Thursday, May 26, 2022

A month of adventure!

Stanley - Thursday

First, apologies for being AWOL last Thursday. I was floating down the Danube after Crimefest with spotty to no internet connection. Having a lot of fun may also played a part.

I am now in Bucharest in Romania with decent connectivity and will give you a glimpse into my fortnight of adventures.

First, Crimefest!

And what an adventure it was. Getting to hang out with people I haven't seen for a long while was so energising and entertaining. Zoē and Caro were there, as was Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who was a Murder is Everywhere blower for a long time. Our UK publisher, Karen Sullivan, was there with a number of her authors.

Caro was there.

Adding to the entertainment was Eurovision, which a large crowd watched after the gala dinner. Yrsa and I have a long history of watching it, always in different locations, texting each other with our take on each performance. For the first time, we were in the same room. Yrsa always dresses up for Eurovision evening, and this year was no different, although she was very subdued by her standards.

Yrsa in her glamorous silver Eurovision dress

I moderated one panel, titled Divided Society: Hate Crimes and Social Factors with panelists Kia Abdullah (Next of Kin), Antony Dunford (Hunted), Sarah Sultoon (The Shot), and Holly Watt (The Hunt and the Kill). The discussion ranged from the ethics of news gathering to rhino poaching; from access to medicines to the stresses between women with and without children. I recommend all of the books mentioned above, not only because they are good reads, but also because they raise very uncomfortable issues. 

I also had the good fortune to be on two other panels: one about writing two series and the other, moderate by Zoē, on the world of thrillers. 

A highlight of the conference was the gala dinner - for two reasons. First, Zoē was Toastrix and did a superb job of managing the evening with class, panache, and a few groaner jokes (“Never date an apostrophe. They’re so possessive.”). Well done, Zoē. You were great. Second, Caro was my date. 'Nuff said! 

Toastric Zoë

I am a great fan of Crimefest. It is small relative to Bouchercon and has a wonderful sense of community. Even if it is your first time, you will be warmly welcomed.

One side note: one of the organisers of Crimefest, Adrian Muller, had warned the manager of the conference hotel that crime writers enjoy a tipple or ten. Unfortunately, when that manager left his position, he neglected to pass that information on to the new manager. Guess what? The hotel ran out of booze! The situation was so dire that the new manager had to go foraging at local supermarkets to find more wine. The situation was saved, but I would hate to have been around the following night (Sunday), when a large group of people was going to check in for an event.

Second, the Danube!

Throughout Crimefest I was exceedingly careful due to COVID. I haven't had it, as far as I know, and the river boat trip promised testing every day. I definitely did not want to be isolated in the engine room or thrown overboard if I tested positive. 

I had a scare just as we started down the Danube from Budapest - about four days after the gala dinner in Bristol.  I started to get a sore throat, runny nose, sneezes, etc. I spent much of the day worrying that I was going to test positive. Fortunately I didn't, and my malaise turned out to be nothing more than a nasty cold.

So what are my big take-aways from my river trip that started in Budapest and ended in Bucharest? 

First, the Danube is bigger and longer than I realised. It is 2850 kms (1777 miles) long in total, second only to the Volga in Europe. It is wide, sometimes reaching 5 or 6 kms across; and it is narrow, slimming to less than 200m in the Great Kazan Gorge in the Iron Gates region. I was also surprised that most of it is tree-lined.

Great Kazan gorge - narrow and fast-flowing

Rock sculpture of Decebalus - 55 metres high (18-0 feet). Romania's Mount Rushmore

Second, I was astonished at how many places on the southern bank were hilly, while on the northern side there were vast flat plains. These reminded me a lot of the area of East Central Illinois where I lived for many years - miles and miles of flatness with rich, black soil.

Flat, flat, flat

Third, the trip highlighted my ignorance about most of the countries that Danube flows through. I know a little about Germany and Austria, but virtually nothing about Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, I didn't know much about their immediate histories, let alone their long-term past. Nor did I know much, if anything, about their populations, major crops, industries, and so on. It was a real eye-opener.

Fourth, I started understanding why there have been so many conflicts in the countries around the Danube. For thousands of years, the Danube has provided access to what is now Europe, to its riches and to its soil. Everyone who was anyone thought they should have a share and so invaded. East met west along the Danube, both culturally and with respect to religion. Christian versus Muslim; the Austro-Hungarian empire versus the Ottoman Empire; Western influence versus Eastern influence.

Fifth, I learnt more about the role the Soviets played after World War II and how despised they generally were. It is astonishing in so many of these countries how many grey apartment buildings there are - ugly and very poorly built. Many times I heard people remark that during Soviet rule, all people were equal, but some more equal than others. The more-equals lived in beautiful homes expropriated from the haves. Yet there are people who still hanker after the old times, when they were looked after. A poorly constructed flat is better than no flat at all. Like South Africa, these countries will be better off when people my age die off. We need youth running countries, not old, usually-white, male fuddy-duddies.

Sixth, I was very impressed by Budapest, Belgrade and Bucharest. I had expected to like Budapest, which I did, but not these other two cities. 

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

Buda Castle complex on the Buda side off the river

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest built by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu

I am running out of time again - have to catch a plane back to Copenhagen. Here are a few more photos. If you haven't spent time on the Danube, I highly recommend that you do. It is a wonderful. eye-opening part of the world.

Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest

I struggled to keep my yarmulke on

Church of St Sava in Belgrade, Serbia

Gigantic interior of Church of St Sava

I made it to the airport in Bucharest and am awaiting my flight to Copehhagen.

I also learnt about the various Christian Orthodox churches and the differences they have with Roman Catholic Churches: for example, people stand, not sit; singing is always a cappella; there is no person with equivalent powers to the Pope; and all the various Orthodox Churches are basically the same. So the Greek Orthodox Church is the same as the Serbian Orthodox Church. And so on.

And there were lots of castles and forts and palaces everywhere, some in use, some repurposed, and some derelict. Maybe pictures another time. Maybe not.

Whoops, our flight has been called. Cheers.


  1. Beautiful, Stan! (The scenery, that is...) Thanks for vicariously taking us along.

  2. The giro de Italia bobbed around the danube this year. Those pictures, and this blog, have put it on the bucket list.

  3. Zoë, Yrsa, Caro and you...together again. It must have been a magical reunion, made even more so by Eurovision's unique madness inducing influence on y'all. The trip down the Danube ain't too shabby either. Can't wait to see you at Bouchercon.