A Week on the Black Sea Coast


VAMA VECHE, ROMANIA — Rain held up my departure from Bucharest by an extra day, so I ended up making my way to the coast around the same time as Alex and his friends Raluca and Sergio. I got an hour’s head start on the A2 highway and soon found that the plains east of Bucharest are desolate, treeless, and punctuated only occasionally by power lines. I made use of my new 5-litre, made-in-China jerrycan, which extended my cruising range to a whopping 250km, but even still I had to fill up with gas shortly before I crossed the Danube a fifth time at Fetesti. It had started to rain on-and-off, and I remember being in a bit of a foul mood about all the administrative things I’d failed to accomplish during my time in Bucharest. Grumbling to myself about general Eastern European inefficiency, and the lousy weather, I pulled into a Rompetrol gas station and was met with this:

Now I remember why I love Eastern Europe

This made my day. I’m guessing the PR managers back at Rompetrol HQ were planning a grand opening party for their new gas station, and they just went for it. It really makes you wonder, why not have go-go dancers for the opening of any new business? Why not, indeed. We can learn a lot from the Romanians.

Anyway, Alex & co. must have overshot me while I was busy gawking in the Rompetrol parking lot, because they arrived at the hotel in Mamaia, just north of Constanta, half an hour before me. Meanwhile, the scenery livened up as I headed east and reached Fetesti. The road twisted and climbed to reach the highway bridge over the Danube to the ominously-named Cernavodă. The new highway bridge runs parallel to this bad boy:

I'm a sucker for old iron & steel engineering marvels

In the failing light, that bridge looked impossibly dramatic and I won’t soon forget that image. After I passed Cernavodă, the air thickened with mosquitoes and made a mess of my jacket and face visor. Not for long, though, as my trusty GPS guided me without a hitch to the ring road around Constanta. I headed north onto the Mamaia strip, found my friends at the hotel, quickly showered the bug juice off my neck and arms, and we hit the club.

This full-face visor comes in handy sometimes

I’ll confess that I found Top Gear’s Romania episode a bit off-putting. In it, the Top Gear crew marvels at the decadence they find in Mamaia, amazed that the unreconstructed Eastern yokels have put together a high-end beach resort. Fact is, Romania has a dodgy, conspicuously-consuming overclass just like every other Eastern European country, and in the summertime, they all congregate in the clubs and discos of Mamaia. It’s not really my bag, this stuff, but it is very impressive. It’s all Bentleys and Aston-Martins and Lamborghinis parked out front, and bottle service and Grey Goose and cheesy club music and leggy supermodels and the rest inside. I did my best to fit in.

The only surviving party picture

And this went on for three days and nights. It rained a lot, and was unseasonably cold, but we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. During a lull in the rain I managed to get a picture of Alex and his crew:

How many college kids can we get on one Vespa?

At the end of the weekend, everybody had jobs to go back to in Bucharest, so I was left alone in Constanta. I met up with Laura Iancu of Eferie Nord, a pleasant coastal town just south of there, and she showed me another side of Constanta than the club scene in Mamaia. In this case, an experimental film exhibit, many entries of which were hers. It was a breath of fresh air to hang with the local artsy hipster set instead of rubbing shoulders with the Blingy People (which, while amusing, gets tedious after a while.) Thanks Laura!

Laura of Eferie Nord

I had a few days to kill before I was scheduled to head up to Galati and pick up a replacement windscreen that Joern, my trusty logistics manager and remote technician, had had shipped to one of Alex’s friends there. Without anything better to do, I scooted down the coast to Vama Veche.

I’d heard a lot about the place. It’s a small resort town on the Bulgarian border that’s notorious for being, variously, an enclave for hippies, a haven for grime-encrusted punks, a mecca for down-at-heel club kids, a valhalla for nudists, and a safe haven for assorted freaks from all walks of life. Now, maybe it was the bad weather, or maybe it was too early in the season (in fact, I’m sure it was), but I didn’t find anything all that remarkable about it. There were a couple of head shops and one punk bar, but apart from that it struck me as a beach town that was too self-consciously “alternative” and not much else besides. Burning Man on the Black Sea it wasn’t.

The beach was nice

Vama Veche in July is full of young people. Very young people. And the main event in town both nights was a ’90s-themed dance party on the beach, right outside my balcony, that kept going clear through till sunrise. The ’90s, I imagine, are now far enough away for these kids to find the tunes from that sepia-toned decade obscure and retro and cool. For me, the DJing resurrected a bunch of long-forgotten numbers by once-and-future unknowns that had been consigned to the dustbin of history, and with very good reason. While I tried to sleep, the hits just kept on coming, haunting me with memories of what are best described as The Awkward Years, or The Decade In Which I Had No Money: Ice Ice Baby, Informer, Two Princes, I’m Too Sexy, Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down), Barbie Girl, Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It. The Friends Song, I’ll Be There For You, even made the cut. And then, as I lay there holding my pillow over my head, praying for it to stop, lyrics I hadn’t heard in ages came wafting in through my window:

You can tell your maw I moved to Arkansas
Or you can tell your dog to bite my leg
Or tell your brother Cliff, whose fist can tell my lips,
He never really liked me anyway

But don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
I just don’t think it’d understand
And if you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart
He might blow up and kill this man

Horrified, I went to the balcony to survey the carnage. It was first light, and several dozen party kids remained on the beach. Some were passed out in the sand clutching beer bottles, while others sat clustered in groups. Most of them, though, were jumping around in front of the DJ, singing along with Billy Ray Cyrus at the top of their lungs. These kids knew all the words.

I had to get the hell out of there.



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