NYC, the last stop

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by alexwesthoff

The last stop in this round of Alex’s adventures was New York City to visit my brother and his fiance. I flew directly from Cairo to NYC on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately I was unable to sleep on the plane and was pretty tired when I arrived in NYC. I took the train to Hoboken, NJ where Ben and Anna live. Anna had prepared this huge feast for Thanksgiving and despite being so tired, I had a great time. I was also excited to hear the news of their recent engagement.

I was there for 4 days, 5 nights. After having been in Egypt I was a bit burnt out on being a tourist and avoided doing the touristy NYC things. Mainly just explored cool neighborhoods, record shops, Central Park and did some shopping. I hadn’t visited New York for well over a decade and couldn’t remember it to well. I was under the impression that it was all skyscrapers and busy streets. But there are some pretty quiet and pleasant neighborhoods there.

Now I have been back in San Francisco for a few days, staying at my parent’s house in Potrero Hill until I get settled in a more permanent situation. Adjusting back to life, back to work and back to reality in general. Already I am missing traveling quite a bit. This really was the trip of a life time and did inspire me in number of ways, both on a personal level as well as an academic/professional level. Perhaps the connections I made in the places I visited will enable me to travel abroad more in the future. We will see…

Now I am trying to write up my thoughts about the places that I have visited. Soon I will get back to work in the delta closest to home – the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. With the recent new developments of Delta Vision and the pursuit of the National Heritage Area designation it is an exciting and eventful time of change in this region. Hopefully my research abroad can be put to good use as I extract lessons learned on sustainability of these other delta landscapes…

Egypt, part 2…

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2008 by alexwesthoff

After by brief stay in lovely Alexandria, I took a bus back up to Cairo. From there I took an overnight train down to Aswan, which was a 14 hour train ride. From there I began the tour of upper Egypt that my hostel had arranged for me. Aswan was a nice city too. Though my favorite Egyptian city would have to be Alexandria as it was less designed for tourism and offered more glimpses of authenticity.


Nile at Aswan at sunset

The next morning was a bus trip to Abu Simbel which departed from my hotel at 3:30 AM as it was a 3 hour bus ride from Aswan. The sites at Abu Simbel are some of the most iconic sites of Egypt: the Great Temple of Ramses II and the Temple of Hathor, which overlook Lake Nasser. Really beautiful.


Great Temple of Ramses II


Temple of Hathor

After that is was back on the bus to visit the high dam. The high dam is the dam that was constructed in order to regulate the Nile’s flow and significantly increased the amount of cultivatable land in Egypt. It also created Lake Nasser, which is the world’s largest artificial lake. Though a number of persons on the bus did not seem to impressed about this stop being on their itinerary, I was still glad we stopped their as it gave me a better understanding of environmental planning issues surrounding the Nile River.


Aswan High Dam

After that we went to Philae (Agilkia Island) to visit the Temple of Isis. Apparently the original Philae island had been swamped much of the time after the old Aswan dam was constructed, which had detrimental effects on the temple. So between 1972 and 1980 UNESCO became involved and disassembled, and then reassembled the complex on the nearby Agilkia Island. Isis was the goddess of magic and was the sister/wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. At one point Isis was the greatest of all Egyptian gods and was worshipped as late as 550 AD right across the Roman Empire as far as Britain. In order to get to the island, we needed to take a boat. This temple stands out to me as being one of my favorite ones we visited.


Temple of Isis


Temple of Isis

After that I was taken back to my hotel in Aswan and then picked up for a Felucca trip down the Nile. Feluccas are little sail boats that are popular amongst budget travelers. The other passengers aboard my felucca consisted of one other American, two Australians, one Chinese and one Argentinean and there was the boat’s captain and his assistant. The trip was a lot of fun. We were on the boat for two nights, leisurely sailing down the Nile. We didn’t do much during the day, just admired the Nile. And they served pretty good food and tea, the hibiscus tea was especially notable.


Aboard the Felucca


Along the Nile

After the boat trip we were put back on tour busses and taken to more sites. First was the Temple of Kom Ombo. This temple was dedicated to two deities; the crocodile god Sobek and Haroeris, meaning Horus the Elder. Near the temple is a shrine to Hathor, which now contains mummified crocodiles that had been dug up from the nearby sacred animal sanctuary. After that was the Temple of Horus. Horus is the falcon god of the sky, another beautiful temple which was decorated with statues of falcons.


