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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.