Skip to main content

Romania Road Trip - Easter in Moldova, Part 2

The sun shines bright and clouds are sparse in an otherwise clear sky. The dash is showing 23℃ as our car dips and weaves between the green, yellow, and fallow fields of Neamț county. It is a quintessential European drive. Vaslui county, the Wild East, is just around the bend, or at the next straightway, I'm not sure where exactly but I know it's coming up because Roman is twenty minutes behind us and the small white and red mileage markers are already indicating Negrești, our destination in Vaslui, is 35 kilometers ahead.

Then I see it, a large billboard coming up on the right side of the road. All county borders have signs of this type, usually affixed to long poles, illustrated with the Romanian and EU flags, the national and/or local coat of arms, and, in block letters, Bun Venit in Judetul _  (Welcome to _ County). 

Not that we're expecting a welcoming committee, but...Pulled over on the right, no more than ten meters beyond the 'Welcome to Vaslui County' sign, a grey Dacia Logan is parked on the grassy shoulder, while its driver, having walked several steps down an incline, is in the process of relieving himself on the soil, and the good name, of Vaslui county.

We were in the right place.

But the 'Wild' East turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Everything else was just, normal. Romanian, but normal. It's true that the traditional homes in the villages we passed were smaller than those in Transylvania. I don't recall seeing any multi-level homes. There were also noticeably more horse-drawn carts on the road, and even in the fields, where most farmers used tractors for plowing some were instead driving teams of horses ahead of their plows. It was obvious this was the poor side of the country.

In Negrești my wife's grandmother welcomed us with a lovely soup for lunch, borș included. We chatted, looked at old family photos, and visited her large orchard with its flowering fruit trees. She showed us her grapevines, which yield about 800 liters of wine every year. There is still some in our fridge. Actually if you really want to know, there's not much left and and I'm drinking a cup as I write. It carries the aroma of grape must but tastes like a very light wine, with medium acidity and low tannins, somehow like a Rose, and, because of the low alcohol content (about 8%), it's easy to go through several glasses without noticing. I think I'm still on my first...

Roxana's grandmother, who was once a teacher, gave us a bit of a regional history lesson. She told us about the village of her provenance, not very far from Negrești. It was razed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The Tatars, she told us, stormed in and took the men as slaves, then locked the women and children inside a barn and set it alight. It was eventually resettled by Bucovinean shepherds. Such is life at the confluence of civilization and barbarism. The only threat now is her 18 year old dog who's gone senile and recently bit her.

On the way out of the county, somebody with a VS (Vaslui) plate drove under the descending gate at a rail crossing, almost got stuck on the tracks, and then maneuvered around the other gate before continuing on their merry way. Aside from this ominous incident, there was no reason to visit Vaslui just to drive around aimlessly. So instead we drove on towards Iași, Moldova's largest city, an important historical and cultural center, and, at one point, the capital of Romania.

But first, a stop at Neamț citadel.

The citadel, originating in the 14th century, is perched on a hill in the small town of Targu Neamț. It is no longer whole, but there is more than enough to get a feel for the history. We visited the cool interiors -no air conditioning was needed here - where hundreds of years ago boyars sat at council tables, dined together, and stabbed each other in the back. Perhaps what was most surprising was the small size of these rooms. We tend to have an impression of medieval fortifications as massive structures fit to house hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, but, apart from their imposing outward appearance, they aren't particularly spacious by modern standards.

As we left, a guide was talking to a recently arrived school group about the raised bridge leading up to the gate. When the citadel was constructed, he explained, there was a ramp built from the small hillock where the ticket booth now sits straight up to its main gate. But Stefan the Great (and Holy) had a look and said, "No, you nincompoops, this won't do at all, we've basically laid out the red carpet for the Turks here."

So he had the builders raise several pillars which curve around to a smaller side entrance, ensuring that the only way in was precarious as well as highly defensible. Any invaders would face a barrage of projectiles as they made their way on the narrow bridge fifteen meters above the ground. Like many other things in Romania, the fortress was never destroyed in a dramatic battle for survival, the Ottomans simply asked their Romanian vassal to demolish it, sometime in the 18th century, after which whatever was left fell to ruin all on its own.

Right, so onwards to Iași, after another very brief stop at the birthplace of John Branch just outside Targu Neamț. The writer, also known as Ion Creangă, led a tumultuous life of political agitation and philandering, but left a lasting impression on Romania's literary scene with his witty social commentary and an ability to harness into writing the Moldovan soul. Didn't take pictures, but there are plenty online.

Iași has come a long way in the four years since our last visit. It looked more dynamic and modern, the city center rehabilitated, its Palace of Culture the bright jewel of a resurgent Moldova, and the traffic just as chaotic. In other words, a city on the move. We had dinner with in-laws at the Unirea Hotel, whose restaurant also offers panoramic views over the city, and we drank a celebratory Prosecco and ate a very decent meal at a very decent price. But Iași was only a stopover. Aside from a breezy pick-up line overheard on the street the next day ("Excuse me miss, you've been sold damaged merchandise," to a long-legged brunette whose jeans looked as though they had nightmares on Elm Street) we didn't stay long enough to get a real feel for the city and its denizens.


