For those looking to undergo the “hostel experience” on an upcoming vacation, note there are three types. Most common are the “I can’t go back to my home country, so now I work here six hours a week in exchange for a bed” type of hostels. In other words they are college dorms but their inhabitants have actually done laundry before. Next are the “your room comes with a free shot” hostels. These are what college dorms wish they could be. They host nightly pub crawls and--more often than not--small flakes of weed can be found under couch cushions like nickels. The final type of hostel is the “my family summers in Greece” hostels. We stayed in all three types this trip, but thankfully made it until Vienna before we came across the last type.
This final class of hostel, which I took great pains in avoiding, is a faceless corporate machine. ‘How could communal living thrive on such a capitalist model?’ ‘Who wants to sleep in the same rooms as nine other people and still be nickeled and dimed for all the practicalities one would simple have included in hotel or hostel alike?’ you may ask. Beats me, but all I know is that when I found out we had to pay three Euro for sheets, and another two for a towel on top of a 15-Euro cost for the bed, I was disappointed after our charming Eastern bloc accommodations where amenities were meant to be *shared*.
Otherwise, our eighteen-hour Vienna stopover met all the expectations I had. While the 24-hour roundtrip train ticket from the airport to the downtown was a touch pricy, I was happy to have a full dinner of sausages and schnitzel after a half-day’s trek from Tirana to the airport to downtown Vienna. We went out almost immediately and had to walk roughly a mile and a half to get to the Naschmarkt, where we assumed we could get an assortment of Austrian street food to fulfill my gustatory country requirement. Of the three Austrian restaurants in the otherwise Asian and steakhouse-filled bazaar, we chose the one with the cheapest schnitzel. When we walked in, and my dad asked for a table in his hyper-subtle New Jersey accent, the waiter inquired in his much less subtle Queens accent where the fuck we were from. After exchanging everything short of coordinates, including but not limited to the town, state, and street comparisons of the New York Metropolites, the waiter shared his Rocky Balboa impression (which I imagine was more impressive to the two German women at the table next to us) and gave us a tip as to where we should actually go for dinner. Up the street and across from the Opera House, our paisano informed us, was a tiny stall for knockwurst, bratwurst and so on. We happily still split a schnitzel and drank a couple of beers, but felt as though we needed to save room for our eighteen-years amiss American friend’s recommendation.
When we arrived, we came to a line of people five or six deep, which quickly came down to nothing before we could decide what we wanted. I eagerly ordered a currywurst (a food that I have become obsessed with since my evening in Dusseldorf), a cheese-filled knockwurst, and a bratwurst. On the stoop of a nearby building, we gorged ourselves on these Austrian delicacies before shivering our way from the Opera House, to the Karlskirche, and back to our hostel. Despite a belly full of pork, I expected to sleep soundly in my 3-Euro rented linens, but alas the hostel gods played a cruel joke, and I spent most of the night without sleep.
In the morning, we hopped on the train to the airport, attempting to only get to the airport the standard (or as standard as can be) 2 hours prior to our flight. However Austrian trains are swift, and within 20 minutes of arriving at the station we were stepping into the departures portion of our terminal. I was hungry, and since airports are notorious for being expensive we found a market within the airport that was somewhat cheaper than the restaurants around. For 15 Euro, we got rolls, brie, and salami and sat in the McDonald’s eating before our flight. Where else in the world, I wonder, can a person buy a breakfast of French cheese and meat for less than a Big Mac. We pass through immigration and eventually board our flight.
As much as we wanted to stay in the same hostel as before in Tirana, the one with no heat, we found a bit of an upgrade for about 18 Euros a little bit closer to town. When we arrived, we found some orange trees in the back, and I climbed up on a ladder to grab one. In this hostel, we had a room to ourselves as there was only one other person staying there, though it was a little cold, and we had to plug in a space heater to sleep warmly.
We spent the evening first at the Albanian History museum, which houses some artifacts from the Roman era. We also ate dinner at an Albanian restaurant where we ordered essentially a four-course meal for about $15. We played several games of backgammon in the hostel common room, where a guy from Maine spent nearly an hour bothering an Albanian man about his hometown, a place the Mainer had visited previously. I rolled my eyes and left the room when he started talking US politics. Life is too short to spend a day in Albania kvetching about “what America needs.” Whatever we need, I assume it isn’t some vaguely homeless vagabond’s opinions on war strategy, I can tell you that much.
