Where to begin?

We began in Nantes 146 days ago. Back then we had a canoe but no tans, short hair and no idea about what we would experience. After 136 days our canoeing journey was over: we had covered over 4500km on the water but rough water made Istanbul by river-canoe an impossibility. The last 10 days we have dragged our bodies and our bags over 350km. Yesterday we finished.

We spent less than 10% of the whole trip walking, but even set against the dangers of canoeing, our final day was one of the hardest. But we chose to make it that way. We wanted walking to remain a short part of our journey; we wanted to maintain the ethos of adventure that canoeing had created; and we wanted it all to be over.

We awoke earlier than ever. Our Casios were beeping at 4.30am. We had our breakfasts in the tent and were marching across fields towards the dimly lit motorway as the 6am call to prayer was reverberating around Turkey.

On a Sunday morning that motorway was quiet and calm. The sun slowly rose to present us the Istanbul skyline as we slowly got rid of our early morning hats and gloves. From therein, with blisters gnawing at our feet and bags digging into our backs, my memories are of our regular stops rather than of the relentless trudge through Istanbul.

By 8am we had made it to the Mediterranean Sea. Our second waypoint of the day on the tracker coincided with a trendy suburb where we bought Turkish breakfast pastries from a conveniently placed cafe and then ate them on the move. From now on we were following a main road: either directly on the D100's hard shoulder or snaking along parallel to this motorway where our gps mapping allowed.

At 9.00 we sat at the top of a hill. Having followed a slipway parallel to the motorway, we took the opportunity to eat our apples and refill our water bottles from a mosque and graveyard. We watched quietly as a woman moaned in grief, and kept quiet about how successfully we felt the first few hours had gone. Half an hour later, after again dipping into a valley before following the hill steeply upwards, a security guard volunteered us cups of cold water as Jimmy changed to shorts and we sweated in a heat fueled by city smog.

Next we stopped in the middle of a housing estate. Winding through tiny streets, cutting through car parks, climbing over motorway bollards; we slowly made our way in the direction of the city centre but off of the motorway. As we dropped our bags on the curb to slump on them, a woman walking past asked us our nationality and handed me an apple.

An hour or so later we had lunch. In true canoeing the continent style we made the most of an ugly situation. With the hard shoulder of the motorway the quickest way across a bay dominated by a sewage plant, we stopped on a grassy bank and, surrounded by trees, compared our current lunchtime spot to a few of the more exotic that we've sat in.

As the afternoon wore on the streets became more congested. That first hour after lunch saw us hustling through a busy high street and then implausibly dodging our way through a crowded bazaar - paddles held at our sides and squeezing our bags between queues of shoppers. We were getting more tired, but the shouts of traders and the smells of fast food and spices kept the day feeling fresh.

We were marching at a determined pace. Bent double, limping and obviously foreign, as we made our way through crowded areas we were subject to laughter and jibes as much as friendly support and free food. But, we had a mission and its completion felt very close. While I would respond to an angry beep or ridicule by trying harder, it was the interactions with friendly Turks that really spurred us on. From the homeless man who gave me a high 5, to the street cleaner who we overtook going up a hill, the bin man who wanted to know our names or just the dozens of people we nodded at and said Selam; the residents of Istanbul most often lived up to the famous tales of Eastern hospitality.

However, as darkness fell and we reached the time at which we would have stopped on any normal day, our spirits also dropped. We were forced to take a diversion after a road closure making the day an hour longer. A cooking gas canister jutting from one bag caused unbearable rubbing. With each minute that ticked by, the arbitrary point within the final ring road which we had chosen to finish at seemed more and more pointless: we were in Istanbul, it was dark, so why were we still ploughing on, often lost, through an industrial estate?

With our water bottles empty, the caffeine gel we had carried as a memento from the Loire now drained, and the tracker showing us within the ring road; there seemed little point in continuing. The problem was that we both wanted to finish somewhere worthy of our 5 month journey.

Then we saw a sign towards a panorama point. After daring a short jaunt through a motorway tunnel in the dark, that panorama point turned out to be the 500 year old city wall. Unequivocally, getting within the city wall meant that we were in Istanbul. We'd been in Istanbul all day, but now we had something set in stone.

From there it was the small problem of getting a good photo to round it off. Unfortunately, sunsets don't grow on trees, so we settled on a kebab shop: an international emblem of Turkey and somewhere where we could finally have dinner.

We took our photo and limped in. We ate and limped out. We took a taxi to a hostel and found out it had closed down. We sat on the curb and were directed to a second hostel around the corner. We dumped our bags and sat with the cafe owner who had helped us. We showed our photos and then our blisters, we drank Turkish beer and made incoherent phone calls home.

After 13 hours of walking, we were stopping. Finishing our day and finishing our journey. Canoeing the continent was about the journey and not the destination, but it's good to finally be in Istanbul.

Istanbul on the horizon

Our last blog was written while we waited to meet Ufuk, our couchsurfing host in Vize. He was a lovely guy who we ate dinner with before visiting a Turkish tea house. The tea house was a very cool place, busy with people playing cards, reading the paper and playing pool. It was, what Ufuk described as, 'the male emporium' and the focus was the social atmosphere, tea was just an aside. From there we went to his colleague's house, where we would sleep, and after seeing his photos from Everest Base Camp we did just that.

Sheltered from a stormy night, we left the next morning on a busy road and I changed into full waterproofs on account of the spray that accompanied every passing lorry. There were a lot of lorries and they didn't care for us. Finally, however, this busy road came to an end as we left the next town, Saray, and followed a quieter route.

The new road was accompanied by friendly people, mainly intrigued as to why we walked with paddles or offering us lifts to Istanbul. By evening we walked through a large herd of cattle on the road. The two herdsmen and their group of dogs were talkative and friendly, allowing me to practice my poor Turkish, and not long after we set up camp in the roadside scrubland. As we ate dinner one of the herdsmen's intimidating dogs trotted passed watchfully but gave us his blessing to camp. So, as ever, we climbed into the tent and read our books till bed time, 7:30pm.

The next morning was a drizzly one that saw us walk to Safaalar, a small village scattered with piles of firewood. We bought food, drank some complimentary tea, chatted and gestured to local people and filled up our water bottles outside the tall mosque. Not far after we were welcomed, by a road sign, into Istanbul province, a happy sight indeed.

The rest of the day, if I'm brutally honest, dragged on a bit. We walked, lots, it hurt, lots, and by nightfall we compared blisters where we camped in dense trees. Owing to the fact this is a canoeing expedition we do not have quite the right set up for walking. We are both in light running shoes, our bags are canoe dry-bags with shoulder straps which are clumsy on our backs, and after 9 days I am currently on my third and final pair of socks. Yet, with that aside, we somehow find ourselves camping within range of Istanbul city!

We awoke, this morning, from the blister comparing spot I talked of, and walked in thick mist with the head torch warning cars of our presence. As the mist cleared we arrived at Akalan, another pleasant countryside village. Again we bought food, again we failed to order Turkish coffee (and had Nescafé instead) and again we departed having met a lot of friendly and welcoming people, happy to be walking in such a positive country.

As the day drew on the roads got busier and the kilometers ticked away. We had lunch opposite one of the many military bases and chatted about football to an inquisitive soldier. Then, having passed through a large town and enjoyed Turkish sweet cakes, we noticed, on our maps, that Istanbul was looking pretty close. We made another few kilometers and then set about looking for camping.

On the outskirts of the big city camping isn't all that easy to find. We wandered off the main road and found a house with a disturbing amount of dogs. The man there pointed to a spot in the far distance where it should be alright to camp. So here I am, cosy in the tent. On my right I can hear the busy road and the big collection of dogs barking, on my left I can hear the motorway and down where my feet are pointing are the bright lights of the city.

Istanbul is on the horizon, we've set our alarms for early and tomorrow we're going for the finish line. Wish us luck.

Rambling to Home

I've read a few good blogs in my time and the best ones don't moan very much.

So I'm going to get the moaning part out of the way quick and early. Walking with a 25kg sack unsuited to walking (we weighed them thanks to a friendly shop keeper) hurts. My calves hurt. My feet hurt. We've walked over 32km every day, up hill and down dale and it really hurts. Being beeped at by lorries every two minutes doesn't hurt, but it doesn't do much for morale either.

Done. Now for the good bits.

Jimmy left you, and very poetically I must say, in Bulgaria. That morning we walked up our last mountain. On the short 10k between our lodgings and the border we met the Bulgarian border police for two final goodbyes. And then slowly the signs for Turkey began showing smaller and smaller distances.

Then we were over the border, just like that. No canoe to register, just £10 each for a 90 day visa, a stamp in our passports, a coffee in the cafe and we were in Turkey.

As we walked back down the other side of the mountain, the irregular beep of supportive or swearing toots was briefly interrupted by a German hallo. Thomas Kipp, a man cycling slowly around Europe for the past 6 months, chatted and took our photo. He then smoothly gave us a business card. We're having canoeing-the-continent ones made up as we speak.

That first day on the road was hilly. I'll avoid moaning about our hardship and instead focus on the fact that we received as many waves from lorries as we had done when we were a novelty on the canals of central France.

The second day saw us carrying on our new rhythm: up at sun rise, swapping bags with a two minute break every half an hour. One of these breaks saw us sitting by the highway outside of a school. I shouted answers to their bemused questions in English. Then, inevitably, we were beckoned over for a cup of tea. Then, much less inevitably, we became heroes.

A very pretty young teacher led us around the school. We were accompanied by a swarm of buzzing children. We went into two English classes, and bizarrely a maths lesson, and told our story. The throng of shouting children were pretty intimidating (I'd probably say scarier than the naval base) but it was inspiring to be applauded out of the school, supplied with lunches and a journey-affirming break from the road.

That morning our next stop was a shop. While our shopping wasn't free, he was about as interested as shopkeepers get and went so far as to weigh our bulging bags on his scales. With a morning like that behind us, it was no problem that the first ATM we saw was in a military base. We said Salem, and they duly let us use the cash machine. Hopefully the Bulgarian military aren't checking Jimmy's cash card transactions.

