Moldova: Not for the Faint Hearted!

December 7, 2012

As they say- Shit happens. And in my case- I moved to Romania, needed a student visa, ended up in Chisinau, Moldova attempting to obtain it (details on how and where to do it will be in the next post since the requirements and process details are nowhere to be found and are handed down like a campfire story).

So, on with it:

I left Osher with a Pakistani guy and boarded the 6:45 a.m. “bus” (hardly a bus, hardly on time since we left at 7:30). I then fell asleep and was awoken an hour later by a border policeman tapping me. Stamped my passport in Romania, stamped it in Moldova and there we were, driving along the Moldovan “highways” in a snow-storm. You may be wondering what my first Moldovan experience was, and I am more than eager to tell you all about it and everything else that happened on my 38 hour journey back in time.

At the Moldovan border, a battalion of Moldovan soldiers boarded the “bus” and, along with the local radio station that was playing full volume, sang 1950’s American Christmas songs (an experience to be repeated on the bus ride back. I am now the only Jew in the world that can sing them all, word for word, and present them in Moldovan).

Shortly before reaching Chisinau (the capital, where 33% of the country lives), we were lucky enough to witness a head-on collision of 2 vehicles which left one turned over at the side of the road and the other in a million pieces all over the road (nothing was left in tact but the roof). There were 2 dead people inside. So, the driver swerved around all of this and a short hour later we arrived in Chisinau after 5 hours with no bathroom or smoking break.

The driver let us off in the middle of a street, a 5 minute walk from the actual station. Seeing as there was a snow-storm and Chisinau has no street draining holes, I would hardly call any of them streets, they were more like rivers of mud. So, I get off the bus and here’s the first thing that greets me:

(There were many more all over the place but I figured this picture sums it up).

After my 2 morning coffees at home and no bathroom break, I headed towards the station and found the toilets! Then went to exchange money cause I needed Moldovan Lei, went back to the toilets, paid, and walked in to discover THIS is what I paid for:

The walls between the “stalls” were so low that everyone was watching everyone else wipe their ass and pull up their panties. Needless to say I left Moldova with a higher white blood cell count. Btw- I washed my hands with soap. Which seemed completely pointless at the time and still does at this moment.

Next I headed to the Romanian Embassy. On their website it said you go there to do the visa and they’re open 13-16. Couldn’t for the life of me figure out the bus system so I took a cab. Moldovan taxis don’t have meters. You need to argue the price every.single.time. And did I mention they don’t speak a word of any language that isn’t Moldovan or Russian? Got to the embassy, freezing and soaking wet despite my European-style layering (thanks to my Norwegian friends for teaching me these skills!) and asked the soldier outside where to go. He rings a bell, a man answers saying I need to go to the consulate. He gives me their address and I walk around till I manage to stop a taxi. I Get inside and there are 2 gypsies that spend the next 5 minutes of the ride arguing the price with the driver until he finally just stopped in the middle of some street and threw them out.

Got to the consulate, got number 160, went inside, its number 120. Waited and hour and a half with dozens of Moldovans trying to get a Romanian passport because Romania is now in the EU (WTF indeed!). Finally my number! I walk over to the window and hand in my tons of documents that I think I needed (since I had no way of knowing what i actually needed).  The bitchy clerk lady goes through them, says everything is ok, I thank the gods that I nailed it AND THEN she says: 120 euros. I say: Huh? She says: 120 euros. I say: I have Moldovan money and a credit card. She says: 120 euros in cash. I say, give me 15 minutes, I’ll run to the bank and come back. She says: we close in 5 minutes and you also need to photocopy all your documents. I said: but I need to get back home, I can’t be stuck in Moldova for a night! She said: you need to leave.

Leave I did. and call my mommy I did. BUT I didn’t cry. Yay me. Then, go to the Mall I did.

Mommy found me a hotel. I bought a bottle of wine, a bottle opener and tons of chocolate, got 120 euros in cash and headed over to the hotel where I proceeded to (a) let pakistani guy know I’m stuck in Moldova (b) get wasted and (c) fall asleep naked cause I hadn’t brought anything with me and my clothes were soaked.

Woke up in the morning. Turns out that even the birds don’t chirp in the morning in Moldova. Anyhoos, had breakfast (hotel for 200 guests, breakfast room has 8 tables and all the yogurts were past their due date but I was all good with my eggs and some other weird breakfast thing I ate). Then, I headed back to the consulate!

