Border Crossing – We almost didn’t get in.
We reached the border crossing at about 9.45, I looked at my watch as I had heard tales of long waits. We arrived in Moldova 40 minutes later, quicker than I had expected, but there was one point that I thought we wouldn’t get in. Getting out of Romania was fine with two people looking inside the motorhome, then getting into Moldova the border guard asked for our passports, the our car papers, then our green card, then he asked if it was our vehicles and if not the letter to allow us to drive it. We do own the “Bunyip” but our cousin Martin sorts out the insurance and the road tax, so it is in his name. All went well until he looked at the letter of authority for us to drive the vehicle. We have never had a problem in the past but he said that the letter must be checked and stamped by a solicitor/lawyer etc. This was new to us and off he went to his office to see if we could enter the country. On his return he came back and said he would give us an exemption and we could enter. After that we were told to buy a vignette which would give us 7 days stay in Moldova, we then drove in, very relieved. By the way the vignette cost about $7.00 or 5 euros.
You always hear stories about how the police are stopping tourists and charging them for speeding and other traffic violations that they did not commit. As we were driving through a town in Moldova we saw 2 police cars and 5 police on the side of the road. We had just about passed them when we heard a whistle and saw a hand indicating us to pull over, which we did of course. A policeman approached our car and only spoke a few words of English. He looked us over asked if we were tourists and then wished us safe travel in Moldova and then he shook our hands. In response we gave him an Australian key ring which he was very grateful for, you could say it was a bribe of sorts.
The roads in Moldova
Those who haven’t been to Moldova always say that the roads are awful, and yes many are but overall the main roads are good and the highway from Soroca to Chișinău was wide and smooth as it was very new. When we first crossed the border the road was slow going until we nearly reached Soroca then into the town there was a new stretch of highway. A couple of places we had to drive on dirt road which are very similar to driving on dirt roads in Australia, corrugated and dusty.
When we read about Soroca it was known for two things, the fortress on the river and the fact that is has the highest Gypsy population per capita than any other place. On the Osmand [our offline map on the tablet] Jenny saw that there was a “caravan place”, so we set off to have a look and discovered it was an uninviting paddock located next to the local Disco, not really an option for parking up for the night. We parked next to the Fortress and there were plenty of free parking places.
Entry into the fortress was free but to go to the upper levels the charge was 3 Moldovian Leu which equates to 25 cents crazy price when you consider some of the other castles we have visited. The man at the ticket office spoke very good English and after chatting for a while I asked if he know of a parking place over night. He said right out front of the Fortress as police patrol the area regularly so it was safe. Nicolol was his name and he even gave us his phone number in case we had any problems, which we didn’t.
After the fortress visit we went to the café for beer [or two, in my case], no idea how much they were and was surprized when the price of 3 beers 500ml came to $2.80. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent relaxing in the “Bunyip” with many curious onlookers and friendly people.
A group of eight lads on scooters parked behind us and after a while one of them found enough courage to come to the side window and say hello. There were all 16 years old and interested in where we came from and where we had been. A couple spoke a little English and we had some interaction. When they left they all politely shook my hand and wished us well on our travels.
Next a family group came and we also had a chat and when they left I gave the little boy a small toy kangaroo.
To our surprize they returned about an hour later with a bottle of wine for us, amazing introduction to Moldova, the people were very friendly.
Thus ended our first day in Moldova, we spent a total of $9.00. This is how we did it.
2 x ice-creams at a service station $0.71
3 x 500ml beers at the café $2.90
2 x entry to the fortress $0.44
3 x postcards $1.40
2 x chocolate ice-creams for desert $3.55
Yes we really helped their struggling economy that day.
The Gypsy Hill
Day two in Moldova.
After breakfast we headed up the hill in Soroca, here is where there are very large houses where Gypsies live to show off their wealth, also the Gypsy King lives there. We stopped and went for a walk through a couple of the streets. Yes there were some large 4 story houses but the streets were of dirt and mangy dogs roamed. Between the “mansions” were also some very run down houses that looked abandoned. It was not what we had expected.
We headed out of town on a new bitumen road, very smooth, we hoped that this would continue but alas our destination was a small monastery called Tipara which was along a small road which got worse as we went and eventually turned into a corrugated dirt road. The place was not what we expected, it was hot and the way to the cave monastery was down a long walk. This is normally not a problem but Ewout pulled a muscle in his hip the day before and was a bit sore and stiff.
