Tuesday 27 July 2010

The Velcro Road to Istanbul

I am now watching the day begin in Istanbul. We have been staying in a hostel in the backpacker district and have enjoyed meeting numerous other travellers from all parts of the world.
We cut inland on some minor roads in Bulgaria and saw what a beautiful and largely mountainous land it is. The language is not too far removed from Russian and Anja was our communications expert doing really well chatting to the natives. I was not much use as I could not even read the roadsigns at first but was getting the hang of the alphabet by the end and recognising words that were directly transposed.
Climbing the last hill to the Turkish border I looked behind to see a recumbent bicycle catching us up. This was Fabian, a flamboyant and friendly Frenchman on his way to Armenia from Marsielle. We crossed the welcoming borderpost together with no problems and camped the night in a field on the edge of our first Turkish village. The difference between the two countries was stark. Now everyone greeted and waved to us and the cafes beneath the minarets were full of old men drinking tea. We left Fabian in Kerklareli as he was going south to the Marmara sea (and alot faster than us) and turned East.
We were now cycling through alternating plains, valleys full of sunflowers and vast, oak forrested hills with towns 30 or 40km apart. Going through one small town a car door opened as I rode by and ripped off a pannier, no harm done and the guy was appologetic but the tea drinkers on the pavement were a little cross with the fellow and insisted that we sat a while and drank some tea. One of the guys ran the bakery next door and kapt bringing us hot cakes. The school English teacher appeared within a few minuits and translated to the small gathering of children and old men who wanted to know all about us. 'We love tourists and get quite alot coming through here' said the English teacher, 'just last month we had a pair from Holland come through on motorbikes'. It seemed they had recieved the same hospitality. Reluctantly we moved on as the day was still young escorted to the edge of town by the kids on thier bikes.
The weather was hot and the road, though fast for the first hour soon got hot. The tar melted, stuck to the tyres and picked up stones which were then scraped off on the mudguards. The hills though not steep were long and constant and we had for a few days a headwind. Sometimes we just didn't roll down the hills. The scenery though was great and there were very few cars.
We met a cyclist from Istanbul on his way to Bulgaria and he was having a similar time of it. He advised us to head south as the road only got worse. We asked him about the traffic on the southerly road coming into the city and he assured us it would be no problem. He mislead us somewhat.
I have cycled in a number of the worlds major cities: Mumbai, Bankock, Ho Chi Mihn, London, Rome etc and rarely find the thick traffic dangerous. Coming into Istanbul on a friday night past the Airport the way we did was a different story. We had a plan and it was potentially a good one. On our detailed map were a number of campsites marked on the coast before the city real began. We thought we could reach these before sundown, stay in one and head into town the next morning. Best layed and all that, things went wrong when the campsites didn't exist any more. One did exist but everyone directed us to a different location and as the sun got lower we were getting a bit desperate. Unnavoidable and dominating our lives at this point was a six lane highway where the cardrivers imagined we would vanish somehow into thin air if they drove straight at us at speed. Those trying to enter the road were the worst. I called a halt eventually, It was too dangerous, we were going to get hurt. A hotel was spotted we gave up on the elusive campsite.
With the bikes safe and with the security of somewhere to sleep we ventured more happily out into the neighbourhood which was vibrant. Everything was going on and we liked it. A different world from the tourist disneyland which is the area we are staying in now.
The next morning we dreaded getting on the bikes again but the traffic was much quieter and I was reluctant to giveup and find a big taxi. Luckily after 10 minuits we made it to the sea and followed a quiet road which turned into a cyclepath which lead us the 15kms into town. Things were looking Up.
On the way in we met a german couple on bikes heading for the ferry port. We drank some tea together and they told us a good place to stay. They had had their bikes stolen on the train in Serbia, alot of thier kit also. After a three week wait they recieved new bikes from Germany and though a bit lighter in the pocket area were continuing their trip to India.
Istanbul is, well, its Istanbul. 16 million people, beatuful and ugly, chaotic and tranquil, easy and difficult, boring and exiting, cheap and expensive and so on. I advise a visit if you have never been. It seems alot more modern than it was 15 years ago when I was last here but the ancient and new still live side by side.
Must pack and leave now but wıll wrıte a short cıty chapter ın a few days. Vısas for Iran are underway.

