closed for renovation
We enjoyed Bucovina so much that we decided to return to Romania the following weekend for what proved to be a rather ill-timed visit to Iași.
From the western edge of Chisinau where we live to the Romanian border is only an hour’s drive, and from there it takes about as long to reach Iași, Romania’s second-largest city and the capital of its Moldavia region. With dozens of churches dating back to the Middle Ages, several museums, theaters, and orchestras, and a vibrant university scene, Iași is billed as one of Romania’s eminent cultural centers.
It is also a cosmopolitan city with good international restaurants and several modern malls. Unlike in Moldova, where movies are dubbed into Russian with reportedly poor Romanian subtitles, Iași has a movie theater that shows American films in their original, unadulterated versions. Small wonder then that it is a favorite destination for many in the Embassy community. Our friends gave us shopping and restaurant recommendations, and even suggested a hotel with a spa that is right in the middle of the historic center.
The promise of watching a movie on the big screen and eating some good Mexican food was enticing, so we loaded up the car Saturday morning and set our GPS for the famed Little Texas restaurant, intending to arrive in Iași right around lunchtime. It was supposed to rain most of the weekend, but we figured we could just pamper ourselves in the hotel’s spa if the weather proved too inclement to venture outside.
We managed to make it to Iași without too many raindrops, but Little Texas became the first of a string of disappointments. The restaurant had been reserved for a wedding reception, so we had to scramble for an alternative, and eventually wound up at a traditional Romanian restaurant that had been recommended by some locals we had met in Bucovina.
After checking into the hotel, we got Munchkin all settled into his stroller to go for a walk around the city center, but to our dismay the sky had clouded over while we were unpacking and a strong wind whipped the falling raindrops into a horizontal staccato frenzy. Our backup plan had been to take Munchkin swimming and get massages, but we learned that not only were there no massages at the hotel spa, but also that the entire spa/pool area had been closed for maintenance and would remain off limits the whole weekend.
We checked the cinema showtimes, but there was nothing playing in the early afternoon. All of the movies started right around the time we usually put Munchkin down to sleep, so that was also a nonstarter. It began to look as if we had driven 100 miles just to spend the weekend cooped up in a small and not inexpensive hotel room, reading books to pass the time in between tending to Munchkin’s needs — something we could have done just as easily and more comfortably at home.
Fortunately, the rain did not last very long and though the wind still gusted and the sky remained a leaden gray color, we did make it outside for a couple of hours. Our first stop was the Palace of Culture, which houses several museums. They are supposed to be among the best in the country, but we cannot speak to their quality because the Palace was under restoration, and we could only appreciate it from the outside. We strolled along the pedestrian-only Ştefan cel Mare boulevard and visited several churches and monasteries, but found most of their interiors also covered in plaster and scaffolding.
The hotel’s saving grace was that it was within walking distance from most of the main historic sights, and some of the buildings — like the Three Hierarchs Monastery — are truly worth seeing. We went for another two-hour walk on Sunday, stumbling upon a colorful baptism at one of the city’s older churches, and ending our walk at the city’s main synagogue. At one point, Iași had a vibrant Jewish community, but it was decimated during WWII. And the synagogue, like many of the churches and monasteries we visited, was closed for renovation.
We did make it to Little Texas after all on our way back to Chisinau. The food was closer to Tex-Mex than anything one can find in Moldova, but it is still a rather distant cry from the way it should taste. We tried to make the most of the damp weekend, and though we left Iași in considerably better spirits than we had been 24 hours earlier while feeling trapped inside our hotel room, the city did not wow us the way Bucovina had, and we are uncertain that we’ll return again.