Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Standing at the Danube

In Izmail, I stood at the Danube River in a light snowfall unable to continue on St Andrew's route because of modern political borders. A Roman Catholic priest was very kind to me and helped look into availabe possibilities. He arranged for a local reporter and a translator to talk to me about my pilgrimage through Ukraine and how safe and wonderful it's been. The very old city of Tulcea, across the Danube in Romania, is the next place to go. I can imagine that St Andrew used a boat to get himself upstream through the few meanders, but it can't be done now. Apparently, in summer, there was a passenger ferry, but it went bankrupt and wouldn't run in winter anyway. I could walk the 20 km in a morning, but it's not quite frozen enough do so and I wouldn't know where to go to get my passport stamped, anyway. Taking a bus to Reni, 55 km north, then crossing into Moldova for a short distance, then crossing into Romania, then assessing the options to get back down to Tulcea, was the final conclusion on how to progress. Maybe St Andrew had visa issues, too. I don't know. But probably not. How could 'Terra Incognita' have a border patrol?

I executed the plan, learning along the way that it's possible to walk through the customs and immigration posts of Ukraine and Moldova, and to walk along the lonely road to Romania, but that it's not permitted to walk from Moldova into Romania. I suppose because there's a bridge involved. The reason wasn't made clear. Men with guns told me in Russian that I couldn't walk past. I respect their rules. One guard tried to shuffle me into a small car with four Moldovan men, each smoking a cigarrette, but seeing this as my fate, I looped around and pointed to a van with German plates. He allowed me to ask the driver if I could jump in to cross the border as his passenger. The jovial half Russian half German driver was happy to assist. He had two other passengers - a Romanian woman making her way home from Moldova and a Moldovan man trying to get to Bulgaria. The Moldovan man didn't have his paperwork in order, so after a long wait in the falling snow, the Russian/German driver gave him his duffle bag and we went on through the customs points and snowy bridge without him.

I've made it as far as Galata for the night and understand that there's a boat I can take toward Tulcea in the morning. A lot has happened quite quickly; it's a bit overwhelming. It was getting toward dusk when I arrived into this small city and I had know idea where to begin to look for lodging realizing that I don't speak the language, have no local currency, and no letter of introduction. No time to waste. I saw onion domes of an Orthodox church to the right when I approached on the main road, but saw a sign for the city center to the left. I had a good feeling that there'd be a Roman Catholic church in the city and would have a better chance of finding someone to explain my pilgrim needs to. A block later, right where I wanted it to be, a large Catholic church and rectory. It didn't take long to get myself welcomed in - good thing, too, the snow was coming down heavily - although to my great disappointment, when I reached for my Italian, I found it missing... one word, then another started coming back into my head as I tried to push out the now-unnecessary Russian and Ukrainian. The priest I spoke with was both amused and patient. Discussions and introductions, then, lo and behold, a nun who speaks English... phew! I have some breathing room to get my language thoughts in order...

So the Ukraine portion of the show is a thing of the past. It's sad in a way. I'm at the halfway point of my journey, but at the moment it feels like one pilgrimage has ended and another is beginning without time to sit and digest all that I've experienced. That was over 70 days in Ukraine, with the Cyrillic alphabet, and all that borscht! I'm inclined to pop back to the States and debrief all my pals about my adventures, but that would be illogical. The tales will have to wait. More tales are to be had. Stay tuned.


Sylvia said...

Congratulations! You are with the grace of God, St. Andrew and all the holy saints and angels. Best wishes to you for the next leg of your journey!


LDahl said...

Romania!!! :) I can't wait to hear about Romania. Be safe.