Thursday 16 June 2016


So the wife turns to me one day and says, 'Romania! That's where we've got to go! Bucharest! It'll be great! And the wines! Think of the wines!'

I very definitely don't want to go to Romania, but my objections are so furious, diverse and incoherent that the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, 'I hate wines. I hate everything about them. Except the taste.'

She goes and looks up Bucharest ('The Paris of the East') on the Internet. It seems to be a big, not-very-well-off city, almost entirely physically ruined by the Ceauşescu regime and now consisting of huge martial avenues and despotic public architecture. So awful, in fact, that even my wife goes off the idea. I breathe a sigh of relief. Too soon: she's back with bad news.

'You can fly to Romania's second city, Cluj-Napoca, direct from Luton Airport!'
'There's no such place as Cluj-Napoca,' I say.
'It's in better shape than Bucharest! There are still parts of the old city! It would be fun!'

When she gets consumed by one of these manias, I generally stonewall for as long as possible while hoping that another, less destructive, enthusiasm will take its place. Which it quite often does; so often in fact, that I have unwillingly come to accept that the initial mania is only there as a feint, that it exists simply to get me to fall in with the second suggestion more willingly.

Still, I go as far as to look up Romanian wines. They tend to get lumped in with Bulgarian and Hungarian - some ultra-sweet Tokayish products, apparently - but, after a couple of decades of neglect, are starting to make a comeback with wines such as the Prince Stirbey Tamaioasa Romaneasca Sec ('Fluent, spring stream freshness' according to The Guardian) and Crâmpoşie Selecţionată ('A fresh and expressive bouquet of pear and green apple', Winerist). 'Waitrose,' I say, 'says it sells Romanian wines online, but none of them is actually Romanian when you look. What does that tell us?' I still very much don't want to go there.

A couple of days later, my brother-in-law, perversely ingenious, produces a brochure of Romanian package holidays, plus some off-putting fliers. Cluj-Napoca ('Treasure City of Transylvania') is mentioned. In fact it lists a trip you can take from Cluj, via the famous salt mines at Turda and the wooden church at Rogoz, to the traditional Romanian village of Breb, returning via Baia Sprie and an afternoon pottery class. Wine is not mentioned.

But there's more. What do you know, but Cluj-Napoca is a major health resort? 'Top class medical facilities, including dental, cosmetic surgery and medical rehabilitation clinics', according to the literature. Better yet, if you stay at the Grand Hotel Napoca on a special promotion you get a free dental check-up, a cosmetic surgery consulation and a 'tour of the facilities of the biggest rehabilitation hospital in Romania'. And wait: here's a whole two pages offering The Moldova Wine Experience. I make the mistake of mentioning it to my wife.

'It says here, you can visit the Milestii Mici Winery,' I say, reading the names out with the effortfulness of a child, 'followed by somewhere called Old Orhei, go on to the Cricova Winery - one of Europe's biggest underground wineries - before checking out the winery at Chateau Vartely - including the Ice Wine Experience - and the monastery at Curchi.'
'That's perfect.'
'I don't know why I told you about it. It's the opposite of what I meant to do. I meant not to tell you.'
She takes the brochure from me.
'It's a truly unique travel adventure,' she reads aloud, with conviction. 'It combines perfectly with other Romania-based experiences.'
'There are plenty of Romanians over here. Couldn't we just live among them for a weekend?'
'There's a problem. It doesn't mention Cluj-Napoca.'
'That's sad,' I say, trying hard to make it sound as if I care.

After a while, she stops mentioning Cluj-Napoca every three minutes. Then she says, 'Copenhagen!'

'Copenhagen is fine,' I reply, 'Copenhagen I can live with.'


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