martes, 19 de abril de 2016

Moldova (III): Orheiul Vechi and last adventures

Once we had seen Chisinau and Transnistria we felt like breathing some fresh air, so we decided to go to Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei), an old historical complex 60 km from Chisinau. Jorge, a Spanish guy who was in the hostel, decided to join us.

Many houses in Ivancea were like that
Javi called the taxi driver who took him to town they day he arrived and they negotiated a price to go there. Why a taxi and not a bus? Because we are so hip that we wanted to stop at a random village and see rural Moldova. We stopped at a village called, I think, Ivancea, which had around 500 inhabitants according to the taxi driver.

One of the many wells we saw
Even though I know there are much worse places in the world, walking around Ivancea was a humbling experience that made me realize once again how lucky I am and how easy my life is. There was hardly any pavement, and the little that could be seen was in an awful state. Most of the paths were really muddy.

Even the most random villages have nice Orthodox churches
I don’t know this, but I have doubts that there was actually running water there because there were a lot of wells which had very transparent water. Yes, the water was good, I tried it and I’m still alive, my skin is not green and I don’t have three eyes. So my bet is that the water was good. Another option is that they only use the wells when they have a problem with running water; it’s perfectly possible and I don’t really know what’s the answer.

The last surprising thing about Ivancea is its Orthodox church. The view of a village in which most of the houses looked like they could fall down at any moment but the church is so (relatively) magnificent was certainly interesting. By the way, I have the feeling most Orthodox churches I’ve seen are made of cardboard, and that one wasn’t an exception.

The chapel's walls were surprising
As for Orheiul Vechi, there was not a lot to it, but the landscapes were nice and I always enjoy a walk in the countryside. It’s a dead place in winter, so dead the woman from the information office didn’t even have a couple of the most common banknotes to help us change money. We didn’t really see any archaeological remains, but the landscape was very nice: a valley surrounded by a U-shaped river and, right behind it, some hills, on which we walked. We also entered a little underground chapel which a very old couple had decorated very nicely. The chapel had another exit, which led to a narrow ledge and then to a precipice. Yes, the mandatory pictures were taken there.

Javi and me next to the precipice
I don't often take selfies but admit it, this one is cool
The photo doesn't say much, but trust me, this was good
After a nice walk, we ended up in a village called Trebujeni, which is a funny name there’s a village not that far from my hometown called Trebujena. There was a restaurant which only opens in summer, so Javi worked his Russian magic to convince the old woman who was there to work for the three of us. She told us she’d need an hour, which was ok because we didn’t really have any other choice if we wanted to eat hot food. After a little more than an hour, she came to our table with food for approximately four hundred and seventy-one people. Man, it was good. An orgasmic stew, tomatoes, a weird omelette thingy, some kind of fried bread with goat cheese and I don’t even remember what else, but the thing is that we couldn’t finish everything. We tried our best; it was just impolite to not finish the food this woman had cooked for us, but we just couldn’t. She asked for such a ridiculously small amount of money that we gave her a bit more; after all, the difference was bigger for her than for us (here I am, possibly sounding snobbish again).

Abandoned hotel in the main street
After eating, we took a marshrutka back, relaxed, and exchanged out blood for beer in the evening in the company of Alina and a very nice friend of hers, Ana. This proved not to be the best of ideas, as the next day there was a disco party inside our heads. I got better early enough but Javi was a corpse until lunchtime. We went for a couple of short walks to regain consciousness and then Javi, Jorge, Alina, Ana and Aluna, a lovely local we met in the morning, and me went to a nice bar where a guy was delighting everyone’s ears with the way he played jazz with his guitar.

One last pointless story: I bought a Transnistria postcard as a souvenir and, as I was walking back to the hostel with a happy grin on my face, the wind decided to laugh at me and blew the postcard away. It danced away, teasing me in slow motion, until it fell right in the tiny gap between a wall and a bunch of stones used to pave the streets. No way to get it back.

