I must have lived in Dobrogea in a previous life. Else, I cannot explain why I feel so deeply for this piece of land in southeast Romania, home to the Danube Delta and the Black Sea coast. Not a year goes by without me returning here. Because no matter how big and amazing the world, the Danube is my river, the Black Sea, my sea, and Dobrogea, my country.
If for most Romanians a trip to the Black Sea is a must in summer – from as early as May 1st to late August – just as mandatory it is for me to see the Danube, at least for a few hours.
I have fond memories of our road trip through Dobrogea earlier this year and I cannot let any more time go by without writing about it and sharing some photos, as well.
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After spending time with family and friends in Bucharest, my boyfriend and I rented a car and off we went, destination Danube. Our first stop was Constanta, the harbour city at the Black Sea. Constanta is to Romania what Rotterdam is to the Netherlands, minus the avant-garde architecture. A former Greek colony, with Roman and Ottoman influences, touched by Communism in its more recent history, the city is as layered as it can be. A walk along the promenade brings you face to face with the past, in the shape of the derelict building of the once famous Casino, the present, with the shipyard and the cargos, and the eternal – the sea.
After lunch, with the sea on the right, we headed up north. Newly raised blocks of flats for summer apartments, mad traffic, oil refineries, and broken asphalt – that’s how Constanta said goodbye. Thankfully, this was all forgotten once we entered Tulcea county. Endless fields of rapeseed – too early for sunflowers – and gentle hills guarded by windmills – this is what I call Dobrogea.
We reached Enisala soon before sunset. Ours was the only car on the road. We saw the medieval fortress reigning on top of the hill, in the place where the Byzantine Empire and the Genovese erected it, with military purpose, in the late 13th century. It watched over the sea – nowadays, Razim lake – and over the hills of Babadag. We got this info from the guardian, a kind and humble man, who remained by the parking lot as we got all the way up. When a couple and their photographer left, we were the only two people there. Us and the fortress. In complete silence. At our feet, the lake that was once sea, the land disputed by many, and the sun, the sweet sun of Dobrogea. I knew my love for that land was never-ending.
We returned to Jurilovca, where we had checked-in before leaving to see the fortress. We dined at the only restaurant in the village – a dinner of mainly fish and polenta – then went to sleep. Our room was in an old, beautifully restored Lipovan house, whose invitation to peace and rest came from the alternation of white and blue. The three bedroom house, the separate kitchen, and the garden were all for ourselves that night. We were the only guests, and the people who had let us in lived somewhere else. Getting the luggage from the car, I looked up at the sky, clear and full of stars, just how I remembered it being in these parts of the country. And then, the silence, so comforting and protecting. Not even the dogs barked in Jurilovca.
We woke up to a bright day – as most days in Dobogea – and made coffee. We drank it in the garden, closing our eyes to welcome the sun on our face. I had washed my hair, and let it dry out. The air smelled like peonies – we were surrounded by them. Although not in sight and still quite far, I swear I could feel the Danube’s presence. The atmosphere at La Lipoveni – the name of our accommodation – reminded me of the house of my childhood and teenage summers in the Danube Delta.
A short drive from Jurilovca – although not exactly an easy one – is Argamum fortress, the oldest settlement on Romanian territory to be mentioned by a source dating back to Antiquity. It started as a Greek colony by the Black Sea at the beginning of 4th century B.C., taken over by the Romans later on. On our way there, we drove by a shepherd and his sheep – we turned the music off when we got close as it felt like the right thing to do – and stopped to pick poppy flowers.
I wanted to take something home, to always remind me of our trip to those places. For that we went to Paraschiva Constantin‘s house in Vișina. Paraschiva is a 60 year old Dobrogean lady with an impressive energy to protect and made known the local traditions. Impressed by her cause and ambition, the mayor declared Paraschiva’s house a museum and she became a respected promoter of the area. Many people pass her threshold and she seems happy to guide them through her treasures: old photographs of her family – I was impressed by a particular image showing her father on a horse, going to war – folk costumes from Dobrogea and not only, pottery, ceramics, jewellery, tapestry, and the list could go on. From Paraschiva I purchased a painting of traditional wooden boats from the Danube Delta that reminded me of the painting I was staring at, as a child, when staying in Tarasov family’s house in Crișan. She also gave me some wheat grown in the fields of Dobrogea, which I gladly put in a vase on my make-up table in Amsterdam.
By midday, we reached the final destination of our trip – the city of Tulcea, the gateway to the Danube Delta. We had fish soup at Ivan Pescar, then went for a walk on the promenade. I was finally there, by the Danube! How many times before had I come to that same place, with my family, waiting to board the boat to take us to Crișan? I sat down and looked at those mysterious, muddy waters, thinking of the lands they had crossed until there and the lush shores of the Delta they were about to head to. The air was hot and smelled like fish and tar. We listened to the comforting sound of boats popping on the water. I knew we had to leave at one point, but I also knew I was not going to get back for another year. The Delta was a couple of hours away from Tulcea – the time it takes for the classic passenger boat to get there – but we were not going. I took my nostalgia and regrets with me as I stood up. We got back to the car and drove uphill, to the Monument. From there I could take one last look at the river and picture its voyage toward the sea, through the place I cherished the most – the Danube Delta.
We returned to Bucharest that evening, but part of me remained in Dobrogea. I will take it back next year.