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.