Things to Do

The Wild Horses of the Danube Delta

The other day, I turned the TV on and I accidentally found a documentary about the wild horses roaming in the Danube Delta, especially those in around the Letea forest.

[adsense]I must admit, it was very interesting because it filled plenty of gaps in my own knowledge of the matter.

The wild horses have been a hot topic in the Danube Delta and the rest of the country this year. I actually don’t watch much TV and I was unaware of what was going on, but the news eventually got to my ears through my friends.

What was going on?

The whole country was enraged when authorities decided that the horses in the Danube Delta are making too much damage and that they should be put to death.

Whoah whoa! How did we get here?

Let’s go back in time for a minute

It was the year 1989 and the communist regime was finally crumbling here in Romania.

The old socialist agricultural projects were being abbandoned. The authorities didn’t have any plans to handle the numerous farms animals that were left behind, so, at least in the case of the horses, they decided to set them free.

They didn’t expect them to make it through the harsh winter, but they were wrong! The horses adapted pretty well to their new condition and actually prospered.

Back to present day

Over twenty years after their release, they’ve addapted perfetly to their environment and spread to all corners of the delta. Their younglings were born in the wilderness and, unlike their parents, they are completely wild, never having had contact with humans.

Wild Horses in the Danube DeltaThe TV5Monde documentary was great because it showed many footages of the horses in their environment, with their social construction, compeeting for females. It was beautiful.

Here’s a a scene from a German documentary:

We can’t talk here about a distinct race, but we can say that they are a special phenotype. According to the researchers, by studying these horses, there is the possibility to identify ways of transfering some of their strengths to races that lack certain capabilities.

What’s the controversy?

Well, according to some researchers, because they have no natural enemies, they’ve multiplied their numbers to a level that is no longer safe for the environment.

[adsense]The Danube Delta has a pretty tight trophic chain with a fragile equilibrium. By adding the horses, a foreign species, to the mix, you destabilize the whole thing.

The center of the controversy is the Letea Forest. They go about their lives around that area throughout the year, but they move into the forest during the winter. The forest offers them shelter from the cold wind and also, food, a rare treat for that season.

The horses eat the bark of the trees there. It contains tannin, which has the same effects for them as mint tea has for people. It helps them to better handle the cold.

However, that directly affects the forest and especially the centuries old oak trees. That’s the reason why some have suggested that the horses should be removed.

The Government has taken up the idea, but put it to practice in the most horriffic way possible: send them all to the slaughter house.

Fortunately, NGO and other animal protection organzation jumped up screaming, but that didn’t save the horses in the first few shipments 🙁

What’s my stance?

I actually don’t know where I stand on this issue. For one, I love the wild horses. They’re beautiful and fit perfectly in environment of the delta.

On the other hand, I understand that they can’t really continue multiplying without affecting the rest of the delta. There are already numerous species on the brink of extinction here, so we don’t need more negavative impacts on their environment.

A project where you allow the horses to roam free, but clearly delimitate the strictly protected area where they should be kept out of with fences, and also control the population, that I think would be the most appropriate.

Things to Do Useful

Read Europolis to Get a Full Grasp of The Old Life in Sulina

I just finished reading Europolis, written by Jean Bart, the pseudonym of Eugeniu Botez. I had written an article about him and it was appropriate to go ahead and read his work to better understand what he was doing. I bought it in the Danube Delta Museum gift shop a few days ago.

[adsense]I won’t tell you all the details because it will spoil the story if you decide to go ahead and read the book. (Which I totally recommend!) I made the mistake of reading the foreword before the rest of the book and that pretty much ruined it for me.

What I will tell you, however, is that the story takes place in the port of Sulina, around the early 1930. The book itself was published in 1933. A critic wrote once that Jean Bart used the whole story as a pretext of conserving that unique way of life that he witnessed during his many.

EuropolisAs the author himself says, Sulina is the only place in the country where you could see authentic port life. While Constanța, Brăila or Galați were cities with a port attached, Sulina was just a port. Everything there revolved around commercial maritime activities.

Unlike the popular belief, Jean Bart actually made it a point throughout the book to mention that Sulina wasn’t really that great a place to live in. Most of the time it was pretty boring, and although there were numerous nationalities living  together peacefully, they were all here just trying to get rich, holding great rivalries towards one another.

