My Bloody Romania: Hero gloriously returns to zero fanfare

Dateline: Cruising altitude, en route from Minneapolis to JFK

I hold in my hands a just-out-of-the-box, mint condition copy of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. This is significant for two reasons: One, I plan to do a fair bit of travel in Romania’s Moldavia and Transylvania regions over the course of the next month. Two, it just so happens that I wrote/updated half this staggering work of brilliance and I’m more than a little pleased to finally be flipping through the final product.

Is there anything as sweet as traveling in a country carrying a guidebook that has your name printed in blue 16 point font on page one? No really, I’m asking. I have no idea. This is my first time. Will celebrity spotters identify me? Will the paparazzi chase me down the street? Will girls shriek with primal lust and tear at my clothes when I rush from my hostel into my waiting Dacia 1310?

Hmmm, perhaps a test run here on the plane. I’ll prop the book open on the tray table exposing my bio page, fetching black and white picture and all, angle it so my neighbor can see it and wait for the slobbering reverence to ensue.

She doesn’t see it. I’ll tap the book on the table.

Nothing. I’ll rhythmically tap-point at my picture.

Emphatically circle it with my finger.


Man, she is really out of it. Is that rum I smell? OK , switching to other neighbor.

Drat. She’s asleep already. How is that possible? We’ve been in the air 12 effing minutes. I hate those people.

Well, until Romania then, where I’ll probably be less worshiped for my fame and literary genius and more chastised and mercilessly critiqued about content balance, misplaced map icons and how the bus from Brasov to Sighisoara actually costs 45 cents more than it says in the book and how could I have screwed up so badly?

Everyone’s a critic, especially me. I lived in Romania for a cumulative 16 months between 2004-06 (in the northeast city of Iasi, the country’s second largest city, 20 kilometers from the Moldovan border) and I complained like I was getting paid US$0.08 a word. Meaning I was compelled to complain at great length or not make rent. The startlingly narrow choice of cuisine, the kamikaze drivers, the alarming state of corruption and bureaucracy perpetrated by those who are in charge of processing used car title changes, the complete lack of desire by the entire population to satisfy the bare minimum of their assigned job duties without some kind of extra incentive and the demoralizing number of achingly beautiful women who were, for lack of any other option, dating horribly unattractive, style-starved, drunken, lecherous men while much more attractive American, travel writing, David Beckham look-alikes with asses that have to been seen to be believed were roundly ignored.

Apart from a 10 day visit over the previous New Years that saw Romania narrowly gain European Union membership, an interval that was spent largely drunk and prone (I was exceedingly happy on their behalf), I have not spent significant time in Romania for over a year. I’m told that EU membership has sparked some fast and occasionally mirthfully executed changes in that time and I can’t wait to criticize/mock it to a quivering pulp. Oh there’ll probably be moments of amazement and veneration too, but that’s hardly funny is it?

But before any of that can happen, there’s the small matter of getting to Iasi, which has never been easy, and has been enlivened on this occasion by the fact that my Minneapolis/JFK flight on Northwest Airlines has been delayed repeatedly and we are currently due to touch down exactly seven minutes before my connecting flight to Madrid departs. Will I get to Iasi or will I blog about John F. Kennedy Airport for the next four weeks? The mind swirls.

POSTSCRIPT: My plane to Madrid departed while my plane from Minneapolis circled JFK for reasons that were never shared.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for further musings about Romanian food, Italian internet and the exquisite contours of his booty.