I’m in Romania! Today was my first day volunteering on the Halmyris archaeological dig and my third day in the country. I am so excited to be here, and I’m greatly looking forward to the next month of archaeological work and traveling around Romania.
I finished finals at the University of Otago on June 22nd, and from June 23rd to July 4th I was traveling the South Island with my friend Sarah (who is not the same Sarah from my spring break trip). I’ll still post the details of that trip (including when I went bungee jumping!) but I’ll intersperse them with posts on my time in Romania so I don’t get too far behind.
I left New Zealand on the 5th of July and it took me four plane rides over three days to make it to Romania. I took a four-hour plane to Sydney with a one-hour layover, a 13-hour flight to Delhi with a 20-hour layover, a 9-hour flight to Milan with a 19-hour layover, and finally a two-hour flight to Bucharest, Romania. The flights themselves weren’t that bad but because all my layovers were at nighttime I stayed up the entire time I was on the plane. It was very boring but I watched a few movies and read a lot. The layover in India was really great because the airline gave me a free hotel voucher which got me a nice hotel room (with the best mattress I’ve slept on in years) and free dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant. My layover in Italy, however, was not nearly as nice.
It started with my plane getting delayed on the tarmac so we had to wait for an hour and a half in the plane before even taking off. That made it pretty late in the evening when we got into Italy, so instead of taking the long train ride into the city to sleep in a cheap hostel, I just got a hotel room near the airport. The rest of my night was fine and I slept quite well but I ran into some trouble when I went to pay for my hotel room in the morning: my credit card wouldn’t work. I didn’t have enough euros on me to cover the cost, so I had to walk for fifteen minutes to an ATM and fifteen minutes back, in the midday Italian heat, alongside a road with no sidewalks. So that wasn’t very fun.
Then I got on the shuttle and went to the airport with plenty of time before my flight. I checked the flight board to see what gate my flight was leaving from but I couldn’t find it. Confused, I double-checked my confirmation email. The date and time were all correct, so why wasn’t I seeing my flight? Then it hit me. Oh, no. I was at the wrong airport!
To make a long story short, I ended up getting a 90-euro taxi to the other airport and made it onto my flight with a little time to spare and a lot of worrying. The situation sucked but I made my flight and learned my lesson- always, always check the airport!
Finally, I had made it to Bucharest. I got in around four and easily made it into the city and to my hostel. I met up with Marlee, another volunteer at Halmyris, for dinner and had an early night since I was very jet-lagged. The next day I spent wandering around the old city of Bucharest, stopping in stores that caught my eye, waiting out an afternoon rainstorm in a Starbucks, and watching the sunset in a park near my hostel. Bucharest was a beautiful city, all tall stone buildings, hidden parks, wide canals, and narrow cobblestone walkways lined with shops and restaurants.
That night I met the rest of the Halmyris volunteers over dinner. There are around 35 of us in total, and our ages, occupations, and places of origin vary wildly. There are professors, historians, college students, people researching for their Ph.D theses, retirees, and even a farmer or two; people with brown hair, red hair, white hair, no hair; from America, Japan, Turkey, England, and Romania; people who are embarking on their first dig or who have been coming to Halmyris for years. We have it all. The dinner was nice and afterwards we went for drinks and ice cream. It was fun to talk to everyone and to hear about their diverse stories and experiences.
The next morning we woke up bright and early and got on a bus to Murighiol, the village closest to the site where we would be staying. The drive took about four hours (plus a stop for lunch) and took us through some beautiful countryside, villages, and fields of corn and sunflowers.
Murighiol is a small village whose name means purple lake in Turkish, after the way the town’s lake turns violet at sunset. The main road runs alongside a bank, a grocery store, two convenience stores, and a few restaurants and bars. Every house has its own garden and often some chickens and roosters whose crowing wakes us up every morning. Storks nest on top of the telephone poles and stray cats and dogs wander the streets. We are staying in a lovely B&B run by Mariana and her husband that is just three minutes’ walk from the restaurant where we get all our meals.
Today was our first day working at Halmyris. Our daily schedule runs a little like this:
Today was a fairly easy day, since it was our introduction to the site. Dr. John Karavas, our site supervisor, gave us a tour of the site and some historical background. The site dates back to the 2nd century and sits in an area that once was the convergence of the Danube river and the Black Sea. It was one of the most important military, civilian, economic and religious centers in the region throughout history, and had been occupied more-or-less continuously by different groups for over 1,000 years. The archaeological site so far consists of a fort, a bathhouse, two large gates, numerous towers, and a basilica/church. Under the basilica is a crypt with beautiful frescoes that contained the bodies of two Christian martyrs executed in 290 AD. This find was extremely significant both anthropologically and culturally and really put Halmyris on the map. Unfortunately due to lack of funding the basilica is only partially excavated and continues to be exposed to the elements, and without further care the frescoes will soon fall apart and be lost forever. During the month that we are here, we will be working on excavating the eastern part of the fort and two towers.
After the tour of the site we got to work on clearing the area we will be excavating. Currently it looks like nothing more than a grassy hill which in some areas has an unusually large amount of flat stones (most likely marking underground walls). We had a controlled burn of the vegetation and used shovels and hoes to clear the area. By the time we cleared the hill we were all sooty, dirty, tired, and happy to go back to Murighiol for lunch. Tomorrow we will be split into teams and start actually digging.
Unfortunately I’m not allowed to put any pictures of the site on social media, but I highly encourage you to check out the Halmyris website here.
Until next time,