Well, the one country where I did not expect my publishers to collect me from the airport in a stretch limo came up trumps indeed, with the biggest, bling-blingest limo of all!!! We even made a splash in Romania’s largest-circulation newspaper!

PJ and Helen – superstars in Romania!

My wonderful Romanian publishers, Nemira, heard that my Russian publisher had laid on for me, last September, a stretch limousine, and they were determined to outdo the nation whose Communist regime had inflicted over four decades of misery and suffering on their people!

In fact, the car being so long proved really handy — because the traffic in Bucharest is so bad, and at a standstill half the time, I was able to walk to most places without getting out of the car!!!

PJ about to walk from one end of Romania to another

PJ and his Romanian agent, Simona Kessler, travel in bling style!

My late and very wise father once said to me that he could not decide which would be a better investment: To send me to University or to send me around the world for three years. I think it would be fair to say the only journeys I have ever regretted in life are the ones I did not make when I had the chance.

Woody Allen once famously said, “If I were to live my life over again, I would do everything exactly the same, except I would not have gone to see The Magus“. I’m more or less with him on that one, except I actually loved the ending of The Magus. I would replace it with Bugsy Malone, easily the most pointless, boring and irritating film I ever saw. But hey, I’m always game to try new things. One of my favourite quotations is from the late Sir Arnold Bax: “Try anything in life once, except incest and folk dancing.”

From all that I had heard about Romania, before I went to visit last week, on a combined research trip for my next Roy Grace novel and a book promotion tour for my publishers there, I was convinced that country was going to rank somewhere between The Magus, Bugsy Malone and Folk Dancing on the PJ scale of “life is too short to…”

I was warned that I would find the streets are filled with wild dogs, and feral homeless children. That the hotels are terrible, their five stars being equivalent to a UK two-star, and that the food is crap. Well, just how wrong these perceptions are. Sure, Romania has many problems, thanks to the heritage from the nightmare 42 years of Communist rule, most of it under the despotic Nicholae Ceausescu and his equally vile wife Elena, both finally and mercifully shot dead following a revolution in 1989. But its people are some of the loveliest I have ever met — and high on this list I’m including the street people, the orphans, the homeless — and the living saints who help them.

First to dispel the hotel rumour: We stayed at the Athenee Palace Hilton. I don’t know if it is four or five-star, but I can tell you that it has exemplary service and — like everywhere we went — very seriously good food. I would rate the service as good, if not even better, than the service we had in Hong Kong recently — and Hong Kong hotel staff are generally opined to be the sharpest in the world.

Yes, Romanians do eat crap. But it is delicious crap! Because in Romania crap soup is one of their national dishes. We spell it a slightly different way — carp!

[To be continued…]