I saw this at the airport: not stereotypical at all
I left at around 2pm the next day, after buying a bottle of Moldovan wine (try any of them if you have the chance) at the airport. It was an amazing trip, I met people I want to keep in touch with and I definitely recommend you to go to Moldova if you want to do something different during your holidays.

jueves, 7 de abril de 2016

Moldova (II): a day in Transnistria

Market in Chisinau
After an interesting first day in Chisinau, we decided it was time to go to Transnistria. Alina, who is originally from there, had decided to come as well, so she, Javi and me met in the morning and went together to the bus station. We stopped at a market first and bought some food. I was surprised by the amount of people who sold cookies; not cookies in plastic bags, but cookies in open boxes where you could take as many as you wanted and just weigh them. The reason why I’m mentioning this insignificant detail is because the cookies were extremely good, so if you go to Chisinau, you know what to do when you’re at a market. Or well, maybe my mental obesity is getting out of control.

Isn't this brilliant?
The bus was certainly a peculiar one. It had the cheesiest combination of curtains and seat covers I have ever seen: the curtains were pink with Arabic-ish motifs and the bright yellow seat covers depicted a guy (Mexican? Brazilian?) at the beach. I can imagine an out of date designer with a palm tree shirt and sunglasses saying “I like to call this sandy harem, baby”.

Transnistria is officially part of Moldova, however it actually functions like an independent country, with its own government, currency and so on. Therefore, we had to stop at the border, get out of the bus, show our passports and get a piece of paper telling us we had to leave the country a few hours later.

Left: Russian flag colours. Right: Transnistrian flag colours
According to what I’ve heard, Transnistria wants to be Russian, and that became apparent quite soon. There were Russian soldiers on the border and we even saw a structure with one half painted with the colours of the Russian flag and the other half painted with the colours of the Transnistrian one. The Transnistrian flag has the old communist symbols, by the way.

Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, looked relatively similar to Chisinau, if only slightly better kept. Prices were definitely higher, too. Javi told me it receives money from Russia, which makes sense. The main thing about Tiraspol was the tank (or tanks?) we saw (no, not working) and a few statues, like the one from Lenin. Yes: hammer and sickle, Lenin statues, it definitely felt a bit like being in the USSR. Except I’m being quite stupid here because I never was there, but please do allow me the stupidity.
Javi and me being silly tourists and loving Tiraspol

Our new toy

Lenin statue

Javi bought a Transnistrian flag
At some point, we went to a supermarket and then the Spiral of Doom (ok, it wasn't that bad) started. First, Javi tried to get some cash and realized his card was missing. Then I checked my wallet to get some cash for him and realized my card was missing as well. A couple of minutes later, we came to the conclusion that, even if we had arrived on different days, we had lost our cards the same way. When we took a taxi from the airport, we both needed to take some local cash; we had both already talked to the taxi driver first so we took the cash in a hurry and forgot the card there. I know, it sounds like a joke. But it wasn’t. Fortunately, we were able to block the cards before anything else happened to them. Immediately after that, we forgot our cookies, a few bananas and a bottle of water in a locker in the supermarket. It’s nothing but, after the stress from the card thing, it was quite annoying, and my inner mental fatty mourned the cookies' loss for a couple of hours.

We went to the stadium of FC Sheriff Tiraspol, the local football (yes, soccer) team. At some point, we were walking down a street and I realized something. On my right I could see the brand new stadium, along with a Sheriff hypermarket and a Sheriff gas station. All of them looked new and wealthy. On my left, the real world. The contrast was striking and very sad.
Transnistria and Russia, together to progress
Finally, we went to Bender, a town which got its share of misery in the 1992 Civil War that happened in Transnistria. I didn’t see anything particularly different there and anyway we didn’t have time, because we headed directly to the bus station. There we had what I called a soviet dog, which is a hot dog in which the sausage had been cut by half, although its length was the same. I was too hungry to care. After that, the Spiral of Doom continued: we almost lost our marshrutka (something like a minibus) and half of my hot chocolate decided to do some sightseeing in Javi’s trousers.

That was the end of the day's adventures. We went back, had dinner with Alina and bought some food for the next day. Our plan was to go to Orheiul Vechi, a historical and archaeological complex 60 km from Chisinau, as well as to some random village on the way there to have a glimpse of rural Moldova.

sábado, 2 de abril de 2016

Moldova (I): first impressions

This is not a tale of a thousand crazy adventures, but a relatively thorough account of the things that I saw and thought in my trip to Moldova. If you’re expecting an action-packed best-seller kind of article, stop reading. In fact, if you don’t know me personally, you may fall asleep three lines later. You have been warned.

