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I have been dreading this latest blog post for quite some time now. Granted, after my last entry not much happened right away. I wound up spending a total of 78 days in Romania. I know this, because at the border checkpoint they specifically told me I only had 12 days left. Most of that time, though a lot of fun, was slightly boring. I don’t see this as a negative aspect, but rather a nice change from several months of constantly changing countries. The plan, at one point, was to settle down for the winter. I wish now that I hadn’t deviated from that course, whether it be in Romania or anywhere else. Winter traveling (yes, I understand it isn’t even winter yet) is quite different than what I am used to. But I digress…
I don’t recall exactly when my last blog entry was written, but suffice it to say that the two-and-a-half months or so I spent in Cluj were fairly routine. I made some friends at the hostel, went to a live concert, and spent a few days just traveling around the buses to get better acquainted with the city. The last friends I made were James, from England, and Garrett, from Montana. The three of us spent a few days hanging out in the hostel, even cooking dinner for some of the other travelers, then all three of us went our separate ways on the same day. Garrett went north, James went west, and I went east. But I digress yet again…
Let me try to regroup here. I was dreading writing this blog post because it has been so long since my last. At first not much happened, then too much happened at once. I guess I was still in denial about the current course of events. I had booked a rideshare from Cluj to Iasi, a city on the eastern border of Romania. However, the drivers told me they were going all the way to Chisinau and asked if I would like to accompany them on the full trip (since that was my next destination). I always take occurrences such as these as signs from the universe (also, I don’t like to say ‘no’ to any feasible offer while traveling unless I can list three plausible reasons why I should) so I agreed. Oh…what a long car ride that turned out to be. Eleven hours sitting in the backseat of a small sedan with two other guys. I almost (almost) would have rather taken “the Hunger Train.” At least on the train I would have been able to stretch my legs.
So we arrived in Chisinau at about 0200. The drivers were nice enough to drive me to the hostel. Well, they offered. On the way they were pulled over by the police on a very dark street. I have no idea why they were pulled over, but they told me that it would probably be quicker for me to walk the rest of the way. I was a bit surprised, as cops in the States would never NEVER let someone leave the vehicle like I did. But whatever, I walked. The particular hostel I chose (the IQ Hostel) was, like most of my choices, picked because of some general reference or theme that I appreciate. This one has physics equations painted on the outside walls. Two of them were for entropy, two were relativistic time dilation, and I think Pythagoras was on there also. The hostel was nice: cheap and close to the city center. Although it was the type of place that wouldn’t surprise me if they had a secret camera hidden in the bathroom.
I stayed in Chisinau for four days, I think. I finally broke down and bought a comfy winter coat (cost: 1200 Moldovan Lei). Chisinau is much different than what I experienced last year, namely because last year I met a friend that spoke English and pretty much just hung out with him and his family for a week. It is much different alone, as an English speaker. There were several occasions where the language barrier became an issue, but I somehow worked through most of them. The country is the poorest in Europe, and just walking the streets gives you the feeling of the Cold War-era Soviet Bloc. The market in the center of town is quite an amazing place to be, with people selling just about anything you could possible imagine. After four days I decided to head out to my next destination. I caught a taxi to the North Bus Station, and quickly remembered it from last year. I recalled sitting there for about eight hours waiting for the next bus to Kiev. I remember getting so hungry I ordered a bus station hot dog and threw it out after one bite. I remember meeting a guy there named Radu and talking to him for a few hours. Ya know, the little things.
This year I decided to check out more of Ukraine. So I went south east to Odessa. To get there we had to drive through Transnistria. Now there’s a story worth recounting. Transnistria is a semi-autonomous region between Moldova and Ukraine that is only recognized as a sovereign state by three members of the United Nations (if I recall correctly). However, it has its own border police, flag, and even currency. This was actually the most frightening border control I’ve even experienced. They had what looked to be Soviet police with rifles stationed everywhere. I read that many times Westerners have to bribe them to get clearance, although the bribes are generally small. Thankfully I was on a mini-bus with people from Ukraine and Moldova. I feel like they didn’t give me any problems because it would have inconvenienced everyone else on the bus. So I received my 10-hour visa through Transnistria. This is standard, but if you have a hotel booking in advance you can receive a 24-hour visa. I wouldn’t have minded staying for a few hours, either in Tiraspol or Bender, but I thought it safer just to stay on the bus.
