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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JOURNEY TO A BREAK AWAY STATE

ENTER CHISINAU, MOLDOVA

Being that this is not the first time I've been to a foreign country, I carefully avoided all of the taxi drivers at the train station. They charge extra. I went wandering till I found someone and showed him the address I had written of a hostel. We haggled a price. He got under way and I had to change my mind. We haggled a new price. When he got me to where I was trying to go, he tried to argue for more. We had a heated debate until he gave up and shooed me from his cab. Later, I realized we were arguing over a dollar. Doh.

Before coming to Moldova (or Transnistria) bone up on your Russian and Romanian skills. Or get phrase books made. The amount of English spoken is pretty slight in Moldova, less still in Transnistria. If you don't prepare, you can practice your sign language and play the 'guess what I'm saying' game. I play this game a lot.

After dumping my pack in the hostel (and locking it to the bed) I went out to search for food - my one abiding pastime. I found a restaurant near where I am staying that I got to play the 'select some random shit off the menu because it's not in a language I recognize game. I ended up with Borst. I had no idea what it was and went through a lot of confusion when I was asked what color I wanted it. I chose red because it seemed interesting. It was a lukewarm red soup with meat - probably chicken - in it. Kid of sucky.



RETRO CINEMA

Later, when I was wandering around, I went to a place called the 'Retro Cinema' cafe. They had a beggar there who spoke excellent English. He wanted money. I said to him "You're dressed better than I am!" He got the look on his face like "Well, shit - you got me there." and shuffled off without another word.

I got amazingly lucky at Retro Cinema and met up with two people. Doron is a real estate tycoon from Israel who owns properties here in Moldova. Vadim is a banker and helps out Doron with his local dealings as Vadim is from Moldova. They were talking in English and I shamelessly got into the conversation. We all ended up sitting at the same table and talking. These are some really friendly guys.

Vadim knows interesting facts about Chisinau such as the building across the street from the bar/restaurant/beer garden we were at was where the first mayor of Chisinau - Karl Schmidt - administered from. Back in the 1960's and 1970's (?) Chisinau was 60-70% Jewish. Vadim also told me that the tap water is heavily treated here and has a lot of chemicals in it. I immediately stopped asking for tap water to try to build up 'good bacteria' in me.

Vadim also gave me the address and name of a contact of his (Vadim is a 'fixer' in so far as he knows a lot of people who can get things done but I believe all of his businesses are legal) who would be willing to cash in my BAM (Bosnian money). I was pretty excited about this.

One thing that Vadim told me about was the restaurant "La Placinte". It serves 'traditional Moldovian food'. Later I sought it out and the one I found was only a bakery - no interest in eating there so I moved on to another restaurant owned by the same guy called "Andy's Pizza". What was even more interesting than the rather mediocre food that Andy's Pizza served is the story behind the business. Vadim told me that a few years back when the president was still in power, he gave Andre (owner of Andy's Pizza) the choice between giving the president (or his family - not sure) half of the business or being framed for drugs and losing everything. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. I'm told this sort of thing is normal in communist countries. To this day, the ex-president still owns half. Given that they put corn on the pepperoni pizza, this is probably a fitting punishment. Having lived in NE Illinois for so long, I became a pizza snob. Considering Andy's was packed, I think financially he's doing OK.



QUEST FOR THE BOSNIAN MARK CASH IN

I'd asked the lady who runs the hostel what time Chisinau opens. She said 9AM. The next day, I was up and moving at 9AM to go find the currency exchange guy Vadim had directed me to. Everyone else in Moldova had assured me they would have nothing to do with the imaginary country of Bosnia or it's filthy money. I headed over to the corner I'd been told to go to and found not one but three currency exchanges there. The first two were no help and refused to deal with me. Seeing that I was running out of options on the third one, I showed the guy Vadim's name and phone number hoping for a 'oh, Vadim sent you!' Instead, the guy called Vadim. They had a conversation then the currency exchange guy took me back nearer the corner and into a grocery store. Hidden in the back of the grocery store - yet another currency exchange. It didn't open for another two hours. So, I wandered around seeing stuff and drinking a weird juice (25 MDL) and eating a weird roll bread thing (4 MDL) for breakfast.

