Danube Bike Tour

On Agendas and Tolerance

There are many forms of travel that take you to many amazing destinations. Designer tours that fill your days with locations beyond compare. A package of amazing value in the sun/shade/snow/surf. But the more I travel the more I think it is experiences that make me whole. The unexpected. The unique. The unknowing. Allowing yourself to be sufficiently “open” to take the left turn when the guide book says turn right. For such moments to remember you need not travel far.

On this trip J and I decided well before the off that there was no agenda. Take each day as it comes and follow your feelings (thanks OB1 for that idea) – oh, and the fact we HAVE to be in Montpellier in the South of France for 29th June. The journey is the important thing, not the destination. As a result of our non agenda policy highlights so far have included bumping into the Pope, overtaking the Tour of Hungary bike race (no, wait a minute, the road we wanted to be on was blocked by police as the Tour flashed by in a blur of Lycra and shaved legs) and eating cheese and bread with a delectable smorgasbord of people from France, Germany and, er, Germany. Been eaten alive by mosquitoes, crossing 7 borders and tasting each unique culture and drinking lavishly local Unicum and Palinka in the middle of the day in a remote field at “Tsigi’s” caravan.

“Tsigi’s” amazing bar in, well, actually I have no idea where it was. It was in a field though, if that helps you find it.

In Vienna we said no tours, museums or galleries. We did say yes, following advice from Phyl and Neil the day before – see earlier blog (thanks both so much) – to 3 euro tickets to the opera to see Don Pascale accompanied by the Vienna philamonic orchestra.

I could see almost every 1709 faces of the audience at the Opera!We were standing in the back row – it was like looking into the Grand Canyon such was the scale of the hall

But in Vienna we also had the privilege to gain a glimpse of my first gay pride parade. An event that makes you realise that people are wonderful unique and amazing things. One of the most happy events I have ever been too. Thanks to all the mad, happy, ex centric, lunatic, chromatic, fantastic, crazy, normal, colourful, out there, “really!”, outrageous, stunning, is that legal, beautiful, ageless and totally bonkers individuals who felt comfortable enough to express their own skins in an environment of joy and peace to show how positive the world can be when we each show a little tolerance.

Attendance should be mandatory. It was my privilege. I am so grateful to you all.

In the words of the amazing singer songwriter Mary Gauthier –

“Drag queens and limousines,

Nuns in blue jeans,

Dreamers with big dreams,

these are my friends”

Danube Bike Tour

Budapest to Bratislava

So let’s get back onto a slightly lighter note maybe. Though as we cycle slowly through these countries you see glimpses of recent histories that shade the light. each reacting to its new place in a different way, creating different vibes and senses of self. Some forging ahead whilst others seem still to find their place in the confusing current world.

This is where biking is such an immensely unique form of travel, allowing you to immerse yourself in the present and the place. In a car you pass through. Yet I am truly starting to feel part of my surroundings. It is a true privilege to see the small nuances and changes as the trip unfolds. I do not pretend to be an expert or to have engaged fully with the people (the one down side of such a flying trip) but I do feel, as an outsider looking in, that I am beginning to sense how each country is responding and reacting after a very turbulent 20th century and a rapidly changing 21st.

Of which more I feel another time…

Budapest itself is a buzzing city of immense beauty and vivre. I fear we only scratched the surface but it is most certainly a town to visit. History. Culture. A dynamic. It’s own self. If the city is your thing then this is one.

Amongst its immense history is a vibrant modern soul

The street food again is exquisite and the ambience is of chilled electricity.

You’ve got to try a chimney!

But there are “a few” tourists – I’ve never seen so many cafes

I even made it to an Erik Kessels retrospective – fascinating. ( J went for a walk!)

A city with many hearts for you to explore and find your own pulse.

But we are not here to trifle so off we head again. Next stop Bratislava, though 2 days to get there. The temperature is now well into the 30’s and even leaving before 7 it is already hot. I mean really hot. The heat radiates off the tarmac and slowly you are cooked from both above and below. But exquisite paths by the river keep us happy as we transcend from hub to suburb to rural.

But truth is we are on a bit of a push as we do want to get to Zurich before we run out of days which means putting in the hours and the miles. Which in 35 degrees now is not as easy as it sounds. With fat bags of gear to pedal along (in truth we are using almost everything and I feel sure I will use the tripod, filters, two emergency ration meals and my puffa jacket – oh, and the electric razor!).