We finally made it to Odessa around 1700. Being winter, it was already dark and unbearably cold. Again, traveling during the winter is much different. There are fewer travelers to meet, fewer hours of daylight, and some days (many days) it’s too damn cold to go out and do anything. I was walking around the city today, and I didn’t want to take off my gloves just so I could turn on my phone to take pictures. Needless to say there probably won’t be many pictures the rest of the trip. On the plus side, it’s off-season, so the hostels are generally cheaper. The one at which I am staying currently is called “Dream Hostel.” It’s only about $4 a night, and quite honestly the nicest hostel I have ever seen. It must only be a year or two old. Everything is new, the rooms all smell like cedar, it’s well-heated, the bathrooms are clean, and laundry is free (provided you have your own detergent). And the beds…oh my god, they are the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in EVER, other than my own.
They do have the usual list of rules. “No alcohol on the premises,” and even though I haven’t broken that rule, places are generally lenient if you are conspicuous. There’s one sign that reads (though poorly translated): “don’t go out drinking and come back drunk.” Now, I’ve only had the occasional beer with dinner since I got here, but if I wanted to go out to a club…are they telling me that I couldn’t come back? That’s a rule a mother gives her 16-year-old son. Well, apparently they are pretty damn lenient on that rule as well. Let me preface this story by saying that I’ve been essentially living in hostels for six months or so now. I’m used to just about anything that routinely happens. It’s the price you pay for cheap dorm-room lodging. Now I get to rant. This Asian guy (is that racist? is just stating ethnicity racist? I would have done the same even if the story weren’t complaining about him) came into the room at 0330 in the morning, drunk as hell. Like I previously stated, this place is brand new. Each bed has their own nightlight so one can read without disturbing their neighbors. This guy proceeds to turn the overhead lights on and stumble around the room making the loudest noises possible for half an hour. Twenty or so minutes of that were sneezing. Look, I have allergies sometimes, so I can relate, but take it out of the damn room! I swear you could hear him sneezing over a jet engine. Finally I got out of bed and yelled at him, and turned the lights off. Five minutes later, they were back on. Then he left the room for five minutes, came back in, tried to take his pants off and spilled coin change all over the floor. I didn’t even know Ukraine had coins. Seriously, where is he getting these coins from?
I had had more than enough, so I went to the employee on duty and said that something needs to be done about him. He is keeping six other people awake in that room. They tried to placate me by defending him? “Oh, he has a problem; he can’t stop drinking.” Yeah, he looks like he’s about 50-years-old and he still gets stumbling drunk like this? He really needs to reevaluate his life at this point. Okay, I’m done storytelling. I’m done. It’s over; I’m done. The whole situation lasted about an hour and a half. The staff were nice enough in the morning to offer me a refund. I refused, and told them that I actually wanted to stay longer, but only if they moved me to another room. So I booked two more days in Odessa and now I’m in a room (tentatively) all to myself. That was only the second time I’ve ever complained to staff about obnoxious jerks. Still, a pretty good ratio.
But where would I be in life if I never learned any lessons? Yes, this guy has some major issues, but maybe I need to reevaluate my life as well. Although I’ve only had about three beers in the past week, I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I drink more than I should. These instances are down to probably two-three times per month, but regardless, I’m 35 years old now. Maybe I should cut that down to a quarterly event – something worth celebrating. Celebrating or mourning, I guess.
Moving right along. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I am returning Stateside. I have already bought my ticket from Kiev to NYC JFK. I really didn’t want to end my trip this early (yes, six months is early), but several choices that I made have forced my hand. I don’t regret the choices, but in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have made them (and hopefully won’t ever make them again). But again, where would I be in life if I never learned any lessons? So I now have three weeks left in Ukraine. I am going in a few days to Mykolaiv, and from there probably directly to Kiev. I still have three weeks left, so I may stop in a city or two along the way. The overall plan now is the same as last year: save up for six months, then start off again, this time with the knowledge I gained from both previous trips. I’m thinking next year it will be my best option to start off in southeast Asia, maybe try booking a teaching job in advance so I won’t have to dip into my savings much. Whatever happens, it does so for a reason.
Sometimes the titles for my blogs and stories are so clever I’m afraid nobody will ever see the true meaning behind them.