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Chişinău/Braşov/Bucharest: The Holdova in Moldova

May 8th, 2010: The Holdova in Moldova - A Few More Random Observations

I felt so POPULAR!
I felt so POPULAR!

I'd planned to leave Moldova on a night bus after seeing Tiraspol, but after witnessing the military parade I'd arrived back in Chişinău too late to catch the bus and had to stay another night. This was now bad thing as it allowed me another day in town and the opportunity to see Chişinău's reputedly thumping nightlife, which lived up to the billing. (Jay, Stellian and I went to the spectacularly-named "Booz Time")

Hanging out the next day while waiting for the night bus, I was able to notice a few other things about the city and region:

  1. They Like Baggy Things Here. This doesn't refer to their fashion sense. People here are a mix of ethnic Romanians and Slavs which has led to generally quite tall and slender population. Fashion-conscious folk that they are particularly the women - they tend to dress in a slim-fitting European cut. What I refer to is the fact that if you are shopping at the market, they like to individually bag everything. Bought some juice? Put that in a bag. Picked up a pre-packaged salad? Put that package in its own bag. I brought up an apple that wasn't individually wrapped and what that got me was an, "Oh, you kooky Canadians" roll of the eyes. And then what do they do with all those bags? Put them in a bigger bag, of course. Seems like not everything about Chişinău is green.
     
  2. They Aren't Exactly Health Conscious. The local food here is hearty and heart-stopping: perogies, borscht, shashlik (a giant kebab), with many dishes coming with a coronary-inducing portion of sour cream and deep fried goods. In Kiev I had a dish that was a full plate composed entirely of pork fat, with five thin slices of garlic in the middle. I'm not certain how they stay so long and slender. They're also not exactly health-conscious about the traffic, which is euphemistically considered "chaotic". I even had one taxi driver actually stop his vehicle and turn around to tell me to not put on my seat belt and only began driving again once it was unbuckled.
     
  3. There Is No Pain Like The Pain Of Effervescence. Want to find another traveler while on the road here? Simply listen for the telltale sounds of a bottle opening, the quick rush of fizz and the subsequent foreign-language cursing. Water both with and without carbonation are sold here in equal measure - fizzy water is believed to aid indigestion - but the gassy version remains unpopular with many travelers. Regardless of their language skills, every day you will see some traveler open up a bottle only to realize it's salty and heavily carbonated. CLICK. FIZZ. "#@%&!" Throw in the fact that most of these bottles have bumped and jostled their way for dozens of miles along uneven, cracked tarmac and most of us get covered with a spray of it sometimes, too, which is actually a bit of a blessing because then at least we don't have to drink it.
     
  4. When The Bus Is Half-Empty, The Glass Is Half-Full. I was a little surprised when we left Transdniestr that the maxitaxi departed Tiraspol a little early and only partially full. I am used to buses like this being filled past capacity and often departing late, only once they are overflowing. We pulled out of the station, went around the corner and quickly stopped to pick up two more people. Another woman hopped on around 50m later, and still more people jumped aboard within a couple of minutes. It soon became apparent that the drivers pick up people on corners and collect less than full fare from them and that this special discount fare comes with the condition that it goes rather hastily into the driver's pocket, wink wink nudge nudge.
     
  5. The People Here Are Wired. This mostly refers to the fact the WiFi is absolutely everywhere - public parks, small restaurants, every hostel I've stayed in so far. It's far more prevalent than I could have imagined. I also refer to the fact that energy drinks are extremely popular and less regulated than in the West, leading to drinks such as RevBo, a beverage that, over 500 diabetes-inducing millilitres, contains six different stimulants but is also 8.5% alchohol, but which I didn't try as I'm sure it would have violated some conditions of my parole.

May 10th, 2010: Transylvania 6-5000

Sunrise Over Piata Sfatalui (Brasov)
Sunrise Over Piata Sfatalui (Braşov)

After a fun couple of days in Chişinău, I hopped aboard a night bus and made my way into Romania. The border crossing, though late at night, was nice as it was the first one that I got through more easily than the locals and didn't have to hear my busmates sighing, "Ugh, it's a damn Canadian holding us up again!" It seems that the border guards are not quite as concerned about Canadians sneaking into the EU are they are of Moldovans trying to.

