Hear about travel to the Danube Delta in Romania as the Amateur Traveler talks to Christian Cummins about traveling to this UNESCO biosphere in Europe.
“Within Europe it is perhaps the most adventurous country I can think of. We are going to go to Romania today. I have spent quite a lot of time in Romania, but this time I want to take you to the far eastern edge where Romania hits the Black Sea, the Danube Delta, the watery end of one of Europe’s great rivers, and one of the world’s most fantastic biodiversity hot spots, a place where there are no cars. You can only get around by boat, reeds, birds, jackals, wolves, everything, the Danube Delta.”
Christian shares with us some of the people and the sounds of the Danube Delta.
We start off in nearby Tulcea and then head down to Murighiol where you can pick up a ferry to Sfântu Gheorghe (St George) on the coast or a small boat into the many waterways of the delta itself.
Christian recommends a longer canoe trip into the delta where life is still being lived in a more traditional fashion. He introduces us to the Lipovans, a group of Russian religious refugees who settled this region in the 18th century. We hear some of the complex issues with the region as it has changed to a UNESCO biosphere and some of the debates about how to use the area today.
We travel down the Danube to Sfântu Gheorghe where there are few cars and little tarmac, but there are beaches on the Black Sea coast covered with billions of shells and few tourists in the offseason.
Listen to the sounds of the birds and the frogs as we take a small boat out into the Delta. If you thought Europe was all quaint old cities and sprawling new cities then the Danube Delta may surprise you.
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You may remember I e-mailed you two years ago (or not!) about a trip I had planned to California that got cancelled at the last minute due to a heart attack. Well now feeling better, I have just come back from visiting your home State and loved it. I used the podcasts on San Francisco, Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra Nevada to plan my trip. I didn’t get to Lassen this visit – the podcast I was waiting to listen to on the way out in 2014 – as I wanted to take things a little easier.
My three words to sum up California would be: waterfalls, weather and big. Waterfalls due to the number in the national parks I walked to; weather because how good it was in San Francisco while I was there and the trouble it caused my plans with roads over the Sierra Nevada being open or closed and Big because of the size compared to the UK, the huge sequoia trees (which I loved)
Keep up the good work making these informative and entertaining podcasts.
Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 517. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about cormorants and pelicans, fish soup, UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Lipovans, and sturgeon as we go to the Danube Delta in Romania.
Chris: Today’s episode is brought to you by Select Italy. Select Italy designs custom itineraries and books a whole range of products and services including fascinating tours, romantic weddings, or honeymoon trips along with ticketing services for museums and musical events in Italy. Visit selectitaly.com to learn more.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Before we get into the episode on the Danube Delta, I did want to say there’s going to be some sound in here including some interviews that were recorded by our guest, so I hope you’ll enjoy that as well as some background sounds that will give you some of the sounds on the Danube Delta. With no further ado, the Danube Delta.
I’d like to welcome back to the show Christian Cummins who is coming to us from Austria’s National Radio, although he is not Austrian, you may gather from the accent. And come to talk to us about an area of Europe you probably haven’t thought about going. Christian, welcome to the show.
Christian: Hi, Chris, how are you?
Chris: And I say welcome back to the show because Christian was on episode 348 on travel to Uganda. Where are you taking us today?
Christian: Well, not quite as exotic as Uganda perhaps, but within Europe, it’s perhaps the most adventurous country I can think of. We’re going to go to Romania today. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Romania, but this time I want to take you to the far eastern edge where Romania hits the Black Sea, the Danube Delta, the watery end of one of Europe’s great rivers and one of the world’s most fantastic biodiversity hotspots. A place where there are no cars, you can only get around by boat, reeds, birds, jackals, wolves, everything, the Danube Delta.
Chris: So we’re talking about Europe, but we’re not talking about your usual let’s go to old cities kind of trip which is one of the things that intrigued me about this one. So, why would we go to the Danube Delta?
