Archive for September, 2012

My post-Europe ABC’s of travel post! Original July responses are in white, September responses are in red.

A: Age you went on your first international trip: I first travelled to Australia when I was 16 for a soccer (football) tournament. I fell in love with Sydney and never looked back.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Hmmmmm, this is a tough one. I’m a big fan of microbrews and have had some of the most excellent beers from microbreweries in Australia and the US (specifically the Rocky Mountains). That being said, I haven’t travelled to Germany yet.

Romania also had surprisingly good beer. Big thanks to Andrei for introducing me to delicious, unfiltered beer!

C: Cuisine (favorite): As much as I love the variety of cuisine the world has to offer and it’s all wonderful in its own way, I’d have to say my favourite is Cajun/Creole food down in New Orleans. Also, my mum’s fried chicken. But I only get that when I’m not travelling.

I have also come to the decision that I love soup. Everywhere I go I like to try the local soups if they have them. One of my new favourite foods is Solyanka from Ukraine.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: My ultimate favourite is Australia, specifically the Sydney Opera House, but as I live there I don’t think it counts. So other than Australia my favourite so far is Turkey. No real specific place in Turkey, I’ve loved it all so far (only travelled western and central Turkey). They have such a beautiful culture, wonderful people, amazing food and there is soooooo much history. You could live your entire life there and you’d never see it all.

My least favourite? Los Angeles, California. It’s a wretched, polluted, dangerous city (I’m half shocked it’s in a first world country) which has very little to offer society whatsoever. It could fall off into the ocean and I’d probably throw a party.

Favourite destinations have yet to change, though I am definitely adding Romania to my list of favourite places and can’t wait to go back! I also have a least favourite city that is not quite on par with LA, but comes in a close second. Dubrovnik, Croatia. Such a beautiful city, but the hordes of tourists and the insane pricing (on par with prices in Australia, if not more expensive) have pitted me against this city. Next time I go to Croatia, Dubrovnik won’t be on the list of places to visit.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Again, I’d have to say watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from just in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I’m a Sydney-sider so I suppose it doesn’t count. I have a lot of things that have made me say “wow”, but not so much events I suppose.

La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain. 150,000 tons of tomatoes for a giant food fight? How can you not say ‘wow’?

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Trains hands down. I can lay down and sleep on them, I don’t get sick on them and I don’t have to worry about checking and picking up my luggage. Plus it’s a great way to see the countryside.

Still trains. I really hate buses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: Sitting outside a little street-side café or restaurant, people watching, drinking in the environment and culture and thinking about all that I’ve managed to accomplish so far and what I am going to accomplish in the future.

Add being able to order fluently in the local language to that list. And learning the local alphabet (if not in Latin)

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Any desert area in the American Southwest. We stopped in Phoenix when I was travelling with a friend back in 2001 and it was a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celcius). You’re sandals would literally start to melt as you walked across asphalt.

The heat wave while I was in Eastern Europe comes in a close second.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Usually any decent restaurant in the US will give you great service. In Kamyanyuki Hotel at Belevezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus the staff went out of their way to help me out, knowing that I didn’t speak Russian (and they didn’t speak English). Rather than shrug and attempt to use sign language when I needed something they would call up a member of staff who spoke some English to translate (even at 11pm) and they also got an English translator to come in one day to show me around and help me out (free of charge).

J: Journey that took the longest: Anytime I fly to or from Australia. It’s guaranteed to take at least 24 hours in transit.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I like to collect flag patches, postcards and shot glasses from every country I visit. Unfortunately, I do visit dry countries, so the shot glasses aren’t always possible.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I just left Odessa, Ukraine and one of the points of interest that they like to push is the allegedly famous Potemkin Steps, well known from what is apparently one of the most influential films of all time (I’ve never heard of it) Battleship Potemkin. It’s just a big set of stairs. I’ve seen cooler stairs.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Everything was insanely expensive and there were hordes of tourists. I didn’t really appreciate that. Thank goodness I was with someone I actually wanted to be with or I might have gone crazy on the tourists.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: Before I can remember. I’ve always wanted to travel. I blame my dad’s enormous collection of National Geographic magazines that I’ve been reading since I could read.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Oh, I dunno. I stay in a lot of nice hotels, but they tend to just be the chain ones. The Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Mantra up at the Gold Coast. I’m not terribly picky about my hotels so I don’t go out of my way to stay in nice ones usually.

