Thursday, 17 December 2020

Road trip travel writers launch Black Sea Circuit

A career in overland adventure travel was launched when Simon Raven and Chris Raven drove across Siberia from the UK to Vladivostok at the dawn of a new millennium. A decade on sees the release of their fourth book BLACK SEA CIRCUIT, which follows the brothers on a quest to drive full circle around this large inland sea at the birthplace of civilisation.

Chris Raven at the cave fortress of Mangup Kale, Crimea.

Simon and Chris were first introduced to the freedom of the open road at a young age with a series of camping trips to France and Italy with their family throughout the 1980s. Following a career in London, Simon as an internet journalist and Chris as a fashion photographer and picture editor, the brothers quit their jobs in the pursuit of a life of adventure. Over the past fifteen years the travel duo have traversed the Trans-oceanic highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of South America, travelled the road to Damascus and have documented and photographed off the beaten track destinations across the globe including China’s deep south, tribal India and the Balkan peninsula.

The Monument to the Defenders of Adzhimushkay Quarry. Kerch, Crimea.

The inspiration for their latest book came from the realisation that the legends of Jason and Argonauts, Noah’s Ark and a tribe of fierce female warriors known as the Amazons all originate from the Black Sea. Gripped by curiosity, Simon and Chris fired up their twenty year old Volvo which looked, “As rustic and weather-beaten as a Cold War tank” and headed east. In the shadow of rising tension in Ukraine, the brothers got up close and personal with the fascinating people who inhabit the six nations that surround these colourful shores. Living on the road like the nomadic horse bowmen who once ruled the steppe grasslands, they explored Crimea, the Caucasus region of southern Russia’s “Wild West”, the Georgian kingdom of Colchis, Turkey’s Pontic coast, the megacity of Istanbul and ended their journey in Romania at the outfall of the mighty River Danube.

Priding themselves in going it alone, Simon and Chris have been noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”.

BLACK SEA CIRCUIT
by The Raven Brothers

Interview: Trans-Siberian authors drive the Black Sea

Simon Raven (below) & Chris Raven (above).
Photo © Samosir Books

Esther Harper interviews Trans-Siberian authors, The Raven brothers, following the launch of their latest travel odyssey 'Black Sea Circuit: An Adventure Through the Caucasus'.

Twitter: @EstherHarper88

It’s great to be interviewing you both again – the first time we met was back in June 2013 when we chatted about your book ‘Driving the Trans-Siberian’. You mentioned that you were just about to head off on the Black Sea trip, so it’s a real pleasure to have my hands on a copy!

Why did you choose to do this journey? What was it that appealed to you?

CHRIS: It seemed like the right time to check out more of Russia and explore the six fascinating nations that surround the Black Sea’s colourful shores. For many decades the Caucasus region of southern Russia has been plagued by war. When Si first suggested the idea of driving through this less visited region of Eurasia, bordering Chechnya, I immediately dismissed the idea. But following further investigation it appeared the northern Caucasus was experiencing a period of relative peace for the first time in many decades. Vladimir Putin was preparing to host the Sochi Winter Olympics, showcasing Russia as a country capable of glamour and sport. The thought of driving around an entire sea seemed all too irresistible…

In our first interview you spoke about how it was never the plan to write a book about your road trip across Russia. Was it always the plan to write a book this time? If it was planned, how do you think this book compares to Driving the Trans-Siberian which wasn’t planned?

SIMON: When we set off on an adventure we’re never sure if it will be a book. We always document our expeditions with photography, but not all journeys have the right ingredients for a story. We did more background reading for Black Sea than Driving the Trans-Siberian, but only planned the journey in the sense that we knew we would drive clockwise around this mysterious inland sea.

Connected to the last question, if it was planned, how did you record your experiences and memories as you travelled? Notes, diaries, photos?

CHRIS: By the end of the trip the glove box of our Volvo saloon was rammed full of notepads, and whenever we get a chance we type up our notes on a laptop. We also take hundreds of photographs for description.

Who do you think the main audience for Black Sea Circuit is? Or, what type of audience did you have in mind when you were writing?

SIMON: I think the book appeals to a wide audience. Anyone who yearns to know what lies over the horizon would enjoy Black Sea Circuit.

