The moment when summer days kick in, my thoughts automaticaly fly away to the sea. Me, weeks later. This year I fullfiled a desire that was on my bucket list since a few years ago. Going to Sfantu Gheorghe, Romania, where the Danube River meets the Black Sea.
A full night on the road in good company and laughter continued with a Catamaran ride – a fast two-hulled boat of the Romanian Naval River Transport Company. As much as I’m impressed by novel things like the first time on a boat, those three full hours on the Danube only meant dozing off in the roaring of the engines and short sights of a blue eyed sassy blonde.
The moment we hit the shore, my friends rushed to the camping to catch those good tent spots they knew from last year. Bad news. Those were taken and the staff had even cut some seemingly important trees in which bright colored hammocks with lazy people in them should have hanged in total harmony. I was the last to find my place but the first to jump in the hammock. And to be honest, there was never a moment during those ten days when I really felt like getting off my hammock. None. Zero. Laziness at its finest.
After setting up the tents, we went straight to the beach. Which was exactly to my liking. Remote, wild and infinite. No hotels, no private beaches, nothing. Wherever you turned your head to, there was only the beach, the sun and the sea. And sometimes, gorgeous girls.
Overall, Sfantu Gheorghe is no different to any other Romanian village besides the fact that you can’t get there by car. Which makes the whole place blessed, as the too-fancy-not-to-park-my-car-on-the-beach kind of people are excluded from the very beginning. Natural selection. That keeps everything cleaner in both the nature and the mind.
Sfantu Gheorghe seems like a dead end and in many ways it is. Far away from ‘civilization’, surrounded by waters and with not much to do besides fishing and… more fishing, the old little fishermen village is a paradise for the more adventurous and romantic souls out there.
The population, a little under 1000 people, is a mix between the descendants of the lipovan refugees – Russian ethnics – who fled from Russia during the second half of the 18th century, and the hahols, who are Ukrainian refugees from the Zaporijie area on the Dnieper River, who also fled to the south-eastern part of Romania when their army was destroyed by Emperor Ecaterina back in 1775.
So don’t be surprised to walk on the street and hear a mix of Ukrainian with Romanian, Greek and Turkish words.
The appeal of the area lies in its remoteness and the canals formed by the Danube Delta, which I only got a little taste of.
The Slow Life in Sfantu Gheorghe Romania
Walking down the street – the only one – you notice that there’s not much going on in the village. And what goes on, goes on slow. Life there has a different pace and I took advantage of that as much as I could. As a result, I wasn’t able to wake up for even one day to go catch the sunrise on the beach. So no, no sunrise pictures on the beach this time.
What you also notice is that there aren’t even too many places to go to. You only get the basic of everything. A supermarket, two restaurants, a bakery and the bar in the center of the village. But the bar, the bar is the soul of the village. Cold beers and shots of rum running down thirsty throats early in the morning, romantic oldies music playing every night, locals and tourists alike chatting their time away and guys of all ages filling their backpacks with as much beer cans as they could fit in. Not to mention that everything was cheaper there than in the supermarket. Only that the everything in that bar meant mainly beer.
Boats, tractors, horse driven carts and old people going fishing on rusty bicycles complete the picture of the daily – and slow life in Sfantu Gheorghe Romania.
With those options around, I managed to spend around 70 percent of my time there in the hammock, dreaming my life away, with or without my eyes open. During my days there I also tried – hard – to get some work done but I found out the hard way that hammocks and work don’t go well together. I even tried once to work from my hammock. While it looks awesome and inspiring from outside, it’s actually very uncomfortable. So don’t believe that travel-the-world-and-work-from-anywhere bullshit motivational line.
Life in a hammock is addictive. Work is not.
Wandering around the village I started noticing something. The quality of life there seems to somehow revolve around the quantity of beer. Sometimes fish. The bar in the camping – which was an option only when you were too lazy to walk to the cheaper alternative in the village – even displayed a motivational message for everyone to see: ‘You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning’. Plain and simple life phylosophy. And logical if you think about it.
When not engaged in cultural activities like drinking, fishing or simply sitting on the benches in front of their houses gazing at the tourists passing by or contemplating life on the sand covered street, people in the village do whatever they can to make some extra bucks. You can see that in the tourism and transport ‘industry’. The ‘trocarici’ – namely a jeep-towed trailer – is the name of the game for those lazy enough to walk the two kilometers to the beach. Phone numbers for food and accommodation and boat trips on the canals are displayed on every fence. Literally.
I was telling you earlier that I never caught the sunrise on the beach. Well, not even the sunset, as the active workforce of the mosquito population in the area did a good job at preventing me to stay on the beach until the sun went down. The moment the sun started its descent below the horizon line, every mosquito in the area somehow wanted a drop of my blood. I didn’t try any, but my friends told me that no spray worked for more than 2 minutes in the evening buzzing with mosquitoes.
