Oct 4 – Oct 7, Danube Delta
I booked my train ticket to Galati the previous night when I arrived in Bucharest and that logistic was done. Again it was a big lift to get the bike up into the old style car; this time a lady helped me. Once on the car a guy with a grimy official badge and papers helped me arrange my bike so that it blocked one of the car exits and the toilet, but allowed passage between cars. He then showed me papers that I owed him 100, 44 and 22 lei for the bike. My ticket cost me 60 lei and the bike 10 lei. I refused and he kept at me. I finally gave him the 44 lei and he left.
This was a faster train; that is less stops, and more people stayed on all the way to Galati. After about 4 ½ hours we arrived a bit after 1:00. I found a pretty good restaurant and had a meal. I then started to ride into the centre. I was looking either for a pension or the ferry across the Danube. I saw a BAC sign and turned down the road. I had been told BAC is ferry and so it was. It took about 15 minutes to get across and there was nothing there. So I was not going to spend the night in Galati, but there was a town of good size about 45 km down the road. It was 2:30 so that should not be any problem and surely the road in this flat delta area would be flat.
The first bit was a roughly paved minor road that went pretty well. I almost kept up with a road cyclist who came across on the ferry with me out for a spin. After 15 km we merged in with the main road and more traffic. But worst of all the hills started, continuously. I pushed on fairly hard as I didn’t want problems finding a pension. It was 4:30 when I pulled into the little town. I passed one pension and went into the local store to ask for the particular pension that was listed on one of my sites. I was sent back to the one I passed by only to be told that they were full and there were no other pensions. I was told I must go on to Tulcea, the main town on the Danube. I was now stressed. It was 40 more km and I was worried about dark. I couldn’t fret though and so I left riding even harder hoping the hills would disappear or at least get smaller. But no such luck. At each long hill, the longest about 2 km, as I slowed to 8 or 9 kph I intensified my thoughts on what I would do when darkness hit. At least it wasn’t raining. I got to Tulcea just after 6:00 with enough light to find a pension in the middle of town before dark hit. What a surprise that the road was so hilly and that I had been fast enough to make it here.
I spent some time that evening and the next morning trying to find out about birding. I had an email request out to a birding guide who did get back to me but I couldn’t talk live with him. Two other people in information centres gave me no hope of seeing many birds. I could go on boat cruises and there were many of those. The Danube delta which begins at Tulcea is the largest in Europe and is a vast wetland really only accessible by boat. The northern border of the delta is The Ukraine. The Danube is greatly braided at this point and it flows into the Black Sea through at least three major channels and probably countless small ones. In good birding times the Delta is one of the best birding spots in Europe. Oh well. The southern border of the Delta is defined by the Sfantu Gheorghe Channel and it has a road running along it. It was this road, a small road, and the network of other small roads running down to Costanta that had brought me here.
It was only 50 km to Murghiol, my goal for the day and so I could leave Tulcea late after deciding birding was out and then after yesterday’s rush take it a bit easier. I stopped more frequently. It wasn’t a pretty day, quite hazy and the views less than enthralling. The road was still pretty hilly but now it didn’t matter as much. Speed was not an issue. Still I pulled in at about 2:30 and rode around the extended village looking for restaurants and pensions. There are never many restaurants and most of the pensions show no signs of activity; the ones I tried did not answer. At the one restaurant that was open I found that their pension rates were double what I had been paying. The cell coverage was gone here but I used the wifi in the restaurant to book Casa Chitu, about a km away. I am not sure why I never get any answer when I ring or bang on the doors.
I took my last photos of the Danube; pretty uninteresting views but across the delta possibly 20 km was Odessa in the Ukraine. The Delta continues well out into the Black Sea beyond where I was, but that like all the Delta is a boating not a biking world.
My pension was great. The woman running it offered both dinner and breakfast whenever I wanted. The shower was hot immediately, The TV had both BBC and CNN channels. What more can a guy want?
