The Carrara Marble Quarries

Please find below the article (a few of the images may differ) just released in the fantastic On Landscape digital magazine. Thanks as ever to Tim and Charlotte who run an amazing visually stimulating and intellectual read.

Our planet is a paradise of endless, unimaginable beauty and as a landscape photographer, I have been privileged to have been able to visit just a few of the treasures it has to offer. I have gazed, literally mouth ajar, at sites of both natural and manmade beauty, be they an overwhelming wonder such as the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu or an intimate shaft of dawn light shining through a cobweb laden with overnight dew in my back garden. Such sites never fade or dull, each remaining a part of my combined experience. But both my senses and subsequent deliberations were left genuinely reeling following a recent visit to the unimaginable world of the Carrara marble quarries.

Here amongst the towering peaks of the Apuan Alps, man intervenes with nature with apparent disregard in an overtly brazen manner. And yet the consequence is magnetic, staggeringly captivating and eerily mystic. The accumulation of some 700 disused and modern operational quarries – excavated over 2000 years – has left a multitude of deep and seductive, yet horrific, scars across a previously pristine landscape. Our guide consoles us nonchalantly that they are only allowed to excavate 5% of the “hills” as the range is protected by UNESCO. I look around me and ponder the figure, it seems pretty significant in the context of an entire mountain range to me!

We had travelled to Tuscany for a friend’s book launch and decided to return home through the hills. As we exited the tunnel at the top of a pass, I could but stop, stand and stare. The scale of the scene was in every sense simply breathtaking as I looked across a mountain range shrouded in intermittent clouds towards the Mediterranean glistening far below in the distance. Quarries dotted various slopes which have been mined as they provide the source of the purest white (and other) marble on the planet. Michelangelo’s David and other magnificent statues, cities and palaces across the globe have sourced their raw material from this unique place. As you drive up the steep winding road towards the huts of various tour operators, shops selling an infinite choice of marble eggs, chess boards, tables, statues and lights line the route.

I become overwhelmed as our Landrover crawls up the 45-degree incline and I look both down and ever upwards to immense, smooth cliffs of neatly cut rock set into the surrounding natural landscape. Cavernous holes in sheer rock with ignored no entry signs as tourists seek to touch, explore and live this unique environment.

I am in a Tolkienesque scene of fantasy madness – huge excavators and lorries with wheels twice the height of a man appear as Tonka toys against the endless quarry faces which in turn are miniaturised by the scale of the hills themselves. An entire ridge hundreds of metres long simply removed. A hillside of rock sliced away. Tourists as ants against the backdrop. All I can do is reach for my camera and begin.

As we drive away too few hours later and over the following days and weeks, my thoughts begin to reflect on what I have seen and wander in many different directions. I am reminded of the colossal majesty of the 7 year long “Workers” project by the matchless Sebastiao Salgado where he explores the lives and working conditions of the people who dig, mine and excavate for our everyday pleasures such as sugar, gold and oil. I begin to ponder what I have just seen in a similar light against everyday products bought in the shops, where they are sourced and the impact each has on some part of the planet remote both spatially and often in thought. The discord of both immense and yet in the 27 years since Salgado completed that immensely questioning work little appears to have changed.

I wonder what will happen when the quarries reach their 5% limit for extraction. Will the companies tidy up and walk or will they chip away for just a little more. And then a little more again, arguing consumer demand and local economic justification, and they would be far from the first industry to do so. I later even argue with myself over whether I should submit this article and in doing so potentially encourage vanity travel and the carbon footprint of others as they hop on a plane for a long weekend to capture their own interpretation of these remarkable edifices. (I am happy that I did at least think on this and determine the benefits of raising awareness over the potential costs made my actions justifiable though I recognize nothing is perfect). 

The quarries have left a profound impression on me. They undoubtedly reinforce many questions on a wide range of issues including beauty, greed, consumerism, society, environment and personal responsibility. They have reminded me to never stop thinking about how I might proactively answer and address such questions both through my work and with respect to my own lifestyle and in questioning others. As a such, they have been as inspirational a venue as I have ever visited, though as I now reflect, maybe not for the reasons I thought as I first drove through that tunnel and looked out in wonder.

