After last year’s experience, when autumn at the Romanian seaside was quite cold, we did not necessarily want to come back here in September (the weather is much better in July). But as the first days of autumn found us in Constanța attending a conference, we decided to stay for a few more days at the beach. And this time the weather was on our side – it was sunny, warm, water temperature quite pleasant, and the prices cut in half compared to August.
From Cluj, we flew to Bucharest and from there took the train to the seaside. It was quite ok to travel this way, the trip by train from Bucharest to Constanța is very decent, if, of course, you can be kind enough to forgive de North Train Station (Gara de Nord) in Bucharest for being so unsightly, dirty and confusing – some trains have several cars heading to different destinations, so you have to do some serious detective work to be sure that you are in the right car. Also, the train tickets for the seaside must be bought in advance during summer, because on the day of departure they are a very rare find and only if you are lucky. Considering these aspects, we tend to believe that the Romanian railway company (CFR) has decided to become a Boogeyman for foreign tourists. We didn’t find any cheap flights to Constanța this time, as most of them were bought in advance by travel agencies, but we didn’t really have a burning desire to fly there again anyway, because of the non-existent decent transfer options between the airport and the city.
As we had an evening flight from Cluj to Bucharest, we made a reservation for a hotel right across the road from the Otopeni Airport. It was a nice place, decorated in a Romanian traditional style. But, in the morning we got the tiniest breakfast in our travel history, so tiny that after we finished it, we were not sure if we ate or just dreamed about it the previous night. There are rare cases in which Romanians do not miss to perform a “miracle” or two when they believe that they are offering good tourist services.
Constanța in 2018
In the main Romanian port, we were accommodated in a kind of improvised pension/house/building that is hard to describe. It was in a good location, close to the center and with pretty good amenities inside. But it seemed to be someone’s home, who has added various appendices to it every year, now resulting in a bizarre and somewhat comical combination, so when you look at it, you can’t help but wonder what did the architect smoke when designing it (if, of course, it has ever been designed by a professional, approved by authorities and the construction actually exists in papers). That pension is the kind of work of art that can be understood only by the artist.
We started our exploration of Constanța with a guided tour, made by Diana Slav, which was quite depressing. The tour, not Diana. She was an excellent guide, she has passionately told us everything about the city and we highly recommend her! But the sorry state of the city has brought us a sadness that we have not felt since we saw the ruins of Herculane.
Very briefly, we can only tell you that today’s town, the successor of former Tomis, is in pitiful condition. There are hundreds of beautiful buildings that are almost destroyed, many dirty squares and ruined houses, and the symbol of the city – the Casino – is falling apart. The state Constanța is in today is astonishing, considering that it once had the second largest population in the country and was the only one that had the advantage of being a large port at the Black Sea.
Although it is the most multicultural place in Romania, with a very rich history of thousands of years, with diverse and interesting constructions made by many nations over time, with many beautiful stories that can be told to visitors, yet almost nothing has been renovated and is not being valorized.
The former mayor, who is now hiding from justice in Madagascar, has invested almost all budget money only in the Mamaia resort where his friends’ fancy clubs were, while the old center was left behind. The current administration seems to give only timid signs that they want to do more. Meanwhile, smaller towns – such as Sibiu and Oradea – are way ahead of Constanta in the tourism field.
Neither is the harbor used as it could be, the travelers don’t have much to see there, the city centre is not easily reachable, but there are restaurants with astronomical prices… attended mostly by locals because cruise ships don’t stop here anymore. Due to the situation in Crimea, Constanța could have taken the place of Sevastopol on the map of the big cruise companies but failed to attract anyone.
The “Modern” Beach
After strolling through the city and hearing negative stories about poor hotel conditions from other conference participants, we also reached the town beach, recently expanded with sand taken from the seabed. Although we liked it here 2 years ago, this time (when we had more time to explore), our impressions were more nuanced.
The beach is relatively ok, although the sand is not very fine. There is garbage everywhere, which shows that it is not properly maintained. We didn’t understand the role of those piles of earth placed in the middle of the beach until we were told that they had been left since the communist era from the construction works at the apartment buildings in the area.
The saddest part, however, is the portion next to the beach. There are several places where is possible to climb from the beach to the city, but the stairs are in very bad condition, ground by the decades of indifference. The surrounding green spaces are degraded and full of garbage. The so-called promenade alley is actually a dirty path alongside the residential buildings that resemble any of the poorer neighborhoods of our homeland.
The adjoining streets are depressing, with closed shops, degraded buildings, construction works started and abandoned for many years, never renovated communist blocs, much kitsch, and some terribly expensive terraces. The general impression is that this city doesn’t want any tourists, is uncomfortable with their presence and somehow wants to get rid of them. And it manages to do it quite well!
The Dolphinarium and the micro reservation in Constanța
Next to Tăbăcăriei Lake – another area that could be beautiful but is not arranged at all – there are two points of attraction in Constanţa. The first one is the Dolphinarium, where there are dolphin and sea lion shows. Though it has not seen too many renovations since its establishment, it is still relatively decent.
After a specific Romanian situation at the ticket office, where there is almost no understandable information displayed and the foreign tourists are amazed by how chaotic the Romanians are, we managed to get inside. The show was beautiful, the dolphins are extraordinary mammals! Especially children are very excited about what they see here.
Next to the dolphinarium building there is a small zoo with specimens specific to the Danube Delta area. There, we had the opportunity to admire many species of birds, fish, but also small mammals and reptiles. Unfortunately, this place also suffers from a lack of investment – although it is unique in the country, it looks more modest than the botanical garden of Jibou.
Revisiting Vama Veche
Although we are talking here only about 55km, there is always the question: How to get from Constanța to Vama Veche? Well… it’s complicated. We try a new method every time and it’s still complicated. 😀 So, this time, we took a bus to Constanța train station, that looks quite dirty and old, and from there, took a train to Mangalia, after standing in a long queue and testing our patience at the ticket counter. The train ride took ages, because of the age of the railway. From Mangalia, we took a minibus towards Vama Veche – old and crowded as well.
Vama Veche has not changed a lot in the past year or two. It’s like always: lots of… interesting people, dusty streets, chaotic constructions, exaggerated prices in this former hippie paradise – nowadays a trendy destination for those who want “cool” selfies on Facebook and Instagram.
Our accommodation in Vama Veche was super-nice, with a large yard filled with greenery, ripe grapes smelling like childhood and fruit-filled fig trees inviting you to pick them up. This year as well, we spent our evenings at 1st Stage, where live concerts take place even at the end of the season.
We swam in the warm water filled with algae, stones and shells, were amazed (again) how the beach merchants prefer to keep the sunbeds empty rather than drop prices, we ate some specific goodies and some huge pancakes, walked by the sea, listened to folk and rock music, drank beer and wine, and enjoyed the hot sun of… late summer.
The eternal return home
The way back home was as expected: the minibus filled to the maximum, followed by another queue with confusions and meaningless talk at the Mangalia train station, then the good road to Bucharest, and here trouble with the airport bus because of the dubious website of RATB (Bucharest public transportation company), and finally the flight to Cluj, which this time did not have a (long) delay. 🙂
We have developed a habit of going every summer on the Romanian seaside only to arrive again in Vama Veche every time. We don’t know if we’ll do it again next year though, because there are not too many things that attract you here, and as we visit more and more Mediterranean destinations, we are less motivated to return to the Black Sea. That is, on its Romanian side, because Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine remain on our plans for the future. 🙂 What do you say, does it make sense to go to the sea in our country?