Stephen The Great

Before I start with my first impressions of Moldova here are some passing observations on the Western area of Romania which I drove through driving from Constanta on the Black Sea coast up to Oancea on the Moldovan Border.

A vast part of west Romania has no mountains, like those I had become accustomed too, but is a plain. Much of the drive was spent gazing across landscape at the same level as myself, but unusually I could see all the way to the horizon. At times the view was blocked by the wheat and maize growing right up to the roadside, but at other times the full landscape was visible and you could even identify the meandering rivers by the corridors of reeds.

During the morning (it was Sunday) many villagers were returning home from the church morning service. There were occasional individuals, but more often couples strolling and chatting. Most notable were the many pairs of female friends together, clearly chatting about community affairs, but the one thing in common with most was that they were dressed in traditional country attire.

All along the streets of some villages were a host of bench seats and invariably there were elderly folk sat watching the world go by and, I’m sure, joining in the chat with passers-by. A very simple, relaxed and enjoyable way of passing a Sunday morning.

Outside of the villages there must be a horse for every eight people. Many farmers and roadside traders are still using horses and carts to carry their wares. There is also a notable Roma presence including a Roma market and what appeared to be a horse sale.

Shortly before the border town of Oancea the road was elevated to a hill about 50 metres high and the view across the plain was superb.

Once through the border I had only four miles to travel to Cahul, Moldova. If this road is typical for most of the country then we are in for a bumpy ride. This is our first town in Bridget’s sixtieth country (all different). It is larger than I expected, although I am not sure what made me conclude that it would be a small town. In the centre is a beautiful University building. The town centre is bustling even though it is a Sunday afternoon. There is quite an extensive market selling pretty much everything including craft items. The big supermarkets haven’t arrived yet and so there are lots of shops selling specific categories of goods, and rarely one selling a range of different types of merchandise.

The hotel is also a restaurant and café. Suitably entitled, for me, The Marco Polo Hotel is owned and run by a chap that spent a few years in London and Nottingham. He has given me a good ‘heads-up’ briefing about Moldova and the first advice about travelling to the Ukraine border and beyond. Tomorrow we will drive the 120 miles to the capitol, Chisinau.

Monday, and the journey to Chisinau has been fraught. On starting Bridget this morning it was immediately obvious that something was wrong. She wasn’t running smoothly and she was smoking. I switched off the ignition and pulled out the spark plugs; they were very sooty. This was so sudden I didn’t think it was likely to be the carbs or timing as these usually start gradually and so give you some warning. I decided to drive off, fill up with fuel at the first garage and see how things went. The thought did go through my mind that (a) it might be as a result of the E10 fuel we’ve been using throughout Romania and possible North Macedonia and Greece. In the two latter countries the pumps weren’t marked with the ethanol content and the attendants didn’t understand my questions; (b) yesterday I ran the fuel level lower than usual, so could there be some dirt in the tank or fuel-line.

Anyway I filled up, this time definitely with E5 and we set off. My focus immediately switched from Bridget’s engine note to the condition of the roads. The first four miles yesterday were bad, but I had rather expected them to improve, particularly on the main roads between cities. On the newer surfaces the 44 tonners driving on very soft hot roads has caused massive ‘waving’ i.e. deep ruts flanked by steep humps. This happens when the weight of the big trucks is uneven, such as during heavy breaking or if the nearside wheels drop off the roadside, then return. Some of the humps are a good 9 inches higher than the road surface and act in the same way as a speed hump to Bridget.

The older road surfaces, of which there is a great deal, are just breaking up. The Moldovan authorities have started to address the problem as they will be required to improve the infrastructure nationally before gaining membership of the EU. Along a distance of some fifty miles there are considerable resurfacing works being done. As I have so often found in other countries, there doesn’t appear to be a logical approach to the works. To me, if you have a ninety mile road that needs completely resurfacing I would start at one end and work my way to the other. Another approach would be to select the worst worn sections and do those first and then move on to the next, but that is not what the authorities have done here. You get a mile, or half mile, section with works, then a one or two mile section where nothing is happening. Some of these sections were comparable to the road conditions I found so commonly in India and which I labelled the worst in the world.

All-in-all not a good scenario, but fortunately we were only travelling 110 miles. By the time we arrived in Chisinau Bridgets engine was running normally again, so I am assuming it was either a fuel supply problem or possibly the distributor moved slightly causing the problem and has during the day moved back. Tomorrow I will check to ensure it is tight. I will continue north the day after tomorrow and see how it behaves as I have no intention of crossing the border if there is a mechanical problem.

Constanta Chisinau

I have spent a day and a half exploring Chisinau and like so many cities it is a dichotomy of the EU and communist era culture. Many of the buildings were once beautiful in an architectural way, but have been neglected and therefore fallen into decay. The main street that passes the Parliament building and is Chisinau’s equivalent to Oxford Street, is well maintained, and has all the buildings one would expect of a capital, an Opera House, National Theatre, Academy of Music, etc., and cheek by joule shopping, restaurants and cafes. However, as soon as you turn away from the main thoroughfare the road surfaces are poor and the pavements so broken-up that it is similar to walking on mountain tracks. Steps down to underpasses are broken and strewn with debris to a point that in most European cities they would be closed to the public for safety reasons. But, with all of that I liked the place.

The Moldovan people appear to be much happier than many of the Balkan countries. They smile a lot and appear happy, accepting life with all its shortcomings. The impression is that they appreciate that they are free to live their life the way they want and that they can always move somewhere else in Europe if they wish too. Most are happy to stay.

Tomorrow, I move on to Siret back in Romania. It is a border town with Ukraine. Although this was not the plan, none of the Moldovan towns close to the border have any accommodation available. I plan to stay two nights to assess the situation and explore the possibility of crossing into North-western Ukraine. This is conditional on Bridget being fully functional.

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