We arrived in Moldova after thankfully having no trouble at the border (so we must have still been within our allotted time, although it was very bizarre the way the officials just handed the pile of passports/ID cards to the bloke sitting at the front of the bus and they were all just passed around everyone until they landed on the lap of their rightful owner!), again in the pitch black. As is now routine for us, we ended up in the bus depot and not in the city centre as you’re never sure where to get off so we normally wait until the last stop. There was a pizza place across the road that had wifi and accepted cards (we didn’t have any Moldovan Lei), so we thought we’d pop in for a beer and use their wifi to get our bearings and decide where we were going to stay.
The place smelled so good and we were pretty starving (we’d forgotten about our Transnistrian pasties that were still in Jill’s bag) so we ordered a pizza to share, a couple of nibbley things and a bottle of wine. We were also over the moon to be back in the Latin alphabet (Ukraine and Transnistria were all Cyrillic)! Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s much easier to work out what things are if you recognize the letters! Still, something must have broken down in our communication as the waitress brought us a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Sauvignon Blanc, and we struggled to communicate this through gestures and grunts and even trusty Google Translate so she got the manager who spoke English, was really lovely, sorted it out and thought the whole thing was hilarious. Upon booting up our faithful companion Google Maps, we discovered that Chisinau was quite a small city, the bus depot wasn’t far out of the centre (not in the in the back of beyond in an industrial estate as per usual) and we would only have 20 minutes or so to walk to either of our shortlisted hostels. We’d originally decided on staying in the “Retro Moldova Hostel” as we were intrigued by the soviet bunker it had and wanted to have some beers in it, but we’d read on Tripadvisor that it was very hard to find and only had one toilet (and you know we like a nice leisurely toilet at our time or life and with our knees!). Spanish Daniel in Tiraspol, on telling him we were off to Chisinau next, recommended we stayed in the “Funky Mamaliga” hostel (which was actually on our original shortlist but we’d passed it over in favour of the bunker) as it was lovely and there was a really nice group of people staying there and great craic. It was six and two for the distance between the pizza place and both of these hostels, so we decided that good craic and plural toilets trumped the bunker and chose the Funky Mamaliga.
Meanwhile, we’d been using the audio thing on Google Translate to try and learn some essential phrases in Romanian (that’s what they speak in Moldova), since we’d been thoroughly embarrassed by the whole wine fiasco and didn’t want to seem like total ignorant English nobs. The waitress was most amused with our attempts to talk Romanian to her, and corrected our pronunciation and before long we were “please” and “thank you” and “two beers”-ing away like pros. We thought we’d be ambitious and ask for the bill in Romanian, so typed “may we have the bill please?” into google translate and listened intently while the gruff male voice repeated something that sounded like “Proyet doodle-egg of Aru Gramzar”. Once we’d got it down, we tried it on the waitress who looked very confused, before once again fetching the English-speaking manager. Conclusion: don’t rely on Google Translate for everything! We eventually managed to pay the bill and headed off to deploy the Hostel Location Unit (after Susan narrowly avoided yet another cash-point related injury). Yet again, we got to the red dot on Google Maps and couldn’t see any sign of the place we were looking for! The street had lots of little gates leading to courtyards (we knew from experience that the hostel would be through one of these as they usually are!) so we investigated some of these around the google red dot area, looking for somewhere with lights on and a bit of noise coming out. We found one that fit this criteria, but on venturing into the courtyard and peering into the window with the lights on, our eyes met those of a very startled Moldovan family that were sitting around watching the telly and minding their own business, so we made a hasty retreat back onto the street. We were just about to give up and try and find another hostel, when Susan spotted a tiny little spray painted logo saying “Funky” on one of the gates further down the street. Nicely located, Baxter! There were two lads outside having a smoke, who gave us a welcoming hello and Jill decided to join them in a tab and a chat while Susan sorted out the formalities inside. We joined Susan inside, who had sorted the room out and had met the non-smoking lad of the group, sitting round the table drinking beers. The lads looked like they were here for the night, having a good old booze up and talking bollocks, so we dumped our bags, bought a couple of beers, presented the bottle of cheap Transnistrian vodka on the table and pulled up a chair to join them, immediately