Balkan Coast

We left the boat in Tulcea at the beginning of the Delta. One advantage of being on a boat is all the comforts. A bed, a kitchen, a table to eat at etc. and these need not be packed away every morning. Although we had all the comforts of home, it was not our home and I was glad to get back on the bikes and on with our journey.
Tulcea was partly under mud and water but there was a great museum of the Delta with an extensive aquarium and artistic showcases exhibiting, through varying levels of taxidermical expertese, the fauna of the region. In the aquarium displayed the nativesof the danube and other fish from around the world. Our favourite tank was exclusively for sturgeon and beluga which look very similar and I was just thinking that they have very human and expressive faces when Anja said `look, look,this one looks just like your dad`. Take it as a compliment Pop, they are handsome fish.
A trip through the Delta on a tourist boat is reccomended by all but we could only find a trip on a retired Greek island `Dolphin` high speed hydrophoil, spewing pollutants into both the air and water of the nature reserve. We could not bring ourselves to take part in the hypocrasy so we turned south on the road out of town forgoeing the `Delta` experience.

Or so we thought. Once out of town the traffic all but dissapeared and we had a perfect afternoons cycling and our own private wildlife safari. First came the extraordinary jumping fish. Hundreds of them Picture this; (because I always was a fraction to late with the Photo) Man stands on rock in lake, 2 ft fish jumps out of water, slaps man on bare chest, a mighty thwack, falls back in water in synch with a dozen other athletic pals. Repeat. Repeat again. Bizarre.Japanese carp trapped by a barrage and trying to get home. They can only reproduce, we were told, after they have recieved a cartain injection from the fishfarmer.
Next came a bat not often seen in daylight. She was out a bit early and took refuge on a treetrunk by the road. We were alternating between Delta, marsh and low hills with grassland and grazing shepparded flocks. No `ordinary' birds were to be seen, only Pelicans, storks, white herons, egrets, bee-eaters, golden orioles, strange woodpeckers, hoopoes, eagles, little owls and others we coudn't identify. Eventually in the tops of a tree lined avenue I saw a bunch of crows and was reasured to know that ordinary birds were also out and about on this blue clouded but sunny surreal afternoon. The hundreds of crows however took flight along the road, blown like us by the following wind and for a mile or two we tumbled with the crowstorm as honourary members. I had my black shirt on and felt like one of the lads until at a turn inthe road they went crosscountry to their own unknown dark mischief.
We made our camp at the foot of a rainbow on a sweetwater shore under the earthen ramparts of a long forgotten fortress. Behind us in the reeds the frogs music went from croak, through chorus, to howl. An eerie hollow wail not meant for human ears. Small sticks with eyes poked their heads from the lagoon a few feet infront of us. Watersnakes. Phalanxes of frogs scattered before the uneven footsteps of a prehistoric fisherman as he walked from his lonely boat up our narrow beach. 'sardinellas' said I, pointing at our open tin which was this evening our simple dinner. This brought a chuckle, a hard handshake and an earthy conversation in an ancient latin dialect.
In the early light of morning his previously laid nets yielded a half dozen fish. We rode back past the fort with the fishermans cabin at its foot. No test was needed to know that our mans DNA would be close to that of those who once sought protection inside the slowly slumping defences and who had also fished on this ancient but shifting shore.
This really was the end of the Danube, the southern tip of the delta some 2850km from its source in the Black Forrest not far from France. This source to sea trip was in an unuually wet year and we followed floods almost all the way. Interestingly, in a dry year the young German Danube flows into the North sea!! maybe 60kms from Donaueschingen, holes in the limestone riverbed lead 12kms under the mountains to a lower river shortly before it spills into the Bodensee and hence the Rhein and North. In August the riverbed can be dry.

We soon entered another chapter of the journey. The Black sea coast and all it entails. Sand is like golden oil, it can produce mega-dollars if harvested well though one can sink money in a well that soon dries up or one can get greedy and careless and ruin an otherwise decent coastline so that the big money tourists turn eventually away.
Romania seemed to be struggling. Cheap hotels and resorts more than half empty. The indiginous tourists hit hard by the financial crisis. We didn't meet any foriegners. The Bulgarians have gone for the international Euro with huge concrete resorts planted on otherwise deserted shores. Surely the word 'complex' is better left on the architects blueprints and not transfered to the advertising billboards.
Vama Veche was different and we accidentally arrived in this little settlemant on the Romanian side of the border as a free music festival was getting underway on the beach. Everything was low key and wood was more in use than concrete, glass or plastic. Though the Hipster crowd were alternative and cool we found them less friendly than the normal Romanian family carrying menageries of inflatable plastic from Dacia boot to beach.
We found at last our own private beach by heading over the fields. All broken shells and no damn get everywhere sand. We spent a day there resting a bit before crossing the mountains into Turkey and heading for the great Istanbull where we must search for new tyres.
My back wheel is causing nearly all our mechanical problems. 8 broken spokes and no spare ones left. One hard day on a busy and uninteresting road we had 3 punctures,my back tyre gave up the ghost and three spokes broke. It seemed, as I made repairs for the fourth time and put on our emergency folding tyre sitting next to a surly faced prostitute in a rubbish strewn truckstop, that we would never get down this unpleasant stretch.