He did indeed, as some critic mentioned, exaggerate with the word cosmopolite. The main characters of the story are part of the Greek community, which, at the time, represented more than half of the population.

What is fact and what is pure fiction?

Knowing the place where the action takes place, you can’t help but wonder which parts are true and which are just made up?

The city of Sulina

First, the description of the city is, in my opinion, almost a hundred percent true. I can’t say that I know for sure that the names of the restaurants are the original ones, but having been there, what he’s saying about the place is pretty accurate.

Just for that, I believe that the book is worth ten times the amount I paid for it. There’s no museum trip that will give you a better picture of the city than that.

The real people in the story

[adsense]The characters were inspired by the lives of real people in Sulina at the time. As captain of the port, Jean Bart knew closely his community and always scribbled notes of the events in the city so he could later use them in his books.

Evantia, the central figure in the story, was actually a real person. Much later, in the 1960s, Al. Protopopescu caught up with her. She mentioned that ‘the writer had played superbly with her life’. Although she did come to Sulina with the same boat the the American, she wasn’t his daughter..

She had tremendous respect for Jean Bart for handling the details of her life in such a delicate manner, although she couldn’t understand why the writer finished the book the way he did.. “For, look ‘ere, I have outlived the lot of them.”

Her tomb can be found in the catholic part of the maritime cemetery in Sulina. Had I read the book a month earlier, I would have made a point to get there and see it. Oh well, maybe next year.

Damn, I just slipped a spoiler in there. Ok, here’s another one…

You know the two old lighthouses, on the left and right side of the Danube? At the time they were right at the point where the Danube’s course finished and entered the Black Sea. Now, the seashore has moved east another two or three kilometers.

Well, at some point in the story, somebody jumps in the water from the right bank lighthouse and makes a point not to swim out.

But can you guess who?

I won’t tell you if it’s Evantia or not. You’ll have to read Europolis to find out.

Buy your copy of Europolis from here!

P.S. There’s also a english version!

That’s true! Europolis was translated to English throughout the years, but it’s quite rare and you’ll hunt for it.

Get your English copy from here.

Places to Visit

The Aquarium in Tulcea (The Danube Delta Museum)

I visited the Aquarium in Tulcea this Saturday. My uncle wanted to show my two-year-old cousin the museum that everybody is talking about, so we took the whole family for an intellectual expedition.

[adsense]Last time I’ve been there was two years ago, just after the grand inauguration. It hasn’t changed much, only that this time I had a much fuller experience.

I was actually interested in reading all the documentation on the panels. It turns out that you can learn a whole lot more just by paying attention. There was also my uncle there who knew more about the fish and animals there.

Danube Delta Museum - The AquariumAlso, my being curious caught the attention of one of the supervisors there. I thought he was just a guard, but he was actually one of the researchers and we had an interesting conversation. Turns out that many of the things I took for granted as a kid roaming the woods near my mother’s village are actually rare plant species. Things like the Dobrujan peony and the snowdrop. They are all protected. Who would have guesed?

What does the Danube Delta museum offer?

The genesis of the Danube Delta

First, you get to see maps and images showing the genesis and the evolution of the Danube Delta. It’s cool to see that this huge territory was born only 10.000 years ago. There is a really nice interactive map where you push some buttons and you see the areas that were inhabited by various populations.

Who knew that Caraorman was inhabited by the Gets at the time when it was only an island on the Black sea? Or that Nufăru was founded by people moving from Chilia?

A typical fishery

After that you get to see how a traditional fishery was laid out, with all the typical tools of the trade, including the famous lotca, the traditional boat that fishermen use here in the Delta.

Typical fishery in the Danube DeltaI could hardly keep myself from tasting one of the fish that were dried there… God, it smelled fantastic!

Dioramas of typical Danube Delta and Dobruja scenery

[adsense]As a kid, I loooved these features of the museum. In the wild, you can’t get that close to the pelicans, the wolves or the wild boars, but in the museum, they’re right there. You’re not allowed to touch them, but they’re right there, at arm’s length.

There are four or five dioramas, picturing scenery from the continental delta, the maritime delta, and few other places in the Dobrudja, including the Măcin Mountains natural reserve.

