Friday, 14 March 2014

The Missing Link: Part 2.4: Chisinau (II)

world-map chisinau Greetings!

Congratulations to Uncle Travelling Matt for passing 50,000 visits this week. The site is ever-growing in popularity and I thank everyone who visits for that. And whilst thanks are the order of the day, a special mention to Hotel Cosmos in Chisinau, one of the very few establishments globally that I recommend wholeheartedly. If you’re ever there, please, try it out. A huge hotel that’s friendly: unique.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all parts of the travelogue:



1.1: Konotop

1.2: Chernobyl and Pripyat

1.3: Kiev

1.4: Kiev to Odessa

1.5: Odessa

1.6: Bolgrad

Moldova and Transdniestra

2.1: Bolgrad to Chisinau

2.2: Chisinau (I)

2.3: Tiraspol and Bender

2.4: Chisinau (II) 


3.1: Iasi (I)

3.2: Iasi (II)

3.3: Suceava

3.4: The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

3.5: Targu Neamt, Agapia and Sihla

3.6: Suceava to Viseu de Sus

3.7: The Mocanita and Viseu de Sus

3.8: Viseu de Sus to Bucharest

3.9: Bucharest (I)

3.10: Bucharest (II)

My Flickr Album of this trip


Chişinău (II)

I was a miserable man when I arrived back in Chişinău. Not miserable because I’d left Transdniestria mind; take away the whole surreal “I’m in a country that’s not on the map” thing and Transdniestria is, I’m afraid to say, not the most arresting place on earth. No, I was miserable because I discovered on the bus back to the Moldovan capital that I’d lost £60.

“How on earth can you just lose £60?” you may ask. Well, if you’re me then it’s very easy to do, and if you’re in the most impoverished corner of Europe where £60 equates to half the average monthly wage, then it is no doubt even easier. But even so, the fact was it probably hadn’t been stolen, it was more likely that I had just lost it. I lose everything you see; I always have – bankcards, coats, a passport, money, wallets, even a car once, (although I knew who’d taken that). I am terrible at stuff like that but even so, it doesn’t make it any easier. On the road £60 is a lot of money, money that I didn’t have. I frantically searched everywhere – pockets, wallet, between the pages of my book – but no, it had gone, well and truly lost.

Seeking spiritual solace in this time of need, I walked to the Monastery of St. Tiron, a beautiful 19th century blue onion-domed building just up the road from my hotel. There was a service on but the church was virtually empty, just the priest and a layperson chanting the responses. I stood by an icon and meditated, letting the Divine Liturgy flow through my veins and clarify my thoughts. I was miserable because of the £60 yet that was only the superficial cause, dig deeper and there was a greater spiritual malaise which affects the soul with a continual dull ache of worry. And like the £60 it was all about the money. It was debt.

ML093  St. Tiron’s Monastery

My parents didn’t believe in debt and nor do I. Consequently, save for the standard student loans and such, I’ve always steered clear of it, (and even those loans were paid off promptly). But then in 2010 I went through a divorce and overnight the costs soared whilst the income dwindled. At one point I realised with horror that I was spending £1,000 more a month than I was earning. It was unsustainable.

Nowadays I more or less break even, but there’s still the legacy of those dark days that I’m struggling to shift. I realised as I meditated that this wasn’t really an issue that I was addressing, instead I was just ignoring it. I’d already been away to Poland and to the Netherlands that year. One trip is fair enough, but three? I made some resolutions, not only to forego anymore foreign trips this year but also to use my time in Romania where I hoped to be visiting a few monasteries, to meditate and contemplate more on this problem and some others such as unaddressed anger to do with corruption at work and a focus on my vocation.

I left St. Tiron’s feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Both there and in the cathedral the day before “Sweet Orthodoxy” had begun to seep into my soul in a way that it had not back in Kiev and Odessa. I wondered what Romania would bring.

And as I walked out I thrust my hand into my coat pocket and felt some crisp papers therein. I pulled them out: three £20 notes. Was it a miracle or had I just not looked properly before? Knowing me, it was probably the latter, but I felt glad nonetheless and so rushed back to the church and deposited a 20 lei note in the donations box.

