Sipping my cup of instant coffee as I gaze out from my small balcony to the streets of Varna. I’ve been here for four days. Today I must cross the border. My Maps app shows about two hours of riding to get to Constanta on the Black Sea Coast in Romania. I look through the door into my room.
Just a few moments ago, I picked up the bag of my cleaned clothes from the laundry service down the street. I drain my coffee and go about the ritual of packing for the journey. My clothes and toiletries go into one of the black Ortlieb duffels. In the other, I pack up the technology gear. Things like hard drives, chargers, batteries, the drone, and others each has a place in a sack or case. I pack the duffels on my bike using ROK straps.
MY computer slips into its slim briefcase with its power brick, cord, and mouse. Downstairs I’ll stash this case into the Jesse bag on the left side of the bike. Before zipping closed my Lowepro Mini-Trekker back, I nestle my Canon DSLR alongside my two other lenses, flash, spare barrettes, and charger. The backpack sits in my top box.
Every time I stop and settle in, and every time I pack up and journey on, I must unpack or pack these four bags on my bike. It’s second nature, muscle memory. Yet I always struggle to close the duffel zippers. If I just had a little less clothing or tech gear, it would be easier. Or would it?
The friendly staff at the Hotel Divesta ask me, “are you sure you don’t stay one more night?” They laugh. When I arrived here five days ago, I told them I’d stay just two nights. Yet every morning after that, I ask them, “Can I stay one more night?” Yesterday I had to move to another room because someone booked my room online.
“No,” I tell them while pretending to dry my eyes, “it’s a sad day, but I must leave you—and Bulgaria.”
There is a minor problem with my bike. My exhaust is rattling. I think all the miles and rough roads and the vibration that comes with it, have shaken the screws and rivets loose. It hasn’t been that long. Just last year in Croatia an excellent exhaust mechanic refurbished the entire pipe. Now it’s annoying—and noisy. I tried to find a shop in Plovdiv and Varna to help me, but everyone is on holiday this time of year. I’ll try again in Romania.
I pack up my bike, and with goodbye waves, I scoot down the street and make my way out of the city to the countryside. In an hour, I’m at the border. A long line of cars idle and wait for customs and immigration clearance. I take advantage of the small profile of my motorcycle and the gap between the cars and jump the line nearly to the front. I’m just one person. Most of the vehicles have several passengers. Each must present a passport, and the driver must have documentation for the car.
It’s an easy crossing. I present my green insurance card, passport, and California DMV registration card for my bike. Moments later, with a new stamp in my passport, I’m in Romania. For almost an hour, I ride through farmland, a few small villages, and then cross a modern bridge and roll into Constanța. I pass the port and make my way to a modest hotel in Old Town.
Then I go through the ritual again. This time I unpack “Doc” and settle into my room.
Even though it’s a popular beach destination for Romanians, today, Constanța seems quiet. I walk around the old town and wander through a small flea market in the main square. As day drifts into the night, there is more activity on the pedestrian promenade in the old town.
I feel the energy, so I step into a wine bar in the old town. The temperature is still hot, and though it was a short ride today, I’m feeling parched. So I opt for a cold glass of rose. The bartender doesn’t speak English, but I’m able to communicate enough to learn he loves photography and wants to check out my Canon DSLR. So he snaps a few pics of me.
For dinner, I look forward to my first taste of Romanian wine. Outside tables at many restaurants fill up with diners. I grab a table inside Tara’s GastroPub in the old town. It’s cozy and colorful, and one wall lined with a wine rack and many bottles catches my eye. As I examine the list, I realize that nearly every bottle they offer is from the same winery: Purcari. There are a few other offerings, but they tend to be sweeter or white.
I ask my server for a recommendation while explaining it’s my first night in town and how psyched I am about Romanian wine. I’m drawn to the “Freedom Blend” because it features three different grapes from three different countries—Romania, Georgia, and Ukraine. She says it’s popular and from a Romanian producer, Purcari. The bottle she brings to my table is roasting hot—nearly boiling. I ask if she could chill it down a bit with some ice. She takes the bottle back, and from a refrigerator across the dining room, she grabs another bottle and brings it to my table. It’s nearly freezing. We have a communication problem. “It’s too cold,” I ask again about ice, but she’s frustrated with me and asks a colleague to talk to me. I give up and ask for the hot bottle, and I’ll deal with it.
After pouring my glass, I examine the bottle closer. The wine is not from Romania. It’s produced in Moldova. Even more, I’m drinking from a glass branded with the “Purcari” logo of the Moldovan wine. I notice the glass door of another smaller wine fridge also is branded with the Purcari logo.
When my server returns, I point out that the “Freedom Blend” is not Romanian wine. “Yes, it is,” she insists. Now she’s calling me a liar. I point to the words on the bottle, which are in Romanian. But it’s clear it says produced in Moldova. She insists this is from Romania. Once again, I give up. It’s weird, but at one of the best restaurants in town, they offer wine from just one producer.
To be fair, the food at Tara’s GastroPub here in Constanta is excellent. The wine is good too. It’s just not Romanian.
The next evening I dine at Ana si Ion, a homey, traditional Romanian restaurant. I sit on the patio in back while a chef tends to an open flame barbecue and a music group serenaded diners with gypsy music. Quite a different experience from Tara’s, but here at least I enjoyed authentic Romanian wine.
Constanta didn’t impress me much. Though I didn’t take the time to dig in and explore. For me, this city is just a hopping-off point to the rest of Romania. I spent most of my time here on my phone and computer tracking down experts in the wine business and making appointments. Tomorrow I’ll visit my first Romanian winery—a very new project called Rasova. I’m sure there, my luck will change.