Excerpt: Six Hundred Kilometres Along the Danube

Part 1, subchapter 25

I’ve now travelled 648 kilometres along the river Danube. Here are some incidents and observations from along the way.

  1. One night I hauled Nelly 200 feet up a hill beside the river to watch the sky in a meadow where no one would find us. I spent the evening on my back, star chart in hand, studying the heavens. The next morning the mist receded to reveal two bovines, one ancient Serbian shepherdess and a billy goat gruff. By nine o’clock not only had they found us, but we were already surrounded.
  2. Bulgaria employs only top-quality comics as border guards. The joke ‘You carrying hashish, ecstasy, ammunition, slaves?’ never goes out of fashion.
  3. At one point we crossed the river on a small ferry shared with some tobacco smugglers. I chortled while watching them Sellotape packets of Marlboro to themselves. One chubby fellow managed to get 50 packets under his clothes before I lost count.
  4. Stopping at a roadside shack in Romania to drink a small coffee, I observed a gypsy girl arrive wearing a bright-red headscarf, chequered skirt and massive hoop earrings. She went straight to the bar and ordered an enormous flagon of beer. The gypsy girl was a couple of inches south of five feet, while the flagon must have held a litre. She did the lot in two gulps. It was ten in the morning.

The best camping spots in Europe can only be found by a country boy and a cyclatron with a sense of adventure. After nearly five months on the road, Nelly has become super-adept at traversing forest floors to interesting, out-of-the-way places …

The swamp we slept in the day after leaving Belgrade was a mistake (we were desperate). But the magic orchard on our last night in Romania was a triumph of rural exploration: wet and uninviting from the outside but – for those who dared within – dry, flower-filled and inhabited by fairies.

Bonkers update: whizzing down dusty Balkan roads, I am entirely tickled by the pleasure of life and periodically stop to express myself through the furious scribbling of poetry. When camped at night I now rave almost constantly to myself, singing snatches from songs and shouting things at Nelly. I’ve named both my bicycle bags. The left one is called Doris and the right one Mildred. My tent has been christened Larry. We’re quite a team.

I’m in the Bulgarian city of Ruse, still in the Danube valley. It’s starting to get really cold. I’m heading south.


An excerpt from the travel and philosophy book, The Jolly Pilgrim.


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