I was absolutely baffled at just how many currency exchanges are in Moldova until I got told that one of their big exports is labor - and everyone sends money home.

They have a big open air bazaar along with a plastic roofed one that sells electronics. The water and stuff trapped in the plastic would occasionally spill on people passing under it, bringing back fond memories of Derek's best NERO event ever where the 'caves of chaos' were set up.

By chance, I ran into Doron wandering around. I hailed hi and he invited me for coffee at McDonald's. So I went. I don't really count coffee as eating there.

After we chatted for a bit he wandered off to do more business on his properties. I went back to the store as the guy should be there. He wasn't and the lady who worked the store part had no idea where he was.

So, I decided to hang out in front of the store. I watched a couple of birds swooping down and squawking loudly. I couldn't figure out what was going on till I examined the humans on the side walk. It turned out that one of them was - rather painfully for the bird - holding one by the wings. He would the repeatedly strike it to make it squawk as well as piss off the other birds. This was a source of great amusement for him and his buddies. I'm sure they were all supporting PETA. I got a picture of the man with his unwilling pet.

Eventually, Oleg, Vadim's friend showed up for work. I managed to get taken through the wash by getting my 170 BAM converted to 50 EUR and 10 EUR worth of MDL's. Not good at all and there was haggling and phone calls involved but it only increased it from it's original offer of 50 EUR up to 60 EUR. Nothing close to the 100 EUR I was going for, but better than using it as emergency toilet paper. Considering what a pain in the ass it is to dump, I'm feeling lucky to have gotten that. It really teaches me a good lesson of get everything changed to EUR before switching countries.

If I were staying here longer, I'd buy a better map than the one provided by the hostel. It looks like it has undergone heavy repairs, a fair amount of doodling and the creators of the map included large advertisements which obscure many important areas and part or all of various street names. I carried it around for a couple days because the hostel owner had gone through such trouble to get it for me. I didn't want to hurt her feelings. Eventually, I quietly returned it claiming I've memorized the city.

I'm also wanting a better compass. Who the fuck wouldn't mark which direction was north? Really? I go through phases where I think it's the red arrow. Later it's the green arrow. Still later it's neither.

I decided it would be nifty to go watch 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4' in 3D at the local movie theater. It would be kind of cool when someone said "Have you ever seen this move?" to be able to say "Yes, in Moldova." I went to the movie theater a couple different times during the same day and got to listen to a lady trying to tell me Russian is an 'international language' and that is why the movie is dubbed in Russian. Holy hell. Talk about stripping the personalities from the actors. I don't watch any movies that are dubbed - subtitles are much better. Apparently, all of the movies in this country are dubbed. I'm so out of here.

On 'international languages' - because a large portion of the population of the planet speaks a language (like Chinese) it doesn't mean it's an 'international language'. There is only one 'international language' and you're reading the blog in it. Welcome to 'being educated'. Unless you are a native English speaker - then 'welcome to being lucky'.



MISCELLANEOUS STUFF I LEARNED ABOUT MOLDOVA

Half of the country is communist, half is democratic. Due to the weird way that they have their system set up where you need a certain percentage of the vote (I think 55%) for the president rather than just a simple majority, they have had no president for the last two years.

They don't stand in line or 'que' well. They are actually quite petulant about it. If you aren't crowded in close to the person behind the counter you are trying to get help from, others nearby may assume you just don't want help badly enough and will cut in front of you. It worked better after I learned I needed to fill the space and throw others evil 'I'm fucking busy here' looks.

Chisinau is pretty much a gritty, newly emerging city - or appears to me to be that way economically. The amount of English spoken here is pretty bad. My daydreams of heading into the outlying villages to teach English went the fuck away after I got bored with their main city in just a couple days.

