To set the scene, Hamish and I had just taken the overnight train from Bucharest to Chisinau……
Disorganised & Disorientated
We arrived in the Moldovan capital in what can only be described as a severely groggy state. The hard seats had not given the most comfortable of nights and there had also been people constantly shuffling noisily up and down the corridor.
Add to that being woken by the usual border control plus the fact that we were close to the noisy diesel locomotive that was hitched onto us on the Moldovan side, and it is easy to imagine that sleep was at a premium, even if we were pretty fatigued from the night before.
Being tetchy and tired is never a good combination, but fortunately we managed to use our last Romanian money at the grey station to buy a roll and some strong coffee to attempt to reawaken the senses and improve the mood slightly.
Sufficiently revived, it was now time to find our way to our accommodation. I had pre-booked this, the intriguingly named ‘Tatyana’s Flat’. The place had been described as central, recently renovated and apparently Tatyana would be available to answer any questions we might have.
Disappointingly Tatyana had replied to my e-mail to say that she was unable to meet us at the station, but advised us to take mini bus 353 that would take us very close to the flat. She advised us to alight just past the petrol station.
I thought it a little odd that a central place would have a petrol station nearby, but dismissed the thought almost immediately.
I think I may have been attracted by the name Tatyana more than anything else. I don’t know why, but I find something sexy in that name in a seedy sort of way I suppose. I did imagine her to be blonde, young and tall and thought she would definitely make a good tour guide, especially at night!
At €30 a night the accommodation was also damned cheap, although not a bad little income for Tatyana in what was one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The station was much bigger than we had imagined, fronted by a large concourse with a busy road in front of it. We shunned all taxi driver advances and strode off purposefully in search of minibus 353. The flaws in our plan soon became obvious. We had no idea in which direction we needed to go or how to hail the vehicle we needed.
Furthermore, there were dozens of minibuses zipping along, each with a just about visible number on their windscreen. We screwed our eyes up to try and see our magic number, but there was no sign of one. In any case you had no chance in seeing any number until the bus was right upon you. We would need to eat humble pie and get a taxi.
We tramped back to the concourse, where of course we were approached straight away. I showed the address to the elderly driver who laughed and responded in a gruff voice “this is far away, why you want to go there, I take you to hotel near here.”
We declined. We had heard it all before of course. The taxi driver was after hotel commission. We were wise to that little scam, besides I had paid a non-returnable €10 deposit. “No, we go here, how much?” The driver indicated forty, which we automatically took to mean Euros. No way.
We then marched off indignantly, to be stopped again, this time by a younger driver in his thirties who spoke very good English.
He confirmed what we now feared – the flat was indeed outside the centre and it would cost fifty leu to get there (about €3). I immediately felt like apologising to the first taxi driver who was quoting a genuine forty leu fee – we must get a grip of those exchange rates before travel in future!
What to do? We decided to stick with Tatyana. We were soon pulling away from the main drag and heading into housing estate territory. We turned in just past the aforementioned petrol station and parked up alongside some very shabby blocks of flats and a wreck of a car stood on grey breezeblocks. We were fifteen-minutes taxi ride from the train station and twenty-minutes from the centre and this was no garden suburb. Oh!
I turned to Hamish, we were both thinking the same thing, “what have we (I) done booking this place?”
Regretting my lack of attention to detail, I handed the driver the piece of paper with the address on it again. It was one of the flats here, but we were not quite sure which block. I tried to call Tatyana, but got no reply. I volunteered to go with the driver to find the correct flat, whilst Hamish stayed behind and guarded our bags.
The whole area was pretty run down. It featured a couple more abandoned cars stripped of anything useful, a pile of old worn tyres, heaps of rubbish strewn about the place, puddles of stagnant water, heaps of rusty metal objects and grubby kids playing in the dirt. It certainly looked the kind of place from where bags could easily be relieved from their owners, hence Hamish standing guard.
The flat was on the third floor of the poorly lit block. The driver reached for the light, which gave out a dim glow, enough for us to see that the lift was not working. Part way up the stairs, the light went out completely and we continued in almost total darkness up to the third floor.
The driver knocked on the door of what we supposed was Tatyana’s flat. No answer, so he knocked again. We were about to leave when we heard a shuffling noise approaching the door. A middle-aged man wearing only a pair of blue and white Y-fronts opened it.
The fellow was short with a large bronzed belly spilling out from under his threadbare food stained blue vest. His greying black hair was dishevelled and as he rubbed his eyes and yawned extravagantly, it was obvious that we had just woken him up.
It soon became apparent that he had no idea who Tatyana was and he was pretty pissed off that we had interrupted his ‘beauty’ sleep. He however had the decency to grunt and point next door when we showed him the address, which was therefore where we headed.
It was the same ritual in the next block – dimly lit lobby, broken lift, dark stairwell, knock and wait. The shuffling came quicker this time. An elderly grey-haired man dressed in identical Y-fronts and with similar belly, this time augmented with shabby off-white string vest, answered our call.
We were in the right place at last. I imagined this to be Tatyana’s dad. Suddenly the sexy image conjured by her name disappeared. She would be short and fat like her father.
The curt message was to come back at twelve and no we could not leave our bags in the meantime. I managed to get a quick peak into the flat and could see that it was pretty bare. That does it I thought, there was no way that we were staying here and laying in the bed just vacated by papa, sod the €10!
Hamish was delighted that I had drawn the same conclusion that he had reached fifteen-minutes earlier. We arranged for the taxi driver to take us to the Hotel Cosmos, which LP described as good value. The driver laughed and must have been thinking “stupid English tourists!”
The round trip cost us €10 on top of the lost hotel deposit and wasted an hour. Not a great start to our time in Moldova. We just hoped that there was room at the inn.
Luckily there was. The extremely pretty receptionist (or administrator as the sign above her proclaimed) gave us a lovely smile and told us the cost for a twin was €55 per night including breakfast. After a welcome like that, there was no way we could refuse and so booked for three nights.
Read how we fared in Moldova, the intriguing enclave of Transdnstr and onto The Crimea & Ukraine (plus 23 other countries) in my book titled ‘On The Beaten Track, Travels In Eastern Europe’ available from Amazon.