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.
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.