In the last few countries I've been in, I've asked men (when women were not present) what is best about your country and often the men said 'all of the pretty women in our country'. This is interesting. I have yet to encounter any country where someone says "Our women are hideous. Women from country X are much more beautiful." Not sure what. For me personally, pretty women are not a huge draw. Unless I'm getting directions from them, they pretty much ignore me. So I care about them...why?



THE MOLDAVIAN RESPONSE

Since I have to ask for directions quite a lot, I've had ample opportunity to study what I term the 'Moldavian Response' to a request in English for help.

Response 1: Put up hands palm outward, wave wildly while shaking head and hurrying off. I call this the "Don't talk to me, I don't want a file with the KGB!" response.

Response 2: Tell you anything you want to know - in either Russian or Romanian.

Response 3: Tell you what you want in English - usually horrible English but getting the point across is all that matters.

Response 4: Take you to the place you are trying to get to. This small percentage is what makes these people special.



MY FIRST 'BREAK AWAY STATE' - TRANSNISTRIA

It's looking like tomorrow (Wednesday) I'm leaving Moldova and headed to Odessa. I wanted to head over to Transnistria to check it out before I went.

My good luck was in full swing as I met a guy named Stan on the bus over there. He was literally sitting right next to me so that I didn't have to do my 'American thing' of yelling over a few rows to talk to him. Or maybe it's a 'Logan thing'. Either way.

This guy works for the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and was knowledgeable in lots of areas, especially those dealing with his country of Transnistria.

Some facts he shared with me in no particular order:

Transnistria is pretty much owned lock stock and barrel by the ruling party (or relatives thereof) via the 'Sheriff' company. They own everything from the internet access, phones, grocery stores, etc. They make an assload of money.

Stan told me that this is a 'garden area' due to it's temperate climate. Because of this, the Soviets decided to make a bunch of factories here. I don't get that, but whatever. The Soviets then sent all of the raw materials here to be processed at the factories. A few years ago, whoever was in power as president said something along the lines of "We don't need these factories - we can buy it from China for less." Economically, this is a WTF are you thinking move. Apparently, things cost double from China, the quality is shit and all of those jobs were lost.

Moldova use to be one of the richest countries in Europe and now it's one of the poorest. I asked Stan why and he told me 'mismanagement'. The people in power are trying to get personal wealth, not help their country.

Sadly, Stan had to get off the bus in the city center. I wanted to be able to leave the city so I had to ride the bus on to the bus station so that I would know where it was. When I got to the bus station, I also took a picture of it so that I could harass locals into telling me where it was by pointing at it and being insistent they tell me. I figured if I was really lucky, I'd be tailed by the KGB and get assigned an agent who spoke English so I could make him into my unpaid tour guide. That didn't happen.

Transnistria was a lot like Chisinau in a lot of ways. It might be a bit cleaner - perhaps it's enforced. I know when I was there to make sure I was on perfect behavior. They still have secret police! They also have soldiers in camouflage and a hell of a lot less people speaking English. Part of the reason they 'broke away' is because of the language thing. They stubbornly stick to Russian here. Note that I didn't expect everyone to speak English. According to Stan, young girls were my best bet for English. Boys didn't want to study English - they could get a job in the factory instead. Huh.

After getting some MDL converted into rubles (yes, they call their money rubles - I think they want to be Russian) I went looking for food. I found a pretty upscale looking place with cloth napkins and such - but not at all expensive.

Naturally, the menu was in Cyrillic. Well, shit.

I made my fingers into horns and mooed until she pointed at something. I enthusiastically agreed and she went away to get it made. At least she didn't roll her eyes at me.

I'm just hoping fish don't moo around here.

I ended up with an extremely tender and tasty stake. With a black hair in it. I hope the hair is free. It also came with some sliced pickles, sliced tomatoes and black bread. Cost, 41 rubles.

Oddly enough, they did stock Kahlua there. Huh!

