If you live in Ukraine and travel to Moldova, you are warned by people who care for you. The borders are contested, they say, and crossing them can be a problem. The Moldovan people are not friendly, there is no place to stay, it is such a small country, why do you plan to go? At this point, you wonder about your plans, but since you want to go to Romania, and Moldova stands in your way, you go.
And never regret the visit. The bus ride from Odessa is through rolling hills that become lined with vineyards the closer you get to Moldova.
At the border, the bus driver collects all the passports, hands them to an official-looking man, who hands them back to the driver in a short time, who then hands them to the woman sitting closest to the driver, who opens each passport to the photo page, and gives them back precisely to each traveler on the bus. It seems everyone but you knows the routine, and you are grateful you are in the company of people who know what to do.
You pass through village after village of beautifully-organized streets with one-story houses that are well-cared for, each seemingly with a new roof that gleams in the sunlight. The houses, all rectangular tile-roofed and designed simply with rows of windows along each side, have tidy gardens that surround the houses and grow flowers and vegetables. You see fruit trees as your bus passes by, thinking maybe they are peach or apricot.
When you arrive in Chisinau, you are delivered to the front of a beautiful train station. You walk around the interior, dazzled at the architecture. Just before you begin to worry about getting a taxi and finding a hotel, a driver waves you over to his taxi. You wonder what language to use. Perhaps neither your sad attempts at Russian nor your English will be appreciated. But your concern comes to nothing as the taxi driver knows better than you where you belong, and verbal language is not necessary for communication. He talks the entire way with hand motions, and you understand a good deal of it. Very quickly he delivers you to “Hotel Cosmos”, really the best place in town for travelers like you.
The hotel is a humorous short story come to life in plaster and crackle-mirrors. You remember reading that the hotel has certain floors that have been renovated, and that it is essential you request one of those floors. But you can’t at the moment recall: is the 4th-7th floors to be avoided or the ones you should request? Regardless, you are given a key and directed to the elevator. When you arrive, you decide it is to one of the newly renovated rooms, but wonder about some of the furnishings.
You have a view out the window that helps you get to know the city, giving you a nice introduction to places you want to walk. Most people would not consider Chisinau beautiful, but you feel its charm as you take your first, tentative walk around. Just outside the hotel, there is an enormous concrete street corner that seems to be more a monument than a street corner, with steps and a statue, and that ends in a busy traffic round-about.
Which way should you walk? You let the traffic pull you up the hill, and walk toward the modern shopping area. You see all the usual stores and the glass and steel architecture, but there are also lovely overhanging trees that make your walking pleasant.
There is a group of people setting up for an outdoor concert, and people beginning to bring a dinner to sit and enjoy. You begin the walk back to the hotel, searching for food along the way, intrigued by a sign that seems to be advertising burritos, Mexican style. You follow the signs and your appetite and wonder about tortilla chips in Moldova.
No need to worry. Up a concrete ramp way, across the traffic circle from the hotel, you sit in an authentic-looking Mexican restaurant and order burritos. They come with tortilla chips and salsa, and you are very happy. It’s not that you wouldn’t have wanted a Moldovan meal, but that it’s nice to see a bit of the western hemisphere well-received so far from home.
The next day you walk toward the farmers’ market. Along the way, you see the more typical eastern-Europe cityscape, with tall apartment buildings, each apartment with a small balcony dangling from the living room. You see a mass of electrical wires and a mish-mash of vehicles crossing the streets. And at the market, you walk past stall after stall of all those luscious vegetables and many fruits that you saw growing on your ride into the city.
A woman walks up, greets you by grasping both your forearms, talks in a language that is not quite Italian, and pats you on the shoulder as she leaves. The woman completes what the city has begun. You feel you have been welcomed to a country that is very pleased to have you pass through.
Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks