~ Dan Wallace ~
After driving for over eight hours from Bucharest to the northeastern region of Romania known as Moldova, we came to the second largest city in the country—Iasi (pronounced “Yawsh”). I have written about the road less traveled in another report, and will not go into much detail here. Suffice it to say that we traveled an average of 31 mph, yet in a few spots we were going over 85 mph. Very few spots.
We had booked a room at the Hotel Unirea in the heart of the city. It was a three-star hotel which, in Europe, normally means one or even two stars lower than in the States. We were bracing ourselves.
The hotel turned out to be a delightful surprise. It’s a thirteen-story, very attractive building, situated right in front of the Piata (plaza) where two other famous hotels are located. Free parking, free breakfast, free Internet, and a three-bed suite (they ran out of two-bed suites) for 60 Euros a night! The only problem we have had was the AC. But that’s a problem almost everywhere in Europe. Keeping it running 24/7 gets the room down to about 80 degrees.
We got in late and decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. It’s on the thirteenth floor. Yes, it’s not marked the fourteenth floor. The old superstitions that prevent architects and builders in the West from calling a building’s thirteenth floor what it is apparently did not infect Romania. Increasingly in the last few years, almost entirely in Europe, I’ve been in buildings with a labeled 13th floor. It’s a refreshing change. This hotel wasn’t quite that bold, however. Their floor went up to the 12. Then, one walked up another floor to the restaurant which was on an unnumbered floor.
Noah and I got to the restaurant at 11 PM, just in time for a late dinner. We had eaten a lunch on the road, which constantly reminded our bodies that we made a bad decision. Belches, farts, gas, and upset stomachs—just what you need when you’re about to drive through Pothole Hell for the last 35 km of your trip! We thought we would be on a crash diet in Romania after that experience. We were in for a big surprise!
The menu listed a veritable feast—pork medallions, chicken parmesan, steaks galore including Chateaubriand, different kinds of duck, lamb, etc. We decided that after the harsh road trip, we would give ourselves a little treat. The prices were ridiculously low. We each ordered duck, shared a salad, had some Romanian wine (which was really good!), and various side dishes and other unmentionables—all for about $60. Although more than our daily budget for food, this was a special day. Like a parent welcoming a son coming home from war, we celebrated our survival of the DN24 (the road into Iasi).
The waitress spoke almost no English, but she did speak German quite well. Our conversations were thus in the Fatherland’s tongue for the rest of the evening. At one point, she asked what we were doing in Iasi. It had quickly become apparent to us that this was no tourist town. The DN24 made sure of that. It was a university town, but like the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” it seemed to be a place where people checked in but they didn’t check out. We dubbed the city, Hotel Californ-Iasi (“Californ-yawsh”).
Back to her question. We told her that we were here to photograph ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. She didn’t understand. “What is the New Testament,” she inquired in German. I told her that it was part of the Bible. Before I could explain (which would have been a real chore, since my German skills are elementary at best), she said, “Oh, the Bible! Yes, I know it. I’ve seen the movie.” I tried to explain that the Bible was not a movie, but that the movie was based on the sacred text of Christians and Jews. She had never heard that before.
Here was a European woman, mid-30s, who had never heard of the Bible. I was astounded. As I mused over the matter, however, I realized that she had probably not been exposed to the Bible in any way in school. After all, the country was Communist until Christmas Day, 1989, when President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed by a firing squad. How long would it take before the Bible would even be introduced into the curriculum again after that? If it was three or four years, she would never have been exposed to it in school.
The next night we ate at a restaurant nestled in a residential neighborhood (zoning laws are quite different here than in the States) and the waitress was in her early 20s. We had figured that the younger a person was, the more likely it was for them to have heard of the New Testament and Bible. I was hoping for an opportunity to tell her about what we do. But I didn’t need to start the conversation. Like our waitress at the hotel, she, too, was curious about why we came to Iasi. When I told her that we came to photograph ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, she understood. I asked, “Have you heard of the New Testament?” “Yes, of course,” she replied.
These two incidents put in bold relief how the old Soviet bloc countries are undergoing dramatic change। The irony is that—as I have witnessed multiple times—the students growing up in these post-Communist countries are getting greater exposure to the Bible than most American students get in what is increasingly becoming a post-Christian country.
10 Responses to “First Night in Romania”
1. S.on 09 Jun 2010 at 6:04 pm
Humm….very interesting, but sadly true. And youth often gravitate toward ‘new’ ideas, which were not held by their parents. I suppose that might make those countries a good mission field, especially for campus type outreach, or maybe even Biblical studies on an academic level.
How interesting it must be to talk with people in so many different cultures and assess their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. It’s great that you enjoy these conversations with people, Dan!
2. DW. on 09 Jun 2010 at 6:07 pm
Very friendly people in Romania. About 20% could speak English with any fluency. Noah took on the task of learning enough Romanian to be dangerous. But at least he tried! I was just happy that the waitress spoke some German.
3. Cadis on 09 Jun 2010 at 8:28 pm
Thanks for these posts. They are a lot of fun and very entertaining.
4. J. on 09 Jun 2010 at 9:37 pm
Need someone to carry your bags on the next trip? Killer job.
5. D.B. on 09 Jun 2010 at 11:10 pm
It is a killer job, Jamie! I ruptured some discs in my neck 20 months ago when carrying 100 lb. bags up and down stairs at a hotel in London. Had to get a titanium plate put in my neck. My doctor said that the plate would withstand a Mac truck running over my neck. Good to know that the hardware would be OK when I died (:-).
6. M.T. on 10 Jun 2010 at 12:13 am
I wonder if that plate would survive getting hit by a plane of glass propelled by a tornado at 150 MPH (the subject of one of the myths on a television show called “Mythbusters” tonight)
7. D .10 Jun 2010 at 2:02 am
Hey, I’m from Romania (Cluj specifically) and it is mindblowing to me that someone in Romania doesn’t know what the New Testament is. More likely your waitress didn’t know what the Bible means in German. I can hardly believe that she really hadn’t heard of it.
8. O . on 10 Jun 2010 at 2:54 am
Really interesting to see Romania through your exegetical lens! And also should be funny for Romanians to have an American visitor speaking German. Maybe this is the main reason (and not the Communist regime) the first waitress did not hear before about the New Testament.
9. B.V on 10 Jun 2010 at 3:43 am
I am Romanian from California and I understand more then you
wrote !!(between lines )
Romania is a Latin inland in a Slavic sea.
Bine ai venit la noi!Te rog sa te simti ca acasa !
Te asteptam din nou !
10.LJ. on 10 Jun 2010 at 11:55 am
Dr. Wallace: I have always loved your attitude. You must be fun to rub shoulders with. But I could do that only in Heaven, I’m sure!
Thanks for your service to the Church!