CALL TO ACTION

Carrara represents my current “Voice”, thoughts and reflections on consumerism and climate change and the dilemma of my own carbon contributions vs my work as a landscape photographer. In this, as some will already know, following much soul searching Morag and I will stop running all our flight based photography workshops at the end of current commitments and will cease flying wherever possible as part of our own contribution to take personal responsibility. 

This has been a very difficult decision to make and how each of us responds will always differ but I am sure I am not alone in recognising the urgency to act. In this regard these pages have already seen the excellent articles on this subject from Joe Cornish and Niall Benvie giving very different personal perspectives on the subject. Personally I think we have to each take responsibility for our own actions and together bring politicians and “corporates” to account, I believe that images can have a profound effect in helping to raise awareness and to change attitudes and would like to thank Tim for giving us all a forum to commence the widest possible discussion on the subject. 

I am very excited to see what “Voices” come forward and invite everyone to contribute their own Voice, together with any ideas as to how we can take the discussion forward.

The Amazement of Autumn

I absolutely love autumn and the sheer variety it brings, the colours, the harvest and the changing weather patterns.  Photographically it is a very productive period given the sheer variety of landscapes here in our bit of Liguria.

Thunderous swells at Maranola in the Cinque Terre

Camogli remains subtle & sublime even in a rampaging storm

The beauty of the wave

Small storm over Imperia

Nestled between its cousins of Provence to the west and Tuscany to the east. It is wilder here, less developed and I increasingly think the region has greater depths than either of these as you find yourself in the midst of the incredible Maritime Alps where bare limestone peaks and crags plunge from 2700m through steep wooded valleys, olive groves and vineyards into the azure seas of the Mediterranean over just a few kilometres in distance. It leaves me humbled and feeling very fortunate.

Alassio pier by dawn & by night

Thee bright lights of Alassio

This season has been truly spectacular with sun baked days giving way to deluge, floods and 6 metre waves, with everything in between.  We really could not have asked for more from a photographic perspective. And amongst all this the medieval hilltop and valley villages glowed in their semi abandoned glory and we simply couldn’t find enough hours in the day to go exploring.

 

Autumnal stirrings

Some autumnal colour

Crystal spring waters

Ruined beauty

The chilly pews & the “hanging” chapel – another story (see my Instagram for a hint)

This post is to share with you some of the simple delights I have been fortunate enough to witness over the past few weeks.  On this occasion I very specifically focus on the sheer variety of the imagery and places we have been, both as ourselves and with the wonderful guests who joined us on our workshops, as it just seems so fitting to do so with all things autumn.   

Where I dropped my beloved Sony a7r2 in the river 😦

I am sure I will find a few more as I continue my review but I hope you enjoy these for now.

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

Hi all

Unfortunately I live remote from a “climate strike” location but as an photographer exploring issues around climate change I feel I must do something to be a part of this phenomenal movement that I see as the most likely way we will kickstart politicians and industry into “real” action to address climate change.

As such I will instead be trying to send an email with the image below to all UK and EU MP’s MEP’s, together with as many press, CEO’s and other organisations as I can find via a web search.  I will also be posting on Instagram and Facebook.

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144 represents the number of months before we reach the 12 year “tipping point” when climate change will become irreversible as quoted by Sir David Attenborough to the UN on 3 December 2018.  I am then thinking I might continue to send them all a gentle monthly update for the next 135 months, including

  • crossing off an additional “month”
  • a different quote on an issue relating to climate change
  • an idea of something “you” could do each month to be part of the solution

But to get this message out I really also need your help.  So I would be super grateful if you could in any way share this with your global friends, followers, members or other parties you may know and by all means forward it to anyone who you think “needs” to see it e.g. CEO’s of major companies, politicians, Donald Trump (I will try too!).

Oh, and if you have any ideas as to how we could otherwise expand the concept and increase awareness I would be very happy to discuss them with you.

the very best for all our tomorrows

t

p.s. The 144 images in “Individually Insignificant Global Time Bombs” were originally shot  using the 21 centuries ultimate disposable product, an iPhone, which we unnecessarily upgrade every two years because industry has programmed us to do so to sell more products.   The images of global products and services are taken in and around a nameless shopping mall that could be anywhere in the world. These everyday items we devour relentlessly, hypnotised by advertising and the desire for convenience and to consume.  That individual plastic straw they gave me at MacDonalds doesn’t count right?!?!?!? 

