A drive up the coast


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Europe » Romania » Dobrogea » Constanta » Constanta
October 9th 2013
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 44.18, 28.63

I wasn't sure how today would go, but it turned out to be a fine day … after a rocky start. The first rockiness was when our brekkies arrived at 6:45am, instead of the 7-7:30am we had requested. Not bad, but we were still in bed. I also had a bit of tummy issues in the morning, so I was nervous about being out all day. Next, we were scheduled the be met by the car rental people, but we weren't exactly sure where. We went through immigration and thought that it was unlikely that they would be able to get into the port building itself, so we walked across the parking lot to what appeared to be the port entrance. Taxis were waiting outside, so that looked encouraging. But we didn't see the car rental company. So we walked back to the port building, where we could have free wi-fi, and called using skype. The rental company said they were waiting outside … so we figured it was further away. So we walked out again, along a long wall that lines the port road, to another port entrance … where we still didn't see anyone waiting for us. An unmarked car honked, and the guy looked at us meaningfully, but we ignored him, as one should. Then, he got out and approached us. "Rental car?" he asked. “Yes,” we said tentatively, about to ask who they were waiting for, when he said, “Mr. Covey?” Happy days! We checked out the car right there, and then we were on our way.

I drove; Paul navigated, of course. We noticed we were stared at a lot, but I think it was because we don't look the least bit Romanian, not because I was driving. Getting out of Constanta was a bit exciting – crazy left-turn across traffic that doesn't stop, busy roundabouts, stray dogs wandering into the crowded city streets – but we made it. We even found a bank and got so Romanian leu.

The plan had been to drive first to Tulcea, then visit the ancient Roman town of Histria upon our return. But we decided, for various reasons to stop at Histria first. As we arrived, one of the cruise busses was just finishing their visit. We bought our tickets and headed towards the old Roman city.

Although many reviews state that the site is small and of limited interest, we really enjoyed our visit there. The ruins are extensive, covering the equivalent of several city blocks. We purchased a guide, which helped, but it was a bit hard to connect what we were seeing to what was described in the guide. Still, it was clear when we saw a basilica, of which there were several. The Roman baths were also fairly obvious. We walked all around the site. Mostly, one sees just the hints of walls of buildings, but there are a few columns and arches visible. Because it was cool and overcast, no snakes were out (the reviews frequently mention the snakes) but we did see one dead snake and one snake skin, so we believe people when they talk about it.

The site has a long heritage, being initially settled in the 7<sup>th</sup> Century BCE and continuously occupied until the 7<sup>th</sup> Century CE. Archaeologists suspect that changes to the lagoon or lake that borders Histria was one of the predominant causes of its decline. It also suffered a series of attacks, starting in the 3<sup>rd</sup> Century CE and continuing until it was deserted. However, the inhabitants did not move too far away, and there is evidence that the area was occupied sporadically through the Middle Ages.

The museum is nice, too: a few small floors, but some placards in English, which helps tourists like us. It is divided by period, from Neolithic through Roman. We didn't linger but enjoyed what we saw. As we were leaving, we were asked by the ticket taker if we were going to Constanta or to Tulcea (she spoke no English, but asked “Constanta? Tulcea?” When we said Tulcea, she asked – through gestures and maps – if we could give a lift to the young man standing near her. We said, “Of course,” and took him the 20km or so to his village. Turns out he is the chef at the restaurant at Histria. He spoke a few words of English, but we could certainly follow him enough to know his job and where to deliver him.

Our good deed done for the day, we continued on to Tulcea. The territory from Constanta to Histria is very flat, highly cultivated, with power line and windmills. After leaving Histria, we encountered a few small hills and a forest. Most of the land is still cultivated, but there are also numerous sheep and goatherds, all attended by a least one shepherd or goatherd, sometimes two. And an alert dog, of course. We saw one cowherd, which seemed to require no attendant.

Tulcea was an interesting city. It sits on a bend of the Danube, near the beginning of the delta. It is generally considered a tourist city, as the boat tours of the delta begin here. We parked near the museums and aquarium and went for a walk on the waterfront. It is not a very attractive waterfront. The river looks very industrial at this point, and the buildings on the city side are 1970s concrete apartment blocks. A few new buildings have been or are being built, but the whole place seemed fairly uninviting. We realize, of course, that we are here outside of tourist season, but it is hard to see how the city could be made appealing to tourists. Where are the hotels, restaurants, and cafes that can support tourism? How can the waterfront be appealing when it is so concrete and industrial?

We grabbed a sandwich from a fast food shop, which sold pretzels, sandwiches, and croissants. It was quite tasty, actually, though simple. We ate sitting on a bench along the waterfront. After our repast, we visited the small but good Danube Delta museum. The museum, which is well-signed and includes English and Romanian descriptions on most displays, begins with a series of posters that show how the delta was formed since Paleolithic times. Much of the rest of the museum are large dioramas with taxidermied animals from various habitats found throughout the Delta. It ends with a diorama tour of Australia, Antarctic, Andean, and South American habitats. We learned a lot about the formation of the delta. The second half of the building houses the aquarium. Most of the tanks have fish from the Danube or delta. Most interesting, we learned that Danube river eels migrate from the river, across the Black Sea, through the Bosporus and Dardenelles, into the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea. Once they leave fresh water, they never eat again. They spawn in the Sargasso Sea, then die. The young eels take two to three years to return to the Danube, where they live until it is time to spawn. Who knew that any type of eel could be migratory … I picture them sitting quietly in the sand, eating what passes by, and never moving, even for reproduction.

After the museum and aquarium, we drove up to a view point, from where we could look back at the city. It was hard to see the delta region. There was a monument on top, with rather heroic looking people, with thick mustaches. I don't know who they were; forgot to look.

Then we drove back. It was a fine drive, with no incidents. We found the car rental company just before they closed at 6pm. They checked the car, then returned us to the port. We had drinks in our cabin, then went to dinner in the restaurant. The pad thai was not good, even though it was the culinary specialty. The pork was fine. Then we went back to the cabin to email.

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