Christian: Well, because it’s like nowhere else in Europe. I mean Romania is like nowhere else in Europe. The first time I went was only two years ago and I worked on a farm there and travelled around in Transylvania among the forest where there were still bears and wolves, and you see horses and carts rather than cars in some places. And I found that pretty exotic, and then some contacts I have there said, “You’ve got to go and see the Danube Delta. That’s like nowhere else.” So I went down there, we had to leave the car behind at a place called Murighiol and then take a 50 minute boat ride to get to the village where I stayed because there are no roads there.
It’s a labyrinth of creeks, and lakes, and small channels all lined with reeds, the sort of reeds you’ll find on thatched houses. You could got lost if you’re not with a local boatsman. Because there are no cars, the roads have no tarmac and you have kind of dirt tracks and these wonderful houses made of wood and painted bright colors, a lot of blue with wooden window frames, and as I say, thatched roofs. It looks in a way, you step back in time, and yet it’s an incredibly forward looking place. Wi-Fi everywhere in Romania, I find it a fascinating place of contrasts.
Chris: Okay, and you didn’t mention it, but let’s just put it out there that the Danube Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Obviously not the history of it but the environment basically.
Christian: Oh, yeah. And it’s very important you mention that because that’s part of its charm and also part of its challenge because thankfully after the communist time when it was basically used as a resource with lots of industrial fishing complexes, it’s being rededicated to nature. Nature is allowed to rule the roost there. The pelicans, the cormorants, the storks, they’re allowed to rule the roost there, but it has meant some real difficulties for the locals in the way that they used to make a lot of money out of fishing sturgeon, those massive fish where you get caviar from. They can be 250 kilograms, but because…
Chris: Oh, wow.
Christian: Yeah, they can be huge, and of course if you caught one of those, it could be very lucrative, but they’re not allowed to catch them anymore.
The local fishermen often grumble about that. It makes absolutely sound ecological sense because if they keep catching them, then they would die out, these magnificent almost like prehistoric animals, but of course for the fishermen, they’ve got to find a new way of living there because the Danube Delta, we always talk about the bio-diversity, but it is the human culture that makes it so fascinating. So I guess one thing that really interested me when I was down there was how to keep the communities alive and thriving if they can’t go out you know catching sturgeon for example. And of course with globalization, they don’t make much money in their traditional fishing. They used to have rowing boats and catch a couple of fish a day. You can’t make a living from that nowadays.
Chris: Now how would you tackle the Danube Delta? You talked about how hard it is to get around, and it sounds like really we’re getting around by boat, so as a traveler, how am I going to explore the Danube Delta? Where would I start for instance?
Christian: Well, the classic way to go there is to… you can get down to Tulcea quite easily. That’s the biggest city near the delta. You’ll get buses, you have to change the buses from Bucharest. I was a bit lucky I got a lift down from the airport. You come through some gorgeous scenery by the way. An area of Romania called the Dobrogea which is this windswept landscape. It looks like the wind has polished it, it’s clean. Very short grass grows, and they have thousands of wind turbines now. It’s kind of the green energy center of Eastern Europe. And they took me down to a place called Murighiol, but that’s the nearest you can get, and then you just leave the car behind, and you’re reliant on either a ferry, you can go on a big ferry. That’s the equivalent of the bus, or if you’re lucky, then like taking a taxi, you can get a smaller boat to take you on a ride down to wherever you want to go.
Chris: Okay, so the city you mentioned, Murighiol is on the western edge basically of this park I want to say.
Christian: Yeah, sort of south-west. It’s the last corner before you hit the sea and of course the nature reserve.
Christian: But yet Tulcea is the bigger place to get a ferry from there.
Chris: You mentioned getting a ride. Are you just hitch hiking around Romania, or did you have a friend who took you?
Christian: I had a friend who took me. I was very lucky. I’ve been in Romania before, and I met some people, and someone took me down there, which made life a lot easier, and made it easier to explore these hundreds of creeks and lakes and so on. There’s three main channels, and on two channels you can get down on a bigger ferry. But if you really want to explore the more hidden areas, it is good to hire a local boatsman. Of course that’s one way of creating some work for the locals. Or my best advice would be to take a lot of time, go on a canoe trip and paddle around for days on end, you can camp, you can stay with local fishermen, and that’s the way to see the Danube Delta because it’s a place where life is best experienced when you take it slowly. It’s a place where the rhythm of life is slower. Don’t try and rush through this gorgeous area in a couple of days, you know, cross it off a list.
