Blue River, Black Sea

Chiswick author Andrews Eames takes us on journey along Danube 'right across Europe’s midriff'


52 Weird Weekends for the Imaginative Traveller - Chiswick’s Andrews Eames gives us something a little different for the weekend


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“This book was born out of ignorance - my own – which was first brought home to me by an encounter I had with a German in a clocktower in Transylvania." says author Andrew Eames of his latest book Blue River, Black Sea.

"We were surveying the ornate rooftops and belfries of Sighisoara when he turned to me and said, ‘don’t you recognize it? This is Germany, it should be ours.’ I had to admit it had a Germanic look, but as for ownership, surely not. “Then you don’t know anything about European history,” he said, and stomped off. He was right, I didn’t. I certainly had no idea that the Germans had their beach-towels on Transylvania, 700 years ago.

"Mulling over that conversation on the flight home, I found my eye following the route of the Danube River on the map in the inflight magazine, and my sense of ignorance deepened. I hadn’t appreciated the river was so massively long. In fact, I had had no idea what happened to it after Budapest, where it was still only a third of the way into its journey to the Black Sea. This was plainly the longest river on the European mainland, effectively Europe’s Amazon.

"For much of the 20th century most of the river had been coiled away behind the Iron Curtain, where we couldn't visit it, but now there was no excuse. To me, the river became both the symbol of my personal ignorance and of the reunification of the continent, which is now approaching its 20th anniversary as an undivided whole. It made a great cue for a journey.

"So I decided to set out to follow the Danube all the way from west to east, right across Europe’s midriff. I travelled by bicycle from the source in Germany’s Black Forest, on horseback across Hungary, by freight barge through Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, on foot in Transylvania, and in a rowing boat for the last bit through the Romanian Delta to the Black Sea.

"At times it was a difficult journey, but en route I met a lot of people and listened to a lot of personal stories. As a result it’s fair to say I now know an awful lot more European history, and am well equipped to talk to people in clocktowers.”

The river Danube flows through more countries than any other river on earth. It runs like an artery from the heart of Europe in the Black Forest to Europe's furthest flung fringes, where it joins the Black Sea in the Danube Delta in Romania. A journey along its length takes in all of European history, and encompasses the very latest developments in what can be called the New Europe.

Starting at the river's source in Germany, Andrew Eames takes a fascinating and revelatory journey by bicycle, boat on horseback and on foot. Along the way, he knocks on the door of the occasional Schloss in the hope of accommodation for the night staying with a Habsburg Archduke and meeting a couple of Hohenzollerns; he travels through areas of intensive heavy industry as well as completely rural areas where wolves still roam and tribal fisherman live on islands thatched with reeds. He passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania - as well as a brief stopover with Count Dracula in Transylvania.

Blue River, Black Sea is an absorbing and highly entertaining book which explores how much we really know about the New Europe. Andrew Eames doesn't shrink from analysing the difficult issues of race and cultural identity he is bound to encounter along the way and his book seeks to find an answer to some of the most complex problems facing Europeans today.

Andrew's previous books included 52 Weird Weekends for the Imaginative Traveller. He lives in Chiswick with his wife and their two children.

March 5, 2009