As the day wore on... I'll leave out the moaning. At 4ish we passed our last village before the prime camping locations to be found in the Turkish scrubland. Here, once again, we were beckoned over. We had more Turkish coffee, got out-bantered by several old men and finished the day with great respect for Turkish hospitality.

Today we were once again up before the Mosque's call to morning prayer. We were camped pretty close to the road and it was pretty cold and that's my moaning done for this day as well. Finishing today in the dark, we have made a massive distance and found some wifi in an Internet cafe as friendly as anything we've so far experienced. We now await more Turkish hospitality from Ufuk, a friend we made through the couchsurfing website.

Not one of the best blogs I've ever read, but walking has definitely allowed us to share out story in a different way.

A new beginning.

I sit miles inland after three days without our canoe, a sad but accepted state.

Our rest day was overshadowed by decisions to be made, though really we had few choices. Three large factors worked against our future in the canoe. Firstly the winter weather that had rolled in with a strong easterly wind that smashed uncanoeable waves against the coastline. Second, the border checkpoint that only existed high in the mountains and far inland meaning that to canoe into turkey we would have to spend many days there illegally until we met the first port. And third, the cliffy terrain that covered the start of the Turkish coast making it difficult to land the canoe if we got in any trouble.

So on Friday morning, after a sizeable Bulgarian breakfast with our kind host Nayden, we returned to our canoe and strapped it carefully to the roof of his car. We jettisoned some unnecessary walking weight and waved Dora a sad goodbye, we set off on foot.

So here I sit, in the middle of the Strandzha mountain range with a paddle that hasn't touched water in three days. Dora is chained safely to a fence a long way away and our feet bare the pains our hands once knew.

Our first day was walked along the blustery coastline. The waves crashed, the rain fell sideways and the wind pushed us across the road. By the second day the rain had stopped and we began to turn inland bidding the sea goodbye. We climbed into the hills and through autumnal forest on a quiet, winding road. By evening we walked through a passport checkpoint and then found a hidden section of woodland where we could camp unnoticed by any border patrol vehicles. It had been a long day that saw a near marathon distance of 41 kilometers and set us in a good position to reach a town today.

So with that very aim we awoke this morning and set off with a head torch illuminating our early moments on the road. As the sun rose the frost began to melt and we could finally warm up a little. We trekked further into the hills and were met regularly by our friends, the police, who stopped and checked our passports three times in the first three hours (they didn't seem to communicate amongst themselves so each new car would meet us with the same questions and take the same details).

Eventually, after a mountainous 32kms, we reached Malko Tarnovo where we topped up our food and found somewhere to stay. We've been advised, more than enough, not to camp this close to the border because of tight policing, so a hotel is our home for tonight. We returned again to the same shop to buy food for dinner and were greeted by a kind old French woman and a charitable local man who handed us a bag of shopping he had just bought and insisted we take it. An uplifting way to end the day.

All in all it has been an inevitably sad departure from the canoe, the vehicle in which we intended to complete our journey. We successfully canoed across the continent via the most comprehensive ever route and one that has not been done before. We always saw the Black Sea as the final chapter to that journey. If the Black Sea was meant to be the final chapter then now we begin to write the epilogue as we continue, by foot, through the mountains to Istanbul.

Out of the frying pan and into the Fire-ing Range

As with much of the past two weeks, the evening of the last blog left it in the balance as to whether we would wake up and canoe or struggle out of our sleeping bags and walk. Happily, we were canoeing.

The first section of the morning was longer than the usual hour. We agreed to poke our noses out around Pomorie point and, if all looked good, circumnavigate the rocky point jutting out into the sea. This actually means, 'let's see what happens because from here it doesn't look too bad'. And we did. We paddled out around the point, moaned at the lack of accolades we were receiving from fishermen, were gratefully wished good luck, and smoothly made it an hour and a half at sea by cutting across to the next bay.

Having started the morning so successfully, there seemed little reason to change tack. So we paddled for another 90 around a smaller point and into another bay. The sea breeze was gentle and the waves, although at times making us nauseous, weren't life threatening. By this point we were way ahead of schedule. The night before it had been an optimistic possibility of making the city of Burgas and we had hastily arranged to stay with a hospitable couch surfer in this event. As we stood on a small beach at 11, Burgas was in sight and maybe an hour's paddling would see us into the harbour.

We agreed that it made sense to make the most of the good weather and forego the warm beds we'd been offered. We paddled out around Burgas harbour and along the sea wall. Waves, that had been growing bigger as we moved further from the shore, were however here pretty perturbing. So in we went. We clambered up a wall that was sheltered within the harbour and here had lunch as inconspicuously as possible. Sandwiches munched, we made a speedy exit from the harbour, minutes before a security jeep came thundering along to ask what our Nutella sandwiches had been doing in the middle of a port.

From there we did something that made the day. We went straight along the inside of the sea wall and straight across the bay; cutting 5km off the shore by taking a 500m risk. With the waves slowly growing in height and number we swapped positions in the canoe on a beach soon after, agreeing that our harbour short cut would not be being repeated for a while.

Going around the next point we once again agreed to poke our noses out and have a look. I fully expected us to plough around unless we were seeing a tsunami. But half way around we went over a wave the size of lorry and Jimmy, using the language of a sailor, communicated to me that this was bad. We did a hasty 180' turn and went back into the nearest harbour. As we sat on the wall looking at our map, any doubts that I may have had about the decision were washed away as a whole flotilla of fishing boats followed us in. We put our canoe on its wheels, they put their boats on their cars, and we all headed onto dryer land. We walked for an hour or so towards the main road and camped in some woods. Notwithstanding our early exit, it had been one of our best ever days at sea.

That morning the walk was inevitable. However we were up and on the road before half 6 and still held some hope for a few kilometers at sea later in the day. After an hour the main road veered back towards the sea and we decided to give the waves a go: if all was good we would have a shorter day to the week's arranged end in Sozopol, if they were bad we would land and Sozopol would still be walkable.

We paddled out beyond a small naval harbour. 'Reveille' played and we stared up at a crowded warship full of uniformed sailors. We got out of the bay and around the point, but here the waves lived up to our fears. In fact they were quite a bit worse. We couldn't turn back to where we'd embarked and our only choice was a tiny rocky bay half way around the point. We landed. Shook ourselves down from sea water and drizzle and sullenly agreed there would be no more canoeing today.

Getting off of the beach was a bit of a challenge. We climbed over rocks and basically levered the canoe up a small cliff. From there we were presented with scrubland. So we began walking in the direction of some houses and hopefully a road.

Then I noticed a group of what could only be soldiers streaming out a building to stand in a line. Then Jimmy noticed that there were targets with bullet holes on the floor. Then we stopped talking. We carried the bags out of the field. We got the canoe out of the field. We got everything under some loose barbed wire and onto a beach. We walked along the beach, finally breathed again and considered ourselves pretty lucky.

After about half an hour along a track we got back to the main road. Jimmy went to put some trainers on and I went towards the bananas. Then a black security van turned up. I told the polite young man in a naval uniform that we were very sorry and had been forced in by the wind. He understood completely but had to follow procedure. After we demonstrated that Dora was neither going to fit in the back of their van nor be towed along behind, they allowed us to carry her back to what turned out to be a naval base.

After 6 hours in custody we were allowed to leave. We've been asked not to blog about our interviews at the base, and I hope they've enjoyed this blog. We were treated with kindness and understanding throughout and we've made sure that we won't be causing any future military alerts.

Do you remember Nayden from Emona? Turns out he is a life saver. He picked us up from the town we walked to and whose beach we've now left Dora on, and is letting us stay at the Bulgarian Marine Archaeology base where he is living. With the weather worsening, he's offered us all the help we could possibly need over the next few days.

Quite a blog that one I've got to admit. All safe and sound now, with one more story to add to the collection.

Exploring Bulgaria

We started day 131 behind a sandy dune and found the sea calm enough to launch from the beach. The water was not flat and the wind was not still but it was manageable and we spent the morning making progress into a headwind. A pattern formed of paddling along beaches, decorated with deserted summer resorts, before moving out and canoeing around difficult headlands.

These bays and headlands meant we gained confidence in the protected beach, before taking on headlands that forced us far out into the sea to avoid breaking waves that crashed on the rocky point. After a nervy time going around the cliff we'd be back in a bay and bob along the beach front to the next point in the distance.

By 3pm, and after lunch on the steps of a hotel patio, we had made it to a beach that ran along to Cape Emine a headland much larger than those before. We had been warned about it earlier in the week (tall, cliffy, nowhere to pull in) but with the weather good we pondered over whether to take on the challenge or not. We looked at the map, we looked at the satellite images and we searches its name on google for photos. With our google search bringing it up as 'Bulgaria's stormiest cape' we decided it not worth the risk and took a less favorable option, walking.

So the next day began half way up a hill that had been an arduous climb and drag to get too. We packed away our camp and set off across the cape, climbing and climbing, hauling the canoe up a farm track that led to the cape's crest, a peak 382m above sea level. It was not a nice walk, not like walking the dog up a steep hill, more like trying to drag a small boat up one.

Eventually we came to a confusing cross roads and found ourselves in Emona, a tiny village on the cape just bellow the summit. We stuck our heads in the most rural cafe imagineable and tried to ask for directions to the town where we were headed. We waited, drinking free coffee and smoking second-hand smoke, for Nayden to arrive who spoke good English and helped us with our problem. He led us down one of the many country tracks and told us where to go. So off we went. We clattered down the hill, the canoe stumbling along on its tiny wheels, and followed a network of tracks to a stony beach and a dead end, not our destination.

After all the downhill trundling we could not go back and take another route, but the cliffs around the beach, along with a thick mist, meant it was still too dangerous to launch. So with that we began a tedious afternoon. We walked, relaying between the bags/barrels and the canoe, along the large rocks that sat beneath the cliffs and progress was slower than ever before. Every step required a lot of concentration and by the end of the day we were both shattered and I was feeling extremely faint. It didn't help that we were running a little low on water.