Go there, enjoy it.
Chris: Okay, so you say do a canoe trip. Are there canoe outfitters if we didn’t happen to bring our own canoe with us on the plane?
Christian: Okay. Do you have one that you would recommend?
Chris: I met a guy called Theodore [SP]. He’s actually an architect from the city, but he came down to Danube Delta, spent a few days taking it slow, canoeing around, and he felt so in love with the area, and he thought, “Well, this is only by coincidence that I came to do this. I want to make it more easy for people to do that.” So he set up an umbrella organization of this sort of eco slow tourism where they are providing infrastructure for people to go and have that option of canoeing around, camping, staying with locals, and just enjoying the wildlife without disturbing it.
Man: The Danube Delta is not only about nature because it’s also about local communities. What we are trying to sell is that this combination of tradition in local villages, for example, we are working also with the local people for develop gastronomy in a traditional way. On one hand we’re trying to bring the tourists which are really interested about the tradition, and on the other end we identify the local people which really are in love with their tradition and they are really proud about this. And we make the connection between them.
Christian: There’s been this trend of weekend tourism with speed boats down the narrow islands, and the conservationists are very worried about that. I met another conservationist down there whose name is Ovidio [SP], and he said that’s the biggest danger for this wonderful area. It’s these speed boats and the pace of the city being brought to this rural watery paradise. The two things can’t live together. Tourism can live with the Danube Delta, but perhaps that fast brash tourism isn’t fitting for the experience that the Danube Delta is all about.
Man: Actually the main threat I think is the speed boat. The front engine has more than 50HP. This shouldn’t be on the small channels in the delta. The main threat I think it’s us, the humans, and the speed that our life has. We want to see everything in just one day or two, we want to experience everything in just one hour or two, and it’s not like that.
Chris: Okay. So you went out on a canoe trip?
Christian: Yeah, I did. I tried it out. Having said you should do it for five days, I didn’t do it, I did it for a couple of days. I do intend to go back. I was trying to get an overview of a lot of different parts of the Danube Delta. If I went back, I would spend a lot more time slowly paddling around. I went around on a boat to meet lots of different people to talk about what they were doing down there. I was also trying to eat a lot to be honest because the food in the Danube Delta is quite astonishingly good.
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And you talk about paddling around, so as I look at a map here, we’re talking about an area that’s in English units, something like 30 by 40 miles, if you want to convert that to kilometers, it’s something like 60 kilometers from top to bottom in the main part here. So, I mean how far out can you get?
Christian: I’ll put it this way. When I went out on a boat with a local and we went to meet some bird watchers, and then we went to meet some people who were living from this canoeing, and then we went off to meet some other people from a very fascinating community of Russians. Over many generations, they were religiously persecuted in Russia and they came and settled there. So there’s lots of things I wanted to see. On the map it doesn’t look like we went far, but we went through very small, these dark watered creeks with the trees hanging really far over. It was like a little tunnel through this very dense vegetation. We set off early in the morning. We didn’t get back till quite later at night because it just takes a long time to get around. It’s like a labyrinth in there, and I was very grateful because if I had been stuck navigating on my own, I mean you could get totally lost in there.
Also because some of the reed beds, as they move around, so it doesn’t always look the same, the Danube Delta. There are the main channels, there are bigger creeks, but then between these floating reed beds, the channels are changing the whole time. You need an expert who really knows the area. I went with a guy who grew up living off fishing, and he seemed to know his way around. You do need to stick to people who know their way around.
Chris: So you mentioned that a group of Russians there who were religious refugees, I am curious if you learned more about them.
Christian: I did learn more about them but I learnt about it not by reading a history book but by trying to follow conversations people explained to me. So the history I’m going to give you now could be called history at second hand from someone via some dodgy English and some of my very rusty Romanian. So basically, a couple of a hundred years ago as far as I understood it, there was a schism in the Orthodox Church. Russians then had to flee a certain group. They fled via what is now Ukraine into the Delta and you’ll find villages still now where people speak Russian. Of course it’s very near the border with present day Ukraine.
