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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Overnight Train to Iasi

ROMANIA | Monday, 26 April 2021 | Views [27]

Palace of Culture back door!

Palace of Culture back door!

Emma had a week off for the Orthodox Easter holiday so it was time to head out and explore more of the fascinating country that is Romania. Our plan was to head as far away from Timisoara as we could by direct train and then meander our way back over the week. Most trains in Romania seem to go at rather inconvenient times but I managed to find an overnight train to Iasi (pronounced Yash) leaving at 6 pm from Timisoara and arriving in Iasi at 10 am the next morning. This sounded perfect as we could then make our way back through Moldavia and Maramures taking in the sights on the way.

We booked a first class sleeper compartment (it seems to be the way we travel these days – must be getting old!) for the long trip to Iasi which is located in Moldavia, close to the Moldovan border in the north-east of Romania. We got to the station early and had time for a drink in the station bar with a cliental similar to which you would find in any Wetherspoons within 100 yards of a station in the UK. Train station bars the world over are great places to see life. Luckily, the train was waiting for us after we finished our Timisoareana beer and we quickly got settled into our private carriage. We were soon setting off through the countryside enjoying our picnic ( Romania trains don’t seem to offer refreshments, so bring your own) and watching the sun go down. After a decent night’s sleep rocking along through Romania we woke to a cold and frosty morning as we traversed an area of woodland. The scenery was lovely as we passed along a river and hillsides dotted with traditional dwellings, but it was looking pretty cold out there and spring had definitely not sprung in this part of Romania as the trees were bare. We trundled into Iasi station only 15 minutes late which is not too shabby for a 17 hour trip.

Even though we were early our host said we could check into the apartment and we jumped in an Uber for the short ride to the gaff. As has been the case with all our accommodation so far in Romania, the apartment had everything we needed and was very spick and span. It was also a short stroll to the centre of town and the shops, so we stocked up on supplies before venturing out to explore. Iasi didn’t look too appealing on first impressions with the typical communist era blocks omnipresent, but once we found the centre, city started to grow on us.

There are not lots of restored old buildings like in Timisoara, Oradea or Sibiu, but what it does not lack is churches. We found the main pedestrian area which was heaving with people due to it being the Easter hols and we were surprised to see the majority of people not wearing masks. It amazing how we have got used to the covid restrictions and when you see lots of people together, shaking hands or not wearing masks it seems strange now. Along Stefan Cel Mare, a lovely traffic-free street, there were at least 3 major churches and we spent some time having a look around. The Church of the 3 Hierarchs was the most impressive as the whole of the outside had intricate carvings in the stone.

From there it was a short stroll to the Palace of Culture which is a truly impressive pile. It houses 4 museums these days but as the sun was shining we decided to admire it from the outside. From there we took a wander around the city and headed for the Golia Monastery. Our guide book said we could climb the tower for an impressive view of the city but unfortunately it was closed. However, still another lovely old building. It was day one and I was already reaching the peak of my looking at church abilities so we decided to find a spot for a bite and a drink.

We headed to Piata Uniri which was a pleasant square with the very grand looking Traian Hotel dominating one side of the square. The hotel was designed in 1882 by Eiffel, yep the same guy who ripped off the design of  Blackpool Tower for some copy in Paris. We didn’t get any service at the restaurants on the square so we headed down another pedestrian street and found a whole area of bars and restaurants. We plumped for Corso which had a large garden terrace opposite the Museum of Union which is housed in a lovely old house. It was a nice spot to while away the late sunny afternoon.

We had seen most of the sights already so we were wondering what to do the next day. In hindsight, 1 night in Iasi would probably be enough, but after the long trip we went for 2 rather than moving on again so soon. Emma seemed to think that I had planned to be in a big city rather than a village so as to have a better chance of catching the City v Spurs game in the League Cup final later in the day. It had not even crossed my mine but now you mention it, we do need to find somewhere for the game later. So what to do for the day until kick off time? I’d read about a walk we could do to take in 3 monasteries on the edge of the city so let’s do that.

Our meander would take in Galata, Frumoasa and Cetatuia monasteries and we set off through the busy city towards Galata. We couldn’t believe how hectic town was on a Sunday morning but eventually we got to the edge of the city and headed up quieter lanes to our first stop. Bit of a tip for people thinking of doing a tour of monasteries in Romania, maybe don’t go on a Sunday morning during Easter. The place was chocka and it was chucking out time after service so it wasn’t the peaceful experience we envisaged, but at least we got the flavour of the place. Despite being on top of a hill there wasn’t really a view so we carried on to Frumoasa. We ended up heading back into noisy traffic-clogged roads before crossing the tracks to get to the monastery. This one was on a slight hillock and surrounded by defensive walls. Again it was chucking out time and the actual church was not so impressive so we didn’t hang around long. We could see Cetatiua sat atop of a forested hill over the way and that looked much more appealing. We climbed up through the trees and it was nice to feel that we had finally left the city behind. We got a view of Iasi from halfway up and this confirmed that it is a large sprawling place with lots of concrete. Cetatuia  was our favourite of the 3, it is a large complex and it was much more peaceful than the other 2. A monk gave us a sweet Easter treat but I have to say it wasn’t to my palate. Shame he wasn’t dishing out the wine they produce here. The area outside the monastery is full of vines. After mooching around for a while we looped back into town.

In the end the meander to 3 monasteries turned out to be a trek of about 16km, so we felt very pious and headed to the pub to undo all the good work. It was too early for the game so we grabbed a bite to eat at the Cinema Bistro. We had planned to eat at Oscar’s, which is a restaurant next to our apartment with a lovely sunny deck. Unfortunately, most of Iasi had had the same idea that Sunday afternoon.  We couldn’t bag a table so we headed into town and the Cinema Bistro. The staff were lovely and friendly and were surprised to find 2 English people in Iasi but unfortunately the grub was not great. We asked the burgers with no sauce but it must have been lost in translation and I inadvertently asked for ‘as much gunk as you can put on my burger please’. It was a soggy mess and didn’t even come with chips which was a bit disappointing considering the fairly steep price of 36 lei. Never mind, we soldiered on. We, sorry I , had earmarked Radio Gaga pub for the football. Now normally any association with Queen would have me avoiding the place at all costs but I’d noticed the previous day when we walked by, that they had a big tv tuned to the English footy. My research paid off and they would put the City v Spurs game on for us as they had the correct channel we needed. It was a proper small British style pub and we were even let inside as covid levels and restrictions were lower here than in Timisoara. Radio Gaga is a great little pub and they had a vast array of British beers, much better selection than I have seen in Timisoara so indulged in  Joker IPA from Scotland and I even got  a Proper Job ( first time for everything I hear you say!), one of my favourite ales from Cornwall. So we settled in and watched City win the League cup for the 4th year in a row - happy days.


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