Kom Ombo


Sobek at Kom Ombo


Temple of Horus


Falcom Statue at Horus

Next was a bus ride to Luxor to visit more temples. Karnak temple was the first stop in Luxor, which is known as being one of the most beautiful temples in the world. This one was dedicated to Theban gods and the glory of the pharos. After that temple we were taken to the Luxor temple. Though it was dark out, Luxor temple is well lit and a popular place to visit at night. What a full day that one was of sightseeing…


At Karnak


At Karnak


At Luxor Temple


At Luxor Temple

The next morning was a visit to the West Bank of Luxor. The first stop was the Colossi of Memnon statues. After that was the Valley of Kings. The Valley of Kings contains 63 Royal Tombs from the New Kingdom period (1550-1069 BC) including Ramses II and Tutankhamun (aka ‘King Tut.’), whose mummy is still in place there. Many of the tombs are really beautiful, though they don’t allow photography in them and charge heavy fines to tourists who are caught taken photographs. After that it was back to Luxor and then I was put on an overnight train back to Cairo.

This tour of upper Egypt packed the most amount of spectacular sights in the shortest period of time. I can’t really say that I love visiting places where there are thousands of others visiting on the same day. It is a bit overwhelming and exhausting, and doesn’t seem so authentic. But that is just something to be expected from visiting somewhere like Egypt that caters to the masses as there aren’t any other really good ways to see the sights as an outsider. And since I was doing research in Egypt, meeting locals and seeing sights that not everyone else was seeing, I was able to have some more authentic experiences in the country.

Back in Cairo, I spent the next few days trying to speak with persons who could answer questions I had developed on Nile Delta tourism to pharonic sites. I made several visits to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who are the folks doing the research and planning surrounding pharonic sites. I was able to speak with someone who gave me more information about the development of Bubastis, the cult centre of Bastet that I had written about in my previous entry. Apparently the visitor’s center at Bubastis is the first one they are developing in the Nile Delta and will serve as a pilot project for future visitors centers in the delta. I was also able to speak with some folks who work with Dr. Zahi Hawass, who is one of the most famous Egyptologists today. Sadly (but not surprisingly) Dr. Hawass was too busy himself to meet with me. But his staff members that I did speak with assured me that he would send me detailed responses to questions I sent him by email. He must be one busy man as his name seems to appear in almost every article I have read about modern Egyptology due to the large number of projects he has going on, yet he still has time to personally respond to all of his emails.

Egypt was my last foreign country on the trip. It is amazing how fast 3 months flew by. Now I am back in the U.S., visiting my brother and his fiance for Thanksgiving.

Egypt, part 1…

Posted in Uncategorized on November 23, 2008 by alexwesthoff

My time in Egypt has been extremely eventful and haven’t had time to write a blog entry yet. So this will be part 1…

I arrived in Cairo at about 4 AM on the Thursday before last. Upon stepping out of the airport I was bombarded by taxi drivers, all wanting to take me to my hostel for way to much money. Typical of anywhere in Egypt, as I learned quickly. I was able to negotiate a fair price with one driver. Just on the cab ride alone, I witnessed how beautiful Egypt is as the streets of Cairo are just deep with history and beauty. I made it to the hostel and checked in. Had a nap and wanted to explore Cairo a bit.

So I took a trip to Old Cairo. It was within walking distance of my hostel. Though walking in Cairo is a bit crazy. The traffic system borderlines on anarchy with few crosswalks or crosslights. So pedestrians just sort of cross when it seems safe, and assume cars will stop for them. Somehow it all seems to work though and I haven’t witnessed any accidents yet.

Old Cairo was bustling with pedestrians, cars, horses, donkeys and more, all traveling down fairly narrow streets filled with shops and food vendors. It was nice to walk around, as it seemed like an authentic view of Cairo. I felt like a foreigner, but not a tourist and barely saw any other tourists there, even though it is on all the tourist maps. There were a lot of beautiful religious buildings, many of them over one thousand years old.

 
 

The people were all quite friendly, even small children. They recognized I was a foreigner and would ask my name and nationality. Egyptians take their hospitality very seriously and are genuinely friendly people. Many of them really like sitting down with foreigners, having a cup of tea and chatting. Especially with Obama in office, many are very optimistic about improving international relationships and get excited to meet Americans, as they want Americans to like Egyptians.