You’ll see people who descend from the Russians who have very blonde hair, very blue eyes, and they look very distinct from the other Romanians who have a darker skin, darker hair, more of a Latin influence. And they’re very distinctive and more vodka is drunk. There’s a certain village we went to near Cri?an, near the main channel. Basically it’s like a Ukrainian village in the middle of the delta. Very distinctive looking people, very proud of their traditions and also we drank a lot of vodka there. It was very interesting. There’s a new film out about their history, and so I saw that in Romanian, and my version of history is pretty much falling on my interpretation of this film that we watched in this village.
Fascinating history. Maybe we’ll put a link in the podcast so that people can read more about what really went on.
Chris: yeah, sure. I got a chance to look while you were talking and we’re talking about the Russian Lipovans and I don’t know if I…
Christian: Exactly, Lipovans. I’m glad you remembered the name. The Lipovan. Funny because it gets very hot. It gets to kind of like 35 degrees up towards 40 degrees, and they get terribly sun tanned. I would say sun burned. You see very red-faced people down in the Danube Delta because they come from a part of the world they’re not used to so much sun, and it’s quite…for me, it was quite shocking seeing the incredible sun tan on very blonde people.
Chris: And you talked about a couple of different ways to see the delta. The first thing you talked about was the ferry, and I want to go back to that. Where is the ferry going from and to?
Christian: There’s a ferry that goes down from Tulcea that is in the main city, and it goes right down to Sfântu Gheorghe.
Chris: Okay, on the coast.
Christian: Yes, on the Black Sea coast at Saint Georges. You’ll see people arriving on the ferry with… or you know all the provisions that these villages need. They have to pretty much bring everything from the city. There’s another ferry that goes down to Sulina which is the main city inside the delta where there’s a famous lighthouse. Basically kilometer zero of the Danube is in Sulina because they count the distance of the Danube, not from the source in Germany, in the Black Forest, but from the coast, the Black Sea coast. There is a point where it says this is Danube kilometer zero. The ferry will get you down there, and it can take like three and a half hours to get down on the ferry, but you’ll meet lots of interesting characters on the way.
Chris: And then when we get to Saint Georges, what would you do there? I’m gathering it’s not a big city.
Christian: No, it’s not. It’s a small village. You’ll see a few cars now. It says in the old guide books there are only two cars or no cars. But you’ll see now people have brought cars basically on ferries and…but there’s no tarmac on the road. Just some four wheel drives parked there and dirt roads which can get very muddy in the winter time and there’s been a battle over whether to build concrete walk ways or not because that’s what the locals really want and people involved in tourism says no, this will destroy this wonderful rural experience. And they say, “We don’t care. We don’t want to get our feet muddy in winter as we have done for centuries.”
So there’s this kind of a battle between what sort of modernization is the right way for the village. But it’s gorgeous like that because you’re not bothered by cars buzzing around. I used to go for a jog in the morning and just run by past the barking dogs, looking at the fishermen mending their nets going out to the river and of course into the mouth of the river to get some fish. You’ll see turkeys wandering around in the streets. There are horses grazing in these kind of swampy grasslands. It’s beautiful.
Chris: And then are some people just going out there for tourism? There are beaches out in that direction then on the Black Sea?
Christian: Yeah, there are beaches, and in summer it’s a great place to find a very isolated beach. For example from Sfântu Gheorghe or Saint Georges, you can walk for some 15 kilometers up to Sulina. It might be 20 kilometers along this long stretch of grey golden sand which is absolutely strewn in millions of shells. So when you go along the beach, you hear the whole beach crunching under your feet. I’ve never seen so many shells. We tried to cycle as far as we could up towards Sulina, and we cycled for an hour and we were just on this desolated beach, we didn’t see anybody because it was kind of off season. I was there in spring so the sun bathing season hadn’t begun yet. I’ve never been on a beach in Europe and seen nobody for an hour of cycling.
That was what I loved, and every now and again a cow would cross from some pasture land onto the sand. We saw some wild horses, but we didn’t see any people. A lot of flotsam and jetsam that’s washed in from the Black Sea, some of it exotic like a wooden and of course the shells, some things more bizarre like the odd boot, and we saw a washing machine. It’s desolate and beautiful in winter and of course more of a sun bathing area in the summer.