Two and a half months ago, I would have never considered going to Moldova. I mean, why Moldova? It’s small and there’s not anything especially beautiful to see, is there? But when my good friend Javi suggested me to go there in Easter, I didn’t hesitate. We became good friends last year; now he’s working in Ukraine, I’m working in Poland and we really wanted to travel together and meet again. Also, I have always travelled inside my rich countries bubble and I wanted to get out of it, while he has experienced with more unusual trips and he knows how to plan them.

Speaking of my rich countries bubble, when I write about Moldova I may use adjectives such as, let’s say, “poor”. First of all, just in case, I am aware that I may sound snobbish at times, but I don’t mean to be offensive. It’s just my very own point of view taken from my very own personal experiences; if my experiences had been different, my point of view would be different as well. Actually please read this short text I wrote as an introduction for this blog, where I apologize again and again about the possible snobbish feel my words may have.

One of the many trolleybuses I saw
Back to the trip: Javi went to Chisinau, the capital, on the 23rd of March, while I arrived one day later. It was a bit colder than in Poland and I hurriedly got some lei, the local currency, before taking a taxi to the hostel. The taxi driver was nice and we spoke in a mixture of Russian, of which I know ten words or so; Italian, which I can understand-ish and French, which I more or less speak. Fun start.

View from the hostel
Once we were in town, I felt as if I had gone back in time. The grey sky certainly suited the post-communist atmosphere. I’ve never seen so many wires when looking up: Chisinau is full of trolleybuses. I got down from the taxi, paid the equivalent of five euro (later I would find out that a taxi to the airport can be even cheaper) and hugged Javi as I had a look at the hostel. Lev Tolstoi street is next to Stefan cel Mare, the main street, and yet it rather looked like the working class suburb of a forgotten town.

The hostel was small and clean and staff was very nice. After taking a short nap (what can I say, we’re Spanish) we went for a walk and pretty much everything there is to see in town in one hour. We basically walked along Stefan cel Mare and saw the Parliament, the Presidential House and a few other similar buildings.

Political protest 

Nothing was particularly beautiful. Actually, nothing was beautiful, but it was so different that it was really interesting. I was surprised by the bad state of the pavement: if that was the main street, how would the suburbs look? We were actually planning to check that out a couple of days later, but our hangover didn’t let us. Oh well.  The lack of rubbish bins was surprising also, and quite annoying as well. Next to some Government building there were a few tents: apparently there had been some political protests going on for a while. Finally, while we were walking around there was a young girl of about eight who asked us for money. Javi speaks very decent Russian so he could understand her, although what she wanted was pretty obvious. It was the only time such thing happened to us during the trip, but it made quite an impression on me.

Before meeting me, Javi had randomly met a local girl at a park. They had talked for quite a while and they had agreed to meet later, once I was in town. Alina turned out to be a delightful young lady who met us in the evening as well and took us to an alternative bar where we witnessed a rather unusual show. While a guitar and a keyboard were used to create a pinkfloydesque atmosphere, a young man, friend of Alina, recited poetry in Romanian for about two hours, with a short break at some point. Javi and me didn’t understand a word of it (no, wait, we did understand “football”, “television” and “porn”), but the whole thing was original and the cup of Moldovan wine we drank was really good, so I’m not complaining.

After that, we had dinner in a bar with Alina, Terente (the psychedelic poet) and two of his friends, who paid for another bottle of very nice wine. I couldn’t help but realize how one of them was sporting what I’d call the classical soviet hairstyle. I don’t mean to make fun of it, but it’s really funny how trends change and how something that is forbidden by non-written laws in some countries is very common in others.

Stefan cel Mare at night: the pavement surprised me
We went back to the hostel at approximately 1am, after convincing Alina to come to Transnistria with us the following morning. Transistria is a country de facto, but not de iure, meaning it’s not officially a country by international standards, but it does function as one, with its own government, currency and so on. It looked interesting, and it certainly was, although you’ll have to wait a bit to read about it.