Ivo and I stayed in a beautiful apartment in Bled, Slovenia called “Villa Ana”. Highly recommended.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Shoe figurines, models, and shoe art. I also have a thing for taking pictures of staircases. I really don’t know where that came from either as I hate going up and down them.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where: I have about a million and one stamps from passing in and out of Australia a dozen or so times in the past 6 years. I also have stamps from the UAE, Turkey, EU (into Germany, out of Lithuania, back into Lithuania, out of Poland), Belarus, Ukraine, US and New Zealand. Oddly enough, I’m currently in Moldova and they didn’t stamp my passport. Not sure if I should be concerned about that.

Add to the list, Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Morocco. I don’t have a Kosova stamp, but I’ve been there so it counts.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Any of the “Australia’s Largest” stuff. The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the world’s largest rocking horse down near Adelaide, the world’s largest Prawn somewhere on the New England highway going up to Nimbin…you get the idea.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Event/Experience- New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Opera House (after seeing the horrendous structures that are opera houses in a lot of Eastern Europe, I really miss the splendour that is the SOH). Sight- As morbid and depressing as they are, WWII museums. They are touching, humbling and horrifying all at the same time and it’s important to be reminded about history and what can happen so that we don’t repeat.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Amazing food. Luckily, most of the world’s best food is super cheap so I don’t have to worry about it though.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: I was at a conference in Dubai and one night we did a four wheel drive ride through the desert sand dunes and had a dinner/dance party at a model Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert. Also being forced to stop the car, double back and take photos of a bunch of kangaroo’s when my mum was visiting Australia the first time.

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Sitting at the water’s edge in Assos, Turkey at the resort we were staying at with the sun setting, having a drink and watching the lights come on in the villages on the Greek island across the water.

Street poling on top of a mountain in the Julien Alps and slicing my finger heading to a cave for a day of caving in Slovenia.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 3- Australia (student and travellers visa), Turkey and Belarus

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? Hunter Valley Lake’s Folly and Pepper Tree Estate wines are the best I’ve had by far. Moldova also has surprisingly amazing wines. It’s about the only thing the country produces.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: Anywhere along the Turkish coastline. Also, any hotel with a water’s view balcony in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. The desolation of the deserted coastline along the Curonian Spit, Lithuania on a chilly, rainy day in Junewas also a beautiful view for my personal preferences.

Anywhere along the Croatian coastline. Also, on top of the mountains in the Julian Alps makes for some spectacular viewing in which pictures will never do it justice.

Y: Years spent traveling?:  We’ve been travelling around the US since I was a very young kid, but I’ve been travelling internationally off and on for 8 years now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:  Australians and Brits are sports mad about every sport and can turn into quite the hooligans after a match. From personal experience though, the entire world is crazy mad about football (soccer) and you can relate to and make friends with anyone in the world by bringing up the topic.


Bumming Around Bucharest

So it’s funny how things happen. The day I was leaving Moldova for Bucharest was the same day my new Romanian friends were leaving to go back to Bucharest. There is something amazingly awesome about making friends with locals. They take you places they go, they tell you the places you should go and they take you to places you would never go to unless you were with locals. Anyway, I have a habit of just rocking up at a station to buy a ticket the day I’m going and catching the next available train or bus. So the day I was leaving Moldova I walked to the station to get myself a train ticket and some food for the overnight journey. As there is only one train the Romanians had bought a return ticket since they knew when they were going back. We left the hostel for the station together when it was time to leave and discovered at the station that I was not only in the same carriage as them, but the same compartment as well! Crazy stuff. That was nice because it meant I wouldn’t have to worry about any weirdo’s disturbing me on the train and contributing to my lack of sleep like in Ukraine. And boy am I grateful we were together.