Chris: Okay. And so what else are we going to do in the area?
Christian: I’m always a bit led by my stomach. It is a brilliant place to eat fish. I couldn’t get enough of it whilst I was there. Fishes are caught…so locally caught.
Chris: All fresh water fish.
Christian: Of course it’s right by the sea, but mostly I had fresh water fish. Mostly in soups with a little dash of paprika served with this Mamaliga which is a sort of stodgy polenta type side dish that gives you the oomph you need after a long day out in the water channels. I loved eating, and I particularly loved going to look at the bird life of course. This is one the world’s most important bio-diversity havens. I met a lot of bird watchers down there who were telling me about the migratory patterns of the birds. So, you know, one of the first ports of call when these birds arrive back from Africa after the winter migrationary season, and so you’ll see very, very exotic birds. The big marquee birds I guess like the pelicans, and the cormorants, and the storks which you’ll see making their nests on lamp posts and in the roofs of these thatched houses. But also lots of important smaller birds that are unique to the area and need the area to stay healthy to continue with their lives.
You’ll see a lot of birds, you’ll see a lot of bird watchers from all over the world stalking them. Sometimes living in rickety little huts. We met a team led by Switzerland but were people from all over the world who were living in the most incredible little make-shift huts on the beach. Young scientists having a wonderful time but I really admired them because they spend months out there living in quite primitive conditions because they just were fascinated by the bird life there and were ringing them, and observing them, and trying to record their habits.
Man: We’re going in Sacalin. It’s an island. A very nice island with many birds.
Man: And there what might we see?
Man: Pelicans [inaudible 00:19:49]
Man: Storks, pelicans, okay.
Chris: Interesting. If you’re not going to paddle all over the waters in the area, roughly how long would you devote to exploring the delta?
Christian: Well, I was there for a week, and as I said when we talked about canoeing, I was like, “Well, I didn’t do it for very long, and I would have gone for longer.” I mean, I would recommend someone to go for two weeks and really zone out of our ultra-fast modern life because it’s made for that. You’re not going to get lots of thrills, it’s not a place where you want to go water skiing. What you’re going to do is wake up in the morning surrounded by the sounds of the squawking birds, the frogs in those incredible wet lands. Get to know some of the locals, try some of the food and just absorb that stress free vibrant culture. So I think the more time you spend there, the better. Of course you can do it in a few days. What I would do is not try and see it all in two or three days. Go to one small village, maybe Saint Georges because I find that a really beautiful village.
That wonderful variety of being right on the coast and of being riverside or to Cri?an which is also really interesting or Sulina which is a fascinating town. It’s got an incredible history because they had a kind of prototype European Union set up there. There’s commission of the Danube but it was called the European Commission in the 19th century where they were trying to work on some European transporter cooperation so they didn’t have another Crimean war. So, it’s a place with a lot of history to learn about. Maybe stick to one place if you’re there for a few days and just try and absorb it.
Chris: Okay. Now my take is, if it’s my first trip to Europe, this is not my first spot that I’m going to, but maybe if I’m on a longer trip this might be a nice break from European capital city after European capital city is take a break here in more of the wilderness and more of the seashore. Does that make sense to you?
Christian: Absolutely. I would go to Romania as a whole. Romania is I think one of the least well understood countries in Europe, and for me it is absolutely dreamily charming because the people are are exuberant, charismatic, they’ve got this sort of Latin mentality. Incredibly welcoming with this very open mindedness. So I would say go there to the delta and either before or after wards, go up to Transylvania, go and see the old German villages where they used to live in these sort of little village fortresses. Go to see these old farming villages where people still live with a huge variety of seeds and they work in the old ways, you know, the soft ways of farming. You’ll see them the cows out in the morning, milking them by hand, travel around the country, go to the forest where there are still bears and there are still wolves and there is still shepherds wondering around with their flocks. They watch their flocks in person with these beautiful big dogs that you might want to stay away from.