The river for some ways seems to be just “ha”, ‘more of the same’ (more so for J who is slightly suffering from a “dodgy ice cream” – it would be more funny if I were making it up) until we suddenly arrived at the Gabčíkovo Dam. Designed not only to produce electricity but also to tame floods it is huge. Huge. We literally cycled it’s banks for half a day. But this is not a dam than blocks a ravine. The walls are literally built up from the plain to create a wall behind which the water sits – way higher than the surrounding farms and villages. The engineers must have been one acid! A very bizarre feeling to be riding along with a “sea” of water higher than the land it coasts with. Environmental implications aside (which I have not read up on) this is a monumental achievement of engineering.

The dam itself is not very high

But it encloses a small sea

That is an entire city over there on the opposite bank

With ferries to cross (the poshest we have seen)and huge locks for boats – check out the vessel in there – which is a tourist boat with some 50-100 people and some 90ft (James’ nautical input) so not small

And so into Bratislava. Capital of Slovakia.

Literally a city in the building it feels. Sorry Slovakia, I have not had time to research or consider and we simply do not have time to dwell on this visit as we are extremely weary after two very hot days – but the Thai noodles and local beer were delicious. We will have to taste your deeper delights another time.

P.s. quick hi to the very lovely and beautifully bonkers (like us) Phyl & Neil on their tandem heading – well – somewhere that way I think. May the wind be behind you.

Danube Bike Tour

What is it about people?

Everyone should visit the Museum of Terror in Budapest. Or one of many like it. And then ask yourself why is it that we can act so outrageously towards each other – and then so quickly forget and do the same thing again.

The actions of both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Hungary (and many other countries just decades ago) resulted in the persecution, torture, starvation and brutal murder of so many. But for quirks of fate that could have been my parents and grand parents. And they were and are not bad people. Just normal folk like you and me.

Boundary to the Jewish ghetto in Budapest – wall erected 29 November 1944

Some of those who didn’t survive the occupations

Persecution of minorities and the subjugated then reoccurred in the Yugoslav wars ending in just 2001.

Extremism of any sort, in whatever disguise, must not be allowed to win. Don’t turn a blind eye or be fooled by rhetoric and propaganda. They feast on denial.

Soviet Propaganda posters

Behind closed doors – Prison loo

Please can we never have to open a museum like this again.

Museum of Terror

Danube Bike Tour

The Big Slog

So it’s time to man up. A big push from Belgrade to Budapest. 4 days and some 350+ miles. Which for me is a lot. I am definitely a man who rides a bike rather than being a cyclist. Yes, I wear padded Lycra shorts but I don’t shave my legs and I shy away from skin tight shirts as it is not pleasant for anyone frankly. And guess what, those shorts definitely don’t make you ride any better and my bum is still sore!

A significant bank (only occasionally tarmac as here) is one of the main cycle ways along the river Through Serbia. On the river side nature reserve (and LOTS of water!) and the other commercial farming.

As the peddles turn relentlessly I ponder how my mental riding state changes over time. Brash at the outset for which I paid for two full days after for pushing too hard on the hills, to more considered and respectful of the challenge. Or, having just read Scott Jurek’s amazing novel depicting his record of 46 days to complete the 2900 odd miles of the Appalachian Trail, is it that agonising muscles finally become accustomed to the torture? For the pain remains and my bum, thighs, calf’s and wrists continue to protest at the forced labour, but they now seem located for the most part in a side corridor rather than in the same room. Have I just learned to live with the pain as I know I still have to wake up in the morning and carry on? or is it just the Ibuprofen?

What I have also acknowledged is that riding with full kit including bedroom, bed, and kitchen means a level of weight I am very much unaccustomed to. I remember the same feeling on the solo trek last year (see prior blogs) where the additional weight seems exponentially more impacting on the body than the extra pounds of actual weight over a normal ride. Whilst I am pretty well pack efficient from prior knowledge I do have a camera, 3 lenses, filters, a tripod and an iPad amongst gadgets I “simply couldn’t do without”. Tell you what, around 3pm every day if someone showed me a dustbin I would be mighty tempted to devolve myself of the lot! I even brought my electric shaver. WHAT ON EARTH WAS I THINKING!!! In my defence I have used all the items in my bag save the tripod and two long sleeve merino tops (tee shirt weather!). J even used the first aid kit when within an hour of landing as we assembled the bikes he got it in his head he didn’t need all his fingers and tried to chop one off! (In my opinion this is taking weight saving too far).