Swimming over Trees

One night on Wigwam we moored in an underwater forrest swamped by the swollen danube. Breast stroking around the boat, weaving in and out of the visible treetops and being careful not to venture out to far into the current was a sundown I will remember. We tried fishing but inevitably got the hook stuck and were licky to get the anchor back.
The previous night we came into the scruffy marina at Ruse on the Bulgarian side. The Marina manager,for want of a less formal title, was a softly spoken chap who had revolutionary ideas about sailboat design. His half built boat next to ours was 6m long and 4m wide and looked like nothing I had ever seen before. It was also fitted with a jet engine. He was either a fool or a clever fellow and I hope the latter as he had put alot of work into the project.
On the other side of us was a 26ft tatty looking yacht with an equally soiled US flag hanging limp at the stern. The Captain and crew was a short, wide, bearded, nicotine moustached, bald bespectacled, drunken, arrogant, belligerent, brave and pensioned Polish national on his return from Chicago after 30 years which began in exile. His proud claim to be the only man to attempt a trip from America to Warsaw by boat is probably correct. Through his viscous Polish accent, slurred by vodka it was hard to understand his English. How could it be so bad after 30 years in the United States. When he blamed our difficult communication attempts on our too strong German accents, (I had done most of the talking for our team), we decided to head below. The mosquito hour was upon us anyway.
But we had no water. Anja Gondola and I made a run as none was to be had at the dock and the boats tank was empty. Four Jerry cans and three people meant someone had no hand to defend himself from the little bloodthirsty fiends. Over the side to the narrow pontoon, duck under the bowsprit, walk the rocking plank over a sunken boat to the dock. Gate is locked. Find the hole in the fence, clamber through some bushes, slip round the sagging end of another fence then run the gauntlet of the bush lined 150 yardmosquito reserve to the second building behind the little chandlers. Down the ramp, onto a temporary, made from driftwood gangway, jump over 2yrds of angry plastic bottle Danube, lean over a decaying concrete wall and turn on the fire hydrant tap sticking out of the side barely a foot from the waterline. Let one of the girls splat your quota of mosquitos while you fill up. Reverse route to boat. Pour water into boats tanks taking demossie breaks every 20seconds. Dive inside and hunt down all followers. Just like they do it in St Tropez.

One sees not so much of the country from a boat, meets no-one all day and the landscape rarely changes. There are not many towns along the way. This watery woodland goes on seemingly forever and coul be described as boring. So could the great plains or the desert. The interest is in the vastness. Though we missed many things we would have seen on the bikes we have at least experienced from waterlevel the power and scale of this river and in an unusual year. Also the vegetation and wildlife along its banks. Pelicans, Egrets, ducks and cormorants fly past the window as I write but of fish we have seen almost none. Big fish must be here. We saw 2m catfish in the Soane in France and that is but a stream that would be swallowed unnoticed were it a tributary of the Danube.
There are barges heading upstream here, nine bound together pushed by chunky, confident tugboats, each of the nine holding 4000 tons of ore, gravel or coal. We saw one back in Austria with 250 cars and a couple of trucks on deck and probably the same number below. Slow but powerfully steady they churn their way upstream and I ponder over half recalled figures of carbon emissions of boats compared to trucksand Imagine how it was here before the diesel motor or steam.

