11.08.2012 30 °C
I could only stay in Odessa for one day to stay on schedule. Which is a shame, I really like it there. After a night of heavy drinking with the guys from my hostel and a few winks of sleep, I'm off to the next city, Chișinău. I made the decsion to pass through this city knowing full well that I shouldn't expect too much. For one, not too many know much about the country of Moldova at all, present company included.
I head to the train station in the afternoon. I have some difficulty finding the track that the train is on. I asked pretty much anyone that crossed my path. At best I would get a point to some vague direction. It didn't help much. I scoured every inch of the train station and couldn't find the track. I see way off in the distance. I make my way to wards with it, with Sapphire, not getting any lighter, lagging behind me. I hand my ticket to one of the worker's of the station and they point me to a particular car of the train. I FOUND IT!!! I jump on. Train after train, they noticeably become less impressive. I find a padded bench with a table next to it and sit down. No air conditioning and vinyl seats, my skin sticks to the seat with a vice grip. I put in my ear buds and let Jason Mraz sing me into tranquility. I people watch around the train. There is pretty, young woman sitting across from me. She has intricate french braids encircling the back of her head like a whirl pool before coming to a braid over her left shoulder. There is middle age woman sitting on the other side, about 40. Classic soccer mom. A young boy a few seats away that appears to be speaking to her. Her son perhaps? An older woman a few seats away, very grandmotherly looking.
I look out the window and watch the country side pass by me. I've countless miles pass me by from the inside of a train, bus or car. In one way, it all looks different. In another way, it all looks the same. Whether its the snow capped mountains and teal blue waters of Switzerland, Alpacas of the Andes, or the infinite desert of the Middle East. I look at it knowing that only a few people will come as far as I have to see it, and no one will see it the way I do.
The train slows to a crawl. We're stopping at the boarder. I take out my passport. The young woman with the braids looks at my passport. "You're from Canada?" Yes, I say. I ask her where she is from. She says she is from Moldova. She was in Odessa visiting family. We exchange a few words. She asks me what I'm doing in Moldova. "Just travelling, passing through." She looks pretty surprised. Not too many people come this way, I guess. I don't think too much of it. There aren't too many places on this planet that aren't worth my time. She speaks to the soccer mom. She starts asking me questions. What brings me here, where have I been. I point to Sapphire and all of the flags sewn on. Her eye become wide. She speaks to the grandmother and she looks at me with a look of extreme astoundment. Like travellers coming to Moldova is a new phenomenon. Maybe it is? Surely I can't be the first one. They tell be that Moldova is very poor and can be very dangerous. I've heard that about so many places that it barely registers anymore.
The train is going to stay at the station for quite a while, so we get off for some fresh air. The sun has just set, so its much cooler outside. I welcoming breeze washes over us. We continue our chat. The young boy has braces and I ask him how long he's had them. Just over a year. I tell him that I've had some form of orthodontic apparatus stuck to my head for 8 years. He's completely shell shocked. I show him my picture-perfect pearly whites. The soccer mom tells me that people in her parts call that the "Classic American Smile". Despite that pang, they look good and I earned them. Everyone starts to get back on board and I follow suit.
The soccer mom asks me questions about what I plan on doing in Chișinău. I tell her I have no solid plans, just wander around tomorrow before my train in the evening to Bucharest. She tells me that they have booming wine industry and I should try and sample some. Like I need someone to encourage me to drink! She asks me where I'm staying and how I plan on getting there. I tell her I booked a hostel, not quite sure how to get there. I only really know a route to the hostel about 30% of the time. And that's usually only because its already really close. I have fun looking for it. She looks a tad disappointed. She tells me she'll call me a taxi when she get to the station.
We all get off and head outside. Its much cooler now, but still very comfortable. The soccer mom get on the phone. She tells me the details of the cab and starts to make her way to the street. I run up to her and give her a hug. She seems a little surprised at my act of retribution, but settles in my arms. I wait for the cab she is describing. I had the address to the driver. We drive around town. I always associate negative reviews of cities with being outdated or old fashioned. But Chișinău seems surprisingly modern. Lots of lighted signs, more then I expected. I watch the roads as we head to the hostel.
He pulls over the side of the road and points to a tiny house at a corner. Not really what I was expecting, but I head on over. He sits in the cab and waits for me to go inside. For a country with such pessimistic reputation, the people are certainly altruistic. An elderly lets me in and is surprised to see me. I tell her I have a reservation and hand her the printed confirmation. I look around the hostel is simply a house that takes in travellers. She reads it and shows me to my bed. Its simple mattress on a loft. Without much headroom, I navigate around hunched over trying to find something to wear to bed. With the older people running the place, sprawling out in panties and tank top doesn't seem quite appropriate. If find my yoga pants that I wore to to the Chernobyl tour and grab my wash bag as I head the wash room. Showering twice a day seems to be common practice for me these days. I wrap my head with my all too familiar turban and head up too the loft to go to sleep. I have it too myself and its pretty quiet. Cool, as well, being so high up and near the windows. I put in my earbuds again and drift off to sleep.
