Balkans 2014 travel blog

Boarding the train

The 1st Class Car

An old auto designed to travel the rails. On display near tracks.

Crossing the Danube

Today's adventure was traveling from Bucharest to Constanta on the coast of the Black Sea.

Much of the day was spent on the train watching the scenery go by. I don't know the exact speed of the train but we were passing almost all of the cars on the highways. So, I'm guessing we were going about 70mph. Much faster than any trains in the U.S., except for the Acella.

Once we left Bucharest, the scenery quickly changed to rural. Almost all of the land was plowed and planted or in use as pasture for cows or goats. I was not able to identify any farm houses. There were a few dilapidated concrete houses near the rails. Most seemed to be abandoned. It's possible that the owners of these fields do not live adjacent to their fields. I don't know and have no one to ask.

Once we arrived in Constanta, I had the immediate need to find a hotel. I had intentionally avoided making a hotel reservation in Constata to challenge myself.

Often, in Western Europe, there is an Information booth or a booking office at the train station. There was none.

In many towns, there are several cheap hotels within sight of the train stations. As I visually scanned the area around the outside of the station, I could find now.

OK, let's try walking (while wearing my backpack). In the distance, I saw, and later confrmed, the shore of the Black Sea. I walked towards it, in the hopes of finding a hotel. Nothing. Homes. Stores. No hotels. No signs for hotels.

I took out my cell phone and brought up Google maps. (I had had the forsight to download an off-line map of Constanta prior to leaving Bulgaria.) Sure enough, the built-in GPS quickly found my location south of the train station. In the U.S., there's a "what's near me" option in Google maps. Not so, here.

OK. This isn't working. I pulled out my Nook and brought up my Lonely Planet guide to Romania. I found a listed of several hotels in Constanta including their phone numbers and addresses. Good, now I just have to find one.

I looked by at my map. Yes, it knew exactly where I was standing and showed all of the roads around me. There were no names on any of the roads! I looked around for road signs. No labels on any of the roads. I'm standing at the intersection of what with what? How does anyone find anything here?

I tried calling one of the hotels listed in my guide book and asked for directions. She said to turn right as I left the train station. I walked back to the train station and followed her directions. After about a mile (still wearing my backpack), I couldn't find the hotel. I think I'm getting to be too old for this!

I managed to find a pedestrian who spoke Engligh. I showed her the page in my guidebook and asked her for directions. She said that it was a long distance from where I was standing and was on the opposite side of the train station.

Hmmm. This calls for a taxi. As I walked back to the train station, I tried hailing each taxi that I saw. None of the stopped.

Once back at the train station, I showed the address in my guidebook page to one of the taxi drivers. He agreed and gave me a ride. As he left the train station, he turned LEFT not right. So much for the advice from the hotel's front desk. We soon arrived at the hotel. Although the meter only said 2 leu, he charged me 5 leu ($1.40). Not bad for a taxi ride. Much better than wandering about town forever. I paid the driver 5 leu.

The hotel charged me 85 leu (about $24) for one night, including breakfast. Once settle in my hotel, I wandered off to randomly explore the town.

Constanta and many of the other towns along the shore of the Black Sea have been a summer destination for tourists from western Europe for centuries. Once I found the town beach, I still wasn't sure what the attraction has been. The beach did have sand. (Many famous beaches on the Mediterranean consist of pebbles not sand.) But, it was only about 200 feet long. Not much of a beach by Rhode Island standards. Of course, this being November, the beach was essentially empty.

As I continued to wander about town, I was approached by two older gentlemen, perhaps 40 years old. (Around here, that's quite old!) They were admiring my belt and, it seemed, trying to sell me another belt. Why would I want another belt? Mine is fine. They started pulling on my belt and talking about it. This made me very uncomfortable and I attempted to get them to stop. I looked around. There were no other tourists anywhere nearby and no police, since this is the off-season. I was their only possible target. They continued talking (in Romanian) and occasionally tugging on my belt for a while and then suddenly departed. I quickly checked my pockets and discovered that my “mugger money” was missing. I always carry the local equivalent of $10 - $20 in an open pocket to give to a mugger if necessary to avoid violence. (The muggers all assume that tourists carry money and might beat them or even kill them if they refuse to turn it over.) I call this my mugger money. I had not felt a hand in my pocket. Clearly, they've learned this tactic from experience.

I checked my zippered pockets. Yes, my “real” money, about $85 dollars, and my debit card (with $600) were still safe. The rest of my money, my credit cards, and my passport were all safe in my hotel room. I tallied my expenses and determined that I was missing the equivalent of $16. No big deal to lose $16 but I hate to have the pickpockets succeed because it gives them incentive to continue going after tourists.

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