Buildings along the banks are half underwater. I see pigs with their feet wet and their sties awash, caravans which have floated to new locations and rest there half sunken and askew. We have followed floods from the beginnin of the Danube to the endand have become familiar with the unusual border between water and land; sometimes cleancut where sloping meadows, fences traks and all run uninterrupted into the water. There is no official end to the land, no brown stripe of bare earth and treeroots. In other places it is hard to distinguish the land from the water. Islands on the chart are just forrests in the river with boats emerging from between the trunks.

tschuess europa

von der rumaenischen schwarzmeerkueste ueberfahren wir natuerlich problemlos die grenze nach bugarien (auf einem fahrradweg!!!!leider hoert der nach 5km aprupt auf, schoen waere es gewesen). es gibt hier auffallend mehr autos, das fahren an der grossen kuestenstrasse ıst nıcht ımmer eın vergnuegen, sodass wır uns wenn moeglich auf die kleineren strassen verkruemeln, die aber auch meistens huegliger und langsamer sınd.
seıt wır am meer sind , zelten wır fast ımmer am strand. manchmal ın einsamer bucht, manchmal zwischen riesıgen hotelanlagen, manchmal zusammen mit unzaehligen musikliebenden wochenendausflueglern. dıe bulgaren scheinen hotels zu bauen, was das zeug haelt, so manches steht jedoch schon vor der fertigstellung als ruine da. zu wenig gaeste.
nach 5 tagen bulgarien gibt es nun endlich eın paar berge auf dem weg ın die tuerkei.
und anstaendig heiss ist es auch dazu.
wir treffen eınıge radler vor und nach der grenze, darunter i, eınen franzosen, der mit seinem liegerad 3 monate unterwegs ist. wir fahren einen tag zusammen, er wird aber durch die suedtuerkei fahren. wlr haben uns entschıeden, dıe schwarzmeerkueste entlangzufahren. seit dem grenzuebertritt in die tuerkei hat sich viel geaendert. die leute wınken, hupen, gruessen, kinder laufen uns hinterher und rufen. bei tee und seesamkrıngel halten wır so manches schwaetzchen. die staedte sind irgendwie kleinteiliger, ornamentaler. es macht spass ın dem land zu seın.
unsere einfahrt nach ıstanbul ist das schlimmste stueck verkehr unserer bisherigen reise. am morgen treffen wir eınen radfahrer, der frueh in ıstanbul gestartet ist.
wir lassen uns ueberzeugen, dass unser geplanter schleichweg doch viel zu langsam und ansterngend ist, er kaeme ja direkt aus der stadt und das ist alles kein problem, es gıbt ja standstreifen auf denen man fahren kann. na er es muss es ja wissen, schliesslıch kommt es ja grad von dort.
also stuerzen wir uns auf den empfohlenen weg, der ın der stadt zum alptraum wırd. auf den landstrassen fahren die tuerken wirklich ok. aber ın der stadt scheinen sie auf dem auge fuer radler blind zu sein. wır werden also auf der vıer- oder sechsspurigen (wer kann das schon so genau sagen) strasse quası unsichtbar. entnervt fluechten wir auf ırgendwelche anderen strassen, nıe genau wıssend ob das jetzt rıchtıg ıst. wır hangeln uns ırgendwıe nahe der kueste entlang. viel besser wirds aber nicht, auch die dreistuendige zeltplatzsuche endet im flughafenhotel. ab da wirds dann besser. hier scheinen sıch nicht so vıele tourısten hinzuverirren, man schaut uns erstaunt an. ıch bin froh, auch im 'randbezırk' gewesen zu sein, hier zwischen all den sehenswuerdigkeıten (wir sind jetzt seit 4 tagen im hostel im zentrum) bekommt man eınen verzerrten eindruck von der stadt.
tausende von touristen werden hier durch dıe palaeste und moscheen geschleust und ın tausend restaurants gefuettert. aber wir genıessen es ein wenıg auszuruhen, mıt vielen anderen reisenden zu sprechen, zu lesen und durch dıe stadt zu schlendern. es ist entspannent, nıchts kaufen zu koennen. wo sollte man denn den teppich auch hinlegen. ins zelt?? ausserdem konnten wır uns hıer um unsere ıranvısas kuemmern, alles lauft, wir muessen nun 10 tage auf dıe antwort warten.
und ein wiedersehen mıt gundula und thoralf von der wigwam gab es auch hier.

aber jetzt gehts weıter, ab auf die strasse, die in der mittagshitze schmelzen wird und sich dann in einen grossen klettverschluss verwandelt.

