Chisinau and a mini-rant

My site is apparently coming up in searches about Chisinau.  People, I was in Chisinau once and didn’t like it.  My site is not useful for anyone seeking serious information about it.  Kindly refrain from clogging my moderation queue with your complaints that I am not an encylopedic fount running o’er with information about the capital city of Moldova, or that I didn’t write about it in that fake jaunty way so beloved of tourist brochures.  I’m not selling anything and I don’t have to write promotional copy about the places I visit.

If you don’t like it, feel free to start your own blog.

Travel quote of the day: Dirk Bogarde describes a French cathedral

Cathedral Notre Dame de Puy, Grasse, Provence.  Source

Cathedral Notre Dame de Puy, Grasse, Provence. Source


I’ve been reading Dirk Bogarde to get my mind off things.

The bells summoned us over the hills and little valleys, across the groves and fields. Turning the last corner before climbing up to the town, the cathedral suddenly burst upon the astonished eye lit all over, glowing amber and gold, standing high on the ramparts like an enormous galleon, except galleons don’t have towers and belfries; but it had a sailing splendour about it.  Inside the great doors, the huge stone pillars soared into the shadowy vault of the roof with a faded coat of arms painted on to the planked ceiling.   The scent of incense, of hundreds of years of incense, loitered and meandered about, mixing with the fatty smell of melting tallow, as a thousand candles guttered and glittered in the draught, throwing dancing shadows across the rough stone walls, all gold and silver.  Honey-light on the limestone pillars, cracked and gouged here and there from a distant, devastating fire which had almost once destroyed the cathedral.

Dirk Bogarde, Le Pigeonnier

Dirk Bogarde’s got a pretty impressive website.

So you’re throwing a dinner party in space….

…and you want to comport yourself with the grace and dignity expected of a well-bred astronaut.  What do you do?

Astronaut Don Pettit has the answers.

Don Pettit

You can’t not love a guy who can write from the viewpoint of a zucchini

“The image of an insect sucking the juices from some lower insect may come to mind, but in space it is considered impolite to give voice to such imagery.”

“Zero-g cups, unlike bags with straws, are better for social rituals like toasting, and will bring a smile to the faces of your guests.”

“In space, catching food in your mouth is considered polite. Opening wide and making a clean catch will most always bring cheers from your guests. In one impressive gulp, you can leave them with the image of some sea creature inhaling another.”


Read his entire blog at NASA and understand why I have a little crush on him.


Blue sky and blue water at Barra, the Western Isles of Scotland

Yes, I still have that !@$^!$!! Drunken Sailor song stuck in my head and can’t write anything, so here are some lovely photos from a place my ancestors called home:  the Isle of Barra, one of the Western Isles of gloriously beautiful Scotland.

Traigh Eais, Isle of Barra

Traigh Eais, Isle of Barra, by Macgruff

Wish I were here!

A golden beach and silver sea in Scotland

I still have that Drunken Sailor song in my head and am useless as a blogger.

At least let me show you some more photos from Scotland in the Gloaming that will make you understand why I love that site so much.

Red Point, Scotland

Red Point, Scotland by HighlandArt13

And this one:

Beach on Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides by Flambard.

My ancestors (half of them, anyway) are from one of the most beautiful places in the world.  They never would’ve left it, but they got bashed in the head and dragged aboard an emigrant ship by force.

Four generations later, my child self who knew nothing of her history had strange poignant dreams full of green grass and rain.

Bouncing towards Brasov: Chisinau – Brasov by bus

It’s an uninspiring blog title for an uninspiring, slightly weird, but mostly painless bus trip between two uninspiring countries, Moldova and Romania.

The Chisinau youth hostel arranges a taxi for me to the South Bus Station for 30 Moldovan lei.  (about $3) (And they look a little offended when I express a touch of anxiety about the possibility of being ripped off by the cab driver.  To be fair, the driver turns out to be honest).

The cab drives me south of town and drops me off at what looks like a bunch of shacks.   I wander around a bit while some men leer and hiss at me.  (This is how men try to attract women in this part of the world, and it’s more than a little creepy.)  Ignoring them, I go inside a round building and try to find the ticket counter.  Ticket weirdness ensues:

The only counter open is labeled domestic tickets only.  I go to ask the woman there where I can buy a ticket to Romania, she speaks no English but a bit of befuddled Russian.   She sells me a ticket to Brasov for 190 lei (about $17), but the ticket doesn’t look like a ticket – it looks like a tiny cash register receipt.   The kind you’d get if you stopped at a gas station mini mart and bought a soda.  Nevertheless, she claims it is my ticket, and doubtfully I take it and go search for the bus platform, which she told me was 2.