Having left the bags at a good camp spot and walked back along the bottom of the cliffs for the canoe, we spotted some people by our stuff. Canoe dropped, running across the rocks, we got back to the bags and moved them away from the perfectly pleasant locals having a picnic. Short scare. Panic over. We walked back over the stones to the canoe. We like to keep our stuff safe.

Having eventually camped at a dip in the cliffs, we awoke this morning to decent weather. Just as the day before, it was canoeable, but just as the day before we had nowhere to launch. After half an hours walking we found a sandy spot and got out onto the sea which was calm and good. We paddled all day, stopping to buy more food and refill our water bottles in a nice cafe.

We enjoyed a brief adrenaline rush at lunchtime when we surfed in to land on the beach. From about 30 meters out we perched atop a sizable wave, surfing, with Nathan in the front of the boat sticking out far above the water. I had control in the back with my every move altering our direction. We jumped out on the shore buzzing and talking quickly. Along with our hair dos, we are now proper surfers.

Not only was the sea good, and in certain spots quite picturesque, but we were able to cut across a couple of large bays and walk 50m across a point that could have taken over an hour to get round. So by the end of it all our distance has been sizeable, something much needed today since yesterday was, distance-wise, fairly diabolical.

So three more days passed with good distance on the water sandwiching a painful day of walking in the middle. Tonight we are camping in some trees wedged between the sea and a lake. Tomorrow we hope to be back out at sea.

All at sea

After the last few days I don't know whether I'm coming or going.

The morning of our rest day was spent deciding whether Dora's time was up: we'd dragged her for near 40km and we both feel that the weather will eventually prevent her reaching Istanbul this side of Christmas. After much umming and arring, a trip to see Kavarna harbour being battered by 6ft breakers, an interview on very local Bulgarian tv and a favorable 5 day weather forecast... We decided that we'd persevere. If we couldn't canoe when the weather reached the relative calm forecasted, then Dora would have reached the end of the road.

Unfortunately, the first day was not forecast to be calm. So the first day of this week we woke up knowing that an arduous trek was afoot. We were on the road at half 6 and providing a sight for the morning busses. We walked along a dual carriage way, we walked down a road leading to the sea; then we spent a good three hours walking up and down a cliff hugging road. Walking for 100 paces, swapping the burden of the canoe, walking for 100 paces and then taking off the rucksacks... And repeat for 20km.

To our surprise we reached our two-day target town of Balčik early in the afternoon. We soon found the location of our favorite friends the border police and, having outlasted the patience of the security guard, we walked down the harbour wall to get permission to canoe in Bulgarian sea waters. At this point the waves were crashing against the harbour wall and we were looking disheveled. The border policeman spoke good English and thought our request was pretty funny. Looking at the waves, we didn't consider canoeing to Istanbul to be an imminent scenario and were therefore equally relaxed. In this frame of mind, the policeman happily stamped our papers - the odds of the stamp meaning anything to anyone apart from me and Jimmy were pretty low at the time. We walked back out of the fairly busy port and camped in some woodland. That night I calculated that two more days of hauling the canoe would make Istanbul a mathematical impossibility for Dora working from average distances. Although some friendly fisherman stumbled across us in the dark, it was otherwise just another night listening to the waves pound the shore.

The next morning we updated our forecast. And it had improved. This was Dora's moment: if she couldn't canoe on this, then her journey would be ending in Balčik. But she did. In fact, we spent a windy and at times wavey day going further at sea than we had predicted in our wildest dreams. By mid-afternoon we were into the city of Varna and wishing that we'd had the foresight to arrange some accommodation.

Fortunately, we had been in touch with a young 'couchsurfer' named Kalina and she was happy to provide two warm and comfortable beds for us at very short notice. She then made day 129 a bit of a winner by giving us a tour of Varna, introducing us to her two Italian pals and, most importantly, taking us to a unique little bar for a beer.

Having enjoyed a breakfast that we had asked to be ready at a pretty antisocial early morning hour, we once again thanked Kalina and set off for the sea. Today, we were optimistic. Why can't we at least canoe to the Turkish border I was thinking? (The weather, the mountains and the lack of a sea border checkpoint being the answers that currently spring to mind.)

The morning was brilliant. Knowing that we might not be at sea for too much longer, the fishermen silhouetted on the rocks, the scuba divers, the hundreds of jelly fish and the miles of beaches all seemed that much more memorable in the bright sun. We made really good distance on water that was flatter than many of the rivers we've paddled and by lunch the only danger seemed to be overshooting our camp into a populated area.

Then at about twoish the waves picked up. The wind had changed direction and our weather forecast also said it was a couple of knots stronger. Dora took on a bit of water and we decided to finish the day hauling her on the sand. We walked for a kilometer or so and, having discussed the conditions, made a brief foray out on the waves to bring the canoe up to our chosen camping spot. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fun, but it was fairly safe and, if there hadn't of been a lot of rocks around we could have probably made a bit more ground. With that in mind, we're once more optimistic about tomorrow.

Ultimately we ended the three days a whole lot further down the Bulgarian coast line. We'll just have to see what the next couple of days hold and enjoy being at sea while we still can.

3 days back in Bulgaria

On Saturday we awoke aching from the previous day of walking. Looking out at the sea we thought it worth attempting to launch and to have a go at paddling some distance, but our attempts were futile, the canoe becoming swamped as we pushed through the breaking waves. So, with that, we unloaded the gear and set about walking. We switched between carrying the canoe a few hundred meters, then returning to carry the bags and barrels to the canoe.

This laborious task continued for the entire day, but for a second attempt at paddling just before lunch. Here we found a small but sheltered harbour where we made a hundred meters in the sea before taking on lots of water, forcing us back in to land, jumping and running in on the beach.

By evening we were part way along a long beach and set up the tent in a nature reserve. We had chatted on the phone with Galin, an experienced sea kayaker in the area, and arranged to meet him the next day to discuss the conditions. But as dawn came we found the sea was amazingly calm and, managing to get through tiny waves, we made it onto the water and began to paddle.

In total we managed just under three hours of good sea paddling but, as the morning wind rose, the waves began to roll and we landed in a small beach for protection. A man taking photos of us turned out to be Galin himself so we set about chatting with him and talking through our predicament. The sea, for him in his kayak, was fine in the current weather, yet for us, in the open canoe designed for rivers, it just wasn't possible. Going over the map he pointed out that the next long section was high cliffs and rocky coastline with few places to land the canoe. Given the forecast, which we checked on his laptop, resting on the boot of the car, it was unsafe to canoe the next part. For our canoe on the sea, landing options are vital and steep cliff faces aren't exactly great for that. Sadly, very sadly indeed, this meant it was back to walking.

So we left the waves of the sea behind us, left excess cooking gas with Gallin, strapped the wheels onto our canoe, and began walking along the road, bags on backs, barrels in hand. We walked for the rest of the morning and all afternoon. We were stopped twice by border police, first to check our passports, second when they decided it would also be good to check our boat docs. We stopped again for another chat with Galin, who was passing on his way home. We stopped a few more times to repair the wheel that repeatedly fell off. And we stopped, finally, back by the coast on top of a cliff. Here we set up the tent, cooked dinner and took pretty pictures. Then we slept.

And that brings us to this morning where we left our cliff-top perch and got back on the road. It was another day of painstaking walking with straight coastal roads that seemed to go on for ever. Apart from lunch in a village square, the only break to the day was the, now mandatory, police check. The old bill pulled in and looked in our passports, asked a few questions, then wished us luck... It would be strange now to have a day without them.

By evening we had made it to Karvana and met again with Galin who directed us to his house. We bumped into another police car on the way, who pulled in to ask questions, but Galin chatted to them and after a while they lost interest in us for long enough to allow us to reach the house and put down the canoe.

So here we are, in Kavarna, after a week that has seen a painful amount of canoe dragging and more encounters with the PoPo then you can shake a baton at. Tonight we are staying in Galin's guesthouse and for that we are extremely grateful. It is cosy, warm and we can shower and sleep in beds for once.

Shattered but sheltered, just how any expedition week should end.

Day 1 all over again

So we reached Constanta. The only thing is, we set out to reach Istanbul. What's more, we actually reached the last lock on the 'canal of death', still a fair way from a sea that the policeman at the aforementioned canal explicitly and personally forbade us from going on.

So, day 121 we set out to reach the sea. Rather than celebrating reaching Constanta, we spent our rest day on day 120 buying maps, annotating those maps, hurriedly writing postcards and then using the wifi provided by a classy cafe to plan our route to the sea. We even went so far as to ring hotels near to our decided launch point to ask if there was a supermarket in the vicinity.

So day 121 we walked the 3.72km to the sea. We walked on the pavement. We walked on a dual carriage way. We walked on a farm track. Finally, we walked through a deserted seaside resort. All of this walking involved dragging our 5m canoe on its plastic wheels and carrying two massive rucksacks. But we got there.

And once we got there we set about putting our mapping information to good use by carrying our bags to a small supermarket and, despite being tailed around the shop, buying enough food and water to tide us over till the next big town. Then we walked back from the supermarket to our padlocked canoe. And then we sat down and rubbed our shoulders. Having filled up water in the toilet of an adjacent and obliging hotel, we were ready to embark.

Having grown used to days of pleasant sunshine, it was a bit of a shock to see an October mist roll in from the waves and transform a bright morning into a foggy day. Nonetheless, we'd canoed 4000km to get to this point and weren't going to be turned away by cold, wet sea mist which made sticking close to the shore a necessity.

We squeezed in an hour before lunch and two more in the afternoon. As the day went on the waves got bigger, but having got around most of the outcrops in our first couple of hours, it was easy enough to ride the waves with the comfort of a sandy bank. Although Jimmy did almost fall out of the canoe in shock when a practicing scuba diver stood up a few meters to our right, we had made good ground and camped in a secluded spot behind some rocks.

And so day 122 began in the dark behind those rocks. When the sun finally got around to rising, we could see that the mist had risen and the water had calmed. Day 121 had seen us go far further than our mere hope of reaching the sea and day 122 was not to be outdone. After 4 hours paddling in the morning we had reached the harbour wall of Mangalia - the last Romanian port before Bulgaria.

