MY two days at the resort were devoted to delta sightseeing, first in a speedboat that took me into a network of river veins north of Tulcea, marked by signs, like city streets. I saw egrets, herons and immature cormorants in treetop nests, isolated wildlife viewing towers, dilapidated excursion boats and weekend anglers in dinghies underneath an awning of willows, hoping for a strike from one of the delta's mean trophy pikes. Along the river, kids in mismatched swimming suits dived off the banks while their parents played cards and drank beer at waterfront campsites.
I got all the way to Sulina, the biggest town in the delta with a population of about 5,000. A century ago, it was the headquarters of the European Commission for the Danube River, which engineered the removal of seven wide "S" curves in the Sulina channel, shortening the trip for freighters from Tulcea to the sea by about 17 miles. At the time, the town had about 35,000 people, foreign consulates and a busy port.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 08, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Romania: A map accompanying an Aug. 6 Travel section article about the Danube delta labeled Budapest as the capital of Romania. The country's capital is Bucharest.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 13, 2006 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Romania: A map accompanying an Aug. 6 article about the Danube delta labeled Budapest as the capital of Romania. The country's capital is Bucharest.
But no engineer can change the fact that the Danube is a great sieve, carrying silt and debris that it leaves behind on entering the Black Sea, incessantly reconfiguring the coastline. Sulina is now about five miles west of the sea, a town in dry dock. Submerged concrete barriers have been installed in the channel to keep the waterway on course.
The next day, resort guide Catalin Stonescu took me to the moldering natural history museum in Tulcea to inspect a full array of stuffed delta birds, plus fish swimming in tanks in the basement. We also crossed Lake Somova in a motorboat, where I saw something better: a pale yellow squacco heron poised on a lily pad, as motionless as the ones at the museum.
Then it was on to the Christian Orthodox Saon Monastery, whose silver domes loom above reed beds. The compound has two churches, one from the early 19th century, built in the Russian style with a baby-blue interior, the other more typically Romanian, lined with recently renovated frescoes. We lunched in the refectory, served by a nun in a black habit who filled the table with delicious stuffed peppers, chicken stew, home-made cheese, bread, wine and pastry.
Too soon, the idyll was over and I was back at the Bucharest airport, watching Romania rush into the future, half wondering whether the weekend had been a dream. So I got out my map and traced the inefficient, indirect course of the Danube, which I now know reaches the Black Sea in its own good time.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Romanian river tour
From LAX, connecting service to Bucharest is offered on Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, British Airways, Air Tahiti Nui and United. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,132 until Sept. 1, dropping to $1,016 until Oct. 31.
WHERE TO STAY:
Delta Nature Resort, Somova-Parches, Kilometer 3, Tulcea, Romania; www.deltaresort.com, has 30 villas, a restaurant, pool and boat dock overlooking Lake Somova and the Danube River; doubles about $125 per person, including breakfast, or $200 per person, full board. Special sightseeing and fishing packages are available. A van transfer from the Bucharest airport to the resort costs $650 for four people round-trip.
TO LEARN MORE:
Romanian National Tourist Office, (212) 545-8484, www.romaniatourism.com.
-- Susan Spano