The 144 month climate tipping point calendar is an ongoing art project and will be updated monthly with a further month crossed out.  A new quote will be added and a suggestion as to what you might do to make a change to your life and be part of the solution.  It will be sent monthly to politicians, leaders, CEO’s and as many people as possible to help raise awareness and proactively offer small contributions you can make to be a part of the solution.  The project was part of our wider Scottish Arts Council funded Upland  “ENERGISE” residency exploring energy and climate change.

Why not join us and make a real difference (if you sign up to our Blog you will receive the update automatically by email

Danube Bike Tour

A Few Thoughts after 2 weeks of Reflectionlrg__dsc4756

I’d like to think I set out without agenda and with an open mind (if such a thing is possible), my intention to respond to the immersive experience of cycling 3700km through the heart of Europe along the mighty River Danube.  No preconceived agenda save to vaguely follow the rivers course and to react to and absorb the experiences along its course.   As I now sit, 2 weeks after the 5 week adventure, contemplating the interaction, the overwhelming emotions are not what I expected, but the surprises was even more rewarding than I could have wished for.

 

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I feel my thinking should be focused on the immense power and significance of the river and her total domination over a landscape, flora and fauna she has shaped across millennia. For she, the mighty Donau, has defined the very geography of half a continent, determined the boundaries of countries and empires and dictated the actions of man throughout history. Her powers link east to west, north to south and culture to culture. Her immense simplicity and mesmerising scale including the cycle of water and the weathering of time.

 

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But as I sit alone and quiet for the first time in months my observations wander in other directions. For whilst she creates the slowly changing canvas and with flood and drought defines major events along her course, it seems in the day to day that it is man who paints the picture. The appearance of the land and urban scapes above the underlying geology. An ever changing picture in a constant state of renewal. Of forests felled and nature tamed. Huge expanses of agriculture feeding off vast alluvial plains. Dredging and reconfigurations to extract her deposits for our needs and desires.  And of urban and industrial proliferation, decay and renewal over time.

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In this regard I have an overwhelming sense that whilst historically the interaction has been in sympathy with the surroundings in more recent times man has increasingly sought to impose himself “on” the environment, serving short term desires with little regard of the consequences. As if competing with the natural forces. Huge levees and canals, immense hydro electric dams and massively expanding urban centres.  Buildings left to crumble as their purpose has been superceded with more modern technology and ideas.  And along her course how modernisation between countries differs as cultures develop at different paces.

 

 

With population growth and climate change she also bears witness to the ever increasing conflicts between the two. At the time of our exploration unseasonal rainfall combined with snow melt in her alpine headwaters have resulted in extensive flooding downstream in areas remote to the source, rendering huge expanses along her banks an unintended inland sea with literally thousands of “island” houses surrounded by water. Huge fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable energy generators to meet the souring requirements of a massively expanding population with its ever increasing demand for goods with the associated mass extraction of gravels, sands and limestone for building and industrial development. The squeezing of natural environments into smaller and smaller pockets.

The second observation that draws my thoughts is cultural, an area less obvious to the landscape photographer but unavoidable as you slowly cross half a continent and witness some of the immense justices and injustices we do to our fellows. Of how a modern community of nations along her shores is bridging historical divides and in doing so has brought about the longest period of sustained peace, stability and freedom in a region whose past has included such horrific actions of inhumanity. We have shown passports but twice across 10 countries (entering and leaving Bulgaria and the UK) and made to feel as a welcome neighbour throughout. Scars and differences remain and there is obvious evidence of increasing inequality, particularly in the “Eastern” countries. It certainly isn’t perfect. But its fragility must surely be worth embracing and protecting.

 

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Perhaps, having once been a geography student, one of the most exciting ares of exploration was in the similarities and differences in town planning and architecture across countries including, in particular, the influences of the former Soviet Union – something never before witnessed in person..  At the time, in the 1980’s, the rhetoric was primarily negative towards the Eastern European countries though as we moved across the landscape I saw, aside from differing levels of renovation, dilapidation and ‘sanitation’ of the town and country scape, remarkable similarities throughout the journey.  The new, the old, the ugly and the beautiful, the crumbling.  The sheer diversity. And yet many common underlying threads, held together along and due to the rivers course.