As we stood on the wall to survey the alternatives to going all the way around the harbour's long spit, the wind and the waves picked up. With that, our decision was made. We canoed back towards the shore, portaged over the harbour wall and paddled into port hoping to be spotted by border police. Fortunately, a canoe with two hairy foreigners that paddles into the middle of a sea port closed because of high waves isn't the most inconspicuous form of transport.

We sat in the portacabin of the port security while the relatively friendly border policeman went to have our crew list (it's pretty long) stamped for checking out of Romania. He initially returned with coffees and an impressed yachtsman but no passports, so we made lunch in the cabin since the security guard had just about run out of amazed questions. Our passports finally returned as we overcame the final sandwiches and, having raided the local corner shop with the last of our Romanian lev, we made to exit the port.

The south side beyond the harbour was still protected by the spit we had portaged over so initially we made a little ground. Then the waves caught us up. Throwing the canoe forward from behind, we took slightly abortive action to jump out before the next spit. Another portage, a 400m walk, a slippery reloading and we were once more in sheltered waters.

This time we made it about 300m before the waves picked up, specifically picking up the canoe. We got out on to a beach, Jimmy volunteered for a reconnaissance run and I unloaded the canoe. He returned with mixed news which we debated over on our windswept beach while eating the Swiss roll bought with our final lev. The next bay was further from the town, but more conspicuous to fishermen. We opted for fishermen. We altruistically gave the last of the Swiss roll to a couple of Romanian kids and began an afternoon of carrying.

We carried the canoe as far as we could without a break, then took the bags twice as far. Then we took the canoe beyond the bags. Then we went back for the bags. And so on. With a 200m paddle in between, we managed to make it around two more bays to one which, while exposed to the now raging wind, was at least secluded from humanity. And there we camped.

And slowly the wind grew. Tucked inside our tent, the wind was whistling and the waves were battering the shore. Everytime I awoke during the night I comforted myself that I must still have plenty of sleeping time because the water would inevitably be calm in the morning. Unfortunately, when my alarm went off at 4.50 am (impressive, I know) the waves were still smashing the shore.

So day 123 started with a walk. In fact, for the first time since we set off from Nantes in July, today was wholly spent travelling out of the water. Nonetheless, we made it through the grotty and deserted resort that we had prioritised getting past by nightfall at mid-morning.

In fact, here in the town of Vama Veche, we picked up a new recruit to the canoeing the continent team. Dogger. Dogger's of unknown age. He's small and black and doesn't really do barking. He squeaks when he's scared. He was won over by a friendly voice and a stroke. He liked salty peanuts and walked very closely to heel even though no-one asked him to.

Dogger lasted as far as what turned out to be the Bulgarian border. As we carried the canoe, the bags and the barrels in an endless relay - cheered on by the faithful dogger - we spotted a border patrol vehicle pitched atop a sandy cliff. Unfortunately he was Romanian, the country we were meant to have left at the port, rather than Bulgarian, the country we wanted to enter. After gesticulations, passport waving, pointing at the sea and then at our canoe and a final phone call; the animated Romanian border policeman came up with a novel plan.

He helped us carry the canoe and the bags to the top of the cliff. At this point. I shouted at Dogger and waved my paddle at him. Unfortunately, I think we'd done more for him than any other human being, and, as such, he followed us before being chased and bullied by the strays that had attached themselves to the police 4x4. Feigning ignorance, we bade silent goodbyes to Dogger from the back of a police minibus. At the time we were holding onto the canoe which now stuck out through the open back door. But, fair play to the border policeman, he had managed to make us look even more strange than two English blokes dragging a canoe along a deserted Romanian beachside resort.

So we arrived at the road border checkpoint, showed our perfect documents and shiny UK passports, and were told we were free to walk from the border station into Bulgaria. Cheers.

We walked down the highway for a km or so. Then we had lunch at a junction, feeling slightly disorientated to have neither sea not river nearby. Then we walked back down a farm track to the sea and continued our slow and sandy progress.

At the end of the day we'd made a mere 6km down the coast. For the three days we've made 49. We're not sure whether the waves here represent bad weather or standard conditions, but today definitely wasn't safe to canoe. We're in touch with a Bulgarian Black Sea kayaking guide 50km down the coast and the plan is to make for his town. If the weather returns to its calm state of the first two days, we'll canoe and if it doesn't then we'll walk.

Either way, we're making progress and we know our deadlines.

Finishing the European waterways.

You may have noticed that the end of Nathan's last blog was a little hurried, short and somewhat confusing. That is because we were in our tent writing awe-inspiringly articulate blogs when we were rudely cut short.

Sunday night we found camping on the canal was extremely difficult, given a road on either side of the water and flat open land with nowhere to hide. We set up the tent in a pretty exposed spot and ripped branches from the bush we were against, padding them around us to try and hide our shape in the dark. As we blogged by torchlight, it was not long before we heard someone rustling around our stuff and hopped out of the tent to meet two Romanians. A man spoke to us and made lots of confusing gestures. He pointed to the woods on the other side of the train track, he pushed his fist against his head lots, he pointed at the tent, he pointed and grabbed at my sleeping bag. The only clear communication between us and him was that it was fine (solid thumbs up) for us to sleep there, but there were clearly other concerns. Eventually he left, after whispering loudly to a third person hidden in the field then all walking off, over the train tracks.

So Sunday night we didn't sleep that great and our restlessness wasn't helped by the rail line 50ft away. In the morning we were met by some canal security who were happy to see us, excited by our canoe and wondered where we were going. As they left one man pointed to the woods in a concerned manner and showed us how he had his gun is his hand, gesturing that he was safe there only because he had his gun.

What a happy camp spot hey?

I removed my head torch and we paddled off in the rising sun, just as we have each morning for the past few weeks. We had 42kms to the Black Sea, all of which was on the notorious Canal of Death, named such because of the incredible number of people who died in its build. The signs of rushed manufacturing in conditions of forced labour were not easy to miss; it was 42kms of grim scenery, crumbly concrete and eerie silence.

By 3:30 we were nearing its end and at the end of a long straight lay the large lock that acted as a gateway into the sea. At the lock we were, inevitably, met by security who pried into our papers and phoned in our passports. Though one policeman was keen to try and find some small detail to trouble us, we had hauled our canoe and bags onto a tanker and then up the canal wall and, since we were no longer on the canal there couldn't really be any problems. We weren't allowed in the lock, we weren't allowed in the canal, we weren't allowed in the port, but we were allowed to walk into the town and that was what we intended to do. After a while he had to accept this fact and gave us back our documents and passports. Then we put the wheels on our canoe and walked into Agigea.

In Agigea we stored our canoe in the garage of someone from who is currently out of town. Then 50 meters down the road we found a cheap motel where we're now staying and today we got the bus(es) into Constanta. After lunch next to the sea and maps bought and annotated for the coastline to Istanbul, we knuckles down to the planning mission of getting our canoe somehow out onto the Black Sea... You'll have to wait to see how that goes!

In amongst it all, dangerous camp spot, eerie canal of death, confusing buses and beers in a motel, we have made it here to the coast. We've paddled a plethora of European waterways and we have crossed Europe by canoe from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. We have traversed the continent via the most comprehensive canoe route ever. That incredible fact is yet to take any huge significance for me and has perhaps not yet sunk in, but I'm sure when we first dip our paddles into saltwater tomorrow it will feel pretty incredible. And there we start our final chapter, following the coast. bound for Istanbul.

Not long to... Oh

When we last left you we were camping with 150km left on the old Danube and a total of around 210km to the Sea. That 210km could quite possibly have become a mountain of suspense or a ticking time bomb gradually becoming smaller, closer and yet more and more important. Fortunately, the last few days have given us other things to think about.

The first 10k were the mistiest that we have experienced since early Serbia. After about an hour's canoeing, we could barely see the bank 20m to our right and not much else. So the town of Tutrakan, deserving of bold print on the cycle map, was a welcome arrival out of the mist.

We unloaded the canoe and made to stroll into town, largely ignoring three interested on-lookers. Then they asked for our passports. And any documents. But, they were friendly enough and we happily complied before asking them for a nearby cafe where we could sit out the mist.

It turned out to be a cracking little cafe. My memories of Tutrakan would be dominated by a goat's cheese pancake and a custard donut were it not for Jimmy's wallet. It appeared to have gone missing. We appeared to have left it in Ruse. While we still had my wallet as backup, it wasn't a great start to the day.

But it's late October and we're in Eastern Europe so the sun soon cheered us up. I'm not sure whether it is always like this in Bulgaria and Romania in October-November, but if it is, you guys should really start telling people about it. Once more the morning chill disappeared, this time taking with it the mist, and we were left with another sunny day.

The day only got sunnier as we passed our 100km left on the Danube milestone and Jimmy found his wallet as we camped on a pleasant island in sight of our Bulgarian border checkout point. We even had the discovery of music on my phone to add a soundtrack to the campfire.

As we sat there, me listening to Frank Ocean and Jimmy calling his missus, a light panned over our island and a siren briefly tooted. We cut short our respective campfire activities and peered into the darkness. Then the light went out and so Jimmy redialed. Then I pointed out that a boat appeared to be making for us. So Jimmy hung up. Then the searchlight was shone onto our island. Then the police boat preceded to crash into the side of the island. After we explained in our best Bulgarian that we were English and again showed our passport and river document to prove it, our guests left. I went back to the tent and Jimmy finally got his phone call.

The next day we got up at our standard pre-sunrise time, I did my standard morning running drills and we were in Silistra tying the canoe up next to our favorite police boat before 9am. We saw one of our mates from the night before, explained that we now wanted to checkout and were directed to a largely empty building. After wondering around and finding a cleaner we were directed to the main man. While we watched the Bilgarian news and weather in his office, he checked our documents, added his signature and called up a velvet-suited policeman to give our passports the ok. Having successfully checked out of Bulgaria, our mate with the all-destroying police boat said we could check straight into Romania on the opposite bank rather than waiting for the canal entrance where we had aimed to arrive in a couple of days.