One thing I will say about Iași, and about the north-eastern part of the country in general, is that service appears to be on another level than in the south or west of the country. People are more service savvy, more willing to engage, more pleasant and helpful in commercial transactions. Before leaving Iași, we ate at Vivo. In my (North American) opinion, they serve Romania's finest burgers by far and some of the best anywhere. We hit the place during the lunch rush, yet the staff were so efficient and the service so quick I had to check the GPS on my phone just to make sure we were still in Romania. I don't know who owns the place or who trained those people, but they deserve an award.

On this satisfactory note, we left for Suceava

To be continued.....
(Part 1)


Popular posts from this blog

10 Reasons Why Romania is Better Than America

Really? Yes, really. Let me count the ways.

In America you can get everything you've ever dreamed of: GameBoy, Sega Genesis, plants that look like faces, and more.  Maybe if you work really hard long hours at the job you hate (but that you tell everybody you love lest you appear to be a miserable person), you can even get a flat panel home theater TV that takes up half your basement (on credit, of course). Awesomeness!!
In America you can always be sure to be on top of the latest fad, such as devil sticks or Tamagochi and you will be first to read bestsellers like The DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Crap literature. Basically there are thousands of ways of feeling accomplished -or pretending that you are - you just need to be there to catch all these wonderful trends on time!

I know what you're thinking, how can Romania possibly top all that considering America is also the land of Root beer floats and Antoine Dodson?

Everything's been done in America, that's why peopl…

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages dedicated to the subject.

Image: A typical Romanian woman, Madalina Ghenea.

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.

But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.

There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.

The reality in America is different now.

Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-hand…

10 Things Romania Does (A Bit) Differently - Part 1

A few days ago, after walking into a grocery store, I couldn't help noticing I was in a state of trepidation. The reason? I'd walked in with my gym bag, purposely avoiding the security guy at the entrance. I felt his eyes must be following me and that a loud, "Hey, you!" would ring out the moment I turned into an aisle.

It turns out that the longer you live somewhere, the more you get used to it. A truism, of course. What is not immediately apparent is that this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially when you find that you've become used to something you may have found, at some point in the past, in another place, entirely unacceptable.

This is why, now that I've crossed over the honeymoon period of my move to Romania, I find my enthusiasm for life here wanes when, for the 286th time, I  am forced to walk into a supermarket through the designated entrance point, even if an empty checkout is much closer and no less accessible. Then, upon entry, a grump…

You Can't Plan a Romania Road Trip, But You Should Anyway

I started writing this post in September 2014, not long after coming back from vacation. I dropped it because I got sick of going through the hundreds of pictures we took just to pick the perfect ones for this post. But, like a seed once planted, it needs some water and the right conditions to flourish. In my case: an email from a reader, asking me about road-tripping through Romania, and the chance to lift this weight off my back. So here it is, a summary of one Romania road trip, from Cluj and back.


2,656 Kilometers.
188 Liters of gas.
2,919 RON.

That's more or less the tally for the Romania road trip I took with my roomie/wife Roxana. We could have booked an all-inclusive vacation to Greece, Turkey, or Bulgaria at about the same cost, but how could we resist a road trip? A unique waterfall, the 'tunnel of love', the best driving road in the world, Summer …

What I Learned About Driving In Romania

I get it now. I understand Romanian drivers and their follies. It's something I thought would never happen. All it took to shape me into a Romanian road rage machine was one month of driving around Cluj and a 400 km round trip. I'm kidding about the rage part.

The idea of driving in Cluj was intimidating. Last time I'd driven manual shift was almost ten years ago when a co-worker asked me to drive her and her newly purchased, Pontiac Firefly home because she had no idea how to do it. So of course I stalled that little bastard all over the place. Little surprise that the idea of driving along busy and narrow European streets was unappealing - especially after years of driving automatic on wide, North American roads.

But I managed. Stalled an average of once per trip during the first week, and then a couple of times in the second week, and now, a little over a month later, I sometimes stall at stoplights when I forget I'm driving stick and leave it in gear when I release…

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or Nort…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

Rosia Montana - An Informed Reply

It's always a pleasure to see a new email message from somebody who's been reading this blog. In this case, the message came in from a reader who first contacted me last year. He moved to Canada quite a while ago and settled in the Northwest Territories. He wanted to respond to the previous post on Rosia Montana, but given the length of the reply, I've asked him to allow me to publish it as its own post. He asked me not to share his name, but outside of that, I'm copying it verbatim.

(Edit: In Romana mai jos)

Hello Matt,

Here we go again: Rosia Montana. I got involved in this project about four years ago. I had had phone interviews with radio stations in Bucharest; I published several articles in two or three magazines in Bucharest. I hosted, guided and loaded up with data and portable computer equipment one “Romanian explorer” as the Romanian media called her: Uca Marinescu. Perhaps the name rings a bell. Anyhow she never got back to me; there was no feedback, no follo…