Chisinau: Forget Breakfast
PLACE AND IDENTITY
I am from a place in Wales (or England – depending on where one stands politically speaking) called Monmouthshire, or is that Gwent? This counties complex history is fitting of Moldova – for centuries batted between neighbours Romania and Russia. The flag and language still owe a great deal to the former. Look on Google translate and you won’t find Moldovan in its extensive list of languages.
Its capital Chisinau (Keeshinev) is where I found myself in September only days after Wales (football team) played here (and won, albeit taking a great deal of time to do so). A few shirts of red or charcoal grey are worn by worried looking middle aged guys who wander amid the crowd – anyone would have thought we’d lost or did they wake up to the fear of being marooned in Moldova!?
BUT FIRST THINGS FIRST
All of the above is later in the day when there is a crowd, though Chisinau begins very differently, in the early morning. We don’t make it to a bus station, merely a road drop with no Moldovan money and no map (in my haste I’ve forgotten to download it while on the bus which had wifi). The street is a wide boulevard and the buildings broad and soviet in appearance. I am reliant on an elderly gent I met on the bus to ask directions, luckily central station is in walkable distance.
Central station isn’t so much for buses but mini-vans and is more or less an early morning market. I walk my bags a little dazed over the potholed pavements while dodging said vehicles. A sign says CHANGE so I lug my bags up some steps and through a stiff pokey door only to find that it’s in fact a bakery which is ironic considering my endeavours to locate a decent feed a bit later. Meanwhile there are moody looking youngsters in Police uniforms and exactly the kind of elderly old lady you expect to see in these parts.
It has taken a whole night to get here including two hours at the border, though what a journey, through endless images of white trees lining the night on twisting turning roads through several mountain passes with the unfortunate backdrop of Polka muzak, only on approaching Chisinau does this change to eighties power ballads such as Tina Turner’s The Best, which features a chorus melody I still rate.
STREET CAFE AND FOOD WOES
Admittedly there wasn’t too much to do but marvel the eerily spacey cityscape. There are quirky side streets with street cafes (which always reminds me of ICEHOUSE), money exchanges, a rather good Greek restaurant, a Coffee Museum that is nothing more than a series of images and artefacts but nothing that merits being here for more than a couple of days.
Another thing is how hard it is to find breakfast, I’m talking a coffee and a pain au chocolate, nothing special but a necessity to chocoholic nomads and seemingly unheard of in Chisinau. I end up with a latte bought from a huge guy running a small kiosk and a couple of Picnic bars from the supermarket (the first time I’ve had UK Picnic in years, rather than the Aussie version found in Hong Kong – sans raisins).
At night, the central city is something of a ghost town as I drag myself around the blocks closest to my less than noteworthy hostel when I come across what could and should be the answer to all my prayers… tucked behind a kiosk in a square usually coupled with excitable teenagers is a ROBERT’S COFFEE (remember Finland?)
Sadly my hopes are dashed, only a tawdry looking croissant with a pathetic streak of bad chocolate lining the top. While I think of it, there was no Starbucks and only one McDonalds – and yes my thoughts were… does the same breakfast as HK exist here? Pancakes and maple syrup would be better than wandering the streets like a stray dog whose owner has died and taken his favourite ball and bone with him. Again there’s no such luck as it’s savoury fare the Moldovan’s prefer to start their day.
To venture further along the unknown road and around the corner to Ukraine (and especially Odessa) is highly tempting yet in a matter of days I’ve heard from people telling me to avoid it and others to embrace it, though apparently not its hostels full of long-stayers. The sad reality is that following a nine country tour over two months, reality itself is calling to get back to a more stable footing work wise so westwards it was.
It doesn’t look much on the map but after three lengthy journeys overland from Warsaw to Budapest, Budapest to Cluj-Napoca and then on to Chisinau (each over 10 hours) I treat my battered body to a flight to Vienna (incredibly at the time of writing Chisinau has no direct flight to Budapest).
The highlight of the airport is that the announcements come via a pan pipe jingle – the novelty value of which soon wears thin and it takes forever for the Bucharest flight to appear on the screen. There are no air gates and while the Moldovan airline has a fleet comprising of modern airbus, I am for only the second time in 75 flights taking a fixed wing (wings on top) to Bucharest. From there it’s back to jet power for the Vienna leg.
*Oh yeah (no Roxy pun), I eventually find a reasonable breakfast joint not far from my hostel. It was nothing to write home about but here’s the postcard (see above).
**Speaking of my hostel, the guy in charge asks where I am from. On my reply of Wales, he then asks if I am in Chisinau for the match. My answer is no, but my smile states my gratification of the result.
***Tip: Spend any Moldovan currency you have as it’s not exactly on the hot list of most desired currencies at exchange places (except possibly in Romania).
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…
The Best – Tina Turner
Street Cafe – Icehouse
Caramel – Suzanne Vega
Oh Yeah – Roxy Music
Breakfast in the Field – Michael Hedges