bonding over our worst/most politically incorrect jokes. Our new team of craic commandos consisted of Nick from That America, Valentine from Paris and Stefan from Romania. Stefan was actually from Brasov (our next destination on the itinerary), so after consulting him about the bus schedule he decided he would go back there with us in two days time if he hadn’t found a place to live in Chisinau. He worked for the UN in Chisinau and had been to see a few flats that week but they were all no good and he had one more to view the next day, so if that one was crap too (which he was convinced it would be) then he’d bugger off back home to Brasov. On a selfish note, we were half hoping the flat would be no good so he could come with us, but we reassured him that tomorrow’s would be The One, he had nothing to worry about and we would be having a triple celebration the next night for Jill’s birthday, St Patrick’s Day and him getting a new place! The lads were such great craic. We had an amazing night just sitting around drinking, talking shite, laughing and comparing our hideous cheap Eastern European cigarettes. Valentine’s were definitely the worst – they were called “President” (Stefan was convinced they were made by the same people as make the brie) and had NO filters – just a tube of cardboard like a posh roach. God they were hideous. He kept stealing Jill and Nick’s tabs and replacing them with a hideous President each time, until we both realized that they were all we had left to smoke. Oh, and Susan got a couple of lap dances for Transnistrian Rubles. Noises were made by Stefan and Susan about going out into town (which Jill was having none of as she’d washed her bra in the shower and it was drying on the radiator in the dorm) but it was quickly established that no one could really be bothered, we were having a good enough time just drinking in the hostel and we were all going to save ourselves for the next night. And Valentine had to be up at 8am for work.
We had a lovely night’s sleep (when we eventually got to bed) as we must have been exhausted from two crap nights’ sleep due to the horrendous night train/freezing in Tiraspol Tim’s house and having pretty much spent the entire previous two days walking around Tiraspol/Odessa. When we eventually surfaced (Jill first, followed by Susan once she has been presented with a lager bottom and a cuppa – this is usually the way) it was about lunchtime and Valentine had already been to work and come back, so we felt like reet lazy dossers. Jill had noticed while making a cuppa that there was a notice on the fridge saying “If you have arrived from Transnistria and don’t have a Moldovan stamp in your passport, you MUST go to the immigration office ASAP”. We flicked through our passports (usually we would know if we had a stamp but it was really dark on the bus the night before so we couldn’t see owt) and couldn’t find a Moldovan stamp, and after getting the lass from the hostel to have a look and confirm that we were indeed stampless, she marked the building we needed to go to on a map with hand-to-brow sighs of “Oh! It’s so FAR!” and recommended that we got a taxi. It didn’t look at all far to us (about half the distance we’d walked from the bus station the night before) so after a beer for the road (and taking the piss out of Nick for losing his bet with Stefan that he would be up before 1pm – he’d apparently woken up at about five past and decided that since he’d lost, he might as well lose good and proper and have a massive lie in (since he now owed him a beer anyway) and finally got out of bed at about 2) we headed off out to find the immigration office. We stopped at an Irish pub en route, as it was St Patrick’s day and we wanted to see if anything was happening on the night time, but the pub was empty apart from one bloke who was giving us the stink-eye for intruding on his quiet moment with his shisha pipe, so after a pint of overpriced Heineken (they didn’t sell any Moldovan/Ukranian beers!) we resumed our journey (after Susan had had to wander off in search of an ATM and had yet another injury in a doorway of one!). It wasn’t far at all, as we’d anticipated, and quite a nice walk through the centre of Chisinau. The immigration office itself was surprisingly relaxed and friendly, staffed by two jovial girls with their radio on who stamped our forms (not our passport unfortunately – badly played Moldova!) and that was it. We were getting a bit peckish by this point, and decided that (at around 4pm) that we could quite fancy some breakfast. We backtracked to a bar that Susan had spied earlier that had a blackboard outside with “Happy 17th March” on it and had pictures of food on the window (Susan – “It’s got to be good if it’s got pictures of a nice loose egg”). The misleadingly named “Roy’s Café” was actually a lovely cellar bar, with a nice menu, cheap Moldovan wine and you could smoke in it! Well played Moldova!! There was actually a non-smoking area, but it was behind glass sliding doors and lit by hideous fluorescent strip lights – a big contrast to the main “smoking” area that had a lovely dingy warm candlelight glow. When the waiter came over the conversation went thus:
“Happy St Patrick’s Day!”