Leaving Moldova was a bit of an ordeal for me. Generally speaking it is very straightforward. Border control comes, stamps your passport while they spend 2 hours changing the train wheels because they have to switch from Soviet trains to Western trains (the tracks are different). However, I went through TransD on the train from Ukraine to Moldova which meant that I didn’t have a stamp in my passport. TransD border control looks at your passport and doesn’t bother stamping it when you go through on the train and because Moldova doesn’t recognise TransD they don’t have any border control at the TransD/Moldova border. I was told by numerous sources that I would be fine, border control would realise I passed through TransD and just stamp my passport so I could leave. What I was NOT told was that if you are in the country for more than 3 days and you’ve gone through TransD you must go to the police station and register and get your entry stamp there.  I was there 4 days… woops.

And this is where my AMAZINGLY AWESOME, SPECTACULAR new friends come into play and have my gratitude forevermore. The border control officer didn’t speak English, so they did some seriously fast talking (rarely translating or consulting me until the guy left the compartment). They explained I went through TransD, I was told I didn’t need a stamp or have to go to the police office and I didn’t know so I shouldn’t be punished. He used the ever classic “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” which is repeated a million and one times in law school. He threatened to have me detained overnight at border control while they processed my information, I might have to pay a fine, etc, etc. The Romanians, bless their hearts, told him that I had to catch that train to Bucharest because I had an expensive flight the next day or a hotel reservation (or both).  He went to go talk to his supervisor, came back and made a few more threats and then left again. After about an hour he came back and gave us all our passports and left without a word. I looked at mine and it had a Moldovan exit stamp in it! I didn’t even have to pay a fine or a bribe! Not like it would have been a big fine as I had hardly any money on me, but still. While I don’t think I would have been detained overnight even without the Romanians help I’m pretty sure they are the entire reason I didn’t have to pay a fine or bribe.

We spent the rest of the train journey attempting to keep ourselves cool (not easy when you are stuck in a metal box with no air con during a heat wave).  At one point while waiting one of our neighbours from another compartment came to visit. I young boy (maybe 1 ½ or 2, I can’t tell with children) popped his head in so I blew some air on him with the hand fan that Adina had and the poor bloke fell instantly in love with me. He kept coming back to be fanned and at one point even brought a toy to show me. I was fairly unimpressed and he was devastated so he left and came back with a remote control car (much more impressive). Not only did he decide to impress me with his remote control car, but he also decided to cuddle up to me on the seat and made a HUUUUUUUUGE fuss when his mother came to get him for bed. Needless to say, I meet the most dubious characters on trains. I just can’t seem to avoid them. Plus he was a bit too young for me, though I don’t think he would agree to that.

Anyway, Bucharest. I really enjoyed Bucharest. Maybe it was the company I kept, because as a tourist there isn’t a lot to do or see in the city. I stayed at X Hostel near the ‘old town’ and found a nice new hostel with a spacious all-female dorm and a bar for only 5 euro per night! It was awesome. I particularly enjoyed the bar because they made fresh squeezed lemonade with mint or other flavours (you just had to ask) and they had a giant, beautiful painting of the Sydney Opera House, which made me feel slightly homesick.

Sydney Opera House painting

I spent the day walking around the old town in the insanely ridiculous heat and it was pretty cool. Mainly filled with restaurants and bars, but still cool. I was deeply annoyed that pretty much all the places I wanted to visit weren’t open to the public on the days that I was in Bucharest (museums, People’s parliament, etc.). I was especially disappointed about the People’s Parliament not being open to visitors as it is the 2nd largest administrative building in the world (the first being the Pentagon). Apparently there was a conference on water security in the Danube Delta on while I wanted to visit (I would have loved to go to that as well as I am particularly interested in water security) so they weren’t allowing visitors. Now this is just absolutely ridiculous! The building has over 3,500 rooms! Only 10 rooms are open to visitors! Many of those rooms aren’t even used! Are you telling me that of 3,500 rooms, they couldn’t hold the conference anywhere else but those 10 rooms? Seriously? So annoyed.