CHRIS: History plays an important role in understanding the Black Sea. If you love archaeology, tales of wandering Knights or draw dropping facts about Stalin’s early life as a bandit our book aims to take you there. 

Interview: Meet the Authors of Driving the Trans-Siberian

Chris Raven (left) & Simon Raven (right). Authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian'.


Esther Harper interviews twin brothers and road trip travel writers, Simon Raven and Chris Raven, following the relaunch of their epic overland adventure 'Driving the Trans-Siberian'.

Twitter: @EstherHarper88

Could you give me a brief biography of your background and careers, and what you both currently do?

Chris: I started out as a fashion photographer in London, before teaming up with Si who worked as a news editor and journalist. We’ve travelled and worked together for more than a decade as freelance travel writers and photographers. We’re the co-authors of four published travel books - Black Sea Circuit, Driving the Trans-Siberian, Living the Linger and Carnival Express.

You have both travelled considerably – could you tell me why you travel? What do you hope to gain from an experience in another country? For you, is travelling preferable to staying in England?

Chris: I think we’ve always been curious to know what lies over the horizon. It’s kept us on the move. England is a beautiful place to live, but I think it’s healthy to visit other places in order to draw comparison and question your reality.

Simon: Home is where your family and friends live. After years of travel, you begin to start seeing your own country as a destination. I appreciate more these days the moderate climate, the fascinating history and a pint of real ale in a 500 year old pub. I also know that there are alternative ways to exist, and struggle to imagine never travelling again. It would feel like being banished to a small remote corner of a very big world.

Why, after travelling to a place, do you write about it? Is it the cathartic value of writing, or do you feel you want to share your experiences with others? In other words, do you do it for yourself or for other people?

Simon: Travel can have such a profound affect on you, that there is undoubtedly a strong desire to share your experiences with anyone who will listen. The revelation that the world is beautiful, accessible and exciting could be compared to a religious epiphany or the realisation that you are in love. You want to shout what you have discovered from the rooftops. Not wishing to upset the neighbours or be labelled a travel bore, it’s far less anti-social to write it down and hope someone might read it and draw inspiration from what you have to say.

You have travelled to various places – why did you choose Russia as one of those places? What was it in particular that attracted you?

Chris: The absolute desire to experience the unknown. We had travelled on a number of adventures before we went to Russia, and had begun to seek out the less explored regions of planet Earth. We wanted to escape the crowds and experience a place less visited and not yet spoilt by mass tourism.

Simon: At the time we were working in a frozen food warehouse to fund our next trip. The cold temperatures of the refrigerated warehouse gave us the idea to research Siberia. Studying a world atlas we stumbled across a route traversing the Trans-Siberian Railway line. It was 2003, and the construction of the new Amur Highway was years from completion. We persuaded ourselves that there must be a way through. People had to get around. We made it to Vladivostok thanks to the help of the local people living in Russia and Siberia after driving 11,000 miles across the world.


Monday, 7 December 2020

Black Sea Circuit & Driving the Trans-Siberian

Two epic road trip adventures by The Raven Brothers

Black Sea Circuit: An Adventure Through the Caucasus



The legends of Jason and the Argonauts, Noah’s Ark and a tribe of fierce female warriors known as the Amazons all originate from the Black Sea. Gripped by curiosity, Simon and Chris fire up their twenty year old Volvo that looks, “as rustic and weather-beaten as a Cold War tank” and embark on a quest to drive full circle around this ancient body of water at the birthplace of civilisation. In the shadow of rising tension in Ukraine, the brothers get up close and personal with the fascinating people who inhabit the six nations that surround these colourful shores. Living on the road like the nomadic horse bowmen who once ruled the steppe grasslands, they explore Crimea, the Caucasus region of southern Russia’s “Wild West”, the Georgian kingdom of Colchis, Turkey’s Pontic coast, the megacity of Istanbul and complete their journey in Romania at the outfall of the mighty River Danube. A career in overland adventure travel was launched when Simon and Chris coaxed a rusty Ford Sierra across Siberia from the UK to Vladivostok. Priding themselves in going it alone, the brothers have been noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”.


