Did you know that Moldova claims to have the two largest wine cellars in the world? Did you know that the second largest building in the world is in Bucharest? Add interesting history and the fact that you can get good food, great wine and really good accommodation for very little money. Seems pretty good, doesn´t it? Chisinau and Bucharest are two cities that don´t get a lot of attention by travelers or tourists. They should.
I like cities that don´t tell me what to do. A visit to Paris more or less requires one to visit the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacré-Coeur…. and so on and so forth. There are long lists of what “you have to see and do” in order to claim you´ve seen Paris. You ´have´ to sit and enjoy a coffee at a sidewalk café because “that´s what you do in Paris”. Even smaller cities can give you the same lists of things that you have to see or do; ´when in Florence, this is a must´. Otherwise, when you get home, friends will give a lecture on what you missed and somehow imply that you were a bad visitor. This is not the case in Chisinau or Bucharest. Few people have been here, and travel magazines don´t write too much about these places. Here, it´s all about being there, being in the moment. You feel free to do what you want, creating your own experience. Enjoying places that lacks tourist infrastructure. Get a coffee and a beer and something to eat for the same price as one cup of espresso around Montmartre in Paris. In Bucharest or Chisinau, your experience will not be blocked by myriads of tourists following the same paths as millions have done before them, more interested walking around looking at their cell phones (while taking pictures) than being in the moment and experiencing the city they are in. Don´t get me wrong – I also take boring pictures. I love being both the traveler and the tourist. But I know why I am taking the pictures I am taking and I know the places I take pictures of. I just don´t stop for a shot and then move on. Then, you´ve seen nothing even if you have the same picture as me.
My way of doing this is by walking. A lot. I want to find things that make this particular city special from other cities or places. Those things will not be the same for the person next to me, but that doesn´t mean that one is right and one is wrong. There´s nothing like ´the true Paris´. Everyone will have their own true Paris. If you don´t follow lists of course, doing what other people have told you to do. Then you will probably have the same experience of that city as many had before you. And the same pictures. Then what would even be the point of going? What made Chisinau special for me was the total lack of foreigners – and I don´t mean that in a pretentious kind of way. No one tried to rip me off or make an easy buck because I was a foreigner. It doesn´t seem to be in mindset of people. The sheer size of Bucharest surprised me. I loved the roughness of the city – a city with concrete buildings in the center and beautiful but worn-down houses tucked away from the avenues. Constant clashes between Ceausescu´s modern plans and the old. I can only assume that it must have been an absolutely gorgeous city before Ceausescu tore down big parts of it in order to create the city he wanted to see from his larger-than-life White Palace. These are my kind of cities. I instantly feel at home. I can wander off and I don´t ´have to´ do anything. I don´t have to think about avoiding or getting into touristy parts – there are none. There´s no accountability of my time spent here to anyone but to myself. And no one gives me a hard time there because I am a foreigner. Usually, it´s more the opposite.
Just to give you an understanding of prices and distances. I stayed at good hotels, far above my normal hostel standard, for less than €30 per night. The bus between the cities was a minibus that took eight hours, including food stop and border crossing. Not too bad, considering it was also equipped with decent Wifi. I wanted to take the train, but it took 3 hours longer, and was a bit more expensive. Taxis in Bucharest charges 1,37 lei (around € 0.30 ) per kilometer, which makes a cab ride cheap. Taxis in Chisinau are about as cheap. Bucharest is big, Chisinau is small. In Chisinau the walk across the city area took ten to fifteen minutes. In Bucharest, 25-30 minutes. In other words, prices are very affordable and getting around is easier than you might think.
I flew back to Sweden after Bucharest. The idea was to get ready for Turkmenistan next week. But now it seems like that´s not happening since no visas were granted for the whole month of April. Just like that. But it might change. We´ll see.