The morning’s breakfast was bread, fig jam, oranges, sliced crudites, and hard-boiled eggs. We still had a couple of hours left before we were to catch the airport bus from the city center, so we stopped by “tanner’s bridge,” an old-timey stone bridge that looked like it might lead to Narnia, and a corner of a park dedicated to some of the remnants of communism. The park housed a small bunker, which Albanian leader Enver Hoxha built, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and several concrete-and-steel communist-era structures. We stopped by the “I Love Tirana” statue as well before our bus ride, at the end of which we sat for a couple of hours, exhausted from a long trip, waiting for our gate to be assign on our flight to Vienna.
In the morning I am awoken early to catch the 7:15 bus out of Croatia to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. I am expecting a small, wealthy country like Luxembourg, but Montenegro is not that. It is a small country for sure, but nothing gives the impression that it is wealthy. We drive through a tunnel and the warm Adriatic coast quickly becomes cold snow-covered mountains. Here, the language is Montenegrin, a prideful name assigned to the same Serbo-Croatian we’ve been hearing for the last week, and the currency is the Euro. The story of the nation’s currency is an interesting one, it would seem, as the Euro Zone does not entirely want Montenegro to use their currency. Montenegro borders no other Euro-using country, but used to use the Deutsche Mark in the 90s, until the Mark ceased to exist. At that point, since the nation did not feel particularly inclined to start their own currency, they just kept using the currency of Germany: the Euro.
My internet isn’t working in Montenegro, and my dad has the map of the city saved on his phone so we make our way to our hostel. We arrive and there is no one there but a Polish man who is smiling, smoking, and shrugging every time we ask him about the owner, the wifi password, or the owner’s phone number. I have an exam I have to take, so we decide to find a cafe from which we can contact the hostel owner, and from which I can log on to my school’s proctor service. We find a pizza shop with free wifi where the pizza comes in personal-sized servings and only costs a few Euro. I order a sausage and ham and my dad gets a sort of cheese-covered chicken breast. I complete my exam after an hour-and-a-half and leave to meet my dad, who left somewhere around question #5 to meet the hostel owner about our rooms.
Before I am about to take the right onto our hostel’s street, I get a text from my father, who is riding in the guesthouse owner’s car to pick me up. Apparently, the main property had been rented out entirely to a Polish group, and we were to stay in a separate apartment closer to the main artery into town. As we ascend the stairs, we realize this is likely not an upgrade, as there are exposed wires every few meters on the stairway to our room, and the occasional light fixtures do not work. In our room, nothing is different, and our room lack towels so I take a shower and dry off with one of my quick-dry shirts.
On our walk around town, we are quick to learn that there is not much going on in Podgorica. We stroll by monuments with plaques written in Montenegrin to writers and politicians, but have little context to the history of the country. More people are outside than before, but it seems more like the streets are filling with commuters, as it is a Monday at around 5 o’clock. When we return to the apartment, the towels have not been delivered, and we decide to just go out for a drink to explore whatever nightlife Montenegro has to offer. We find a cafe-bar that also has a man in the back with three copy machines, who is charging a few Euros to print students’ essays. We watch from the balcony and drink our Montenegrin beers as the man runs between machines singing Queen songs. As Radio Gaga plays, I am reminded of the hostel we stayed at in East Istanbul, and the Iranian woman who worked there who kept informing us that Freddie Mercury was dead.
From the Copy-Cafe, we walked to a “Scottish Pub,” where the bartenders were all dressed in flannel and the walls were covered with pictures of Sean Connery and David Duchovny, for some reason. We ordered Carlsbergs there and ended our pub crawl at a bar/club that was modeled after a library. It had bookshelves built into all four walls, and our table had a chessboard on it where we played a game over 16% off (?) beers. We were both ready to eat and sleep after this, and walked to “McDoner,” a tongue-in-cheek doner kebab shop where the workers were unnecessarily happy, which I suppose is where the McDonald’s inspiration came from. We got some sandwiches (which we supposed were what doner kebabs are, after getting the same thing in both Montenegro and Istanbul. Perhaps, my dad theorized, “kebab” merely implies a stick, and so the swirling wheel that the meat comes off of is the kebab, while in the U.S. kebabs are considered small skewers of meat simply because large rotating rotisseries of pork is not convention in our country.)
In the morning, we bought tickets for the 10 a.m. bus back to Tirana, first having breakfast in a bus station cafe. I ordered a prosciutto omelet, which came with three cheeses on the side, to spread. At the border, the Montenegrin passport control place their stamp on the one free page I had left, and I am frustrated that, despite having several blank corners, I will have to get a new passport for my Russian visa before my next trip.
