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.

In the shimmering red-gold twilight, a Scottish castle

You all should go visit Scotland in the Gloaming right now like I’ve been telling you all week, because they just posted some amazing new pictures like this one.

Dumbarton castle in the gloaming

Dumbarton Castle Gloaming by baaker2009

Also there’s a group on Flickr.

Fun fact about Dumbarton Castle:  it has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Great Britain, dating back to the Iron Age.

Here’s a historical view of the place from an antique engraving:

You can find it here, between Edinburgh and Glasgow:

Yes I still have “Drunken Sailor” lodged in my brain, thanks for asking.  I really don’t know what to do at this point.  I hope it goes away before Sunday, because I missed Sundays with Clyfford Still last week because of it and I don’t want to miss it again.

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

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

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.

Wild Ride from Odessa to Chisinau

I have just one thing to say about taking a minibus from Odessa (Ukraine) to Chisinau (Moldova):

DON’T!

Oh, sure.  It only costs $10.  And it runs multiple times a day, versus the train that only goes once a day and gets you there at 10pm, a really inconvenient time to be stuck in a strange new city where you know nothing of the language and (if you’re anything like me) your debit card doesn’t work for withdrawing money.

There are full-sized buses plying this route which have got to be better than this 6-hour hayride from hell.  Get someone (maybe from your hostel) to check which kind of bus it will be for you, because you really don’t want to be stuck on this bus.

This one left at 2:45 pm from Odessa.  I had to take it because I missed the 10:00 bus.   If you’re stuck on this bus, take Dramamine.  You’ll need it.

If you think I’m exaggerating, or being a wimp, and you long for a minibus adventure on the backstreets of Moldova, look no further than this actual footage of my ride:  (mute the sound)

I rest my case.

Odessa, Mon Amour

I almost didn’t go to Odessa.  I could kick myself for that.

Orthodox Church in Odessa

Orthodox Church in Odessa

My object was to get to Kiev and do the Chernobyl tour, then get home the cheapest way possible.  Absolute cheapest (without relying on hitchhiking) would have been overnight train back to L’viv, and retracing my steps west and south back to Croatia.  But I really didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to see more new places and countries I had never seen before.

Going to Odessa would leave me with no choice for getting home except going through Moldova, Romania and Hungary (Hungary especially annoying because its trains are slow and all go through Budapest to get anywhere else), and I was concerned about how much it would all cost, and how much time it would take.

Park near Potemkin Steps

Park near Potemkin Steps, Odessa

But L’viv Hostel Guy told me I couldn’t even think about missing Odessa.  He was right about everything else, so I took his word for it and booked a night train.

All I can say about Odessa is:

WOW!

Don’t judge Odessa because it’s a bit grotty around the train station.   Just walk north to the old town.

There you will find:

A relaxed, airy city that almost seems to belong more on the French Riviera than Eastern Europe.

Amazingly beautiful old buildings, parks, monuments,  the Potemkin Steps, the Black Sea.  Colonnades.  Museums.  PONY RIDES.  (yeah, okay, I’m too old to ride a pony, but it was fun to watch).

Potemkin Steps

The artist’s first sight of the Black Sea

I saw a bald eagle close up; the most magnificent of birds.  I could have held it and had my pictures taken for 20 grivna ($2.50) but I was a bit intimidated – it was almost as big as I was.

Lion's head

Lion’s head ornament

.

People selling everything and anything.  Walking the beautiful streets at all hours of the day and night, feeling perfectly safe.  Art Deco banisters.  The best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Great beer.And it’s all cheap, cheap, cheap.

I never had a meal that cost more than $10 and usually it was more like $5.

I saw a ballet for $6 (and that’s only because I paid extra for a better seat; I could have sat in the cheap seats for $2):

Odessa Opera House

A mere $6 got me a row to myself at the opera house

People are friendly and nice, even the ones who didn’t speak English.  The men are polite;  I never felt uncomfortable around them.

My bed at the TIU Front Page Hostel.

I stayed at the TIU Front Page Hostel, which is conveniently located near the old town.  The hostel is run by Adam, a very large Australian guy who very kindly helped me find my dropped lipstick by pushing those bunk beds around like they weighed nothing.  Probably best not to armwrestle with him.

The view from my hostel bed!

The prices were reasonable, the facilities good.  Big rooms, nice big kitchen – multiple people can cook at the same time.   Laundry available for a small fee – I think it was a couple of dollars.

The only quibbles I have are pretty minor: the showers are upstairs, quite small and turning around in them is awkward – I solved this by showering when no one else was around and leaving the door open so I could maneuver.  Also, the sheet/pillowcase fabric didn’t feel good to me – too much polyester in it.

Other than that it’s a really good hostel and I recommend it.  Not for party animals, because Adam enforces the rules strictly, but I appreciated that because I like peace and quiet.

Adam was very helpful with information about  Odessa and how to get to other cities like Chisinau or Bucharest.

There’s also a cute kitty at the hostel (for some reason almost every hostel I stayed at in Ukraine had a cat).

Best pizza ever

Best pizza I ever ate in my life at Olio

I ate at Olio Pizza on Bunina Street in the old town, a place I highly recommend for excellent food at a reasonable price.  You can eat cheaper in Odessa but probably not better than this.  Pizzas cost from $5-$8 and some of them are very imaginative:  I saw one with duck, blue cheese and pears.  I went for the Meat Supreme, which has 6 different kinds of meat on it for about $7.  It was so good I went back the next day and the next.  It’s easy to find – Bunina street goes through the old town and it’s near the park.

Park

Park in the old town

Drawbacks of Odessa are the usual for Eastern Europe:  poorly ventilated, stuffy buildings, crowded chaotic markets (even in the supermarket, which was designed by some idiot), and the difficulty of deciphering Cyrillic.  But my bank card worked fine here and I never got ripped off by any store, restaurant or any other place.  I felt perfectly safe walking around at all hours of the day and night.   The bus station area was a bit depressing, but that’s typical of Eastern Europe.

Grapevine banister

Grapevine banister

Old town at dawn

Odessa at dawn

Promenade

Promenade near Potemkin Steps

Odessa pier

Sunset over the Black Sea

I wish I could live here.  Sadly, the rents in the old town start at something like $800 a month, well out of my price range.

If you are thinking about visiting Odessa, drop everything and go there now.