Not that bad

Not that bad

No bus is at platform 2 and it looks utterly abandoned.  I wonder whether to sit and wait and hope the bus shows up in half an hour, or go look around the other platforms.  I am dragging all of my stuff with me and I have to pass by these creepy hissing men again to look at the other platforms, but I do it anyway.  It’s a good thing too because I find the bus I am looking for at platform 13.  I am relieved to see it is a full sized bus, very old but reasonably comfortable looking.  Also, it has a little shrine in one corner.

Bus superstition

Should I be worried or reassured by the religious icons?

Now more ticket weirdness:  some guy I think is the driver looks at my ticket, shows me my seat, which is 2, and puts my bag in the under-bus luggage rack.  I get my stuff settled and he comes back and wants to take my ticket, so I give it to him.  Maybe 10 other people are around, loading their luggage or smoking.  He collects all the tickets and disappears.  Ten minutes or so later he comes back and returns our tickets, which have a little tear in the middle now.

People gradually start drifting into the bus but it’s nowhere near full, I’m relieved to see, as I’m a selfish pig who wants both my seat and the one next to me.    Then another guy comes, a bald irritable one who yells at the first guy and comes around wanting our tickets too.  So I give him my ticket again.  Young guy takes stack of tickets and disappears for a really long time.

Finally he comes back and gives us back our tickets.  But now the numbers on the tickets are different.  (I had to give my passport number to the ticket seller and it’s actually on the ticket I bought).  It’s the same seat number but now it has a different passport number on it.  Weird.  I have no idea why, but it didn’t lead to any problems.

He, a co-driver, and a girl all get on and we get ready to leave.  We seem to spend ages driving around Chisinau before we finally get out of the area and on some road leading westward.

Moldovan countryside

Moldovan countryside out the bus window

We bump and rattle into the softly sloping hills in a pale gold evening light.  The two-lane road is really too narrow to be called that; to fit on it, the bus has to drive down the middle of the white line.  We pass a horse-drawn cart, the horse shying at the sight of the bus.

The Moldovan countryside is far more interesting than Moldovan cities, for sure.  But the road is so deeply rutted that the bus is going maybe 20 miles an hour.

After a few hours, the sun is almost gone.  We stop at some kind of roadhouse.   Even in the middle of nowhere, American capitalism has found its way.  Bleh.


Bus of the Year. What year? 1973?

The driver yells something I don’t understand.  But I know that when everybody else gets off I should too, so I follow the others.

Bus outside roadhouse

Our bus looks so modern when you’re not in it.

People are lining up at the side of the roadhouse, at a tactful distance from a shed out in the back that serves as a lavatory.  I join them.   When it’s my turn, I discover it is utterly dark and there was no light, (Electricity?  Sink?  HA)  But if stench can have corporeal form…you feel like you have to push through it to get in.  I leave the door open just a crack but had I left it entirely open it wouldn’t have let in any light anyway.

In these cases you just have to aim into the dark as well as you can contort yourself into doing.   (Curse you men for having it so much easier.)  Paper?  Ha, but I was expecting this, so there’s a big wad in my pocket.

Back on the road again, I try to sleep but naturally, can’t.  The bus is OK as far as comfort, but sleep is unreachable because of all the road jolting.  Bonus though is that all the vibration instantly gives a Lomo-effect to all photos taken inside the bus.

Bus Lomo

Who needs a Lomo camera when you have a jolting bus?

It’s about 10:30 pm when we reach the border.   On the Moldovan side,  everyone has to get out and take all their luggage out from under the bus to go through customs.   They stamp my passport (in the endorsements section, which they aren’t supposed to use)  and then I go to customs, where some people’s bags are being searched.  But the customs people don’t speak English and just look at my passport and wave me on.

After this wearisome process, we drive a few hundred meters to the Romanian border post and do the whole thing over again.

The Romanian customs guy is giving everybody a long lecture as they go through his line.  When he gets to me, I discover he speaks English.  He doesn’t want to search my stuff at all, but he warns me in great detail about keeping any money or credit cards I might have away from thieves and scammers.    This is the only border crossing I have ever been through where they were actually warning people like this.

We all get back on the bus, somewhat irritated, and a few meters on the driver pulls up at a duty free shop.   Everyone else gets off the bus, but I think to myself, “Screw that, I’m not getting off this bus again,” and I wait.


Waiting outside the damn duty-free shop

Twenty minutes later they come back and finally we are off.

