Christmas in Chisinau

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December 25th 2008
Published: December 31st 2008
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As I pulled up to Moldovan passport control, my fellow passengers (a 75/25 mix of Moldovans and Romanians) were in hour 7 of having the giggles. I am sure I have never been on a bus that laughed that hard. The girl behind me spoke very good English, and gave very honest opinions on my travels. "We have been talking: we have decided that it would have been better if you had traveled with a tour group." They deemed a trip to Moldova far too exotic for a solo traveler. I shared a little about my solo trip to Asia, and they gave me looks as if I had risen from the dead. "Where?" "How long?" "By Yourself?". They asked if this was my first time to Chisinau, and I confirmed that it was. "Oh, it will be your last!" And that, my readers, seems to be the opinion of many people from this country. 'Get out of Dodge' syndrome permeates the whole place. Between 20-25% of the population work abroad (depends who you ask). They really didn't understand why someone would come visit.

Granted, Chisinau is not overloaded with touristy sights, but it is a very pleasant city. Lots of green space, not a whole lot of big buildings. I found it a very pleasant place to wonder. Which is good, because wander I did. Starting with the nice and late 7:30 am arrival. 3 hours late, much to my great relief. What was there to do in the city at 4:30am anyway? I went straight for the Central Youth Hostel, only to find that their "24 hour reception" is anything but. I knew the place was unmarked, but unmanned is another issue. The internet cafe in my guidebook was in a building that had for sale signs on it, and the number that matched the street address was to a empty part of it. 0-2. I had taken out 200 (about $20) at the ATM at the border, and the machine gave me a 200 Lei note. Great, that is useful. I went into a pharmacie, and with the assistance of a good bit of charades, most likely convinced them that the best way of getting the clown out the door would be break the bill. Armed with a whole wad of smaller and usable currency, I then attempted to purchase a local calling card. Phone booths are very hard to locate off the main drag of Stefan Cel Mare, but charades came though again, and I got the local phone card, not the international one.

A few rings later, I got my couchsurfing contact on the line, and he met me there in the center. Serghei and his wife Sveta hosted me for 4 days (3 nights) at their home close to the former soccer stadium. They are native Russian speakers that moved to Moldova from elsewhere in the Soviet Union, and are very tied in to the local Russian speaking community. While I stayed with them, they had people over on several occasions for American cultural nights. I would sit at Serghei's computer and use maps and google pics to show people around Seattle and Washington state. Olympic National Park and the Colombia River Gorge were two favorites.

During the first day, I connected with Lauren, a peace corps volunteer who was also on Couchsurfing. She was unable to host because of a departure to Turkey the next day. She did, however, meet me for coffee, and we were able to discuss Moldova and her perceptions of it. Turns out it is a tough country for the peace corps as well. Many people leave, and it makes retention for the peace corps hard because that is very discouraging for whatever projects they are working on. It is hard to develop a ship when so many people are abandoning it. I was also able to charge my camera for the first time in several weeks. She brought her adapter along, and that made all the pics possible.

For Christmas dinner, I headed over to the Beer House ( one of the highest rated restaurants in the city). Since I am a volunteer on a budget, I kept it simple with a beer (unfiltered light) and a plate of stuffed mushrooms. Fantastic! The service was great, and they give you a piece of wrigleys gum with the bill. It is listed on the bill as well, but it is complementary. Kind of cracked me up. 3 items. Beer 24 Lei, Stuffed Mushrooms 70 Lei, and Gum, 0.00. While I am not a fan of eating alone, the place was quiet because it was before the dinner rush, so I enjoyed the ambiance and great food. After a good amount of the orphanage food, the stuffed mushrooms were a great christmas treat.

While I was in city, I also wanted to met with the local director for MTI, and Rodica was kind enough to meet me even though she celebrates Christmas on the 25th and not January 6th as most of Moldovans do. It was a busy time for her with all the family coming together and the holiday, but it was great to hear about the work she is doing, even if it was just for an hour and a half.

Over the course of my stay, I enjoyed strolling the city heading for no place in particular. It is what the lonely planet recommends, and I agree that it is a great way to take in the city. The only museum I visited was the national history museum. They marked out the 2 Lei entry fee with a red pen, and instead told me that the tourist price was 10 Lei. This time I was not in the mood to fight them for it. at 10 to the $, it just wasn't worth it for a short trip like this. The museum was nothing great, but the design was distinctly communist and I did leave with a better understanding of the country. I guess that means that the goal was accomplished.

I was able to purchase my ticket for the bus back to Brasov back at the main station, but the bus left from the South Station. Since that was off my map, Serghei and Igor accompanied me to the bus. They were so gracious the entire stay. Not being a rich family, they opened their home and table anyway, and accompanied me to the bus to make sure I made it ok. With a visit like this, how could I not come back?

Additional photos below
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Host FamilyHost Family
Host Family

Serghei, Sveta and Igor (back row)
Rodica and meRodica and me
Rodica and me

I met the MTI country director for coffee. Learned all about the work she is doing.

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