So there we were, trundling along in a 30 year old German bus along the smoothest road in Eastern Europe. The black tarmac, so svelte and un-rutted, that despite the bus’s suspension being made from wooden blocks, our ride was comfortable.
Vineyards either side of the road made the scene like an idlic French painting, our progress was now swift and smooth. For at least 7 minutes. Then the tarmac ran out.
It seems the road to from the border was being re-laid, four kilometers done, one hundred and twenty six to go! We crashed into the first pothole with such ferocity, that it’s a wonder we were not supplied with parachutes. I suspect the driver, who did this route every day did it on purpose, to wake him from the boredom. I looked at the road ahead, with some trepidation, it was like the tarmac had gingivitis, it had more or less eroded from the sides inwards. This was even more unnerving because the traffic in both directions competed for the badly diseased blacktop. On several occasions, our large and solid bus was forced into the deeper recesses of the gravel pavements to avoid an oncoming truck. Scary was not the word, and the bus did not have a toilet!
We endured two and a half hours of this, before we eventually pulled into the frenetic chaos that was Chisinau north bus station. I stepped of the bus feeling like I had had an Indonesian massage, the Indonesian being a 400lb Orangutan with a bipolar disorder. Seven hours, of wooden suspension, third world roads, inefficient immigration and air conditioning that would make the Kalahari look cool had done little for my mood.
Our next challenge was to find a taxi. No I rephrase that; the next challenge was for Tania to find the cheapest taxi amongst the 3500 sitting outside the station. Sensing I was about to explode she found a deal for $2.50 and of we set for the Cosmos hotel.
I won’t go into details about the hotel, it was a huge ex Soviet monolith that more than made up for in service what it lacked in looks. It was also cheap. We wandered around Chisinau for an hour or two before deciding our room was infinitely more interesting.
|Moldova - Its everything you expect|
We checked out early the next morning and headed for the Ukrainian Embassy. When we arrived at about 8.15 we found we were, despite the early start, not alone. In fact, there was a queue of about 10 people. A rather loud Babushka was orchestrating proceedings, she told us to put our names down on a piece of paper, where it turned out, in fact, we were actually number 21.
More and more people arrived, the babushka explaining to everyone who arrived to put their names on the list. At this point, I should make it clear that she was not embassy staff, just a busybody who was also waiting for the 9.00am opening.
At around 8.55 she began marshaling people into line, Tania, always a sucker for a fight, had decided to help. The babushka, at this stage, had positioned herself about number 7. Tania asked what her name was, and it turned out she was actually number 15 on the list, a verbal sparring match ensued, with the Babushka slagging down Ukrainian and Ukrainians. Tania retorted, if she hated Ukraine so much why was she trying to get a visa to go there. In the ensuing mêlée, nobody noticed the security guard unlocking the gate. He called the first 10 people and one by one the people on the list walked in. So did the babushka. Tania was standing for none of this. She literally grabbed her by the arms and dragged her back through the gates telling the guard not to let her in until it was her turn. The other people applauded and a certain amount of civility returned. Ironically we actually managed to jump the queue by virtue of the fact we were paying extra to have my visa processed in one day. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say the embassy were quick and efficient. When we left after about 45 minutes, the Babushka was still waiting. Tania gave her a wry smile.
So we returned to the concrete expanse of chaos called Chisinau North Bus Station, where, not without a certain amount of irony, we boarded the same bus, with the same driver. I would like to tell you the journey was the same hell on the way back, only it really wasn’t. It was much worse.