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Monday, 29 July 2013

The Real Moldova

So firstly, forgive me for putting 'sex' in all my title headings. I only do it because when i look at the most popular search items, it seems to be all porn/sex related. Any regular posts just don't get a look in. So i can write a load of drivel and put 'sex tourist porno' as the heading and it gets 10,000 hits a day, and write a really interesting piece about the Soul of Moldova, and get 24 hits.

This of course does beg such questions as to what kind of society do we live in, and will I get banned when David Cameron puts in his porn ban...

The railway station was clean and had no beggars or hustlers...

That being said, I will now write a little bit more of the real things about Moldova, since the country doesn't have any information on it elsewhere, and because it is actually quite a nice place (to visit).

...Because they were all outside in the flea market!

After writing about there being nothing to do, my trusty soup making Moldovan friend decided to show me some real things about the city. We went to the Chișinău Botanical Garden where you can hire bikes and explore strange little places, see the 'gates of the city' (which are two big gatelike apartment complexes.) We walked back to the centre, along the main boulevard into town, and there do seem to be plenty cafes, bars and restaurants around there (just west of the city centre, along the road where the railways station is, if you want to explore) - if the tourist places are $1 a beer, then God knows about these places. Maybe they pay you to drink! There are also dozens of slot machine/money laundering places, if throwing money into a bottomless pit in a dark room is what you're into.

This is plainly a very important monument, but I have no idea what it actually is.

What hit me though was how small the city is. Like Tallinn, you can basically walk to the airport. In fact since there is no proper parking there (yes, crazy but true) walking may well be a good idea.

Texans will not be familiar with this, but guys with guns in Eastern Europe are not usually the good guys.

This is the view outside the parliament building,  and probably the nicest part of town to walk around in (because its leafy and flat)

Just outside the city, there are plenty of wineries to visit. I went to Orthei (home a cave monastery, which I didn't have time to go to) but also the home of Chateau Vartely which is pretty amazing if you like your  $5 bottle of wine to taste like a $100 bottle.

The general vibe of the city is what, to me was important. Unlike a summers day in Tallinn, the streets were not lined with drunk people (despite amazing alcohol prices) the taxi drivers didn't try to rip me off, and even the casinos were full of quite nice gun-free people (my ATM card that got stuck there, was returned to me two days later, with no money stolen!) At night, things are more about Kareoke than anything else though. God help them.

While there isn't an organised tourist industry as such, I found loads of lovely people on Couchsurfing who were taking people to Trans-Nestria, and all the other tourist sites on a regular basis, for no other reason than they are very nice people, and justly rather proud of their homely little country.

There you go, maybe i'll get a free dinner from the King of Moldova next time....

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Chisinau...The City that Italian Sex Tourists Forgot (thank God)

I would love to tell you all about the tourist sites of Chisinau, Moldova, but to be honest, there are more tourist sites in Scunthorpe.

However, Chisinau has really grown on me. It's pretty old school, but that also means 1 euro coffees, safe streets, taxi drivers who don't rob you, and no fat people.

I'm staying in the 'hotel cosmos' which, as you can see from the website just arrived out of 1982, and could be describe as 'retro soviet'. I just noticed the 3 old ladies who sit downstairs every night and say hello to me are actually the 'house prostitutes', who while being very pleasant, have plainly have been there since the hotel opened. I wonder if they are the only people alive to have been in every single room?

I've had a pretty interesting time here nevertheless, mainly due to the very nice local people i met here. It's not easy to get lost, as the centre is basically one long street with a macdonalds in the middle.  haven't seen anything costing more than $10 in the whole city. I have a suite for $30 here (although to be fair thats the going rate for rooms) and i'll put in here later some of the restaurants i've been to.

The first thing to do when you get here is walk up the main drag. Watch out as you will probably bump into lamposts checking out the most beautiful array of local girls, rather than the nothing special architecture (with some interesting exceptions like the presidents palace and some other cool sovietsky style stuff) There are a couple of lovely parks with free wifi and a street back is the National History Museum of Moldova which is quite a bizzare little place which has a large furniture shop in the middle of it, which you initially think 'wait a minute what kind of exhibit is this?' Babushkas follow you round switching on the lights and off again when you go in and out of rooms, and there is a pretty amazing wrap round montage of some war or other.

I rather stupidly got my ATM card stuck in the cash machine today in a casino where i was having lunch. Moldovan Casinos are probably not the best places to lose your atm card, but i'll have to make do with the winnings for the rest of the trip. I'm not quite sure how I will pay the hotel though on top but some kind of solution may well present itself. Between a final Moldovan wine fuelled night out on thursday, sneaking out of the hotel without paying, and visiting Soviet breakway republic Trans Nestria on Friday, there are sure to be some kind of adventures ahead...

If you don't hear from me again, you know roughly which prison i'll be in then....

ps photos WILL follow!!!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Onward to the Heart of Darkness...Trannyvania-Bucharest-Moldova-Trans Nestria

 I’m going to leave a full, comprehensive guide to Brasov to a guest post from my local friend there, so from me, I’ll just tell you a bit of background from a ludrious Scottish perspective…

The first thing to consider in Romania is that the gypsies and hustlers you’ll see, especially when you’re travelling anywhere, are small timers and a bit of threatening aggression will usually see them off (swearing helps.) Just be aware of the ‘going rate’ for things – don’t accept the taxi driver at the railway station who offers ‘VIP’ for 20 Leis when the normal rate is 5 (that’s what just happened to me in Brasov station.) The gyppos, unlike in UK are generally (between rummaging in bins) are usually selling something like raspberries, i.e. they are actually earning their keep and not dangerous – just be careful what you agree and haggle, then you’re all good.