It can be tricky though as some of them have other intentions for conveying their friendly attitude. Many of them are hoping to get money from foreigners, or ‘baksheesh’ which means tips. Egypt is an extremely safe country to travel in as the crime rate is quite low. However, many locals think of fairly clever ways to con foreigners into giving them money. They will see a foreigner and act like they want to become good friends. They will try and persuade visitors to let them act as tour guides. And often times they will take foreigners places and claim there are entrance fees in order for the foreigners to give them money, which they supposedly are using to pay the entrance fee, while really the foreigner could have gotten in for free. During my walk through Old Cairo I had several encounters with people acting as friends/guides to me. Fortunately I had been warned about this behavior and was able to avoid these situations quickly.

The next day I took my first trip into the Nile Delta. Compared to the other deltas I have visited on this trip, the Nile Delta has been relatively untouched by tourists. This may seem strange, as the Nile River south of the delta has mass tourism as well as the surrounding cities of Cairo and Alexandria. I was interested in visiting this Delta to get an understanding of why tourism has not been developed in the delta, as perhaps tourism is not a good option for all places. As the delta is off the beaten path, I needed to think of creative ways to visit it. The Lonely Planet had mentioned these barrages, which are river busses that leave from Cairo and go to the delta town of Qanater. I thought the trip sounded fun, and decided to take it. Fridays are the best day to take the trip as it is a holiday for most Egyptians, and therefore the barrages are the most crowded. 

The boat ride itself was the highlight of the trip, more so than the town of Qanater. It was pretty full, probably almost 200 people, and I was one of the only foreigners, so the experience seemed very authentic. The ride was about 3 hours each way. On the deck of the boat, it is easy to sit back and take in the beauty of the Nile. But inside the boat, there was a DJ playing fairly loud Egyptian music, and many people dancing. They encouraged me to dance as well, and I did for awhile. It was quite fun and I really liked the music. However, as I was an American, they started playing hip-hop music in order to please me. But I actually preferred the Egyptian music.


The Barrage


People dancing on the barrage

The boat stopped in Qanater and I was able to get glimpses of delta agriculture and lifestyles. It is extremely fertile and the land has been farmed on for centuries. It is really no surprise that ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile as it really is the life source for Egypt, as otherwise it would all be a barren dessert. On the boat ride back, I took a break from dancing on the way back and set on the deck observing bird life and recreation in the Delta. Quite beautiful, especially at sunset.
Nile Delta agriculture


The Nile Delta


Sunset on the Nile

The next few days, I wanted to do the tourists things in and around Cairo. I visited the Egyptian museum and was definitely impressed by the collection of mummies, tombs, statues, and other antiques. I especially liked the animal mummy room where there are mummified crocodiles, cats, birds, shrews and all sorts of other creatures. They didn’t allow photos inside though. 
 
The next day was the pyramid trip. While pictures of the Giza pyramids may look like they are in the middle of the dessert somewhere, they are actually just in suburban Cairo. Anyways, I took a horseride around the Giza plateau in order to see the several pyramids and the sphinx. They were all definitely spectacular. I was also able to visit a number of the other pyramids, not in the Giza plateau including Dashur, Saqqara and Titi Pyramid. The tour also stopped in Memphis, which was the capital of Egypt for most of the Pharonic period.


The Great Pyramids


The Sphinx


On the horizon


Dashur Pyramid
 

Dashur Pyramid


Step Pyramid at Saqqara
 
My first stop on the trip was Bubastis. Bubastis is the center where the feline deity Bastet was once worshipped. As most people know, I am a cat owner and lover myself. So needless to say, I had been ecstatic when I found out I could justify visiting a place like Bubastis as part of my research, which combined my personal interest with cats and my academic/professional interest in delta heritage tourism. Unfortunately, the Temple of Bubastis is pretty much just rubble now. Once reason why the Nile Delta is not commonly visited by tourists is that while the dryness of the dessert has helped preserve many other pharonic sites, the wetness of the delta has had the opposite effect. Regardless it was still worth the visit. And near the temple there is this cat cemetery where at one point hundreds of bronze statues of cats had been found. Anyways, they are working on a visitors center in Bubastis, though it will not be complete for one year. So obviously efforts are being made to preserve Bubastis, and tourism is being used as a means to finance this preservation.