For something to do, I decided to set myself a task. I would find and buy bandanas. It wasn't easy until I found out the Russian word for them was...bandana. After that, no problem. Got two for 15 rubles each. I should have probably bought more.

I then decided to go through one of these Sheriff grocery stores. It looked like a normal grocery store - other than the fact they were playing Christmas music in May. I picked up two drinkable yogurts and a think of Eastern Europe toilet paper. There is no roll in the middle - it's toilet paper all the way through. Good for carrying (along with one I purloined from the train) in your pack for those "Oh shit" moments. I don't remember 'drinkable yogurt' in the states but it is popular here. And not very tasty. I'm not sure why I keep buying that shit but there it is.

So I had those three items in my clutches and was headed through the express line. Turned out to be three items maximum. I know because I picked up a cigarette lighter from their impulse items selection and the lady wouldn't ring it up. She made it clear that three items meant just that. I wonder if that would fly in the states. Probably not. We have more choices and like to go through the ten items or less line with two grocery carts of shit.

Despite a series of inaccurate directions from the locals, I eventually managed to make it back to the bus station.

Total, I think I spent less than $20.

I would like to point out you must buy your return ticket in rubles. Period. it's not expensive.

Sadly, I discovered that I still had some rubles on me after I left Transnistria so I got to go through the pleasure of having my pants pulled down during getting them converted back. I'm glad I didn't convert much, I probably only lost four dollars of my eight. All is well.

Sadly, as soon as Stan had to take off, the place got a lot less interesting. Honestly, I was tempted to just turn around and leave at the bus station but I decided to stick it out and explore.

I really need not have bothered. There isn't really anything to see there. I think the somewhat nerve wracking border crossing was probably as interesting as it got but even they directed me (just me) to an area where I could smoke. The same guy who helped me with my smoking problem even recognized me when I was headed back and winked at me.

I probably walked four or five kilometers. For me, this is a pretty good walk. While I was walking around, I found a couple old guys with a scale who were charging half of a ruble to weigh you. Their main customers are fat girls who are busy trying to fit into clothing they shouldn't be trying to wear. Anyway, I discovered I weigh 126KG/277LBS - down from the 300LBS I had started at and I suspect some of the fat has turned into heavier muscle. I'm good with that.

I saw a decent bit of Transnistria but felt that I wasn't really seeing anything interesting. It was much more interesting through Stan's eyes.

So, I left Transnistria after spending just a few hours there. Bah. If I'd gone out to meet up with Natalya and talk to college students there, it would have probably been much more interesting. It is sad that vague plumbing problems kept it from happening.

As a side note, they don't have physical walls keeping people in Transnistria but from what Stan was telling me, there are social walls. It is believed that the rest of Moldova is 'disgustingly dirty' and people say 'why would you want to go there?'



FUCK THE DENTIST - AGAIN

I finally decided to go to the dentist to see what is up. I decided not to fuck around and just took a cab to one that I had looked up on the internet. The lady at the dentist spoke English with the skill of someone who had been forced to attend class but hadn't really wanted to. I told her that I wanted to get quoted on how much it would cost for an x=ray of my full mouth plus a possible difficult molar extraction. I always opt for the 'difficult' so that they can't fuck me on the bill later. After deliberating with the other lady, she said she'd look first and afterward we'd talk. I agreed. She wet to work tapping on my teeth as though one of the would slide open a concealed door to reveal hidden treasure. After this had gone on for awhile, I stopped her and said "Are you hoping for a scream of pain or something?" "Da" she said. "It's not going to happen. You're just starting to irritate me." She agreed and suddenly went right back to it. I swear she did.

I countered by closing my mouth.

"What are you doing?" I asked. I believe this showed a remarkable amount of self control. In the states, I would have said "What the fuck are you doing, you crazy bitch?" but I am a guest here so I wanted to truncate my answer. She explained that she was tapping the teeth again. I demanded to know if they could do an X=ray. "Not here" she admitted. Really? A dentist office with no X-ray machine? i swung my legs off of the chair and announced "I am outta here!" Fuck it, I'll get that shit checked in Odessa.



