Romania - August 2010


This is the diary of a 10-day trip to Romania which started on 7 August 2010 and ended on 16 August 2010.  It was organised by Garry via NatureTrek (more...). It consisted of a couple of days in the Carpathain Mountains followed by some days in the Danube Delta and ending up with a short tour of Dobroudja which borders on the Black Sea.
If you just want to see all the photos as a slideshow click here. So now read on...

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Briefly, here's how we spent each day:

7 Aug - Home to Zarnesti 8 Aug - Looking for Wallcreepers 9 Aug - A Walk in the Meadows 10 Aug - Zarnesti to Tulcea 11 Aug - Into the Danube Delta
12 Aug - Letea 13 Aug - Return to Tulcea 14 Aug - Macin Hills 15 Aug - Exploring Dobroudja 16 Aug - Tulcea to Home

SummaryNext day Saturday, 7th August - Home to Zarnesti

We leave home at 7am and get to Garry's where we pile into a taxi which whisks us to Heathrow, Terminal 5. We enter Huxley's Bar and Kitchen hoping for a quick bite to eat. After waiting 30 minutes we are served our coffee and chocolate. After another ten minutes breakfast arrives. We guzzle it down and make our way to a bus at A10 which takes us to the Airbus 320. We embark and are delayed 35 minutes. There is “weather” on the way and it is better to wait. We arrive at Bucharest and are met by Florin. Paul from Naturtrek sat by Garry on the flight. Fourteen Naturetrekkers congregate on the ground floor waiting for instructions from Florin.

Paul Harmes
Tour leader
and naturalist

Florin Palade
Local guide
and naturalist

Garry Williams

Amanda Sharp

Graham Lawrence

Jane Lawrence

Paul Megahey
Northern Ireland

Christine Megahey
Northern Ireland

Stan Davidson

Yvonne Davidson

Andrew Barton

Charlotte Oldham

Bruce McLaren

Nick Shutt

Corinne Shutt

David Dunstan

Driver, Bucharest
Our luggage is put in the trailer attached to the mini bus and we all clamber aboard. It is 34C and very muggy. We drive north for 2 hours and stop at a hotel for refreshments. On the way we hear proper twitcher talk. “I was in Norfolk last week and you should hear a juvenile reed warbler sing. It was awesome.” We also learnt that Ceaucescu was a great hunter and demanded to shoot hares close to the Danube. There are no hares near the Danube so the henchmen dressed cats in hare skins which Ceaucescu shot at. The animals took fright and shot up the trees. Ceaucescu demanded what sort of hares climb up trees. Half way through the journey we have a comfort break. At 9pm we arrive at the Pensiune Elena (more...) in the town of Zarnesti. We eat butternut squash soup, pork and polenta, small cakes washed down with regional; red wine and retire to bed. It's only 9pm in England but 11pm where we are.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday 8th August - Looking for Wallcreepers

A cockerel wakes us up at daybreak – 5am. We have breakfast at 8am. There is a spread of cereals, yoghurt, fruit and cold meats and cheeses. We can create sandwiches for lunch and put them in the plastic bags ripped from a roll. We leave in the mini-bus at 9am and make our way westwards for about twenty minutes to the entrance of the Piatra Craiului National Park (more...) and travel up a track passing many people who have camped for the night. According to Florin, they all cook sizzling sausages. The bus parks close to the gated entrance to the gorge and we disembarked. We stop to watch a dipper in the stream at the side of the track. Several of the birders are carrying telescopes on tripods which they use for scanning the sides of the gorge. We stop many times. At one spot we watch a group of six chamois high up on a grassy slope. Some see a slow worm whilst others are too quick. Many of the rocky walls have notice boards on the track stating what climbs are available. It is a pleasant stroll under the cloudy skies and the temperature is not too high. We walk on and eventually Florin catches us up to tell us we have gone too far. We retrace our steps down the gorge to a grassy area close to a shrine to two young people who were washed away in a flash flood. We eat our sandwiches and make our way back to the bus. It is very disappointing to see so much rubbish left by visitors – plastic bags and bottles, cans and paper. A man on a horse passes by. The red flashes on the horse are to keep the vampires from sucking the blood from the hors. We return back to Zarnesti and take the road south. Jane spots a large bird sitting in a field and the bus stops. We all get out and the telescopes are erected. It is declared by Florin and agreed by others that the bird is a lesser spotted eagle which is probably looking for vermin amongst the recently cut grass. Several other eagles are flying around. Back in the bus Jane asks Florin why he knew it was a lesser spotted eagle. He says he had a 'jiss' about it. We could become proper birders if we are not careful. The traffic slows down to a crawl as we approach the town of Bran. Lots of tourist want to visit the castle said to have been used by Count Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler. The cause of the traffic jam turns out to be a policeman directing the traffic at a junction. We drive through the town and up and over a mountain range and down to a small town where we park at the entrance to another gorge where we are hoping to see wall creepers. We walk up the gorge avoiding the traffic, passing more picknickers cooking sizzling sausages. It is Sunday which is why it is busy. The sun is shining. The wall creepers have all crept away. The stream which runs by the road is cloudy and carries many cans and plastic bottles. It is a shame as this is still part of the Park. We return up the mountain towards Bran. As we approach the town the skies open and heavy rain falls. At a photo spot Jane braves the elements to capture a picture of the castle. We return to Zarnesti and run through the rain to the hotel. Garry and Graham have a beer. The meal is soup, veal escallope's and small cakes washed down with the regional red wine. After the meal the birders gather round to go through the day's check lists. Jane and Amanda retire to their rooms and Garry and Graham retire to a nearby table to drink coffee.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Monday 9th August - A Walk in the Meadows