Alex and Bastet at Bubastis


Cat Cemetery at Bubastis

The next stop was Tanis. This was also really exciting, as no other visitors were there. But at one point I had three ‘guides’ following me around wanting baksheesh, though I had only agreed to having one. Nevertheless, it was quite exciting. It is the archaeological site that is still being excavated. So it was really like witnessing Egyptology in the development phase. There were all sorts of cool blocks and statues lying around dating back to 1000 BC. Also, Indiana Jones fans may remember that it is the place where Indiana Jones had discovered the Lost Ark.


In Tanis


Statue of Ramses the second in Tanis

I actually had been quite surprised on how urban much of the delta seemed. Though it is full of agriculture, there are towns and cities throughout it as well, I supposed to support the industry. The last stop on the tour was Tanta, which is the largest city in the Delta. The main visitor attraction of the city (at least for those visitors interested in Sufism) is the large mosque dedicated to Moroccan Sufi Sayyed Ahmed al-Badawi. The mosque was stunningly beautiful, especially as it got dark out as the whiteness of the mosque really stood out. They allowed me to go inside the mosque and walk around while my driver worshipped. It was quite lovely. A few people seemed to think I was lost though as I kept wondering around, not sure which rooms it was ok for me to enter. But not knowing Arabic, I was unsure how to explain my purpose for being there.


mosque dedicated to Moroccan Sufi Sayyed Ahmed al-Badawi in Tanta

That ended the tour so I had dinner with my driver and he took me to the bus station and I took a few hour bus ride to Alexandria. I found a nice place to stay for the night and wandered around Alexandria that night and the next day. I liked the city quite a bit. It is right on the Mediterranean Sea, and has a nice waterfront. Alexandria has quite a bit of history with Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, the Great Library and more. However, many of the historical buildings have been destroyed, or are now underwater. So there is not as many sightseeing opportunities in Alexandria, compared with other parts of Egypt. But it is a nice place to relax and escape the business of Cairo. I would have liked to stay there a bit longer, but on my tight schedule, balancing research and sightseeing, I had to move on.


Alexandria waterfront

To be continued…

Transylvania

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2008 by alexwesthoff

The sidetrip to Transylvania was well worth the time. When I had found out that Orsi, an old friend from Minneapolis, had moved back to Transylvania a few months ago I thought it would be fun to pay her a visit since I was going to be in Romania anyways. And I am very glad I went.

Saturday morning I left Tulcea. I took a maxitaxi to Bucharest, and then took a train to meet Orsi in the town of Sighisoara in Transylvania. I did not arrive there until about 10 pm and Orsi met me at the train station. She had found a quaint but nice hotel above a restaurant right across from the train station, so we figured we would just stay there for the night. We had some food at the restaurant and then wandered around Sighisoara a bit. It was dark out, but still obvious that the town was really cute and packed with interesting buildings and monuments.

Sighisoara is actually the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, who is the real Dracula. There is a bit of confusion amongst some about where Bram Stroker’s Dracula came from. Vlad Tepes’s name was given the name Dracula from his father, Vlad Dracul as it means ‘son of Dracula.’ He was a ruler of Wallachia for a years in the later 1400’s. Note that Wallachia isn’t even part of Transylvania, but just south of it. Though Vlad Tepes did not actually drink blood, but he did have cruel torture methods and killed heaps of people, therefore he was ‘bloodthirsty.’ The story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the blood-sucking vampire, which is set in Transylvania, is basically completely fictitious and really not related to Vlad Tepes except for the name and roughly the location.

The next morning we wandered around the town and looked at historic buildings and things. Most of the interesting attractions were clustered nearby one another. Overall it was a very cute town with monuments dating back to the 1200’s. Probably my favorite of the places we visited in Transylvania


Sweet old lady in Sighisoara


Cemetary in Sighisoara


Dracula sign


Vlad Tepes (The Original Dracula)


Orsi and I

That night we took the train back to Orsi’s hometown of Odorheiu Secuiesc where she lives with her father in his two story apartment. Orsi had moved to the U.S. at the age of 7 with her family, but her father had moved back to Odorheiu Secuiesc several years ago. Though they live in Romania, they speak Hungarian and consider themselves Hungarian as they live in an area that was part of Hungary prior to World War 1. Walking into her father’s place, it seemed just like a museum. His extensive antique collection is displayed throughout the apartment including beautiful Hungarian paintings and statues amongst many other relics from the past, much of which he had restored himself.

