12 July 2013

Leaving Vama Veche
Bulgaria Here we Come!

We have done our research, found out bus times from the official website, enjoyed our time in Vama Veche, and Romania, but now it was time for us to leave.  The Bulgarian border is not far away as we had discovered whilst walking along the beach.  The bus station was on the main road through town, and we were set to go.

BS3Checking out, we made our way there in plenty of time.  Just no bus.  Asking at the shop over the road, we were told that we had the wrong time, and it would be here at 11:30.  OK, we can wait.  Still no bus.  On asking again, we got help from an English speaker passing by.  Apparently they had misunderstood and thought we wanted to go back to Mangalia.  There was no bus to Bulgaria!  We are on one of the main routes into/out of the country and there are no buses!  So we had a few options, walk to the border and try to hitch.  Not the best solution, catch a bus back to Mangalia and catch another one from there.. This is a bit frustrating but the safest option.  BS5Back in Magnalia we were at the right bus station (basically outside the hotel and supermarket but it was the bus station!).  There was a sign up saying Balchik in Bulgaria, so we knew we were in the right spot.  There had been one in Vama as well, so we asked around.  The answers were invariable “Just catch the bus”  Asking the times, no one knew.  This was frustrating, and there was no help available.  We had gone from 600m from the border to 11km and still no chance on crossing.  We were presented with two options now.  BS7Go back to Constanta, or strike inland to Negru Voda.  A bit risky, but another main route and it even has the train line going through it.  Seems good.  We just needed to get to a different bus station! So a taxi to the bus station with a slight intentional misunderstanding.  The taxi driver was going to take us all the way to Negru Voda.  And I wonder why I do not like taxis.

So we were at another hick ville bus station.  Just the side of the road.  We had no idea on when the buses were and if what we were planning was possible or not.  There was a bus at 2pm, so only another small wait.
The bus took the back roads and was packed.  There was standing room for us with our luggage at the back, and after people started getting off, we could get a seat.  What has amazed me in this country is that people do not like sharing seats.  There was an empty one now on the bus, so I asked to sit there.  It was the window (If you sit on the aisle there is less chance of someone wanting the other seat) so he got up to let me sit down.  Then continued standing!  Weird.BS2

Negru Voda is a tiny town in the flat plains of Romania.  The only thing that sticks up out of the skyline is the grain silos.  The other thing is that the valleys open up out of nowhere.  Flat agricultural land as far as the eye can see, suddenly yawning open to reveal a deep valley with streams running through.  This all made up for the town.
BS1There is nothing here.  The grain silos are important for the railways, but there are no passenger trains!  As we were dropped off at the railway station this was quite easy to find out.  There are also no buses!  We are now only 6km from the border, but well inland, and still no way to get across.  This is getting annoying.  There was a couple of nice people that were going to organise a way to the border with a police man, but we had no idea on if this was to the border, to the next town in Bulgaria, or even if it would cost us anything.  In Vama Veche the taxi driver wanted to charge us 450Lei to go to the next town in Bulgaria.  It was only 5km away from there, and we have no idea on how far it would be from here.
BS8So, another mini bus back to Constanta!  Now we were about 60km from the border, but there is a big bus station and a major train station.  Trying the train station first, we were still out of luck.  The info booth refused to provide any info, and said to go to the ticket office.  We went there, and found there were no trains. She said try the bus station.  Back outside, we asked around.  Eventually after asking a lot of people that knew nothing, we found out that we were not at the bus station after all.  It was full of mini buses,buses to Bucharest, buses south, buses north, but apparently not the bus station!  At least it was only just around the corner.

At the official bus station, we did manage to find a bus.  It goes to Varna via Balchik in Bulgaria.  It just doesn’t leave until 10am tomorrow.  It was also the only bus.BS4

So to recap the day, we started off 600m from the border, travelled close to 200km to finnish about 60km from the border, in the wrong direction!  So we didn’t make it to Bulgaria today, but at least we know about the bus tomorrow, and it should not be a problem.  We hope.