We have breakfast, make our sandwiches for lunch and depart in the bus at 9am. We drive a short distance out of the town to the National Park where we pull up by the side of a track which leads up one side of the valley through meadows. We admire a wasp spider. We walk along the valley for a couple of miles and meet the bus which has been driven to the lunchtime picnic spot. On the way we see many birds including grey shrikes, hobbies, and nutcrackers. We learn that if you see a bird for the first time it is a 'lifer'. The land is split into lots of small plots all appearing to contain grass and wild flowers. Jane is having a field day (see the slideshow for flowers galore). Some patches have been cut down. Couples are scything the grass. Some arrive on horse drawn carts and others in older cars. The countryside reminds us of the Dolomites. At our lunch time we see several little owls around some farm buildings. After lunch we are driven north of Zarnesti to more meadows which border a stream. There are several trout farms. We take a stroll into some woods and are shown yellow-bellied toads and , large centipedes We walk back to the bus but get into a 4x4 which takes us back to the hotel. The rest of the party are off to see some brown bears but the four us prefer to eat early. We eat the soup, meat balls and pasta and small cakes before the bear watchers return.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Tuesday 10th August - Zarnesti to Tulcea

We get up early and have breakfast at 7:30am. A large cricket clings to a wall of the dining room. We finishing packing and are bags are put into the little shed on wheels behind the bus. We say goodbye to Elena and Gigi. We drive south to Ploiesti where we have a comfort break. The town is the site of an oil refinery. We continue on to reach Urkiseni and have lunch in a glad near a river where we see some red footed falcons and a bee-eater. Cannabis is growing near us. On the way out the bus gets stuck in mud and we gather twigs and we gather sticks to put in front of the stuck wheels and the driver frees the bus. We turn east and skirt Bucharest and stop by a small lake where more birds are spotted including marsh harriers and a honey buzzard. At tea time we stop in a cafe and have coke and beer. We drive through the steppe and reach Tulcea where the boat is moored. We board it and choose cabin 2 which is hot and muggy. We unpack amd join the others in the dining room above. For dinner we have chicken soup, cat fish and polenta followed by warm cheesecake (with an orange for Jane). Jane joins the birders to go through her checklist. She does not win but neither does anyone else. We return back to our room by 10pm.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Wednesday 11th August - Into the Danube Delta

We get up for breakfast at 8am. We have cereals followed by two poached eggs with cheese, tomato and cucumber. We leave at 9am on a small boat with seats mostly under a shade. There is one seat for everyone. We motor down a channel off the main river, bordered by white willows, and see lots of pelicans and storks and many other birds. We see the occasional camper/fisherman at the sides. If they have their lines caught in the trees they come from Bucharest. After much meandering we return to the boat which has moved twelve miles down the river and moored. We have lunch on board followed by an hour's siesta. We board the little boat again and wander down more channels and shallow lakes spotting more birds and plants such as the water soldier and water chestnut. We return at 7pm and dine at 8pm. The food is a mixed salad followed by Zander in batter with sesame seeds and boiled potatoes followed by plum jam pancakes. The checklist is audited and we retire to bed. It is still very hot and muggy.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Thursday 12th August - Letea

Up in time for 7:30am breakfast - cheese omelette today. We leave at 8:30am in the small boat, Jane taking one of the two bow seats. We make our way to Letea. On the way we see a racoon dog. Florin explains how a floating reed island is created. We turn off the main channel down one just wide enough for the boat. We arrive at Letea, a Ukrainian village of 200 people with a Ukranian Orthodox church. The first houses we see are made of wattle and daub with reed-thatched roofs. We walk down the sandy high street and are bought ice creams at the “magazin mixt”. The little girl Maria nd her friend have an ice cream. We walk back to the boat in the baking heat. We meander back to our floating hotel. Jane and Garry have a swim. Graham has a beer. We have lunch followed by a long siesta. At 4pm we go in the little boat for another journey through channels and lakes. We see a penduline tit's nest and the parents feeding their young. We also see a little bittern – two lifers for us. We return to the boat have drinks a shower and a meal, go through the checklist and retire to bed.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Friday 13th August - Return to Tulcea

