20 Km, the shortest ride of all, deliberately arranged by me so that I can spend some time in Constanta, which should be an interesting place. It is a port on the Black Sea. Yes I have reached the Black Sea but before you bombard me with congratulatory emails be aware that I haven't finished, because before it gets to Constanta the Danube takes a sharp turn north and flows a further 200 Km becoming the Danube Delta (known as 'The Big Squelch' locally) before issuing forth into the Black Sea. I have two more days riding and a 70 Km boat trip to get to Kilometre Zero.
I mend my puncture and ride into Constanta along a busy main road. On the way I cross the Danube-Black Sea Canal, built by others as frustrated as I am by the river's contrariness. As ever in this part of the world about one third of the buildings in the city are empty, if not derelict, and it's often hard to guess at what part in their life cycle they may be. Are they under construction, just awaiting a cash injection, planning consent or for a bribe to be paid or are they on the way down, rusting and crumbling to dust waiting for the bulldozers which never seem to come. Just before I reach the city centre there is a sign pointing to the right, that gives me a brief tingle on excitement, "Istanbul" it says. It's tempting, it's not very far, but I stick to the Danube.
I am booked in an Ibis Hotel which seems unadventurous but just what you need after more than a week with the old ladies and stray dogs out in the sticks. For once I am in a busy bustling hotel, I am not the only guest which had become the norm. Such an early arrival gives me a chance to catch up with some washing, in fact as I write this I am watching pants dry.
I walk down to the beach, flat grey sand, I prod a toe into the Black Sea which is extraordinarily still, absolutely soundless. I have lunch at a smart little cafe by the harbour which is deserted but the barman tells me that in summer it's "kind of crazy". Into the Old Town where there is a massive drainage scheme in progress and half the streets are impassable but I can walk up to the famous archeological museum and admire the statue of Ovid outside. "Why a statue of Ovid in Constanta?" I hear you all ask. Ovid was a hugely popular Roman poet who at some point pissed off the Emperor Augustus who exiled him for the rest of his life to the remote city of Tomis now called Constanta. No one knows what it was that Ovid did. The reason I mention it is that I like the 'Metamorphoses', his best known works, and have recently been reading Ted Hughes's version of some of them. Best of all, each story is tube-journey length, you can whip through one between Baron's Court and Covent Garden. No problem. If you, like me until recently, despise poetry, there are prose versions available. So have a go at Ovid, you will like it.
I walk down to a bike shop to see if I can find something to transport Cynthia home in. I have decided to fly back from Bucharest and need a special bag to get her on the BA flight. I have consulted the internet and have seen some ingenious improvisations but the chances of getting the materials together here seem unlikely. I also pop into the station because I like stations and this is a good one.
Returning to the Ibis Hotel I meet a man from Essex who is in charge of a gang of dockers from Essex who have been flown out to Romania on a training mission. They work for London Gateway a state of the art port facility which is about to open on the north side of the Thames Estuary. The funding comes from Dubai and the same company runs an equally big facility in Constanta so our boys have been despatched here to practice on the cranes etc. Very big boys toys.
I eat in the hotel and pay the penalty for breaking one of the basic rules of travel. It's awful and I go out into the night in search of dessert and in finding a cake shop find also that Romanian health and safety rules don't cover holes in the street. The drainage contractors have left dozens of enormous holes unprotected and I nearly fall down one.