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.

Moldova!

Somewhat nice building in Chisinau

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Night train #105K from Kiev to Odessa

I took night train #105K from Kyiv to Odessa, Ukraine.  It cost 124 Ukrainian gryvna, or about $15 for a second-class sleeper, and it took about 10 hours to reach Odessa.

It was a hot evening in Kiev, even hotter inside the train.  So hot that I had to get out and wait on the platform just to get air.  Our wagon was old and had no windows that opened.

Inside had red-leatherette bunks, fake wood paneling and funny old Russian switches and light fixtures.  Unfortunately I was too hot and tired to take any photos.

It was a four-berth compartment, but I shared it with only one other person:  Vesna, a Ukrainian flight attendant who worked on corporate jets and spoke good English.  My bunk was facing backwards so she kindly switched with me.  We talked about travel and about Odessa, where she lived.  Unlike me, Vesna loved Kiev and said she found something new every time she went there.

Bedding was the usual inadequate mattress pad and sqooshy wonderful pillow.

The toilet in this old wagon was not nearly as nice as the one in train #92, but it was adequate and not too disgusting, and there was paper.

Once again I didn’t sleep well on the hard bunk, but all the same it didn’t seem long until we reached Odessa.

The first thing I saw when stepping out of the train was this, the Odessa train station:

Odessa train station

Odessa train station

Gratuitous Penguin of the Day

Adelie Penguin photo by Brendan Van Son

Penguin Walk, photo by Brendan Van Son

If you’re just waking up and need something adorable to lift your spirits while you drink your coffee, try this photo essay about Antarctic penguins by my affable Canadian twitter pal Brendan Van Son.

My art lovers’ guide to Zagreb, Croatia – finally done

Ples (Dance) by Ivan Generalic

Ples ("Dance") by Ivan Generalic

At last, I have finished my massive guide-writing project for Unanchor.

It’s a three-day itinerary that shows visitors the best places in Zagreb to see art.

And I finished it only two months over deadline.

Unanchor guides are meant to be more intensive than a normal guidebook.  They don’t just list places to go, they take you by the hand and lead you there.  I like this approach, because I have often been lost or confused by incomplete directions in guidebooks.    And I know Zagreb pretty well by now, so I thought it would be a breeze to write.

WRONG.

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