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Romania, Moldova and Transdniestria
Tallinn, 07 August 2004
After arriving back in Istanbul from Armenia, I spent another long weekend with my friend Kaya. This time I visited the underground Roman Cistern and a part of Topkapi Palace, in particular the Harem. By trying to visit something each time I am in Istanbul I hope to eventually see most of the city.
One thing that you will no longer be able to experience after January 1st, 2005 in Turkey is the feeling of being a multimillionaire. As 1.7 million Turkish Lira go into 1 Euro, exchanging 100 Euros, for example, will make you the proud owner of 170.000.000 Liras!!! Unfortunately you can't get a thing for less than 1.000.000 Liras... Next year 6 zeros will be dropped.
I again tried to arrange a Ukrainian visa, but if I had applied on the Friday after I arrived in Istanbul I would have received the visa, earliest the following Thursday due to some 3 day holiday in Ukraine. This was too late even to catch the boat to Odessa. Thus I decided to take the train to Romania so as to do some of the traveling already and try my luck at the Ukrainian embassy there.
I had a cabin to myself in the overnight train from Istanbul to Bucharest, but the bed was a bit short even for me! The train arrived in Bucharest late in the afternoon. I stayed in the youth hostel where Eric, Sam and I had stayed during Sam's infamous Bachelor party in December 2002. It brought back some memories, but it was also interesting to see the contrast between winter (then) and summer (now).
Romania is starting to have some infrastructure for independent travelers, also there is no visa requirement or other ridiculous regulations or at least none that apply to West Europeans. The trains are cheap and of relatively good quality and most of the popular backpacker destinations have one or more affordable hostels to choose from.
Since my plans would now make me travel through Moldova, I headed to the Moldovan consulate first, where I got a visa on the same day after filling in a form, handing over a passport photo and depositing 60 USD plus a 5 USD bank fee on their account at a local bank.
Unfortunately the Ukrainians were going to require 2 days (as well as 110 USD), but Bucharest is not a city where you want to spend too much time as it lacks mayor attractions and any atmosphere to speak of.
Again I changed my plans and decided to apply for the Ukrainian visa in Moldova. Furthermore as it was my second time in Romania I thought that I really needed to see something else than Bucharest, so I left for Brașov, said to be a charming town.
Brașov is indeed charming, located in the Carpathian mountain range, it is surrounded by mountains covered with forest. The center of the town, is well maintained and has a good number of attractive medieval buildings to admire.
I stayed in a cozy youth hostel, with many other travelers, it was a pleasant stay and we had lots of fun. Such as sampling a cocktail called a "Passport to Hell" or trying to spot bears near rubbish bins and collectively getting ripped off by taxi drivers by a factor 6.
Nearby, Bran castle is cosily overlooking a little valley and an ancient merchant route. It is also known as Dracula's castle. The real life Dracula was no vampire, but rather a ruthless and cruel ruler who had people impaled for just about anything.
Impaling involved passing a pole through a person's body, close to the spine, but in such a way as to avoid touching vital nerves. Victims would need several days to die...
After those fun days in Brașov, I returned to Bucharest to catch the night train to Chișinău (pronounced Kishinao), the capital of Moldova. During the couple of hours I had in Bucharest I ventured out of the train station in search of an Internet cafe. But instead of finding an Internet cafe I stumbled on a man that was beating a woman on the street. Should I walk on or what should I do? Foolishly I walked up to them, and asked the woman if she needed any help. The man got very angry and wanted to fight me, so I ran and he ran after me!
After a couple of minutes, it apparently dawned on him that it might not be such a good idea to attack a foreigner and he stopped and said he wanted to talk. With the help of a female passerby who spoke English, he explained to me that the woman he was beating was his wife and that she was being "stupid", or something like that. And apparently according to him, Romania is not the west and in Romania it is perfectly OK to beat your wife! The woman who was translating did not look like she found the stuff she was translating strange either.
This sad encounter did not have the lasting negative effects it could have had for me but something else was going wrong with my health. Unfortunately I had started to cough regularly and upon arrival in Moldova the next morning it was getting pretty serious. I had been coughing all night and felt tired during the day.
I went to the Ukrainian Embassy, where after seeing the chaos and obtaining the form I decided, that I was not in good enough health to deal with this kind of bureaucracy. Instead I decided that I should recover before continuing to travel.
The days passed, I went to a doctor, things improved marginally so I did manage to visit those things that I wanted to see in Moldova. The first visit was to a cave monastery at Orheiul Vechi. In comparison to Davit Gareji the monastery that I had visited in Georgia it was not that impressive.
