Our two days in Romania’s capital city of Bucharest were followed by a day in the Black Sea port city of Constanța where we boarded our river ship.


During our morning guided walk along Victory Avenue we learned about the pro-democracy demonstrations that turned violent when the military started firing at the crowd with hollow-point bullets in 1989. The Romanian Revolution resulted in unseating the ruthless communist-era dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We had a first-person account of the uprising by Egmont Puscasu, who at age 15 was the youngest person involved in the fighting. Approximately 1200 people were killed, including Egmont’s best friend standing right beside him. After Ceaușescu was captured most of the armed forces switched sides and the bloodshed ended shortly after. He was subsequently convicted of genocide and executed.

Egmont Puscasu talking to our tour group

Celebration and Demonstration

May 10 was a day of celebration of the crowning of Romania’s first King Carol I in 1881. Our first indication of that was a group of historically dressed cavalrymen who appeared to be preparing for a parade. Although it was a normal work-day, there was also a major rally organized by the public education unions to protest the low wages and lack of education infrastructure investment (the average wage for new teachers in Romania is under US$550 per month). More than 10,000 educators marched, holding up traffic for several hours.

Horsemen preparing for Monarchy Day celebration of King Carol I crowning in 1881.

The next day we toured the opulent Palace of the Parliament building that Ceaușescu had initiated before his downfall. With its abundance of marble it is considered the heaviest building in the world. It is also the second largest administrative building after the USA’s Pentagon. Half of the building is below ground. Construction of the palace started in 1984 and required demolishing 30,000 homes and 28 houses of worship, with more than 40,000 people relocated. Another eight churches were relocated. The building is magnificent, but the cost, direct and indirect, was extreme.

Palace of the Parliament

From Bucharest we travelled by bus to the Black Sea port city of Constanța. As we approached the city we came across hundreds of Ukranian grain trucks lined up for several miles alongside the highway. With Russia blocking Ukraine’s Odesa port, the country’s grain exports have to travel overland to Constanța, where the trucks wait for days for their turn to offload onto ships at the largest Black Sea port.

Ukraine Grain Trucks in a miles-long line for the port of Constanța


In Constanța we checked into our ship, the M/S River Adagio, which would provide our accommodation, transportation, and outstanding meals for the rest of the journey. On our walking tour of the city the next day we first stopped at the National Archeology Museum which houses statues and artifacts from Roman times and beyond, including several marble statuettes from the second century AD. In front of the museum is a statue of the Roman poet Ovid, who was exiled to Constanța (then named Tomis) in AD 8.

We also toured the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, with a detailed narrative of the very colorful icons and decorations by the resident Romanian Orthodox priest. In front of the cathedral there are extensive Roman ruins. Across the street we had our first view of the Black Sea, with numerous ships on the horizon waiting to get into the port.

After a short visit to a nearby beach and farmers’ market we were back to the ship for the start of our cruise. The first sixty miles was along the Danube to Black Sea Canal, built from 1976 to 1987 largely by political prisoners of the communist regime in labor camps. The total number of prisoners who worked on the canal is unknown, but the camps held up to 20,000 detainees, and it is estimated that several thousand died during the canal’s construction.

Next: Bulgaria

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