They do have a lot of bees. Such a shame they don’t eat mosquitos!

Back to the ride. We pushed on from Beograd early and soon found ourselves following the banks of the river. Everything was flooded. Literally for hundreds of miles (it will be interesting to see where and when it finally ends). The reason is apparently that mainland Europe has witnessed a extreme weather event in that it has been exceptionally wet throughout May. All that water , together with the seasonal snow melt from the Alps has led to the Danube being deluged, the problem becoming exacerbated the further down stream you go.

Flooding at Belgrade

A perfect example of climate change where the impacts are felt most far away from the source. The locals just watch as the waters rise inch by inch and destroy everything. Utterly powerless to do anything. I can only image the cost. We hove seen many hundreds of houses on the banks of the river not only flooded but 10 metres “offshore”. It is a most bizarre feeling when the sky is blue!

Row of houses underwater and “offshore” in the river

Not unanticipated some, but not many, have found solutionsthrough complete rebuild on stilts

without wishing to to bore you about the ride (lots of turning peddles) I will move on to Novi Sad, our first night out of Belgrade. OMG. Another revelation. We were expecting (why I do not know) a slightly depressed post Soviet declining industrial town. What we got was possibly one of the most buzzing cultural centres I have ever visited. It like a huge festival was going on. But for the fact it is almost entirely locals. And of all ages. Out on the streets I the centre having fun and – yes I know this is weird – communicating. Yup. It’s true. And guess what. Without mobile phones. It was a truly lovely site. The kids were on stage singing and dancing with their teachers, wandering the streets as classes or with parents. No bad vibes. Just fun. I LOVE THIS PLACE.. I love the Serbian people. They really do go out of their way to be helpful, though never in a smarmy or condescending way.

There are even young people (lots of them) voluntarily playing sports – the city has provided a huge variety of options from five a side to outdoor gyms to running and cycling tracks to…

In 2019! Crazy I know but true. Obviously very old fashioned but am sure they will realise their errors soon 😉

Night time at the coffee shop

It is quite disturbing seeing generations mixing together and having fun!

Corridor!

Arty bridge

lots of Soviet architecture but lots of foliage, clean, respected and great for walking/cycling etc

Lots of things being developed, revamped and made good

But off we go again having calculated we need do at least 112km a day until 27th if we are to make our train in Zürich. We had our longest day in the saddle to date today ending up in A lovely little town (again) called Sombor where every other person seemed to be getting married. Which was great save that it meant our room was not available (and because Serbia not in EU no roaming so we didn’t get the message coz we are tight that way! But Serbians to the rescue again and a lovely lady came a cleaned out a room in an apparent so we could stay. Dear of ’em. Tomorrow we push on again as we try to make Budapest in 2 days.

Ah how I enjoy my evening beer!

Danube Bike Tour – 6

Belgrade Rocks

I am not a city person. I think I have already said that 48 hours is more than enough in a capital. So we will leave Belgrade after a single day. But oh, how this town has a vibe. It is confident without being precocious, friendly without being sweet and relaxing without being laid back. There’s history, pain and rebellion but no malice or fear. This town is going forward with pride. This is a town to relish.

It is also home to the very great Nikola Tesla. He was some dude!

We walked and did the Tesla museum and open top bus tour (great way to find your bearings btw) and as a result and leaving wanting more. But not this time. So here’s a few snaps of nothing much. Tomorrow we commence a bit of a hike to Budapest which should take about 5-6 days so if we don’t meet before (Serbia not in EU so doesn’t benefit from unified roaming – one silly benefit of being in the EU) have a great few days.

Will miss you Beograd…

Newtown

Nikola Tesla. Official dude

Serbians allegedly killed by Albanian terrorists and NATO gunfire in the troubles – protest outside the Parliament Buildingif we brought back the Republic would you put down your phone?Contrasts remainIndependent thoughtPlug me InBoy was the streetfood good.Tourism growswere on the Up

We’re going places

Danube Bike Tour – 5

We Stopped for a Tortoise Wandering Down the Path

So 48 hours it seems is more than ample for your average capital city and we are back on the road again. Ok. So that isn’t strictly accurate as to make up for the lost days due to the storms we have decided to Train across the flatlands to the Iron Gate, a hydro electric dam across the Danube that allows passage into Serbia, the third country of our tour and the more mountainous region of the Balkans.