Looking at the signs while at the border, I instantly felt the peculiar sensation that I could actually understand some of them. Romanian is a romance language and inasmuch many words are reminiscent of French, Spanish & Italian. "Goodbye" in Romanian is "La Revedere" (Italian: "Arrividerci"), "Thanks" is "Mersi" and numbers in Romanian start off as "Unu, doi, trei". That said, my discovery wasn't that important as the level of English in Romania was incredible from literally the minute I entered. After handing the Romanian border guard my passport, he silently looked at it, flipping through the pages, before looking up and asking, "So, has the economic crisis been a big problem in Canada, also?"

I arrived in the Transylvanian city of Brasov at 5 a.m. without even one Romanian leu on me to use the bathroom, which wasn't wise after a 10-hour bus ride with a broken toilet. No money exchanges were open at that time, either, so I just hung out in the main square for a few hours until I felt it was an acceptable time to check into my hostel. I met up with a few people just getting up for breakfast and headed out with them to Bran Castle, aka Dracula's Castle, famous for the fact that Vlad the Impaler - the historical figure on whom Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was loosely based - had stopped by there on his reign of terror. The castle is the quintessential Gothic postcard, perched ominously on a hillside overlooking the town of Bran. It is also the first serious tourist trap on my journey; stores in front of the castle sell rubber vampire bats, plastic battleaxes, beach balls, music cassettes(!), and Hannah Montana backpacks, which was terrifying in its own right.

The group of us then took a hike up to the nearby medieval Râsnov fortress before returning to Braşov, a pretty little city with a Gothic cathedral, great churches, a picturesque central square and a couple of medieval towers overlooking the city centre.

Braşov Photos
Early Morning in Piata Sfatalui (Brasov) Early Morning in Str Republicii (Brasov) The Black Church (yes, with a Hollywood-esque 'Brasov' sign on the hillside) The Black Church (Brasov) Scanned Postcard of Bran Castle (my photos did it no justice) Entrance to Bran Castle Battle Axes and Sponge Bobs (Bran Castle) Rasnov Fortress (yes, they have one of these signs, too) Tom and Robert hike up to Rasnov Fortress Brasov Panorama Brasov Panorama Piata Sfatalui from the Brasov Panorama St. Nicholas' Cathedral

May 12th, 2010: I Need Home, Bucharest

Bulevardul Unirii (Bucharest)
Bulevardul Unirii (Bucharest)

After a couple of days in Braşov, it was time to head down to Bucharest and grab my flight home. I'd started out my trip believing that I'd spend 2-3 days in Bucharest. Instead, I ended up spending a couple of extra days in cities I loved (Odessa, Chişinău) after the nicest review I'd heard about Bucharest from other travelers was "really pretty crappy," with most other reviews being significantly less kind. In the end, I opted for a full day in the city before heading to the airport to sleep and be ready for my early morning flight.

From Braşov, I joined a trio of wandering Finns for the train ride down to Bucharest. Oddly, despite the fact that we all purchased our tickets together, I was seated in a different wagon from my travelmates, even though the train was at least 80% empty. Perhaps the Finns knew Romanian more (and liked Canadians less) than they let on.

It turns out that the railway gods had heard my desire to skip Bucharest and our train from Braşov, which departed on time, arrived 2-1/2 hours late, which was impressive for a 2-hour journey. Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed my half-day in Bucharest, though the sunshine and 28C weather likely helped. I walked through the city's Historic Centre, down the fountain-lined boulevard and saw the Palace of Parliament, Ceauşescu's five billion dollar white elephant, an uncompleted administrative building second in size only to the Pentagon, with over 3,100 rooms and three and a half million square feet of space. I took Bucharest's clean, fast and modern metro, which was great as car traffic here is apocaplyptical. As an example: it is suggested that you give yourself around two hours to get to the airport. The airport is only 16km away; I could walk faster.

The trip has been fantastic, even if shortened by volcanic ash. I can safely say that this is the first trip I've ever been on where the number of currencies (4) was greater than the number of countries (3). No matter how long one travels for, it's never long enough and there's always more places to see in the world by the end of it, not less. However, with 24 hours of travel and a "sleep" in the airport ahead of me, I can definitely hear that pillow-topped, queen-sized, cushion-sprung, luxurious, wonderful, best friend of a mattress calling my name...

Bucharest Photos
Bulevardul Unirii (Bucharest) Palace of Parliament (Bucharest) Palace of Parliament (Bucharest) Palace of Parliament (Bucharest)