We pass through Iasi,  just a blur of neon-lighted betting parlors in the darkness, and a string of other, smaller towns.  Romania appears to be flashier but just as depressing as Moldova.  It has better roads, some of which resemble Western ones, so the bus is able to go faster.

We stop at some miserable little bus station to use the toilets.  I make the unpleasant discovery that they cost money in Romania and I haven’t any Romanian lei.  I’m standing next to a young man and his lady friend, and the man gallantly pays for me.    Chivalry isn’t dead.  It’s just hiding.  In a grimy, unisexed, Romanian bus-station toilet.

The shriveled old man in charge of the toilets hands us each a wad of paper (brown, linty, but adequate)  and we go into a single room with  four tiled stalls and we each take one.  It’s the standard Eastern European squat toilet, not too horrid.  But I am struck by this weird feeling of  intimacy that comes when you are pissing in the same room with strangers of both genders that you were just on a bus with.   They don’t seem bothered by it.   I guess it is normal for them, but so weird to me.

I’m one of two English speakers on the whole bus, which has maybe 20 people in it, and I am the only American, and I don’t understand what anyone is saying or what is happening really.  Everyone’s been tolerant of my idiocy in their midst, but sometimes it’s hard to tolerate myself.

This is adventure traveling, after all.  It’s not supposed to be glamorous or even comfortable, and I can sleep when I get to Brasov.

Next stop: the town of vampires and church spires, and the truth about Romania.  Stay tuned.

Chisinau has no reason to exist

I know you.

You’re looking to go off the beaten path.  You’re looking for mystery.  Adventure.   You want to discover fascinating unknown places not listed in guidebooks.  You’re a TRAVELLER who sneers at mere tourists.

You thought you’d go to Moldova, because nobody really goes there and that must make it an interesting place.  Right?  You’ll regale your envious friends with tales about your wild times in a place they’ve never heard of.

Before you buy your ticket, take a moment to read about just why nobody ever goes to Moldova.

Chisinau Arch

Triumphal Arch in Chisinau. What Moldova has ever had to feel triumphant about remains a mystery.

You’ve heard of Transnistria, the country that doesn’t exist.

Moldova, the country that Transnistria has seperated from, at least in its own mind, has a similar if slightly different existential problem:  it technically exists but its capital, Chisinau, has no reason to exist. You have no reason to come here, except to take some form of transport to someplace worth going.

Come to Chisinau and treat yourself to spectacular sights like:

Moldovan Sidwalk

Dirt!  And a bonus: broken glass!

  • Dirt!
  • Brutalist architecture!
  • Betting parlors!
  • Orthodox churches!
  • Crumbling buildings!
  • A shiny new mall that’s just as hideous and overpriced as a Western mall, even though Moldova is the poorest country in Europe!
  • Tacky advertising everywhere!
  • Grimy buses coughing out diesel fumes!
  • Filthy cars coughing out exhaust!
  • Trash!

To be fair, people were pretty nice.  A lot nicer than in Romania.  And out in the country there’s some pleasant scenery, though nothing dramatic.  It’s just the overwhelming awareness that there’s nothing special about Moldova and no reason to visit here.  Believe me.  I looked for a reason.  I couldn’t find one.

Moldovan architecture has its own special charm

Oh wait, here’s one:

It’s on the way from Odessa to Romania, if for some reason you want to go to Romania.

cheese pie

At hostel. Moldovan food. Some kind of cheese pie. It was OK.

I stayed at the Chisinau Hostel, a nice modern building, friendly staff, etc. but I absolutely hated the beds.  They are hard plastic-coated mattresses and even the lower bunks have BARS on the sides.  Non-adjustable bars.  They don’t look insurmountable in the pictures, but believe you me, crawling into your bed is quite difficult without bruising yourself.   And then you lie there feeling imprisoned.  When you want to get out, you have to contort yourself like a pole vaulter and you end up bruising yourself all over again.   Just unnecessary, and unfortunate because otherwise the hostel is pretty good and nicer than it looks in the pictures.

baby penguin

At least there’s a poster of a baby penguin to cheer visitors to Chisinau

To get out of Chisinau by bus, you have to cab it to the Southern Bus Station, inconveniently located far from anywhere else and off the public transport routes to be as annoying to tourists as possible.   You’ll have to search for your bus, because no one will tell you where it is.  (Platform 13 is the bus to Brasov, in case you’re going there.)

A bus to Brasov (Romania) costs 190 Moldovan lei, or about $17.


Somewhat nice building in Chisinau