My third day cycling started early. I was now headed south, away from the Danube along the Black Sea coast. Like sea coasts everywhere you don’t always see the coast. It was about an hour when the rain began to clear away and I could see silver slivers of the sunrise on the sea. Actually I guess only I saw what are called laculs, not sure if they are lakes but they are large bodies of water protected from the sea by reefs of something or other. Whether fresh or salt water I don’t know. I also never saw any Black Sea resorts. Most of them are south of Constanta and in Bulgaria. I passed three that I noticed but they were all off the road far enough that idle curiosity did not draw me in. Need I add that I am not a resort type of guy. But I was passing though villages very often usually with an orthodox church, people and things I am more interested in.
My ride south to Constanta was not as hilly as along the Danube. It is largely rolling farmland. Farmers often in horse drawn carts were often hauling loads of corn or corn stalks. But I think much of farming might be large machine oriented farming as some of the fields, now mostly cleared would be much too large for small farmers to manage. I had been seeing for much of this trip fields where sunflowers had been harvested and the odd new flowered plant rising up. On this day I saw a whole field of what must be second growth sunflower. It was a lovely sight, their heads all turned hungrily toward the sun. I wonder if it will also be harvested and if they get two crops a year here.
I sailed along on this ideal cycling road in no particular hurry. I have been close to a number of Roman ruins throughout Romania and this segment was no different. I didn’t go into them other take a gander if they were close. At one road crossing of a highland I hit a strip of cobblestone near the top going up and another coming down. I wonder if that is related to the roman roads.
It wasn’t long before the scale of my ride became apparent and I could see that two days would easily put me in Constanta. At the back of my mind is the niggling problem of how I’m going to get back to Frankfurt so I am anxious to get on with getting some decisions behind me. The headwind began to pick up; it is always a problem when you hit wind turbines. It was also getting hot, I noticed on my new temperature sensor that it was in the 30C range. I thought I had been pretty good with drinking on this day, but maybe not.
I met the main road, which I knew I would need to follow for only about 10 km, and stopped for a drink. It turns out that the place was a casino, a bar, a grocery store, a restaurant and a pension. I asked if I was likely to find pensions down the road. The young guy I was talking to said yes, in Constanta. It was just 2:00 and I only 70 km to go if I stayed on the main road. Sensibly I booked into his pension; I must be getting old. Up in my room I began to feel poorly and dropped off to sleep for a while. Later I went out for a walk and saw some starlings for the first time on this trip. I arranged to have dinner, which was a tasty ciorba, fried pork and potatoes. The ciorba was good but I left most of the pork and potatoes. In my room I was in bed by 6:30, and up countless times. After I deposited most of my dinner in the toilet I felt a bit better.
I’m not sure what hit me, possibly the heat was worse than I thought. I left without breakfast at about 7:00 after waiting for enough light to get out on the road. I had orange juice at the town where my small roads started again and felt pretty good. One advantage in stopping early yesterday was the wind change. It was now out of the north and I was flying south. However it was only 10C and the rain hit for about an hour. It is amazing how things can change so completely. I never did stop after my juice as it was now really grey and miserable. I passed through a large industrial district on the outskirts of Constanta and reached town at 10:30 for coffee and a croissant.
My cell took me about 6 or 7 km through town to the train station where I was told I could not get my bike on the next train, or any train that day or the next day either. Walking away frustrated and confused I was approached by two guys who told me they could get me to Bucharest for 200 lei, about $60. We walked to the parking area where a pretty nice small bus was loading people. They showed me where my bike would go. The price went up to 250 lei, the bike extra. I knew I was being taken, second time in four days, but I paid and got on the bus. Above the driver it said the price from Costanta to Bucharest was 50 lei, 25 for pensioners. I was fuming, as we headed off for the three hour ride.
On the plus side I had four good hard cycling days on small roads and a few more experiences. In Bucharest it had been raining hard for days and the roads were flooding. I checked into Vila11 near the main train station, which I had scoped it out when passing through a few days earlier. After checking in, I had to go over to the station to ask about forward tickets. I got the same negative set of answers as I had got in Costanta. I have three nights at the cozy Vila11 to figure out what will come next; hopefully someone there can help.