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My Bloody Romania: Ia?i - some things don't change
Further to my short list of conspicuous changes that have taken hold in Ia?i in the past 12 months, equally some things haven't changed at all. Things that you'd kinda wished they'd prioritized. Like the city works.
I'm staying in a private apartment that hasn't had hot water in over a week. Unless you go to the store and buy a dodgy mini-boiler that sucks down so much electricity that it makes the power point smoke, hot water in Romania is provided by the city and since the city suddenly has all these EU funds, they've made themselves busy replacing all the perfectly good municipal water pipes with new pipes that make the water taste metallic and hurt your kidneys. And they're in no particular rushed to complete the conversion.
The haste to beatify the city, sadly, hasn't included one of the coolest edifices in town: The Church of the Three Hierarchs. Its unique exterior is embroidered in a wealth of intricate patterns in stone, but this beauty has been languishing under scaffolding since before I first visited here and doesn't appear to be much closer to being unveiled than when I took this picture in 2004. Indeed, there's actually more scaffolding on it now and parts of it are wallpapered in plastic sheeting. For my money, they could have put off replacing the hot water pipes forever in lieu of fixing this wonderful piece of history.
Also, the Flintstones-era German trams that were handed down to Poland, that were handed down to eastern Slovakia, that were handed down to Romania, are still groaning along, tinkling chandeliers in every house they pass, filthy and sounding as if they're one bolt failure away from collapsing into a thousand pieces then spontaneously bursting in flames, a la the Simpsons. Bucharest has futuristic trams, why not Iaşi?
The train station is still a crumbing eyesore. The platforms look as if they were shelled in 1941 and no one has gotten around to filling the holes, or even sweeping away the debris. Travelers who didn't have specific business in Iaşi might be tempted to simply stay on the train and go anywhere else if they followed gut instinct upon seeing this sorry station.
On a positive note, three blocks of the city center's main artery, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, is still closed down each weekend to motor vehicles, so Iaşi's families, unattended children and young couples in love can idly stroll back and forth (or race along on precarious rollerblades), much like the Italian passeggiata, without fear of being run down by maniacal, suicidal Romanian drivers. This may be one of Iaşi's most pleasurable (free) pastimes.
Also, those wanting to do some quality souvenir shopping for the ladies in their lives, Romanian amber (yellow, brownish-orange and green) set in Turkish silver continues to be sold at shockingly low prices. In fact, going by my dim memory, prices may have even dropped in the past year. As always, the pieces have a very non-manufactured, unique and genuine look, as if some countryside matriarch was fashioning the pieces out in the shed during her downtime between milking the cows and hauling water from the community well.
Well, that's enough reminiscing for now, I've gotta pack. Tomorrow I depart on a seven day road trip through Transylvania, visiting towns like Targu Mures and Sibiu (a 2007 European Capital of Culture), driving the Transfagarasan Road, seeing Poienari Castle (the real Dracula's castle) and climbing the Bucegi Mountains. A somewhat dubious rental car has been acquired (22 euros per day) and a stash of Valium will be secreted in one of my cargo shorts pockets to deal with the non-stop, white knuckle, sphincter-collapsing danger that is driving in the Romanian countryside.
Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet's Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for further musings on why he should be a city planner and how his lady friends hate being referred to as 'ladies'.