We are staying in Moldova for 10 to 14 days, first basing ourselves in the capitol city of Chișinău (pronounced Kish-i-now) (pop 650,000). We have a car rental booked for a week starting Saturday so that we can do some day trips. And after our week in the capital, we will stay somewhere else in Moldova.
So, how did we get here?
Across from the train station in Iasi is the local bus station. We had read online that there is an afternoon minibus leaving from the bus station at 14:00. And another one at 14:45.
We arranged with our shady car rental deal to drop the car at the train station parking. Sure enough, the guy met us there, inspected the car, and gave us back our 460 lei ($152 CAD, $112 USD) cash deposit. He then complained that we hadn't washed the car, but I had called and asked if it was necessary because the roads were so wet, and had been told that it was okay. The guy went on about it, and asked for 14 lei for the wash. I agreed, and handed him the 14 lei (about $4). He then says it's forty not fourteen, and that's where I drew the line. He finally backed off. We're sure he put the 14 lei in his pocket.
Anyhow, we got there early because we read that the bus can fill up quickly. We found the minibus at stall #5, and handed over our passports to the driver. And 35 lei ($11.50 CAD, $8.50 USD) per person. He handed back the ticket, along with our passports.
We left right at 2:00pm, and the minibus was full, with 20 passengers and the driver.
No photos...I had the camera stashed in the bag, and couldn't have taken decent photos out the window anyhow.
Here is the route we took.
It was only 167 kms (104 miles) but the entire journey was almost 4 hours!
We arrived at the border station and there was a long line up of cars. This might have had something to do with the fact that December 1st was a national holiday in Romania, so many people are off work for an extended weekend.
But our minibus driver knew some tricks, and soon had us at the checkpoint. The Romanian border control came on board, took everybody's passports and disappeared for 20 minutes or so. When he returned, the exit stamp was next to the entry stamp on the same page.
Next, we drove across the river and we were in Republic of Moldova! The Moldovan border control came on board, took everybody's passports, and disappeared for about the same amount of time. Our bus driver came back with our passports in hand, and off we went. The only questions they asked were if anybody was traveling with a child, which nobody was. Luckily, we had a girl sitting in our row who spoke very good English. However, it's a pretty safe bet that on a minibus with 20 people,someone can speak at least a little English.
And we were off!
It was a dismal, drab, overcast day. So not a really good first view of Moldova. Lots of farm fields and fruit orchards. Apparently, Moldova has some of the richest soil in the world and almost all farming is natural and organic. Maybe it's one of the reasons they produce world class wines!
One of the first things we noticed is that the roads are in really rough shape compared to Romania. Not only is Moldova the least visited country in Europe, it's also the poorest.
Officially, Moldova is a landlocked country bordered by Romania and Ukraine.
Unofficially, it is also bordered by the country that doesn't exist...Transnistria. We'll talk about Transnistria another day.
We arrived in the busy city of Chișinău just before 6:00pm. We had the driver drop us off right in the middle of downtown, as close as we could get to our meeting point...the McDonalds! There are three McDonalds locations in Chișinău and of course they all have free wifi. Our Romanian SIM card doesn't work in Moldova, so the plan was to send a message to our AirBnb host Gloria when we arrived at the McDonalds. Sure enough, it all came together and five minutes later Gloria was there to meet us.
Downtown was busy. It was dark out, but lots happening. There was an outdoor concert going on, and many people about. First impressions? Chișinău is a lot more vibrant and modern that we were expecting!
We hopped on a bus, and Gloria paid our bus fare. Buses are really cheap here in Chișinău, and we didn't have any local cash yet. Moldova uses the lei, just like Romania, but the exchange rate is quite different.
We arrived at a block of apartments, and Gloria led us to the top (9th) floor. There is another fellow staying here as well, a young man from Italy.
She had some dinner made ready for us, so that was nice. Thanks Gloria!
Really excited to go out exploring. Funny coincidence, the AirBnb host that we stayed with in Sibiu, Romania is also here in Chișinău visiting. He has been in touch with Gloria (it's a small world) and has offered to take us with him to tour the world's largest underground wine cellar today. It holds over 2 million bottles of wine! (Edit: it turns out they are booked. Perhaps we will try the world's second largest with only 1.2 million bottles...)
Stay tuned...we can't wait to tell you more about Moldova!
Here's a cool looking Christmas toy...recommended for ages 8 and up...