What did I do instead? What any sensible girl would do. I went shopping! Granted, it was just for souvenirs and nothing for myself, but that’s beside the point. That night I met my friends and we went to a place that Andrei frequents and met some more of their friends. The place was called ‘Fabrica’ and is in an abandoned building that we think used to be a factory or warehouse of some sort. Great beer, great food, what else could you need!  Adina and Andrei ordered for me so I ended up getting some sort of amazingly delicious traditional Romanian food (recipes to follow). They also had a dog. The restaurant I mean. I’m a bit wary of stray dogs in Romania. They are often feral and while most are pretty much harmless, if provoked or spooked or for no reason at all they can attack (apparently rabies shots are free in Romania). I went to the bathroom at the restaurant and opened the door and had to step over a dog sleeping in the middle of the walkway to get to the loo. I also had to straddle the dog in order to wash my hands. That was seriously nerve wracking. I asked about it when I got back to the table and apparently the owner likes to take in sick or injured dogs that other people abandon so the dog actually lives there and is perfectly harmless. Good to know.

I asked about the stray dogs thing as I expect to see feral dogs in Islamic countries but was surprised to see them in Romania. Apparently what happened is as follows. Romanians actually really like dogs. The problem is, when they were under communist rule many people were forced to move into apartment blocks and couldn’t take their animals with them due to the size of the blocks (which most can barely fit people). Because there was no one to take the dogs (remember everyone was moving into apartments) they just had to be left behind. Well, at one point there were about 100,000 stray dogs in Bucharest. The government rounds them up, tags and fixes them to try to control the population and allegedly it’s now down to about 50,000. Pretty solid effort if you ask me.

Anywho, we went out drinking that night as well (not something I expected to do as it was a Tuesday) and I was told the club we were going to (very cheap and awesome) wouldn’t be very busy because it was Tuesday. The place was packed! Well, when we got there it was empty because it was early still, but by 2am it was packed to the rafters! We had a spectacular time, went back to Andrei’s place to continue the party where I was forced/coerced into drinking a shot of something awful against my will. Now, I no longer do shots. Shots make me sick, literally. I’m also getting far too old to be doing shots. I just don’t recover like I did when I was younger. I attempted to tell them this, but no one listened to me so to prove my point I took the shot and promptly threw it up. Too much information? Perhaps. Anyway, poor Andrei felt bad that he had me take the shot so came into the bathroom and was like “ummm, are you okay?” hahaha. Not sure how much experience he has with holding hair back.

I stayed the night there rather than attempt to get back to my hostel, woke up the next morning to find both my sunnies and my wallet were missing. We turned the place upside down and couldn’t find them. My only explanation is that I must not have zipped up my already full to bursting purse properly and they fell out. It was okay because sunnies are easily replaced and the wallet only had a couple of cards in them (1 which I have a spare of, 1 which could be easily replaced and 2 which I didn’t really need in my wallet.) My friends felt bad that that happened (has to happen to everyone once while travelling) and invited me to lunch with some of their colleagues (Andrei and Adina work together) so I went, had some more delicious Romanian food, Andrei very kindly bought me a seriously awesome new pair of ray bans (which are safely in Australia because they are too awesome to risk losing) and I spent the day visiting Herăstrău park. I highly recommend spending a day wandering through this park, it’s very pleasant. While we were at lunch I received a phone call on my Romanian number and handed the phone over to Adina because the woman on the other end spoke Romanian. She found my wallet which had my Romanian number in it (that’s karma for you)! Obviously the cash had been cleaned out (not sure what they planned on doing with most of it considering there were a lot of random currencies not worth very much in there). I did lose enough for it to be annoying, but not enough to cry about. Not only did she find my wallet though, all my cards were still in there! Yay!

