Friday 10 July 2015

I love dingy Constanta very much

I spent the dog days sitting happily on the terrace of the Palace Hotel, Constanta, where I may continue to work on Monday or until affairs that can’t be conducted by telephone or internet require my presence in Bucharest. I always like to stay at the oldest hotel in town and rejoice when they are small and friendly and cheap. The Palace is wonderful, built 1914 when Europe was still civilised and a lift takes me from my bedroom to the port. I regret the chi chi little bars and restaurants on the 'port turistic' but they are practical, unlike the shabby slumminess that I used to like. 

A snobby Romanian-American woman friend expressed horror that I could enjoy being alone for days or stay at a hotel that only costs EUR33  a night, including (a splendid) bedroom. Gosh how far the leu has fallen recently. Actually the hotel is probably the nicest on the Romanian coast. It feels like a good hotel should - has an internal courtyard, high- ceilinged bedrooms and a terrace overlooking the sea. It is full of nice families, nice people (snobbish people go to more expensive places, unimaginative people avoid Constanta for places with more beach and less town). There are thankfully very few children but those there are make the place feel like an Edwardian novel. Seaside holidays are always Edwardian but here more so than elsewhere.

I first came to Constanta in 1999 and felt it belonged to a black and white film - you expect to see Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet playing backgammon outside a shop. But it is only sixteen years later that I finally am smitten. And it's not because of the tarted up restaurants and bars on the port. It's not because of the beach which I haven't visited nor the National Archaeological Museum - ditto, alas. It's the dusty tree-lined broken streets. Exactly the Balkan dingy disreputable charm I seek in Durres, Burgas or Edirne but which is here two hours now by fast train from Bucharest.

Why I like it so much more may be because in 1999 I thought of 1880s buildings as recent - my home town is full of them - and because I didn't yet know that much of the middle East feels a bit like this. I get into trouble with some Romanian friends by comparing Romania to the Arab world (it's to do with the Romanian formality and attitude towards power, mostly) fact I do so to persuade myself that Romania is the Near East, not really European. here in Constant though it does feel that Romania is the Middle East dream that it is France.

Here is what I wrote about Constanta after a a fleeting visit here last year.

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