The Danube River
Our journey down the length of the Danube River in our rowboats was perhaps the most straight-forward part of our expedition. Long easy oar strokes combined with a healthy current allowed us to move quickly, sometimes 100 km in a day, through eight different countries. Unlike the labyrinth of roads and canals we followed through Britain and France, the Danube offered a natural impossible to get lost on.
The tidy landscapes and renowned architecture of Germany and Austria contrasted sharply with the sprawl and blank concrete apartment buildings of the former Eastern-Bloc countries. Nonetheless, each had its distinct charm. Slovakia has rock-bottom prices, growing tourist infrastructure and excellent ice cream. Hungary has some of the most spectacular sandy-white beaches on the Danube and a beach-worshipping population to make use of them. Serbia has excellent meats (grilled and cured), and neighbouring Bulgaria has great cuisine as well, along with pleasing wines.
Our final country on the Danube, Romania, initially was daunting. Julie and I were accosted by packs of stray dogs, entertained by a frolicking rat the size of a poodle, and were dumbstruck to see people fishing for sustenance at the outfall of a nuclear power plant. Nonetheless, Romania is where the Danube reaches the Black Sea, a destination we had been looking forward to. After emerging through an industrial maze of loading cranes, factories and breakwaters, we reached the vast sandy beaches that the Black Sea is famous for. From here we will row 400 km along the idyllic beaches and cliffs lining the Black Sea all the way to Turkey.