Our first day of tourism in the former Soviet Union turned out to be relatively uneventful – the real stories of corruption and mafia (of which there were many) didn’t commence until the following day, when we began making our way East towards Ukraine.
For those familiar with the region, you probably already know where I’m talking about. For everyone else…well, here are some of my observations from Chişinău:
1) Their national cellphone carrier is called MoldCell. For some reason I find that particularly hilarious 😆
2) Unsurprisingly, most things in Moldova are insanely cheap. Like, 6 euros for two entire pizzas in a sit-down restaurant. A ride in a minitaxi from one end of town to the other will set you back somewhere around 20 cents.
3) Perhaps I was more sensitive than normal because of my sore throat, but one thing I really noticed when walking around was the apparent lack of emissions regulations. At times I felt like I was sitting in the smoking section of a 1980’s restaurant – and keep in mind, I’ve spent months traveling in China…
4) Personally, I was looking forwards to witnessing scenes of Russian mafia cruising around in Monaco-style sportscars mentioned in the previous post – but I just didn’t see them. Perhaps it’s a phenomenon that’s limited to only certain parts of town and only during certain times of day, but in my estimation, much of what I saw felt a lot more like the train station areas of Romania than the streets of Monaco – the big difference being that while Romania’s station areas may’ve been a bit shady, its main walking squares were as pristine and welcoming as anywhere. Here in Chişinău, I don’t think either of us would’ve felt entirely comfortable roaming around alone at night.
…But maybe that’s a bit of an unfair notion, coming more from what I read than what I actually experienced – indeed, most of the people we encountered were extremely friendly and helpful. I guess it’s just hard to ignore the fact that virtually everything I read about Moldova mentioned something about civil war, breakaway republics, organized crime, arms dealing, human trafficking, or a curious return to communism. And human traffickers aren’t exactly the kinds of people I want to find myself asking for directions on an abandoned road in a distant Eastern-bloc country.
5) Although Lonely Planet did warn about Chişinău’s relative lack of traditional tourist attractions, I was quite surprised at just how few there really were – a statue here, a government building there – even those mentioned weren’t really all that special. Most of the “must-see” buildings were about on par with your average apartment block in Paris, so after just a few hours’ amble around the city center I was already feeling like I’d covered it all.
…But we did pretty much expect this coming in – for as uninteresting as Chişinău’s monuments may be, its real attraction comes from its culture, people, and nightlife. And you all know how much Peder and I love good nightlife 😉
So knowing that we had another long evening ahead of us, after wrapping up our quick tour of the city we split up so I could return to the room for a couple hours’ rest. I was hoping that a short nap would help push me back towards health, and if I was lucky maybe I’d even find some time to catch up on computer work (on which I was now falling disturbingly behind; since Belgrade we haven’t had any Internet at all, many nights – i.e. those spent on trains – without even an outlet to charge my laptop).
Then, shortly after he returned to the room around 9 or 10pm, we once again headed out.
Moldova’s nightlife was – well, not quite ‘epic’ as our book had led us to believe, but very very good, and I felt like the people were in general quite receptive.
One thing I’ve learned about partying is that different countries really do have distinctly different feels in terms of how willing the locals are to befriend travelers; with Japan at the top of the scale, where nearly everyone seems overjoyed to hang out with a ‘gaijin’, and America at the bottom, where most groups seem to brush away an outsider trying to probe his way into a pre-existing group. Moldova I estimate was somewhere in the middle, though I think its rank would’ve been far higher if not for the obvious language barrier – the vast majority of people we met only spoke Russian.
Our night out began with a short bit of roaming which came to a halt when we managed to find someone who spoke enough English to direct us towards the city’s main party district. Here, after peeking quickly into a club or two, we took a seat at a small outdoors eatery for beer and burgers; it turned out to be a popular predrinking spot before the locals hit up the real clubs.
It wasn’t long before we found our way into a group via – can you guess? – our bling 😉
We were sitting and chatting quietly when a girl from the next table bounced over to snatch our bunny ears off our heads; she didn’t speak a word of English, but when three of her guy friends came to join, they were delighted to encounter some of the only travelers they’d ever met in Chişinău. When I told them I came from California, one of them looked like he’d nearly wet his pants.
We hung out with this group for several hours until the place started clearing out and we headed across the street to a proper club. Although our new group was friendly enough, the girl’s habit of incessantly grabbing our ears and running away – despite the fact that we told her about 50 times that it was no longer funny – eventually led us to migrate elsewhere.
It was at this second venue that we remained – as I’m sure you’d guess – until closing, just after sunrise.