Well on Friday 14th October 2005. I hit the jackpot and had one of “those days”. A simply magical 19½ hour day.
Up at 05:30 and out into the pitch black. There are no street lights. Just managed to find the bus station even though it was only 200m away and guarded by a pack of dogs (no problem). Only to find the bus I wanted had left at 05:20. Never mind. The minibus drivers came to the rescue again and put me on the next bus to Chisinau and dropped me off free of charge at a suitable road junction. Now completely dark and eerily silent in the middle of nowhere. Waited to hitch a lift while it got light. Approached my man in his car offering to take me to the Trebujeni (an old historic cave monastery I wanted to see) for 50 Lei. Far too expensive so I waited and waited, nearly 2 hours passed and more people joined me and the taxi driver bargained himself down to 10lei a person for a full car of 6. Off we went. I was dropped off and I walked the last 4Km in the cold with the morning mist clearing. The great thing about most Moldovan rural roads is that they are lined with trees, 2 of which are walnut and apple, so whenever you get hungry you can stop and have a quick snack. What a superb sight awaited me when I got to the descent to the Monastery.
Poking above the mist were the spires of the church, great photo. Walked down the steep slope and then around the small village. I was given 2 glasses of wine and some home made cake by a family who were removing corn from the stems after their harvest. Much fun as we tried to chat in Russian. I was then befriended by a young lady (Christina) who spoke good English and showed me around the Cave monastery which is a working church and a service was underway whilst I looked around. She also told me a heart warming story of how she escaped a forced trip to Italy. She then had words with her mother who invited me back to have lunch with all the nuns. Loads of fresh home made soup, bread, grapes, sweets …etc. They told me how lucky I was to travel and wished me well. I also had time to myself to just take in this scenery which seemed to become strangely more impressive the longer I stopped there. Its the USSR landscape thing again. “Haunting” is word used by many to describe it. I have thought long and hard and cannot better it. There is definitely an undercurrent of something going on though.
The family then organized me a lift back to the T junction I was dropped off at this morning. Where, within a couple of minutes I got a minibus back to Chisinau. I got there at 15:35. Yet another friendly minibus driver helped me find the ticket window and the stand for my bus to Iasi in Romania. Established it was at 19:00. Not to worry its was Moldova’s national day. Main street closed and thronging with thousands of people. Everybody out and about eating from the many stalls and just gently ambling along taking in the happy atmosphere and listening to the many stages for music that had been set up. I joined in and celebrated with them.
Got to the bus stat.0ion at 18:45 and bought my ticket (50lei cheaper than I was quoted earlier). Lots of men in black leather jackets looking very shifty indeed. Group of Brits on there but I did not have much to do with them. Young girl (late teens early twenties) got on with one of the men in black leather jackets. They arrived separately but seemed to join up. A bag was was passed to the young girl and much talking was done on a number of mobiles phones (Everybody here seems to have one with all the phone shops to go with them). He then spent the 3 hour journey to the Moldovan/Romanian border chatting to her (reassuring her?). On the way to the border we stropped as a car flashed its headlight. Lockers were opened and then closed a while later, nobody got on the bus!! What was loaded??? We then swapped drivers the one that had been driving came and sat with the passengers and chatted to the man in the jacket. Moldovan border was a formality. However, a lot of questions were asked of the Moldovan citizens by passport control. Including the young girl who produced a document when requested, you guessed it. From the bag she had been given.
On arriving at Iasi I was dropped off about 11:30, found my bearings and headed to the hotel via some wrong directions given by group out on the town. When I got to the hotel it was 12:00 and full. It appears it was the saints day of Romania and it is celebrated in the Cathedral in the city by people from all over Romania. She then tried telephoning 4 other hotels and got the “we are full” message. She then made one last attempt at another hotel (Hotel Ceramica) which she had to phone directory inquiries for the telephone number. Sure enough, they had one room left. She then telephoned a taxi for me as it was a little way out of town. Got there paid the 100lei and had a celebratory beer before a well earned rest in a super room. Far removed from the Hotel Cardu where I started the day. That had no running water at all, including the toilet and the décor had not been updated since the late 50’s, It oozed Soviet atmosphere from every poor and I wouldn’t have swapped it though. The Hotel Ceramica however, was freshly decorated, clean tidy, TV, huge bathroom with running water.
I don’t think the impact of Friday really hit me until the following day walking around Iasi with the thousands of other people. Just to have got a room was a near miracle. I must have been running on pure adrenalin by the end of evening, though I had no idea at the time.
It really touched every emotion and goes to the very core of why I travel in the first place. To experience life with days like that. I interacted with so many people who were kind and friendly towards me, the minibus drivers, the family harvesting corn, Christina and the nuns, and the lady at the hotel in Iasi, the list is endless. Also the darker side and the tentacles of the Russian mafia which seem to extend everywhere. What we smuggled in the lockers, I have no idea, I just hope the young girl who was obviously leaving the country is safe and well.
Is it luck, fate or is somebody looking after me?