In the early morning we board a bus from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik. My passport is running low on blank pages, and the driver goes through Croatia proper back to Bosnia’s only outlet to the sea, back into Croatia’s annex to Dubrovnik, costing me 2 unnecessary spots on an otherwise unstamped passport page. I am planning a Russia trip in March, and as of now only have one blank passport page to house my visa, so I pray I do not get that page stamped in the remaining three countries on this trip (Montenegro, Albania, Austria).
The bus traverses through the same Balkan mountains we have grown accustomed to, and whenever we step out of the bus the air smells either of smoke from a wood stove, or from cigarettes. When we finally make the leap over the mountains onto the coast, we are almost blinded by the first sun we have seen since landing in Albania. I am almost instantly ill. My skull aches from light sensitivity, but I cannot help myself as it is so bright and by extension so warm. Oranges grow from trees in the yards and otherwise empty lots in Dubrovnik, despite it being January. I try to pick one, but all the ripe ones are just out of reach.
The walk from the station to our guesthouse is less than twenty minutes, and we get to follow the harbor’s aquamarine waters and restrained yachts before we arrive at where we are staying. In the yard, there is trash and the window is broken. As we enter the guesthouse, we realize there is no reception and no heat, except for the space heater that has been placed in the only inhabited room. Here a Chinese teenager is tut-tutting the poor facilities as he wanders between piles of clothes and used food wrappers. I asked how long he had been here and he said a couple of days. Dubrovnik: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
We step out to do our tourist-y things, and end up walking to the Old Town roughly a mile away. The streets are dead except for the occasional couple, pulled in by the romance of the old Roman fortress which encapsulates the Old Town. There are a handful of restaurants and a church, but as the sun sets it feels like a ghost town. Quick glances at the menus outside the restaurants flash prices four- to eight-times the costs of Sarajevo the night before, and we are ultimately coaxed into eating at a quaint Mediterranean restaurant down an alley after being offered a free peach brandy and dessert with our meal.
The one thing we absolutely must eat, according to a preliminary scouring of the internet is squid ink risotto. I have eaten squid ink pasta on several occasions, but never risotto. We order a three-risotto sampler (which costs around forty bucks) and take our brandies and waters. I am unable to enjoy both the brandy and the teeth-staining risotto due to my headache, and we pay and do some quick sightseeing before I grab a juice at a small bodega, and we continue back on the road to the guest house where I make my bed, chug half a liter of apple-peach-orange juice, and fall asleep.
We arrive to the desolate side of town, just over the border, in the part of town that’s in the autonomous Republika Srpska territory. This “entity,” as Wikipedia describes it, is separate from the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in government. Around here it is hard to get n unbiased view of what this means, but what it seems to cause is a government where Bosniaks and Serbs don’t have to interact with each other daily. This article from 2014 goes over the country and it’s “most complicated system of government.” Naturally, this makes forming a cohesive government difficult (or possibly impossible). Ethnic groups are always struggling to assert their power, secede, and elect candidates that share their group’s interests.
The buses, however, serve Serb, Bosniak, and Croat alike. In Dobrinja station, a couple blocks from the main international bus station, the bus lines that go into Sarajevo’s downtown originate, and we only have to wait about thirty seconds for one to turn its lights on and open its doors. The driver does not ask for money, and we don’t pay him, assuming that we will figure out how to pay for the bus as we pick up passengers. However, everyone boarding seems to either have some pass, or has already purchased their tickets, so we sit quietly and immorally steal a free ride the the ‘Zentar.’ There, we disembark at the Latin Bridge, famous sight of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and take a few night photos of the Miljacka River before ducking into our nearby hostel.
After check-in, we run out for a bite and find a pizza place that also is supposed to sell some sandwiches and things. I get the house special chicken curry, which is chicken cutlets with a yellow yogurt. My dad gets a really good burger and a lot of fries, and we go back to our hostel room and fall quickly asleep.
The next morning, we realize that the only bus we can catch is a 10 am to Dubrovnik, and that we’d practically have to skip everything in Sarajevo to make it. We have a day extra to make our flight in Tirana and, while we originally were going to use it in Tirana to rest, we decided to use it here in Sarajevo instead. After an incredibly nice free breakfast of omelettes, European-style breakfast meats and cheeses, and toast. We spent the morning lounging, and at noon we join the free walking tour of the city. The guide gives his tour geared more toward the the many religions of the city and celebrates their existing together in peace “like Jerusalem.”