09 July 2013

Going to Vama Veche
Finding a pension
Being Lazy

Well, we are going to be beach bums!
VV56postvert1VV57postvert2Catching a bus from Tulcea was fairly easy.  We got to Constanta fairly easily.  It was only a few hours until we could get a bus.  Still, we got one.  We had expected a larger bus, as we pre bought our tickets.  It even had seat allocation.  It turned out to be a mini bus, and the seats were irrelevant.  Still it was not too bad.  The trip down was not much different to the rest of this side of the Carpathians.  All crop land.  There were a lot of wind towers along the way as well.  It was amazing how many there were.  Every wind farm had a couple of hundred towers.

VV52postpanoVV46postbusOn reaching Constanta we were at the wrong bus station, and had to go through town to get to the right one.  I have no problems with different bus stations, but it would be nice if there was a bus going between the two.  The bus stop was not too far away though.  On arriving at the station, we asked around.  The first people we asked had no idea where we should go, but with consistent asking we eventually found the right place.  There are local buses here, buses to Bucharest, and buses south.  A bit confusing to say the least.  We were going south, but could not get all the way there, so needed another bus first.

VV45postbeach2VV44postbeach1It took us all day and four buses to get to Vama Vaeche, but we had made it…
Vama Veche was started around 1811 by a few families. Apparently its name means “Old customs point”, We thought because the boarder with Bulgaria is around 600m away.  However from Wikipeadia we got this:  named so after Southern Dobruja (the Cadrilater) had been included in Romania in 1913. In 1940, however, that region was returned to Bulgaria, and the village has since lain once again near the border, but the name stuck.
VV47postcampingA lot of people have mentioned this place, as a quiet fishing village frequented by the hippies, and even a popular unmonitored spot under Communist Romania.  Now apparently the backpackers have moved in.
On exiting the bus there were two touts trying to get our business, and looking at the first persons place, that assumption of backpackers came through.  It was a bad room, bad bed, 20m to a bad squat toilet and at a price we expected much more from in Romania!  The stereotypical Feral Backpacker joint!

The second was not much better and a lot more expensive.  The third?  Well, the double beds were slightly larger than a single bed.  This was still pretty good considering the others, and we asked to look at another room.  I wandered into the next one to see two single beds.  Apparently this is supposed to be four four people!
VV58postpensionWe were despairing by now.  We thought we would not find a place to stay that was not too expensive, or a complete S*&t hole.  Trying one more place before we headed straight to Bulgaria.  It was fully booked!  However they had a second place a little out of town, and were willing to show it to us.  As soon as we saw the stairs I knew it was the one!  The bed was fine.  It had an en suite, and even internet (which we had been told was rare here, but standard everywhere else.  Apparently it is standard here too, just the quality of the people we had spoken too).
VV50postviewSo, a place to stay was found, and a walk around the beach.  Our first impression is that is it a giant ashtray.  The beach has not been cleaned in a while, and just around the corner is a giant stretch of land that is used as the toilet.  I could go on about the broken glass, or garbage dumps, but I won’t.  It is a nice stretch of shell beach.  The first section is all parasols and deck chairs, with bars on the beach.  VV55postbumsThen there is the main street with a few trinket shops, restaurants and kebab shops and a few mini markets that mainly sell alcohol.  Past the main street the beach turns into a camp site with tents set up all over it. Walking past the tents is the nudist beach.  This is optional, and seems to be optional for the rest of the beach as well.  Then the beach stretches out to the north all the way back to town.  A few cliffs are around and the blue water stretches out to the horizon.  It is quite pretty and if you pass all the bars and people the beach gets emptied fairly quickly.
Apparently every year they have a festival against mass tourism (?!?), but it is set up for it.  Every house is a caszare, every shop caters to the tourists in some way, and the beach in front of the village is completely commercial.  Gone are the fishing boats, gone are the hippies, and now it is all backpackers and families.  At VV51postsunflowernight the noise from the bars stretch all the way up to us on the outskirts.  If I was in the centre, I would not have any ear drums left.

We have spent three days bumming here though.  A walk south along the beach to the boarder.  In No-mans land we got a few photos of the sunflowers before the police there made us move along.  Along the dirt cliffs to the North, but no shade there.  Up through the town, and checked out a few of the many bars.