The flatlands of Romania

The train ride did allow us to see the flatlands in all their glory, which indeed they were, though having already ridden through similar for several days we didn’t feel as though we were missing too much. As we neared Drobeta (the name is much longer than that but let’s face it you probably don’t really care that much) the hills appeared and the excitement grew, as did the worry. Why did we want to give up the easy flatlands for hills?

Train Architecture

As we crossed the Iron Gate (no photos allowed!) we were stopped by Serbian border control. But beaming he just wanted to tell us we had gone the wrong way and needed to be the other side of the building. And in truth he do date has represented the wonderful Serbian people. So friendly and welcoming. But also very proud. What lovely people. That is to say nothing against the Romanians but their reserved nature became more exposed with the contrast. I wonder if all those years of brutal suppression have yet to yield their influence on the next generation?

And so to two days of cycling the gorges. Limestone cliffs and crags plunging to the waters below. We’re in snowmelt (in the Alps upstream that is) so the waters are somewhat turbulent and the odd major tree floats gently past,which the fishermen in their tiny boats do their best to avoid. We meet Joy and his family – Chinese but living in Dubai – who share their food with us so graciously. We move on and camp amounts this glorious nature, which overnight included yea more rain which stopped as we awoke from our slumbers.

The magnificent Gorges Splitting Serbia from Romania. Last photo is our wild camp site

As the lands became flatter so we approached our second ferry crossing. And this one was magnificence itself. The best ferry I have ever had the privilege to ride. Basically it was a barge with a tiny toy tug boat lashed to the side. The ends were open and you could fall off almost anywhere as you walked the wobbly planks of its deck. The crew finished siphoning a can of diesel and hand winched the drawbridge an inch or two before we departed, turned and chugged to the far bank. upon arrival at the other side there was no ferry terminal, just a earth shore. To overcome this apparently small problem they simply rammed the front of the barge into the river bank, before getting off, shovelling the loose dirt they had piled up into any pot holes they may have created and asked the cars to disembark. Sublime.

Is that really the ferry?

Within minutes we were in the very different world of mozzie alley. Which actually isn’t an alley or it’s real name. But for the next day and a half we feared for our very lives as we ran their gauntlet through a very stunning nature reserve. These things literally chased us on the bikes. I saw them follow James in gangs before landing on his back as he cycled to rip the shirt off his very back. OK, they didn’t actually rip the shirt of his back but there were many piercings. We had no alternative but to continue and pretty much all the way to Belgrade we barely stopped and where we now barely dare to go out so defaced are we.

Meltwaters from the Alps plus significant rains to the north cause flooding 1000 miles downstream. Dam waters are released in advance to try to mitigate the impacts

Mozzie 150km Alley

We are informed that it is the unusual rains and damp threat have made them so prevalent this year. I just hope there’s been a drought as we head further north! The amazing habitat they have within their control has been created by a huge flood defence that must run some 150km (so far) up the east bank. Think Live and Let Die and the Louisiana swamps and you are well on track to this little nature reserve. Stunning – the wild life is immense – but bring the right clothes.

And it was as we cycled through this stretch that I spotted something on the track in front of me. Heading in my direction is looked like a moving stone. I slammed on the breaks (and James ran full pelt into the back of me) as we stopped literally within inches of… a tortoise. The real deal. Pretty cool in my book. He got fed up almost immediately however and retracted into his shell and before we could think to take photos the pestilence attacked from all quarters and we were forced to move on. (I think they could strip you to the bone quicker than piranhas). I remain pretty stoked at meeting a tortoise while out for a cycle though!

Eventually we recrossed the river, this time by bridge, and into the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. We visit a laundry who for 5 pounds will wash and dry our stuff (I wouldn’t touch it myself and I hope she has a bad sense of smell) and head for our room

First Belgradian architecture

We head for our hostel where our room quickly resembles a clothes rack as we seek to finally dry out our things!

Our room in the hostel resembling a clothes line (in our defence the room is seriously grim but it was only £8 a night each so we aren’t complaining – too much). My favourite bit about the room was they advised the sink as the “en suite”.

(I can only apologise for my brother)

Who below gets his own back with a few snaps of Ted!!!

Definitely not in Mozzie Alley!,!

