Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Down the Blue River

I’ve just finished reading Andrew Eames’ Blue River, Black Sea. It’s a great, if not original, idea for a travel narrative (and not in the let’s carry a domestic appliance whilst hitchhiking kind of way). The author simply sets out to trace the course of the Danube as it winds through Europe towards the Black Sea.

This starts off in the supposedly familiar territory of Germany and Austria, but approaching both from the river gives one a new perspective on them. As Eames finds out, and I discovered when I fell into it in the late 80s, the Danube in Vienna is a rather smelly, if enormous, canal in the city’s industrial northeast.

Later on Eames tackles the lesser-known course of the river through Eastern Europe, proceeding on foot and by boat through Romania and Bulgaria. His last two-day journey through the Danube Delta to the sea in a particularly uncooperative rowboat deserves a particular hurrah.

He is not the first to dedicate a book to the river, as he himself makes clear. Claudio Magris’ Danube is a more erudite, and some would say pretentious, take on the great European river. It is hard going at times, but I loved it; a book to stretch the mind and often send you scurrying to your reference books (or Wikipedia), which is no bad thing.

The spirit that really lies behind Eames’ book, however, is Patrick Leigh Fermor. I will have plenty more to say about him if this blog continues (I ended up living near him in Greece), but here’s the bluffer’s guide.

Paddy, as he is known, was chucked out of school aged 17 in the late 1930s, and decided it would be a good idea to walk to Constantinople (not Istanbul). His rough and ready route was to follow the Rhine upriver and then the Danube down. This experience led to two of the all-time classics of travel writing; A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. If you want to give yourself an enormous favour this year, then give them a read.

I retraced some of Paddy’s footsteps in my year off before university, and I’ve often thought about doing it more seriously, and writing a book about it. Eames, curse him, has beaten me to it for now, but you never know what the future might bring.


  1. Oddly enough I spotted this book in a shop in Richmond earlier today, and wondered... The Danube and that triangle of Europe between the Black, Adriatic and Baltic seas is the most extraordinary chunk of Europe out there, and one where much of my life has been based. If you write about it, Andy, I'll buy. What did you think of Count Kalnoky? We've just had our honeymoon at his place out in Romania...

  2. Weird - you were probably staying with him whilst I was reading about him. Putting aside my usual reservations about aristocracy, and also friends of Prince Charles, he sounds an interesting guy.