The gigantic face of a warrior is carved into rock cliffs of the Iron Gates that flank the Danube River. (Rod Speer)

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Rod Speer (the author) and Virginia Dempsey of Alexandria.

Where, when, why: A Danube River cruise, Nov. 14-27, 2013, inspired by our love of history and interest in Marie of Romania. We flew to Budapest and back from Bucharest.

Highlights and high points: The Danube itself provided the high point: the Iron Gates, i.e., that portion that twists through rock cliffs (and was probably the setting for Jason and the Argonauts’ perilous passage). It includes one of the largest locks in the world, and a warrior’s face carved on one cliff. Then there is a man-made phenomenon in Bucharest: the Palace of the Parliament, the largest civilian administrative building in the world and a monument to the megalomania of the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Cultural connection or disconnect: The heart of the journey is the sheer variety of countries and the troubled histories of them all. In Hungary, you can see the “House of Terror,” a museum recalling both the Nazi and the Communist occupations, which are equally reviled. In Croatia, we happened on a commemoration of the 1991 invasion of Vukovar by the Serbs. In Serbia, we saw the shells of buildings in Belgrade bombed by NATO during that “homeland war.” In Bulgaria, we visited a city, Vidin, devastated by the loss of its largest industry with the fall of the Soviet Union. In Romania, we took an excursion to Transylvania, a region that was Hungarian before World War I and during World War II. History is indeed alive in these countries, but the countries are beautiful nonetheless.

Biggest laugh or cry: In the stupendous Parliament Palace, the ladies had to endure a single bathroom, and a malodorous one at that. It said something about the efficiency and human values that the palace failed to uphold.

How unexpected: We were surprised when the tour guide on our bus in Romania revealed her passion for . . . bears. There are supposedly more in Romania than in any other European country, and there are many refugees from circuses who need rehabilitation in retirement. She urged us to join this charity. We were impressed by the animal humanitarianism.

Fondest memento or memory: Our fondest memory is the loving persistence with which Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938) is represented by the residences she furnished: Sinaia, her small palace near Bucharest, and Bran Castle (of Dracula association) in Transylvania. The female tour guide told us with great pride that Marie would soon most likely become the first woman to appear on Romanian currency. With all the horrors of the 20th century, it seems that young Romanians look back fondly on the monarchy! This is a great takeaway from this troubled part of Europe.

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