This time I was number 37. Waited one hour in line. A guy clerk calls me over. Speaks no English, can’t figure out what I want even when I show him my visa application (which is in Romanian) and say “student visa” (which is also in Romanian). So he transfers me to a lady clerk. Also doesn’t speak English but takes my documents, makes a huge mess of them and then takes 30 minutes to try and organize them back again. Then, she looks at me and asks me in Romanian where is my health insurance document. I try to explain to her that (a) it’s right there and meets their regulations (b) according to their rules I don’t even need to present them with one because I’m not 26 years old and (c) the lady yesterday had no problem with it so wtf is the problem now?! I attempted this explanation in English, Spanish, Serbian, Arabic, a very broken combination of Romanian and Russian, until I finally just started yelling at her in Hebrew. At which point she asked me to go sit down. So I went and sat and she started taking care of other people. I was NOT a happy camper. 15 minutes later this guy calls me over to pay and asks for my passport. Then he says: Do you need you passport in the next few weeks? I said: (a) I study in Romania you idiot and I already told you I’m missing school to be here (b) I’m not allowed according to Moldovan law to walk the fucking streets without my passport so YES I NEED IT BACK ASSHOLE and (c) I generally can’t leave this shit-hole of a country without it! So he says: ok. We will give it back to you at 13:00 and you should wait here till then. Mind ya’ll its now 10:30. So I said: fuck that, I’m leaving, I’ll come back at 13:00. You know why? because I had my American passport in my pocket. Take that Bitches!

So, I went over to the mall to tweet about my morning. Then went sightseeing at -10 degrees, then went back to the consulate at 13:00. The passport was nowhere to be found. They said: wait. I waited 20 minutes till they found it, went outside and searched for a cab to get to the bus station. Got picked up by a driver that ran 3 errands on the way. He left me off at the bus station which is outside the city in the middle of a pile of snow and cow shit.

At the station I go ask a lady when is the bus to Iasi. She says: at three. wait. I said: ok. So I took a walk, came back at 14:30 and noticed this board with numbers that kept changing next to the name of the bus I needed. Found an English-speaking lady, eavesdropped on her entire phone conversation (she was firing someone). She then explained that’s the number of seats left and that I need to buy a ticket from the lady (yes yes, the same one that told me to wait for the bus). There were 2 seats left. I bought that damn ticket. Meanwhile, turns out this lady is Dutch and owns an organic farming company in Chisinau. Lives there alone, no family, no friends. YOLO I guess?

We get on the “bus” with marked seats and I need to sit right behind the driver= in front of the door. At -10 degrees.

We leave only 15 minutes late and on the way to the border must have stopped at least a dozen times. The driver takes on every single hitchhiker he sees because they pay him privately so he makes some extra money on his route. Then, about 400 meters from the border he stops, lifts up his seat and starts shoving all his bags under it so that the border police won’t catch it. We exit Moldova and at the Romanian border they ask us to go inside and show all our stuff. I immediately stuff all my cigg.packs into my pockets and show the policeman an empty bag. Back on the bus. This time, I entered with my American passport. Since my visa won’t be ready on time, I’m going to be here longer than is allowed. And since Romania is in the middle ages, they have no way of figuring out that both these passports belong to the same person.

Finally, after 6 hours on the “bus” (this time we had a peeing-same stalls as before- and smoking break along with the dozens of hitchhiker and bag-hiding stops), and after freezing to death on the fucking bus (heat wasn’t turned on, door was constantly opening, there were ice crystals on the INSIDE of the windows!) I arrived in Iasi, headed straight to McDonalds where I bought a ton of food, went home, walked the dog at -10 degrees and took a bath.

I’m pretty sure I’ve lost several nerve endings in my feet, my liver has sustained substantial damage and my mental health will never be the same.

Oh, did I forget to mention I need to go back to Moldova in a month to pick up the visa?

And did I forget to show you a 2012 Moldovan Ambulance?

Next time I go to Moldova, it’s with a chaperone who is at least a clinical psychologist if not a full blown psychiatrist.

(additional pictures from my journey and details about visa requirements will be posted soon).

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Traveler’s Guide to: Bosnia and Herzegovina

March 17, 2011

After having just returned from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), I realize that there is practically no useful information in travel guides or online.

I’ll sum it up here and add links wherever necessary. The post is divided into:

  • General information
  • Sarajevo
  • Mostar
  • Srebrenica

General Information:

Currency: Konvertible Mark (BAM): 2KM=1Euro

prices: 2km=beer/cup of coffee/ pack of cigg. 7km=cevap+drink/burek+yogurt drink 30-50km=hostel/motel

Basic vocab: zdravo (hello), hvala (thank you), oprostite (excuse me), mozete li me pomoci? (can you help me?), gdje je to? (where is it?)