auf nach asıen, tschuess europa.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

baden im schwarzen meer

das erste grosse ziel ist erreicht. baden im schwarzen meer. nach 4500 geradelten und 700 mit dem boot zurueckgelegten kilometern ist es endlich soweit.
wir sitzen seit 2 tagen wieder im sattel, haben nach mehr als einer woche unsere schoene kabine auf dem boot aufgegeben und radelten das letzte stueckchen zum meer. und hatten gleich den wahrscheinlich schoensten tag auf unserer bisherigen reise.
einen magischen nachmittag und abend.
in tulcea steigen wir also nach dem abschied von den yachtis gundula und thoralf wieder auf die raeder, schauen vorher das wirklich ganz schoen und liebevoll gemachte museum uebers donaudelta an. da die donau ja so viel wasser hat und die ausflugsboote in das delta so riesig erscheinen, beschliessen wir mit dem fahrrad richtung konstanza zu fahren, in der hoffnung, vielleicht trotzdem was von dem delta zu erhaschen.
zuerst bietet sich uns eine ganz ungewoehnliche vorstellung: springende fische, so gross wie lachse, in einem kanal der offensichtlich ins delta fuehrt. eine kleine menschengruppe hat sich schon zum zuschauen versammelt. die fische springen ans ufer, auf steine oder einfach wieder ins wasser zurueck. sie springen sogar einem mann an die brust der am ufer steht. das schauen wir uns eine weile fasziniert an, gern haette ich einen aufgefangen, ich hatte wie immer hunger. als naechstes koennen wir fledermaus, wiedehopf, bienenfresser, pirole, pelikane, stoerche beobachten,
alles mutet so exotisch an. dann fliegen wir unter den gewitterwolken hindurch, zusammen mit hunderten von kraehen, der abendsonne entgegen. unser ausgesuchter platz zum campen liegt am fusse eines regenbogens am see. ein paar vorwitzige wasserschlangen schauen wie stoeckchen mit augen dran aus dem wasser, es huepft, quakt, fiept und schnattert, dass es fast an laermbelaestigung grenzt. unzaehlige libellen fliegen am himmel. bald auch unzahlige muecken in ungeahnter vielfalt. wir fliehen ins zelt, was fuer ein nachmittag! morgens entdecken wir noch stattliche blutegel in den wasserloechern, wasserschnecken, ganz fette kaeferlarfen, die sich an land und im wasser wohlfuehlen. auch die grillen haben hier die dreifache groesse von den uns bekannten artverwandten. das gebuesch wackelt links und rechts vom schmalen pfad. so viel getier ist selbst mir, als ausgesprochenem insektenfreund, fast ein bisschen unheimlich. wir brechen auf und da ist auch gleich noch eine schildkroete, die ueber die strasse wackelt.
rueckblickend auf unsere bisher durchquerten laender, hat uns rumanien am besten gefallen. die lanschaft ist noch wild, die menschen sind sehr freundlich und gerade die am einfachsten lebenden menschen strahlen zufriedenheit aus. und waehrend wir in ungarn oft nur angestarrt wurden, als kaemen wir gerade vom anderen stern, wird hier gewunken! wir werden ganz bestimmt noch mal herkommen und die karpaten durchwandern.
heute befragen wir das internet in konstanza und dann schmieden wir einen plan fuer unsere weiterfahrt.

Riding round snails

On the bikes we often stop, mostly at Anjas request to turn back some uninformed creature from its suicidal treck accross the great black desert. Unfairly the bigger you are the more chance you have of salvation. A couple of tortoises (tortii?) in Romania were our largest though easiest Projects.

Somewhat harder was near Basel where Anja found a black beetle plagued by 3 large mites. Carefully removing the parasites from the distressed insect was a 10 minuite task and the poor creature lost a leg in the process. Still, it hobbled away looking happier for its help from the "Insect Aid" team.

Not so lucky was a poisonous black viper, also in Romania which I ran over while looking at the view. It must have been sunning itself and I just didn't see it. It slithered into the bushes and an expedition to kill the wounded snake was considered too dangerous. Bandaging or applying splints were discarded Ideas. We just didn't have the relevent expertese.

Of Stag beetles we have seen 2, well,1 and a half really. The whole one was flying and at first I thought it was bird, then a bat. The half was only the head and thorax (first pair of legs only) that Anja found by the wayside in Germany. She brought it with for scientific purposes and 3 days later decided to leave the corps behind. She understandably screamed (lightly) when the upsidedown halfbody waved its until now unmoving legs. Before, we had waggled these these presumed lifeless limbs admiring the complexity of the joints. The resurection was alarming, even a little disturbing, we decided there was no good future for the poor halfcreature so I squashed it, but not before it gave me a hefty nip with the claws on the end of its antlers.

