Chişinău

Sep 13, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

Chişinău

A slight problem in Moldova was that none of the cash machines seemed to accept foreign cards. Luckily I’d taken some cash with me, and I had enough to cover a few days in Moldova. When I tried to change my notes at a bureau de change near where I was staying, I ran into problems caused by not having crisp new banknotes. I’ve always heard that this can sometimes be a problem but had never experienced it until now. Luckily the owner of the bureau was very friendly and spoke excellent English. “I’m really sorry”, he said, “but the central bank charges us 15 per cent of the face value to change damaged notes”. The only note I had that would pass muster was a 50 dollar bill, so I was definitely going to have plenty of lei left by the end of my stay.

I chatted to the currency man for a few minutes. He asked me what I was doing in Moldova, and seemed very surprised that I was just on holiday. I asked him if he could recommend any places I should go and he said he really couldn’t think of any. When I pushed him he said that maybe I should go to a place called Mileştii Mici. “You might like it”, he said. “But then again you might not”. He strongly recommended Moldovan wine, though, and on hearing that I don’t drink he equally strongly recommended Moldovan fruit juice.

One thing I liked about Moldova was that the language is a Romance language, and so having learnt Spanish in Central and South America I could understand many written things. I began to believe that I could probably understand some spoken Moldovan as well, but I was proven very wrong when I tried to buy stamps for my postcards from Tiraspol at Chişinău’s main post office. My first attempt to say “Four stamps for the United Kingdom” ended up with me buying two airmail envelopes instead. I tried again and got the right thing the second time, but only by showing my four postcards and pointing at the top right corner.

Into Moldova

Sep 12, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

Into Moldova

At the town of Bendery, just before the border with Moldova, two young Transdnistrians had got on the bus and sat next to me and Carlos. We spoke to them in a strange mixture of English and French, not finding much common language in either but still having a friendly conversation. When we got into Chişinău they showed us to a currency exchange booth so we could get some Moldovan Lei, and called a taxi for us to get to a hostel. A short drive through the dark and potholed streets of the city took us to a place near the centre.

That night a huge thunderstorm rocked the city. I lay awake listening to the rain lashing down, and got up late the next day as a result. Having gone for a short walk through the city centre in the dark when I arrived, I set out for a longer explore, through the city centre parks and past the plain-looking cathedral. Carlos had gone to find a different place to stay, not being much impressed with the hostel, but I soon bumped into him in town. We were both taking a photo of the presidential palace on the main street, Stefan cel Mare, when a young police officer came up and asked us what we were doing.

One of the consequences of travelling through Transdnistria was that I had no Moldovan entry stamp in my passport, so technically I was illegally in the country. The police officer introduced himself by name and asked to see our passports. I thought this could be a problem, but perhaps fortunately, his phone rang before he could look through them. He gave us a quick salute and strode off.