We continued back to the better road and had lunch near to a small shop which sold cold drinks. Our fridge had not been working for a few days and I bought a litre of beer and a litre of iced tea, all for the sum of $2.50,( last of the big spenders). In the middle of the afternoon we ended up at a place called Butuceni which was near to the monastery Pestera.
The monastery was on a limestone cliff top with commanding views of the valley below, we did do the walk up the hill to the church and past the souvenir sellers. As it was Sunday there was a steady stream of people walking the path. We had parked in the carpark next to the river and thought that this would be a good place to stay for the night. We put out our chairs and as we looked up at the road we saw a motorhome heading towards us, which was a family of French people, father and mother with 2 small children. They also though that it would be a good place to spend the night. In Moldova there are no camping sites but there are plenty of wild camping spots and no-one seems to mind that you are there. They were the only other people we saw in a motorhome or caravan in Moldova for the three days we were there.
During the afternoon we had several groups of people come and say hello that were curious as to what we were doing, where did we come from and where are we going. A group of people from Chisinau as well as a group of people from Transnistria. Let me first explain where Transnistria is, it is a small strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine. It is a breakaway state which has been in existence from 1990 and has its own government and its own currency, the border crossings are guarded and it is more aligned with Russia than Moldova is. They were two couples and we spent some time talking as they had a smattering of English. He offered me some of his magical tea which was supposed to help with virility, we laughed and joked together and when they left they give us there phone number so if we wanted to visit they would meet us at the border to let us in. Very nice of them but we already had plans for the next few days, they gave us a parting gift, some Transnistria currency, we in kind gave the lady’s a small koala and the men a key ring.
The night was quiet except for the froggies, no not French family in the motorhome next to us but the frogs in the river. There must have been plenty of them and they were loud.
In the morning we chatted to our French neighbours for a while and headed off to Chisinau [which we have been told is pronounced Kish-now] arriving in the city midmorning. We found a 24 hour carpark which is secure and next to the main centre of town. It is possible to stay there overnight and the cost was less than $2 for a day, we however had to keep moving as our broken fridge still needed to be repaired.
We walked in to town and the first thing on our agenda was to have a coffee and cake. Just around the corner we found a café that made a really nice iced coffee and the cake wasn’t bad either.
Walking along towards the centre of town we found the market in Chisinau, was one if not the largest we have seen, it seemed to be endless. In Moldova we have only seen a handful of small supermarkets but they still shop in the same way with markets being their main source of shopping. We bought some nuts, a thermometer and a torch. I needed a new torch for work and this was rechargeable with a bright beam and very solid, in the same stall they also sold torches that were incorporated into a baton with a tazer in the end, very tempted to buy one but getting it back through customs would be an issue. Eventually we emerged from the market and sought out a place to have lunch.
It was a hot day and after doing it rough [with no fridge] we decided to have lunch at a restaurant, the waiter spoke good English and provided us with an English menu. After an excellent meal we continued to explore the town and found the central park. This was the only pretty part of town but although the rest was a bit drab and full of communistic style buildings and rundown it was interesting. In the afternoon we stopped at another café where a local lady helped us order as the waitress spoke no English. She spoke good English as we found out she was an exchange student in America for a year, she was interested in our travels and we were able to ask many questions about life in Moldova.
On the way back to our camper we stopped at an art and craft market where we bought a small souvenir for the dash of the car and a colourful plate for Jenny’s plate collection. A busy day then back to the car park and on the road again. We crossed the border at about 7 p.m. and it was smooth going taking all up about 20 minutes. We decided to get a few miles under our belt and drove until 8.30 where we found a quiet place next to a reservoir.
We only spent 3 days in Moldova as we needed to get our fridge repaired. We found the people to be very friendly and approachable. Although there are no campsites we could see many opportunities for wild camping and we felt very safe doing so. Things were very cheap and our money that we took out went a long way. The countryside was mostly rolling hills and we also noticed that it was very clean, with not a lot of rubbish on the sides of the roads. Water wells were everywhere and chickens, geese and ducks were often on the roadsides. The roads varied from rough to new highways, we expected worse so it was pleasant surprise. The traffic was quiet on the roads even going into Chisinau, and despite stories of crazy drivers we didn’t see any signs of that in fact most people drove quite sedately even on the smooth motorways. Moldova is supposed to be the poorest country in Europe and yes you could see some poverty but the people we met seemed more rich in spirit than people we have seen in many rich developed countries.
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To see where we have been look at our “Trip Map of 2015”