Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Friday, 8 November 2013

Black Sea or Bust - Days 19 & 20 Constanta - Bajia - Tulcea 130 Km (82 miles)

I ride out of Constanta along the Black Sea shore. Lots of traffic and those right filters are the very devil but soon the road widens, the traffic thins and I find myself on the Romanian Riviera. Mile after mile of hotel blocks, all empty now but presumably packed in summer. There is a scruffy beach running along behind them dotted with odd concrete remnants of a previous industrial life. Finally the party stops and I am riding in petrochemical land, massive and stinking plants line the shore some still operating, some a mass of rusting wreckage. It's another glorious sunny day with a crystal clear sky and the chemical stench is unsettling. Depressingly I see a roadkill victim on the pavement ahead, I assume it it is a dog with no road sense but am surprised to discover that is is an otter with no road sense. 

I cross the Danube-Black Sea Canal again at the very point where it's sea locks feed into the Black Sea and then the road turns back inland and in the first village I have to swerve round a group of women standing in the road. One of them had dragged a carpet out of her house and was using the flat surface of the road to give it a good seeing to with soap, water and a scrubbing brush. Her friends were both guiding the traffic past and giving her helpful advice.

The villages thin out and I am back in a world of huge skies. At one point I stop to drink and as I look to my right the whole of the top half of my field of vision is blue, no clouds, no vapour trails, no birds, pure blue. The bottom half of my field is pure green, a crop of some sort, winter wheat perhaps, but there are no hedges, pylons or trees just pure green. It's so simple and so spectacular. 

It's a short day's ride to Baija and I am enjoying an exhilarating downhill freewheel when I catch a flash of a sign indicating my hotel on the right so it's slam on the brakes and a hard right hand turn into the surprisingly posh forecourt dotted with expensive cars. Hard to explain in a village that is Nowheresville on the road to Nowhere. The explanation is supplied by a splendidly laconic Dutchman that I meet in Reception later. I think the Dutch can do 'laconic' as well as any nationality on earth. He is there commissioning a state of the art, EU sponsored, grain press that produces, by massive and cleverly engineered squishing, vegetable oil that can be used for fuel or cooking and 'ready to eat' cattle cake. The man who owns the plant next door also owns the hotel and it's easy to tell him from the other Romanians standing around in Reception. He's the one striding back and forth shouting at someone over the phone. Shouting into one's mobile is a very Romanian thing, surprising in a people that in other respects I have found to be rather mild mannered. The Dutchman confides that this man treats his workers like serfs. Over breakfast the next morning we have a conversation that encompasses both the New York Mafia and ice hockey. 

On the road again for my last day in the saddle. I am in mostly open country and am surprised to be pulled up by two soldiers at a road block. Initially they say that I cannot go through and I am about to start waving my map around when they have an instant change of heart and cheerfully  wave me through. Signs further down the road indicate that this area is used for army training but I see no evidence of this. To my right is a fortress perched on a rock, dominating the landscape. It is Cetatea Heraclea, described in my guide as "probably Roman" and in its shape and position remind me slightly of Bamburgh. At the next village I stop for a beer at tiny shop, from the direction that I have just come from I hear the sound of explosions and it's obvious that there is some army training going on after all. I pass a sign that says that I have entered the Danube Delta National Park, the landscape doesn't change, the main delta area is further north. Finally the last high speed freewheel down into Tulcea which almost literally deposits me nose first in front of my hotel, a large waterfront affair with great views along the river. Tulcea is a busy port, there are ranks of modern cranes a little way upstream and on the adjacent quayside the many passenger ferries that connect the isolated communities in the delta come and go. One can also take a boat upstream to Galati or Moldova and downstream to Odessa and beyond. 

As I check-in I mention to the receptionist that I might like to sell Cynthia. Yes, yes, heartless I know, but the hassle of getting her packed up for a BA flight from Bucharest is daunting in my current circumstances. I find that I can't be bothered to wash any clothes so decide to go shopping for a T-Shirt or two and perhaps some socks. Shopping in Romania is very simple and cost effective. You enter the shop, you look round for a few moments, you quickly decide that there is nothing in the shop that you would want to buy between now and the day that hell freezes over, you leave the shop having spent nothing. Simple and cost effective. I go back to the hotel and wash my 'smalls'.

This is the end of cycling but the official end of the Danube is marked at Kilometre Zero by an old lighthouse in a small town called Sulina, some 70 Km east, which can only be accessed by a catamaran ferry. The town is quaintly described in my guide book as "disadvantaged" by the lack of road access. I go off to check the timetable which is confusing as shown on the internet and made no clearer by various bits of paper selotaped near the ticket office window, the ticket office being shut. The hotel receptionist reassures me. There is one boat going east leaving every day at 1.30pm and one returning, leaving Sulina the following day at 7.00am. The journey takes three hours. That evening I leave my room to venture into Tulcea's Entertainment District which is the bar downstairs, as I cross the foyer the receptionist calls out "Hey Mister! Mister! I will buy your bicycle", and she does buy it, for her husband's birthday. I ask if he is a keen cyclist. She says no but he's getting fat and maybe he needs to be a keen cyclist. The deal is done and I think that Cynthia will have a fulfilling new life here in Tulcea under a fat Romanian.

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Cycling Down the Danube

Cycling Down the Danube
The Map