I now return to the previous years' work. Arriving at Bucharest about the 20th of June, 1906, I found everybody in a state of excitement over the exhibition, which was on the point of opening. I had introductions to the British Embassy and to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and other officials, to present before proceeding to the Dobrudscha ; but everybody was so occupied that I was obliged to remain, whether I liked it or not, in spite of the lateness of the season, until it was opened by the King and Queen of Roumania. Exhibitions do not appeal to me, but to pass the time, as I had nothing to do, I went to see what there was. This was mighty little. Whether it was better worth a visit later on I do not know, but when first opened there was absolutely nothing to see. The Austrian pavilion was the only exhibit ready; the other buildings were, without exception, either empty or locked up and in a state of confusion.
Bucharest is a gay little town, and possesses the finest cabs and the most imposing cabmen I have ever seen. The Roumanians like to compare their capital to Paris on a small scale, but I was very glad to get away as soon as I could, provided, by the kindness of the Minister of Fisheries, with a letter of introduction to the Administrator of Fisheries at Tulcea.
Leaving Bucharest by the night train I was at Galatz early the next morning in time to catch the steamer for the little town of Tulcea, which was reached soon after midday.
There are a good many tiresome formalities to be observed on entering Roumania, where bureaucracy and red-tapeism reign supreme. It is one of the few countries in Europe which insists on travellers being provided with passports, and these have to be viseed and stamped and inspected ad nauseam. Though I had shown my passport at the frontier, the same formality had to be again gone through at this little place before I could seek 'mine inn.' There are two little inns here which call themselves 'hotels,' but the accommodation is of a very humble character. Still, the bill is of a corresponding humility ; and the traveller, if not too exacting, can make himself very comfortable as long as he has something to do to occupy his leisure.
To lose no time I called at once at the office of fisheries, but, as usual, was doomed to waste time in spite of myself, for the administrator was away, and I had to wait for a day or two.
When at last he returned, and I explained my desire to find a nesting-place of Pelecanus onocro-talus, he was kind enough to propose that I should accompany one of his inspectors who was starting early the next morning on a tour of inspection to the stations in his district. By this means I should cover the whole, or nearly the whole, of the Delta district of the Danube, and he promised to give instructions to the inspector to make all necessary inquiries en route of the fishermen and the officials in charge of all the depots.
This was too eood a chance to lose, and I lost no time in getting ready for the expedition, which promised to be an interesting one.
Here, in Roumania, the fish, and all other natural products, as far as I could see, are presumed to be the property of the State. The fishermen are all licensed, and are obliged to bring their fish to the depots, where they are packed in ice and sent to market and sold, the men getting a proportion of the sales. This system leads of course to a lot of friction, and to much grumbling on the part of the fishermen; but considering the nature of the district I do not see how they could improve upon it. If the men had to send their catch to market for themselves, or, through middlemen, I fancy they would fare still worse than they do.
The whole of the Danube Delta is in the hands of the Administration, and it would have been impossible for me to have made this expedition without their sanction, for there are strict laws as to the protection of birds as well as to the catching of fish, and their officials everywhere have much power. But the fishing population are an unruly lot, and it is much easier to make laws in Bucharest than it is to enforce them in such a desolate region. There is much contraband fishing, in and out of season, and wholesale and systematic breaking of the bird protection orders is carried on everywhere.
The inspector's boat was a fine, large, open craft, fitted with two masts, each carrying a large sprit-sail, and with a crew of three men-Russians. She was a very fast sailer with a good wind, and was built on beautiful lines ; and I spent ten most interesting and sometimes exciting days on board of her. But the inspector, a Roumanian ex-sergeant of the army, was unable to speak any language but his own, though for the first two days I had the advantage of the company of the secretary of the Administration, M. Panaitescu, who spoke excellent French, as do all the educated classes in Roumania.
The beginning of our journey we made under tow, taking advantage of the passing down the Sulina arm of a long string of iron corn-barges or lighters in charge of a tug. When we reached a fishery depot we parted company, and here I had a meal with these men, tasting for the first time fish stew and soup. The Danube fish are excellent; and, travelling with the secretary and inspector of fisheries, we had the pick of the fish in all the depots we passed, as well as from the lodkas and nets of the fishermen. The Sterlet, resembling a small Sturgeon, is without bones except a grisly backbone, and is of excellent flavour, though to eat it in perfection it should, I think, be cold, as prepared in the Budapest restaurants. A Carp, cooked in the open by these Russian sailors in a big iron pot slung on an oar over a reed-fire, is food for a gourmand. The Danube Salmon (Salmo hucho) and Fresh-water Herrings are also splendid eating ; the latter especially are almost fatter and richer in flavour than the Salt-water Herring.