A Big Fat Romanian Wedding

We arrived at the Bucharest airport, where we caught a bus to the train station. (How many forms of transportation can one put in a sentence?) Our Hello Hotel was a couple blocks away, and consisted of identical tiny rooms with super-efficient use of space. We bought train tickets for the next day, and then our friend Bogdan and his girlfriend Alina picked us up and took us to Goccia for dinner. He pointed out at the next table a Romanian DJ whom we would have heard of if we were Romanian. It is a nice place. Afterwards Alina directed us to Eden, a place longtime Bucharest resident Bogdan hadn’t even seen, a beer garden on the grounds of ruins of an old royal summer palace. One large area had tables set up under the trees, with a bar nearby; another one, also outside, was down two flights of stairs, and had a DJ playing. It was quite unusual and pleasant to be able to drink alcohol with friends in public and still be able to hear them speak. A concrete space under the palace connected another bar space with the restrooms, somewhere between an art gallery and a junky basement. Imagine if all the pieces from “Defenestration” had landed in fornices and walled-off stairwells.

Thursday we took a six-hour train ride to Pașcani, where our friends picked us up and drove another hour to Iași. The trains directly to Iași run at stupid times of the day, either overnight or leaving at 5am. Thursday night began the 72-hour marathon of our friend Stef’s Romanian wedding festivities. Actually the festivities proper started Friday afternoon at 3pm, with a quick civil ceremony at a government building, with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March looped the entire fifteen minutes of the Communist-era ritual. They continued Saturday at 4pm, with a religious ceremony in a just-renovated 17th-century Orthodox church, which had a few of the original frescoes in dim paint on gray concrete, but mostly completely new brightly colored ones covering the walls. It was curious in that we were all sitting down, and photos were encouraged. The wedding photographer even was ushered into one of the pulpits before the iconostasis, which was open until the end of the service and then the curtain rung down. Try doing that in your average tourist Orthodox church.

After a coffee interlude at a nearby cafe, we all drove up the hill overlooking the city south of town for the party at Motel Bucium, which got started at 9pm and went on, so I heard, to 5am. We lost steam around 2am, and retired to our room. Each of the four courses constituting dinner came out about every two hours or so. By far the principal activity was dancing — a variety of traditional Romanian songs and popular Western hits were played, either completely live by the five-piece band, or with a couple members and backing tracks, or purely as recordings while the band was on break. Some of the choices seemed a little odd for a wedding, such as “I Will Survive”, and “Roxanne” (despite the fact the bride’s name was Roxana). The dancing ranged from individual to massive circle dances. Most people were pretty spaced out the next day, though mostly from lack of sleep.

All of the rest of the time before, after, and between the wedding events was spent consuming this or that with our many friends there; beer, food, coffee, homemade wine, ţuică (Romania’s “white lightning”). Several guests were pretty incapacitated after heavy drinking Friday night. My favorite place was Beraria Veche, which had a comprehensive menu of Romanian food. The most disappointing place was Little Texas, which was having its Independence Day weekend special menu. It seemed everything went wrong: the Independence Day Salad Ray ordered arrived as an Independence Day Cocktail; the Lincoln Burger was delivered with chicken though the menu clearly said beef; there were only three ribs served on the plate, instead of three slabs of ribs as one might expect in Big Texas. Even the Texas flag in front was hung upside-down. They just got a new owner and while he has concentrated on expanding the facilities, he’s not really paying enough attention to the food. Sigh.

Anyway, it was fun catching up with Radu and Andrei, who we’d met in California when they were in high school, and their parents and posse, though we only talked with the ones who spoke good English. We also met Radu’s two-year-old, Luca, a smart, happy little kid. I had the feeling that if I spoke Romanian I’d understand him pretty clearly; Radu said that the main problem is pronouncing R’s, which came out as L’s. That’s a common problem in English, too. We are all born Chinese.

Sunday afternoon Radu dropped us off at the Iași airport (renovations and a bigger runway coming soon) for our trip to Warsaw with a layover in Rome (kind of like flying from SF to LA with a layover in Denver, but saving $150 USD per ticket by so doing). We had reservations at a hotel near the Rome airport which had a seafood restaurant, Pascucci al Porticciolo, which has one Michelin star. We were disappointed to learn, well in advance, that it was closed on Sunday nights; I picked out another restaurant a bit further away. When we arrived at Fiumicino, all of the taxi prices were shocking and highly variable (20 euros to 55 euros for three kilometers): we bailed on the alternate restaurant (which hadn’t replied to my reservation email) and just headed for the hotel, which was closer. We ended up sharing a taxi with a family, each party paying 15 euros for a three-mile trip. Such a racket.

When we arrived at the hotel, we asked if there was any place to eat, and they said “we have a restaurant”: it was open after all! We quickly changed, and sat down to a raw-fish-centric seven-course tasting menu at 10:45pm, which was excellent. They did space out one of the courses, but we reminded them and then they brought it: “parmigiana del mare”, a base of “tomato paper” with eggplant, burrata cheese, and perfectly cooked calamari. Other courses included an oyster served under green apple and basil sorbet, gnocchi made with green beens served with tuna, and two various tartares of fish. We ridiculed ourselves a bit for getting so upset at elevated taxi prices while not batting an eyelash at the 205-euro bill for the meal, but some people are just like that, I guess. The place felt much more like a restaurant which also has rooms with beds than it did like a hotel which also has a dining room. But need I mention that the hotel was styling intensely in its own right: white hallways lit with large recessed blue rectangles in the ceiling.

If the taxis hadn’t been so rapacious, we would have gone directly to the backup restaurant, and missed the main event. Insert Panglossian homily here.

In the morning we took another 15 euro taxi back to the airport (three kilometers and 16.90 on the meter! but he did settle for 15) and caught our flight to Warsaw, where we will spend three days, not including today, which is being spent relaxing and doing errands, such as writing these words. We are staying at Castle Inn, a charming little place in Old Town I stayed at in 2009.