So,there is not much more to write, we have been here for three days now.  I should have done more on the blog, but enjoyed doing not much of anything.  Especially not moving the bags.  We are off to Bulgaria tomorrow, and still don’t know much about it.  Let alone how to get there!


08 July 2013

Cruising the Delta

D58postdelta1D59postdelta2Up early to do our “Cruise on the Delta”  This entailed a glorified water taxi for a couple of hours followed by a traditional lunch before heading back.  Sounds good and we are looking forward to it.  Picking up a Swiss family and a walk down to the river.  There was a Romanian family that was also due to join us, and we hung around waiting for them.  This family had two young kids.  What is a touristy thing in Romania without children?  They were well behaved for the entire trip though, which was an improvement to other places!
So, we are all on this boat.  The seats are comfortable, and there is shade.  Even a toilet!  We would be travelling in style.  All that was missing was the champagne.  So we untied ourselves from all the other boats and set out. D78postpano4 At first it was pretty slow.  We assumed that this was due to being so close to town, but this was the top speed of the boat.  If we could walk on water, we would be faster!D65postbird2D77postpano6

D60postdelta3D61postdelta4Following the main branch of the Danube downriver to a man made canal.  This is where it got slightly interesting.  The Danube Delta is the second largest river delta in Europe, after the Volga Delta in Russia, so personally, I don’t think the Russian one counts. Most of it is in Romania, and the northern section borders on the Ukraine.  We did not get to see that bit though.  The Danube Delta is a low alluvial plain, mostly covered by wetlands and water. It consists of an intricate pattern of marshes, channels, streamlets and lakes.  A lot of which are man made now, or at least altered to suit us better.
So we were now cruising down one of these man made sections, almost as wide as the main branch, putting along, the Swiss pulled out their birdwatching kits and picked out what there was to see.  We just sat their enjoying the view of the trees, banks, water and occasional birds.  Turning off, finally, into the smaller canals, we started enjoying it a bit more.  Especially seeing a few water snakes!  That made our day.D72postpano1
Then there were the lakes filled with reeds and lilies.  Water snails and small fish, with the occasional jumping fish.

D62postdelta5D63postdelta6After a quick lap of one or two of the lakes, we turned around and went back exactly the same way.  By now we had seen a few different species of birds (the book of birds we were promised instead of an English speaking guide had not materialised) and were backtracking.  The motion of the boat, the nice sunny weather and the repetitive nature of the river lulled us to sleep.  Along with everyone else.  Even the intrepid birdwatchers took a quick nap.
On arriving at where we would have lunch, we found out that it was a resort.  This should be good.  The whole group had a table, but they had forgotten a few place settings.  The wine and Tuica came out.  Then came the Fish Soup.  This is a traditional dish from the region.  Apparently you cook the fish in the soup, then take the fish out before you serve it.  The fish arrives on the side.  I have no idea what type of fish it was, but it had been boiled tasteless, and they switched the broth, as it was tasteless as well.  The fish was cut into sections and dumped on the plate.  The only thing they had done was scale it.  Either that or the scales had dissolved into the soup.  No filleting at all, and very bony.D66postbird3
Our second course was battered grilled fish.  Same treatment.  I do not come from a very fishy area, but I would assume that people growing up with fish can make more interesting dishes.  Give me a slice of lemon, a sharp knife and fire and I think I could do a better job!  At least there was wine!D67postdragonflyD69postpano5

So another sleep later and we arrived back in town.  We should have arrived during the week when tourist info was open.  Skipped Tulcea and headed straight by ferry into the delta.  I can say this, as I have no idea on how that would have turned out.D76postpano7

Picking up our bags we went to the floating hotel for the night.  Not bad at all,  and it made up for a lot!


06 July 2013

Train to Braila
Swimming carnivals during school holidays
That’s it..

Bus to Tulcea
Walk to Pension
Bloody expensive hotel
Finding a tour

Well the 6th is kind of a pointless day.  It got us between two points and even then, not to where we wanted!

