After leaving Ukraine it was into Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. The roads were as potholey as you’d expected and went up and down for seemingly no reason at all which combined with the headwind and cooler weather finally catching me on my push south made for a very tiring time. My first day I decided to avoid the main road and followed the border, which meant there wasn’t much traffic but even less by the way of people or things to buy in the shops. I was doing quite badly at y hunt for a place to sleep so already being pitch dark I stopped at a place that had a bunch of people standing in the drive. It turned out to be a slaughterhouse, the giveaway being the giant pile of cow heads that I got to push my bike past. I thought to myself that I’d take a pic the next day, but unfortunately, they’d all vanished. They didn’t speak much English, but they did have a very warm shower – essential for cleaning the blood off after a hard day’s work – and gave me a spare bed in the backroom for the night.
The next day was similar, with random hills and chilly rain causing the wonderful paradox of not wanting to ride but also not wanting to camp. A petrol station about 60km before Chisinau, in an area I’d been thinking of stopping, did a good job of pushing me on as I arrived soaked and tried to dry off. Margaret, the lady inside not only gave me a cup of coffee, a pair of socks and an offer of alcohol, but also took my cap and put it on the sandwich toaster to warm it up a bit. She thought I was a bit stupid for doing the cycling trip in the first place, and told me that if I were her kid then I wouldn’t be able to do such silly things. Thanks Mum! All the kindness of Margaret meant I could keep going, and with the fun climbs and descents in torrential rain to come I definitely took a few more breaks, including arriving at a bakery just before it closed to buy 2 litres of coke and some very sugary cakes. Finally, at 9pm and 15 hours after I’d left that morning I arrived at the flat of my Warmshowers host Christine – a fabulous French lady who welcomed me in and let me warm up and relax after not only the hard days on the road but also the events in Zastavna. Chisinau didn’t seem to have much to see, and so I didn’t feel too bad about mainly going out in the rain to visit the supermarket.
Heading south of Chisinau I could see more of the Russian influence in Moldova. The country is an interesting one, having split off as a former part of Romania, and now facing further pressure to divide in both Gagauzia and Transnistria which are a lot more complicated than I know but looking at it simplistically seemed like a case of Russia dumping a bunch of people there and then creating disharmony in the area and Russia coming in to ‘defend its citizens’, similarly to what seemed to have happened in places like Crimea. I stayed in the town of Komrat on my night out of Chisinau, and after my first attempt to find a place to put my tent up failed I resorted to the rather extreme idea of paying to sleep. My family in the UK had given me some money to relax somewhere after my time in Zastavna and so it allowed me to spend the $10 or whatever the hotel cost for the night without beating myself up and spending an hour trying to find a church that’d let me camp behind it. So nice just to be able to effortlessly sleep. I generally do enjoy meeting the people I do with my random sleeping (like at the slaughterhouse) but sometimes it would be nice to not care and just pay whatever the accommodation option wanted.
The next night I also ended up paying to sleep, but in a rather different way. I got to the one hotel in town and was told it was full. The people who had taken up all the rooms were outside, a group of Czech and Slovak environmentalists who were working in the local area on an EU project. They invited me to drink and bought me plenty of beers and food, and by the end of the night I’d persuaded the hotel that as I just wanted a place to crash (being rather drunk) that the room downstairs would be absolutely no problem. It technically had a swimming pool, but drinking heavily with Eastern Europeans isn’t a good build up to go swimming and I mainly enjoyed the night’s sleep and sharing breakfast with them the next day.
I arrived in Romania and from the border to Dan my Warmshowers host in Galati was chased by a silly number of dogs. Thankfully I could put it out of my mind when I met Dan who was standing on the side of the road with a thermos flask so I could drink some tea before walking the couple of minutes back to his flat. What a guy! I was also impressed the next day when we shared breakfast and there was a bottle of wine to go with it, because that’s just how it rolls in Romania.
One other way that it seems to roll in Romania, is a paranoid about the Roma people. I would talk to people about the route I should take, and they’d warn me about certain areas because there were too many Roma there, or that a friend had been pickpocketed there 15 years ago and so it was inherently a dangerous place or something. I didn’t really have many interactions with Roma until Bulgaria, and the next blog post, other than they’d generally be standing outside supermarkets offering to help push trolleys to get some cash – not something I really needed.
The night before I got to Bucharest I was in a town when the sun went down and finding a fire station asked them if I could stay there. The usual happened, with superiors being asked but this time the superiors said no. It wasn’t allowed but this only lead to a profuse apology for not being able to help me and an offer of a Ford Focus – the car of the fireman. I took him up on his offer and slept in the passenger seat that evening, with my bike being left at the gate where an armed fireman in the watchtower watched over it all night long. Not content with giving me his car to sleep in, the fireman brought me dinner, snacks and then breakfast the next day. This, and countless other stories on this blog, are why I stand by my belief that firemen are the best people ever.
Bucharest is a very pretty city, and my lovely host gave me all the time I could possibly need to explore it – although he felt bad about not being able to show me around due to being sick. The most famous thing I saw was a statue of Vlad the Impaler, a man who thought it was OK to put pork fat on stakes before impaling his Muslim enemies on them to make sure they were impure. Lovely. The more amazing thing that I heard about however was about how churches were preserved by moving them on tracks to other places.