Things started to change a little bit as new blood kept coming in to the camping. Since the mosquito population was diminishing under the heavy blows of palms on exposed tourist skin and the human population of the camping continued to grow, there were less and less mosquitoes assigned to every individual. Simple math.
Somehow, most mosquitos seem to prefer fresh, unbaked by the sun and eager for adventure hosts. Towards the end of my stay there I was left behind and would have felt abandoned if it wasn’t for some rogue mosquitoes who probably didn’t know about the plans of their more active brothers.
Now regarding food in the camping, the very first morning I got a similar breakfast problem like the one last year in Vama Veche. I paid 19 lei for a breakfast. Huge price, mini breakfast – tiny eggs, tiny piece of cheese, less than a quarter of a tomato – you get the point. That was the moment when I knew I’m in for a diet. One meal a day and enough beer to forget about the hunger. But that until we went to have dinner at a family my friends knew down in the village. Of course the dinner meant fish. And I don’t like fish. Well, I didn’t like fish – until I tasted the one cooked by that family.
Divine. And a must try. When in Sfantu Gheorghe, make sure you make friends with the locals. You never know.
One morning, walking back to the camping with the camera in my hands, I see this guy carrying a big pot of soup in a wheelbarrow. Amused, I try a few shots. The guy sees me, stops and signals me to come to him. I was expecting him not to be pleased with me taking pictures of the soup transport but instead he said to come somewhere in the back of the camping after 13:00 to give me some food. I guess I was looking hungry and upset and he’d probably thought I’m part of the staff or something like that but he kept his promise and got me a free lunch.
The Green Eyed Mermaid
On a Sunday-looking Thursday my friends went to the movies – there was the Anonimul International Independent Film Festival which I didn’t care about – so I went to the beach alone. The sea was rough that morning due to the previous night’s storm, big waves and all – exactly the way I like them, and for everything to be perfect, a lovely green eyed mermaid, superb body, lounging right there by the sea. Alone.
I see her and think about the 3 second rule. Just go and spark a conversation. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. I go past her and right into the water and then start telling myself that I’ll wait for three waves to pass, just to get me into the mood and then I’ll gather my courage and go talk to her.
Said and done.
One hour later I was still counting those three waves. Come on, this one wasn’t a proper wave. The other was good, but let’s wait for three perfect consecutive waves and then I’ll go. Shit, there were only two perfect waves.
Finally I said to myself: Vlad, this is it, we’re gonna do it.
I come out from the waves, water drops rolling down my chest Baywatch style, I get close, look at her, she looks at me, I get nervous, lose myself and go right past her to where I left my stuff. No way. We’re going back, man. I take my towel, put it on my head to cover my shyness and go sit right beside her. I tell her my name.
She’s Raluca, from Galati, which somehow worries me a little bit, and all alone on the beach. We chat a little bit more and then she tells me she’s got one more year until she graduates high school and that she came on vacation with her parents.
Take that, Vlad. Got the age all wrong again.
Apart from the luscious blue eyed blondes with jean shorts ending exactly where reality blends with imagination, I got most impressed by – and wanted more of – exploring the Danube Delta by boat. Which is why you go to Sfantu Gheorghe in the first place. Besides the fish dinners.
Somehow, this time, I got it wrong and ended up with a beer in my hands more often than not. It wasn’t an inherently bad thing, especially with that quote at the bar, but I promised myself that the next time I’ll get to Sfantu Gheorghe, I’ll go kayaking. Paddle in one hand, beer in the other. Though I imagine at some point I might end up with beer in both hands and paddle nowhere to be seen, but that will be another story.
In one of the ten Sundays we spent there – yes, the calendar somehow showed no Mondays, no Wednesdays, nothing – we took a boat trip around the Sacalin island, which is a newly formed land. The island was declared an ecological reserve, so no human foot or settlement is allowed on it. What I got to see there were pelicans. An entire colony of them. Plus wild horses, swans, seagulls and other birds whose names I forgot. It was like in a wildlife documentary you see on National Geographic.
I must admit that while chasing birds and taking shots with a telephoto lens was never on my bucketlist, I kind of fell in love with the sport. One of my friends, established photographer, lended me his telephoto lens – and I was like a kid with a new – big – toy all day long. That caught me. Until I found out the toy’s price and decided to hold it with both hands and the greatest care in the world.
Now that was all folks. All that I’ve grasped about living the slow life in Sfantu Gheorghe Romania.
P.S.: As you can imagine, I came back home from the seaside the usual way I come back from the seaside. Longing, nostalgic and broken hearted. Sometimes it’s just the sea, other times a girl, most of the times both. This time I’ll keep the details to myself.