We took a a taxi from Chisinau Airport to the center of the Moldovan capital. Brian suggested that for lodging we should either stay in a five-star hotel, or stay in a hostel, if we could find one with a private room. It was all the way, either way. We chose hostel, for the sociability and local feel. Five star hotels are, in their own way, all the same.
I was wondering whether we’d have a language problem, but many people spoke English, and when written, Romanian wasn’t that hard to figure out. Plus I had downloaded a phrase app, and and looked up the six words I try to memorize in the native language when I travel anywhere: Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You, Yes, No. (I know, I know. I’m actually polite in real life. Try not to be disappointed.)
We got to Retro Hostel at around 7:30 PM. They weren’t kidding — it was in a converted concrete block building built by the USSR when Moldova was part of it. Great manager, met some fun travelers, all good stuff. I guess the Moldovan Soviets felt children shouldn’t have access to light switches, or something, because they were all mounted at about 6 feet up the wall. I wouldn’t call the architecture attractive, though there was a pretty light fixture, almost a mini chandelier, in our room, which Brian said was typical of Soviet block housing. (He knows about a million more things about the world than I do, which is one reason he’s fun to travel with. The other is that he just does not give a fuck, and will speak with anybody about anything. When it comes to traveling, he’s fearless.)
We went out to go find where there action is, and what we found is that Chisinau is not an action city. Some shy high school girls stopped us to practice their English, and maybe just speak to some outsiders — Moldova is, according to Wikipedia, the least touristed European country, with 11,000 visitors last year. Moldova was presenting itself to us as a quiet, sparse place. We found the pub/restaurant main drag, such as it was. and chose someplace where we could eat outside. The weather was splendid.
This was the first time Moldova really impressed us, because we had two Moldovan beers, three excellent glasses of Moldovan wine (wine production is sort of the thing there), a salad, two sizable, delicious (!) steaks, and two glasses of 7-year Moldovan cognac for…$41.76. If you want to be in Europe for cheap, Moldova’s your jam. If they ever fulfill their their desire to join the EU, and presumably switch to the Euro, I’d expect prices will go up. But it seems like they have a way to go.
A lot of people have asked me, including Moldovans, why, of the various places in the world, we would go to Moldova. And my response is: Why the fuck not? It’s a place I know nothing about. People from different places and cultures are interesting, for a day or two anyway. I’ve seen the fucking Eiffel Tower already. I want something unusual. (And man, did we ever find it, though I’ll save that for another post.)
I also expected people to ask us why professionals pushing 50 (motherfucker, does it pain me to say that) were staying in hostels, and probably even asked myself that, but I guess the answer is self-explanatory: if you can tolerate the lack of amenities, it’s more fun. I guess for me the questions are: is it clean enough, and do I have some privacy? In this case, the answer was yes. And it’s not like we couldn’t switch off to a nice hotel if we felt like it.
For reference, my Chase Sapphire Reserve worked everywhere that credit cards were taken, and my Citi ATM card worked fine at the supermarket machine when exchanging dollars for Moldovan Leu. I may or may not have overpaid on the exchange rate. I didn’t care. I also brought my First Tech FCU Platinum Mastercard as my emergency chip+PIN backup, though I think I’ve only actually needed to use it once in my life.
When I went to sleep, it hit me: I’m in Moldova, which pretty much makes Brian and me the only people I know who’ve been to Moldova.