1.8 From the red wine to the Black Sea
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
The onward journey after the fulfilling day at the children's home in Panatau turns out to be somewhat more strenuous than expected. With 50 kilometers to cover, everyone thinks that just one hour will be enough. Not in a Unimog and certainly not on the back roads in Romania. Our route leads us now more or less strictly southwards down the river Buzau to Cislau. From here we take a shortcut over the Trans Cislau up some hairpin bends and down again. We are hungry and would like to eat something at a shady place. But this is not possible. The roads have little traffic, but they are narrow and the exits are very rare. In a small insignificant village we finally turn left and dare to stop right after the turnoff. A breather, a hard-boiled egg and water, lots of water. The route, which follows now did not want to be suggested by the Locus Map route finder. Google Maps also never suggested the following kilometers until shortly before the destination. However, I am of the opinion that the road must be big enough to be navigated. If we make it, we save at least 20 kilometers on the national road. Not to mention the diesel we can save. To me small side roads are just much more adventurous. And that's why we are here, to experience adventure. Who dares wins.
From now on the road seems deserted. Every now and then the asphalt gives way to a natural track, but on the whole it goes well. Not at 50 kilometers per hour, but rather at 15 to 20, and sometimes at walking pace due to deep potholes. Rural area mixes with wilderness and here and there we pass small clusters of houses.
After several curves, up and down, a new world opens up to us after La Marginea. We are at the northern edge of Wallachia and now we are looking at the granary of Romania. It offers us a wide view from west over south to east, as we had it the last time on the Transalpina. Only here without any mountains. Only some vineyards of the Dealu Mare rise at our feet, one of them being our destination for the day, the LacertA winery.
The last meters up to the winery feel noble. We drive towards the manor house, once again happy to have reached our destination and delighted to see again after so many years Larisa and Walter, the down-to-earth co-owners of LacertA. In our Romania time, Walter was both my prefered supplier with his excellent wines, and a good customer with his Austrian Business Club. I have not yet mentioned that Walter is a true Austrian, yet once he gets into the singing mood, there is no hiding it. From Fendrich to Ambros, EAV and Falco, he knows pretty much all the lyrics of his singing compatriots. And when he is not singing with heart and soul, he makes excellent wines with just as much love and devotion. I may be a little biased, but the LacertA wines are, in my opinion, by far the best you can get from Romania. And the bar is set pretty damn high there. Anyone who knows anything about the new, New World wines knows what I'm talking about.
Immediately after the pitch and a refreshing shower in the middle of the vineyard, we are invited to the wine tasting with two Austrian couples. The six white wines we have unfortunately missed due to our late arrival. We get right into the red wines, which we prefer anyway. Here, too, LacertA produces six different varieties, of which, in addition to the classic Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Merlot, especially the local Feteasca Neagra stands out. An incredibly powerful, somewhat smoky full-bodied wine with good tannin and lots of character. An absolute must on the rich palette of Romanian specialties.
In retrospect, it was perhaps our good fortune that we only started with the red wines, because we could hardly have managed twelve such fantastic wines in a controlled manner. After the tasting, the hosts spoiled us with a delicious dinner with everything the heart desires. The great evening then ends with, let's call it, Austrian karaoke.
But the hospitality does not end here. As spontaneously as we were invited to the winery, so spontaneously do our friends offer us to extend the stay and add another full day of wine tasting. Whether we want to look at it as professional development or as an immersion into Romanian culture, for us these wonderful moments with our friends at the winery are part of our adventure and one of the reasons why we started the long journey in the first place.
The next morning, we set off on a one-hour walk through the vineyards. Being ready to leave at eight o'clock in the morning is not exactly the easiest thing to do after the exuberant evening. The ambitious timing is not due to the rigid Austrian discipline, but rather to the temperature forecasts. We are expecting midday highs of well over 30°C again today. So it makes sense to schedule the more physically demanding activities for the early morning hours. The walk is packed with interesting information from our hosts about the estate, the winemaking and the local challenges.
After breakfast, we take a short break before heading to the distillery for grappa tasting. Remember, it's not even noon and our second agenda item of the day is schnapps tasting! So a LacertA weekend needs a lot of discipline and stamina. It is intense and therefore probably so wonderful.
LacertA's Aqua Nobile Grappa is currently still a product in the making. We are acting as tasters, so to speak - and very willingly. The 72-percent distillate is diluted for us to about 40 percent. Thank goodness! Brigitte and I are otherwise both not so keen on high percentage spirits.
But this Aqua Nobile and all the frills of the tasting at the distillery make it a unique experience and the grappa a treat for us, too. Walter would probably also have made a good hotelier. In any case, he is a true master in storytelling, just as he is as a winemaker and marketeer. After a leisurely lunch and as the crowning highlight of today, there is still a vertical blind tasting of our favorite wine, the Cuvee IX.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the incomparable Feteasca Neagra. The vintages from 2011 to 2016 will be tasted, evaluated, discussed and tasted again in random order and without knowing which vintage it is. The goal is by no means to agree on something or even to guess the right vintage, but simply to have everyone argue for themselves what tastes good and what does not. Fortunately, Brigitte and I are in agreement on our favorite. The 2016, the youngest of the tasted, shall get some space in our mobile wine cellar.
The second evening also ends again very cozy at dinner together. And whoever thinks that after a tasting in the distillery and a vertical tasting, one only relies on water, misjudges the generosity of our hosts Larisa and Walter and the stamina of their guests. Glass after glass, bottle after bottle, until the realization that tomorrow is also another day, and for us again a driving day.