After the tour, we went for lunch at a restaurant with an unpronounceable name, where we split a local cheese and meat platter. I ordered the tripe, which I regretted, and my dad got Bosnian meatballs and stuffed cabbage which were much better. The afternoon we spent in the hostel, trying not to spent money and watching scratched, pirated DVDs.
Our plane to Belgrade was small, and half-full at that. We landed at Nikola Tesla airport, whose namesake I had been receiving lectures about since Moldova. My dad emphasized that, in our time in Belgrade we HAD to go to the Nikola Tesla museum. I never objected, but regardless he kept making sure I knew how important it was we went to the Nikola Tesla museum. Physics was never my area of expertise and while I know Tesla was important to modern technology, I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe we’d find out on the tour the following day.
With a small flight, our immigration process took record time, and we were catching a bus downtown in no time. When the bus left us near the train station, however, we still had a 10-15 minute walk to our hostel, which proved difficult in the steady snow but we persevered.
The hostel was nice, and upon checking us into our room receptionist poured us each a cup of honey-sweetened rakija from a label-less Sprite bottle to celebrate our arrival at the hostel. We drank happily and were ushered to our room. The hostel had a pub crawl scheduled for that night, but since I am a boring person I chose to do my homework and sleep, being hours away from finishing my first online class of the winter term.
In the morning, we trekked through the snow to the city’s central park, which is almost entirely enclosed by fortified walls, originally constructed in the 6th century and rebuilt in the 15th. Deep in the the fortress, hidden by walls and snow, sits the Ruzica church, another small Balkan congregation of the many we have come across, seemingly only inhabited by sole caretakers in the visiting hours. A lady with a mop follows us around as we get warm and observe what we can in the religious darkness, our eyes falling upon the centerpiece of the church: two chandeliers crafted from leftover ammunition shells from the first World War.
After, we go on what amounts to a tour of churches in the city. Further downtown, we find another Orthodox church, this with beautiful paintings depicting scenes from the bible on every wall and section of the ceiling, and we actually get to witness a couple of artists working. Finally, we check out another church before arriving at the Tesla museum. The museum’s exhibits are almost entirely guide-operated, and we perform electricity tricks like striking our hands with lightning and turning on light bulbs with charged hands. I still do not “understand” physics or why we are not getting electricuted, but we have a pleasant time and the film before the tour gives decent enough insight in Tesla’s life.
We ultimately decide to catch an early bus to Sarajevo, fearing that we may be stuck in Belgrade if we go later due to cold weather and slippery roads. En route to the bus station we see the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building which was bombed by NATO in 1999 to end Milosevic’s abuses against the Albanian Kosovars. The building has still not been repaired, though the government wants to do so once they get the funds. Before our bus, we get lunches of pastries filled with cheese, meat, and mushrooms, and buy some snacks for the road. When we depart the bus station I am happy to see that there are only half a dozen riders, and I get the entire back row to myself as we drive through picturesque, snow-covered mountains to Sarajevo.
At half-past 5 a.m., the conductor knocks on the door and tells us we are pulling into Bucharest. Despite a steady slumber I feel tired, and I wish we had taken a longer route so I could have slept longer. I had heard Transylvania was nice this time of year. Wouldn’t the conductor much prefer that route to this one?
Fifteen minutes later and we are in the station, shivering and looking for a place to have breakfast. The station has many options for low-cost breakfast spots with wifi: KFC, McDonald’s, and a local chain called “SoCoffee.” We go to SoCoffee which is virtually indistinguishable from any European Starbucks competitor. We get breakfast sandwiches that are cold on the inside, juice, and coffee. I do some homework while my dad tries to figure out what we are going to do in Bucharest. Early-morning coffee in new countries is becoming a “thing” during this trip (it’s also Jerry Seinfeld’s next stupid webseries venture) and I don’t like it, mostly because I don’t like early morning. Anyway I get my work done and we are off to the first couple of sights: a monastery and the Romanian history museum.
I’m beginning to grow cold when we reach the the monastery which is warm, but has nuns with large boxy headdresses and is dark, so I am ready to leave after a couple short minutes of getting warm. Our next stop, the Romanian history museum, is right around the corner. I am able to secure a student discount and go through the museum, which curiously has no displays after WWI. However, we get a comprehensive history of how and and why Romania came to be, and learn a little bit about the Roman history of the region as well.
