The beautiful seaside Constanta, Romania, was a cruise port on the Black Sea cruise I took with Princess Cruise Lines. When it came to excursions, my friend, Jo, and I selected a tour that was offered on Cruise Critic called “Constanta City Tour and Wine Tasting at Murfatlar”. Its price was 82€ and the title alone 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 both fun and factual stories and led our group of 15 to see the local sights of her unique country.
Constanta City Tour
The first activity was an hour-long walking tour through downtown Constanta, the biggest port on the Black Sea. We began strolling along the Tomis Harbor, which runs parallel to the waterfront and admired the beautiful, old buildings. My favorite photo-op was the statue of Queen Elisabeth. Elisabeth, a famous poet whose literary pseudonym was “Carmen Sylvia”, was married to Charles I (Carol I) of Romania. The statue depicts her standing with a muse at her feet.
The city of Constanta has interesting architecture. Many of the older homes are still in desperate need of repair. After the war era, when the communist occupation claimed Constanta, the families could finally buy back the family homes back, but only if they could afford to fix them up to standard. In this rich neighborhood, this was virtually impossible.
The Constanta Casino is the perfect example of a grand, historic building loaded now sitting in ruins along the waterfront. It was built by King Carlo in 1910 and was “the” place to come. British sailors would fill the casino as they gambled their troubles away, then hit the brothels a few streets away. It 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.
Prestigious Mosques and Cathedrals
Our tour group strolled into the dimly lit Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul, Orthodox Church, where a service was going on. To our surprise, the Orthodox churches did not have pews or anywhere to sit for that matter. Church services often last two to three hours; 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 was a depiction of joyous scenes such as the kingdom of heaven, and to the left, murals painted of sin and hell. Intricate frescoes inside the church were impressive and the whole place was adorned with brass. We noticed a delicious herbal smell about the cathedral. Orthodox is the religion for 90% of Romanians and 1 million of Romania’s 21 million people, live in Constanta.
Next, we visited the Grand Mosque of Constanta, formerly Carlos I Mosque, 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 Constanta’s town square, including the aquarium and museum, then boarded the bus. Our next stop, the historic town of Histria.
Ancient City of Histria
Histria is Romania’s oldest town located on the west coast of the Black Sea. The first ten minutes of our bus ride literally jarred us around so badly that my back ached for days so be prepared for extreme road conditions as well as a lot of hiking. Histria dates back to 630 BC. After coming under Roman domination, temples were built for the Roman gods, complete with bathhouses for the wealthy. By the 7th century AD, the town was completed deserted. It was only rediscovered and excavated in the past 19th and 20th centuries. Histria’s ruins include Turkish baths, squares, community buildings, and market stalls.
A visually appealing contemporary history museum at Histria displays some of the uncovered artifacts as well as offers an on-site restaurant. Abundant fruit trees were on the property and we were allowed to pluck the fruits right from the trees. One piece was a sweet, juicy fruit that Christina could not properly translate, a cross between a big cherry and plum.
Wine Tasting at Murfatlar
Murfatlar is the largest producer of wines in the country of Romania. We took a quick tour of their winery, while our guide explained the winemaking process. We were shown the entire organization. Murfatlar is a showplace decorated with massive amounts of beautiful marble and offers an interesting wine museum. A representative from the winery came with us to for lunch afterward to give us a wine demonstration and sampling.
We arrived at a restaurant whose name I could not pronounce, that had outdoor picnic-style tables set beautifully up for us. During the demo, 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. Our host did a nice job of explaining the wines, their popularity, history, and how they are produced. During the wine sampling, we were served a meal of potatoes, beef & lamb sausage, pork sausage, and grilled chicken. We also had a traditional cabbage salad that was delicious and rolls.
Pitchers of red and white house wines were available to enjoy along with our meal. We actually liked these better than the wines showcased earlier. After all this drinking and sampling, the group started to lighten up and we truly had a blast. The restaurant did a wonderful job serving us and taking care of our needs.
Chalk It Up To A Successful Cruise Excursion
The ride back to the cruise ship was more pleasant since there was more energy on the bus as a result of the pitchers of the wine. This made the day much more memorable than just a headful of historical facts. I am glad I chose to tour such an old part of Romania, but I do not think I would ever need to come back to this country. I was kicking myself for not doing the very long day trip with Princess cruise lines that went to Romania’s capital of Bucharest, even though it had a 3 1/2 hour bus ride in each direction.
FYI: Constanta’s cruise terminal has free WIFI along with nice souvenirs a 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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