Ted suffers a small refreshment

Danube bike Tour – 4

And so we met the Pope…

Well, this might be a slight exaggeration but it’s my story so I can tell it how I like. But first of the trip to Bucharest.

More big Star Warzy beasts in the fields

We were up early to catch the train. And promptly sat on the platform for 2 hours waiting for it to leave. Not to self – extra hour in bed next time. The first stage of the journey was pretty uneventful but then the train stopped where we had to change. But they had forgotten to build a platform. So we just got out (have you ever tried to step down to ground level off a train with two fully laden bikes?) and walked across the tracks. Stations Romanian style.

Our train – just stopped at platform 6. Except there was no platform (which is in the foreground) so I guess we just stopped at 6!

Here’s the actual platform! look hard and you will see the efficiency of land use, namely wheat growing between the tracks!

We then had to haul our bikes onto the new train which barely stopped to let us on. it was even higher off the ground! And some 50 minutes of standing by the toilet later we pulled in to Bucharest Gara du Nord (no, it does not bear any resemblance to the Parisian station of similar name). Google guided us to the hostel – a shocking £12 a night for a family room with en-suite in a capital city – and with bags dropped we set off. Within minutes police started blocking off roads and helicopters started hovering overhead. Bank robbers I thought and secretly hoped (preferably Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight or maybe Keyser Soze – because if you’re gonna meet a villain it might as well be a good one!)

But no, along come the Pope in his Pope mobile. Well there’s a thing that doesn’t happen every day. The Pope. I have to confess I wasn’t expecting that.

Very poor shot of Pope in his Pope mobile

Pope met (ok so a touch disappointed he was waving at the crowd on the other side of the street but hey, it’s not every day you meet the Pope) we wandered on, only to bump into a slightly oversized palace built in the 1980’s by the then dictator Mr Ceausescu – who if you remember came to a slightly sticky end.In truth not surprising if that is what he was spending the country’s money on!

Mr C’s place and detail of the back door

After food (pretty revolting) we wandered a while before returning to slumber. A few snaps from the donder below.

mmm. Beginning to think my camera has tendencies to the less celubrious

Next morning we’re off again, like a couple of excited hobbits. Adventure 1 – work out the tube network so we could go check out the big market. We actually excelled in this task pretty well we thought and rewarded ourselves with a coffee, a pretzel and a sticky bun of non specific denomination.

The Subway

A train

The Pretzel bar

Then back to Mr C’s palace to see some modern art, something I rather like partaking of when in a city. I have to confess that the build quality of MrC’s palace leaves something to be desired and it is definitely more impressive at a distance. Some of the art was very pleasant though, I must say. Except for the video on male circumcision which I felt a tad unnecessary personally and made me a little wet of eye. From the roof you also get a pretty good view of the cityand a “slightly” monstrous church of some denomination. The only words I can think of are utterly outrageous (though apparently Mr C didn’t like churches and had many destroyed which could account for this rebellion in front of his house).

slightly Outrageous church(under construction) – compare the size of the building beside it!!!

We then saw another building that suggested why the quality of Mr C’s palace was not all it was cracked up to be.

Mmmm. So not solid sandstone or marble construction then. Cheeky!

We then dondered round a while longer for Bucharest is no village, walking home past a few more buildings and bits and pieces, before descending into ipad movie night watching the sublimely marvellous “the perks of being a wall flower”.

My favourite building – almost every window ledge complete with air con unit

OK, so it’s now second day here and think that’s enough of cities now. Remind me to ask someone who lives in the city what you actually when you live in a city one day. Fascinated to know. So J and I did a bit of people watching to see and as far as we can make out the major pastime is to spend money. Be it on food and drink, ice cream, toys, gadgets and clothes to make you look individual and cool to other city people, or on getting a ticket to visit attractions and events that are going on. There are a few folk that do jog or cycle around in the park but it does seem as though you still have to buy lots of items above to look cool and individual. P.S. I think we definitely looked individual but they may have thought we lived under a railway bridge or something!

But we did visit first a cemetery – I’ll hand that one to J – which in truth was, well, overgrown!!! Not quite what the guidebook impressed.

But then we headed to a park where they had rebuilt old houses and barns from yester year. It was actually fascinating. Old churches and water mills. Wooden buildings so well build no light gets through the gaps. It was actually a bit of a treasure find. So we wandered round then headed off round the lake before finding a little cafe that sold lentil soup and real lemonade. A fine end to the day.

