Steve's World Tour 2006 - 2008 travel blog

Kristina, Pav & Svetlana

Changing the wheels of the train

The monastery

Local transportation

The road to the monastery

Pav, Kristina and Albert in the caves

Me (a little wet) at a lookout point from the caves

A sign in the caves that apparently claims that barcodes are the...

Pav, Kristina and Albert at the local well

Moldovan cows liked to add some excitement to their grazing

Kristina and the Roman baths

The town hall

The festival

Some really cheap spirits (it is 25 lei to the pound...)

The local church

There were one or two potholes in this road!

A street in Chisinau

I had not met many people who had been to Moldova, but I only got a real sense of how few people came here when I was on the overnight train to Chisinau. (another 13 hour train ride!) The border guard came round at about 2am and seemed very confused when I handed her my Irish passport. She could not speak any English and I cannot speak Russian so she managed to find someone else in the carriage who could translate. She then started asking me why I wanted to go to Moldova and did not seem to quite understand when i said I just wanted to see the country. Then there were the standard (as I was later to discover) questions about my luggage (Do you have drugs? Do you have guns? What do you have in your luggage? - {The correct answer is clothes}) It was generally quite entertaining.

After this each train carriage was lifted up and the wheels changed for the different guage track that operates in the far east Europe and Russia which took about 3 hours and was very noisy. Pretty interesting though. When the train finally got going again into Moldova it slowed right down and it was obvious that it was bacause the track had not been maintained for quite a long time. The whole experience felt like a bit of a timewarp as the carriages were very old fashioned (brown panneling was everywhere) and I was sharing a first class compartment with someone who looked very like Sean Connery! I half expected the guard to come in and try to kill us by some ingenious method.

By the time the train was nearing Chisinau I was quite worried as it had gradually dawned on me that I was entering a very poor country that very few western people visited and where people were unlikely to understand English. However Chisinau train station was brand new and there was not the hoards of beggars that I had been imagining. I was staying at a place called "Svetlana's Flat" which is, as the name would suggest, a flat where someone called Svetlana (and her parents) lives. There are no hostels in Moldova due to the previously mentioned no tourists situation and it was mentioned on the hosteling website so I decided to book it. Anyway they were there at the train station to pick me up and soon we were driving through town and Kristina (Svetlana's niece I believe) was pointing out the sights of the city.

I ended up having a really good time in Chisinau. Two Spanish guys (Pav and Albert) were also staying in the flat and we hung out together. The same day we arrived Svetlana's dad drove us all out to an amazing monastery about 50km out of town. The monastery is built into caves in the side of a large hill with a later church added on top and Kristina showed us around. It turned out she was actually from Kiev and was just visiting her relatives so she was quite eager to see the monastery as well. It was raining and although there were some local tourists it was obvious that me and the two Spanish guys were the only foreign people there. There was a splendid sense of isolation on the rocky promintery where the monastery was and I could have easily stayed there for a while. Afterwards we saw some nearby Roman baths and spent a few minutes climbing over the rubble of the foundations trying to work out what was what. (There were no signs or information boards - again no tourists!)

Then me, Pav and Albert got a maxi taxi into the center of town. (the best bus system in the world. There are no bus stops or route maps - you should just know it. The taxi consists of a small minibus with a number on the side and front and if you want to get in you stand by the road on the bus route and flag it down and then give the driver 3 Lei, which is about 12p. Then you get off where you want to. There are no tickets as such) After having some cheap, but good, food in a restaurant where each dish was about two pounds we wandered around town. The guide book had boasted of amazing nightlife but we could not find very much (we were probably looking in the wrong places) and so after a few beers we headed back to the flat.

Chisinau itself is a city of contrasts. There are loads of horrible communist buildings, but there are also loads of parks and tree lined avenues. It is only when you look closer you notice the holes in the road and pavement. I felt very safe walking around, even at night time; which I had really not expected.

The next day was the aniversery of Moldova's independence and so a festival had been organised with cheesy music, loads of beer and all the usual stalls that you would find at any similar organised festival in Europe. Wandering around I got a strange sense for a while that I was not really in Eastern Europe at all. After looking at the festival for a bit me and the Spanish guys walked up to the impressive local church which had the stereotypical blue roofs and gold spires. Being Sunday a service was on (Eastern Europeans generally are very religious) and the church was clearly packed. One of the Spanish guys spotted a guy in a football shirt coming out of the church and asked him about the match later in the day. It turned out he played for the national team and gave us two free tickets for the match! Unfortunately I could not go as I had to get the overnight train that night to Kiev, but it was still one of those things that you hear about happening to other people but never seems to happen to you!

Soon I was on the Moscow night train heading for the border wishing that I was able to stay a little longer in Moldova.

I promised Svetlana that I would put a link on here to her website so here it is:

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