I get up the next morning a little late. All I have to do today is buy my 5pm train tickets to Bucharest, store Sapphire at the train station, and then kill the rest of the day. I leave the hostel mid morning. Most hostels have a wealth of information to share about the city. Since this is really more of mode of supplemental income, any information is somewhat lackluster. I study the small map I have in my Lonely Planet and determine a way to get into town. I take off down the road and see where it takes me. It doesn't take too long before I'm terribly lost. I back track a few blocks and see if there is another way. Maybe I'll recognize a landmark from the car ride over. I soon find a road that looks like it will head me in the right direction. I take it and see what happens. I don't have much Moldovian money left, I need to find a forex to exchange my remaining Ukrainian currency. I see a grocery store that appears to have one, but its closed. Hmmmm.... I continue down a shady road. Its another scorcher and I've managed to evade the damages of the sun on my fair skin. So far, Chișinău doesn't seems so uninviting as much as it's just unremarkable. Its just like most other semi-modern to modern cities.
I keep along my path and see a western union in the distance. Surely I can change my money there. I make my way up the steps and squeeze into the tiny space infront of the teller's window. She sees that I'm Canadian and asks me how I'm enjoying my time, I say the city is lovely and I haven't made any solid plans on what to do. I take my money and continue on. I'm starting to get pretty hungry. I see that there are a few taxis at an intersection up ahead. I walk over and ask one of them if he can take me to the train station. Its nice to give myself a break from all of the walking, and hauling Sapphire around isn't making it any easier. He takes me to the station and I get out. The train station has clearly been recently renovated. Very modern and clean. I see the international ticket desk and purchase my ticket to Bucharest. I ask where I can store my bag and she points to a door for me to enter. It takes me outside to a courtyard. I see a luggage sign up ahead and I follow it. I look around and the current environment and I see the Moldova I think people have been trying to describe. Old, haggard people surround the buildings with their belongings on the ground. Selling used clothes, shoes and other personal items. I knock on the door to the luggage room and an middle aged, but youthful man answers. I point to Sapphire and ask him to store it. He takes if from me and places it on a shelf with other bags belonging to people. He gives me a metal disk with a number 3 on it. I pay a few leu. I'm happy to relieve myself of the added weight for the rest of the day.
I start looking for somewhere to eat. I look in my book to see what my options are. Not too many. There is grocery store nearbye and decide to check it out. I walk inside and its just like any other kind of shop. I'm a little taken aback the attire I see the women in. I see atleast 5 wearing clear 'stripper heals'. The arches of my feet feel sore at the mere sight of them. And skirts so short that you can actually see the crease of their backsides. Can't be too comfortable. I look down at my blue sundress that comes just to my knees and croc sandles. What I always wear in hot weather. I see women dressing like they way they do from time to time in the streets of Toronto and I wonder why they do it. But I guess they also wonder why I don't do it. I just don't crave the attention that dressing like that brings. I buy some fruit and a bottle of water and head outside. I bite my apple and down some water as I peruse my guide book some more on how to kill time here. There is a shopping mall not too far away. Some air conditioning would be nice. I try to find it and I see that I have to cross a very busy intersection. Not one of my favourite tasks while overseas. Not knowing the driving habits of the locals, you are always taking on a bit of risk. There are some people crossing the street and buddy up next to them closely. They understandably stare at me questioningly. Its the only way I know I can cross the street safely. Just do what they do and you should survive. We all quickly cross two roads and I'm in the mall parking lot. I walk in and look around. Very colourful and vibrant with several levels. An electronic store, department store, hair salon. What you would expect.
I look for a restaurant to relax for a little bit. I see a coffee shop and check it out. The hostess directs me to table. I motion for a menu, and she points directly to the table. The menu is a computer built directly into the table. That's unique. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I look at the options and I'm not too impressed. Mostly fancy coffee concoctions and desserts. I'm in need of an actual meal. I say thanks, but no thanks. I walk on see what else they have. There is a restaurant on one of the top levels. With sleek black wall panelling and pink neon accents, I look and notice that it looks more like a nightclub then a restaurant. Somewhat reminiscent of the ladies I encountered at the grocery store. They look like they would fit right in here. Not what I typically go for, but I'm near famished and I'll try anything. The host takes me to a table and hands me a menu. FOOD! I take a look at what they have and I see a few options if what I might like. I order Salmon and Perrier. I stretch out, cross my legs and start looking in my bag. I realize that I left 50 Shades in Sapphire. Drat. I put in my ear buds and put on a random song. "The Great Divide" by Hanson starts playing. Awesome. I instantly think back to 2 years ago when I was invited to interview them for the fan club in Chicago. They seemed genuinely impressed and interested with my accomplishments involving travel. My food and drink arrive and I'm famished. Its salmon with vegetables and rice and a perrier. I start eating it and its actually quite tasty. I order another Perrier after quickly downing the one I have. A young family walks in. Not quite the family restaurant I went to as a child. After finishing, I pay and see what else there is in the mall. Not too much that I'm interested in.