Interesting detail on wooden church wall

Interior of 1800’s house

Oh, and we saw a man with a very funky electric bike

Man with funky electric bike

Danube Blog Post 3

Best Laid Plans…

So we never set out with a great master plan. Just follow a river to its source and maybe head west towards the coast. Seemed reasonable. But 3 days in and 3oclock in the morning Teds weather curse commenced with a blinding light, lions roar and a torrential downpour. For all but one day in the next week’s forecast the weather symbol was a design of multiple drops of water flashed with a Harry Potter scar, together set against billowing dark grey clouds. Great for camping and cycling. Actually not. So we decided on a new plan.

Go exploring before the rain starts. So we headed out into Giurgiu where we ere staying and then to Ruse over the Friendship Bridge and into Bulgaria.

Ex Empires in Giurgiu

To spend a full day just exploring a town with no agenda is mind expanding. Specifically not having an itinerary, a places to go exploration designed by google. Just see where we end up., When you doing this in a different culture takes it to another level yet again. When you have studied that culture at college but never seen it in real life things rise another notch. But this is also 30 years (ok 32) on and you then have the passage of time, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union and several decades of capitalism. As you can imagine, things couldn’t get much more exciting for little old me.

Soviet Architecture – far less uniform than I was imagining

At this point I should properly mention the patience of my brother. Anyone who has brought up children under the age of 5 knows just how calm of mind one has to be. Well, I truly think I must have tested his on this day as I constantly braked for another image. I had promised I wouldn’t do this but I realise now I lied. I simply couldn’t help myself. I was having fun.

Star Wars Like Monsters scattered decaying across the plain

For the first time we crossed the mighty waterway by bridge. One of only 2 in the whole of Romania (I guess that way if you fell out with your neighbours it would be easy to cut communications!) for the first time we witnessed the sheer scale of the river. She is impressive. And demands respect. And is very, very beautiful.

The majestic Danube – entire cities as toys on her banks

And while I cannot aspire to regarding Soviet architecture and beautiful by any means it does demand a respect. Though I do wonder how many spectacular building were raised to deliver the social and town planners dream. It’s as though a planners model has been executed in real life with little regard to history. Fascinating yet slightly sad.

the new, well actually I don’t know what it is actually. My Bulgarian doesn’t stretch that far

on the way home

So with this interlude over and the weather symbols constant in their disappointing nature, we decide to venture further with our experiment of the cultural and decide to head to Bucharest, with a view to then catching up on lost cycling days by catching a train to meet where we would have cycled to if it had been sunny.

I did start just then trying to write a justification for this strategy but actually realise that I don’t have to. This is our adventure and we can do as we please. And we have both got so much out of more intimate explorations than simply spending all day every day in the saddle constantly striving to attain a goal only we have set. leave the agenda open. It is the journey that is important not the destination. And anyway, this is every bit as much fun.

Danube Bike Tour – Second Post

Coffee Time in Bulgaria

“Please come and visit my beautiful city” Mr Bulgarian border policeman pleaded. Actually it’s totally off route but you can’t turn down an offer like that too easily. So the bikes turned left and led us into Silistra, where the Soviet era buildings slowly crumble but give my first real life insight into town planning Soviet style. I am instantly back at college and still failing to remember what I had been taught but still the hairs on my neck were dancing with excitement. This was what the trip was all about we both agreed.

Silistra, Bulgaria, from the Danube

Since leaving we have said if opportunities like this arise again we will forgo moving on in exchange for experience. We head back into Romania after double coffee and Cross the mighty river for the first time by ferry. She is magnificent in her scale, you can see why the Roman Empire did not cross.

J reminds me where the boat is

we then continue on a largely uninspiring route with way to many vehicles travelling way to quick for my pace. But we are starting to absorb the surroundings and the culture. Decaying concrete and huge state buildings abound though a totally separate feel from Silistra.

immense State buildings of a bygone age

The local disco

We eat amazing barbecued street food and reward ourselves with a truly delicious cold beer before setting up camp early for a little r&r. The frogs contend with the crickets contend with the birds until the sun sets and all bar the crickets descend into silence. I listen, something I rarely seem to have time to do.

As I ready for sleep I realise for each day cycling I really need one for photography and another for writing. I will need to simplify. But isn’t that why I am here?