“You know, your board outside, it says “Happy 17th March”?”
“So…does it just say “Happy whatever date it is” every day then?”
“Can we order some breakfast please?”
“Breakfast? It’s 4pm!”
So we got some nice egg-based breakfast business and a bottle of wine and sat talking rubbish and updating the blog for Kiev. We were excited to try some of our back-of-hand Romanian phrasebook, and decided to order another bottle of wine once the first one was gone so we’d get to use “mai mult” (pronounced “my mool” which we thought was hilarious for some reason – “after I am gone, who will take my mool to be baptized?”), meaning “more”, pointing to the wine bottle. The waiter looked a bit taken aback – “you want a bottle that is better than that one?”. Damn you again Google Translate! We got our wine anyway, and learned the correct word for “another” which we can’t remember as it doesn’t have enough mools in to be memorable. As we drained that bottle we noticed the time was getting on for 7.30pm and we’d promised the lads that we’d meet up with them back at the hostel “at some point during the evening” so we paid the bill and headed back to get ready. Valentine and Stefan turned up shortly after, looking like the cats that had got the proverbial cream – the place Stefan had been to view DID turn out to be awesome and it was a 3 bedroom house, so Valentine was going to move in with him! Quadruple celebration! (although we were silently gutted he wouldn’t be coming to Brasov with us). So we headed out in search of a shop to get some drinks to have at the hostel before we went out. We bumped into Nick at the supermarket, and together hauled our spoils of vodka, juice, crackers and big bottles of beer (we found some Potato! POTATO!) back to the hostel. Shortly after we returned, who should show up but Spanish Daniel from Tiraspol! We thanked him greatly for recommending the hostel and it’s good craic (he was certainly right about that) and asked him to join us for a drink but the poor lad was absolutely shattered due to his incredibly stressful day (involving nearly missing the train from Tiraspol because the taxi driver got about 100 yards from the station and then turned back around as his friend (who was in the passenger seat) had left his phone somewhere in town, THEN getting stopped at the border and having all sorts of bother because they didn’t believe his passport photo was him – he was clean shaven on the picture and currently sporting a bit of a beard), and said that he needed a shower but might come and have a drink afterwards. Lots of boozes were drank, lots of bollocks talked, and Honduras speedboat pictures recreated and before we knew it it was canny late (not a dish washed, a baby bathed, and no one had read “Abducted and Forced to Give Milk”!) so we made the decision to head out in search of some shenanigans. The lads lead us to an Irish bar nearby, but unfortunately they were closing up for the night (as I said it must have been QUITE late when we decided to go out!) and Susan’s protests of “But lads! Lads! I’m Irish! It’s Paddy’s Day!” fell on deaf ears, so we headed on to the only place they knew would be open at that time, The York Pub. It was a huge place with hardly anyone in, but we Irish jigged about like nobs (Mark you would be proud!), did another Honduras speedboat re-enactment and drank some Irish Car Bombs before realizing it was now Jill’s birthday and having to get more shots in. Jill was a bit worse for wear by this stage (having about 4 drinks on the go at once because “it’s MY BIRTHDAY!” and harassing the DJ until he played Stone Temple Pilots). We ended up befreinding the other 10 Moldovan blokes in the bar and persuaded them to do some shots and Irish dance to STP with us before Stefan and Valentine tried to slip away quietly to enjoy their first evening in their bachelor pad but were intercepted by Susan with protests of “But I haven’t added Romania to the list yet Stefan!”. How he was able to resist such a lure we will never know but away they went and it was down to us and Nick to carry on the party, which we did admirably until Jill’s birthday got the better of her and we had to escort her home and put her to bed, followed by a few night caps for Susan and Nick until God knows what time we passed out.