I head back out and I'm hit hard my the humidity and smog. I head up the street and see what's what. I enter an open air market and start wandering through the crowded aisles. More of what I saw near the train station. Clothes, knick knacks, and so forth. I see a table with some baby clothes and take a peek. My cousin, Kelly, is expecting a daughter in a few months and I'm always looking for something to give to my nephews, Cash and Carter. I see a bonnet that Kelly might like for her new girl. I buy it and continue on my way. Not too many things here pique my interest.
I head back to the street. I still have quite a few hours to kill. I see an establishment with a 'No Guns Allowed' sing. Kind of takes me by surprise because that is generally implied in Canada.
No Guns Allowed
I keep walking and see a hotel with lounge. I give it a try. I get another perrier and sit down. The decor is quite dated and it smells of cigarettes. This is what I was expecting Moldova to be. Why on earth did I have to leave 50 Shades in my other bag???? I'm starting to get devastatingly bored. I pull out my ipod and see if I have any TV shows that I'd be willing to see again. I have several episodes of How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, and Scrubs. Each I've seen dozens of times. I bite the bullet and watch Season 1 of HIMYM, atleast its been several months since I've seen it. I order two more Perriers. Some sort of rugby or soccer team is in the lounge. I casually people watch as I listen to the dialogue of Ted Mosby in my ears. He may be old Ted Mosby now, but Bob Saget will always be Danny Tanner to me. I never missed that show it its prime. I always sat back in class and day dreamed about being the 4th long lost Tanner sister in his San Francisco house hold. I thought Stephanie Tanner was the ideal adolescent girl that I should strive to be. Who knew she would turn into a meth addict?
Several hours pass by and I think I should get some dinner for my train. I walk up the same road and see a restaurant vaguely resembling a tiki bar. Well, I guess that's just the fashion here. Who says clubbing is only for the night time? I sit at a table that has a coffee table for dining table and a couch for chair. Comfortable, I can stretch out and relax. I see a young couple sitting accross the restaurant from me. About my age or so. The women is wearing yet again a skirt that looks like a denim tenser bandage. Her platform wedge heels are bright pink this time. The man looks like your typical bouncer in a tight black t-shirt and jeans. I order sushi and a salad.
The food comes and the portions are larger then I expected them to be. I really only should have ordered one. Oh well, I might not get another chance to eat for more then 12 hours. Might as well eat them both.
I finish and start my way back to the train station. Still pretty humid outside. I grab Sapphire and head to the tracks and wait for the train. I hand my ticket to one of the train guys and head to my bed. I'm surprised to see that I have the whole room to myself. I get comfortable and notice that the room comes with an unusual must odor. I'd rather not know what it is, I should just keep myself as clean as I can. I lay down and close my eyes as I hear the train start to take off for Bucharest. I drift off to sleep for only a few minutes before I am awoken by the train stopping. Are we at the border? I have to go to the bathroom. I head to the washroom and the door is locked. I started to hear a slightly familar voice a few rooms away. I walk down and one of the German young guys from my hostel in Odessa is going the same route I am. He invites me into his room that he is sharing with a few other people from other parts of Europe. We chit chat for a while. We're going to be stuck here for the next 2 hours and the bathroom is going to be off limits for that whole time. TWO HOURS???? Its going to migrate its way back up my kidney's if I wait that long. I try to take my mind off of it.
I go back to my room and lay back. Could I use the empty beer bottle from earlier? No, no way I could do that without some kind of funnel. What could I MacGyver into a funnel? STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! Ahhh! I close my eyes and try to make it through. After a long wait, the train starts going again. I dart of my room at lighting speed and head to the washroom just as the train guy is opening. YES!! I jump in and I am overcome by the fowl stench. Its absolutely filthy. I'm upset at this, but I have absolutely no other options. I shrug and hover over the toilet on a moving train. Success! I head back to my room and break out my bottle of purell. I've never truly appreciated that stuff until now. I lift up my sundress and cover my whole body from the chest down. I'm not risking having any of that filth on my body. I get on the bed and try to get a few hours of sleep.
I wake up right before arriving in Bucharest and its pouring. Well, atleast I won't get a sunburn today.