In most of Eastern Europe, people don’t use cards except for at the ATM, if even then. They don’t really trust the use of cards so they don’t use them in shops (a lot of restaurants and shops don’t have card facilities) or online so they aren’t worth stealing for a lot of people. There was no suspicious activity on my cards so I didn’t need to worry about replacing them, which was great!

Other than that I didn’t do a whole lot in Bucharest. Hang out with new found friends at random bars and restaurants, attempted to visit some sights that were all closed (just my luck) and tried to survive the insane heat (heat wave was still happening).

A couple notes on Bucharest:

  1. Be careful whenever you cross the street. Road rules don’t mean anything in Romania and even when it’s a pedestrian crossing and the light is red for cars, there is no guarantee they will stop. Adina was about to go on Erasmus (study abroad) a while back and she was crossing at the appropriate time and crossing and got hit by a taxi that broke her hip.
  2. A note on the Roma (or gypsies as they are more commonly called). People who haven’t been to Romania have this idea that the Roma are all out to rob you of your eye teeth and they will attack you and yada yada yada. I’m not saying they never do that in Romania, but it’s a gross stereotype. Oddly enough, I was only approached by 2 children in Romania asking for money. I’ve been hassled more in almost every other country I’ve been to by them than I was in Romania. Most of the gypsies you see in Bucharest are either selling flowers (apparently they have a monopoly on the flower market) or they are trying to sell you random things like socks and underwear on the street. In general they are very poor people and most of them (from my experience) just try to get you to buy stuff from them. A polite but firm ‘No, thanks’ will get anyone asking for money to leave you alone. I did not have any issues in Romania and never once felt threatened or unsafe. As I stated, I am not saying that attacks never happen and pickpocketing is fairly common as in every large city (so watch your bag). But don’t assume they are all out to get you and steal your money, because that just isn’t the case.

What I’m reading now: Baby Proof  by Emily Griffin

What I’m listening to now: The Searchers

Pictures from Romania can be seen here.

*Disclaimer* There is a small paragraph in this post that is not intended for children so if you have kids looking over your shoulder or are reading it to them, I have indicated the non-child friendly section just before the paragraph comes up. Otherwise, the post is entirely family friendly.

So we all know I went drinking, partying and met lots of random people from Europe and America. But what did I intend on doing that never  eventuated for various reasons?

I am just going to put it out there that it was INSANELY hot, even for me. I live for days when the temperature is 30-35 degrees Celcius. Once it hits about 35 though, it’s a bit warm even for me. I can deal with it for a while until it hits about 40. It was well around and above the 40 mark during the day and the 35 mark at night. There was also not a breeze to be had. I had originally planned to go to Orheiul Vechi (still can’t pronounce it even after I was told how) and a small monastery near the area. If you are not familiar with the transport system in Moldova (which you very likely aren’t) it makes the Sydney train system look easy and uncomplicated. Finding a mashrutka to anywhere is a task that is not for the faint of heart. If you ask a local where the bus station is, not a single one of them can tell you.

I digress. So a guy staying at my hostel apparently went to Orheiul Vechi and it took ages to get there and ages to get back and was really just a wretch in general to visit in the heat. I could have taken a tour through my hostel but it was 45 euro, which is insanely expensive, even outside of Moldova. I read the same thing on a couple of blogs as well so made the executive decision not to go. Orheiul Vechi, for those of you who are interested is an ‘open air museum’ with a cave monastery that was occupied by monks for some 500 years I think until about the 1800’s when it was abandoned. About 20 years ago some monks moved in and began to restore the place. I would have loved to go if it hadn’t been SO RIDICULOUSLY HOT, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Next time I am in Moldova I will make the trip, though I will probably rent a car to do it to make things easier for myself.

I also fully intended on going to TransD. However, the first day we were going to go we couldn’t find the guy we were going with because I got us lost (how I got so lost in a city as small as Chişinau is beyond me). From what I hear about TransD I personally did not miss out on much as I have been to Belarus and it appears to be a more noticeably poor version of Belarus. I actually got this impression as the train was going through it, but it was confirmed by the people who went. On top of that, they have a currency that can be used and exchanged nowhere but TransD, to send mail you have to use TransD stamps and it is not uncommon for solo travellers who don’t speak Russian to be hassled by ‘border patrol’ to pay ridiculous and made up fines. No one in the world recognises TransD as anything other than a break away territory except for Russia who for some stupid reason recognises them as a country. I don’t get it, but whatever.

