Tulcea – on the trail of the dalmation pelican in the Danube Delta

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September 20th 2009
Published: September 20th 2009
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From Constanta it took us just 2 hours by maxitaxi to reach Tulcea. That was despite the police pulling the bus over and detaining us for 10 minutes or so. We don’t know what the problem was but we suspect it is part of a drive to get unsafe buses off the road. If that’s the case we can’t really complain.

The bus station is on the edge of town on the banks of the River Danube (well, one of its many arms on the delta). We couldn’t be bothered looking around for a hotel in the midday sun so we jumped in a taxi and chose the cheapest one out of the Lonely Planet. The Europolis has since upgraded from 2 stars to 3 but when we picked up our rucksacks to leave after being quoted a high price, they miraculously found they had a 2 star room available at a price we were willing to pay!! Whether it is 2 or 3 stars is certainly up for discussion but it was a very comfortable room and cable Internet was even available once we figured out you had to ask at reception for a cable!

The only reason to come to Tulcea is to do a boat trip on the Danube Delta. The hotel also ran a small “travel agency” and we booked with them as the 40 Euro price tag seemed reasonable, especially as lunch was included. After booking that we decided to explore some of the town. There isn’t too much to write about really! There is a central square with a statue of someone on a horse. At first we were certain his name was Batman but it turned out to be Batran. Close enough!! The promenade from the posh Hotel Delta down to the bus and boat station is nice and there are a few bars and restaurants along there. During the summer season it’s probably buzzing with life but we found it a little quiet. There’s also the Independence Monument which is a good 20 minute walk out of town. You can’t miss it though. It stands high above the town above the Hollywood style “Tulcea” sign. The views are pretty good up there too.

Our boat trip didn’t bode well at first. We had been up early for breakfast expecting a 3 star buffet. Instead we were presented with a menu in Romanian and ordered what we wanted. Trish got hers but Russ’ choice was strangely similar to Trish’s. Maybe the chef couldn’t be bothered!! It was also definitely service without a smile. The only others in the restaurant were a German couple and they were served just one cup of tea between them - they had to ask for another and that took a long time to come. Things picked up on our second morning as a buffet was laid on because a large party of German tourists was now in residence.

Next came our transfer to the boat, or rather someone to walk with us to the harbour and show us to our boat! There were six of us in total and we had to wait for another party to arrive. They never did and we left at about 0915, just a little late. Presumably the other party got their times or even their dates wrong!! What surprised us was that we had no guide. The other two couples were Romanian and German leaving us with three totally indecipherable native languages so there was little conversation. Thankfully the German man spoke some English so we could break the silence a little. The Romanian man spoke literally a few words but the women were unable to communicate really. We don’t expect the whole world to speak English but nobody even spoke Spanish, Russian or even Turkish to give us a fighting chance of building up rapport!

The trip was almost 8 hours in total and despite the stuttering start to the day, we had a fantastic time. The weather was perfect and our little boat was able to venture down some channels away from the bigger tour boats. The first hour or so was spent on wider channels with very little wildlife but once we got onto the narrower channels around Lacul Nebunu (The Crazy Lake according to our able navigator who spoke a few words of English) we saw a great many birds. We frequently saw egrets and herons who launched themselves into the air whenever our boat approached. There were countless coots and ducks swimming around and a few bitterns showed their plumage. A highlight was a white tailed eagle who flew past us then perched on a tree so we could all get a good look. After lunch we also saw some kingfishers who appeared as a brilliant blue flash in the corner of the eye until they settled on a branch for you to see. We didn’t see any Dalmatian pelicans though. The Crazy Lake is a protected area and we couldn’t go beyond its shore (see the panoramic image). Trish says she saw some pelicans in the distance but it was hard to see if they were Dalmatians. Russ wouldn’t have known if he had seen one anyway as he is still convinced they are white with black spots!!

Lunch was great too. We had been warned it would be fish, fish and more fish. That wasn’t far from the truth. We docked at a small island near the Crazy Lake where we sat amongst beautiful flowers and feasted on pike, catfish and carp. Amusingly for English speakers, the Romanian word for carp is crap so, whilst delicious it was actually a crap lunch!!! We began the meal with some Romanian firewater. What is was made from none of us found out but it was like a fiery fruity brandy. The wine was semi-sweet and very strong. Only Russ and the German man seemed content to continue to fill their glasses but even Russ was soon left trailing in our companion’s wake!!! The return journey saw us retrace our route back to the port in Tulcea.

Whilst it was not as good as our trips on the Pantanal or the River Amazon in Brazil, it is a worthwhile trip and it’s a shame it’s so off-the-beaten-track. The area needs more visitors, or maybe it’s just that the season is more-or-less over now.

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