We left our pension that we probably should not have stayed in and went back to Buzau.  That was not too bad, and funnily enough, Breakfast was not too bad either.  Omelette, half a tomato, a bit of cheese and a few slices of cucumber.  To top it off we had a local tea that, although very sweet, was pretty good.TT27postpano

TT23postcrossThe bus left from around the corner, and even had a bus stop, so we did not get wet waiting for it.  The rain tried to hold off, but was pretty heavy in patches.  At Buzau, we had to wait for the rain to stop, and change bus stations.  There is no point in having only one bus station in a town!
While we were waiting we went shopping.  At least we tried to.  I have needed new shoes for a while now, and thought this was a prime opportunity to get some.  We were right next to a couple of malls, so went for a look.  They did have some good shoes there.  If you wanted to pay over 300Lei! ($100)  I have never spent that much on shoes, and don’t plan on starting soon.  My holey shoes can last a bit longer if I can find that masking tape!

TT22postcountryWe caught a bus out to the Railway station, as the bus station was supposed to be near by.  We checked the trains first, and found one that would be fine.  It left in a few hours, so we basically hung around the station.  On going to our platform, we were struck by the difference.  The first platform was the main train to Bucharest, and was in perfect condition.  Shelter from the sun or rain, perfect concrete floors, electronic signs letting you know what the next train is and when it is coming.  Our platform however, had nothing.  The sun was out now, and the annoying thing was that it was HOT!  There is no in between, it is cold and wet, or scorching hot!  I know, we have been complaining about the rain, and when it is out, we complain about the sun.  But seriously.  Today I had my jumper on and off more times than I could count!  There is no in between, and no gradual getting used to the temperature.  It is hot or cold.
Back to the station.  The only shade is from the shadow of the underpass exit.  The floor could be a study in seismic activity.  Finding out what the train was?  Well, your guess, wherever you are reading from would be as good as ours!braila2

Still, we made it onto the train.  This was a regional train, and stops at every stop along the way. This is no problem in Romania, as it left 10 minutes before the express and cost 10 times less.  The arrival time was also 10 minutes before the express.  The difference however is when the train gets up a little speed, and rocks violently from side to side.  The seats were just as comfortable though, and from our last trip, a lot less crowded.
braila1On arriving in Braila, we asked about a cheap pension or cazare (usually half the price of a hotel) and were directed to a hotel.  Catching the bus out, we found that it was one of the most expensive in town.  It was also a fair way from the centre.  A taxi to a cheap place faired us little better.  So we decided to walk around town to see what we could find.  There were a few in our price range, but these were all full.  Apparently there is a school swimming carnival on in town.  It is supposed to be school holidays, and the school kids are still everywhere!  This is making things a little hard for us today.  braila7We ended up back at the hotel the taxi took us to, and then were told that they had no more rooms either.  Asking about how to get a bus to Tulcea (where we originally wanted to be today anyway), they said there were no buses until tomorrow.  That was the last straw.  I did not completely loose my temper, but expressed the belief that I would have to sleep on the steps of the hotel.  She mentioned another place, and we said it was full, before rattling off a number of other hotels that were full.  This impressed her (as I think there were hotels mentioned that she did not know about) and suddenly a room was available at a price we could afford. (?!?)  The only condition was that we did not get a remote control for the TV!  Like we cared.

braila6With accommodation sorted out, we went for a walk around town and dinner.  Tulcea is on the Danube, and was a very important trading post.  It was also a casualty of the Russo/Ottoman wars.  The town was quite rich at times due to shipping, but has been destroyed a few times.  The last in the mid 1800’s.  Now the city radiates out in semi-circles from a point on the river.  There are a lot of buildings from the 1880’s onwards, but a lot of these need work, and with a shrinking population there is not much incentive to do anything without EU money.  The town had tried in the past to create a tourism point, as evidenced by the expensive hotels and restaurants (most of which have since gone out of business).  As far as we could tell there is no reason for a tourist to visit here at all.  Although we could be wrong, and most of the people seem nice.