That night was when I met my new Romanian friends, Andrei, Clara and Adina. I am still unclear as to the reason they were in Moldova, but I gathered after chatting with them that they were going to a punk concert that evening with one of the employees from the hostel. We all decided to make it a group trip after a few rounds of drinking game Jenga, in which I refused to take shots, (see Mum and Dad, your daughter isn’t the partier that you think she is) so was told by Andrei that he was betting I would be the first one home. Turns out I was the last, but that’s beside the point. Their plan was to go to a winery the next day (the second largest in Moldova I think) so I was going to join them, but last minute they changed their mind and decided to go to TransD instead so the entire hostel decided to go as a group trip. I ended up missing out on this due to not waking up on time (I was out until 4-5 in the morning dancing after all). We never did make it to a winery.

So we go to this underground (literally) club that is apparently playing punk music and the band on stage was actually doing wonderful renditions of old 60’s music that I grew up on. After paying a whopping 40 lei cover charge (less than $4) and buying numerous drinks (I thought I’d spent a fortune that night, when I ended up working it out I’d spent a total of about $10) the main act came on and started playing Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started”. Bit of an odd choice for a punk band, but okay. I turned around to the other American who was with me to comment on it and that’s when I saw the confederate flag hanging from the ceiling. As I said in a previous post, really shouldn’t have surprised me. Eastern Europe is full of racism and in general most of the countries are extremely homogenous. Now that I’m in Spain I’ve had to get used to seeing a lot of diversity and anti-Nazi signs and stickers everywhere (including seeing same-sex couples open in public). In Australia or the US, seeing someone of a different race or a same sex couple holding hands doesn’t make you bat an eye, but after 4 months in Eastern Europe you think to yourself “Well, I’m definitely back in the west.”

This was confirmed by a girl I met in Barcelona who was learning Spanish at the same school I was going to. She’s a black American girl from Virginia and she said she was travelling around and she kept going East, but the further East she went the weirder it got because she kept getting hassled by people. She ended up going back to Western Europe after trying Romania. I told her it’s because she’s black and she just looked at me funny. Fact of the matter is that it’s true. The further East you go the more likely you are to be hassled if you don’t look like everyone else in their society. Issues with the gypsy’s, who are generally much darker than the rest of the population does not help matters any and it’s not uncommon for the police to hassle darker skinned foreigners which means they have to keep their documents on them at all times.

Anyway, at this bar we met 2 guys from Vienna who were visiting for the weekend (for no particular reason other than they hadn’t been to Moldova before I think) and just happened to end up at the same bar as ourselves. Eventually we decided to hit up a different club and after driving around the city in circles and discovering the club that they wanted to go to was either non-existent or defunct we ended up going to one of the more ‘upscale and popular’ clubs in Moldova. The entry fee, was a ridiculous 60 lei, which to you and I is about $5, but to a Moldovan is half their daily wage! That’s like going to a club in Sydney and paying $50-80 entry into a club! It was actually a really nice venue for a club with a large bar, lots of dance space, a stage and lots of dark corners for canoodling (or passing out if you’ve had too much to drink). I think the club was called “Time” but I can’t quite recall. Anyway, there is a marked difference between clubs in Moldova and clubs everywhere else. First of all, despite the exorbitant prices at this club (which my dance companion for the evening was kind enough to pay for cover and my drinks, such a gentleman J) the female toilets were squat toilets. SQUAT TOILETS! I hate squat toilets and I have decided that there should be a class in school teaching you how to use them correctly without worrying about losing your balance for people who want to travel. Lucky for me I was wearing flats, but squat toilets are disgusting and I find it difficult to balance while worrying about falling onto someone’s excrement at the best of times so I have no idea how these girls manage in the 4-5 inch heels they were wearing after drinking. Talk about impressive.

