Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Curse of the BBC strikes again, but this time it claims a worthy victim in its Lonely Planet subsidiary.
I felt vaguely sorry for the various Jocelyns sacked over the Brendarama and Socksgate scandals, in the way you do on hearing how a remote Persian satrap was once forced to eat his own hands by gurning Yazidi madmen.
I have no sympathy, however, for the Lonely Planet writer who got sacked for rhapsodising about countries he'd not been to.
I would normally salute a louche fellow slacker, even though he looks like a medical student who larks around the morgue at midnight. But not this time, as Mrs Boyo and I once orbited Lonely Planet long enough to fall for its advocacy of the Romanian city of Suceava.
Suceava, the guide to Romania & Moldova assured us, has a "real charm", and "harbours some of the funkiest, most happening clubs and bars" in the country. No it hasn't, and no it doesn't. Three categories of people might disagree:
1. The Suceava Guild of Licenced Victuallers.
2. The Suceava District Psychiatric Hospital Concert Party.
3. Someone who has talked to, and believed, one or both of the above.
The few cars had straggled away across the inky plain, carrying our fellow-travellers into the dust that was settling around Suceava airport like an elderly dog.
A series of requests for lifts from local thugs got nowhere, as Romanian is an Esperanto for Etruscan centurions and soundly defeated my every attempt at more than "two beers and the bucket of polenta you always bring whatever I order, please".
Mrs Boyo eventually found a soul at the ghostly terminal who called us a taxi. As Mad Iancu ferried us across the acres of murk that surround Suceava, he muttered "zona industrială". Little did we know we'd just past the city's chief attraction.
I am being rather unfair, as Suceava has a fine castle, working synagogue, splendid graveyard and a rain-soaked ethnographic museum to rival the one I tricked Mrs Boyo into visiting in Cluj.
It has an excellent Italian restaurant, and is the ideal base for visiting the painted monasteries of Moldavia. I also drank the best afinată fruit brandy of the whole journey in the nearby village of Marginea.
It's difficult to dislike a place that has a signpost to the Borgo Pass, but it is not the Seattle of the Carpathians that we were misled into expecting. The nightlife is dominated, as everywhere in smalltown Europe, by clumps of hair gel and hormones hanging out of badly-modified cars.
The Lonely Planet didn't even have the grace to get the map of the tiny downtown right, so it took ages to find the one travel agent who could get us back to Bucharest, where the dead travel fast but at least don't pause for handbrake turns outside our hotel window.
Some time later I was reading Tim Moore's sublime Frost on My Moustache and came across a casual comment about the refined indignities to which he and his wife would like to subject the author of the Lonely Planet guide to Romania at the wretch's inevitable show trial.
So I rushed off to read the LP guides to Central Asia and Ukraine, areas I know well. Sure enough, they too were pants.
Once BBC Worldwide announced they were buying this tie-dyed sack of patchouli-stained porkies, it was only a matter of time before the subprime travel guide market leapt off the window ledge into the "always bustling town piazza" that's been closed for years due to that massacre.