TT24poskidThe next morning we were on a bus back to the Station.  Apparently the bus station is close by.  It was.  If only we had known that yesterday, we would have continued straight on.  Still, this morning we found a bus to Tulcea easily.  Baulking a bit at the price, as it is about 90km away, and one of the most expensive tickets we have bought at 54Lei.  After the bus started, we found out why.  TT25postferryThere is no bridge over the Danube here, and you have to take a ferry over the river.  Also it is impossible to get a direct bus in this country, and the path we took wound around a few hills, stopping by obscure little towns, and backtracking to the few roads in the region.  The 90km turned into an easy 150+km, and you pay by the kilometre.  It was a nice scenic route, past the crops of sunflowers almost ready for harvest, and the wheat that was being harvested.
TT26postferry2Eventually we made it to Tulcea, and now we had to find accommodation again.  We had a pension in mind, and looked it up on google maps.  Walking along the waterfront, past all the restaurants and boats for hire, we found the road we needed.

Walking up this road, we gave up.  It was long, with massive apartment blocks, and the pension was numbered something along the lines of 294.  Each block was 2 numbers.  Still, we made it a long way before giving up.  We walked back to a 3 star hotel and checked in.  It was a bit of luxury, and they offered us a tour.  We did not accept just yet, for a number of reasons.  A) We know nothing about the delta yet, B) We know nothing about the tours on offer and C) We hate tours. They are always a disappointment.tulcea5

Wandering back the the river, we started along all the different boats docked on the side.  tulcea4The first one we came to did the same sort of tour, but without the lunch that we were offered.  However they offered the price for the boat and not per person.  This would be good if there were more people.  They also offer a room on the boat.  It was just a pity that we had not talked to them before our long walk.  They were nice (if cramped) rooms and a lot cheaper than the hotel we are in tonight.
We checked out a few places, and just annoyed that Tourist info was (again) not open.  Have I asked what is the point of a closed tourist info?  Especially on a weekend…
tulcea6So the tours all seemed to be the same section of the delta.  Deciding on the one from the hotel, we haggled a bit and got a better price of 100Lei each for 4 hours on the delta and lunch.  Other tours offered the same thing, but could not guarantee a boat tomorrow.  The second one would have been good, but again, if we were the only people on it…

So, day done, we knew what we were doing tomorrow, and where we were staying.  Time for a wine.  Where else to have it, but on a boat overlooking the Danube.  OK so the river line here is not the best, but still, nice cold wine on the Danube Delta!


05 July 2013

Geologists Rock

Giulia, Alex, Andrea, ? and ?

This morning we went with the Geologists and Geophysicists to the river.  We have seen the river, but not walked along it.  Their car was full so the Professor drove us to where they were working.


G44postrocksareinterestingThe aspiring Geologists and Geophysicists were going along a section of the river, marking out points of difference along the riverbed.  Looking at the different bands of rock.  At this point it was mostly sandstone and mudstone, with a few bands of limestone.  There were also big boulders of limestone filled with fossilised bi-valves (mussels or oysters) that have been washed down from further upstream.  This showed that we were in a river mouth, that was occasionally deeper or higher at different times.  Further upriver was the salt water (hence the larger collection of fossils).G46postfeature
G47postfrog1G48postfrog2It was a fun way to spend a few hours, although we showed our ignorance at a lot of things.  In the afternoon they had done their section of river, and it was time for them to go back and prepare for their exam on it tomorrow.
The pension was fully booked tonight, so we couldn’t stay.

G49postriverG50postriver2This was a bit unfortunate, as we were enjoying spending time with them.  So we had two options, we could head back to Buzau to go on tomorrow, or stay at a different pension that was about 15km away.  The Professor organised for us to stay at the pension,so that was that.

G45posthelpingoutA couple of the students drove us over there (thankfully, and we had also escaped from  taking our bags down that bloody awful 2.5km road!) and we checked in.  Should have gone to Buzau.  The reason for staying was to hang out with everyone we had met today and last night, and here we were in a pension that was no-where near as good as the place we were, with no-one to talk to!  We also missed the food that we were being given by everyone!  OK, so we had our own food, but it would have been impolite to refuse wouldn’t it?  It did not matter that our food was pretty bad in comparison.  The food here was typical Romanian Portion controlled.  (Read: Tiny)

G43postbridgeSo even though we never got to see the burning hill, we still managed to have a good time at Lopatari.  We had made it into true remote Romania, seen some salt welling up out of the hills, walked along rivers, and learnt a bit about the geology of the region.  You can’t ask for more than that.

Thanks to everybody for letting us tag along for the day!


