Has it really been 10 years since the year 2000? I certainly don’t feel 10 years older and certainly don’t act it! OK, a lot has changed since the 31st of December 1999 when I was a 22 year old student jumping around in a nightclub in Bournemouth but it doesn’t feel like 10 years.
Anyway, enough reminiscing and onto the present day – 2009, Christmas and on to 2010…
For the 1st time ever, I chose to leave family Bearder and spend Christmas abroad, somewhere exotic, somewhere exciting and adventurous, somewhere like… erm – Moldova.
The decision wasn’t really difficult. The rest of family Bearder had decided to spread itself across Europe covering Italy, Ireland and the UK and so, it seemed only fair to let the East-Europeans in on the action too. Flights home from Kiev were expensive, I’d been invited to Ski in the Carpathians and well, I’d be in Moldova for a conference anyway – so that’s where I stayed.
Arriving on my super-hot train from super-cold Ukraine (see previous post) I was collected at the train-station and taken swiftly onto the Leogrand hotel in Chisinau. I assume Leogrand means ‘Grand Lion’ and that whoever booked this knows me well… Oh, a girl played the Harp for me whilst I enjoyed my breakfast too – nice touch!
You can read about the conference I attended in my next post however, my two days at the Leogrand were fun and informative and I met quite a few interesting characters. Notably, an African-English-American guy who worked for the World Bank. He’d been drinking the previous night with a guy who worked with Emma Nicholson who is the Lady who held my mothers job before her. Small world huh? well, more about that later…
So, Moldova was covered in snow but it didn’t upset my trip too much.The first time I arrived in Moldova it was about 44 degrees and insanely uncomfortable so it was interesting to see the contrast. Moldova obviously gets real weather and four seasons… no ‘slightly hot and slightly cold’ cycles here. Anyway, I checked out of the nice hotel and into a very nice hostel (imaginatively names ‘Chisinau Hostel’) and spent 4 days being looked after by three beautiful girls and a cat called Pinkie. Unfortunately, Pinkie was the only one who showed-up in my room after dark as he enjoyed climbing in plastic bags, hunting and killing pens at 3am. I spent a day or two exploring Chisinau, checking on ‘shoe man’ (who is still going-strong and must be about 78 by now) and checking out the large Shopping Mall next to my hostel called, yes – you guessed… Mall Dova! …someone should win prizes for these names! I went bowling, ate (too much) and watched the end of the world (film) 2012 in Russian with 2.5 hours of translation thanks to Christina. If you are thinking of watching 2012, my advise would be – don’t. The graphics are good but the story is pants and the stereotypes bordering on offensive.
Oh, and I listened to a LOT of Christmas Carols in English. It would appear that English language carols are just as much a part of Christmas in Moldova (and Ukraine) as they are in England. However, I wonder how many people know what Figgy Pudding is? Also, I evidently got bored at some point because, I decided to entertain the idea of going home… fired up google maps, found a cheap flight from Northern Romania (kinda close to where I would be skiing) and 20 minutes later – I had a WizzAir flight booked to get me home to Oxford on the 31st.
However, I still had a problem. What was I gonna do on the 25th? Christmas day. Well, most people in Moldova couldn’t care less because, under the Soviet Union it’s not a big deal as, unless you are a Catholic (and remember religion was suppressed) then you celebrated the Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January …or neither and just partied like hell for NY!
but, I couldn’t allow this. OK, I’m not at home and I had a 12 hour bus journey planned for the evening of the 25th but, I had to have a Christmas! …and luckily, I did. I moved it to the 24th and Christina, Christina, Christina (no I don’t have a stutter) and Anna and friends ate Chicken, drank wine partied with me until the early hours of the 25th. Christmas Moldovan style.