Here, after explaining to the 'frontiera policeman' in our best Romanian that we wanted to enter, a mystery voice at the end of the phone informed Jimmy we needed to wait 40 minutes. So we sat in the Romanian border police boat, watching Kung fu panda and drinking coffees that had been made the Serbian way- with a cement mixer. Our man eventually arrived, was very nice although struggling with our very short crew list, and, after another 40 minute wait we were finally out in the hot sun. About 3 hours after we'd tied Dora up the first time.

And so we entered Romania proper and the most complex navigation we've ever had. Relying on a combination of google maps, photos we'd taken of the charts on the Romanian border boat's wall and a free Romania cycle map, we managed to make it to within 35km from our Danube exit point. We bathed in the river, had a camp fire and went to bed with large sticks down the side of the tent in case we were woken by wild dogs. It's just what you do when camping in Romania isn't it?

We woke, still alive and started the steady countdown to the end of the Danube. Four hours of sun and 33km later it was done. The third biggest river in Europe and over 2000km in a couple of months. Done.

The only problem was that we were still faced with a canal we knew nothing about. We've found the canal channel and left the Danube. We lifted Dora and our bags around the first lock. We shook hands with the Romanian fisherman who had googled canoeing the continent. We've explained to the canal security what we are doing and they were fine. We got tooted by a tanker and bantered a tugboat. We've found a camping spot.

Jimmy will give you the rest of this story once I'm sure it's got a happy ending.

Bound for Constantinople

The first day since our last blog passed without commotion. No pet cats, no running for forgotten wallets, just more fine sunny weather and temperatures that built from a freezing morning to a summery afternoon.

Just as during the days before, the small villages we thought we might stop at were set back from the water and inaccessible. By lunch time we had found Svistov where we thought we might take a break. Though on the hillside it looked pretty, the waterfront was purely industrial and fairly busy. Thus the only stop for the day was me clambering up a bank to peer through cranes and lorries and attracting a curious border policeman who, by the time he had wandered over, had to pretend he wasn't so curious as I urinated against the bank below him.

That night, by a good campfire, we had made 70kms and were just shy of Ruse where a guy from was set to host us for an evening. The next morning we had two and a half easy hours to the town where we locked the canoe to a metal railing and walked to the town centre: 'freedom' square. We bought postcards, found a cafe and Nathan went for a run.

After lunch back by the canoe, we found another cafe and wrote postcards in the baking sun. After that, we found a third cafe where we did much the same thing in much the same weather.

By 5o'clock we had made contact with Krassi, our new friend in Ruse, and he met us for the walk to his flat, talking us through the buildings and the town's history along the way. By this stage, having sat in the main square and small streets in baking sunlight, I was already very impressed with Ruse, a picturesque town with Viennese architecture and a multitude of water fountains.

Nursing our shoulders from the 20 minute walk with our heavy rucksacks, we had soup then headed back into town to meet Krassi's friends. Keen on his traditional music, we bobbed our heads in the main square to a tambourine-drum, whistle and didgeridoo, as Krassi and his three man band improvised some folky tunes.

But since we'd made it to Ruse in good time, the weather remained bright and Constanta felt within reach; we decided not to stay in Ruse for a full rest day. Instead, this morning we hopped on a bus, bought a ton of food supplies and were back on the river by 10:15, paddling against a stiff breeze under the the double tiered 'Friendship Bride' at the end of the town. As we got back into our rhythm, so too did the day: it became yet another sunny session of open water paddling and constant progress. The main event was having cereal for lunch, since we had toast for breakfast (crazy, I know), and other than that it was just another day in Bulgaria.

Certainly one growing trend is our new need for navigation. We are forced to check the map far more regularly these days as the river bends and parts around countless islands each one several kilometers long. We peer into the distance for buoys and watch tankers to see where the main channel goes. Ultimately, however, we find our way and continue downstream, bound, this week, for Constantinople.

Here comes the sun

As much as I'm not allowed to say it, Constanta is on the horizon. And Constanta ultimately means the Black Sea. It may be a distant horizon, of at least 10 days, but it is nonetheless some sort of horizon. With this in mind, it was a pretty determined start to the week.

Staying at the no-less-than-2-star Hotel Bononia, the earliest we could have breakfast was 7 o'clock. My run was therefore happily limited to a short intervals session and we were disappointed to be asking for our breakfast tokens at 7.02. We bowled into the empty restaurant and I walked straight into the deserted kitchen saying "hallo" in my best confused tourist's accent until we were rewarded with menus and latterly our no-less-than-two-star breakfast.

From there we paid, made the short walk to the border control pontoon and tiptoed straight through the deserted customs area to Dora at the border police pontoon. We patted ourselves on the back for a quick start in the circumstances and got going.

The first hour was smoother than we had experienced in a while, and I was feeling cock-sure after a successful Facebook status had boosted our page views. The sun was up, Romanians were herding their goats on the river bank and all was good with the world. Unsurprisingly, this perfection did not last long.

First the waves started to pick up. Even though the cause was a blustery tailwind, our pace dropped back to the steady struggle of our days on the lake. Then, to make matters worse, we were beckoned over by a boat bearing the words 'EU Border Control' on its side.

To the surprise of two who are now pessimistic at the sight of foreign uniforms, the officers were friendly: checking if we had any problems and advising us on the apparently shallow waters ahead. Having barely had time to sigh in relief, the waves then dropped and suddenly we were back to our old quick Danube pace.

Having spent the previous night and that morning mentally and vocally preparing for the worst, we were slightly caught off guard by all of these good signs. In agreement that we didn't want to miss a moment of good fortune, we decided to cut our lunch break short and avoid stopping in the afternoon.

We had lunch in the sun on a deserted beech on the Romanian side of the river. From there it was flat water and an easy afternoon. The yellows and oranges on both banks were golden in the warm sun. At the time allotted for camping we were able to stop immediately. Apart from the dogs howling on the opposite bank in the light of the full moon, we could reflect on a successful day as we sat around our campfire.

Sometimes I start a conversation in the canoe because it's dreary and I've run out of daydreams. Sometimes we talk to keep our spirits up. Other times we're quiet because the crashing waves or driving rain prevent conversation. The second day of this week saw a different sort of quiet. A contented quiet, concentrating on the horizon and enjoying the sun.

The day started off with the sharpest of cold mornings: a biting chill that stayed around until lunchtime. From therein it was more simple, successful paddling in the sun. While we scoured the map for potential stopping places, we were quite happy to continue our steady rate on the warm water before falling into our new routine of campfire in the moonlight. A solidly uneventful day.

Today brought more of the same, but in a quite different tone. It wasn't icy cold on the morning, but instead a thick mist cloaked the Danube. Aware that the afternoon would see the best of a now expected sunny day, we decided to make a stop in the morning and buy the bread, milk and bananas that would hopefully leave us self-sufficient until Ruse. We selected the large-ish town of Zagrazden and arrived at 11.

Now, what subsequently happened ended the contented quiet of the last day and brought a bit of action back to the expedition. I'd like to preface what you're about to read by pointing out that there are a lot of stray cats in Bulgaria.

We untied our bags and walked into the 'town' of Zagrazden. We walked around the corner and realized that there was no town. As we turned back towards the canoe, a tabby cat appeared; neither a kitten nor fully grown, she gave us an evil stare and hurried away. We ignored the cat and walked back to the canoe.

We returned to the canoe and sat down for a snack. Our earlier feline friend had followed us and been joined by a grey-ish cat of the same age. As we munched bananas and drank cold coffee, we laughed out loud at the thought of taking a cat in the canoe when neither of us really have any idea or affection for, or about, cats.

Then the small grey cat took an interest in the canoe. She purred at us and was even refusing to be distracted by the raisins we were willing to throw for her to go away. A friendly kitten who wasn't that hungry? This was the perfect cat. I reasoned that if we didn't take her now then it would never happen. If you can't adopt a stray kitten on a Bulgarian river bank, then when can you? YOLO.

We put the barrels back in the canoe. I got in the canoe. The cat sat in the canoe. Jimmy got in the canoe and off we went.

We paddled past a fisherman. I was talking to 'Cat'. Cat was meowing. Jimmy was having fits of laughter. It was a happy canoe.

Unfortunately after a few minutes Cat made clear that she wasn't that happy after all. I tried talking. I tried stroking. I even tried playing with some rope. Cat wasn't having any of it. Having held her back at her first couple of attempts at diving into the Danube, we decided on a change of tack. We'd trust Cat's judgment, and if she was drowning then we'd give her a hand.

She jumped.

As the front of the canoe drifted past the flailing kitten I abdicated myself of all responsibility, telling Jimmy that he was now the closest. The canoe kept drifting.

But Cat could swim. She was a trooper. With some water logged meowing she chugged away and made it to the shore. In between fits of laughter, Jimmy theatrically called out, "Goodbye Cat." We received a long and wet meow in return.

When I'd finished wiping the tears from my eyes, I realized we'd left my wallet and a water bottle back on Cat's beach in all the excitement. Having ran back and recovered them, the day preceded in much the same way as the previous two. We had lunch on a Romanian beach. We paddled in the sun. We even managed to stop in a town and buy our bananas. The day was rounded off by a wash in the river and blogging around the campfire.

And so nervous silence had turned to contented silence, which had become barrel fulls of laughter, which evolved into reminiscing about Cat, which became an agreement that it'd be much better to pick up a dog before Constanta.

Leaving Serbia after a ten day week.

For the last four days of this week the wind has lessened and we were able to make good progress. I call it a week, though it was, in fact, ten days long and by the time we reached Vidin we were well and truly shattered. Now we are here and I can reflect on the last four days, they were more about the people and the places than the river; canoeing was just a small part. It ends up with a long old blog post despite that fact I feel I've left a lot out!

