Ask a Local: Three Days in Iaşi, Romania

The last part of my ten day visit to Romania was in the really beautiful city of Iaşi(pronounced “yash”). I’d seen the hectic bustle of Bucharest and the peaceful serenity of Suceava, so was looking for something in between. Iaşi was the perfect choice.






I stayed in the super comfortable Select Hotel. It is inside what once was a palace, today very well maintained. There are not too many rooms so guests (at least this one) got plenty of very attentive service. Breakfast was excellent and there is a very good restaurant associated with the hotel, too.

The Select Hotel was a very comfortable choice.

Convenient location right in the center was also nice.










It was tempting to not stray too far from the hotel, but of course I was there to explore. My friend Mariana grew up near Iaşi (today she lives in Italy with her husband and two boys, but often talks about how beautiful Iaşi is) and had given me some good ideas of what to do.


Palace of Culture

I have to say this is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I have ever seen. To put some perspective on that, I have lived all over Europe and in Asia, have visited most of the “must see” places in the world and have experienced some very interesting stuff. In short, I was really impressed with the Palace of Culture in Iaşi. To start it is, of course, a magnificent palace built in the early 1800’s. It has gone through some renovations and changes of use over the years. Today it stands as pretty much the center of everything in Iaşi. Inside, among the 300 rooms, it houses 4 separate museums. Each of those is worth a visit and collectively they are fantastic.






Palas Mall

It feels very strange for me to mention any kind of mall as something to see. But the Palas Mall in Iaşi is different. It is not just a collection of stores all under one roof. That is part of it but outside on the grounds you’ll find very nice places to eat, some exciting drinking holes, playgrounds for your kids, a park to take a nice stroll and a great deal more. When I was there the World Cup Football Championship was on so the pubs were especially fun!








Well, this is not something to see but something to enjoy. It is a traditional veggie spread (but that so very much does not describe how simply delicious it is!). I did not see it during my earlier travels in Romania, which is probably a good thing because I would have eaten it all day every day. Up above here, if you click on the word “zacusca” you should find a good recipe for it. Make it. You can thank me later.

You want funky?

Iaşi has funky

And real practicality, too!









Speaking of eating, of course I had to find some excellent places to get a meal or the visit to  Iaşi would be incomplete. Here is what I found.

Bistro Unirii

The first time I stopped here was just to have a beer and watch the activity in the large Unirii (Unification) Square. I looked at the menu and thought I needed to return later. Good decision on my part as everything served was fresh made, excellent and very reasonably priced.

Carciuma Veche

It means “Old Pub” so automatically I was interested. I found it on the long and beautiful pedestrian street called Bulevardul Stefan cel Mare, which led from my Select Hotel to the Palace of Culture. They serve traditional Romanian fare all of which was excellent. The service was quick and efficient.  There were plenty of locals eating there,  something I always take as a good sign. Prices were super reasonable.







Absolutely without question the best meals I had in ten days in Romania. I said “meals” because it was so good I ate there twice. It is located just in the center of the city not far at all from the Palas Mall. Nice inside, also comfortable outside seating. The service was, as they say “spot on.” The waiter had excellent recommendations for wine pairings, and every bite was an absolute joy. A bit more expensive than the other places I dined, but sooooo worth it. I will keep Vivid on my Top Ten Restaurants in the World list for a long time, I am certain.






So after more than ten years of waiting, I finally spent ten days in Romania. All I need to say is I am going back soon. Put it on your list.



Ask a Local: Three Days in Suceava, Romania

After three days in bustling, busy Bucharest, I needed to find someplace with a bit more peace and quiet. That place was Suceava.

Nestled peacefully in the northeast corner of Romania, Suceava was once the capital of Moldova. Today around 100,000 live there making it large enough to offer plenty of interesting things to do but small enough to not be overwhelming. I set myself up in the very comfortable Daily Plaza Hotel at the end of Suceava’s very nice pedestrian walkway. Nice breakfast and excellent air conditioning (hey, I was visiting in the summer and it was hot!).

My friend Andrea today lives in Italy but was born and raised in Suceava. She was pretty excited about my going there so I followed her advice. Here is what I did.

Painted Monasteries

One of Romania’s most loved treasures, the Painted Monasteries are collectively on the UNESCO World Heritage List, a well-deserved recognition of the history and beauty of these 15th and 16th century churches. Each one sports elaborate frescoes painted on the exterior of the church. Actually each set of frescoes follows a specific religious theme. Beyond the churches themselves, the grounds of the monasteries had beautifully tended gardens and respectful cemeteries. This made the site of each one a peaceful and tranquil space where thoughtful meditation comes quite easily. I was visiting about a week before the start of the high tourist season and imagine they do get pretty crowded, but that was not my experience. The were, simply put, beautiful and peaceful places.