But there’s enough in Romania to keep anyone who’s not been to Europe going for a good month. I spent three weeks in just Transylvania and a bit of Bucharest and thought, “This isn’t enough.” So, I’m sounding like I’m working for the tourist board, I’m not. But Romania is somewhere I felt the adventure was outside of Europe. You know, you had to go to Africa, Asia, somewhere very far away to find something that challenged you and made you think that life is led in a very different way. That life doesn’t have to be the way that I lead it in Western Europe, and I found that often in Romania, and that’s why it pulls me back with this mix of nature and a very proud culture and a way of trying to protect their ways of doing things. The way they look after their farm land.
The way they make their cheese. It’s a beautiful country.
Chris: and we should say in terms of somebody looking for adventure, we have to put this in the context of this is coming from somebody who decides that bicycling around Uganda is a pretty good way to spend some time off. So when you talk about adventure I just want to calibrate it for people so…
Christian: I did cycle around Romania, it’s a great place to cycle in Romania. And but, do you know what? It’s a great place because what you will want to have in Romania is an appetite. I spoke about the fish in the delta, but particularly when I was working on a farm, they had these wonderful sorts of packages of minced meat rolled in cabbage. They always have this homemade brandy to wash stuff down with, and you don’t want to go there and try and be on a diet. Because you would miss out on so much fun. This Mamaliga its real stodge, as I said it’s like polenta. What you want to do is find something that builds up an appetite. I found cycling through the wooded hills of Transylvania one way of doing that. There’s a wine area just to the southwest of Bucharest which would do it. And I also found going around on a boat, and I got quite cold in the Danube Delta because as I say I was there in spring.
It really builds up a sensible appetite in which you can really enjoy Romania from your stomach upwards.
Chris: Oh, well and I should say that we have two or three other shows on Romania so check that out. If you’re entranced by what Christian is saying. One question for you, just getting back to it, you were working on a farm. Were you WWOOFing?
Christian: No, I wasn’t WWOOFing this time. It was part of a tourism project. It’s very similar to the fishermen in the Danube Delta in that it’s very easy for us to come from the West and particularly from the cities and say, “Oh, the way you live is gorgeous so just stay exactly as you are.” That’s okay, but people have to make a living, and it’s gotten more difficult with globalization. They used to live in their villages and people would live off local produce, but now you can go to a supermarket and get cheap cheese from somewhere else, and young people have been moving away the villages that are left with older generations. That was very true in the Danube Delta. That was very true in Romania, and I have to say I really appreciated it because I’m from Northern England, and if I go back to my home village, the young people like me have all had to leave. There is no jobs there. So part of this farming project and part of this soft tourism project in the delta are both to do with giving people an extra source of income so they can carry on with living the way of life they want to live.
They want to live this way where they… you know they love their animals, the love growing the food in the way the want to grow. They love scything the fields instead of combine harvesting a huge swell of land or having to sell out to big corporations, but they can’t just do it and ignore the changes in the world. So having tourists to come and stay, who will then go and maybe admire the way they live and brings back some self-confidence to particularly the younger generation. You think is it backwards where I live? Is life going on elsewhere? It’s not going to solve it like a magic wand, but I spoke to people in Danube Delta who said that since tourists have been coming and living in these villages and saying, “Wow, it’s great how you use these reeds to roof your house. This is really beautiful.”
It kind of helps recreates a pride in that culture, and people [inaudible 00:26:26] thinking, “No, let’s not use the reeds,” which of course grow, and then they’re cheap because they’re growing in the Danube Delta, but putting on synthetic roofs because they thought that was modernism. And then sometimes tourism can be destructive, but sometimes by admiring unique cultures it can help sustain those cultures because locals see that people don’t look down on them as backward but admire what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And, “Wow, I like how you catch your fish. I like how you prepare that.” You don’t have to try and become more like Bucharest or more like Paris, more like London.
You could be proud of your local community and the way you do things. And I think that is important. You have to talk to locals, they’re sometimes not as positive about this as I am and tourism officials are, that they sometimes say, “No, we want it to look more like Bucharest,” and who’s to say how they should live?