The day after our last blog was day 105 and we left the Danube Gorge via a large hydro electric dam. We paddled up to it, expecting to get out and walk around, but the Serbian security waved us away. We sat in the water while he radioed his bosses and, despite telling him we had passports only for Serbia, he told us we should go over to the other side of the river. We canoed over to the other side of the river. There the Romanian security waved us away and told us we should go over to the other side of the river. We told them that this was exactly what the Serbians had said and, after looking at the high cliff road, waiting around and telling the security guard about our expedition, he radioed through to an incoming cruise liner and ushered us into the lock.

With photos of us being taken from atop the giant cruiser, 'Atriums Classic', we were lowered down through the lock, then moved into its second chamber to be lowered some more. The whole process took over an hour from our entry to us leaving the dam, but we were back out on the water with the first hurdle overcome.

We had lunch 10 kilometers on and went to fill up our water in a cafe. Since it turned out to be a fish reatraunt, and we told them we'd already had lunch, they gave us two coffees, a bunch of grapes, two apples and a plate of biscuits. All for free. We chatted to the friendly owner, Stevan Stanojlovic, who was impressed with our efforts and left in good spirits, grateful for the free gifts he granted us.

There followed a stormy night where booming thunder and lightening passed directly over us and kept us in the tent for an extra hour the next morning. The rain eventually stopped and we paddled to Brza Palanka where we planned to have lunch. After being pursued by dogs from the canoe to the village we decided to do some quick shopping then move on to a nearby beach. For the second day in a row we had lunch in a great spot, then went to fill up our water in a cafe and had two coffees for free, again courtesy of the friendly cafe owners!

We paddled some more on the still lake we have been on all week, water now trapped between the giant dams. By evening we were in sight of the second dam and found a great camp spot that looked suspiciously like a fisherman's cove. To make sure, we popped our heads into a next door cabin and asked if it would be alright to camp on the grass we'd found. The two young guys were perfectly happy and as we pitched the tent they came over to say hi and invited us over to their cabin when we were ready. As we continued to cook dinner they re-emerged with a wheelbarrow full of chopped wood and an axe to make a campfire. We thanked them and, as we started to eat our dinner, they wandered over a third time with a large bag of apples for us to take away.

Having eaten we went up to their house and chatted about our trip, showed them pictures, asked about Serbia and talked about fishing. We drank strawberry juice and tea, since they knew the English love to drink tea, and headed back to our tent in the darkness feeling like we'd had a good few days of meeting and speaking to good Serbian people.

With the split firewood to burn, we had a breakfast campfire before paddling off to the hydro electric dam the next morning. We got to the banks, removed our gear and hauled the canoe up onto the shore. There were a lot of people about and we knew it would not be a simple case of walking around, but with our canoe on show we had made our intentions clear and, dumping our bags by the riverside, we wondered how long it would be before those people got involved.

First someone shouted to us from a window but our efforts at conversation were halted by us knowing no Serbian and they no English. Then a security man with a gun on his hip came over and told us to wait by the canoe. The man from the window emerged and spoke with the security guard. Then a third man arrived in a car and the three of them made some phone calls with plenty of nodding. I walked, with the friendly security guard by my side, to the bags where he poked around and allowed me to get our documents out. Back at the canoe another man had arrived, a policeman, and all four men looked at our documents and nodded some more. They wrote down our names, passport numbers and birthdays before allowing us back on the water, telling us things about the border we'd been told a hundred times before.

Half an hour later we were in Prahovo where we aimed to check out of Serbia. Yet again we met a variety of people keen to help, mainly through them talking and us nodding. We walked first through an industrial site, stained red with iron ore, under cranes, past reversing lorries and over railway lines following a worker who knew where the police were. The policeman told us to go to the shipping office. We found the shipping office and had our boat documents signed before being sent back to the police for them to do the final checks. After a bit more faff we were on our way and heading out of Serbia with yet more controls dealt with and another hurdle passed.

Having that day spent more hours dealing with borders than in the canoe, it was with some reluctance we disembarked a few hours later to look for the Bulgarian border police in Novo Sello. After accidentally walking into someone's house and finding no police station, we gave up on the village and decided to wait instead for the Vidin customs point.

So we camped illegally on a Bulgarian beach that night before arriving here in Vidin the next day at around lunchtime. The border police were friendly and welcoming and when we told them we were stopping here to rest they allowed us to lock Dora to their pontoon, where she now resides securely among police boats. We ate lunch in the warm and dry of a tourist office and then found a cheap hotel where we're staying for two nights.

It has been four days, then, where people have been the major headlines. At borders and locks we always seem so unusual that everyone wants to consult a range of different authorities before we can pass, but in each case the reception has usually been friendly. Our friendly fishermen and welcoming cafe owners have each perked us up and given us a taste of Serbia; hopefully the Bulgarians and Romanians will do the same.

Three midweek days

On the first day I awoke early. I remember feeling frustrated that it was light and we weren't up; yet I still ached from the previous day. However, soon our routines were in motion and we were eating cereal sitting on the food barrels. Across the water we saw the sun rise. It was a deep red.

Loading the canoe was bumpier than usual but we thought nothing of it. I started in the front and we churned through the choppy water for the first half hour.

Then the big waves started. The canoe was being tossed upwards and then I was crashing back into the next wave. Jimmy was struggling to steer. Twice in quick succession we veered towards the rocks. After the second time we voluntarily made directly for the shore. Jimmy shouted for my opinion. I told him I wanted everything out.

The canoe bounced on the rocks with every wave but we untied the barrels and bags. Jimmy held the canoe and I stood higher on the rocks. Painstakingly, one item at a time, we threw our belongings onto the rocks. As Jimmy passed me the second bag the waves were not relenting. He grabbed my paddle as it began to float away. Behind him, the back of the canoe was now submerged. He grabbed his own paddle. We managed to get the wheels out as my water bottle was torn away by a wave. I dragged the front of the canoe and Jimmy lifted the back. Eventually we had the canoe out of the water.

Jimmy changed his trousers, I put a coat on, we updated the route tracker, joked about dying and started the walk towards the next town on the river.

After about 40 minutes towing the canoe and carrying our gear we reached a sheltered harbor. We locked the canoe there, leaving the cumbersome food barrels. We found a cafe in the town of Golubac and Jimmy had an ill-advised coffee while I put some trainers on with the vague idea of checking the conditions for the next three or four kilometers. I returned; ambivalent but largely positive. There were still waves and a lot of wind but I naively felt it was safer around the next corner. Jimmy then topped up on groceries while I had a cold drink and watched the bags. Then we reloaded the canoe and tried again.

To start with it wasn't too bad. We planned to reach Golubac Castle five kilometers away. The waves weren't as big as before and I never felt like we were in danger. But as we sighted the castle the waves once again grew.

We made to go around a rocky outcrop jutting into the water. Steering from the back of the boat, I could feel the wind beginning to take a hold. But even when we were barely edging forward against the wind I still felt calm because the wind was directly ahead - we were fighting forwards and there was no danger, just the inconvenience of slow progress.

Then the wind gusted, throwing us towards the cliff face. I shouted to Jimmy that I needed to change paddling sides. I'd only said the word 'Switch' but my voice had conveyed my panic as Jimmy swapped immediately and picked up his tempo. We managed to edge away from the cliff face and around the corner.

However we had nowhere to stop and exactly the same crisis happened as we cornered the next outcrop. I remember hearing a lorry driver toot on the road and wishing that an onlooker could do more than give us moral support. Once around this one and into calmer water, we stopped as soon as the bank looked adequate for scaling with the canoe. Once again we unloaded the canoe. While we were taking extra precautions, it was relatively safer here than it had been before. With the canoe once more ashore I sat down beside it. I sat on the rocks with my chest thumping. Jimmy got his phone from its dock and eventually sat down on the rocks. I took a deep breath and swore. Jimmy turned away and wiped his eyes.

Again we started to walk. We were on the main road along the gorge and stopping regularly to swap between the burdens of canoe and barrels. We walked through the castle arches and laughed at the traffic jam as lorries attempted to squeeze through the same route.

We made it to the next hamlet and stopped above some stairs down to a jetty. Jimmy ran ahead to again weigh up our options while I made lunch. We then ate our sandwiches with the map open in front of us.

For the third time that day we re-entered the Danube. We were now at the edge of the lake we had been battling through and the water was idyllic and calm. We canoed out of the bay and into the narrower gorge. We canoed for a further two and a half hours and returned the greetings of impressed fisherman but neither of us really relaxed. As we began to look for camping spots, we paddled past a swimming pool and what turned out to be a camp-sight. We set up camp, ate and swapped stories with a friendly pair of cyclists who hailed from Burnley and were trying to reach Jerusalem. And that was the first day.

On the second day I awoke early again. I felt relieved to be safe and trundled out for a run. The air was still and in the semi-darkness there was not even a breeze. We followed our morning rituals and wished our new friends good luck.

For the first time for three days we had a couple of hours paddling where it was possible to speak without having to shout above the crashing waves. The water was better for us, but our efforts still drew a spontaneous round of applause from two fisherman on plastic chairs on the shore. However as the morning developed, the waves returned. While it was calmer than the previous day, we rounded outcrop after outcrop only after shouted agreements between one another. Just before lunch the waves re-gained their power from the previous day.

We had lunch and tried to place ourselves on the map. In disagreement, we walked up to a ramshackle farm and asked an old woman where we were. After much pointing it was clear that we sat just behind the biggest headland on this section of the gorge. The waves were white-capped in this sheltered bay and would only be worse when exposed to the width of the coming lake.

After many unanswerable questions had been asked, we decided to wait until the end of the afternoon and then try on the calmer evening water. By half four nothing had changed. If anything, the wind had risen as we had grown more frustrated at our lunchtime spot. We decided to leave it till the next day. After a quick foray to find the best way from bay to road, we set up camp by a well-stocked fisherman. As we had dinner the weather continued to worsen and we affirmed to ourselves we were doing the right thing.

On the third day we both awoke early. We scrabbled around in the darkness with the wind howling around us. We were eating breakfast before 5.30 despite the night's sleep having been broken by visitors to our fishing neighbor. We planned to start early and either get some kilometers in before the wind arose or make a start on a hard walk up the road.