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A final realisation is how I have lived for 5 weeks with little more than a bike, tent, and two small kit bags of essentials.  That and a very patient brother who accompanied me and provided the expedition glue.  Desire for material possessions and to consume were irrelevant in favour of food, water and a piece of ground to pitch the tents, with our greatest treats a shower, sink to wash our clothes and a bed in a hostel.  For the purpose of this adventure was not only to experience but to complete a “zero carbon” adventure.  A slow, immersive, essentially carbon free form of travel allowing for observation, consideration and witness to the subtle differences between cultures and environments you simply cannot appreciate when landing and charging through by “modern” forms of travel as we do in the current age. 

lrg__dsc5583-3In this regard this trip turned out to be less perfect than my previous projects (see our website for more of our “Zero Footprint” projects) due to our restricted timeframe and  remote starting point requiring us to book a plane, something I increasingly seek to avoid.  I have learned a valuable lesson and have planted 500 trees at our smallholding in Scotland to help offset the environmental impact.  In future travels I will seek to travel overland by public transport wherever possible, something  I increasingly see as a positive challenge and part of the adventure rather than a burden.  It is the journey that is the ultimate adventure, not the destination.

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I will continue to ponder and I now have the almost childish joy of fully reviewing and processing the images taken on the trip into finished photos rather than the hastily collated images presented here, a portfolio perhaps and potentially even visual stories.  For the photographer this is the ultimate treat and I always love this element of my work.  But as I return to the familiar environment of home I hope I will be able to reflect on the wider observations I have been fortunate enough to witness and to incorporate a few of the lessons into my day to day thinking and lifestyle – and ultimately to then share these with others.

The Little Things

A one litre bottle of Coca Cola in Romania is about € 0.60. In Zurich a 0.3l bottle costs €3.60.

In Romania every garden is full to overflowing with delicious vegetables. Edible gardens. These spill out onto wonderful edible street verges. In Austria infinitely manicured lawns the norm.

As you travel eastwards peeling paint and plaster gives way to straight lines, immaculate plaster and consistent paintwork.

Every village had at least a shop (mostly open all hours) until Austria whereas German villages have few services and you drive to the supermarket 20km away.

We saw horse and plough still working the land in Romania. John Deere and friends the solution further west. I fear John will dominate throughout very soon.

I sensed a legacy of Ceausescu in Romania, the people quieter and more subdued when compared to the effervescent and gregarious Serbs.

Until Austria and Germany the pedestrian remains the prioritised form of transport followed by the horse and bike. The car comes last.

A smiling German seeing us wild camping offered use of showers and facilities without request or compensation.

Be Dammed – over 700 hydro dams stem the natural flow of the Danube and her tributaries, though together they provide some 30,000MW of electricity generation to her peoples. Coal, gas and nuclear power stations litter the banks in all countries, solar thermal (water) on roofs through though PV (electric solar) mostly in “the west”.

A few more snaps (iPad processing only!)

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Danube Bike Tour

The Source

The prize (for teaching J how to shoot a selfie – a 4 week tutorial!)

Today we made it to the source of the mighty Danube. Just shy of 3000km in 22 days of cycling (with 7 non riding days). In truth the source is a bit of a let down after so much magnificence. It is (in J’s words) a ‘conference’ of two small rivers. They also happen to be building a major bridge over the top of it.Oh, and the water was bloody freezing. But we cared not a jot. We’d made it and it was truly wonderful. Hugely satisfying after a week of solid riding since Vienna.

And as we neared the end of our journey so does this mighty river’s commence.We travel in different directions yet share the same stories. At least ours.

Like this obviously…

J sitting on a pig!?

And obviously the pink rabbit

and this – one of our rooms dripping with wet kit

But in this last week since Vienna we have also been through some amazingly beautiful scenery, of which the last day in Germany is exquisite.

We have even seen how clouds are made…

The Cloud Maker

We spent a day in the delicious town of Ulm with its Fisherman’s quarters and stunning Contemporary Art museum

But these last days have also been a time for reflection (you’ve gotta do something at some point whilst spending 7 hours a day in the saddle right). So I ponder each drop of water as it passes any point for a mere instant and as such the river, throughout its course, is in a constant state of renewal. Just as the landscape, cultures, people and towns along its banks. Nothing is static. But the pace of change does vary from place to place. Some for better and some, in my view, for worse. Each country and society, despite their proximity, unique and special. The open confidence and welcome of Serbia. The quiet introverted Romanians. The city vs rural life. My own questioning of why we do the things we do. Will these will be my lasting memory?