After that, we walked to a nearby Romanian holocaust museum, housed in a former synagogue. The proprietor there went over the congregation’s history prior to its conversion into a museum and the exhibits, while small, gave memorable testimony to the atrocities committed in the 1940s.Next, we sought the now-defunct Dracula Museum to no avail before looking for a local lunch, and finding it in the city’s old town.
With the day drawing to a close, and a flight booked that evening to Belgrade, we walked north to the Museum of Romanian Literature which, no surprise, had everything written in Romanian. We were tired, and still had some time to kill, so we hung around until we decided on our next move. The airport was not far and we had two hours, so we decided to walk there from the museum, which took a little over an hour. That is to say it took a little over an hour to walk to an airport. We mistakenly walked to the municipal airport, thankfully only a couple of miles from the airport we were supposed to go to. The desk clerk there told us we could just hop on the 780 or 783 bus on the street, and that would take us to the correct station. We waited only ten minutes, hopped on the bus, and got to the correct airport. The bus ticketing system was completely automated, and since we didn’t have a bus card or ticket we didn’t (couldn’t) pay. In our terminal’s food court, we left our remaining Romanian currency in a tip jar to appease the Bucharestian transit gods, may they not strike our plane down for not paying for our buses. Praise be.
The train leaves ever-so-promptly at 4:56 and we are underway. I am grateful that the train is warm (albeit a tad stuffy) and the setup is interesting. Our train is certainly a Soviet relic, and could have been used in From Russia with Love had its decor been upgraded. OI am also thankful that this little overnight jaunt to Bucharest is not a particularly common one, at least not at this time of year, and we have a 4-person bunk room to ourselves. I quickly stow my things, make my bed, and enjoy the warmth as the quaint snow-covered Moldovan towns pass by. There is no wifi and the outlets are poor, so I am forced to do my assignments on my phone, ad then be quickly bored after the sun sets. I am tired and eager to sleep, however I am determined to at least remain awake until the border, as I will likely need to be awake for the border procedure. When the time comes, the waves of people stamping and checking our passports on each side, as well as looking at our luggage, only takes a few minutes. However, what seems to take longer is the curiously wheel-switching operation that takes place in between the border checks. From what I gather, the rail sizes vary between the nations of Romania and Moldova, and so to travel in between a pit crew jacks up the train car, removes the wheels, and replaces them with the correct size. This process takes roughly two hours, during which I wish I had a book.
We continue on and I am ready to sleep. My dad, whose poorly-made phone takes hours to charge and minutes to drain, is borrowing my laptop as a battery. He has also been nervously (or restlessly) pacing since the process started and says something about going to the dining car to get some water, which we had been talking about on and off for the last hour, but the wheel-swap process had prevented him from going. He goes, and quickly comes back, saying they wouldn’t sell to him. He asks the conductor in our car and gets sent back to the dining car. He comes back with a crazed look in his eye, and I realize that he probably hasn’t had anything to drink in awhile. I tell him how to say “I need water” in Russian, hear him repeat it back once, making a mistake in every words, and send him on his way. If the lady’s not going to give him water, she’s not going to, I figure. She won’t turn him down for poor pronunciation.
Five minutes later my dad returns, and looks somewhat less like he had been chained to a radiator in someone’s basement for a year. He showed the lady a pill bottle and his splinted wrist from carpal tunnel and was able to get a glass of water. I curled up under my sheets on the cot and fell asleep quickly as the rocking put me to sleep.
Chisinau (KEE-shee-NOW) is powdered, more than lightly, with snow, but the city is awake and alive. We brush through immigration, and my dad introduces me to an employee of the Moldovan embassy, from Texas. I know I have to submit some assignments when we get into a wifi zone, and luckily the airport lobby has several cafes offering it for free. My dad leaves me to my work, exchanges some Euros for Moldovan lev, and asks around for bus information. When he comes back, I have finished submitting my assignments and am ready to board the bus which arrives three minutes later and costs 2 lev per person (about $0.25 for the both of us). Naturally, my dad makes a friend on the bus (when do I ever make friends abroad? Seems like never), who has been to the United States, recommends a restaurant, and smiles at my dad’s now-memorized schtick about who we are, and what we do. From across the bus, I hear him go through all the highlights: traveling every country, me being a student, our most recent itinerary and future countries. The bus becomes increasingly packed, and I am squashed between wall. One may say what he wants about Metro North, but Moldovan commuters must envy sardines for their enviably spacious tin-can abodes. Fearful of getting lost, I regularly check my phone by slipping it practically up my shirt, holding it to my face, and tapping the screen with my nose while I catch a golden-grilled babuschka giving me a 16 karat smile from the seat across from me.
