The beautiful seaside Constanta, Romania, was a cruise port on a recent Black Sea I recently took with Princess Cruise Lines. The tour I selected was one offered on a Cruise Critic board called “Constanta City Tour and Wine Tasting at Murfatlar”. The price was 82€ and the title along made it sound worth trying. Cristina Ruien, a spunky young gal who had good control of her audience and spoke excellent English, was our guide for the day. She told fun and factual stories and led our group of 15 to see the local sights of her unique country.
The first activity was an hour long walking tour through downtown Constanta, which is the biggest port on the Black Sea. We strolled along the Tomis Harbor, running parallel to the waterfront, and admired the old and beautiful buildings. My favorite photo-op was the statue of Queen Elisabeth, married to Charles I (Carol I) of Romania, a famous poet, whose literary pseudonym was “Carmen Sylva”. The statue depicts her standing with a muse at her feet.
The city of Constanta has interesting architecture, but many of the older homes are still in desperate need of repair, which is said to be cause after all the war era, when the communist occupation claimed them, the families could now buy the homes back, but only if they had the money to fix them up to standards for this rich neighborhood.
The Constanta Casino was the perfect example of a grand building loaded with history in its time, but now sits in ruins along the waterfront. The Casino was built by King Carlo in 1910 and was “the” place to come, filled with British sailors who would gamble their troubles away and then hit the brothels a few streets away, which was Constanta’s own red light district. Romania is still a very sad country; I could sense the pain of its people and places, leftover from so many years of war.
Our group strolled into the dimly lit Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, Orthodox Church, where a service was going on, and to our surprise, found out the Orthodox churches do not have pews or anywhere to sit for that matter. Sometimes services last 2-3 hours and people are expected to stand the entire time. The cathedral had lovely hand-painted murals on the outside of the doors (in the narthex); to the right side a depiction of joyous scenes such as the kingdom of heaven, and to the left side, murals painted of sin and hell. Intricate frescoes inside the church were impressive, the whole place was adorned with brass, and had a delicious herbal smell about it. Orthodox is the religion for around 90% of Romanians and 1 million of Romania’s 21 million people, live in Constanta.
Our group was led through the Grand Mosque of Constanta, formerly Carlos I Mosque; one that only allows women when services are not going on. The mosque was decorated with patterned tiles and bright carpets. This was my first time visiting a mosque so I really did not know what to expect. We were given time to walk up the 140 steps inside the minaret for panoramic views of Constanta before leaving. We explored a bit more of the town square, including the aquarium and museum, then boarded the bus for an hour drive through the countryside to the historic town of Histeria.
Histria is Romania’s oldest town located on the west coast of the Black Sea. Ten minutes of our bus ride literally jarred us around so badly that my back ached for days (we were sitting over the back wheels), so be prepared on this excursion for extreme road conditions as well as a lot of hiking. Histria dates back to 630 BC and after coming under Roman domination, it was there that temples were built for the Roman gods, complete with bathhouses for the wealthy. By the 7th century AD, the town was completed deserted and just discovered and excavated in the past 19th and 20th centuries. The ruins included Turkish baths, squares, community buildings, and market stalls.
A visually appealing contemporary history museum displayed some of the uncovered artifacts as well as offered an on-site restaurant. Fruit trees were abundant on the property and we were allowed to pluck the fruits right off the trees. The favorite was a juicy and sweet fruit that Christina could not properly translate, which was a cross between a big cherry and a plum. I did not find the ruins particularly exciting myself, but next up came the winery.
Murfatlar Winery and Sampling
Murfatlar is the largest producer of wines in the country of Romania. We did a quick tour of their winery, with the guide explaining the wine making process and showing us their entire organization. Murfatlar is a showplace decorated with massive amounts of beautiful marble and offers an interesting wine museum. A representative of the winery came with us to for lunch to give us a wine demonstration and sampling.
The restaurant we arrived (I could not read the name of it) at had a lovely picnic style table set up for us, outside. At our demonstration, we sampled five wines: Rose, one similar to Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc, a sweet red, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The consensus of the group was that we did not care much for the wines offered as we were all mostly used to California wines, but the host did a nice job of explaining the wines and their popularity, history, and how they are produced. During the wine sampling, we were served a plate of potatoes, beef & lamb sausage, pork sausage, and grilled chicken. We also had a traditional cabbage salad and rolls.
We were provided us pitchers of house wines, a red and white, to enjoy with our meal, which we enjoyed more than the wines sampled. After all this drinking and sampling, the group started to lighten up since we were in a happier environment, and we truly had a blast. They did a wonderful job of serving us and taking care of all our needs.
The ride back to the cruise ship was more pleasant since there was more energy on the bus than had been all day, a result of the pitchers of the wine, but that made this day more memorable than just a headful of historic facts. I am glad I was able to tour such an old part of Romania, but I do not think I would ever need to come back to this country. I honestly was kicking myself for not doing the very long day trip with Princess that went to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, even though it had a 3 1/2 hour bus ride in each direction.
FYI: The cruise terminal of Constanta has free WIFI along with a nice souvenir stand and small cafe.
Tip: Beware, there are many pickpocketers in the area. Thieves use babies and children to try and tempt you into giving, often using fake hands underneath the babies so you cannot see where their “real” hand is going as it finds your wallet or purse.
Fact: The Black Sea has no waves.
My Constanta, Romania Photo Gallery:
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