Bukovel – The pride of Ukrainian Skiing
Where the “equipment has been fully tested and is ready for exploitation”
My bus dropped me in (a very cold) Ivano-Frankovsk at about 5.50am and I said goodbye to my new German ‘Chinese Gardener’ friend and vacated the row or rear coach-seats for the next lucky would-be sleeper. Two hours later and Maria, Maria and Maria had arrived (no, it’s not a stutter again) and we we’re on our way to our wooden home, in a village that I can’t pronounce, somewhere in the Carpathian mountains. We ski’d for 3 days, ate exceptionally large breakfasts and dinners, and played charades (not so easy if you don’t speak Russian). I’m no expert but Bukovel is a large resort and whilst it’s not nearly as beautiful as Slovenia, the slopes are much longer, the equipment much newer and the whole experience a LOT cheaper! However, if you ever decide to try it, NEVER decide to get home again from Cluj Napoca in Romania… Yes, I know it looks close on Google Maps (maybe about 300k) but trust me, it’s not. It took me 44 hours to get home from Bukovel to Oxofrd and involved a night in the train station in Chernivtsi (Ukraine) a day in Suceava (Romania) and then a night in the Airport in Cluj at the other end! I did however make 4 new friends, was helped along the way by almost everyone, saw a guy carrying a lamb through the train with a pink bow-tie and, believe it or not – met two friends from Kiev walking right towards me in Suceava! So, like I said earlier about it being a small world – I first met Ludmila outside a concert in Kiev, we met randomly again in a canteen the next day and then, amazingly, in Suceava in Romania!
The night in Chernivtsi train-station was an experience. It was about -5 and the place was full of homeless Babushkas, a sea of ‘Ukrainian bags’ (‘Chinese bags’ if you’re Ukrainian) a few drunks, an army guy who kept opening the door for me …and me. We spent the night hugging radiators together and although one Babushka lost the plot at about 3am, there wasn’t much danger – we were all in that freezing dilemma together.
Arriving in Romania was also an experience because, the first time I did this (about 4 years ago) the border guards were drunk, and making fun of my train cabin-mate. This time the guy was (in perfect English) welcoming me to Romania, laughing at my passport and asking if I was on my way home to celebrate NY? Which I was. Maybe he was drunk too? The tramp who stopped to ask me for something, realised I was English and then shook my hand, patted my back and wished me Happy New Year (in English) was definitely drunk… I’m starting to think Romania has the friendliest drunks in Europe…
The whole travel thing wasn’t helped by the forced internet exile (there’s no public internet in Bukovel) or by the fact that, getting travel info in Ukraine isn’t a straightforward affair. Maria and co did their best to help but I gave in and called home where things are done the easy way – online. OBB (Austrial Rail) to be precise as they have all train times in Europe and a piece of Software called Scotty who’ll do everythung for you in English.
On the whole i’m a huge fan of train travel in Europe (and I’ve done a hell of a lot of it) and although the trains normally take you a whole day (or night) to get you anywhere, they are warm, comfortable, fun and almost never late. However, there is one golden rule you should never break. Never attempt a ‘number 2’ on European a train. In fact, don’t even put yourself in the danger zone of needing one – it will spoilt your journey.
Anyway, I made it to my flight, had to leave the newly purchased bottle of cognac on the table because it wasn’t allowed in my hand luggage and then flew home with an incredibly nice Romanian girl called Iulia. I got home in time to see the new year …in bed – I was exhausted!
However, I finished that crazy week with:
A new Moldovan diary
A large map of Ukraine
A bottle opener from Italy
Some woollen socks that smell of sheep
8 new friends and some very funny memories.
My three favourite quotes were…
“your stick promised so much and delivered so little” …yes, one of the Moldovan girls actually said this to me, but it’s not like you think!
“IAN! You touched your laptop in a rude way!” …also, it’s not what you think!
“Where is gonzo with his weed?” …can’t explain this one
and “This conversation is totally monkey nuts” …because, like the whole week – it was.
If I ever hear Lady Gaga’s ‘Stuck in a bad Romance’ again, I might kill myself…