Our first night in hungary camping in a cornfield we were woken by a fox stealing our rubbish from on one of the bikeracks. We opened the tent and shouted at it but it would not run away. Infact during the night it stared anja in the eyes from only feet away and at onepoint stood with its front paws on the flysheet. One of mentioned rabies which put a more sinister aspect on the situation and though bustingfor a pee we went out very cautiausly together when it had withdrawn for a while. From the rubbish, one beercan was crushed and the other remained AWOL.



To Constanta, Blacksea, Romania.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

As I write this we are in Romania, still by the Danube a few km past a town called Temaru severin. I wrote soma passages about Hungary, Croatia and Serbia but my memory stick burnt out in Belgrade. Anja said her memory had burnt out meaning she found it hard to remember where we had been and even sometimes where we were yesterday. I said at least she had something to forget.
I lost the will to document stuff for a while. I have found myself doing what I have always tried to avoid; taking too many Photos and not really looking at anything. I will though, for you Pop at least try and recount something of the last few weeks since leaving lake Balaton in Hungary. Perhaps a run down on the places we spent the night might give an idea of lofe on the road. Roads it has been mostly and a few stretches a bit dangerous but on the whole pretty quiet.
Leaving Balaton was hard in the rain as we had made friends there. The next night we passed a sort of scout camp and stayed there in one of there tents but were eaten by mosquitoes so we put our inner tent up inside. The next night was in Croatia by the Drau caught between mossie hell and high water. We went for high water on the wrong side of the flood defence because of a slight breeze from the river. Less than a foot above the flood looked a bit dangerous but we made a mark and it looked like the level was dropping. It was but I dreamed of evacuation to higher ground.
After that was Ozijek where I got my bottom bracket replaced. Cheap but a bad job as they scraped alot of pain off. I should have asked to borrow the tools and do it myself but they seemed very confident. I am usually wary of very confident. The town had a great promenade along the waterfront but this soon turned into ever rougher outskirts as darkness settled and a bit of flattish swamp by a dog pound and next to the road was a good enough spot to pitch the tent. This has been the wettest summer here for 20 years and only once in my life, in Minnesota have I experienced so mosquito clouds so dark and threatenning. The whole landscape has a background hum.
The next night we saw a small tennis club outside of Ilok and Anja asked if it would be ok to camp there. The owner spoke good german as he had worked in Messingen, said that would be fine and showed us the showers. Perfect.
From Ilok we crossed into Serbia and in the first town while looking for a map were accosted by Marika who had been chasing us and trying to offer help. In good English she took us to a bookshop and got alsmost angry with the proprietor because the nearest thing they had, a thin and useless tourist pampflet, was only written in Serbian.
´This is appalling and so stupid´ she repromanded ´Things must be written in English. How else are we going to get into Europe´.
Novi sad is a pleasant city and we ducked into a backstreet bar to shelter from the rain. There we met Igor and Sasha, local guys who informed our Ignorant selves of the recent history of the area and found us a nearby hostel. We had a great evening drinking Rakia (local hooch) with Igor, the Owner Serje and three girls visiting from Belgrade. Novi Sad had a thriving nightlife and an ´Only Fools and Horses´ theme pub. Serbia has apparently taken the series to heart and the streets are full of budding Delboys hawking everything from sunglasses to religious Icons.
We wanted to see more of Novi Sad but a grey rainy day was not Ideal to do this so we donned waterproofs and headed towards Belgrade. Two broken spokes, some hills and a friendly drunken fellow who bought us a coke meant we only reached Sarduk a small village where we stayed in a Pension run by Alexandre and Dragona. This welcoming couple were a carpenter/church restorer and Icon painter with a hazelnut plantation that ran to the clifftops above the river.
Zermun is a suburb of Belgrade really but along the river it is lined with crazy houseboats, all different and built as resteraunts and nightclubs. We crossed a buzy bridge from here into Belgrade ,booked into the Star Hostel and prepared to do the city thing once again. Not an entire failure this time but we were glad to move on the next day.
In Kovin we asked for somewhere to camp and were directed to the town Swimming resort. This was a nice surprise for a scuffy town. 3kms down a dirt track we found a lake with a cafe and a few old guys in tents. No charge and it was good to have a swim. I took the opportunity to give the bikes an overhaul.