BACK TO THE BAR...

Afterward, I headed back to Retro Cinema (Mihai Eminescu 55, tel 22-54-48). Note, they have no English menu. This country is ill prepared for tourism. A menu that doesn't include the international language is about as useless as wet toilet paper. If you think about how little real work that is to put on there and how much income it could net, it is sad.

I tried the trick of making horns with my fingers and making cow noises again. The beef here wasn't as good.

I went there to have a glass of my favorite wine "Izabela (rosu, demi dulce)". It is a light and fruity wine.

I'm not sure wy cigarettes are so amazingly cheap here but in preparation for me flipping countries tomorrow, I bought a couple cartons. $20 for two cartons. Wow.



COSTS

Apple juice in a restaurant, large glass - 18 MDL

Borst soup, bread (yeah, they charge for that shit) and two apple juices - 70 MDL

A pack of smokes or a soda - your choice, 10 MDL. That's a buck, people.

A Greek (kind of, not really) restaurant with upscale prices - grapeleaves, 400 MDL. It was sucky.

Smaller soda than you can get from a vendor from an upscale restaurant, 16 MDL

Retro Cinema - glass of wine (nice wine) - 20 MDL

Retro Cinema - Greek (not really) salad - 28 MDL

Retro Cinema - shots (50ML) range from 30 MDL for Pina Colada, 35 for Kahlua, 60 MDL for Absinthe.

Retro Cinema - deserts I don't understand, 18-29 MDL

Taxi to anywhere in the city - for locals according to Vadim 35 MDL. The most anyone has tried to charge me was 40 MDL. I stormed off angrily and walked for a kilometer to another cab before realizing he was trying to rip me off a buck. Doh!!

Andy's Pizza - Pizza 'supreme' (it's not) - 52 MDL

Andy's Pizza - 310g banana split, 35 MDL

Andy's Pizza - Tiramisu Sunday 260g - 40 MDL (I eventually broke down and had one - awesome)

Andy's Pizza - Tuborg beer 9which tastes like Coors - aka 'watered shit') 22 MDL

3D movie, horribly dubbed in Rusian, 40 MDL



COUCH SURFING STATUS

So far, I've had two great experiences and the rest were either 'sorry' with words around it or set up and then fell through. Aside from one which I aborted. My current opinion on it is that it can indeed work - but you have to send out an assload of invitations.

I've sent out twelve requests for Odessa - we'll see if any of them come back with anything.



CUSTOMS OF MOLDOVA

When you are looking for something a store doesn't have in stock and wish to ask the salesperson about where to find it, assume the question (regardless of the actual one you are asking, along the lines of 'do you know where I could find this?' to actually be "Do you have any hidden under the counter or know anyone who if you will refer me you will get a kickback?" If you assume this, it makes their next answer of ignorance make more sense.

9 comments:

  1. Indietravel's most recent podcast is on couch surfing - http://indietravelpodcast.com/travel/how-to-couchsurfing/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can you give me the gist of it??

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had it pop up in my RSS feed. I've neither read the article nor listened to the podcast. You'll have to do the work yourself :P

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll let you know if I get time.

    ReplyDelete
  5. From the sounds of it from your last few blogs, you have a lot more time to listen/read it than I currently do :)

    Also Rekorderlig has found it's way to Australia. I picked up a couple of bottles (500ml) of the wild berries for AUD$7.50 at the local supermarket bottle shop.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not really - listen to it yes, download it no. Christ Rek is expensive there but it is good stuff. Haven't seen it since CZ. Though the country I'm in now has Kahlua!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh, man, the Caves of Chaos... thinking of that still brings a smile to my face.

    ReplyDelete
  8. That event was one of the high water marks of NERO to me.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Caves of chaos indeed was one of the best Nero memories I have. Hot as africa, dangerous as detroit, and good people having a great ole time.

    ReplyDelete

PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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