Saturday 9 August 2014

The End of the EuroVelo 6

We rode up a slight incline and suddenly between the buildings there was a glimpse of water. "The Black Sea", we both yelled as we wobbled with delight into the next corner.

"It's not even black", called Judy. And it wasn't. It was a sparkling, delicious blue that couldn't help but make us think of sand between toes, sunburned necks and dripping ice creams.

The blue Black Sea on a sunny afternoon.

After 2,641 kms of riding along the Danube River from Germany to Constanta, Romania, it was a wonderful moment - some real water. It wasn't New Zealand with the Pacific on our doorstep, but not bad. The moment lasted only a second as we swept round the corner and the view was lost behind a crumbling high rise block - the sort of post communist sight we have come to expect in this country.

These buildings are on Constanta's restaurant row. Others are being bowled or renovated, still others have been given new life as caf├ęs and occasional boutique shops. The overall impression is of dust and grime as pedestrians tread warily so as not to twist an ankle. Pic: J Yeoman

Selfie in front of Constanta's most spectacular building. A casino built in 1910, it was a gamble that in the end did not pay off. It has fallen into disrepair and has been closed for some years. It is badly overdue for an investment by an oil rich sheikh.

Romania via the Danube has been a fascinating ride, if not a fair representation of the country as a whole. The economic gains made since 2000 are not obvious in most of the places we visited, and the tourism infrastructure is laughable. While the six other countries we visited on this trip have EuroVelo 6 signs on every corner - Romania has none. Not one. While in other countries, large parts of the EV6 are on dedicated bike/pedestrian paths, here in Romania it is entirely on roads. Fortunately, that's not a problem. Traffic is light most of the time and a good cycle map makes it easy to find the way.

A last glimpse of the Danube as we turn away from it and head directly to Constanta on the Black Sea coast.

Finding accommodation can be harder. It requires careful planning to hit a town at the end of each day where a hotel or guesthouse is guaranteed. For budget conscious cyclists, costs go up because there are no campgrounds. Those rooms that are available often seem expensive for what they offer - dodgy electrical wiring and plumbing, half hearted air con and views, if they exist at all, of dusty concrete edifices crumbling under years of poor maintenance and neglect.

Constanta street scene. Pic: J Yeoman

That's the down side. The upside is the cycling. 

Over the past few days the terrain has become more varied. There have been some hills - ok, not big ones, but hills all the same. And we have ridden up onto the occasional plateau, where the surrounding countryside has fallen away until the sky seemed huge. Away to the South lay the mountains of Bulgaria and to the north the horizon disappeared in a pale blue haze. 

Light traffic most of the way has meant pleasant cycling.

We cycled between vineyards, and fields of corn, sunflowers, watermelons and bales of hay. Occasionally we overtook a horse and cart - a picturesque moment but a reminder too that not everyone can afford modern machinery.

Mostly we do the overtaking - until the farmer urges his horse into a canter.

The days have remained hot - well into the 30s, but an easterly headwind has helped cool us even if it made the cycling harder.

When we asked permission to use a seat, this man in the village of Greaca invited us into his garden, set up a table and chairs and put out a plastic tablecloth. He came back with plums from his own garden and water from his well. All we could offer was a sweet biscuit which he devoured with such enthusiasm he left a ring of crumbs around his mouth. We had no common language and never learned his name.

Finding shade for our lunch stops each day has not been easy. We love a park bench but the smaller towns don't have them. Instead, most homes have a bench by the front gate - clearly on private property. In desperation, we have asked permission to use them and have ended up making new best friends. Out has come watermelon and plums and tablecloths.
The people have been the best thing about Romania.

Another lunch stop, and we were treated to a paper table cloth and napkins before the man of the house retired to leave us in peace.

We are taking a few days off to rest and plan the route ahead. That will involve cycling South down the coast from Constanta. Let's hope it's not as frenetic as the ride in - 20 kilometres on a narrow four lane highway with no shoulder and an abrupt drop where the seal ended on the side of the road. Drivers brushed past us too fast for comfort and some tooted threateningly. And there was not even one EV6 sign to say,"Congratulations - you've done it."

At least as we leave town we will have the blue Black Sea for company.

This is "Titi" real name Nitu Dumitru, who was another wonderful person we met along the way. He answered the door at Barlogul Sacalului Mincinos Pensiunea at Ostrov, and gave us chilled water, beer and later stewed grapes for our breakfast. He described himself as a plumber and would have been about 25 when communist rule ended. "Under communism", he said,"I had lots of money but there was nothing to buy. Now I have no money and everything to buy." 
Some people still looked back fondly on the good old days of communist rule. "When I ask them what was good about them, they can't answer." Pic: J Yeoman

Judy on Goose Patrol. Somewhere in southern Romania.

Total Distance on Tandem: 18,822 kms
Distance this Trip: 2,641 Kms
Punctures this Trip: 1
Maintenance: New chains required
Bum Status: Mike the Captain: "Bloody sore, Miss Brooks is never coming on another long trip."
Judy the Stoker: "It's a 7 out of 10 with the gel cover but a new seat is required for the next trip."
Best Coffee East of Budapest: Still looking.

Hot contender for Best Coffee. At a cake shop in Constanta. Hot and strong and cakes with enough calories to suit a pair of cyclists.

Keen gardeners have been at work in many of the villages we passed through. Pic: J Yeoman

The Danube - Black Sea Canal, which was partly excavated by political prisoners during the years of communist rule.

Constanta skyline

Judy dips her toes in the Black Sea, more than two years after we rode the first half of the EV6 from the Atlantic in France to Vienna.

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