September 24, 2007Posted by on
Drove down to Piteşti on Saturday evening via the Bucureşti-Piteşti highway (or simply “the highway”, as that’s the only one in Romania). Piteşti, the capital of Argeş, is about a 100km from Bucureşti.
From what I’ve read, T. Bowyer’s comment on Piteşti, based on Luigi Mayer’s etchings was, “nothing more wild or romantic can be conceived”.
Geographically, it is not all that different from my hometown, surrounded as it is by hills and located as it is on the banks of a river. I hear that they grow plums here and use them to produce what is considered to be one of the finest Romanian ţuicas.
Wandering about, I take refuge in the first hotel around the city center that I can find. It turns out to be Hotel Victoria. Yes, irony is my middle name. 1500 miles from London, and the hotel I end up at is called Victoria.
I can’t be bothered by the fact that there is a boisterous wedding party going on in the hotel’s restaurant. They are not even close to being as loud as Indian weddings.
For dinner, Quattro Stagioni is just around the corner. At the restaurant, I run into a couple of American Peace Corps volunteers. One of them happens to have lived in not just the same city, but the same street in which I used to live in America. Small world? You bet! Should I even bother noticing ironies anymore? Who knows?
The waitress takes her time to take the order and bring the food, which suits me just fine. I order pizza as that seems to be the specialty of the joint. Hmmm…around here they evidently do not put any sauce on the pizza. Instead, they supply some sauce in a separate bowl. The American girl helpfully explains that sometimes this sauce could simply be tomato ketchup right out of the bottle. The pizza is not the best I have eaten, but I am taken by the sauce bowls shaped like Aladdin’s lamp. I notice another amusing fact: The name of “the” beer around here is Ursus – so they drink the bear beer.
When the American Peace Corps volunteer finds out where I am parked for the night, she proffers the local knowledge that the Bar Victoria is a seat for prostitution. Now that is one piece of information that I could have happily gone through my life without knowing. I really didn’t need to know that. Anyway, she’s been in this country for just under two years, and feels the need to talk to someone “from home”. So I humor her.
There’s a club called Temple right across the street from Hotel Victoria. A pretty strange place too, for while the music is loud and thumping, 90% of the crowd seems happy to either just stand there or do the minimalist waltz. Of course there is the odd girl dancing on a table, but aside from that this is probably as dead a nightclub as I have ever seen.
It’s not long before the owner finds objection to our blocking the passageway and we decide we are done which, I think, is just as well. A short walk follows before I call it a day.
A dream wakes me up a little early in the morning. Then I try and sleep in fits and starts till I finally get up around 9.30. What does today have in store? A quick trip to Sibiu? A trek up the surrounding hills perhaps? We’ll see…
First things first, I need to check out of the hotel. That done, I leave the car in the hotel’s parking and walk down to the Piteşti centrum, where a significant population of the town has converged to celebrate Sunday. Happy families are here to visit the Church of Saint George (kirk de Sfântu Gheorghe?). They are shopping at the special little market. Little kids are enjoying the tricycles and other rides available for rent. And far too many are enjoying the beer and the chicken being grilled by the guy who fans the stove with a blow dryer.
The meandering, serpentine flower-beds and paths look spectacular. I just wish I could fly or otherwise gain some altitude, and take an aerial picture. And I absolutely love the astronomy fountain – it’s got a rotating earth at the core, and constellation signs engraved on the boundary wall.
Adults look at me with furtive glances, noticing my unusual skin color. But children and old people, who have fewer inhibitions, are more persistent with their questioning gazes asking, “What are you doing here?” And I respond with a smile that says, “Don’t look at me. I don’t have all the answers.”
The local bookshop is named after Mihai Eminescu, the national poet. Further down is the Curtea de Apel. While Mircea cel Bătrân’s statue still stands across the road from Galeria de Arta, they’ve dug up the whole area. In fact, they’ve evidently hit a sewage line, and some foul-smelling slurry is accumulating in a pit nearby.
Once I have walked the walk, I go back to the hotel to pick up the car, and drive around town. I come across several rows upon rows of identical building blocks, a result, no doubt, of the systemization program of Ceauşescu. The gara (railway station), a major junction, is of the same mold. The winds of change have blown some of this over, however, and there are many smaller villas and other standalone houses. Additionally, of course, there are large modern apartment blocks that give the illusion of being from the systemization era due to their scale. What sets them apart is the “inefficient and unnecessary” design and colors.
I drive on. Bono cries, “I will follow” over the radio.
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