Chris: And if you ask me to for instance go live like my grandfather did as a dairy farmer, going out and milking the cows twice a day by hand, I’d say, “Hell no!” So there is that constraint as well.
Christian: I want to say briefly too. The place I stayed to in Sfântu Gheorghe and Saint Georges, I pronounce that wrong every time. It was an eco-village in a way. It’s a quite big tourism project in a small village, but what I admired about it, it’s called Green Village, is that they used the local roofing style, they’ve built these new sort of huts in the local style using local work forces. They had people from the village working in the kitchens, and they were trying to work with the village authorities to say this is how we should develop onwards. And there’s a purist in me who thinks, “If I go traveling anywhere, I love to stay with a fisherman in his backroom, and that’s what I did in Transylvania. I loved it, just a family spare room, stay there, eat with them, great.
But I guess if any place is going to survive the modern world in tourism, then they need to have bigger projects. And the question is about how sensitively it’s done, and I think they got the balance right. They’ve even got some of the small film festival in the summer to try and get more people who maybe wouldn’t have come to Danube Delta to come there. They’ll come and watch some independent films, and then maybe they’ll think, “Hey, wow, whilst I’m here, let’s explore this area and start appreciating this jewel.” Because if they’re not appreciated, no one will look after them.
Chris: Okay. I want to back up here from the meta-tourism issues to more of the trip issues. So you talked about talking to the local’s language. Not everyone speaks Romanian, how easy is it to get by if you are not a fluent Romanian speaker?
Christian: I lived in a farm near Transylvania where basically I didn’t speak any Romanian. I learnt a few words, you know, politenesses, and they didn’t speak much English, and we got by on a lot of smiles, and hand signs, and [inaudible 00:29:04]. I think basically they decided, if we feed him, that’s great, and then I watched what they were doing and helped. There are a lot of people you’ll find in the Danube Delta who do speak English. And when I really wanted to know what local people thought about the fishing, and the traditions, and the birds, I had a guy from Bucharest who was living down there called Bogdan [SP] who then kind of served as a…in a way, a translator. I would ask him to ask the fisherman.
Man: I’m in love with Danube Delta, one of the last places in Europe where the nature is still virgin, where everything revolves around the nature and is not dominated by concrete, by supermarkets and stuff like that. It’s like a travel back in time.
Christian: And it worked like that, but it is handy to have someone who can work as an intermediatory for you if you want to really speak to locals. As tourism has been growing ever since the fall of communism, people have been getting better and better at communicating with tourism.
Chris: Right. It is at least a romance language, so it is related to some languages that people already know.
Christian: Yes, it is, and if you see it written down, I speak French and I speak a bit of Italian. I know what they’re talking about, but when I hear it, I’m not so sure. Mul?umesc means thank you, noroc means cheers. We’re getting to the limits of my Romanian now.
Chris: Excellent. Before we start to wind this down and get to my last four questions, what else should we know before we go to the Danube Delta?
Christian: Take some good boots because anywhere where there are no roads you’re going to have muddy streets, and the weather it can be very, very hot in summer. Very, very cold in winter.
Chris: Best time to go probably when?
Christian: April is a wonderful time to go. April – May because of the amount of migratory birds who’ve just arrived. It depends on your personality. I’m very anti-social.
Chris: So the summer not as much.
Christian: yeah, I was there late April. I under estimated about how cold it could get. I actually got a terrible cold there on my day buzzing around on the channels because we were out there all day, and we decided that we’d keep warm by drinking plum brandy. In future, I would have packed a few thermal layers and an extra coat, and less of the plum brandy, and I think I would have enjoyed the day more because it’s famous for its wind. The wind comes off the Black Sea, the wind comes along the river, you’ll feel the chill of the wind, so hardy people will love spring and late autumn’s gorgeous. Someone told me they spent New Year there, and they said it was the best New Year of their life.
Summer of course, beach time. Very, very hot, I mean maybe 35 degrees, so maybe you don’t like the heat too much. That’s not the best time to go.
Chris: okay. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Danube Delta”?
Christian: Oh, let me think about that. There are so many things that made me laugh.
Chris: While you’re thinking, 35 degrees for my Fahrenheit friends is about 95.