Driving the Trans-Siberian: The Ultimate Road Trip Across Russia



With little knowledge of wilderness survival or the workings of the internal combustion engine, the Raven brothers attempt to drive across Russia and Siberia in their clapped out Ford Sierra. 

Ever had the desire to jump in your car and keep driving, to wave goodbye to routine and commitment, to drive into the unknown with your arm out of the window hungry for adventure? Well, that is precisely what twin brothers and UK authors, Chris Raven and Simon Raven decided to do whilst stacking boxes of frozen oven chips in a -30°C freezer. With a squeaky foot pump and an SAS Survival Guide, they fired up their rusty Ford Sierra and headed east. Not being petrol heads and having very little knowledge of the internal combustion engine, with luck they hoped to reach Poland and maybe even the Baltic State of Estonia; where lived, according to legend, the most beautiful girls on the planet. 


After driving for six weeks and clocking up over 11,000 miles, quite literally living in the car, they miraculously arrived in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok in Siberia on the Sea of Japan. What they had in fact done was to drive the entire length of the amazing new Amur Highway before it was finished, which crosses Russia and the notorious Zilov Gap in a 6,200 mile swath of cracked tarmac and potholes. Along the way our trusty heroes drink vodka with Chechen criminals, escape highway robbery, trade banana flavoured condoms with Russian cops, meet the eccentric and plain weird at truck stops in darkest Siberia, endure torturous road conditions and have a race to the finish with the Germans. Surviving this crazy journey by the skin of their teeth the brothers are forced to confront their worst fears in this toe-curling comedy of extreme road trip adventure.

Also by The Raven Brothers



Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!


Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.

Full Circle Around the Black Sea

A discarded Russian newspaper floats on the surface of the Black Sea.
Photo by Simon Raven.

In the summer of 2013 there was a period of relative peace around the Black Sea for the first time in many decades; an eerie calm before the storm.

Seizing a rare opportunity to explore the six nations that surround this fascinating region of the world at the gateway of Eurasia, UK authors and road trip travel writers, Simon Raven and Chris Raven, fired up their twenty year old Volvo and embarked on a quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea.

Six months after they completed their expedition through Crimea, the Caucasus mountains of Southern Russia’s “Wild West”, the ancient kingdom of Colchis and Turkey’s Pontic coast, tension erupted in East Ukraine which ultimately led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the tragic slaughter of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians. This ancient route around the Black Sea became impassable once more.

Epic overland travel is nothing new to Simon and Chris. In 2003 they drove across Russia from the UK to Vladivostok following the Trans-Siberian railway line. They have traversed the Trans-oceanic highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of South America and in 2007 travelled the road to Damascus. Their latest book ‘Black Sea Circuit: An Adventure Through the Caucasus’ follows the brothers on an epic quest to explore this ancient inland sea and investigate the people, the history and the legends that colour these shores.

Noah’s Ark, Jason and the Argonauts and a tribe of fierce female warriors know as the Amazons all originate from the Black Sea. The Greeks established trading colonies here with the nomadic steppe tribes a thousand years before the birth of Abrahamic religions in the Levant. Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin have all left their mark on this region. Offering a rare glimpse into a world at the frontier of Eurasia, Simon and Chris unravel this complex region at the birthplace of civilisation.


BLACK SEA CIRCUIT: An Adventure Through the Caucasus


by The Raven Brothers

Ravens on the Road: Overland Travel Adventure



Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!

by The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.


Driving the Trans-Siberian


by The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

Ever had the desire to jump in your car and keep driving; to wave goodbye to routine and commitment, to drive into the unknown hungry for adventure? Well, that is precisely what overland travel writers, Chris Raven and Simon Raven, decided to do whilst stacking boxes of frozen oven chips in a -30 degrees freezer. Not being petrol heads and having zero knowledge of the internal combustion engine, the brothers fired up their rusty Ford Sierra Sapphire and headed east. 