Suceava Citadel

A very pleasant walk through a natural park ended at the 14th century citadel. In its history, the structure has been both a fortress and a royal residence, sitting on top of a hill and overlooking much of the present day city. Recently renovated and repaired, a high tech museum is now situated in the citadel. Not much information was available in English (other than books at the gift shop), so I likely missed some of the cooler historical facts. None the less, it is striking and picturesque. Well worth a visit.

A walk in the park was a great way to get to Suceava’s citadel.

And the citadel itself was stunning.











Of course, an important aspect of all my travels is the food. Suceava did not offer the variety or quality I had experienced in Bucharest, of course, but I did find some good meals and fun place to sit with a drink and watch the central pedestrian square.


An Italian restaurant just around the corner from my hotel. I have lived in Italy more than 25 years now, and consider myself pretty much an Italian food snob. So normally I don’t eat Italian while travelling.  But I did this time and was happy with it.  I consider that a pretty good endorsement.

Centru Vechi

Probably the best known of Suceava’s traditional restaurants, Andrea had suggested it before my trip, and the staff at my hotel did so as well. It had a very nice atmosphere, the staff were friendly and accommodating, the service was excellent. The food was adequate in my mind, but given the other things I just mentioned, I recommend a visit here.


I am a vegetarian and have been since 1993. I am not militant about it, and do not need to find a strictly vegetarian restaurant to be happy. But in Suceava, I was surprised and pleased to find this one (vegan, actually – not vegetarian). My experience with vegan restaurants has been lukewarm, I would say. But since I found Lovegan in Suceava, I thought I would give it a try. Great choice. It was the best meal I had during the three days I was in town.

After three different kinds of hummus, I ate a really terrific veggie burger! Yum.










Oscar Wilde Pub

They had a food menu here, but my purpose was simply to enjoy a cool drink and watch Suceava’s central square. It seemed like most of the 100,000 residents wandered through sometime during the three afternoons I sat there. They all seemed happy and content to enjoy thier lovely city. And I was sitting with a nice glass, so what’s not to like?

Locally brewed Silva beer was a winner!









My visit to Suceava gave me what I wanted – a slow down after the hustle of Bucharest. The painted monasteries are truly a thing of beauty and worth making a special visit to see.


Visit to the Local High School

Each year, I go visit the local high school to talk to the kids about being a writer.


Discussing one of my books at the High School.

Discussing one of my books at the High School.










I made that pleasant trip today and met an enthusiastic and engaged group. I babbled few minutes about what life is like as a writer (you know – many hours of work, no money) before we started our writing exercises.

The most interesting and fun project was to rewrite a boring sentence. The kids started with “The man walked across the room.”

A group of High School students working to improve a boring sentence.

A group of High School students working to improve a boring sentence.





They were split into four groups, each table was asked to rewrite the sentence to make it either scary, funny, exciting, or sad. They had about fifteen minutes to work on their sentences, and some of the results were terrific. I’m not sure why so many of them described the man as “old,” but whatever…





Authors, even High School authors, deserve praise for good writing.

Authors, even High School authors, deserve praise for good writing.











I think I was able to convince them how important it is to use exciting, descriptive words.  When I read some of their sentences aloud, the reaction to the particularly good ones was a great measure of them wanting to know what happens next! Hopefully they’ll remember that next time they have an English paper and the next time they write a letter to their grandmother.

It was (as always) a fun and interesting time for me, and hopefully also for them.

More news from the Pordenone (Italy) Book Festival

What an amazing Saturday!

First, a press conference with the inspiring Margaret Atwood. Then a break for an excellent lunch (this IS Italy, you know!). Then her presentation to the public – which ended with her singing! Then, purely by chance, I walked with her on my way to the next press conference. That one was Umberto Eco, a pretty accomplished writer, too. Finished off the night with an excellent pizza.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood



Margaret Atwood is a charming and intelligent woman in her mid 70’s. Much of her writing recounts post-apocalyptic survivors struggling to reboot humanity. She is concerned about our collective future. In the press conference she talked about introducing new technologies, warning there are always good, bad, and stupid (or unexpected) consequences. It is the unexpected ones to worry about.  She talked about in the 1990’s a new anti inflammatory drug gets used to treat livestock in India. The drug, as it turns out, is fatal to vultures. So the vulture population there dropped by 99%. With no vultures to eat dead animals, rats and wild dogs show up in huge numbers. This introduces rabies, botulism, anthrax and other horribly dangerous diseases to India.

It is that kind of background she uses in her books, which then tell the stories of the survivors. Good stuff.  Get her MaddAddam trilogy (“Oryx and Crake,” “The Year of the Flood,” and “MaddAddam.”

The audience at an author presentation. Pretty cool stuff.

The audience at an author presentation. Pretty cool.










My next post will be about the encounter with Umberto Eco.