The next day we took a maxi taxi to the town of Targu Mures. It was a 3 hour ride each way, which enabled me to see the beautiful countryside filled with little farming villages. The horse-drawn buggies were especially cute. Targu Mures was not as quaint and charming as Sighisoara had been. One of the main attractions there is a cultural museum, which was actually closed as it was as Monday! Overall the trip was still worth it though as there was some interesting buildings throughout it.

The next day we took a maxi taxi to the town of Brasov. I had read about a place to stay in the Lonely Planet that was owned by this old Hungarian couple. It was basic, but still nice. And the heat worked well, which was essential as Brasov was pretty chilly! Brasov is a fairly main point for tourists in Transylvania and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The historic center was pretty cute also filled with historic buildings. We were going to take a hike around Mt Tampa, but the lift to get up there was closed, though we still got a pretty good view of the city from the foot of the lift. Mainly we just wandered around and looked at buildings, and had dinner in the cavernous restaurant.

 
Brasov Synagogue

Wednesday it was time to say goodbye. I had quite a good time seeing Orsi and catching up. It was nice to have an insider to show me around, though it also gave Orsi a chance to see places she normally does not visit. I took a maxi taxi down to the Bucharest airport and Orsi headed back to Odorheiu Secuiesc.

Overall I had quite a good time in Romania and am definitely glad I was able to incorporate it into the trip. Between the fairy-tale like landscape of the Danube Delta and the enchanting beauty of Transylvania it was an experience well worth it. Romania definitely has the same charms that other parts of Europe I have been to do, but without the masses of tourists that are in other parts. That said an increase in tourism would probably help Romania quite a bit. It is a poor country by European standards and many of the younger people leave Romania in search for better opportunities in other countries. There is definitely a diversity of attractions in Romania and perhaps with the recent appointment into the European union more efforts will be made to plan for tourism in the country. There are a few things that made it a difficult country to travel in though. Transit could often be confusing and finding English speakers was not easy. I didn’t have any problems with gypsies, the poverty-striken nomadic group, though many other tourists have reported having problems with them. Littering is also a major problem in the country. There is also an overpopulation of stray dogs, and as a result, a noticeable amount of dog-doo on the streets. But probably with time and investments these problems can be reduced and more people will experience the beauty that Romania has to offer.

The Danube Delta

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7, 2008 by alexwesthoff


Badtz Maru in the Danube Delta

When the elections results were announced I was in a fishing village in the Danube Delta with no internet access. Fortunately, locals were aware of the results and were able to inform me of the results right away. Cheers for President Obama!

Anyways, I have been staying in Tulcea which is the gateway to the Danube Delta. There are not many roads throughout the Delta, in order to see it, it is necessary to take a boat. There are a number of fishing villages throughout it, some of which are dominated by a particular ethnic group such as Lipovans, Ukranians and more. Pensiunes are common throughout these villages offering tourists comfortable accommodations in the heart to the Delta. And daily ferries run from Tulcea along the main arms of the Delta (there are 3 total) stopping at the small villages along the way.

Tuesday I took a ferry from Tulcea to the village Crishan which is one of the several fishing villages in the Danube Delta. The ferry ride was a few hours long and just went down the Sulina branch of the Danube Delta, part of which had been constructed by humans to create a faster route for boat traffic. I was connected with a local who helped me to find a pension to stay at. There wasn’t much to do in the village itself. It is the off season for tourism, and most of the villages are a bit sleepy right now. There was one restaurant open though barely anyone was there. The next day I hooked up with 3 Austrian travelers who also wanted a tour of the Delta. We were given a boat tour by the manager of the pensiune.

Wow, is it also a beautiful landscape. All of these channels and lakes with beautiful vegetation and lots of birds including pelicans, swans, egrets, herons, cormorants, and more. And fishermen and fishing villages throughout it. It has this mystical feeling, like it is right out of a fairy tale. I took so many photos, but they don’t really even do it justice, it really has to be experienced.

It is tough to compare places in terms of sheer beauty, but the Danube Delta is definitely up there in terms of most beautiful places I have seen on this trip. In my opinion comparable to the Okavango Delta, though the two are beautiful in different ways. And while the Danube Delta may not have lions or elephants, it does have otters which are one of my favorite animals. Though sadly I did not see any otters.