After clocking up over 11,000 miles, quite literally living in the car, the pioneering duo miraculously arrived in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok in Siberia on the Sea of Japan. What they had in fact done was to drive the entire length of the new Amur Highway before it was finished, which crosses Russia and the notorious Zilov Gap in a 6,200 mile swath of cracked tarmac and potholes. Along the way our trusty heroes drink vodka with Chechen criminals, escape highway robbery, trade banana flavoured condoms with Russian cops, meet the eccentric and plain weird at truck stops in darkest Siberia, endure torturous road conditions and have a race to the finish with the Germans. Surviving this insane journey by the skin of their teeth the brothers are forced to confront their worst fears in this toe-curling comedy of extreme road trip adventure.



Carnival Express


by The Raven Brothers


Overland travel writers, Chris Raven and Simon Raven, embark on a new comedy adventure that leads them to the wild and colourful continent of South America. From bull's testicles in Buenos Aires to bums and boobs on the beaches of Brazil, the Raven brothers put their dream plans into action and traverse the Trans-oceanic highway from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast of South America.

Pioneering a new frontier over the Andes and through the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, the bizarre and the beautiful cross their dusty path as they seek inspiration for a new book and go in search of the ultimate carnival. Not always getting it right, Simon and Chris tango through the Argentinean vineyards, cycle to the Moon in Chile, lose themselves in the mysterious world of the Inca Empire, swim with caiman in the Madre de Dios, experience panic in the Pantanal, The Rolling Stones in Rio and conclude their journey in Olinda at the carnival of the soul.


Living the Linger

by The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

The sudden break-up with Emily Willow finds Simon Raven, ex-amateur rock god and bored internet producer, on a Boeing 747 bound for Seattle. Led by his twin brother, Chris, who is more than happy to exchange a career in fashion photography for the open road, they embark on a buttock-clenching journey of paranoia and self-doubt, as they traverse Interstate 15 across backcountry America. 

Along the way the hapless duo bumble through bear infested wilderness, meet the eccentric and plain weird on the American freeway, escape a bullwhip wielding maniac in Missoula and survive the evils of Las Vegas. Testing their friendship to the limit as they battle to reach their nirvana, which exists in the form of the bikini beaches of California, the brothers find inspiration on a journey that exposes the stark truth about work and relationships and which asks the question - what do you really want to do with your life?


Black Sea Circuit

by The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

The legends of Jason and the Argonauts, Noah’s Ark and a tribe of fierce female warriors known as the Amazons all originate from the Black Sea. Gripped by curiosity, Simon and Chris fire up their twenty year old Volvo that looks, as rustic and weather-beaten as a Cold War tank and embark on a quest to drive full circle around this ancient body of water at the birthplace of civilisation.

In the shadow of rising tension in Ukraine, the brothers get up close and personal with the fascinating people who inhabit the six nations that surround these colourful shores. Living on the road like the nomadic horse bowmen who once ruled the steppe grasslands, they explore Crimea, the Caucasus region of southern Russia’s “Wild West”, the Georgian kingdom of Colchis, Turkey’s Pontic coast, the megacity of Istanbul and complete their journey in Romania at the outfall of the mighty River Danube.

The Raven Brothers take off with their new book Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!



Hike, Drive, Stayin' Alive!

by The Raven Brothers

On Amazon >

Out of shape and unprepared, The Raven Brothers return to the road in a collection of ten quests to travel to their dream destinations against all odds! After two decades pioneering new routes across the globe, you would expect the authors of 'Driving the Trans-Siberian' to be hotshot explorers, with a sixth sense and an ability to survive in almost any situation. Think again! With virtually zero knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine and very limited skills of wilderness survival, Simon and Chris struggle into their hiking boots and power across three continents by river, tarmac and trail.

Venture to the top of Norway, cruise the road to Damascus, hike the Camino trail into Spain’s Wild West, row the Ganges, explore Frida Kahlo’s world in Mexico City, hangout with the dead in Sicily’s eerie catacombs, crawl deep inside Bolivia’s notorious silver mine, seek lions in Gujarat, wellness in Berlin and journey into the Naga Hills where tribal kings still rule.

Noted by Lonely Planet for their talent to portray an “accurate view of what to expect”, 'Hike, Drive, Stayin’ Alive!' signals a return to the duo writing “buttock clenching” travel comedy with the first in a series of candid stories of adventure by The Raven Brothers.