04 July 2013

S46postfieldFocul Viu
Walk to town
Walk through town
Waiting for the bus
Walk back through town
Bus driver
Hitching again

What we wanted to see today..

What we wanted to see today..

OK, so I have made the list a bit longer today.  It might make it more interesting!
This morning we made the attempt on Focul Viu or the burning mountain.  There are mixed reports on how far away it is.  4km from Lopatari, or 4km from Terca, a small village within the greater community.  After walking all the way down the hill, and on through into town, we started looking to see if there was any other pensions or even a restaurant.  The pensions for curiosity, to see if there were any and the restaurants for a place to eat.  There were neither.  A couple of the magazines (the name for a small shop here), one even had seats out to act as a bar as well.
S33posttownAfter walking all the way through town, which although not wide, it is long, we decided to see if we could find out some more info.  Asking a couple of guys, we found out that it was at least 15km away.  On enquiring about a bus, we found out there was one in about 5 minutes.  Getting to the bus stop, we waited. 5, 10, 15 minutes.  No Bus.  Anna went and asked at a shop next door if the info we had was right.  The hill was 15km away, but the bus did not come until 4:30, 5:00 in the afternoon.  No good for us, so we decided to try and hitch.  A car finally stopped for us, and it turned out to be the Professor!  Unfortunately this was not to give us a lift.  He was doing some shopping at the magazine! Darn it.S40postpano1

S32postriverWe continued trying to hitch, but this is a very quiet town, with almost no traffic, and the cars that were going past were not willing to stop.  Eventually we gave up and walked back to the centre of town.  Picking up a beer to drown our sorrows, then out the other side to get a better look at the salt formations.  S47postvalleyOn the way down the hill this morning we had passed a whole group of students going up.  The bus that had brought them here was still there at the base of the hill.  We said hi to the driver, and then spent the next hour talking to him, about travel, Romania and life in the country villages.  It was a good talk, and was only broken by the students returning.  Wandering a bit further on, we came to the side of the hills with the salt.  Occasionally there was water seeping out of the hill.  Sometimes the hole is tiny, and  once there was an entire cave carved out of the hill.  This only went back a couple of meters, but the salt build up in it was amazing.S41postpanosalt1S42postpanosalt2S43postpanosalt3S44postpanosalt4

S34postsalt1S35postsalt2We followed one of the valleys up a fair way, looking at the sides, and following the stream.  It was quite a pleasant walk.  Especially as the clouds had disappeared by now and the threat of rain was over.  There had been a few drops, but nothing came from it, and with the sun out it was turning into a very nice day.  After going as far up the gully that we wanted, we made the trek back.

S37postsalt4S38postsalt5By now we felt that we could go to the pension without being too embarrassed about doing nothing today.  Going up the hill is not so pleasant though.  We put our thumbs up for the passing traffic, and struck a homerun on the first one!  It was a young guy from Bucharest, and he was willing to take us up the hill.  Fantastic.  He dropped us at the turn off, still a fair distance from the Pension, but most of that bloody hill was done.  We walked up a ways, and decided to sit and enjoy the fields.  The view out over a valley, with houses crawling up the sides, and the field in front of us full of mountain flowers.  Yellow being dominant as it was taller, but pinks, whites, purples, yellows and reds putting in an appearance. It was beautiful, and I have never seen so many wild flowers as I have in Romania!S48postpano2

We were put to shame here, as a little old lady came climbing up the hill.  She was, well, we don’t know, as we didn’t ask,but she was old.  Walking up the hill with barely a pause, and as she passed was not out of breath at all.  I know she has grown up doing this, but still it is amazing to see.  Back at the pension we relaxed for a little bit.

S36postsalt3S39postsalt6Going down stairs we met Giulia, she is one of the students staying here as they study the region.  We had a great time talking about reptiles, Australia, Geology and all things in between.  She has also invited us to go with her group tomorrow to see what they are doing, and we happily accepted.  The only issue is that we cannot stay at the pension as it is booked out, but we will sort something out.  The Professor has promised to help, and although we are now starting to feel guilty from the special treatment (we were given dinner again tonight, we had bought supplies during the day, but this was much nicer than what we had planned!) we happily accepted.
So, we will wait and see what happens tomorrow.