed, everything is bad!]
  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way. [Yes, please. Give us a daily joke]
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. [Positive thoughts come from daydreaming a new plot for a book]
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress. [I did. It added a new stress!]
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern. [All of the above]
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. [I often do, and then they complain I’ve managed to stress them]
  •  
  • If the above don’t work, talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
  • OR READ A GOOD BOOK!!!

New Release KISSING PLANS (Love Plans Series, book 6)

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

To be Released on August 25 FAMILY PLANS (Love Plans Series, book 7)

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

FREE on August 18, 19, 20, 21 DATING PLANS (Love Plans Series, book 2)

Attraction sizzles between Matt and Brenda, and he bonds with Mia. Happiness finally seems within grasp for mother and daughter until the bullies in Mia’s class pull her into their web again.
Brenda’s past return to haunt her when Mia’s father enters the picture. Crushed by this new betrayal, Matt steps away. Is there any hope left for Matt and Brenda to build a future together?