Food: local traditional foods include- cevap, burek and yogurt drink, bosnian coffee, baklava. It is not customary to tip.

General Advice: lose the street maps. You don’t need them. Bosnia is about walking around and if you walk around any of the places mentioned for just 1 hour, you’ll see everything without even trying. In Mostar I recommend turning into random little streets and climbing up old stair cases. Actually- I recommend that for all places.

Transportation: as a general rule in Eastern Europe- bus is always preferable to train. The view is usually much better, it’s much quicker, it’s cheaper and it gives a better feel of the country. I recommend doing that whenever it isn’t too big a hassle= direct bus lines between where you want to go.

Bosnia is a country for coffee/tea stops. You’ll most likely be doing that every hour 🙂

Bosnians are incredibly warm and friendly people. Talk to them, ask them anything. Even the ones that can’t speak english will end up having a 2 hour conversation with you!

Sarajevo:

The main train and bus stations are right next to each other. Between them is the central post office (Posta).

There’s an ATM next to the bus station.

All hostels and motels are downtown. To get there you need to take tram #3.

Directions to get to the tram: if you stand with your back to the station, to your right will be a a building with blue neon writing Sparkasse and next to it an importanne center.

You walk toward it and you’ll notice that along the walk is the american embassy (huge american flag is a giveaway).

You’ll see the tracks in front of you, you want to take the ones going away from sparkasse (you need to cross the tracks for those).

Best to get off the tram at the first stop after it makes a u-turn. To your left you’ll see the famous fountain.

Tram Tickets: at many of the tram stations you’ll find a little booth (blends in with the station so search well!) with a man inside. A 10-ride pass will cost you 12.81km. Otherwise, you can get tickets at many of the local kiosks. Ticket checks are frequent and make sure you get on at the most front or most back door- which are closest to the stamping machine.

Be sure not to miss out on the large cemetery next to which runs a steep uphill route to a lookout over the city.

Other useful info:

Sarajevo street map

Bus station website (not very reliable), phone number: +387-33-213-100

English to Bosnian translation website

Lay of the land: Sarajevo (a city of 600,000 ppl) is a long strip between 2 mountains. Along the strip runs the river. At one end is Downtown, at the other end is the Turkish University complex.

Mostar:

Buses leave Sarajevo every 2 hours from Platform 12. NOTICE- there is only 1 bus every day that goes back to Sarajevo. It leaves at 16:00 from platform 4. You’ll probably have already befriended the driver’s aid on the way to Mostar so most likely he’ll call you over with a smile 🙂 (2.5 hour ride in each direction).

Taking the 8:15 bus leaves you off at Mostar at around 11:00, which gives you plenty of time to walk around before the bus back.

Price: 24km for a return ticket.

From Mostar it’s also possible to continue to Dubrovnik (Croatia) by bus.

Once in Mostar, if you stand with your back to the bus station, start walking left. soon enough you’ll come to a grey, blown-up building with lovely art (whatever survived) on it’s walls. Walk down the street to its right and you’ll reach a city map right outside the memorial garden, further down is the river.

Srebrenica:

NOTICE there is only 1 bus a day from Sarajevo to Srebrenica. It leaves at 7:10 from platform 11. There is also only 1 bus a day that goes back to Sarajevo. It leaves at 16:30 from Srebrenica’s bus station (4 hour ride in each direction).

Price: 32.50km for a return ticket.

Make sure to ask the driver to leave you off at: Do Memorijalnog Centra Potocari. It’s the cemetery and memorial center, 10 minutes away from Srebrenica. Once you’re done there, it will be no problem catching a taxi right outside that will take you to Srebrenica (3km)- ask the taxi driver to drop you off at the Muzej.

In Srebrenica are several mosques, churches, and a Muzej (museum) with archeological items that had been dug up locally. When you reach the building, walk to your left and climb to the second floor.

Outside, to the right of the building, is a little cafe. After which you can head down in the direction of the bus station. Next to it is a restaurant Zora where you can have lunch and wait for the bus back.

General Info:

The big white mosque near the museum is beautiful, ask to be let in.

Outside the memorial center is a souvenir shop– they sell some books and documentaries in english- I recommend the documentary Beyond Reasonable Doubt and the book The Broken Childhood of the Children of Srebrenica.

**I haven’t included info on sites to see- those can be found in guides/online and aren’t actually that necessary as you’ll see everything alone, and there are english explanations near most of them**

Mostar, Herzegovina (Photo by: Tahel Ilan)

Have a wonderful trip!