The next morning Anja asked a guy for water and we were invited in for coffee, cakes and Rakia. An English speaking sister, Zora, was summoned from next door and we spent a pleasant hour with a Serbian family.
Over the border into Romania and up into the foothills of the Carpathian mts. Wooded and wild. We found a clearing to camp in at the top and freewheeled the next morning down to the Danube and into a 100 mile long gorge - the most spectacular scenery. The mention of Romania often provokes alot of tooth sucking and treats of hoards of thieving Gypsies just waiting to rob any foolish tourist. Our experience so far has been different, as we expected it would be. Gypsies or Romanies there are - alot - they wave at us grinning from their unsprung cart seats. A pleasant variation on being totally ignored by their Transitvan driving French counterparts. Once we were asked for money, many times we were offered refreshment and even accommadation.
Another meadow by the road where we were kept awake firstly by the sound of stunt kites doing arial acrobatics millimeters above the tent. Then by some serious throat clearing going on all around. The stunt kites were bats from a nearby cave system. Bats in the Carpathians !!! Vampires they were not but they may have indirectly tasted our blood by catching bloated examples of the now less in number mosquitoes gathered at our door. The coughing was from deer who were, it seems, busy admiring their new horns while god was doling out pretty voices.
´Smile swimming resort´ just out of Drobeta Turnu Severin played 24 hour 80´s music through a high quality PA system. We didnt know this when we handed over a whole 2 Euros to pitch our tent and have the whole place to ourselves. Perfect. Almost.
Cetata Port had a little tent symbol on our map. We headed down the dead end flooded road surrounded by water not knowing what we would find. Often there is nothing, a symbol misplaced on the map or something only planned or long gone. Here was no campsite but a few nice buildings, a dock and an International Sculpture Symposium going on. At this time in the evening the Symposium was a few folk sitting by the river, drinking Rakia and conversing in English. Invited, we joined in. A German sailbout suddenly came skidding down the swollen river, spun around neatly and grabbed hold of the floating Dock. A couple from Jena on a round the world tour.
We left on ´Wigwam´ the next day after George, the symposium organiser and one of Romanias top sculptures, took us to Cetata early market.
This, in my mind, is how a market should be. How I imagined Casterbridge on Market day. The girls bought Garlic, sausages and tomatoes freshly dug from old ladies gardens. I unsuccessfully haggled over some new bungee cords and ate some fried `mitch´ or something similar sounding which is the local sausage, but found myself more enthralled by what I thought was the ´Gypsy Horse Fair´ department. Only after sometime did I realise I was simply in the carpark.
Down the river by boat is a totally different experience. Incomparable to cycling. The river is now on average 10m deep, about a mile wide and moving deceptively fast. We covered 182km in a day and anchored behind an island off Colorabi. What looked like bushes in the water were tops of trees and we moored amoung them where the current was less strong. Small boats emerge out of watery woodlands and the fishermen stand kneedeep on the banks looking as rooted as the trees. Since leaving the Gorge where the water raced through 60m deep, the Danube has become like an inland sea with still over 500 miles to the coast. I did some quick amature mathmatics and worked out that 20 million litres a second are pouring towards the coast.
Distant barges and ships now look small as they pass on their way to Austria or Germany. We have followed this river for over 2000km and feel we are betraying it a little by thinking about leaving it and turning South through Bulgaria towards Istanbul.

kroatien, serbien, rumaenien und heute in bulgarien
nur so viel in deutsch, uns gehts gut, das wetter ist prima, alles hat sich schon so sehr veraendert, die landschaft ist anders, die menschen, das essen, alles.
das ist toll und macht alles lebendiger und aufregender, weltreisemaessiger.
wir sind seit 2 tagen auf einem segelboot mit gundula und toralf, 2 deutschen, die einer segelweltreise mit ihrem boot auf der donau entgegensteuern (Blog der WIGWAM). noch per motor, der segelmast wird in wenigen tagen kurz vorm erreichen des schwarzen meeres gestellt. und wir duerfen bis kostanza mitfahren, werden also auch ein stueckchen vom donaudelta mitsegeln, eine superabwechslung und erfahrung.

A change of plan. We are going to stay with Gundula, Thoralf and Wigwam until Constansa on the Blacksea. The Delta we apparently should not miss.