Then there were the Cricova wine cellars, which are said to be the largest in the world. It is a large underground complex with tunnels covering several square kilometers. You need a vehicle to drive into the cellars. Unfortunately it is only possible to visit the cellars by having the visit organized through a tourist agency. An unfortunate Soviet legacy that unreasonably increases the cost of making a visit.
I also ventured in to the Transdniestr republic (a.k.a. Transdniestria), a self proclaimed republic that managed to gain de facto independence from Moldova with the help of the Russian army in the beginning of the 1990s. The republic's stated aim is to reinstate the Soviet Union. The capital, Tiraspol, is littered with portraits of Lenin and a statue of the man in front of the "House of the Soviets". The Soviet Union still lives on here.
Unlike the rest of Moldova, where the Latin alphabet, which was used before the war was reinstated, everything in the Transdniestr republic is still in Cyrillic.
Upon entering the "country" I was issued a little slip of paper, the size of a bus ticket, that apparently was valid as a day visa.
Tiraspol is also the closest I came to Odessa. The Ukrainian town which somehow beckoned me to visit it. Frustratingly the bus I took from Chișinău to Tiraspol was the Odessa bound bus!
In Tiraspol I was at only 110 km from Odessa. Without the visa restrictions I would have certainly made it there, at least on a day or 2-day trip from Chișinău. But time was running out for me, I needed to get back to Holland, while the time required to get the visa was simply too long to still manage.
Ukrainian consular bureaucracy aided by my illness won the battle of trying to keep me out of the country and managed to prevent me from spending any money there. A victory for Ukraine! Or is it?
Back in Chișinău it started to feel like home. My host, Virginia, had pointed out a little theater where they played movies in English (the only one in the city) so we went to see "The Butterfly Effect" there.
She also told me that O-Zone is a Moldovan band and I promptly purchased the CD in a local store. I am obviously listening to the CD as I am writing these lines. Their music is currently heard all over the world, but how many people know that they are from Moldova and how many people know where Moldova is?
Ten days after arriving in Moldova, still being ill and unfit for overland travel, I extracted myself from the region by air. I had been lucky to find a relatively cheap flight to Paris some days earlier, and arrived in Paris two days before a section of the airport there collapsed!
I was picked up by my parents who happened to be in France at the time, and drove back to Holland with them. There I immediately went to see my doctor, who prescribed some serious antibiotics that finally cleaned up my lungs from whatever it was that I had.
As this is the end of this particular trip (but fortunately still not the end of our travels), I would like to be a little melodramatic and philosophical.
There is a strange aspect to traveling, that hits me every time, it is a little like being born and dying at the same time. Sometimes I leave behind places that I know I might never ever visit again! Isn't that a bit like dying? But I also go to places that I have never seen before and that is a bit like being born again.
As I leave behind one place, where I have made new friends and had fun, I feel a sadness in my heart. At the same time there is the excitement of going somewhere new. These feelings come up at the same time or at least very shortly after each other and make my emotions go up and down like a roller coaster. This is by no means a bad thing, as it makes me feel very much alive.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people that we have had the pleasure to meet during our trips. You have touched our lives! You have helped give it meaning. You have been from all over the world and all kinds of nationalities. It has been a privilege to meet you, we hope that we may meet you again, someday in the future.
If you would like to be notified or no longer want to be notified of travel updates please send me an e-mail.
e-mail Otto de Voogd
To my knowledge the information provided here was accurate at the time of our visit. However time passes and things can change.
upon arrival at Istanbul airport for 10 USD
(or 10 EUR, so take 10 USD with you), multiple entry valid for 3 months.
Turkey seems to have a competitive airline market offering cheap flights inside Turkey, as well as to Northern Cyprus and many destinations in Western Europe:
Romania has a good and affordable rail network. Trains also go to all neighboring countries.
All ATMs work for Cirrus/Maestro and many other networks.
Exchanging US Dollars and Euros is possible everywhere at competitive rates,
as are some other currencies.
Turkey - Lira, approx. rates: 1 USD = 1,400,000 TRL, 1 EUR = 1,700,000 TRL
Train: Istanbul -> Bucharest: 64,100,000 TRL + 19,900,000 TRL for
reservation. Second class sleeping car. Departure 22:00 arrival 17:30
Romania - Lei, approx. rates: 1 USD = 33,500 ROL, 1 EUR = 40,000 ROL
Bucharest: Elvis Villa Romania: 15 EUR per night, private room, free Internet,
free laundry, 1 drink.
Moldova - Lei, approx. rates: 1 USD = 12 MDL, 1 EUR = 14,20 MDL
Chișinău: 10 USD per night private room,
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