Wednesday, June 3, 2009

At the Danube Delta

On 30 May, Shirl, Klaus and I took Cristina Mitrovici on her first visit to the Danube Delta.

It was a full day, and a beautiful part of Romania.

Cristina Liliana Mitrovici is a Fulbrighter based this year in Constanţa, the lovely seaside city and resort town near the southeast corner of Romania. She is from Fargo, ND, where she settled after leaving Los Angeles a few years ago. She and her husband escaped Romania during the 1980s, and have raised their children in the U.S. Now a citizen of the USA, Cristina teaches Spanish and media studies. She is a dear lady of high purpose and strong opinions, and was an excellent guide in Constanţa, starting with her having found us a wonderful place to stay in Mamaia Nord, a beachfront community just up the coast from the city line of Mamaia, which is similarly positioned relative to Constanţa.

Vila Tudor was one of few open hotels on the shoreline this weekend, as the season was to open on 1 June. But here, for 100 de lei, $33 per night, we stayed at a modern motel, in a two-bedroom suite with bath, king-sized bed, cable Internet and cooked-to-order breakfast. Hard to beat that.

Saturday morning I awoke early, had breakfast, then drove into town to pick up Cristina. She showed me her luxury apartment with a view of the Port of Constanţa, then we walked to the nearby cathedral. I could see what a magnificent city Constanţa has been in years past, but unfortunately many of the best buildings on the main square are being allowed to deteriorate. It seems that they are caught up in legal struggles between those from whose families the communist government had confiscated them and the present "owners," and hence no one is willing to risk the money it would take to refurbish them. Such an historic city deserves better. A statue of the poet Ovidius (Ovid), who lived till his death in Constanţa after having been banished from Rome in 8 AD by Emperor Augustus, stares sadly at the decaying piaţa.

Picking Shirl up at the motel, we proceeded north up a bumpy coastal road toward Valcea, where we parked near the port, and on the wharf found lunch, and a boat for charter. Cristina was invaluable in avoiding the "brokers" on the wharf who offered us boat rides at "only 50 Euro per hour." Once we found a skipper, for a fee of 400 de lei (100 Euro) we spent the three hours on the Delta, a Romanian version of an Everglades Air Boat Ride, sans alligators.

The Danube is the longest river in Europe, and is a big one, indeed, where it divides into three main channels and many smaller ones, and innundates a huge wetland reportedly consituting 2% of Romania's total area. The birds are varied (over 600 species), colorful, and very much in sight, and the views from the 150 HP Honda-powered 21' fiberglass boat were well worth the cost.

At the day's end, we stopped to see the archeological site Histria, a small seaport city where Homeric-era Greek artifacts reveal that the port was in continuous use as early as 600 BC. The inlet at Histria was eventually cut off from the Black Sea by the build-up of a sandbar, and today there is a freshwater lake where once there was a sheltered harbor. The site has been abandoned since Medieval times.

(Images will be added after we figure out Shirl's new camera, and/or after Cristina e-mails me a few of her shots.)

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