In terms of sustainability and tourism, I have a few perspectives, based off the of interviews I have conducted with the locals. Environmentally, it is in decent shape. It has a fair amount of attention given to it for protection as it is a world heritage site, a Ramsar wetland, biosphere reserve, the second largest Delta in Europe and an essential stopover location for migratory birds. There are zoning classifications, and tourists are prohibited in certain areas with high protection status. A number of tourist routes have been designated by the biosphere reserve authority and permits are required for tourists entering the Delta. Unfortunately though, Romanians are amongst the least educated Europeans about littering and as a result tend to put garbage directly into the natural environment. Even on the ferry ride home, I saw a notable amount of locals throwing cigarette butts directly into the Danube River! Littering is one criticism that Romania has been given upon being granted EU membership though and efforts are being made to educate the locals and change these trends.

In regards to economic sustainability, ecotourism is essential in the Delta to sustain livelihoods. Fishing is declining as an economic activity and tour operations are being promoted to locals as an option. However, there are numerous challenges such as language barriers and general expenses of starting an operation. Many tours are run by foreigners including ‘boatels,’ floating hotels that travel through the channels. Some of these don’t offer any opportunities for locals economically. But it does seem like trends are changing and more locals are working in tourism.

And as far as social sustainability goes… Most of the locals seem ok with tourism as they understand the financial benefits. There are conflicts with the development of new pensiunes as many of them do not use the traditional architectural styles, specifically the reed roofs as shown in the photo below. As my own interest is in heritage tourism, I was on the look out for heritage tourism in the Delta, and really did not see any during my limited time here. Similar to the Okavango Delta, the mindset amongst tour operators and promoters is that tourists are only interested in ecotourism and perhaps have not really invested time in the development of heritage tourism attractions.

Anyways, got back to Tulcea yesterday. In follow up to my previous post about my roots quest for Jewish Romania, it turns out there are a few pieces of Jewish Tulcea that have been preserved: a synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries. I was able to locate all of these places, but could not go into any of them. The synagogue was closed. The first cemetery I stopped at had this old man gatekeeper who would not let me enter for reasons I do not understand. I tried explaining to him that I have Jewish Romanian ancestry and just wanted to see the cemetery and that I didn’t even need to take photos. But he only spoke Romanian and kept talking to me for about 10 minutes, even though it must have been obvious that I couldn’t understand him. So finally I had to give up. The second Jewish cemetery was adjacent to the main Tulcea cemetery, though it also had a gate around it with many barking dogs guarding it. No one was there to let me in, though I could still see some of it from outside.


Tulcea synagogue


Gates to one of Tulcea’s Jewish cemetaries


The second Tulcea Jewish cemetary


The second Tulcea Jewish cemetary

Well tomorrow it is off to Transylvania to visit Orsi. Am excited to see an old friend and have an insider who can show me around.

Romania Arrival

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2008 by alexwesthoff

Arriving in Romania was not the smoothest. Got in a few frustrating situations including a shady cab driver, a sketchy hotel, and misinformation about transit to Tulcea. However, I am now in Tulcea safe and sound a found decent accommodations. Tulcea is the gateway city to the Danube Delta.

Romania has some significance to me as it is the only country I am visiting on this trip which I have ancestry from, as I am ¼ Jewish-Romanian. My grandmother on my father’s side had immigrated with her family from Romania to the U.S. just prior to World War 2. It was a good thing they did as up to 400,000 Romanian Jews had been killed during the war. Today there is only a small population of Jews still living in Romania.

This grandmother is the only one of my grandparents still alive today. She still lives in a nursing home in San Francisco, though her health has declined significantly over the past few years. On my last visit to her prior to departing we had told her that I was going to visit Romania. Her face lit up upon hearing this news, though she said that she would never want to return to Romania herself.

The Jewish traditions really had not been retained in my family though. Unlike her two siblings, my grandmother had not continued to practice Judaism for personal reasons and neither of her husbands had been Jewish. Additionally Judaism is passed down maternally and since it was my father’s mother, the practices were not passed down any further.

There were Jews in Tulcea and the Danube Delta, but apparently as the communities are no longer here, the traces of them have all disappeared as well. It does not appear that there are large amounts of Jewish Romania which have been preserved for tourism and education purposes. But there are several sites in Bucharest though that I have read about, including the Jewish History Museum. I am only going to be passing through Bucharest on my way out of the country, but if I do have time I would like to see these areas so that I can learn more about my roots.

