The university/museum boat trip down the Danube from Vienna to the Black Sea was not as satisfying as I had hoped. The lectures were not very informative and the stops in various cities were too brief to feel that I had even begun to see a place. Even so, I did get the sense that, although these countries may be neighbors and share much, they differ in essential ways. In one, for example, there was a strong security presence—armed men with automatic weapons outside the museums and in formation in the squares—while in another only one or two cops were spotted. In one country, mule-drawn carts were prevalent, while in others I saw only motorized vehicles.
I did learn yet again of deficiencies in my knowledge. Some were rather trivial. I failed the Budapest guide’s question, “What is the second largest Hungarian city in the world?” His answer: Cleveland, Ohio. (Perhaps there was a time that Cleveland held that distinction, but I doubt it does now.)
Some other knowledge gaps were less trivial. I knew that World War I was vital to understanding today’s world, but I did not fully grasp how much that war’s aftermath continues to affect Eastern Europe, and elsewhere, especially the Middle East). This was driven home when I learned that the same days were simultaneously a period of mourning in Hungary while a period of celebration in Romania. This stems from the Treaty of Trianon. Okay, maybe you know more than I do, but I had never heard of the Treaty of Trianon, which helped to end World War I. I thought that the Treaty of Versailles had done that, but the Versailles Treaty did not stand alone. The Treaty of Trianon (it is some consolation to my bruised ego that this treaty was signed in Versailles at the Grand Trianon Palace) was negotiated in 1920 between the Allies and the Kingdom of Hungary. Austria-Hungary had fought with Germany and was dissolved into separate states after World War I. The Treaty of Trianon demarcated Hungary’s borders, which are nearly the same today.
The treaty proclaimed that all of Transylvania, including the part that had been in Austria-Hungary, was now Romanian, even though about a third of Transylvania’s population was ethnic Hungarian. Thus, the anniversary of that treaty is met with mourning in Hungary and celebration in Romania. It may be nearly a century later, but the memories are still firmly in place.
While I did not know enough to get all the history, sociology, or demography I might have out of the trip, I did pick up a useful social tip: Make an effort, if the opportunity exists, to befriend any Mormons on your trip. Talk with them; hang out with them; eat with them. This is partly because all the Mormons I have met have been bright, charming, engaging, entertaining folk, but also for another reason: They don’t drink. On trips like this Danube cruise, many meals are included in the tour price, and sometimes wine comes with the dinner. If so, a bottle or carafe or two may be placed on the tables. (I am not the kind of traveler whose tours have been so exclusive that the group is small enough that all can be placed at one dinner table; instead, there have been a number of tables with the travelers free to go to any place setting.) Stay with your new Mormon friends. We did, and there was more wine and vodka some of the time for us.
Now you might think you don’t have to find a Mormon; you can find any teetotalers. I warn you, however, avoid the teetotaling non-Mormon Christian groups. (If you want to see an interesting reaction, ask Mormons whether they are Christian.) In my experience, the teetotaling Baptists, for example, are quite different from the teetotaling Mormons. (I was raised in such a Baptist church. Take the Bible literally, I heard preached. I also heard that when the Bible said “wine,” it really meant “Concord grape juice.” I had some trouble with the inconsistency.) Those Baptists don’t just abstain, they think all should shun alcohol, the devil’s brew. (Thus, prohibition.) This view does not make for a good dinner companion when you are reaching for your third glass of pinot. The Mormons, however, seem to hold the attitude that while they will not drink alcohol (or coffee), they will not pass judgment on those who do. Thus, they are good dining partners, especially when you get their share of the wine.