Forty-five years ago, 1977, my MG Midget was produced in Abingdon and I took my wife and children on a holiday to Constanta, Romania. I have just spent the past day and a half revisiting and walking around Constanta and it is a very different place.
In the late seventies, the “Iron Curtain” countries started to open up to western tourists. The Black Sea coast has some great beaches and the great tsunami of tourists, flocking to Spanish resorts, had peaked and were eager to try new locations. Our holiday was booked for June/July period, I don’t remember the exact dates, and we had an anxious period after a seriously bad earthquake in the January that had affected a large area of the country. However, we were told it was fine to go ahead and so landed in the first Communist governed country we had been too.
My memories of Constanta from then are of drab concrete block buildings, gangs of women sweeping the streets, Russian holiday makers who were allocated holidays by the Russian authorities and Romanians that were warned off from fraternising with westerners. The only shops worth visiting were the “Dollar Shops”, so called because everything had to be paid for in hard currency and locals were not allowed in them.
The Romanians were, even under those circumstances, friendly and warm, but wary that they were being watched to make sure they were not over-friendly. All of the adults desperately wanted western produced clothes and would offer to but almost everything you wore. Jeans and ladies tights were the most highly prized.
Today Constanta is a thriving sun/beach resort with all the commercial outlets you would expect, a great restaurant and café presence and plenty of entertainment. There are still a few surviving soviet era buildings around that are still accommodating mainly Romanian and Bulgarian holiday makers whose expectation of hotels has not progressed as much as some. This may of course be related to the fact that in both of these countries there are still plenty of Soviet era houses and apartments.
The next two to three days I will be heading into Moldova and up to the Ukraine border. I have no idea what to expect and have been trying to ascertain the latest situation. I would very much like, if nothing else, to express my solidarity for the people and the country as a whole, but don’t believe there is much I will be able to do other than ‘vent my spleen’. I sincerely hope that you people, from 23 countries, that follow these road-trips will join me in expressing your solidarity by donating to the Save the Children fundraising page in the right-hand sidebar. I know many of you have given to the previous children’s charities on my earlier trips, but please this is urgent.