Some of the party go for a boat trip at 6am but we decline. We have just spent our hottest night, waking up whilst the electricity is off. The windows are shut to prevent the little midges entering our room through the grills. We decide to open the door onto the corridor which lets some slightly cooler air come into the room. We have breakfast and leave on a boat trip at 8:30am. The highlight of this trip is a colony of pygmy cormorants sitting in a couple of willow trees. There must have been hundreds of them all chattering away. We return to base at 11:30am and Jane does not take up an opportunity to swim. We have lunch and then take a siesta whilst the tug boat pulls our floating hotel and the sight-seeing boat back to Tulcea. At Tulcea we tie up by a large rusty barge and wonder why. We see our tug zoom off and we drift away from the barge. The tug comes back to our pontoon and lashes itself to the side and starts to move in tandem so we are pushed up to the place from where we left several days ago. We eat at 7:30pm – spaghetti with smoked ham followed by catfish steaks and mixed vegetables and some wonderful apfel strudel. Florin's wife, Irena, is introduced to us. We settle up our bar bill and go through the checklist. 136 species have been seen so far.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Saturday 14th August - Macin Hills

We get up in time for a 7:30am breakfast having slept through the cacophony of a funfair and disco at the side of the docks. We pack our bags and leave them on the beds. We say farewell to the captain and leave on the bus which takes us to a quarry outside Tulcea. We see some new birds like a rock thrush and a wood lark. We return to the bus and are taken to a forest. Well it is more like a very large orchard on a hill side. We see many buzzards, and some hoopoes. We see a shepherd and a flock of sheep, a long nosed grasshopper and a praying mantis. We descend the hill to find the bus has parked in the shade. We have an excellent lunch of cold meats and cheeses. We retire to a bar and have cold drinks and watch a cat kill a collared dove and give it to its kitten. We are then taken to the Macin hills , the oven of Roumania, where we walk up a hillside, see lots of butterflies including a swallow-tail, a few susliks (ground squirrels) and some long legged buzzards. It's about 42C. After an hour we get back on the bus and are taken to the outskirts of Greci , a poor town. We see more horse-drawn carts than in other villages. Here we drive along a dirt track watching susliks and Isabeline wheatears . At the end of the drive we admire a stone curlew in amongst some trees. We return to Tulcea at 8pm to the Ibis Tours Guest House. We are greeted with a cherry brandy and a small cake. The room is the most comfortable we have had in Romania. We shower and have our evening meal, beef bourgignon and polenta, and retire to bed at 10:30pm. It has been a long day.

Previous DaySummaryNext day Sunday 15th August - Exploring Dobroudja

We turned the air-conditioning off at 4am as it was too cold. It's Saint Mary's day today. Some locals will be celebrating their Name Day. After breakfast we left at 8:15am to drive south of Tulcea through Babadag , the ancient capital of the area of Dobroudja, to the forest named after the town. We walk over a rough heathland in the open air forest spotting the multitude of plants and lack of birds except for the hoopoes. We inspect a rather large cricket and later on stumble across a tortoise and a cicada bug which will eventually turn into a cicada. We rejoin the bus and drive to Sinoe where we stop by a lagoon and admire the birds. A shepherd/goatherd passes us with about one hundred goats and sheep and a collection of mangy dogs. We drive on to another part of the lagoon and view more birds and have a lunch similar to yesterdays'. We get back into the bus and go to Istria where we clamber across a mass of reeds to view several large flocks of pelicans. Next we go to the seaside via a long sandy track and a disused factory. During the communist era every village had a factory. The one in this village was built for extracting heavy metal from the sands of the Black Sea. At the end of the Communist era (1989) all non-profitable factories were closed down and allowed to rot. Concrete takes a long time to disintegrate so will remain for several generations. The country is dotted with many examples of Communist architecture and manufacturing failures. We reach the sea and many of us go for a swim. The water is green and warm . There is not much tide and the narrow beach is clean. It takes 90 minutes to drive us back to Tulcea. At the dinner we celebrate the 29th wedding anniversary of Corinne and Nick with a cake and a glass of bubbly. Various team photos are taken and the checklist committee meet. The number of species seen this year (180) is greater than that seen last year. Our waitress, Laurena, has left early to go to a wedding. We leave and go to bed.

Previous DaySummary Monday 16th August - Tulcea to Home

We pack up, have breakfast, say good bye to Florin's in-laws and Laurena and board the bus with our baggage in the trailer. We drive out of Tulcea towards Bucharest. Florin and Irena leave in their car. David takes the front seat with bird spotting responsibilities. He announces a kestrel. After about 140 km we stop in the same bar we stopped on the way to Tulcea. We have liquid refreshments and say goodbye to Florin and Irena. We are given lunch packs – a ham and cheese sandwich, and apple and a wafer bar. Shortly after we leave the bar we get onto one of Roumania's two motorways. It is a dual carriageway with every kilometre marked. There are the occasional service stations and it is free. We get off it at the outskirts of Bucharest and, after a comfort break for the bus and the tourists, we are taken to the airport where we say goodbye to the driver, Jonelle. After waiting a bit we check in and, after a couple of beers, we board the plane, and after twenty minutes we take off following the Danube through Roumania, Hungary and Austria. We land at Heathrow, collect our luggage, say goodbye to the rest of the party and find our taxi driver, a Roumanian. He gives us a potted history of the effects of Communism in Roumania and we eventually arrive home at 8:30pm having dropped off Garry and Amanda and picked up our car.