The very Tallinesque Brasov Town Square, here in Transylvania

As I begin my journey further into the heart of (socialist) darkness, it’ll be interesting to see how things change. Here in Romania, sure, the police/officials have those oversize hats which usually means you’re in a dodgy country and that they’re crooks, but so far I haven’t had any hassle at all. I’m expecting that to change as my train trundles onwards towards the Moldovan border. Will the police/guards hats be double size by the time I get to the North Korea of Europe – Trans Nestria? Maybe the hats are big to hide all the bribes, who knows. But I do know, that when a guy with a dodgy uniform and a big hat barks something at you in some bizzare language, and puts his hand out, you know it's not looking good. At least Siberia is warm in summer.

The very hidden but pretty, Peles Castle

Transylvania, despite being surprisingly beautiful, still has a long way to go with organizing its tourism industry. One of the most amazing castles in the region  (or in the world) Peleș Castle Castle in Sinaia, just south of Transylvania, kept secret by an intricate network of streets and hills, and of course a complete lack of any signposts, keeping it safe from all those vulgar tourists who may possibly have come to the town to try to find it. Well, maybe this idiotic lack of common sense has some soviet charm, and of course it could put off the more annoyingly stupid tourists, but all in all, I haven’t seen anything as daft since the Latvian Airport misdirection scam (there is a sign 10km from the airport pointing the wrong direction and saying 'airport 70km'!)

I missed out 'Draculas' castle, the alleged home of 'Vlad Draco', Bran Castle in the assumption that someone else would tell me all about it and i can write about it at a later date...

I can just imagine Bats flying out of here though (Bran 'Dracula'' Castle)

The food outside Bucharest tourist traps, is generally cheap ($3-10 for a dinner depending on where you go) and beer is especially cheap (about $1 a pint) The breaded cow brains I decided in wisdom to wolf down with potatoes and veg cost $2.50 but perhaps there was a reason for that. It was either that or pig testicles, and I’m not quite ready to go there yet…

Tonight, assuming I get to Bucharest and get a ticket ok, I’ll be on an overnight train to Chisinau, Moldova. I have an old guide book to ‘Molvania’ which is a loose piss-take of this wonderful nation, but who knows what the poorest country in Europe will look like. Perhaps my lack of bribing will land me in jail, perhaps my soviet era hotel will collapse under me. Maybe i'll like it so much i wont come back. The unknown is part of the adventure…

With Romania, I’m at least partly aclimatised to the vagaries of ex-soviet states. Moldova may well be a little bit of culture shock, but the most interesting goat trafficking adventure will my onward trip to Tirasapol (the ‘capital’ of unrecognized breakaway soviet republic of ‘Trans Nestria)

Perhaps I’ll decide to stay and never come back, or perhaps I’ll rot in a prison there. And maybe, just maybe I’ll have a great time.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Eating Brains in Transylvania

The strangest of days creep up on a man from time to time.

One minute i'm in London, surrounded by uninspiring zombies pretending they're part of the next big thing. It must be subliminally piped into the tube to forget the fact that they share a house with 5 other people because they can't afford to rent a place of their own, never mind buy something or get a car, and can only afford to go out once a month, or have any time to themselves to actually think or do anything interesting for a change except drink wine and moan.

Next morning i'm in Luton Airport, (a horrible refugee camp of a shed- the very antithesis of the idea that flying is in any way glamorous), surrounded by blabbering gyppos, en route to Bucharest, Romania...

Now, Romania, in most people's minds eye, is full of scraggly little brown kids with no shoes trying to pick your pockets, and these head-scarf clad women with babies begging, as their other children try to pick your pockets. On the bus from the airport, a dodgy geezer tried to sell me a 3 Lei bus ticket for 10 Lei. I think every other taxi driver I got tried it on, but you quickly get used to these quirks as you find that most Romanians are actually

a. Not brown at all - the brown ones are gypsies, who are a hated minority, due to their lack of bothering with such small trifles as the law of the land.

b. Pretty decent and honest and not really looking to rip you off (unless, of course they are politicians/biznismen, lawyers or anything in between - this is Eastern Europe after all and you, dear friend are a foreigner/human ATM)

Bucharest, isn't a particularly pretty or interesting city. It seems like an average hotch potch of pick-n-mix East European Capital city, which of course, it is. You can see a couple of great churches, some grand boulevards, and of course their beloved Dictator Ceaușescu's palace (interesting to read about his ignoble downfall, here. There is a good looking Old town, which is choc-full of bars, cafe's and restaurants and pretty much the only place to go at night (but its not bad at least) There's even a bar called 'Glasgow Pub' (which 'welcomes heavy drinkers' - what a great image my home city has)

Anyway, I got a train up to Brasov, which is a beautiful city in the mountains, and near to the home of Dracula- it feels more like an Austrian mountain getaway, full of ornate hanseatic style buildings and a pretty old square or two, full of those quaint cafe's that you see if every beautiful medieval city (although unlike Tallinn old town, the coffee is less than 2 Euros a pop)

Which leads me on to this evenings dinner, which was Cow Brain, and potatoes...more of which I'll tell you later...