After a stormy night there was no doubt between us that the walk was our only option. Then, as I stood with trainers on, Jimmy called me to the water's edge. Although the waves still lapped the shore and the wind still rustled the leaves, we agreed that it was a considerable improvement on yesterday.

Tentatively we canoed out into the bay. Jimmy asked that I should tell him if at any time I felt we should turn back. I requested the same honesty in return. We went around the first corner mentally prepared for danger. Yet there was no massive lake and rather it seemed it would be around another rocky outcrop further up. With grim determination into a stiff wind the outcrops kept coming. With each one the suspense was ratcheted up.

Finally we were out into open water. The wind had been strong but the waves had barely been white-capped. We bobbed for a minute on the waves and felt safe enough to take a drink.

We spent the next hour in relative calm. Having made good distance, we checked the map and decided to stop in Donji Milanovac for food on the basis that our next town could be some time. The supermarket there was well stocked and we departed Donji feeling relaxed.

As we moved around the next meander the wind all but disappeared. The water turned glassy and, with the clouds sitting low on the mountains, it felt like we were canoeing in the sky. We are lunch and drank in our mystical surroundings.

From there we paddled past the Danube Gorge's narrowest point, past cliffs 40m high, past a convent alone in a valley and past Roman and Dacian monuments carved into the rock - all from water calm in its still state.

And they were my three midweek days.

The winds of change

Since the bitter cold of last week the wind has changed direction blowing warm weather in from the South. The sun has come out, the temperature has risen and Nathan's paddled with his shirt off once more (let's hope the gun laws in Serbia aren't too stringent). But if it's not freezing there must still be something to complain about. You see the thing is, this wind coming from the South is no summer breeze, it's a strong whistler of a wind and its blowing straight in our faces. In fact, this wind's becoming quite a nuisance.

So on Tuesday we got two buses out of Belgrade and walked to where Dora was moored on a jetty. We headed out into the Danube and, rounding the city's island, we were straight into the thick of it. We crossed the river in heavy waves and found our speed wasn't exactly up to the previous weeks' standards. This didn't change as the day went on, fairly uneventfully, but also fairly slowly. At lunchtime we unloaded and rolled the canoe since a significant amount of water had been taken on board from nosediving through waves.

By the end of the day we'd covered 43kms, which was good given the conditions but still a small amount compared to previous weeks. After two hours reliving lunchtime locations so far, the bad state of the weather was suddenly rammed home by a tree which fell down and crashed into the water not far behind us. Despite having seen the falling tree we somehow pitched our tent for the night in some dense woodland. Hidden on our island we slept through the night, the wind rattling through the branches.

While day 100 was momentous for us, the swirling winds took little notice. As such it was only after an hour and a half's paddling that we reached Smederevo, the town we had planned to reach the day before. Having arrived, we made straight for the town square with the sole intention of commemorating the centenary. Tongue-in-cheek photo taken, we had a hot chocolate and orange juice respectively, topped up on groceries and headed back for more wind and waves.

From therein it was a day of hectic stressful sections broken up by smoother periods of slow and steady progress. It was during one of these slower periods that a man standing on the bows of an anchored tanker confirmed to us that we're not just being over-dramatic. He signaled that big waves were ahead with his hand. We then paddled through those big waves.

It was not long after this that we made camp for the night. Not wanting to get stuck in a windy channel in the dark, we camped 15 minutes earlier than usual on the tip of a low island. Although I later spent much of the night fretting about being flooded, it was a decent spot with space for a calming campfire.

After Nathan's training session, tailored specifically to our small island (20 minutes jogging on the spot), we set off on calm waters. The sky was clear, the sun was out and we took photos of fishermen on the glassy water. Yet you should know from the way this blog is going that it was nothing but deceptive. As the island ended we found it had been acting a one giant windbreak and, leaving its tip, we found we were a good kilometer from either river bank.

A solid 45 minutes later we'd made it to the south bank having crossed the exposed and choppy water. We hugged the riverside as the waves continued to batter us and went wide around a large meander since it would have been dangerous to cut straight across.

Before lunchtime we found sanctuary in a long sheltered section where we could take in our surroundings. At some point in our battling we had joined the Serbian/Romanian border and looked across at the new country basking in the midday sun. With brown slopes dotted with trees that reflected in the glistening water, we had lunch in Serbia looking across at our eighth country of the expedition.

The afternoon was broken briefly by a chat with border police to confirm where exactly we had to 'check out' of Serbia and then we went back onto the windy waters. These difficult waters lasted up until our current spot where we camp at the foot of a village on the edge of a footpath. Today was our third in a row of well below average distances and physically demanding conditions.

The wind, then, has both brought back the temperate weather as well as rustling the river into a wavey frenzee. Here we camp, looking across at Romania, listening to it shaking the tent and stir the water.

Not really routine

These blog posts don't record the smooth routine that we go through every morning. We hope you take it for granted that we've brushed our teeth, checked the camp sight and embarked in our canoe. On day 95 these things could not be taken for granted.

We woke up to our bleeping Casios and from there on it went downhill. I told Jimmy that I would not be going for my morning run because I much preferred wreching just outside of the tent. He grimly accepted this from his squatting spot behind a nearby bush. An unidentified canned object from the previous night was agreed upon as the likely culprit.

As ever, we still managed to wolf down a lot of cereal but there was to be no efficient departure from the river bank. The problem was that we couldn't actually see the other river bank and could barely see the river at all. After a cold night there was a thick mist rising off the Danube which made a chugging tanker absolutely invisible. As I adopted the feutus position inside the tent, Jimmy confirmed that he also didn't fancy going anywhere until the mist had risen.

And it did rise. And we departed to a day that may have been willy-tinglingly cold but was still bright, crisp and a whole lot better than the rain storms of previous weeks. As I burped my way down the Danube, easily winning the intra-canoe competition for most moaning about my stomach and the dodgy-unidentified cans-of-Hungarian-meat-with-pictures-of-cheesy-hamburgers, it was actually a pretty nice place to be.

The Danube has grown wide and the banks are covered with thick forest and dotted with the hideaways of fishermen. With bitter, clear skies you can see beyond the forest and up into hills with vineyards, horned cows or just felled trees. However the last few days in the wilderness have not been lonely; there is literally a small fishing boat on every corner ready to give us a nod or even a salutary fist pump. There are definitely worse places to have a tender stomach.

After a smaller than usual lunch we made it to Novi Sad for late afternoon. Still feeling tender and scarred by recent close shaves with the darkness and the setting sun, we decided it would be a quick trip. Our map reported that this was Serbia's second biggest city. After walking quite a lot of the place in finding a cash machine, deciding not to have a coffee and buying more milk; I have to conclude that Serbia's just not that big. But it was a pleasant stop all the same and it wasn't far until we were past the tanker mooring park and back out into the Serbian forest.

Here, as I cautiously made dinner with a can you can always trust (tuna), we opted for some pretty basic human comfort. Our first campfire of the trip was a welcome addition and will now probably become a regular counterattack to freezing cold nights. Delicately, and foregoing the cold hands and grit that I now associate with brushing my teeth, we went to sleep.

As I announced a little bit prematurely upon waking on day 96, me and my stomach were back in business and ready to hit the waves. And waves there were. And my stomach was also more or less back working, in case you were wondering.

Day 96 was actually one of the slowest full days that we've had on the Danube so far. The wind and the waves battered the boat and we didn't make the ground that can usually be made from just drifting during the routine morning banana break. Nonetheless, it was still a positive day.

At lunch time we stopped in the small town which I'd earmarked at the start of the day as most likely to provide our first coffee break in Serbia. We ate lunch on a jetty, resting our legs in the canoe and then climbed a shaky ladder to the shore. Stari Slankomen turned out to be everything you visualise in a Serbian village. We had old skodas, dilapidated houses, stray dogs and a pick up truck with kids shoveling out grapes to be pressed into wine. We did a short walk up and down the main road, aware that this rural Serbian town had a culture that was beyond us. We had a coffee in a cafe by the jetty and Jimmy felt that the use of a coffee machine was also beyond the poor waiter. (Jimmy is now making clear to me that he had 'coffee beans in his teeth for the whole afternoon'.)

We canoed for another couple of hours beyond a fishing village at the bottom of some sandstone cliffs. Another chilly day was then finished with a campfire on a convenient island and a long conversation with Orange customer services as we tried to reduce the Internet costs of finding somewhere to stay in Belgrade.

The following day saw a routine cold start and a fairly fiery conversation in the canoe about the relationship between religion and regulation in modern society. Pretty mature stuff, I know. Fortunately, we'd soon passed under a half built bridge and the sight of Belgrade provided a new topic of conversation.

From here on in, it was a fairly simple case of trying to overcome all of the problems contingent with canoeing into a city on a budget. We bargained with a yacht club restaurant for a £10 fee to leave our canoe locked on their jetty for a couple of days. We found a bus to take us, our paddles, bags, and barrels to the city centre. We got in contact with our chilled-out 'warm showers' host and arranged to find his flat. Finally, we sat in the middle of Belgrade's main square matching up kilometer river markers with our cyclist's map and then watching the locals and wondering what it was like to be in Belgrade for something other than a rest.

We slept well in our kind host Martin's student den and boshed our washing and shopping this morning. After some more planning and blogging, we've now finally found some rest in a cafe in Belgrade's famous hill-top fort overlooking the Danube.

And well-deserved rest it is too. That was our longest ever week in terms of distance, definitely the coldest and a bit of a shock to the old routines.

Into Serbia

I'm about to take you through our last two days and the only scene setting you need really know is that it is very cold. Our line that wiggles south on the tracker should create no delusions, it is as autumny here as anywhere and the daylight hours are dwindling.

I begin where our Wednesday began, entering Serbia. Leaving behind a spot on the river bank, our initial entry to Serbia was simple, we paddled past a sign on the river with a flag painted on it. We had crossed the border. Our rather more official entry was 10kms later in the village of Batina where we moored our boat and found a member of the border police. The uniformed man, pistol at his hip, then led us into a plain concrete building where they took our passports and discussed matters. We waited.