Sometime later I went down to the railway station to enquire about onward trains to Iaşi, the Romanian city and former capital of the Principality of Moldavia that was my destination for the morrow. But there was only one a day and that didn’t leave until five and besides, it took five hours whilst the bus took only two and a half,[1] so bus it would have to be. Still, the trip was not a wasted one since the station building itself was a really beautiful Stalinist building, true socialist realist style where classical architectural principles are merged with the vernacular. The result was most pleasing indeed.

ML094 Chişinău Railway Station

On this, the last night of my Moldovan minibreak, I sauntered into town again and dined at a restaurant in Parcul Catedralei, washing down my meal with a couple of beers as I mused upon what I’d seen and experienced since crossing over the border at Bolgrad the day before. I’d visited Moldova because it is there, a country to tick off on life’s list, the main draw card for me being the weirdness of Transdniestria. Yet having gone there I’d found to my surprise that I rather liked the place and wanted to see more. I fancied staying a night or two in Comrat and exploring the Gagauz more, heading up to the castle in the predominantly Roma town of Soroca, or the cave monasteries of Orheiul Vechi. I liked it more than Ukraine and that was because it is manageable and understandable. Small countries like Moldova, Albania, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, I can get my head around. Vast places like Ukraine I get lost in and overwhelmed by.

Not that it had all been brilliant. Transdniestria had been, if anything, a slight let-down. The reason to head there is that it is a slice of the old USSR pickled in vinegar. Yet not even vinegar can preserve forever and leave it too long, particularly with the top unscrewed, and the taste changes. I felt that I took the trip to Tiraspol too late. Yes, Transdniestria still fiercely preserves her independence in the face of the world, but capitalism has made serious inroads over recent years and it was clear that Transdniestria – and her relationship with Moldova – is changing. Many of the flags these days, including those on all the car number plates, omit the hammer and sickle and both rhetoric and formalities are much toned down. Yes, she still wants to be independent, but she no longer wants to be completely isolated. That is perhaps why less than 25% of the electorate voted for Igor Smirnov in the 2011 Presidential Elections and why his more conciliatory rival Yevgeny Shevchuk is now in power. The Transdniestria of Soviet fantasy is no more which, whilst bad for the tourist like me, is probably good news for her people. The Transdniestria or today is just like the rest of Moldova only with a different language and flag. In short, she has grown-up.

But if that is true, then what exactly is the rest of Moldova like in 2012? Well, it’s poor, that is for sure, with a “Wild East” economy of the type that typified the rest of Eastern Europe during the 1990s. It clearly hasn’t adapted well to the fall of the Soviet Union and is not going to get significantly better anytime soon. But whilst all of that is true, at the same time Moldova with certain particular charms and enough cultural and geographical assets to give her a sure future one day. Just so long as she tackles corruption, sorts out her differences with Transdniestria and, most of all, does not succumb again to the spectre of nationalism which tore her apart so viciously in the first place.

As I strolled back to the haven of Hotel Cosmos, I saw an example of that nationalism, an advertising hoarding with a poster declaring the words ‘Moldova patria mea’ (‘Moldova my country’), the writing suspiciously like that of a Marlboro cigarette packets and the background a blue sky with yellow flowers and red grapes. On a billboard in amongst a sea of soul-destroying grey concrete apartment blocks and an abandoned hotel, it seemed more like a cry of despair than a boast of pride. Yet I know too well that those two emotions are brother and sister to one another and the former can often produce a lot more positive change than the latter which often results in the opposite. Let us hope therefore, that those Moldovans who see it take from it what I did and use that emotion to change their country for the better rather than cement its position at the bottom of Europe’s league table with even more nationalistic madness.

ML095 Moldova my country!

Next Part: Iasi (I)

My Flickr Album of this trip

[1] One of the reasons why the train took so much longer is that Soviet tracks were built to a different gauge to those of the other countries of Europe and so at the border there is a lengthy wait as the wheels on all the coaches are changed. An account of when I experienced this first hand at the Kazakhstan-China border can be read in my travelogue ‘Across Asia with a Lowlander’.

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