Moldova’s capital may not be the most exciting, but it feels the most Eastern European, and the most unique. People are happy, people are outside. Maybe the sun has something to do with it, of maybe that’s just the Moldovan spririt. All signs are in Romanian (which the country has rebranded as “Moldovan”) and in Russian. It feels as though both are official languages, after many years of Soviet control, but other Russian relics remain as well. The Chisinau train station, for instance, offers three international departures daily: Moscow, Saint Peterburg, and Bucharest. Presumably, travelers are taking these two Russian overnight trains that first must traverse Ukraine before entering the motherland, and not just the regional ones. On the way to Ukraine, the Chisinau trains also stop at Tiraspol, the captital of theself-proclaimed state of Transnistria. This tiny sliver of Moldova’s East, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet and is supposed to feel much more like the old USSR, is only recognized by other self-proclaimed countries of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh.
Downtown, few are walking in the parks which house giant arch and several statues commemorating local heroes. We plan on leaving soon, on the daily 4:56 sleeper train to Bucharest, so we head to Moldovan chain “La Placinte,” which feels like a Denny’s in that their menu has pictures of the food professionally depicted on the page, and the decor feels Ikea-esque but not quite Ikea. We st in the booth, order $1 local beers from the waitress who understands no English (I get to use my Duolingo Russian), and my dad and I struggle to decide on what to eat. All I cheap, and all looks delicious. We settle on a thin potato pastry, a cold potato puree with stewed tomato and pepper, and some of those seemingly ubiquitous Eastern European sausages with very strong horseradish sauce. We finish every bite, which is a bit of a challenge, and pay about $12 for the three dishes and two beers.
From there, we go to the only two other tourist attractions within walking distance: the monument to Leninism (still not sure if the monument is “for” or “against” the idea) and the Alexander Pushkin house. The Pushkin house and museum is a small two-building complex, one if which is the house that Pushkin lived in while he was exiled to Moldova. The other building has various original writings, letter, and pictures from his time there. Eugene Onegin was penned there, and in the museum one can find a version of the table of contents to Pushkin’s famous narrative-in-verse. All the signage is in Russian and Romanian, but for 10 lev each we were able to get a brief, private Russian tour with one of the ladies who worked there, and were lent the 5-page English version of the tour they typically give. I was a fan of Eugene Onegin, and I enjoyed the experience of going to a tiny dacha that was once (and still is, to some) in the middle of nowhere to observe some literary history from another culture. All that and the museum had a resident cat who loved climbing all over the guest book as we were trying to write our names.
This city, and this country, were not supposed to be part of the tour at all, but I was enjoying the feeling of being in “Russia-adjacent.” Nowhere we had been thus far had Russian as a kind of lingua franca, and it was cool going to a “real” ex-Soviet-type country. We hunkered down in a local internet cafe, obtained some kofye lattes, and I began to do some work while the the radio played a pleasant mix of American soul, indie rock, and 80s pop.
We arrived at the station, which seemed as though it had long past it’s golden years. Half the station didn’t even have lights, benches, or maps, and just had a large sign board with the next four departures on it, which likely never changed day by day. The platform, which clearly did not get much more than freight traffic, was desolate a half-hour before our boarding, but we found a painted locomotive that was clearly there for the occasional tourist photo-op, and we took advantage of it. In the time we had before departure, we swapped most of our Moldovan money for Romanian, examined some of the eccentricities of the old Soviet station, and took several pictures of the snowy station before our train pulled up.
Our $204 flight to Chisinau came with a catch: an 8-hour layover in Turkey. I booked to hotel close to the airport, hoping that we could get there quickly and I could catch a few hours of sleep before our flight at around 8 am. Harrassed by half the cabdrivers in Istanbul at our choice to get an Uber, and struggling to get the Uber in the first place, we finally got to the hotel and I caught too few hours before we had to catch our Uber to the airport which, I began to realize, is like the biggest Turkish faux pas. The taxi lobby is strong with this one, Uberists beware.
I don't sleep as well as I'd hoped, and I crawl out of bed a hair before 6 to get to the airport. I eat a leftover Turkish Airlines turkey sandwich (the packaging didn’t play up the humorous side of this) in the terminal. I am otherwise humorless.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.