Squat Toilet in Moldova

*Following paragraph is parental guidance required, skip if you have children looking over your shoulder*

On top of all this, dancing on the stage were women (and the occasional man) who were nearly naked. I have been to strip clubs where the dancers wear more than what those girls were wearing. Granted, most of the women in the club weren’t wearing much more than the dancers and I felt extremely out of place in my boardies, singlet and flats, but dancing the night away you tend to forget about it at the time. All in all the night was great fun. I’d do it all over again.

*Back to family friendly writing*

So I mentioned wineries as something you can do in Moldova. Moldova has excellent wines. They have some of the largest wineries in Europe, if not the world and the wine is both cheap and delicious. I have no idea why they don’t export it more, but my first taste of Moldovan wine was in Belarus (shocking considering their ties to Russia) for a grand total of $2.50 for a bottle and it was actually a very delicious bottle of wine. Definitely better than most $15 bottles you can get in Australia.

Their most famous and largest winery is Milestii Mici. There are over 200 km worth of roads (complete with street names) in the underground cellars and at last report by lonely planet over 1.5 million bottles. I wouldn’t doubt that by now they have hit the 2 million mark. It is not uncommon for Eastern European leaders and diplomants to visit and celebrate milestones at Milestii Mici. You can pay (very expensive prices for Moldova) for varying levels of wine tours, some are just a basic cellar door, short tour and tasting, others are a longer tour complete with tasting and lunch in their underground cellar restaurant. Next time I’m in Romania (and a heat wave isn’t on and I have more money) I will definitely be back to Moldova and visiting the wineries. Preferably with someone who appreciates wineries as much as I do *cough* Ivo, Shaun, Mum, Dad *cough*. There are 2 other wineries that are not quite as famous (but still very large) and one of them is apparently only about 15 kilometres out of Chişinau. You can arrange tours directly with the wineries or you can also probably arrange them with the hostel or hotel you are staying at. Our hostel arranges tours with Cricova winery, including transportation (at a very hefty price) for guests which would have been very convenient had we ended up going on the wine tour.

A couple last notes about Moldova and the hostel. The staff at the hostel were great. They were wonderful and amazing and fun people and I thought the staff there was exceptional. The owner of the hostel while we were there was in America for some reason or other so her mother was managing the affairs while she was away and she was a horrible, horrible woman. Moldovans speak a dialect of Romanian (similar to the differences between American English and British English) so the Romanians could understand everything she was saying. Even though I don’t understand the language, I still got the gist of it. She was insulting to the staff, she was rude and she treated the employees like crap. While I would prefer not to support this woman and I don’t know what her daughter is like, I would stay at the hostel again in order to support the excellent staff that they keep on the books.

Moldova is a country that obviously has a lot of problems. It’s very poor, there are not natural resources and the people appear to be pretty defeated in general. However, it is a country that I would go back to in a heartbeat. It’s cheap, the food is excellent, the wine is excellent and I still want to go to those wineries. You really don’t need more than 4 or 5 days (if even) in Moldova to see the country but don’t be stingy with your money while you are there. You could go out for every meal and go out drinking every night and if you stay in a hostel you won’t pay more than $30 a day. Even a luxury 2 bedroom apartment will only set you back about $55. As I said in a previous post, if you feel like donating to a cause that doesn’t involve Africa or your home country, please consider donating to the charity mentioned in my previous post about Moldova, a charity to help orphaned or abandoned Moldovan children.

What I’m reading now: Baby Proof by Emily Giffin. This is an excellent book that I can very much relate to. I have no desire to have kids, never really have and that desire is unlikely to change at any point in my life. The main character also has no desire to have children and at many points in the book it gives many different reasons as to why. I don’t expect people who love their kids, or want kids to understand it, but I can relate to it so it’s a refreshing read for myself.

What I’m listening to now: No Angle and White Flag by Dido

Pictures of Moldova can be seen here.