The countries of the former Soviet Union hold a special appeal for your intrepid travel writer, partly due to the difficulties Australians face in obtaining a visa. The life of a traveller includes destinations that are more challenging to get to, which can add to the allure of travelling there. To be honest I knew next to nothing about Moldova before I began chatting with an online friend over the last few months, but once my interest was piqued I did some research into the country as a potential travel destination. To my surprise Australians don't require a visa in advance to visit Moldova, as opposed to the other countries of the former Soviet Union. This proved the catalyst for a visit to Moldova which shares a border with Ukraine and Romania, and pondering the dilemma of a choice between the Russian sphere of influence, or that of the European Union. In Moldova 60% of the population speak Russian as their mother tongue, and the remaining 40% Romanian. Whether the country aligns itself with Russia or the EU to determine its future is a matter for the people of Moldova to decide. For my part, I'm delighted to visit and get
a taste of life in a country that's still off the beaten track as a travel destination.
The journal left off at the conclusion of a wonderful stay in Israel, and I boarded a flight with Ukraine International Airlines for the journey to Chisinau. The flight included a stopover in Kiev, and I was impressed with the facilities at the airport. I'm informed Kiev is becoming quite a travel hub for flyers in the region; and enjoyed a meal, beer, and free Wi-Fi while in transit. From Kiev it's only an hour's flight on to the capital Chisinau. Once again my arrival time was late in the evening, as has been the case during this trip, ensuring another late night negotiation to organise a taxi ride from the airport to the city hostel. I didn't have any euros or dollars upon arrival, and was surprised that there's no ATM facility at the airport. The taxi ride was the first of many instances where I had to communicate with locals with no English, but managed to explain via gestures to the driver I needed to withdraw money from an ATM. He had to circle around the block, but then tried
to hit my up for double the fare because of the minor detour. The fare was very cheap regardless, but due to principal I wouldn't agree to his exorbitant attempt at overcharging beyond the agreed fare, although I did end up paying him an extra 50% for his troubles.
Although it was late I was let in to the small and comfortable Chill Hostel in the centre of Chisinau, and was shown to my dorm room where I chatted with a young Korean guy in Molodva to improve his Russian skills. My new friend checked out next morning for a flight to Kiev, and I introduced myself to the manager of the hostel. He is a pleasant young man, and always up for a chat and some travel advice. I went for an explore on the first day and took in some of the attractions along the main boulevard. It's surprising to be in a city that is European, but at the same time showing obvious signs of poverty as Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. For example the pavement along the main city boulevard is wearing away badly, and the paving that's still there rattles and wobbles
under your feet as you walk along.
The other striking factor for visitors to Moldova is the complete lack of English amongst the local people. Of course I'm not asserting people of any country should be able to speak English, but it's certainly unusual coming across no comprehension skills amongst the locals, unlike the experience of visiting other European cities. I struggled to communicate even the most basic of phrases, and won't forget a lady at a shop who looked at me in disgust when I expressed myself in English, then simply turned her back on me without a word. Moldova feels different to other European cities, and that difference adds to the appeal of visiting the country.
The hostel guy advised I visit a park on the lake next day, and heading out in a different direction provided an opportunity to explore more of Chisinau. The city has been blessed with beautiful weather for a second day, and the park is a real attraction for the locals strolling around the lake and relaxing in groups. I explored the park taking photos, and took the chance to relax in the sunshine on a park bench. On the second
night I revisited a restaurant where I had relaxed with a beer the previous evening, and was surprised to find I was the only person in the establishment. That was a different experience to the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, but the beer was good and the meal delicious. I met a few English guys back in the dorm that night who gave me a heads up on where people actually go out in the evening, so I was ready for the next night where I was hoping to sample the night life.
The next day I caught a minibus to Old Orhei, which is sixty kilometres out of the city. A young European couple were on the bus already and we teamed up for the adventure. Although we had to wait on the bus for ages before heading out, it was a great opportunity to get outside the city and see the Moldovan countryside. When the bus arrived at Orhei visitors walk up a ridge to enjoy the beautiful monastery perched on the ridge top, with spectacular views of the Raut river flowing below. The monastery complex is not that large, so we took off further up
the ridge for an enjoyable hike of a few hours. I enjoyed the company of my companions who have been travelling together for a year already. We missed the second last bus which departed before schedule, and had to wait an extra two hours before the final bus for the day took us back to Chisinau in the evening.
I was ready for a night out, and took a cat nap back at the hostel. But when I awoke there was torrential rain which would not let up. I had to abandon my plans to go out, and found out next morning the rain had caused extensive flooding in the city. Due to the poor weather I abandoned my plan for another bus ride to Transnistria for the day. A lot of tourists head out there with their passports for a day exploring the Soviet styled cities, but the heavy rain put a dampener on things. The next day I flew back to a flooded Paris for one last night before flying home and as I reflect on my visit to Moldova, basically all of you should be here now!
Don't count the days. Make the days count." Muhammad Ali
It's home time so until next
time, I'm signing off for now
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