The dioramas in the old museum had the walls painted. For kids like me, the museum was a delight. I was fortunate to visit it for the last time in the twelfth grade, because less than a month after that, they closed it forever. I’m not sure, but I think there are fewer dioramas in the new museum.

What were  found interesting was a fossilized fish from 100 million years ago that they found in a quarry in Slava Cercheză, my mother’s home village. As you can imagine, she was pretty excited about the fact 🙂

The aquarium

At the lower levels, there are the aquariums. They have there both local and exotic fish species. It’s pretty interesting, even for somebody who doesn’t really care about fish, like me.

Again, I can’t help comparing with the old museum. Although the new aquariums are much bigger, I’m pretty sure that there are fewer fish than before. I can’t say that for sure, but that’s my feeling.

The reptile expo

Now, we were pretty fortunate to ran into this reptile exposition. I think they are here only for a week or so, but there were all sorts of snakes, a cayman, an aligator, and even a komodo dragon.

We were even allowed to hold and take pictured with one of the most peaceful boa snakes in the world. How’s that?!

So, is it worth visiting the aquarium in Tulcea?

Most definitely yes! The place is great! With a trip there you’ll find out more about the Danube Delta and Dobrudja than you can imagine.


Europolis – The Town of the Delta Documentary

I mentioned in the past how I hate it when somebody who makes a documentary about the Danube Delta always puts that sad, melancholic music as the soundtrack… Why do people insist on doing that?

[adsense]If you spend just one day in the Delta you’ll realize that it’s nothing like that. It’s actually action packed and full of life.

Well, the other day I was researching for the article on Jean Bart and somebody mentioned somewhere about a Bulgarian documentary about the city…

What? Bulgarian?  I had to see it.

Well, unfortunately, I could only find a trailer on IMDB and to be honest, that’s all I needed to see to get an idea.

Europolis – The Town of the Delta

Europolis - The Town Of The Delta DocumentaryThe video has the name Europolis in it, and for anyone who’s into everything Danube Delta like me, that does catch you attention.

So, the movie gets on the right foot from the start… Who knows, maybe I’ll find out something new about Sulina.

Unfortunately, once you watch only 20 second of it, you realize that yet again it’s yet again the crap old “The place is doomed, deserted, nobody wants to live here anymore” mumbo jumbo. With the equally crap voodoo soundtrack, of course.

I would have placed a video here so you can get an idea, but I can’t because there’s nothing on YouTube for me to embed. Good! They don’t deserve it! You can see it on IMDB.

Why do people insist on making these retarded videos where they only point out what’s not cool here? Wouldn’t it be much more interesting to make a video where they present the cool stuff that took place in the past and are still taking place today?

To the creator of the documentary (in the crazy chance that he’ll accidentally read this), FUCK YOU!


The International Rowing Boats Festival

The festival (Festivalul Internațional al Bărcilor cu Vâsle) is an event organized by Ivan Patcaichin, with his project Rowmania. The declared goal of the event is to promote the rowboat, the traditional means of transport used by all fishermen here in the Delta.

[adsense]In the last few years, the classic „lotca” has faded in popularity in favor of the new fiber glass boats which, unfortunately, take away from the colorful image of the Delta.

The birth of the canotca

But lotca is a tradition which should not be forgotten and for that reason, Ivan Patzaichin has worked closely with one of the last craftsmen in Tulcea who still knows how to build the ancient boats.

He’s designed a new type of boat that he calls „canotca”, which is a mix of the old lotcas with the new and modern lines of the canoes and other sports boats. Thus, the „canotca”.

International Rowing Boats FestivalThe most important activities that will take place are:

  • The Ivan Patzaichin competition, in which 30 teams from the whole Danube Delta will race with teir canotcas from Tulcea to Sfantu Georghe in a race that will take two days. The participants wil be able to set their tents anywhere for the night and the winners will be awarded prizes by the Ivan Patzaichin foundation.
  • The Danube Marathon, which is an international tour that starts in germany where the Danube Springs and goes all the way through the continent to the final point which is Sfantu Gheorghe. I’ve seen these people many times. I was relaxing on the beach here n Tulcea when all of a sudden, 15 to 25 boats surrounded us.

When does the festival take place?