Christian: Okay. I’ll tell you what. It’s the only place and I did mention this earlier, but you can cycle along a beach with these millions of shells, and I’m not exaggerating with millions. I’m a journalist, we like to exaggerate, but there were literally millions of shells crunching under the tires, keep going and seeing no one else. Desolation and in the good sense of the word in Europe which is something… Europe is a very, very crowded continent. I love going to America because of the big wide open spaces. I always have had the feeling we don’t have that in Europe, and then you get to the Danube Delta and you think, “Yeah, we do have it.” You just have to go very Far East.
Chris: Excellent. You’re standing at the prettiest spot you saw. Where are you standing? What are you looking at?
Christian: Okay. I’ll stand in the boat. So I’ll be very careful.
Chris: You can sit in the boat if you’d prefer.
Christian: Okay. I’ll stand. I’ve got a nice driver, but he’s driven us out to a little alluvial sand bank called the Sacalin Islands, and there you’ll see colonies of pelicans, and you’ll see cormorants, and you’ll see these reed banks. It’s got the highest concentration of reed banks in the world. They’re very tall, you know maybe twice my height, and I’m not that short. And they sway in the wind, they’re kind of a golden color, and just below these reeds you’ll see little cubby holes where fishermen are hiding in little corners with their rods out trying to get some local delicious fish. I think just to take home for their own plates. The sound of the water and the birds there, we just stop the engine. Better if you’re in a canoe, and just listen to so much bio-diversity singing at you.
Someone told me when I got there, “Oh, I love it because of the quiet here.” But if you wake up in the morning, you realize that it isn’t quite. It’s just not loud with motor noises, it’s loud with frogs, and amphibians, and birds, and you can even hear jackals in some areas which is in Europe very rare.
Chris: Interesting. Finish this thought. You really know you’re in the Danube Delta when…
Christian: When you’ve got your face full of a lovely warming fish soup of the fish really tender in the water, and you’ve got a nice plum brandy to wash it down, and you know that if you go to bed at like nine in the evening, no one will mind. It’s nine, you can just reach. No one will know, you can just take life slowly, switch off your mobile phone. You know what, Romania has Internet everywhere. Turn it off, try and reconnect with this nature that is not that easy to find in this scale in a crowded continent.
Chris: And lastly if you had to summarize the Danube Delta in three words, what three words?
Christian: I’m using hyphens. Warm-people, cold-winds, rich-bio-diversity.
Chris: So you’re cheating is really what you’re saying. Excellent. Our guest has been Christian Cummins. Christian, I don’t believe you have a travel blog where people can read about your travels.
Christian: I’ve got a YouTube channel where I’ll put up a lovely video.
Chris: Oh, excellent. Okay.
Christian: When I get around to it of the Danube Delta so you can see some of the images I try to convey through words. It might help if I had the video.
Chris: Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing with us your obvious love for Romania.
Christian: Yeah, have a lovely day back in the United States. Bye-bye.
Chris: In news of the community, I heard this week from Simon who wrote and said, “You may remember I emailed you two years ago, or not, about a trip I had planned to California that got cancelled at the last minute due to a heart attack. Well, now feeling better, I have just come back from visiting your home state and loved it. I used the podcast on San Francisco Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra Nevada to plan my trip. I didn’t get to Lassa [SP] in this visit, the podcast I was waiting to listen to on the way out in 2014 as I wanted to take things a little easier. My three words to sum up California would be waterfalls, weather, and big. Water falls due to the number in the national parks I walked to. Weather because of how good it was in San Francisco while I was there, and the trouble it caused my plans with the roads over the Sierra Nevada being open or closed, and big because of the size compared to the U.K., the huge Sequoia trees which I loved. Keep up the good work making these informative and entertaining podcasts. Regards, Simon.”
Well, Simon, I’d have to say when you say weather and you say how good it was in San Francisco, you should consider yourself fortunate especially because this time of year and in the wintertime you can definitely run into some weather there and it is a cool place. But of course coming from the U.K., it probably would have felt right at home. With that we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or tell us where you went because of the Amateur Traveler and what three words you would use to summarize the destination.
Leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com, and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.