You have NO idea how hard it has been for me to keep this trip quiet! I went on an urbex/paranormal/dark tourism adventure to Romania but entered a writing competition when I returned and the prize was a trip to the Balkans… which includes Romania. I didn’t want to spoil my chances because I had just come back from there but as the coast is clear and the worthy winners are celebrating, I can tell you everything! 😉
Meet the team:
L-R: Writer/musician Jonathan, photographer Nicola, your humble blogger, photographer Rebecca.
I had already visited a crypt with Rebecca as part of my day job and I told her that if she ever went to Romania, call me. I got the call last Autumn; a cross-country trip was being planned. A speedy flight search and £9.99 each way to Bucharest later (I’m writing a blog about cheap travel- keep checking back) and I was on the road again. Jonathan and Nicola had driven all the way from Bulgaria to join the crew and the night passed in a vodka-drinking darts-practising introduction-and-catch-up photo-sharing blur before we realised we’d have about four hours sleep and the hostel staff were wagging their fingers at us.
I resemble a disoriented swamp creature if I haven’t had eight hours sleep so don’t remember vast amounts of the morning… other than eating all the cheese. We’d stayed near Bucharest- Romania’s capital city- that night and headed down to the coastal town of Constanta bright and early.
Urbex. Short for ‘urban exploration’. Sometimes known as ‘roof hacking’. It’s the investigation (and often photographing) of abandoned man-made structures, sometimes legally… 😉
Urbexers (though not all of them) have a reputation. Some urbexers, apparently, think they are a combination of superhero and rock star, but infinitely cooler. A roof-crouching Batman with all the “get up and go” of Bear Grylls and a touch of Agent Mulder’s brooding mysticism. I wouldn’t know- my teams tend to be the same people because you begin to get comfortable, know each others limits and learn the difference between somebody’s awe-filled gasp and their “help, I’m falling through the floor” noise.
Almost all urbexers do take photographs- the motto is usually “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.” Nicola and Rebecca are photographers, I’m a writer who takes photos and Jonathan is a writer and musician who doesn’t. Walking through our first location- Constanta Cazino- a most spectacular abandoned building, in an urban setting and with all of us definitely in exploring mode, I could still hear among the echo of a thousand pigeons and Romanian murmurs, Jonathan’s indignant response to somebody: “I am NOT an urbexer”, and the following snickers.
In a world full of lines to straddle, I’m not sure exactly where I fit on the ‘urbexer’ spectrum. I’ve done my share of adventurous exploring but would I go it alone- find a place on a the map, camp solo outside and sneak in when the security guards change over? No. I think everyone should go with at least one buddy- some places can be dangerous, and it’s more fun in a small group! Does that take away my urbex badge? I don’t know! I am what I am, as they say…
Well, here it is: Constanta Cazino.
I hate to take away our ‘cool factor’ but we didn’t sneak in. We had been granted permission to be and film there and on the most beautiful of Spring days, surrounded by sun, shadow and pastel colours, we began our tour. Sony had filmed a video here in 2016 and as Sony are clearly not urbexers, they left considerably more than footprints: glitter, glitter everywhere…
I had misunderstood our schedule, which read “Constanta- Church and Casino” and spent several hours under the impression that the casino was also a church, and making up all kinds of stories in my head about how that worked. A gospel choir on stage, illuminated by heavenly light from the enormous shell-shaped window while a few stray poker chips lay scattered on the floor!
A croupier handing out communion wafers at top speed!
A sermon at the blackjack table- tithe-tips from the high rollers!
It was only after filming for half an hour that I realised my mistake. Whoops…
It would have made a beautiful church though…
I got lost too, of course- eventually I realised I’d only heard the liquid croo-ing of a hundred pigeons and my own voice echoing for quite some time. I hurried upstairs, examining small ladders leading who-knows-where until one of our guides found me and led me to the group… on the roof. I love secret rooftops. Surely guests didn’t gamble for the chance to crouch on the slope which promised a stunning view and messy end for the too-curious? Carved curlicues bordered a neon casino sign that has not been lit for decades.
Speaking of secret things- we found a cat! Shy little tortoiseshell “Caz” kept popping up to investigate. We were worried she’d find herself shut somewhere but as she emerged from a hole in the wall, we soon realised she had her own ways of getting around and there were more than enough pigeons for her to catch. She refused to model for me- at least buildings generally stand still.
Here’s some footage I took- just listen to that and imagine it amplified and ceaseless… with feathers floating down around you. 🙂
More photos of the casino at the bottom…
We went into town for lunch and were given a traditional spring ‘Mărțișor’ bracelet each. (More on that in a later blog). We made three attempts to see the church that wasn’t a casino and was in fact a synagogue- but in the absence of its human guardian, it was watched over by two very dutiful dogs. As the gate looked rather ineffective, our team wisely trusted that the dogs could more than compensate for a rickety gate and on finding we still couldn’t get hold of the human guard some hours later, we headed back to the casino to do some sunset photography, via an antiques shop full of treasure that proved irresistable to one of us…
Look what we missed! One day, I’ll go back.
Our sunset was also conspicuously absent and in the freezing cold, Rebecca and I battled to get some beautifully atmospheric shots- which we did get! As we left to begin our journey North, the sun decided to put on a display- a little infuriating but as we were full of pizza with a radio playing AC/DC, comparing terrible jokes and on an adventure, what was one missed sunset? 😉
And with that, we made our way North- adventure to be continued. 😉
Next post: The literary revolt in Romania’s most beautiful prison, and visiting the castle where Vlad the Impaler didn’t live…
Here are some more pictures of the casino:
For size reference, Nicola is really tall!