Shortly we were led into a warm office where we stood with four different people in four different uniforms. Here we were told we had to pay 8000 dinar. Slightly taken aback, but well prepared for such a scenario, we said we had no cash on us, a fact, and thus no real way of paying. They replied that it was a standard government payment and that we could pay by card. Having made sure we would get receipts, calculated the exchange rate on a calculator and generally become more assured that all was well in the world, we paid the shipping charge and took a seat in the office.

While our passports were checked and people did important things, we waited and accepted two hot coffees and the use of a computer with good Internet. The man in the office was friendly and a customs officer asked us what we carried and glanced in our bags. Before long Nathan was summoned to meet with more uniforms and look at papers with foreign words.

Several signed documents later and with our own copies of papers and receipts for the next border, we left the border control and were given back our passports. Out on the river we paddled away with a wish of good luck from the policeman and a positive feeling that it had all gone rather well.

Having swapped places in the boat on Croatian soil we had lunch in Serbia and felt like a couple of jet-setters (albeit jet-setters on a cold muddy river bank) and before long we'd paddled into late afternoon. Late afternoon was awash with many fishermen and one in particular who gestured that we should follow him in his boat and called out from later island to point at a brilliant place to camp. Just as, days earlier, the woman who offered us money was simply confusing, we struggled again between instincts regarding safety and strangers countered by the hospitable culture here along with our cycle maps advice not to turn down offers of hospitality from people you've just met.

Fortunately we didn't need to decide on the matter since it was still too early and we paddled for another hour before making camp amongst the trees of a nature reserve. Deer rustled in the night and birds cawwed all morning while Nathan did running drills on the mud. Then, after breakfast, we packed up and paddled along the Danube with blue sky all around.

The clear blue sky lasted for a pleasant but uneventful morning which ended with lunch in Croatia, Vukovar. Here we filled up water in the toilets of a rowing club that was unlocked and sheltered behind a wall as the wind picked up and the sky clouded over. The town itself never got a visit since we've crossed legally into Serbia and technically have no right to be on the Croatian bank, we ate lunch and left, like good boys.

A talkative afternoon took us to another spot on the river banks with space for the tent and logs to sit on to eat dinner. In that tent is precisely where I now sit. And those are the dramas: we're in a new country, having crossed through the border station, and the weather has been beautifully dry yet beautifully cold. With that I shall put on my thermals and crawl into my sleeping bag as another night tries to tickle minus figures on the thermometer.

Three more days on tour with the famous travelling canoeists

It's 2:25am and we're in a Budapest campsite. It's at precisely this point that I remember the plan forged the week before. Since it is now very dark by half six, our previously standard stopping time, we had decided to start the day half an hour earlier. So at 2:25am I tell Jimmy today he'll be getting up at 6:30. In my defense, I thought it was 6:25. Nevertheless at 2:25am the week had officially begun.

I'd scouted out a good place to launch the canoe on a morning run that had also fallen foul of the new early-doors regime. With bleary eyes we then gave the residents of south Buda a unique visual experience. First, you had the race between the man dragging the canoe and the man carrying the 60l food barrel. Next you had the 'how fast can we run back in sandals ten minutes after cereal' test. And for the finale, we took our paddles, massive rucksacks and remaining barrels on the tram back to the waterfront. Obstacles to be overcome included a six lane crossroads and a couple of railway tracks. Quite a few weird looks later, the performance was complete and we were paddling away from Budapest.

From then onwards, day 90 was a quiet one. With grey skies and constant forest, the time was ripe to articulate any and every thought that crossed my mind. Eventually after Jimmy had weathered a conversational storm comprised of inheritance tax, best ever Christmas presents and name-game tactics amongst other topics; the day ended hidden amongst trees on a muddy bank... Half an hour earlier than usual.

The next day we didn't have an audience as we loaded the canoe. We did however have rain. As such, the ever-present breakfast mugs of cereal were had in the tent. To the relief of any local fisherman, the rain also muted any more tales of Jimmy's exploits from school. By mid-afternoon it was still raining and we were still quiet as we embarked in search of the holy grail: some Hungarian stamps.

We walked into the small town of Paks. We deposited the litter from the previous night in a bin. We found a post office. We communicated that we wanted to send 9 postcards and a parcel to England. We had lunch without getting wet thanks to a bus shelter. We bought two coffees to warm us up. We restocked on water in the cafe toilet. And then a 10 year old burst out laughing at the sight of Jimmy. As far as I can see, that is just about a perfect couple of hours.

And the clouds also seemed pleased by our performance because it didn't rain for the rest of the afternoon. We again camped in some trees, this time a bit further back from the water and a whole lot more spooky.

Dispute the darkness of the previous night I awoke at the new allotted time and I was still alive. With my fears thus calmed, I proceeded to make the best possible use of the confined area between thick forest and the water by doing some funny-looking running drills. Feeling slightly warmer, we then paddled away for a standard morning of grey clouds, drinks breaks, wee breaks and kilometer markers.

Kilometer markers were actually quite important today. With the Serbian border approaching, the plan was to make sure we camped in Hungary so we could have a full day to take on the Serbian border authorities tomorrow. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when our discussion of the problem of personal tutors was interrupted by a Hubgarian police boat.

Having concluded that Warwick's tutor system is unsatisfactory, we followed the river instructions to the Hungarian river border checkpoint. There a young friendly policeman explained to us that we needed to fill out some paperwork because we were leaving the Schengen zone. This all went swimmingly, despite my trouble in conveying Dora's name. D O R A; "No, it's D, as in D for Dave," doesn't seem to work in Hungarian. Nonetheless, about an hour later we were wished good luck while the policeman googled Nantes.

With the Serbian border still imminent we decided to make the most of our last Hungarian coins in the next town. Once again, it was a highly successful outing. We bought some food supplies, filled up the water bottles and I even managed to bargain a half price cake to use up our last bit of change - the perm and mustache look clearly works on older women.

My good looks however, only provide one possible explanation for what happened next. As we walked back to the boat with a slight dusting of river mud, shopping in hand and sacks on backs, a woman approached us. She said something in Hungarian. We intimated "English" and smiled affably. She happily affirmed 'England'. We were delighted and agreed. She then opened up her purse and tried to give us the equivalent of about three pounds. Because we're proud Englishmen and because we can't use Hungarian forint In Serbia, we refused her money. She knowingly patted me on my shower, smiled and walked away. Is this a cultural thing that Hubgarian women do for good-looking young men? Was she pitying Jimmy's bright blue parachute pants and snood combination in the same way that the ten year old had laughed out loud at him? Does she think the English economy is struggling at the moment? Or do we just look like we're in need of some money?

Who knows? Anyway, she was yet another person whose grey day had been brightened up by our exploits - now available from 6:30 in the morning.

Three capital cities in one week.

From Vienna, via Bratislava, to Budapest. Three countries and three capitals in less than a week, all in our canoe, it's been pretty good.

The morning after our last blog we sheltered from the rain briefly, as we ate breakfast, then headed to Esztergrom, one of Hungary's oldest towns. We moored to a jetty at the foot of a hill on which the country's biggest church sat, a massive Romanesque building that stands over the town. We walked past the school kids having a P.E. lesson playing frizzbee and, after doing some sums, got out new money from an ATM since we've now left the Eurozone! New money meant a quick drink, which was a language barriered tonic water, and then we moved on.

We had lunch that day on a river beach which marks the gradual change we have seen in the Danube. It no longer has manicured rocky sides but is wide and sandy with a lot more islands and gently sloping banks. So, after a bit more rain and some time following the sharp 'Danube bend', we found a camp spot with relative ease and set up, yet again, on the river bank where no one would find us. Behind a few trees and far from any roads, wild camping here has been good so far.

From our place on the shore we awoke to bright sun but freezing wether, a crispness that carried on throughout the day. we packed up and paddled on a quiet section of the Danube, before entering the edges of Budapest. As we canoed into the city centre we passed under famous bridges and towering landmarks, as well as bouncing in the heavy waves and watching carefully the hundreds of cruise boats that were moored along the sides, waiting for them to pull out and confuse us.

It was quite an entrance and a fantastic feeling since Budapest was a city we have heard so much about along the way. Most cyclists we meet, and even the cycle path back on the French river Loire, end at this point so to have canoed here is an accomplishment we take great pride in. We even found time to give ourselves a good pat on the back as we entered the city... Not that we don't still have a long way to go, of course.

But we have canoed to Budapest. A fair way. A big deal. My hand now hurts a bit from all the back patting.

Sorry, where was I? So we canoed into the busy city and waved through more cruise boat windows. Then we found a suitable jetty that a cruise boat had left empty and clambered onto it. When I say suitable, it was wholly unsuitable since it was a good meter and a half high out of the water and we spent the next few minutes performing the precarious task of unloading our things and hauling the canoe out of the Danube, along a gangway and over the adjoining fence.

We had lunch on a bench by the river then dragged everything into the city to find our camping. Plenty of interesting looks were cast our way and we had a lengthy conversation with a retired English-Hungarian translator who was very interested in our journey. He also kindly gave us his card in case we have any problems in the rest of the country!

So that was that. A horrible hour later we were at the campsite and could finally put the canoe down. We did mandatory rest day chores, including stocking up on a serious amount of camping gas which we hope to last us the rest of the trip, and then tried to find a bar before bed, which we did, semi-successfully.

Normally the blog would end there, our canoeing exploits explained and our rest day destination reached. But today our rest day was more than indulging in the city sights. Foregoing the 'rest' aspect of our day, we were on the recreation island in the city centre by 10am and registered in a 5km charity race by 10:32am. At 10:35am the race started. At 10:55am Nathan had claimed first place and I had come in a healthy second. At 11am Nathan collected a goody bag for first place and nodded along to the Hungarian speeches as more bags were given. No prizes for second place I'm afraid.

The post race ritual was stretching and relaxing in Budapest's famous public baths and a three course meal at a top restaurant for a tenner each. Winning all round today.

One more thing to remember... Don't tell Nathan I let him win this morning, the poor lad's been training every other day for the last three months and I wouldn't want to dent his pride, eh. Cheers.