Besides the Jews though, Romania has been an incredibly diverse country in regards to ethnicities. The Danube Delta alone has been home to Romanians, Lipovans, Haholens, Turks, Greeks and Aromunens, many of whom still live here. This is a parallel to the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta which also has had numerous ethnic groups working together to shape it into the landscape that it is today including Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Mexicans. One of the take home messages I was trying to make in my thesis was that there are a diversity of cultural heritage values of the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta that have been overlooked in the planning process due to the pressing environmental threats that have been the focus of people’s attention. Incorporating these values though could have significant benefits to the region and in turn could be used to help alleviate some of the environmental threats. Basically, more attention needs to be drawn to the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta as a cultural landscape, not just an ecological one. One of the objectives for me in visiting the Danube Delta is to see what efforts have made to incorporate this diversity of ethnic representation into the tourism planning process for this World Heritage Site so that I could have some ideas to being back to the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.

Haven’t been able to see the Delta itself yet, but am going to take a tour or two this week. Today though I was able to explore Tulcea pretty thoroughly. There are a few decent museums including the Danube Delta Natural Sciences Museum and the Museum of Etnography and Folk Art. The docent at the Museum of Etnography and Folk Art was able to give me a pretty good explanation on culture and customs of many of the different groups in the region.

Tulcea is a pretty cute town and the Danube waterfront promenade is pretty pleasant to walk down. However there are a number of high-rise hotels and casinos which are a bit of an eyesore from an urban design perspective. But just a few blocks from the town’s center there are a number of cute houses, historic buildings and cobblestone streets that add to the cities character. So far I am enjoying Romania quite a bit. And wow, I never thought I could find desserts tastier than the ones in Portugal. But I may have just found them here.


Tulcea and Danube River


Museum of Etnography and Folk Art


Historic Building


Citadel


St. Nicholas Cathedral

Delta del Ebro

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29, 2008 by alexwesthoff

This week and last were chapter two of four of my delta tourism adventures. Delta del Ebro is located in Catalonia, Spain, about 60 miles south of Barcelona. It has been predominantly converted to farmland for the purposes of growing rice, historically has supported a large fishing industry and now is a popular tourist destination for Catalans and other Spaniards.

Currently though it is the low season for tourism as much of the visitors come during the summer months to lie on the beautiful beaches and eat paella. Regardless though it is still beautiful here right now.  It was just rice harvest and the fields are now all flooded and there is birdlife everywhere. My favorite time of the day has been dusk as the sunset reflects off the flooded fields and creates a beautiful landscape. Personally, I think this place would be a landscape photographer´s dream come true.

This is the smallest of the Deltas I am visiting and have been able to do a fair amount of biking here. The hostel I am at has free bike rental. Not to mention free internet, laundry and breakfast! Visiting during the slow season certainly does have its benefits. Most of the tourism happens in the natural park which stretches along certain portions of the coast and is filled with birdlife. There are flamingos here as well, though I haven´t gotten any good photos of them like I had in Portugal. The beaches are beautiful, though virtually deserted right now.

There has also been some amount of cultural heritage tourism development. Historically the region was filled with these little houses with straw roofs, though the only ones that have been preserved are for tourism purposes such as museums.

My days here have been spent exploring the region, understanding the layout and design of the landscape and speaking with locals. Have been able to meet and interview similar types of people as I was in Botswana; planners, scientists, landowners, tour guides and more. Communication has been challenging but some folks speak English and I speak some Spanish so it hasn´t been impossible.

This being my second case study, I have definitely noticed similarities and differences of tourism planning efforts compared to the Okavango Delta and the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.  On the outer level this may seem more similar to the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta than the Okavango Delta did. However, in regards to planning efforts the Okavango Delta and the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta have more commonalities. Folks that I have interviewed have mentioned that regional planning efforts could be improved in the Delta del Ebro. Lots of different entities are planning independently, but there is no real cohesive force bringing these efforts together into a shared vision. However, tourism has had many benefits in the region. In addition to economic ones, tourism has helped educate the public about Delta del Ebro and minimize water diversions which would otherwise degrade the landscape.

Tomorrow it is back up to Barcelona for a night and then a flight to Romania for my Danube Delta visit. After that a few days visiting an old friend in Translylvania before moving onto Egypt.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.