Day 3

Largely uneventful day focused around moving forward. long straight roads. Big lorries on fast roads together with a BIG sun and nagging headwind made for a long 70 odd miles. Not my best performance I truth, but I did eat all my tea (except for the bit of pizza I’ve saved for lunch tomorrow. We are in town (hugely impressive Soviet architecture) so staying in a pensione.. with a shower. What an amazing invention. For everyone!!!

Danube Bike Tour

No Going Back…

It would be a shame if our bikes didn’t meet us at the other end wouldn’t it”, he quipped. My brother can be very amusing at times. I’ve got the luxury of this extraordinary wit for the next 5 weeks as we find ourselves watching two bike boxes and 4 panniers containing our lives pass through the oversized luggage hole into the belly of Luton airport. How ironic the wouldn’t fit through the doorway to “Outsized Baggage. Next stop Constanta, Romania on the Black Sea. We hope. For us all!

Meet brother James.

With the flight this is not quite a zero footprint project (no carbon footprint) but we planted 500 trees on our small holding 2 weeks ago to in part compensate for this (note to self – find routes not requiring a plane flight moving forward ). I remain feeling guilty however though am hoping the next 5 weeks of cycling as we navigate the waters of the Danube and who knows where else to at least be a low impact exploration. We’re camping (mostly) and peddling what we think will be 1500-2500 miles depending on how fit we are and how good the pubs are.

Constanta International. The bus drive from the plane to the door lasted almost 17 seconds.

Aside from putting up with my brothers wit the trip will also form part of my immersive photography project series exploring issues surrounding the beauty of the natural world and man’s interactions therein (see website if interested). I will seek to respond to what I see, feel, hear, smell and taste though the primary focus will likely be issues surrounding climate change following our recently completed ENERGISE residency. As with such projects I do not know where this will lead me in the coming weeks but land use, transport, waste, energy together with life on the river and culture are concepts floating around as we pass through up to 10 different European Countries on the venture.

I will hopefully post to this site with updates as to our progress and failings, adventures and explorations. If you are interested I following us I will link posts to Facebook but you can also go to the Blog page of our website (www.leemingpaterson.com) and sign up to receive automated emails if you prefer. You can even interact with the blog and comment on our thoughts and musings as we go which would be even more fun.

Morning

Away by 9am following a huge breakfast and some fettling of the bikes which were unboxed rapidly post landing as the light faded to night and the security guard wanted away for his tea (we were the last people to leave Constanta International that night – by some margin I think I heard him say in Romanian dialect). We’re on quiet smooth country roads within minutes and the previous days (weeks?) anticipative prep stress immediately evaporated – as did the water as the heat built. This was it. Only 1500-2000 miles to go, depending on the quality of the beer (we have to be in Montpellier in S France by 29 June or we are in even bigger trouble).

Heading Out

As I now lie in my tent in a small glade back from the road with my ears filled with birdsong and the smell of spring I can but help thinking “where’s the hotel”? (Actually I don’t, but that seemed funnier.). I do think that whilst my Italian is dreadful my Romanian is, bar from my brothers, worst than you could possibly imagine. We are as twins on this, despite him being 2.5 years older than me). But we learn rapidly from Google translate and in no time have a 4 cheese pizza ordered ( pizza Quattro Stagioni in Romanian) and a beer each (Doue Heineken – the 2 is pronounced by sticking two fingers in the air).

Testimony to our Romanian language skills – we ordered food! And beer 😉

Oh, in case you were worried, or slightly disturbed, or thought that was how he really looks, we have a rule of “only silly photos” when on tour (I have to say this as it makes him feel better)

He isn’t really this stupid – or colour coordinated! *ps is that a sagging sheet he is stood by?

If you read my last trip blog you will be delighted to hear it was a lovely day with sun and everything. Only one mechanical but J is really very good at this stuff and we were off again within minutes. But the day really revolved around passing through a scene of peasant agrarian culture in a state of crumble towards the new world. Horse and traps overtaken by huge 4×4 BMW’s . Two people driving a horse and plough by a huge green monster tractor. Gardens beautiful but entirely of vegetables by immense fields of wheat, barley and sunflowers. Goats with their shepherds snoring under a lazy tree. Kids chasing us on their bikes up the hill (ok, maybe chasing is the wrong word – creaming might be better). Smiles and waves from folk who have little but themselves to offer.

Did I mention pizza, beer and tomato salad cost £4.

We are some 65 miles in. Can’t wait until tomorrow.