Europe | Romania | Constanta – Bare ass country
As I had no expectations of Constanta (it’s main feature seems to be crooked bus ticket inspectors who rip off foreigners) I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely, romantic town.
The minibus took the bumpiest road possible out of Tulcea, stopping twice before we got out of town – first for the driver to fill in some forms, then for petrol. There were peacock feathers at the front of the bus and pictures of Jesus. The radio played the old Depeche Mode song about Jesus. Several pendants hung from suction cups on the front window; unfortunately the rear view mirror was not amongst them – it kept falling off.
We passed many horse and carts (I noticed most had modern tyres) and people selling watermelons by the road side with their horse tethered nearby. Half finished houses seemed to be falling apart before construction was done. People were living in the ground floor of places that had no roof on the top floor. The water at Mamia was Miami blue.
Once in Constanta we made sure to avoid public transport. Apparently it’s a well known scam – inspectors swap your valid ticket for an incorrect one. Neither driver nor fellow passengers has any sympathy for the tourist. So we got in an official looking taxi, an old Dacia with faded red velvet seat covers, driven by an even older man.
We were dropped off in the town centre without any hassles. I had a list of 3 possible budget hotels. “Sport” was the first one. I had only a street name, no number. We asked in a restaurant called Sport and they directed us to the waterfront. Hotel Sport looked a bit above our standards and had no vacancies. The woman at the desk told us to try another place – I asked how much, and when she said $100 a night I said forget it, and we headed off in search of Hotel Timeretu-lui, the second on my list.
We saw the Black Sea for the first time, glinting in the sun and very blue. Sexton was not excited. He was too worried about where we’d sleep. I saw people swimming and said if we dont find anywhere to stay we could go to the beach then catch the over night train (a long detour which we wanted to avoid).
Boulvard Tomis was the long road we’d come in on. Address numbers were non-existent. The streets grew crumbly and a squad of gypsy children followed us, taunting all the way. We kept all hands on bags and walked fast. Finally the hotel loomed, dark and gloomy, with an outside bar missing part of the awning. The carpets were threadbare; clearly this was a communist era hotel that had not been done up in the years since. We weren’t going to complain as it was ?15 for both of us and they had vacancies.
It was a four story climb to our room. The green hallway carpet had what looked like a roll of towel from a public toilet rolled out on it. The hallways were long and dark. We imagined we were in “The Shining”. Yet it was somehow less depressing than Hen Trei Stele. The sheets had probably been washed though they were coffee stained and frayed at the edges. One bed side table was missing a drawer and the wardrobe was falling apart. All the furniture was a matching shade of putrid green. Yet the place fascinated me because it was how it would have been for decades. I wondered who had stayed there. The sink taps were 1950s and the shower looked like it hadn’t been used in just as long, though a trickle of hot water came out, enough to wash my hair after a dodgy swim.
The beach was far less enticing up close. It was littered with cigarette buts and broken glass. The sand was pounded flat and hard like mud. The water was so visibly dirty I dared not go in lest I add to the bugs already in my system. I walked along the semi-crowded beach to the sounds of “we come from the land down under/ where men drink beer and then chunder” blaring from a beach cafe. I found a spot of sea that looked clean (though what microscopic organisms lived there one could only imagine. I thought about the way England’s beaches had been cleaned up in recent years and how it’s doubtful Romania will have money for such a project for a long time yet to come. )
I liked the streets between our hotel and the beach. Old buildings were decaying gracefully. Maybe because I’d expected so little, but the whole time we were in Constanta I kept thinking how much I liked it.
Before dusk and Sexton and I headed for the harbour. Constanta was a stop on the journey from Southern Russia to the Danube via the Black Sea. My great grandfather might have been here.
We found a café on the water. Some men were trying to park up their sailboat. They had bare feet and tans and ropes in their hands. A big bearded man was skilfully taking down the sails. Two tables away a beautiful girl with long wavy black hair and purple sunglasses on her head smoked a cigarette. The sun was warm and the wind so strong it blew the table cloth, knocking over our beers, breaking a glass, and soaking the table cloth.
This restaurant had the yummy garlic sauce we first had in the Delta. A woman walked by wearing half a pair of shorts. Really. They were so short they were up her bum crack. Sexton couldn’t believe his eyes. And the woman was with her husband and kid. She has a nice bum though, but we’re not sure if that made it any less obscene. They sure do like to show their arses off here, but at least they are all attractive women.
After dinner we sat for awhile watching the fountain in the harbour. It looked like fireworks when lit up at night. The lack of street lights in the area made it all the more romantic. Couples snogged on benches in comfortable darkness. It was a bit tricky walking from the harbour in darkness, though once we reached the other side of the peninsula we found a long, wide, well-lit promenade, bustling with couples and families. Children had glow-in-the-dark bracelets and young couples cuddled freely in public. There were columns on a sloping green; I couldn’t work out if they were part of the city’s many ruins or added recently for decoration. Modern sculptures down by the dark harbour looked like turds on sticks; up here the sculptures were more figurative. There was an excellent building with deco mosaics – it turned out to be the aquarium. A huge, ornate building we took at first to be an opera house was actually a casino.
We walked all around the edges of little peninsula where the old town centre sits, stopping for beers and looking out at the water. Walking back we cut across the town. Crumbling half lit city streets were populated by packs of wild dogs, gypsy children and barefoot prostitutes. Iron girders stuck out of gutted buildings’ skeletons. It was urban decay at its best; less than 100 year buildings distinguishable from ancient ruins only by the red bricks, occasional trimmings remaining, and the iron bits that stuck out like frozen snakes.
“Look out! Ridge!” Sexton would say every time the pavement stuck out – which was always. Here the street and pavement blend together in rubble and there are often gaping holes that leads to some dark underworld most likely only inhabited by rats.
Even with our room above the square, the night’s activities and barking dogs did not keep us awake.