New design, Ulm

One thing that doesn’t change – ever – is the appalling quality of my brothers jokes. My lovely wife would probably say the same of me but no. If certain regimes remained along these banks I would have traded him in to their torture departments. But I will put up with them for he has shown the true meaning of the word stable. He should have been named Thomas – of tank engine fame. I could only dream to be thus. For how is it possible to have those ailments around your posterior and barely give them mention at the end of the day. A beer, assos and an ice cream simply would not be sufficient if I had been in that situation and everyone, I mean everyone, would be well aware of them I can assure you.

Thomas with his sweet potato ice cream.

Cheers bro, for another memorable experience. And for putting up with me for an entire month.

We now head south towards Zurich, family and our lives. And I can’t wait for that either. I fear one more post will beckon before this though, with reflections and thoughts on what has been a profound cultural experience for me set around a river of spectacular power , beauty and magnitude. But not for now. Now I am simply enjoying relaxing with a sense of peace and satisfaction. That I have accomplished the challenge we set out to achieve.

And that this beer that sits beside me is really mighty fine..

Danube Bike Tour

Concentration

And so we leave the lights and glam of Vienna to continue our exploration of the landscapes and cultures of the Danube. Yet how apparent it is becoming that we are passing through cultures, each unique and each special. But these differences will form a post I am still mulling over. But this I cannot ignore.

Mauthausen sits on the Danube. Deep into Austria. Rarely heard of. But it carries a dark shadow. Above a pretty town sits a holocaust memorial to those who died, were tortured, murdered, starved and who were treated in the most inhuman of ways because they did not fit the “political norm”. Anyone who spoke out, dissented, was of the wrong creed in the minds of those with the power to decide.

Some of the “names”

Wikipedia can only estimate that between 122 and 320 thousand people were murdered here. The reality is we simply do not know. How cheap a life.

It did have a gas chamber but it’s preferred techniques of resolving the ‘problem’ was to force work the inmates to death. Literally. With any excuse to maim and murder if ‘rules’, however tenuous, were disobeyed. Can you imagine prisoners being forced to push fellow inmates off the top of a quarry cliff before having the same done to themselves.

Each country who had citizens killed in Mauthausen has erected its own memorial

I am left numb. I simply do not comprehend how we can be indoctrinated to either give or to carry out the order to act thus. And yet, with little reading, it is apparently all too easy, at a national level if the appropriate political and social conditions abide. what happened at Mauthausen happened within the lifetime of my parents. It happens elsewhere today. And it will continue to happen. I wonder how often we will, as then, turn a blind eye.

Example. Our Government does not speak out on the current atrocities in Yemen because it supplies arms to their opponents. A nation stays quiet.

As we travel up this river I realise I have friends whose parents escaped such persecution – crawling under barbed wire fences. I know others whose relatives died as a result. I even know people whose relatives were part of the machine that gave and carried out the orders. Here, in this place, it all comes together. This is where such things happen. Where protagonists melted back into society after the event – never to face the music, just as records and faces were lost.

The huts were designed for 300 inmates. They often held 2000. The foreground shows the shadows of former huts.

Memorial to those who did not make it

Disposal unit

Someone’s brother, father, mother, friend, enemy

Forced hard labour in commercial quarries – inmates were required to carry 50kg stones up the “stairway of death”

The gas chamber – imagine closing that door

Mauthausen

We have now visited Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. I have looked across the Danube to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think of their recent pasts. The mixed races, creeds and classes in each. I think of the lovely receptions I have received. I think of subdued responses and wonder why that might be. I think of the smiles and jokes. Of those who interacted and those who did not.

And I wonder how close and yet so removed this has been from my life. A television screen. Newspaper ink on my fingertips over latte. £5 to a raffle cause.

I think of the places I see in the news where this is happening today. And how little is done to make a difference. I feel very naive.

I think just how small Mauthausen actually is for all it’s past. Through the estate on a hill. Follow the brown sign. The buses come and go, as do we. The birds sing, the sun is hot and the view is serene. And the smell of summer is just so beautiful.

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

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