The events will go down the following weekend, on September 2-4, right here in Tulcea. I will definitely be there (there will also be a few concerts), although I won’t be participating…

I’m in good shape, but I most certainly can’t compete with the real fishermen… My shoulder still hurts after I had a scandenberg fight with a fishermen in Sfantu Gheorghe at the Anonimul Film Festival.


Ivan Patzaichin

Ivan Patzaichin is arguably one of the top Romanian sports figures in history and definitely the best canoeist in the world … he’s way up there, with Nadia Comăneci, Gică Hagi and Ilie Năstase.

[adsense]He compeeted in five Summer Olympic games where he won seven medals: four gold and three silver.

His biggest successes in the career took place in Mexico City (1968), Munich (1972), Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984) from where he brought home the gold.

In the qualifications of one of these competition, his row broke and the referee didn’t see this. He kept on going, finishing three minutes after the second to last competitor. He was disqualified, but after appeals from the trainers, he was allowed to participate in the next phases. Of course, this time he killed!

Ivan PatzaichinFrom 1985 he’s been a trainer at Dinamo Bucharest sports club and together with his students, he participated in five Summer Olympics competitons.

Here’s a video of his 1972 Munich performance:

Ivan Patzaichin’s day to day life

Ivan was born in the village of Mila 23 in 1949 and he spent most of his childhood in the Delta, between his village and Sulina where he visited his grandparents.

[adsense]These days he goes about his life between his old village, Tulcea and Bucharest.

He actively takes part in events concerning the lipovan comunity in Romania. Actually, my mother was singing with the Tulcea lipovan community coire at a festival in Uzlina a couple of months ago where she met mister Patzaichin and took a few pictures with him.

He is also frequenly taking part in sporting events all over the country, particularrly water sports. He’s actually launched a new project called Rowmania through which he tries to identify sustainable ways to practice tourism in the Danube Delta.

The International Rowing Boats Festival

As part of the project, he’s organizing „Festivalul bărcilor cu vâsle”, or  the “International Rowboat Festival”, which is going to be a two day competition in which participants will race from Tulcea to Sfantu Gheorghe with classics rowboats.

The goal of this is turn people’s attention to these old traditional boats called “lotcă”, used for centuries by the fishermen in these waters. The last few years we’ve seen them loose ground in favor of the new boats made of fiber glass.

Working with one of the last few craftsmen in Tulcea who knows the trade of building traditional lotcas, he’s designed a new boat called “Canotca”, which puts together the ancient craftsmanship with modern design lines borrowed from canoe and other sporting boats.


Jean Bart

If you ask anybody in Sulina who’s the most popular person who ever lived here, you’ll get only one answer: Jean Bart. That is the pseudonym that writer Eugeniu P. Botez took when he published his works in the early twentieth century.

[adsense]He is best known for writing the novel Europolis which documents the cosmopolite life that Sulina had in its day as a free port (porto Franco), during the command of the European Commission of the Danube.

Throughout his career, he took many positions in the navy and for many years he even became the commander of the port of Sulina. At the time, the city was flooded with people of all nationalities. It was a fantastic place to live in and every time he had some spare time he would jot down notes which he would later use to write his novels.

Here are the novels he wrote

  • 1901 – Jurnal de bord
  • 1916 – Datorii uitate
  • 1916 – În cuşca leului
  • 1923 – Prinţesa Bibiţa
  • 1925 – În Deltă…
  • 1931 – Pe drumuri de apă
  • 1933 – Europolis

His final and best known novel is Europolis. Although all of his works have something to do with Sulina, Europolis is his masterpiece and was quoted times and times again over the years. He really helps you get a sense of how the city used to look like.

Because of the popularity of the novel, there’s even a hotel in Tulcea called Europolis. The highschool in Sulina also took the name of Jean Bart.

Jean BartIn my recent trip to Sulina, I finally decided to visit the lighthouse (the one next to the camp site) and see what the whole thing is all about. (This was about 7 years overdue  🙂 )

Well, when we got in there, there was a nice old man playing the guitar and reading something from a book. Turns out it was a book written by Jean Bart. He then proceeded to tell us more about Sulina, about Jean Bart and his duties as captain of the port. It was interesting to hear how the port used to be run years ago.