Jill was most confused the next day when she woke up to find there were six bunks in the room and she was sure there were only four in our room, and that she would definitely have not gone to bed in the wrong room! Her confusion was matched by that of the little Korean man whose room she had somehow managed to end up in. We concluded that she had drunkenly sleepwalked, as Susan had definitely put her to bed in the right room…thankfully fully clothed! So we staggered out of the room in last night’s clothes and raided the fridge for any remaining booze. Luckily there was a full bottle of Potato (POTATO!) left, and some emergency bottom, so after a couple of medicinal lager bottoms we were all topped up and perky again. Nick surfaced, also a bit worse for wear, and having missed his bus (he was supposed to be going somewhere in the north of Moldova to stay with a girl he’d made friends with, and she was waiting to meet him at the station). Despite his initial protests we made him take his medicine and join us in a lager bottom or two while he frantically tried to sort out another bus and get in touch with his friend to say he was going to be late. While we were sitting drinking through our hangovers around the hostel table (that had become our 2nd home over the last couple of days) a new lad turned up and immediately accepted our offer of a nice lager bottom (which he enjoyed very much and asked what sort of drink it was because he would look out for it in future haha). Nick said his goodbyes and buggered off for his rescheduled bus, leaving us to talk more rubbish, drink more beers and eat a buffet of crackers and Haribo with our new friend Kai, who was from the Philippines (but lived in California) and was really good craic and we had loads in common. It was getting on for 6pm when we thought we really should see about making tracks. Our itinerary had us catching the ridiculously timed night bus at 7pm (that got in to Brasov for 4am – WTF NIGHT BUS? Why not leave later and get in later!!?) but Stefan had told us the night before that there was one at 11pm, which seemed a much better option. Unfortunately, both Stefan and Valentine had moved out of the hostel and into their new house, we had forgotten to exchange phone numbers or emails and since Nick had just left we had no way of contacting him! The lass at the hostel offered to help and rang around the various bus companies to see if there were any later buses to Brasov, which sadly came back negative. So the 7pm bus it was then! We gathered up all the leftover nibbles, beer, the remaining bottle of vodka and some cartons of juice from the fridge (since Nick/Stefan/Valentine had left it was all up for grabs!) and headed on out.
We arrived at the bus station to find the Brasov bus full of people and looking like it was about to leave, but using our now perfected strategy (of Jill talking to the driver and throwing the bags under the bus while Susan runs to the ticket booth to buy the tickets) we managed to get on in the nick of time. There were some mutterings of “No! Police!” when the driver saw the Potato in Jill’s bag, so we downed it on the spot and made sure to decant the vodka into the fruit juice cartons for imbibing on the bus to avoid any further confrontation. The bus was a nice big luxury bus and there were loads of spare seats, so once we’d had a few swigs of vodka and juice, we settled down to a nice nice t night bus sleep. We were woken up at the border, when the driver collected in all the passports to take to the border people. This was nothing new to us, and we were sat waiting to get our passports back and wondering whether or not we’d get a stamp this time when an official looking man came onto the bus, pointed at us and shouted “You! There is a problem! Police!”. We followed him off the bus, where he proceeded to take our rucksacks out from under the bus. Poor Susan was getting very stressed at this point that the bus was just going to pull off an leave us at the border, but the driver assured her it wouldn’t and that we just needed to follow the man into the building across the road. We did so, and a little police woman searched both of our bags. We apologized to her, since our bags were at this stage in the trip, mainly full of smelly socks and we really didn’t know what she expected to find! She apologized back, saying “Sorry but it’s my job” and having found nothing nefarious (good job we didn’t have a cabbage with us), sent us on our way. We were on the bus for about 5 minutes before we had to get off again (everyone this time – not just us!), this time to go through “customs” which just involved a man going through our handbags and asking if we had any alcohol or cigarettes. Jill only had one remaining packet of Transnistrian cigarettes and we’d left the juice vodka on the bus, so thankfully we went through without event, and Susan even got to touch multiple dogs that had followed the bus across the border. It was the STRANGEST border experience we’ve had in all of Eastern Europe though! We reasoned that cigarettes and booze are a lot cheaper in Moldova than Romania, so they probably get a few people going across the border to stock up. After a few more hours of nice bus sleep, we had yet again stayed on the bus until the last stop, which was a service station in the middle of nowhere. Luckily it was still open so we could at least have a beer while pondering our next move. So we will leave you here for the moment… a Transylvanian service station is a good a place as any I reckon.