But good wines do not give a rough awakening. So we are ready to leave on schedule and in top shape with our Unimog. A fantastic weekend comes to an end and we are simply grateful to our generous friends from the bottom of our hearts for having been a part of our adventures.
Our way now leads us from the red wines over the blue Danube to the Black Sea. Whereby the last two got their color naming for reasons unknown to us for the time being. Of course, we can well imagine that Johann Strauss saw a "beautiful blue Danube" more than 150 years ago. Today, however, it is anything but beautiful (i.e. clean) in Romania and certainly no longer blue. There is too much mischief on the long way to the Danube delta. Fecal matter, medicines and resistant bacteria are only the worst of the impurities. The Germans and Austrians can boast for a long time that their Danube is still clean. If the EU functioned as it should, the situation on the Black Sea would be the same. But it is not at all.
But before we set off on the Sunshine Highway towards the Sunday return traffic in the direction of Constanţa, we meet another friend and hotel consultant partner of my international consulting community in Otopeni, the airport district of Bucharest, for lunch. Iulian and Alexandra are newlyweds and probably a fine example of a young successful Romanian couple. They moved into their newly built house just a few weeks ago. Surprisingly quiet here despite the close proximity to the airport. Well-kept residential area, feels like it could be in Germany or France.
After this warm and long-promised get-together, we continue our journey in the late afternoon, back on the highway. We still feel fit and decide to make as much distance towards the sea as possible. I choose a destination directly on the Danube near Fertesti. This makes a total daily stage of almost 300 kilometers, the longest we made since the beginning of the trip. I notice it already, Brigitte is drawn to the sea. She would love to drive all the way through today, but the driver waves her off.
It is already around 7 pm when we arrive at the Danube riverbank. A great area with plenty of space to camp. We are within earshot of the railroad bridge, but the distant clatter of the long freight trains doesn't bother us much. Homeland feelings are awakened. After all, the train is my companion for life. The location is truly idyllic. If the Danube were still blue here, it would soon be kitschy. But the local color of the water and our knowledge of its quality keep us from a cooling Danube bath.
This night we hear for the first time really what we have read so much about. A concert of dogs barking without end. There are still masses of wild dogs in Romania even if from 2001 to 2008 hundreds of thousands were killed. The state has never reached its goal of stray dog elimination and has reduced the number by a maximum of 50%. We always make friends with the cute strays. Even here on the Danube we are surrounded by them. But they are never really disturbing or even dangerous, but just hungry, extremely trusting and simply begging for something to eat.
It is Monday and we start the final stretch of our trip to the east. Today we want to find a lonely camping spot at the end of Vadu Beach. Directly on the shore, in the roar of the surf, without light or other pollution. Of course, we go to a supermarket in Constanţa again, so that we are also safely equipped to stay, if we like, several days. We are now about 50 kilometers north of the port city and finally it is "sea in sight". The Unimog fights its way along the beach road on rough terrain. After the Vadu Pescarilor fish restaurant the track on our GPS stops. The last off-road vehicles are still parked right near the beach. But the road still continues. With body language I ask a Romanian, who stands very important and broad-legged at the end of the way, whether it would really go on on this sand runway. He nods and makes me understand that I can still go on with my vehicle, but for the others it's over here. Four-wheel drive in and off we go. But the sand becomes ominously soft and I fear that my eight and a half tons might sink soon. After about 200 meters my inner coward wins and I call for retreat. My first getting stuck should not be without an support vehicle and only 200 meters away from the people in the jeeps. Turning around, I once again demand a lot of FRAME's off-road skills and even engage the second axle lock. I still have the tire pressure release or the sand trays in the back of my hand. There really can go now nothing wrong. And so it is. We turn "playfully" and with a little bit of smack.
Finally we find our spot a little later at the end of a turnoff to the sea. We are standing above the last sand rise, barely 20 meters from the surf with a spectacular sea view and enough distance to the surrounding tents.
Now it's time to find out why the Black Sea is called that way in the first place. It is not exactly azure or turquoise, but neither is it black by any stretch of the imagination. We ask our Romanian neighbors in the Wildcamping and hear there many plausible explanations. The first one is based on the assumption that sulfate decomposing bacteria in the sediments should cause a black coloring. Hmm, can see there today nothing more of it. For us more credible is the second explanation. The Ottomans are supposed to have given symbolic color designations to the cardinal points. So black stood for north and red for south. So far with Black and Red Sea comprehensible. But what happened with the White Sea (for West) and the Blue Sea (for East), only the gods know. So also this variant is limping. Remains of course variant three, which simply assumes that a translation error has crept in over the centuries.
Whatever the reasons that gave the Black Sea its name, we enjoy the sight of it. Nothing is as calming and inspiring as this far view to the horizon, feet in the soft sand and listening to the waves of the surf. We set to work again on our experiences of the past days, sorting photos, editing videos and writing these texts. Our "work place" is the most beautiful one can imagine on earth, surrounded by nature and salty air and still with the luxury of our mobile home.
It is now the end of August and the hot spell seems to be slowly coming to an end. According to weather forecasts, the temperatures with the new month should finally fall below the 30°C mark again. The end of summer doesn't seem to be far away anymore. We get a workshop appointment for our air conditioner for Wednesday in Constanţa. Until then, our supplies will probably be just enough. One thing leads to another and we are back on the road!
From now on, we are no longer heading south or east, we are heading back northwest. Bucharest is exactly on the way. So, off to the big city!
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